Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hitler's Religion: interview

To be or not to be

I've used variations on the same idea idea in two different contexts (abortion, theodicy). Now I'd like to combine them in reference to theodicy. When atheists raise the problem of evil, the unspoken assumption is that a better world is possible. They can imagine various ways of improving the world we inhabit. If, therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God really exists, the actual world would correspond to the better world an atheist imagines. Or so goes the argument. 

But as I've often pointed out, that's shortsighted. There is no best possible world. For alternate timelines have unique goods. Some goods are contingent on prior evils. Preventing the evil prevents the resultant good.

Just about every human life produces a chain reaction. Whether or not a particular individual exists will affect the course of history in complex ways. If he exists, history will go one way. If he doesn't exist, history will go another way. Time-travel stories illustrate the principle of tradeoffs in that regard. Our individual lives may seem insignificant, but lives have long-range consequences–as does their absence, counterfactually speaking. The upshot is that when an atheist imagines a better possible world, there are losers in that scenario. Indeed, people who are winners in one possible world may well miss out in the "superior" alternative. It's no improvement for them.

One objection I encounter to this observation is that people who never exist in the first place have nothing to lose. That may be true given the status quo, but the objection is superficial and misses the point. Nonexistence is the greatest conceivable deprivation. Every lesser deprivation is a matter of degree. But this is a lost opportunity in the most absolute sense. 

If, for some odd reason, it just isn't possible for someone to exist, then there's nothing to lose. There was no alternative. If, however, the alternatives are existence and nonexistence, and those are both live possibilities, then to be denied the opportunity to exist when that was feasible is a genuine loss. 

To take a comparison, when a teenager dies, we consider that an "untimely" death. He "died before his time". We lament the death of the young because they had their "whole life ahead of them". 

The sense of loss is based on wasted potential. Lost opportunities. The future he never had. He missed out on so much.

But if that's valid for a teenager, we can extend the same principle back in time. If a 16-year-old has so much to lose, doesn't a 6-year-old have at least as much to lose, if not more? What about a 2-year-old? Or a 6th-month old baby? Or a 3-month-old baby in utero? At each stage of premature death, there's lost potential. And the further back you go, the greater the deprivation. The greater the unrealized potential. 

What about a minute before conception compared to a minute after conception? If that really different in kind? You may say that prior to conception, he doesn't exist, but isn't one minute's difference either way rather arbitrary? Since the principle concerns potential futures, it ranges along a continuum. There's no intrinsic cutoff at any point along the continuum. Suppose you make the cut at 20. But you could just as easily make cut at 19. You could make the cut a moment earlier, or an hour earlier, or a day earlier, or a week earlier, or a month earlier, or a year earlier. The sooner the cut-off, the more there is to lose. The lost opportunity is that much more extensive. 

Notice, I'm not saying that possible people who never exist were wronged or harmed by never existing. But there's a weighty sense in which some people are better off existing than not existing. Given the opportunity, they'd enjoy that. 

Before an atheist complains about how God could make a better world, the atheist needs to think several moves deep. Like a chess game, changing one move changes subsequent moves. 

Crossing Jordan

Rivers are stock metaphors in Biblical eschatology. That has two sources of inspiration. One is the association of Edenic conditions with primeval rivers. The other is the fact that Palestine has little precipitation, so human life, animal life, and plant life depend on river water in that region. 

It's interesting to compare and contrast the role of rivers in Christian symbolism and pagan symbolism. In both cases, rivers can represent a natural barrier between life and the afterlife. Paradoxically, rivers can stand for life and death alike. 

If a river is sufficiently deep and wide, with a strong current, it will be impossible for a human to wade or swim across it. He will be swept downstream and drown. Rivers can also host animals that are dangerous to swimmers or waders, viz. crocodiles, anacondas, electric eels, bull sharks. 

That creates a symbolic potential where someone can be stranded on the wrong side of the river. Maybe he can see the lush, idyllic landscape on the opposing river bank. That's a tantalizing view. Out of reach, but not out of sight.

