Saturday, January 24, 2015


When satire has a biting edge, it has been done correctly. One such instance was just done by The Onion in a piece called I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back. The anti-vaccination crowd is based on extremely thin science—in fact, most of it is based on a single study that has since been debunked. But the real problem with the anti-vaccination logic is that even if everything they claimed about increased autism rates due to vaccination were true, you would still have to be pretty foolish not to vaccinate your children.

It is easy for us to forget the way the world used to be. Just a hundred years ago, we didn’t have antibiotics. People could die because of a blood infection they got just scraping their knee in the backyard. According to the CDC, the infant mortality rate for the United States in 1915 was at 10% (100 infants out of every 1000 births died before their first birthday). Today it’s at 0.6% (6.17 per 1000 births). A large reason for that drop is because vaccinations are keeping babies who would have died from various diseases like the measles or mumps from dying.

But here’s the thing about keeping someone from dying. Suppose that we were able to magically cure a single disease right now—say, cancer. This would mean that there are now millions of people who are not dying anymore right? Wrong. It means there are now millions of people who will die from something other than cancer. That’s all. Everyone dies of something, and by necessity if you cure one thing, the other methods of death must rise.

Incidentally, this phenomena was observed during World War I. When soldiers were required to start wearing helmets, the number of injuries on the battlefield actually increased. Why, then, didn’t soldiers stop wearing their helmets? Because while the number of injuries increased, the number of fatalities decreased. Instead of a bullet killing a person when it struck them in the head, the bullet now merely injured the soldier because of the protection of the helmet.

So when we think back to medicine, when we cure someone of something that would kill them at a young age, then they will have many more years that they can live than they would have lived without the cure. But what that means is that they will have many more years to catch diseases that they would not have caught if they were already dead. So keeping infants from dying of the measles means that other diseases will necessarily have a slight uptick in their number of occurrences. This includes even the number of people diagnosed with autism, for instance.

Now not all the increased cases of autism can be accounted for by infants surviving longer than they would have without vaccines, and I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t look to find ways of mitigating that increase. But there is no evidence that vaccines are causing the problem. And even if vaccines were the problem, when enough people stop vaccinating it will mean diseases that could have been stopped will make a comeback, and it will mean that babies will die who otherwise would have survived. So even if vaccines cause autism, autism isn't fatal! Let's let something other than preventible diseases kill off our children.

Heaven Tourism

Now certainly I will have Pentecostal believers accuse me of being unfair. The examples I cite are in the fringe elements of charismatics and Pentecostals. I got that a lot back when I wrote on the Strange Fire conference. Some may even vehemently insist their churches do not promote such nonsense. Great! I am definitely encouraged by those assertions.
The reality, however, is rather stark. Thousands of people purchase the books and flock to hear the testimonies of heaven tourists, and the main culprits who devour them are charismatic and Pentecostals. Why is that?
Rather than getting all defensive that someone pointed out that obvious problem among charismatics and Pentecostals, I would think a better response would be to consider why they gravitate to heaven tourism stories. I don’t typically see the problem among Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, or any of the Bible Fellowship style churches. If a Pentecostal or charismatic is seriously opposed to heaven tourism, they’d evaluate the reason why.
I suggest that is because Pentecostal and charismatic believers are doctrinally imbalanced when it comes to so-called supernatural manifestations. They are led to an experience driven theology that in turn causes them to be way more susceptible and undiscerning with these fantasies. It then becomes difficult to distinguish between a flim-flam hustler and a sincere, but confused person who exaggerates odd dreams he had after having a dangerous surgery, as traveling to heaven.

I agree with Fred that there's undoubtedly lots of smoke and mirrors in the charismatic movement. However, he tries to superimpose a preconceived theory on the phenomenon, and from what I can tell, his theory is a poor fit with the facts. Let's take four representative titles: 

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
W/Thomas Nelson

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death
by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story
By Alex Malarkey, Kevin Malarkey
Tyndale House Publishers

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
by Eben Alexander
Simon and Schuster

i) Consider the publishers: One is secular publisher. The other three are evangelical. To my knowledge, not one is a charismatic publishing house.

ii) Consider the authors. Don Piper is a Southern Baptist pastor. Todd Burpo is a Wesleyan-Arminian pastor. Kevin Malarkey says he attends a nondenominational evangelical church. And I don't believe Eben Alexander is even a professing Christian. To my knowledge, not one of them is charismatic.

Likewise, look at all the Baptist churches Don Piper is invited to speak at. That's not a charismatic audience.

iii) Consider the consumer. LifeWay have been criticized for stocking this genre. However, LifeWay is a Southern Baptist book distributor.  

Isn't the Heaven Tourism genre retailed by evangelical bookstores generally? If so, where's the evidence that it's charismatics in particular who are buying these books? Isn't this really a problem for evangelicalism in general rather than the charismatic movement in particular? 

