Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fahrenheit 381

A cold war over complementarianism recently became a hot war. I think both sides are wrong in different ways. For convenience, I'll use this post as a frame of reference:

Frankly, as Liam points out, we need to keep our issues with the earthly politics of gender out of our reflections upon the eternal being of God…And when it comes to submission in scripture, the explicit New Testament model for such in marriage is the relationship of the incarnate, crucified Christ and the church, not that of the Father and Son in eternity. Paul’s choice of analogy would seem most significant.

I agree with that. As I've often argued, it's a mistake for some complementarians to ground their position in the Trinity. 

Because we live at a time when good teaching on the differences between men and women is needed more than at any previous moment in history, it is sad that the desire to maintain a biblical view of complementarity has come to be synonymous with advocating not only a very 1950s American view of masculinity but now also this submission-driven teaching on the Trinity.  

i) We might distinguish between the maximal complementarianism of John Piper (to take one example) and the minimal complementarianism of Trueman. As I've explained before, I think Piper's blueprint complementarianism is sometimes arbitrary and painfully self-conscious. 

ii) However, Trueman's minimal complementarianism, which–from what I've read–is confined to the church and the family, while avoiding and evading the implications of biblical manhood and womanhood outside the church and the family, is an exercise in intellectual cowardice. It's an artificially compartmentalized position that refuses to grapple with attacks on gender binaries and heteronormativity by feminism and transgenderism in the military, the workplace, public education, &c. 

iii) In addition, from what I've read, Trueman constantly evokes the bugbear of Kuperian transformationism as his foil, as though that's the only version of social conservativism which Christian Americans espouse. But I daresay most Christian conservatives aren't advocating anything nearly that ambitious. Their position isn't about using political activism to transform the culture. Rather, theirs is a modest retrenchment about preserving or restoring some traditional moral and political norms regarding abortion, euthanasia, parental rights, the Bill of Rights, school choice, consent of the governed, gender binaries, heteronormative values. 

Trueman has a bad habit of taking intellectual shortcuts. He caricatures the opposing view by fabricating a narrative about what it allegedly stands for. Then he directs his rhetorical firepower at this unrepresentative strawman. 

The leaders of the organizations which represent New Calvinism have weathered storm after storm, from Driscollgate onwards, by maintaining a firm grip on the mainstream New Calvinist media, by licensing just enough criticism to reassure concerned onlookers, and by stoic public silence in the face of numerous scandals and controversies…Indeed, the question which the leadership of the various groups associated with New Calvinism -- the Gospel Coalition, CBMW etc.

Here's another example of his modus operandi. He's using the complementarian controversy as a pretext to saddle up his hobbyhorse about the alleged powerbrokers at TGC, &c. It's all very paranoid. This is another one of his confabulations, as though Tim Keller, Don Carson, Joe Carter, and Justin Taylor are New York godfathers who run the city by placing a few phone calls. And it's bound up with his antipathy towards parachurch organizations, even though his day job is at a parachurch organization. 

Do you consider Nicene orthodoxy to be a non-negotiable part of your movement’s beliefs?  Now, we live in a free country and, as Protestants, we are committed to scripture alone as the norming norm.  Thus, you are free to say that Nicene orthodoxy has no place in the church today. You are also free to say that it is something of secondary importance on which Christians can differ.  You are even free to say that the Creed of Constantinople and the Chalcedonian Christology which flowed from it are erroneous and contrary to biblical teaching.  But make no mistake: in doing any of these things you place yourself and therefore your movement not simply outside of the boundaries of the consensus of the confessions of Reformation Protestantism but also outside what has historically been considered orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense.  That is your prerogative and if your conscience and your understanding of the Word of God bind you to it, then you must do it. But you need to be honest and transparent about what you are doing. Subordinationism was found wanting in the fourth century and set aside for very good reason. 

i) It's gratuitous to throw in the creeds of Constantinople and Chalcedon. To my knowledge, that hasn't been challenged by the complementarians in question.

ii) Calvin famously or infamously (depending on your viewpoint) modified traditional Nicene Christology by claiming the Father generates the person of the Son rather than the nature or deity of the Son. Cf. P. Helm, Calvin's Ideas, chap. 2. So Calvin himself didn't regard Nicene Christology as a nonnegotiable, norming norm. 