How would you even track the specific theological persuasion of consumers who purchase literature at LifeWay or Family Christian stores? Or purchase Christian literature online (e.g. 

Papal handlers

Suicide by Pope? 
No doubt you've heard of suicide by cop.  Is the Catholic Church committing suicide by pope?  Francis the Foolish is now regularly coming out with silly statements.
A guardian responsible for escorting a retarded child or adult in public. Highly alert and well trained, these individuals can sense when their "client" is ready to change from sweet and calm to loud and destructive.  
Warren broke free of his handler and began screaming and throwing trays around the restaurant. 
Urban Dictionary


The fact that House leaders pulled the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act " to appease proabortion Republican women has rightly been denounced. However, I can't help thinking that there's an ironic parallel with AHA.

When Republicans are in the minority, it's easy for nominally prolife Republicans to cast free votes restricting abortion. Since they know the proposed bill has no chance of passage, it costs them nothing politically.

When, however, Republicans are in the majority, the same nominally prolife Republicans suddenly buckle. 

Now for the comparison. With respect to AHA, nothing is easier than to take an "uncompromising" stand when it has no chance of happening. In that respect, AHA is like Republicans who are rhetorically prolife, rhetorically uncompromising. There's no price to pay. No real-world consequences. It's just self-congratulatory talk. 

Incrementalism actually makes a difference. 

The crazy uncle of the papacy

One of this pope's many self-appointed handlers, in this case a lay blogger named Scott Eric Alt, attempted to reply to some comments I recently made about Pope Francis.

It's revealing that Francis requires a phalanx of official and unofficial handlers to "clarify" his statements. That's usually a sure sign that a public figure is either losing his marbles or never had the Tombowlers to begin with.

In the com­box, Steve “Pur­ple” Hays (who also posts at Fail­ablogue) gives us a list of obser­va­tions, only a few of which inter­est me. 

Since purple is the color of episcopal vestments, I've flattered by Alt's honorific epithet, but I must decline the promotion. 

The first is a ques­tion: “What’s so bad about a C-section?” Well, noth­ing at all is “bad about a C-section,” Mr. Hays; and in fact, if you had both­ered to read the tran­script, you would have noticed that the pope was speak­ing of a woman who had already had seven of them and was going out of her way to get preg­nant again. 

i) Evidently, Alt's dad never told him about the birds and the bees. A woman who's been pregnant eight times doesn't need to "go out of her way" to become pregnant. Rather, that's the natural result of regular conjugal relations. 

ii) It is only in the case of infertile couples that the woman must go out of her way to get pregnant–by visiting fertility clinics. But, clearly, fertility isn't this woman's problem.

iii) A woman who's been pregnant eight times would need to go out of her way not to become pregnant again. Alt has it precisely backwards. In her case, the challenge isn't getting pregnant, but avoiding pregnancy–assuming, for the sake of argument, that that's even desirable. 

A Face­book friend and fel­low Catholic blog­ger, JoAnna Wahlund, explains why the pope was right to be con­cerned. (This was in a Face­book thread on my own page.)

Another one of this pope's ubiquitous handlers. Whatever else you might say about Ratzinger, he can speak for himself. 

All preg­nan­cies have the poten­tial to be risky. But seven C-sections dras­ti­cally increases the risk of pla­centa acc­reta, which can cause the uterus to rup­ture (killing both mom and baby). If a woman has had seven C-sections, her uterus is paper thin, and doc­tors tell her, “Another preg­nancy could very well kill you and your child,” then yes, it is risky and irre­spon­si­ble to delib­er­ately seek to achieve pregnancy in that sit­u­a­tion.

Several problems with that analysis:

i) Do fertile couples who engage in regular conjugal relations deliberately seek to achieve pregnancy, or is that simply the natural outcome? 

ii) Risky for whom? Not for the baby. In that situation, the baby has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Yes, there's a danger that the baby will die. If, however, the baby was never conceived in the first place, then he inevitably loses out. In a choice between possibly losing out and inevitably losing out, contraception is far riskier to the baby than a risky pregnancy. 

To take a comparison, if it's a choice between terminal cancer and life-threatening therapy, a patient will opt for therapy. With therapy, he may live or die. Without therapy, he's bound to die. The risk assessment speaks for itself. A chance at life trumps no chance at life. 

iii) To my knowledge, the risk of medical complications increases with the age of the mother as well as the number of pregnancies. Yet throughout church history, and in many parts of the Third World today, Catholic wives have continued to become pregnant until they either hit menopause or died in childbirth. 

Since when has it been church policy to tell Catholic mothers to stop having children above a certain number or above a certain age? Since the risk factors increase over time, with added age or added children, then by Alt's logic and Walhlund's logic, it is irresponsible for Catholic wives to keep having babies until they pass the childbearing years. If so, where can that be found in canon law? 