Moreover, prominent Reformed theologians like B. B. Warfield, Paul Helm, John Frame, John Murray, John Feinberg, and Robert Reymond have taken that a step further by denying the eternal generation of the Son (as well as denying the eternal procession of the Spirit). 

iii) The ancient creeds are not above scrutiny. They must be tested against divine revelation. In addition, every Christian generation must scrutinize its theological patrimony. It's not enough to say, "I believe it because my parents believe it, and their parents believe it." That would make religious identification an accident of birth, be it Calvinists, Lutherans, Arminians, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, &c. 

iv) However, the oddest, most ironic thing about Trueman's reaction is how oblivious he is to the ramifications of his preferred alternative. He presents Nicene Christology as the antithesis of subordination, yet it's arguable that Nicene Christology entails a radical version of eternal ontological subordination. Here's a classic statement of eternal generation–a la Thomism:

The role of a father is “to beget,” just as the meaning of sonship is “to be begotten.” The Father, therefore, is unbegotten, but is origin and progenitor of the Son, who himself does not beget, for there is no “Son” in the Godhead other than himself. That is to say, the whole reality of the Father is to beget, to generate, to give all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, to the Son. And the whole reality of the Son is to be begotten, to be generated, to receive all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, from the Father...The life of the Father is an eternal giving of himself whole and entire to the Son. The life of the Son is an eternal receiving of the Father whole and entire.

i) On this view, the Son is a product of the Father, like a dream is a figment of the dreamer's imagination. If the dreamer awakens, everything he dreamt about instantly ceases to be. You have a metaphysical asymmetry that goes all the way down to the very bottom of the Son's very existence. The Son's existence is purely receptive and contingent. You may say the Father necessarily originates the Son, but that doesn't change the direction of cause and effect. 

I realize proponents of Nicene Christology deny that eternal generation makes the Son an effect of the Father. But their discomfort with that language evinces discomfort with the logic of their position. Verbal protestations notwithstanding, they can't explicate generation without recourse to causal concepts. 

It makes the divine Son far more contingent than a human son. A human son does not derive his entire nature and existence from his father. And even though his father is a precipitating cause, the end-result is a human being whose existence is thereafter independent of his father. 

By contrast, eternal generation is analogous to continuous creation or theistic idealism, where God sustains the existence of the world by constantly thinking about it. If there were a momentary interruption in God's thought-process or attention span, the world would vanish like a dream. Trueman is so conditioned by the notion of Nicene "orthodoxy" that he hasn't thought through what his own position amounts to.

ii) Moreover, Trueman can't very well take refuge in Calvin's distinction, since that's idiosyncratic. That represents a theological innovation. That falls "outside what has historically been considered orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense."

Not to mention that Calvin's distinction is dubious. What evidence is there that the Father generates the person of the Son rather than the deity of the Son? What reason is there to think that's even possible? 

In a subsequent post, Trueman says:

I simply state that those who get rid of eternal generation and speak of eternal submission are outside of the bounds set by 381 -- which is the ecumenical standard of the church catholic, albeit in the West subject to the revision at Toledo…Eternal generation etc. etc. are also of critical importance, as Constantinople 381 indicates.

There are some basic problems with that appeal:

i) There's more to councils like Nicea, Chalcedon, and Constantinople than their creedal statements. In addition, you have the conciliar canons. And in the case of Chalcedon, you also have the letter of Pope Leo. 

It's a potential problem when evangelicals cherry-pick church councils. When they pluck the creeds, but discard other conciliar mandates. 

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. If all you're looking for is what is true and useful, then it's fine to be selective in your appropriation of the church councils. 

If, however, the council itself is a criterion of truth, if the fact that a council said it validates the claim, then it's arbitrary to pick and choose what you will believe or enforce. Since people like Trueman seem to be mounting an argument from authority when they appeal to conciliar creeds, their selectivity is ad hoc. 

To treat assertions by "ecumenical councils" as ipso facto decisive presumes an ecclesiology that's at odds with evangelicalism. 

ii) Concerning eternal generation, I don't think it's coincidental that Trueman is a church historian. That's his standard of comparison.