Now, what the pope says, in effect (if Mr. Hays had both­ered to read the tran­script and not just the lib­eral media), is not, Don’t have a C-section but, If you’ve had seven of them, maybe going out of your way to get preg­nant again isn’t the best thing. 

Since it's the husband who impregnates the wife, why blame the wife? If you insist on framing the issue that way, then isn't it the husband who's going out of his way to make another baby? 

Don’t tempt God. 

Have Catholic wives throughout church history (as well as Catholic wives in Third World countries today) been guilty of tempting God by continuing to conceive babies until the clock runs out? 

There are licit ways for you to avoid preg­nancy, which you should use. 

Of course, that's easy for "celibate" clergy to say. Catholic clergy practice contraception by having sex with altar boys. That's clerical family planning. Sodomy is a surefire way to avoid pregnancy. Pedophilia is the perfect prophylactic. 

If you do oth­er­wise, you risk that you will die, your baby will die, and your other chil­dren will be left with­out a mother. Respon­si­ble par­ent­hood.

Since when did patristic popes, medieval popes, Renaissance popes, Enlightenment popes, et al., set the maximum age beyond which it is unsafe (hence, "irresponsible") for Catholic wives to reproduce? When did patristic popes, medieval popes, Renaissance popes, Enlightenment popes, set the maximum limit on the number of children beyond which it is unsafe (hence, "irresponsible") for Catholic wives to procreate? I'd like to see the documentation. 

The big Roman Catholic apologetic thumb on the scales

“See? We win. We have ‘the authority’”
This is going to be the most important thing I have ever said on this topic.

It is of course well known that there is an imbalance between the supposed “unity” that Rome offers, vs the seeming disarray that Protestants are in. However, the “unity” that Rome offers is merely an illusion, (and that illusion is not based on any truth or historical evidence), while Protestant “disunity”, while frayed around the edges, is truly based upon doctrinal unity, and as Steve Hays describes this process:

But what if catholicity is something we should achieve indirectly? Instead of aiming at catholicity, what if catholicity is the effect or end-result of something else? For instance, Christians have a duty to understand God's word, believe God's word, and live obey God's word. The more that more Christians live according to God's word, the more they converge.

Keep this in mind as we discuss how “unity” works. The unity of Rome is a false unity. As Francis Turretin described it, it is based on one large, but false, and unprovable claim:

Friday, January 23, 2015


A libertarian reviews American Sniper

Patterns of Evidence

The ethics of American Sniper

There are critics of American Sniper who evaluate Chris Kyle and the film based on their views of the Iraq War. My post is going to comment on that approach.

By way of disclaimers, I haven't seen the film. I've only read reviews. I don't plan to see the film. 

I haven't done in-depth research on the life of Chris Kyle. I have limited interest in that topic. 

i) Even when films are based on a "true story," we expect directors/screenwriters to exercise artistic license. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that American Sniper is factually inaccurate to some degree, it's not a documentary. In the first instance, whether a film is good or bad is an artistic judgment, not a historical judgment. Does the film work on its own terms? Does it exemplify cinematic values? 

Take the 1993 Tombstone film. That's based on a true story. The gunfight at O.K Corral. But if would be off-base to pan the film if it took some artistic liberties. 

That doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong to compare a historical film with what really happened. But as a rule, that isn't the only or even primary criterion for judging a film. 

The Kyle of film is a movie character, played by an actor

ii) From what I've read, American Sniper is an accurate depiction of Kyle's career as a soldier. When critics impugn his credibility, they cite incidents outside the war theater. But that's an exercise in misdirection:

Likewise, from what I've read, some of their allegations are dubious:

iii) Some historical films are subversive. The director rewrites history, not for dramatic reasons, but ideological reasons. He wants to change how people view a historical event. Indeed, he wants to change how people remember the past. 

That is certainly more open to criticism. Even in that case, you'd still need to distinguish between rating the film as a film and rating the film as a historical record. 

For instance, Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will is an artistic masterpiece, even though it's a classic propaganda film. And not merely propagandistic, but propaganda in the service of a deeply evil cause. But from what I've read, Eastwood is not a war apologist:

iv) From what I've read, Kyle joined the military in 1999. That was well before the Iraq war. He didn't sign up to fight in Iraq. 

As a rule, when you join the military, you are expected to obey lawful orders and go wherever you are deployed. Soldiers don't choose where they serve. It would be impossible to have an effective military if soldiers were free to choose where to deploy or what orders to follow. So, unless you're a pacifist, you can't fault Kyle for ending up in a theater you disapprove of. 

v) Ultimately, foreign policy is the expression of voters, through their duly elected representatives in Congress and the White House. That's the democratic process. The US military is under civilian control. 

Unless critics of American Sniper think they have a superior alternative, it's unclear why they are blaming soldiers for executing the policies which–rightly or wrongly–reflect the will of the electorate. The Iraq War resolution passed with bipartisan support. And the Iraq war was initially popular. For better or worse, that's popular sovereignty in action. 

vi) Some critics go so far as to say military snipers are "cowards" because it wasn't a "fair fight" between the sniper and the target. However, that treats war like a sport, in which you're supposed to have an equal number of players on each team, same equipment, same rules, to give each side an equitable chance at winning.

But there are people who are not entitled to have an equitable chance at winning. For instance, do you have a moral obligation to give a murderer a fair opportunity to kill you? Even if you can protect your life with a gun, should you lay that aside to make this an even match? 

Critics who raise that objection are morally frivolous. They disqualify themselves. 

Part of the problem is that only a fraction of American males have been in a combat situation. If they found themselves in a life and death situation, their attitude would instantly change. But as it stands, they can be contemptuous of soldiers. I'm not suggesting we should have universal conscription or anything like that. Just that, for many people, unless something happens to them, unless they experience it personally, it just isn't real to them. 

Like Congressmen who cast free votes. They know their votes will be outvoted, so it doesn't cost them anything. By the same token, we have critics of the film who indulge in moral grandstanding. They don't really believe what they say. If they were actually in a situation where they had to save their own skin, it would be a completely different story. But these are safe abstractions.

vii) I will conclude with this article on military snipers:

Deflategate Is Mostly About Entertainment, Not Morality

I have Google News set as my homepage, and the Deflategate story has been at or near the top day after day. I've seen the story getting prominent attention from the Drudge Report, USA Today, CNN, etc. Rush Limbaugh has been discussing it a lot on his radio program. There are a lot of threads about it, and those threads are getting a lot of comments at the web sites I've seen. That includes conservative political sites, where I'd expect the people involved to show more discernment. The story is getting an absurd amount of attention.

“25 Disruptive Technology Trends for 2015 – 2016”

What’s coming down the pike (not Peter Pike), from a technology perspective? I think this is a very important list from a marketing perspective; for Christians, it’s very important to be able to understand what’s happening in the world around us. This article gives important clues that will help us how to engage effectively in the world of technology.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

NSA backdoors

For all you geeky civil libertarians. The comments are informative, too:

Presidential hopefuls

In this post I'm going to briefly handicap potential 2016 presidential hopefuls. I'm going to rank them according to first-tier, second-tier, and third-tier candidates. 

I'm not ranking them on the merits. For the most part, I'm ranking them on electability. The fact that I put some hopefuls in the top tier and others in lower tiers isn't a statement of approval or disapproval. An intrinsically better candidate may be less electable while an intrinsically worse candidate may be more electable. That's not fair, but politics isn't fair. My distinction between second and third-tier candidates is admittedly somewhat arbitrary. 

There are several criteria:

i) The electability of a GOP candidate may depend in part on their Democrat opponent. 

ii) A stronger candidate in GOP primaries might be a weaker candidate in the general election. 

iii) Each candidate typically has strengths and weaknesses. 

On the Democrat side, the presumptive nominee is HIllary Clinton. She would be a fairly weak candidate. Zero charisma. Has more baggage than DFW airport. 

However, that doesn't mean she can't win. There are lots of voters who will rubber-stamp the Democrat agenda–whoever the standard-bearer is.

A stronger candidate would be Jim Webb. He's probably the most formidable candidate the Dems can run against whoever the GOP will nominate.

Top Tier

Jeb Bush

Pluses. Was a successful governor of a major state. Generally conservative. Might carry Florida, which is nearly key to winning the general election. Smarter and more articulate than his brother. More at ease in front of a camera. More commanding stage presence than his brother.

He will be the establishment Republican candidate. Will have the backing of the GOP establishment. Raise heaps of money. 

Minuses. Not a charmer. Favors amnesty, which is anathema to the base. Favors Common Core, which is anathema to the base. Makes no effort to cultivate the base. Uneven on social issues. 

Rand Paul

Pluses: Appealing to libertarians and independents. After 8 years of Obama, many voters will desire a radical scale-back. 

Minuses: Hawks hate him. Having withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, his anti-war credentials lack urgency. 

Not a terribly fluent public speaker. Not as smart as his dad. 

His libertarianism limits his social conservativism. 

Will have passionate supporters and passionate opponents in the primaries. 

Scott Walker

Pluses: A folk hero for defeating public sector unions. Successful governor. Battle-hardened. 

Minuses: Sketchy on social issues. Untested on the national stage. 

Mike Huckabee

Pluses: Winsome, articulate, eloquent. Culture warrior. Natural standard-bearer for social conservatives. His TV show has given him a continued following. Devoted supporters. Finished second in the GOP primaries. A good debater. 

Minuses: His support has depth without breadth. Libertarians hate him. Independents will be put off by a Baptist minister. Like Rand Paul, he's a polarizing figure, with passionate supporters and opponents. 

Hard to see how a Baptist minister can win the general election. 

Second Tier

Rick Perry

Presumably he will be better prepared this time around. Rugged charm. Strong record as major state governor. Weak on immigration. 