By contrast, I suspect many or most contemporary NT scholars reject eternal generation. That's because the traditional prooftexts for eternal generation were the Johannine title for Jesus as the monogenes huios, taken to mean "only-begotten son". But nowadays, most NT scholars and Greek lexicographers reject that definition. As a result, the bottom has fallen out of the textual basis for eternal generation. (And the textual basis for eternal procession was even thinner.) So we have an ever-widening gap between historical theology and exegetical theology in that regard.

I'm not saying that forecloses further debate. But Trueman's invocation is very one-sided. It reflects his bias as a church historian.  


When Did the Church Begin?

Paul and the Gift

Hidden Riches: A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East

This is more useful for the review itself than the book it reviews:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Justification by works and sola fide

The builder is God

3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son (Heb 3:3-6).

Here's a subtle argument for the deity of Christ. On the one hand it sets up a comparison between God the Father and Christ. On the other hand it sets up a comparison and contrast between Moses and Christ.

It plays on different connotations of the "house" metaphor. At one level, the house is the world. The cosmos. The world is mankind's home. This is where we live. God made the house. 

At another level, it connotes the "house of Israel". The passage is, in part, riffing off of Num 12:7 ("Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house").

Although Moses was Israel's greatest prophet, Israel's paradigm prophet, he was just a member of Israel's household. Just a creature. Just a servant. Just a member of the family.

By contrast, Jesus is the Son. He stands "over" the Father's house. Jesus is to the builder as Moses is to the dweller. Yet the builder is divine. 

Although we might think fidelity is a merely human virtue, Scripture also stresses divine fidelity as a divine virtue. To be faithful to God is commendable because God is faithful to his people. 

Sons and servants

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Mt 21:33-41).

Some "scholars" think the Synoptic Gospels have a lower Christology than John's Gospel. Here's a passage with striking implications for Christology.

What the characters in the parable stand for is straightforward: the landlord represents God the Father, the son represents Jesus, the servants represent Jewish prophets (including John the Baptist), and the tenant farmers represent the Jewish establishment.

The parable turns on a categorical contrast between a servant (or slave) and a son. Slave-masters didn't necessarily care about the personal wellbeing of their slaves. They were like livestock. If a slave was accidentally killed, that was a financial loss. A business write off.

When the tenants disrespect his servants, they disrespect the master who sent them. That's an affront, not because he especially cares about his servants, but because it shows contempt for him. Yet that's a forgivable offense. He shows the tenants clemency. That's because he is still hoping to recoup his investment. 

But when they murder his son, they cross a line of no return. That's personal. They can't get back from that. By that action, they make an implacable, mortal enemy. Seal their doom. Sign their own death warrant.

That's because a father/son relationship is in a completely different league than a master/slave relationship. That's a uniquely intimate bond. Indeed, attacking a man through his son is more hurtful than attacking the man directly. 

If, however, Jesus is merely human, then that erases the categorical distinction between servant and son. Jesus is just another prophet. Another human being. 

But the parable requires the son to operate at a categorically higher level. A blood relation. And not just any relative, but a relative who is most like the landlord himself. To whom the landlord is most attached. An extension of himself. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Bryan finds the visible church

For years, Bryan Cross hunted for the elusive whereabouts of the visible church. He spent countless hours searching for clues. Pursued countless leads, which–alas!–turned out to be blind alleys. Often the trail went cold. Often he despaired of ever tracking down the location of the visible church. 

But at long last he got a solid lead. A PO Box for the visible church. 

He flew to Quad City International Airport, then rented a car, which he drove to the Duck Creek Plaza shopping mall in Bettendorf, Iowa. He had to double-check the address, since that seemed to be an odd location for the visible church. Once inside he consulted the directory, which led him to a UPS store. 

He scanned a wall of private mail boxes until he found one with the matching PO Box address. Apparently, the visible church was 3” x 5” and 14” deep. That was a bit of a letdown. 

The mailbox had a glass face with some ornate brass work. Peering through the glass he could dimly make out something inside. Perhaps it was directions to the visible church.

In desperation, he bribed the clerk to open the box for him. Inside was a postcard.

A few minutes later, Bryan was sitting in his rental car, staring at a postcard of Shell Beach. Bryan had finally found the visible church.

Saving Christianity from itself

There are "progressive Christians" who view their vocation in life as a valiant effort to save Christianity from itself. Rescue Christianity from the clutches of the "fundamentalists". This has been going on since Schleiermacher. Theirs is often a lonely, thankless calling, yet they soldier on in their heroic mission to reinvent Christianity. 

But what are they saving Christianity from? Christianity is worth saving if Christianity is true, but these are people who regard much of Scripture as pious fiction. They think the Gospels contain a fair amount of pious fiction. 

Are they saving Christianity? If they save Christianity by radical surgery, by drastically redefining Christianity, then what are they saving? Have they saved Christianity, or have they recanted the Christian faith to replace it with something foreign to Christianity, something they regard as newer and better than the obsolete original? 

Why do they feel the need to reconstruct Christianity when they have so little faith in the original? Why do they constantly denounce Christians who wish to remain faithful to the original?

Where do they draw the line? Do they draw a line? For them, what is not Christian? You can't say what Christianity is unless you can say what it's not. 

At what point do they conclude that there's nothing worth salvaging? Where's the tipping-point? At what juncture would they concede that they were vainly laboring to remodel a fundamentally flawed paradigm? Why haven't they reached that crossroads already? 

Rather than retrofitting the Christian faith to accommodate modernity, why don't these people simply renounce the Christian faith? Why do they cling to the semblance of Christianity? If they feel the incessant need to make ad hoc renovations to Christianity, is there not a point beyond which they should admit, from their own perspective, that it's time to ditch an irredeemably timebound, culturebound, all-too-human religion and start from scratch? 

There's a sense in which forthright apostasy is more intellectually honest. Why don't they say they used to be Christian, they were raised in the Christian faith, they gave it their best shot, but in the end they just don't find central planks of the Christian faith credible, so the time is past due to made a clean break? Become secular humanists. Would that not be more consistent? 

Hillary, bribery, and Boko Haram

The case against reality

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Hermas On Prayer To The Dead And Angels

I was recently reminded of a passage in The Shepherd Of Hermas that I'd forgotten about. It's addressing people who consult soothsayers, false prophets, and the like:

"For no spirit given by God requires to be asked; but such a spirit having the power of Divinity speaks all things of itself, for it proceeds from above from the power of the Divine Spirit." (Commandment Eleven)

Michael Holmes' translation renders it:

"For no spirit given by God needs to be consulted; instead, having the power of deity, it speaks everything on its own initiative, because it is from above, from the power of the divine Spirit." (The Apostolic Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005], 407)

It seems that Hermas didn't think we should pray to the deceased or angels. In a thread here, I discuss another passage in Hermas that points in the same direction. Use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to search for "Hermas". The discussion is near the end of the thread.

That same thread also discusses a lot of other patristic evidence against the practice of praying to the dead and angels. Use Ctrl F to search for Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Lactantius, and other patristic sources. In a post here, I have a collection of links to my material on prayer to the dead and angels, including other threads in which I interact with advocates of the practice.

A couple of things that should be noted about Hermas are that he's early and Roman. His work or portions of it are dated anywhere from the late first century to sometime in the second. And he lived in Rome and apparently was the brother of a second-century Roman bishop (according to the Muratorian Canon, though later sources make the less likely claim that he was the Hermas of Romans 16:14), so his background makes him harder to dismiss from a Roman Catholic perspective.

Donkeys and dream omens

The donkey is widely associated with divination. This association is observed in late-third-millennium Sumer (§2.5.1), early-second-millennium Egypt (§, late-second-millennium Ugarit (§, second-first-millennium Mesopotamia (§2.4.2), and, I would suggest, at first-millennium Deir Alla (§; cf. Num 22-24). The donkey is particularly common in dream omens (§§,, 2.4.2, 2.5.1). K. Way, Donkeys in the Biblical World (Eisenbrauns 2011), 99.

This raises the question of whether Balaam saw and heard his donkey speaking in a vision. If you combine the fact that donkeys were common in dream omens with the further fact that Balaam was a seer, that makes sense. Indeed, the text credits him with visions, night visions, and/or prophetic dreams  (Num 22:20; 24; 24:3-4,15-17). 