His primary problem is that he lacks the distinctive advantages of the top-tier candidates. 

Ted Cruz

A natural ideological leader for conservative voters. Smart. Articulate. However, he has to vie with Jeb for "moderate" voters and vie with Huckabee for value voters. 

Moreover, he doesn't seem to be a very savvy political tactician. A number of his congressional maneuvers have backfired. He may be like Gingrich: a better talker than doer. 

Bobby Jindal

Super-smart. Hands-on governor. Catholic social conservative. Outspoken opponent of Common Core. Would make it harder for Dems to play the race card.

However, he's not photogenic. And Huckabee tends to co-opt the social conservative base, which Jindal needs to build on. 

Marco Rubio

Smooth, articulate, photogenic. Generally conservative. Might be a drawing card for Latino voters. Might carry Florida.  

However, he's damaged himself on "comprehensive immigration reform." Also, hard to see how he can elbow his way into a field with other candidates who co-opt key voting blocks. Between Jeb, Rand, Walker, and Huckabee, all the niches are taken.

Third Tier 

Mitt Romney

He's vetted. Really for prime time. Can raise big bucks. But time has passed him by, and there's a deep field of rival candidates.

Chris Christie

Articulate. Feisty. A natural establishment Republican. A pick for country-club Republicans. 

Too liberal to appeal to the base. Too chummy with Obama. Perceived to be a Quisling. Too much competition.

Ben Carson

He should be very interesting in the primary debates. But I don't see him rising to the top of the pack in a crowded field. 

John Kasich

A natural establishment candidate. Successful governor. Good on economics. 

But I think Jeb presently owns the establishment slot. And Kasich is too lackluster to rise above the crowd.

Rick Santorum

A worthy contender, but for whatever reason he rubs too many voters the wrong way.

Mike Pence

Ditto: Kasich. 

John Bolton

Hawkish foreign policy wonk. Would make interesting secretary of state. Libertarians hate him. Too obscure to be a successful candidate. 

Mummy masks

HT: Taylor Weaver

Kill the infidel

Muslims are infamous for beheading "apostates," "infidels," and "blasphemers"? Contemporary Christians typically denounce that practice. 
That, however, raises the question of what's wrong with executing blasphemers? After all, the church used to do that. 
Indeed, I imagine that some Muslims might be puzzled by why modern-day Christians aren't prepared to defend God's honor by punishing outspoken enemies of the faith. In traditional Catholic theology, a heretic was a soul-murderer–far worse than a physical murderer. Here's a classic statement from Aquinas:
I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. 
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Galatians 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."
So are contemporary Christians inconsistent when we refuse to execute heretics, apostates, blasphemers? 
i) Some theonomists appeal to OT blasphemy laws. One problem with that particular appeal is that ancient Israel was meant to be holy in a way that a modern nation-state is not. The purity codes and sacred spaces were designed to illustrate and protect Israel's cultic holiness. That, in turn, was an emblem of God's holy presence among an unholy people. Hence, these symbolic buffers were put in place. 
As a result, certain behavior was punishable that would not otherwise be punishable. There is, however, little evidence that this carries over into the new covenant. 
Of course, blasphemy is still a sin. That's part of the moral law, and not merely the ceremonial law. But some behavior was punishable as a result of Israel's heightened holiness that would not be punishable absent that framework of cultic holiness. 
Complementing Israel's unique status were certain safeguards. There were supernatural methods of ascertaining guilt or innocence (e.g. trial by ordeal, the Urim and Thummin). God sent prophets. Sometimes God directly intervened when things got out of hand. 
A modern-nation state lacks these safeguards. 
ii) Conversely, some Christians say blasphemy laws run counter to the Sermon on the Mount. We should love our enemies. 
However, Aquinas would counter we are commanded to love our neighbors, which requires us to protect them from soul-murder. Which brings us to the next point:
iii) God cannot be harmed. So he doesn't need us to protect him. God is not analogous to a murder victim (pace Aquinas). As Scripture says, in another context:
 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down”(Judges 6:31).
iv) Of course, Aquinas would counter that this misses the point. It's not God who is harmed. Rather, the heretic is murdering the souls of innocent human victims. It's our duty to protect them from heretics.
That, however, is a very slack analogy. As a rule, murder victims don't consent to their own murder. By contrast, people who believe heresy are willing victims. They are not innocent or involuntary parties to that transaction. 
We have limited responsibility for what someone chooses to do with his own life. That's ultimately between him and God. God will judge him. 
For instance, there are people who spend their money in wasteful, foolish, or sinful ways. But as a rule, how they spend their money is none of my business. They don't answer to me. I don't have the right to boss them around.
v) Apropos (iv), just because somebody does something wrong doesn't ipso facto mean I have the right to punish him. If I see a poker player cheating at cards, it's not my duty to avenge his wrongdoing. 
vi) Another glaring problem with blasphemy laws is that it empowers the state to define true religion. That, in turn, gives the state a pretext to persecute the faithful. A statute designed to punish heresy can become its antithesis if government officials are heretics or atheists. They will simply redefine the target to suit their agenda.
vii) God himself will punish impenitent heretics, blasphemers, et al. It's not as if they get off Scott free. The duty of the state is to keep criminality at manageable levels so that the righteous can survive and flourish. It's not the duty of the state of dispense eschatological justice. 