That would parallel the angelic apparition. In Scripture, angels appear to people in dreams and visions. It would make sense if he was in a trance state at the time. 

That's a neglected interpretation option. It's important to understand an ancient text it its cultural context. 

Dan shall be a serpent in the way

Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse's heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
(Gen 49:17).

Perhaps this is just coincidental, but there are some intriguing connections:

i) On a traditional interpretation, the only two talking animals in Scripture are a snake (Gen 3) and an equid (Num 22).

ii) Both are mentioned in the Pentateuch.

iii) In the ANE, both snakes and equids sometimes have occultic associations. As one scholar notes, donkeys are connected with dream omens. Cf. K. Way, Donkeys in the Biblical World (Eisenbrauns 2011), 99.

In that regard, it makes sense that Balaam is a pagan seer. Almost like the donkey is his familiar. 

iv) There are ANE texts which express enmity between snakes and equids. Ibid. 99.

v) Gen 49:17 is a case in point. A snake biting a horse prompts the horse to panic and throw its rider. 

vi) Gen 49:17 alludes to Gen 3:15, where the snake bites the woman's seed in the heel. 

There may also be an allusion to Jacob's name (Gen 25:26; 27:36).

vii) Joseph's oracle occurs in the Pentateuch.  

Strange bedfellows

You can tell a lot about people's sympathies by their alliances. Notice Scot McKnight siding with Jonathan Merritt:

Each has an unspoken agenda that coincides at this point. 
Jonathan Merritt is an outed "gay Christian" propagandist. McKnight is an Arminian feminist. Somehow I don't think that's coincidental to their criticisms.

Because TGC participates in the culture wars, defending gender binaries and heteronormativity, Merritt views TGC as an obstacle to his social agenda. 

McKnight's theology predisposes him to be hostile to a complementarian, Calvinistic site like TGC. That, in turn, motivates him to side with Merritt's attack on TGC. 

McKnight becomes a tool of Merritt. Is he simply unaware of Merritt's social agenda? Or do his own priorities line up with Merritt's at this juncture? 

I'd add that that Twitter is not a serious medium for substantive debate. 

This doesn't mean TGC, or individual contributors thereof, should be above criticism, by any means. But a social vandal like Merritt is the wrong vehicle. 

The courage of Christ

Some men find Christianity a big turnoff because the only Jesus they've been exposed to is a sissy Jesus, hippie Jesus, effeminate Jesus, pacifist Jesus. Jesus meek and mild. Godspell. Jesus Christ Superstar. Jeff Hunter. The Sallman Head. The dainty Jesus:

Jesus is tenderly calling you home—
Calling today, calling today,
Why from the sunshine of love will you roam
Farther and farther away?

Let's compare this to the Jesus of the Gospels. He came to die. To give his life for others. That's a classic military virtue. Like throwing yourself on a grenade to shield your comrades. 

In addition, he voluntarily suffered death by torture. Not just crucifixion, but the flogging that preceded crucifixion. Plus the raging thirst. Having the hot sun on his back, torn to ribbons by flogging. Having his flayed back right against the rough-hew beam of the cross. And the crown of thorns. All that before you get to the crucifixion proper, which was cruel by design. 

Not only did he submit to this voluntarily, but he foreknew that fateful day awaited him. From the time he was old enough to be cognizant of such things, he knew that lay in his future. He knew exactly what to expect. 

What would it be like to go through life knowing in advance that that's what lay ahead? That's what he would have to go through. Not something to look forward to, but something to dread. Casting a backward shadow over your life. That's very courageous.

Christian readers are sometimes perturbed by the fact that Jesus seems to be scared in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus wasn't fearless, but courageous. Bravery isn't fearlessness, but overriding fear. Doing what needs to be done in spite of fear and trepidation. Even Jesus could be afraid. Yet he persevered. 

Moreover, Jesus had the power at any moment to opt out. Had the power to escape scourging. Had the power to escape crucifixion. Yet he endured it.

He had the power to make himself immune to pain. Immune to thirst. Yet he persevered.

Furthermore, Jesus often had to go it alone. His mother didn't understand him. His stepbrothers didn't understand him. His disciples didn't understand him. He was very isolated. Yet he persevered. 

And many of the very people he died for hated him. Only later did they come to faith. It's one thing to die for people who love you–quite another to die for people who hate you. 

Jesus exhibits heroic physical and psychological grit in the face of unbearable pain and loneliness, for the benefit of others.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Inerrancy and Scripturalism

A stock objection to the inerrancy of Scripture alleges contradictions in the Gospels. For instance, Bart Ehrman has a list of canned objections. Ehrman seems to operate with a crude, Harold Lindsell concept of what inerrancy entails.

A standard way of harmonizing the Gospels is to make allowance for the fact that the authors often omit details, foreshorten events, paraphrase sayings, and rearrange the order of events. Seeing an event is different than writing about it. Seeing an event is an immersive experience. In writing about it, you must adapt to a different medium. You can't directly reproduce the experience in writing. 

In addition, we use our imagination to visualize what might have happened. In our mind's eye, we consider different ways of ordering incidents and dialogues in time and space. That's a way of demonstrating how variant accounts could be harmonious. Who said what when and where? In principle, there's more than one way that could take place. That creates room for harmonizing variant accounts. 

It isn't clear to me that Scripturalism can defend the Gospels against allegations of inconsistency. For Scripturalism, truth is reducible to Biblical propositions. All you've got to work with are the verbalized propositions in the four Gospels. That's it. Yet that is what is alleged to generate the contradictions in the first place.

Scripturalists can't go outside Scripture to create conceptual space between Biblical propositions, to demonstrate how alleged contradictions are reconcilable. They lack that flexibility, because their only source of knowledge begins and ends with Scripture itself. They can't use their imagination to visualize a scene that's reported in two or more Gospels, to fill in the gaps. They can't explore different ways in which to place narrative descriptions in a larger spacial or temporal framework, to consider alternative sequences that successfully combine what two or more Gospels describe, when there are apparent discrepancies in parallel accounts.

In other words, when you read the four Gospels horizontally, differences become conspicuous. Yet differences are all the Scripturalist has to go on. There's no play, no give, because there's nothing over and above the Gospels to work with. He can't use his extrascriptural imagination to put people, places, incidents, and dialogues in a broader timeline. He can't explore different alternative arrangements. When someone like Ehrman attacks the mutual consistency of the four Gospels, I don't think Scripturalists can show how those might fit together. 

Perhaps it's a waste of time for me to comment on Scripturalism. I don't know how many Scripturalists there are, world wide. Especially in the age of the Internet, it's a way some people are introduced to philosophy and Calvinism. 

It's all Greek to me

I'm old enough that I notice younger folks using grammatical constructions that would have been considered ungrammatical when I was their age. The English language undergoes continuous evolution, even within my own lifetime.

I say that to say this: there are Catholics and especially Eastern Orthodox who claim the Greek Fathers had a built-in advantage when reading the NT. After all, Greek was their native tongue.

In some respects, that can be advantages, but in other respects that can be disadvantageous. To begin with, Greek Fathers like Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodoret wrote much later than the NT. So you must make allowance for how the Greek language changed over time. 

In addition, they were well-educated in Classical Greek. But that's   quite different than 1C Koine Greek. In addition, we have to take into account differences in social class. Language varies according to region and social class. In general, NT Greek is less sophisticated than Josephus. 

For instance, American working-class English is very different than, say, John Henry Newman. Or consider dialectical variations, like Black English. 

Ironically, this can lead a native speaker to misconstrue usage in ways that someone who learned it as a second language might not. A native uses the language of his own time, place, and social class as his frame of reference. But that can be the wrong frame of reference when dealing with a text produced in a different time, place, or social class milieu. 

Evolution and the argument from authority

A common objection to creationism is an appeal to authority. Most scientists believe in evolution, so it must be true. 

Problem is, scientific consensus can be unreliable. For instance, consider the recent JAMA study that acid reflex isn't actually cause by stomach acid backing up. If true, that falsifies 80 years of consensus. Consider the tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of medical professionals who were giving patients the wrong explanation. 