Pope Francis: “Don’t Breed Like Rabbits”

Pope Francis: “Don’t Breed Like Rabbits”
Roman Catholics may rest easy. “Pope Francis” did not say, “by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: being a good Catholic does not mean people should breed ‘like rabbits’.”

Therefore, the Supreme Pontiff’s statement that “Catholics should not breed like rabbits” is not an “infallible, ex cathedra” dogma to which all Roman Catholics are bound.

Yet, we have it on good authority that, even if a Supreme Pontiff’s words are not uttered with “the supreme power of their Teaching Authority”, even with their “ordinary teaching authority”, “it is obvious that the matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot any longer [be] considered a question open to discussion”:

Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in [non-infallible papal statements] does not of itself demand consent, since in writing [or saying such things] the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me”; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in [non-infallible papal statements] already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Yes, the pope and his official and unofficial spokespersons (“apologists”) tried to soften the edges of that statement. However, the whole issue of “papal infallibility” arose in the first place because of the possibility that one papal statement might contradict another.

This is obviously a man who does not know what it means to be pope.

Nota Bene, in light of the Pope’s comments, the Vatican has updated its clear and certain guidelines for confessors, affirming that the statement “my wife not only is capable of having intense multiple orgasms during her most fertile days of her cycle, but she asserts her right to do so” is not an adequate penitential reason in the confessional for using artificial birth control methods. In such instances, absolution should be refused.

Questions about "First Century Mark"

Here's a cautious treatment. Read the comments, too:

It always comes back to methodological atheism

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bubble-boy catholicity

I'm going to comment on a review of Frame's systematic theology:

Doing so is important in pursuing a theology that stands in catholic continuity with our Reformed forefathers in the faith. As we do so, we pursue unity around the teachings of Scripture and are better able to pursue a catholic unity with all who rest on the supreme authority of God’s Word by appealing to and promoting a common understanding of the Bible.Frame’s Systematic Theology is profound and thought provoking. Yet the very features that make his theology innovative make it less clear what relationship he has to the historic Reformed faith. His lack of historical theology makes his work less catholic in character.It is hard to see how this promotes catholicity in relation either to the Reformed community or to the broader Christian world.
i) McGraw makes "catholicity" a chief criterion in his evaluation. However, he never explains why we should treat catholicity as an overriding criterion or priority. 
ii) He doesn't define what he means by "catholicity." Is he using "catholic" as a historically and theologically resonant synonym for "universal"? If so, his overwhelming emphasis on catholicity is highly ironic. McGraw is an OPC pastor. Nothing wrong with that. In general, I think the OPC is a very admirable denomination. But whatever other things the OPC may have going for it, catholicity isn't one of them. Do Anglicans think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do Lutherans think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do Baptists think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do Anabaptists think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do charismatics think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do Plymouth Brethren think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? Do Dispensationalists think confessional Presbyterianism represents catholicity? McGraw has a comically insular and provincial notion of catholicity. It's only catholic within the snowglobe of his particular theological tradition. 
Fact is, catholicity and confessionalism tug in opposing directions. Confessionaism is sectarian. Confessionalism distances you from everybody else who doesn't subscribe to your own theological tradition. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just pointing out that McGraw's means (confessionalism) work at cross-purposes with his goal (catholicity). 
iii) Assuming that catholicity ought to be a goal, that leaves open the question of how to pursue that goal. McGraw assumes that catholicity and confessionalism go together. But what if catholicity is something we should achieve indirectly? Instead of aiming at catholicity, what if catholicity is the effect or end-result of something else? For instance, Christians have a duty to understand God's word, believe God's word, and live obey God's word. The more that more Christians live according to God's word, the more they converge. 
Frame unashamedly notes that he includes less historical theology than other comparable works because he wants to be biblical.[41] While this sounds appealing to many Christians, it is impossible to do theology in a historical vacuum. Frame’s situational perspective reflects this fact. Downplaying historical theology in the name of being biblical can be a dangerous way of introducing radical shifts in method with little notice. The question is not whether we are influenced by the historical teachings of the church, but which ones will influence us and whether they are correct.
i) Like any wise man, Frame plays to his strengths. He does what he's good at. He does what he does best. He has an analytical mind. You get things from him that you will never get from more historically-minded, but less acute, writers like Scott Clark and Darryl Hart. 
ii) Given the specialization of knowledge, no theologian can be an expert on everything. Systematic theology involves exegetical theology, philosophical theology, and historical theology.  To a great extent, the emphasis depends on the aptitude and training of the theologian. 
iii) Life is short. We only have 24 hours in a day. The time you devote to mastering historical theology is time you siphon off from mastering exegetical theology or philosophical theology. Something has to give. Should a Protestant theologian skimp on exegetical theology so that he can devote more time to researching nooks and crannies of church history? 
iv) You get different things from different theologians. If you want a greater emphasis on historical theology, read Douglas Kelly. Keep in mind, though, that Kelly's orientation is not above criticism. He's quite ecumenical in his sources of theology. The church fathers. Eastern Orthodox theologians. Thomas Torrance. Is that really more Reformed or more confessional than Frame's orientation? If anything, could it not be argued that that is less anchored in confessional Calvinism. More eclectic. Open to many influences outside the Reformed stable. 
Ignoring historical theology as a conversation partner in the name of producing a theology that is more biblical gives readers a false impression and threatens to confuse Frame’s innovations with a bare reading of Scripture. Without historical theology, systematic theology becomes detached from the church.
Which church? The present church? The church of living Christians?
Historical theology does not tell us what to believe, but it helps us be self-critical. 
So does philosophical theology. Indeed, one could argue that philosophical theologians are self-critical in a way that historian theologians are not. 
Without drawing from the past, we will have the unfortunate circumstance of holding communion with the church at the present day. 
Without drawing from the present or the recent past, we will have the unfortunate circumstance of holding communion with a dead church, a paper church–a church that only exists in history books.
This unavoidably detracts from a biblical catholicity of doctrine, which by definition cannot reinvent itself in every generation.
But you must identify what qualifies as biblical doctrine in the first place. And every Christian generation must confirm that for itself. 
Scripture has ultimate authority beyond which there is no appeal, but unity and trust is not possible without some agreement over what the Bible says. 
But, of course, McGraw is extremely selective about the unity he privileges. Agreement that Scripture teaches confessional Presbyterianism. Unity within a fractional subset of professing Christians in time and place.  
He defines theology as, ‘the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.’…There is a subtle difference between Frame’s definition of theology and historical Reformed reflections on the nature of theology….By equating theology with the application of Scripture (to use Frame’s terms), the normative aspect of theology no longer remains distinct absolutely from its subjective components. 
Keep that criticism in mind as we move to the next claim:
Christ appointed means to promote a catholic unit in sound doctrine. In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul lists gifts that the ascended Christ gave to the church. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were foremost among these gifts (v. 11). Some of these offices were temporary and some of them are permanent. It is not important to show which ones are which here.
i) Notice that McGraw is guilty of the very thing he faults Frame for (allegedly) doing. He's going straight to Scripture. Makes a direct appeal to Scripture. Then applies that to the situation in hand. 
ii) Furthermore, his interpretation is hardly catholic. He assumes the text is referring to "offices." But, of course, that's disputed by exegetes like Gordon Fee, Harold Hoehner, and Walter Liefeld. Likewise, he interjects a cessationist expiration date, although the text itself doesn't say some of these "offices" were temporary–and there are scholars (e.g. Michael L. Brown) who deny that. 
My point is not to debate the merits of his interpretation. But his interpretation is sectarian rather than catholic. It's only catholic within the inwardly looking bubble of his favored theological tradition.
And that's unavoidable. And this stage in church historian, it's a choice between different theological traditions. You can also mix-and-match. But whatever you opt for, it won't be catholic. 
Christ promised to furnish his church with teachers promoting doctrinal unity through sound teaching and loving discipleship. Christ has kept this promise. He has preserved the truth in his church throughout her history. Reformed Christians have believed that the theology embodied in their creeds and confessions represent Christ’s faithfulness in giving Scriptural light to the church to promote unity in sound doctrine. If the church would pursue a theology that is biblical, catholic, and Reformed, she must do so in light of Christ’s promises. She must pursue Christian unity not only in light of the present teaching of the church, but in continuity with the unity that Christ has already blessed the church with. Only a theology that is both biblical and catholic can be unambiguously Reformed – and the character of Reformed theology is unmistakably both biblical and catholic.
The obvious problem with this argument is McGraw's arbitrary cut-off point. Did God stop giving teachers to the church at the end of the 17C? What about an 18C theologian like Jonathan Edwards? Or a 19C theologian like William Cunningham? What about 20-21C theologians like Geerhardus Vos, Benjamin Warfield, John Murray, Roger Nicole, or Paul Helm? What about Bible scholars like Bruce Waltke, D. A. Carson, Thomas Schreiner, John Currid, Gregory Beale, Frank Thielman, Peter O'Brien, and O. Palmer Robertson–to name a few?
Not to put too sharp a point on the question, but why does it not occur to McGraw that John Frame might be one of God's gifts to the church? One fulfillment of Christ's ongoing promise to the church?
For his part, Tom Chantry posted a running commentary on McGraw's review:
Like McGraw, Chantry is another bubble boy catholic: 
Of all of Frame’s bizarre constructions, the one which seems to have gained favor among the confessional-revisionists of our circles is his claim to adopt an approach that is “something close to biblicism.” This sounds quite admirably sola-scripturish, but ultimately it amounts to readily discarding the confessional formulations of the church anytime that the Christian, alone with his Bible, arrives at a personal interpretation distinct from confessional orthodoxy.
You mean like John Calvin challenging the religious establishment of his own day? 
This is what confessionalism represents – the consensus of the church as opposed to the private interpretation of the individual.
What consensus of the church would that be, exactly? Let's take a satellite view of Chantry's position. Increasing close-ups. Protestants are a subset of professing Christians in general. Baptists are a subset of Protestants in general. Reformed Baptists are a subset of Baptists in general. Adherents of the LBCF are a subset of Reformed Baptists in general. There are, moreover, two theologically distinct editions of the LBCF. Some adhere to one, some to the other. 
So Chantry's appeal to the consensus of the church reduces to a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of professing Christians. That's a pretty contracted definition of catholicity, if you ask me.  
As I read this I was struck by how small my approach to these verses has been. I turn to them when we need to appoint officers in the local church, and then I miss the rest of what Paul said. What does this have to do with confessionalism? After all, the guys who edited the Confession in 1677 weren’t my pastors! Paul, though, revealed a broad historical principle of Christ’s rule over His church. He gives officers to promote unity and commands us to hear them. Can we really imagine that Christ stopped doing this after the Apostles died and then resumed when He established my local assembly? 
And did Christ stop doing this after 1677? 
So Christ isn’t only giving gifts to the church in my lifetime; He has done so in every age. I shouldn’t have to just pick up my Bible and figure out what to think on my own, even if I’m a pastor. Instead, I have the benefit of the wisdom of the ages, particularly as it is collected in the consensus documents we call creeds and confessions.
But what is Chantry's frame of reference? Not the Schleitheim Confession. Not the Thirty-Nine Articles. Not the Articles of Remonstrance. Not the Formula of Concord. Not the Lausanne Covenant. Certainly not the Council of Trent or Vatican II. 
So Chantry deceives himself if he imagines that he begins with the "wisdom of the ages" or "consensus documents." For Chantry, resorting to his private interpretation Scripture, has preemptively discounted nearly all the candidates. 
Here is a line of reasoning which demands careful thought.  If there is to be such a thing as Reformed Catholicity, we will need to move beyond personal interpretations. I know this argument won’t be convincing to everyone. For some it is new and disturbing, being at odds with the Bible-study hermeneutic of our age. Others may be motivated to abandon confessionalism for other reasons. It is, however, a cogent argument, and one which ought to be considered carefully.For those (like myself) who need to have these things spelled out, here is my own simplistic outline: 