Another example is foods that were branded unhealthy for years, only to be rehabilitated. New FDA regulations created to mandate "safe" alternatives. New sin taxes. The food industry having to overhaul how food is cooked and processed, or what foods are even available, in what portions.  

Or take the zealous promotion of "organic" or "unprocessed" foods. 

This becomes dogma, followed by an overnight retraction. It would be good to maintain a running list of reversals. 

Thomism: the Roman Catholic Gateway Drug

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint of Westminster Theological Seminary explicates something that I've been hinting at for a long time: that Thomism is the gateway drug to Roman Catholicism. He puts his finger right on the problem.

The reason this is so is because, according to Rome (and Thomas), human reason is a principium ("first principle") of faith, instead of Scripture.

Scroll to about 15:20 for the beginning of Oliphint's talk (or see also this link:

Here are a couple more links about "Reformed Thomism":

Correlations with providence in Gen 2

A theory of everything

The five points of Calvinism

Monday, June 06, 2016

Sting like a bee

My knowledge of pro sports is fairly limited, but Muhammad Ali was a figure that guys my generation grew up with. He was the dominant star athlete of his generation. 

i) On civil rights, he took a more confrontational approach than King. Although King's nonviolent philosophy proved to be a more effective strategy and tactic than the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, King's approach tended to foster a certain passivity. Get gov't involved, then let gov't solve the problem. Ali's individualism and self-reliance was admirable.  

ii) He was one of the all-time great boxers. That raises the question of how to rank athletes. Let's take a few comparisons. It's easy to win a round of poker if you've been dealt a winning hand. More impressive is a player with a pair of clubs who can beat a player with a full house. How to turn a losing hand into a winning hand by successfully bluffing your opponent. How to win with nothing.

It's my impression that MMA fighters like B.J. Penn and Anderson da Silva have more natural talent than Rich Franklin. Something about their innate reflexes. 

Not only does that make it easier to win, but when you have that much raw talent, the risk is to coast on your talent. By contrast, Franklin had to develop his full potential to be competitive. And he had to compensate by outthinking opponents. 

Likewise, George Foreman was 7 years younger than Ali. In sports, that's a significant advantage. Since Ali couldn't outpunch Foreman, he had to outwit Foreman. Had to bring something to the game above and beyond physical ability. Had to use strategy. He conserved his energy while making Foreman expend his energy. Once Foreman's stamina was spent, Ali moved in for the kill.

In terms of absolute physical ability, Foreman might have been his superior, but Ali was able to adapt and compensate. By the same token, you have champs like Pete Sampras who excel despite physical impediments (thalassemia).

Compare that to, say, Michael Jordan. There's just something about his natural coordination that sets him apart. If you're ranking an athlete based on native ability, that's one criterion of greatness. If you're ranking an athlete based on factors that offset natural limitations, that's a different criterion of greatness.

iii) Apropos (ii), it's my impression that Ali changed technique. As a young boxer, he was fleet-footed. Very nimble. Later, he became more of a slugger.

It may be that the 5-year interruption in his career (the draft controversy) cut into his physical prime, and by the time he returned, he lost his youthful edge, so he had to retool. A man's physical prime is narrow. An athlete's physical prime is narrower, because he pushes himself to the limit. A champion's physical prime is even narrow because he must be at peak performance to beat the best.

iv) Apropos (iii), who's the greater champion–an undefeated champion, or a champion who comes roaring back after defeat? Some champs are unstoppable until they are stopped, and they never rebound. They never regain their former momentum, viz. Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Brock Lesnar.

v) In some ways, he was not an admirable person. Ali was very promiscuous. And he betrayed Joe Frazier's friendship. Ali could be competitive to a fault. Sacrificing things that are more important for his almighty career. 

vi) Of course, one thing that set Ali apart was his witty, charming personality. The catchy one-liners. Take the classic interviews with Howard Cosell. The mock aggression. The quick, clever repartee. 

vii) How far you can fall depends on how high you are. There's the drastic contrast between Ali in his prime and the shell of a man after dementia pugilistica hollowed out his physical and mental health. The brain damage robbed him of the very things that made him a star. Gone were the quips. Gone the physique. Gone the indomitable spirit. 

Aging and illness are the great levelers. The most talented, brilliant, or beautiful people are still mere mortals, like the rest of us. If they live long enough, they will be reduced to utterly ordinary people, dependent on the mercy of others. Like Nebuchadnezzar, Ali was arrogant and boastful. Like Nebuchadnezzar, illness demoted Ali's pride and pretensions. From "the Greatest" to a helpless, pitiful figure. Not a Christian, he had nothing to fall back on when his body gave out. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Psalm 22 As Evidence For Christianity

A couple of years ago, a group of Jewish scholars published the second edition of The Jewish Study Bible (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). It's worth noting how much Christianity is corroborated by an Old Testament translation and commentary that's so liberal and non-Christian. Take their treatment of Psalm 22, for example.

When are we justified?

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

I was reading Oliver Crisp's sympathetic exposition and analysis of eternal justification in Deviant Calvinism, chap. 2. Although I think eternal justification has an element of truth, the way proponents formulate the position is fundamentally flawed, and Crisp is no improvement. 

1. If God is timeless, and justification is a divine act, then there's a straightforward sense in which justification is eternal. That, however, is misleading without further qualification.

2. God doesn't justify the elect in isolation. Rather, justification is contingent on other factors like faith in Christ and the redemptive death of Christ. Although God has eternally decreed to justify the elect, he has decreed that justification is contingent on other decrees. Within God's plan, there's a teleological relationship between different decrees. Some decreed events are a means by which other decreed events are realized. Although God has decreed to justify the elect, God has also decreed justifying faith, as well as the death of Christ–which provides the moral warrant for justification. He decrees justification in conjunction with other decrees. Justification is not independent act or event, which occurs apart from all other considerations. To the contrary, God has decreed that certain conditions must be met for justification to obtain. Faith in Christ, as well as Christ's sacrificial death, are necessary conditions. 

3. God's eternal decrees include his decree to eventuate the world, the Exodus, the Incarnation, and the Crucifixion. But, of course, that doesn't mean creation, Exodus, Incarnation, and Crucifixion are eternal events. They didn't take place in eternity. Strictly speaking, nothing even happens in eternity: that's a timeless state. Jesus was crucified in time, not eternity.

4. Although God eternally decrees every event, he decrees them to happen in time. He decrees some events to happen before or after other events, in a cause/effect relationship. He timelessly decrees a temporal sequence. You might say it's a delayed effect of the decree. 

5. To say God eternally decreed justification, or that justification, as a divine act, is eternal, doesn't mean the elect are justified before they are born; doesn't mean the elect are justified before they exist. Time and eternal don't range along a common continuum. God's timeless acts or timeless decrees aren't earlier events on a timeline. They aren't events at all.

A divine "act" is a mental act. In this case, a plan or resolve to bring something about. It can't be synchronized or coordinated with the historical process. There's no direct linkage. 

6. Crisp says:

Possession of faith makes no material difference to one's elect status, because it is an effect, not a cause of justification. The act of justification must logically precede the act of faith, whether in time or eternity, for a person must be just in the sight of God before they can be given the gift of faith in God (48).

I don't know if that simply represents Crisp's exposition of the position, or his agreement. The claim itself is puzzling:

i) The syntax in the first sentence is ambiguous. Presumably, he doesn't mean election is the effect of justification; rather, he means faith is the result of justification. 

ii) The act of justification is a timeless divine act whereas the act of faith is a temporal human act. Given the difference in principle, it's unclear how one can logically precede the other. The act of justification belongs to a different domain than the act of faith, so they can't be arranged like points on a common line.

iii) It's unclear what it even means to say the act of justification must enjoy logical priority, whether in time or eternity. At the very least there seems to be a failure to distinguish teleological order from temporal order. 

If, moreover, the act of justification is timeless, then what does it mean to say it must logically precede the act of faith in time? This seems to confound timeless and temporal relations. We can distinguish between the timeless act of justification and its temporal realization.  

iv) Finally, why must a person be just in God's sight before he can be given the gift of faith in God? In Reformed theology, justification is an "alien" righteousness. It presumes that the object of justification is a sinner. The object of justification is personally unrighteous, both before and after he is justified. The object of justification is actually guilty. So how could his innocence or righteousness be a precondition for the gift of faith?