  1. 1. Christ is the Head of the Church. (Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:18)
  2. Christ gave us the Bible so that we might have the truth. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
  3. Christ sent us the Holy Spirit so that we might understand the truth. (John 14:26)
  4. Christ appointed officers over the church so that we might understand the truth together, thus having unity. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  5. He has done this through every age, which is why – in spite of a history of apostasy and heresy – there is such a thing as a catholic (from the whole church) faith.
  6. That unity has taken expression in consensus summaries of Christ’s teaching which we call creeds and confessions. These are not infallible Scripture, but are nevertheless true representations of the unity of Christ’s people.
  7. If we wish to maintain that unity, we ought to give precedence to the arguments of those consensus documents – not receiving them as inspired, but searching the Scriptures to see whether these things are so, hearing with humility and grace, not a proud supposition that our own interpretations must be superior.
  8. If we do this, we will be slow to reject the teaching found in our Confession, but will seek to be instructed by the pastors and teachers Christ has given the church.
  9. If we wished to destroy the unity of the church, the best approach would be to reject the consensus teachings out of hand in favor of our own personal interpretations of Scripture, only aligning with confessions where they happen to align with us.
  10. This is precisely what the modern church has too often done, even in its evangelical manifestations. It is also the increasingly obvious practice of the non-confessional, non-subscriptionist forces both in Presbyterianism and among Reformed Baptists.
Does that successfully "move beyond personal interpretations"? Notice how oblivious he is to his own methodology. He begins by attempting to prooftext his position from Scripture. But isn't that, in itself, an exercise in personal interpretation? He then applies his own interpretation to the case in hand. Once again, isn't that an exercise in private judgment? He's blind to his own blinders. 
Why does he align himself with the LBCF rather than a creed from a competing theological tradition? Isn't it obvious that he's aligning with a confession where it happens to align with him? He's not giving precedence to the creeds of rival theological traditions. 
And is it just a coincidence that he's the son of a Reformed Baptist pastor? His theological journey is a round trip inside the theological enclosure of his dad's backyard. Chantry ends exactly where he began. Wonder how that happened.