In Greek mythology, the river Styx is the conduit to the netherworld. Because heathen Greeks had such a dismal view of the afterlife, the Styx is a river of death rather than a river of life. Because the the abode of the dead has fateful and forlorn connotations, it can't be a river of life, even though the dead continue to exist.  

Contrast that with Christian symbolism about crossing Jordan into a land flowing with milk and honey. If we were to consistently elaborate the imagery, the river of life would be like a tidal river which is impassable at high tide, but passable at low tide. For a saint, death occurs a low tide. At that moment, the river ford is a dry bed. 

Theoretically, the Garden of Eden might have been fluvial island. That would naturally segregate tame animals from wild animals. That would form a natural barrier between the idyllic sanctuary and the surrounding wilderness. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Acting on faith

Christians talk a lot about faith, whether laymen, pastors, philosophers, or theologians. To be a Christian is to live by faith. But what does that mean? 

I'd like to draw a distinction in the nature of faith. The hope of heaven is a central feature in Christian piety. We sing hymns that celebrate heavenly-mindedness. 

Suppose you have a dying loved one. It might be a younger relative with terminal cancer, or an older relative who's succumbing to old age. Or children born with cystic fibrosis, who have a grim long-term prognosis.

Christians take comfort in the prospect of postmortem reunion with loved ones. And, in a sense, that's an act of faith. And it's something that Christians ought to believe and take solace in.

Yet it's very different when the loved one actually dies. Ai long as they remain alive, so long as you still have them in your life, faith in postmortem reunion is an abstraction. A distant idea. Your belief may be genuine, but it's like a rain check you haven't cashed. Something in reserve for when you need it. 

It's only after you lose them that you really have to exercise faith. You don't have to put faith in something that's right in front of you. You can't. But once they're gone, there's a sense in which, for the first time, you must exercise faith in what you believed. Only then can you act on faith, in that existential sense. 

That's the hard part. Why doesn't God take the pain away? Because, without the painful situation, there'd be no pressing occasion to exercise faith. 

The battle for Baptist identity

There are some battles in the SBC over the direction of Baptist identity. One concerns a tug-of-war between Calvinists and "traditionalists". That's theological. But another has a political and cultural center of gravity:

This article by David French, a figure whom I admire and appreciate on many levels, is more than a tad one-sided. I understand his desire, as a fellow former no-Trumper, to rally to Russell Moore's defense in a discussion currently taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention. However, in the process he caricatures and smears Dr. Moore's critics. It's a bit too easy. The point of this post is to say: There are legitimate concerns. Not everyone will agree with David's comparison of Dr. Moore with a Jeremiah or Isaiah in relation to his fellow Southern Baptists. If you are reading between the lines the comparison makes Dr. Moore's critics out to be rebellious against God's will and possibly apostate.
I think David misses the main point. People aren't upset merely that Dr. Moore has been a critic of Trump (the vast majority of evangelicals have expressed strong disapproval of Trump's past sexual comments and practices, for example) but that he has repeatedly held up to contempt and ridicule the "Old Guard Religious Right," as he puts it, thankful for their demise while elevating himself at their expense. Of course, the older generation was not perfect (neither is the younger generation) but they do not deserve to be thrown under the bus. It is disrespectful and, frankly, self-serving.
An op-ed by Dr. Moore in the Washington Post last October 8 (posted in the comments section below) was particularly scathing and intemperate. Dr. Moore attacked the alleged "moral relativism," "disgrace," and "scandal" of any evangelical who disagreed with him on the question of voting for Trump, even as a means to averting the policy disaster of a Clinton/Kaine administration. "The old-school political Religious Right establishment" he dismissively characterized as driven only by a "doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural 'Christian America.'" Nowhere in the article did Dr. Moore take a swipe against Clinton.
He has given the impression (and indeed has acted in such a way) that he would much rather have preferred Clinton become President (although he has said that he supported neither candidate, the lopsidedness of his critique speaks for itself). Naturally the WashPost was overjoyed to use Dr. Moore to attack the "Religious Right" in the strongest terms possible and to serve the WashPost's ultimate goal of getting Clinton elected. Apparently Dr. Moore was happy to be so used and to be applauded by the political Left for doing their bidding. His op-ed certainly wasn't designed to depress the vote for Clinton.
Dr. Moore has since stated in what comes close to a non-apology apology: "There were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize."
Read the aforementioned WashPost Oct. op-ed by Dr. Moore and judge for yourself. To me the "apology" doesn't wash. I've read and reread the op-ed and every time I do so I see over and over again that, according to Dr. Moore, anyone who still expressed support for Trump's candidacy over Clinton's (especially in light of then-recent revelations about his abusive comments toward women a decade earlier) was guilty of a "horrifying" action:
"These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the 'lesser of two evils,' one should stand with [Trump].... Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election.... The cynicism and nihilism is horrifying to behold."
See? Not even someone who advocated voting for Trump as a lesser of two evils escaped Dr. Moore's indictment. (Note too that Dr. Moore was not the only Christian leader making this claim. Just two days later the executive editor of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch, insinuated that even Christians who voted for Trump "reluctantly," in hope of good Supreme Court appointments, were flirting with idolatry.)
And that is not all.
Dr. Moore has thoroughly mischaracterized sexual orientation change therapy as anti-Christian, thereby playing into the hands and game plan of homosexualist zealots to outlaw such therapy for consenting youth. He has done his best to exclude from speaking at ELCA events any Christians who see some limited good coming from such therapy. But he did meet in secret for a couple of hours with some homosexual activists at the 2015 ELCA Conference on homosexuality. Moreover, he has personally villified those who call into question his critique of such therapy (and this statement is not based on hearsay).
According to Dr. Moore, reparative therapy is “severely counterproductive." In an astonishing misrepresentation of reparative therapy he added: "The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea" ("Evangelical Leader Russell Moore Denounces ‘Ex-Gay Therapy,"” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey for Religion News Service, 10/28/14).
Reparative therapists do not believe that a primary goal *of the Christian faith* is that homosexually oriented persons must become heterosexually oriented. Nor do they operate on the premise that homosexual desire can be changed easily and quickly or eliminated entirely for most. The recently deceased prominent reparative therapist, Joseph Nicolosi, described RT as “a collaborative relationship [in which the therapist agrees] to work with the client to reduce his unwanted attractions and explore his heterosexual potential…. No outcome can be guaranteed…. [Outcomes range] along a continuum from complete change, to partial change (management and reduction of unwanted feelings), to, for some people, no change at all.”
Dr. Moore has also stated that while Christians should not attend a "gay marriage" ceremony they could attend the reception following the ceremony. No word yet on whether Dr. Moore would also commend attendance at a wedding reception for a marriage between a man and his mother, a woman and her brother, or three or more persons simultaneously (in a "loving" adult-consensual relationship, of course). Douglas Wilson has perceptively noted about Dr. Moore's position: "Now when you refuse to attend a wedding ceremony, but then are willing to attend a reception that celebrates the event you could not attend, this .... tells me that you disapprove initially but are willing to try to make it work after the fact."
Dr. Moore seems to have no problem with investing himself politically in adopting the Democratic position on illegal immigration (a position that he appears to elevate over everything else) while calling on Christians to take a much less active political approach in overturning "gay marriage."
He criticized Judge Roy Moore for not complying (while he held the office of Alabama Supreme Court justice) with a federal judge's unconstitutional overturning of Alabama's natural-marriage standard. He justified his position by appeal to respect for "the rule of law" even though rogue justices in imposing "gay marriage" have dispensed with the rule of law by treating the Consitution as little more than a cipher for their own leftwing sexual ideology, usurped the legislative role, and circumvented the process for amending the Constitution. Oddly, we don't hear Dr. Moore calling so much for "the rule of law" when it comes to doing something about illegal immigration.
His "Here We Stand: Declaration on Marriage" statement criticized anyone who expressed outrage over the Obergefell decision (I thought the reverse: There was insufficient outrage by many evangelicals). Yet Dr. Moore apparently had no problems with expressing repeated outrage over Trump's stances on illegal immigration and the prospect of Trump's election over Clinton. Dr. Moore's statement on marriage contained not a single mention of supporting and voting for candidates who would both strive to undo the Supreme Court's rogue decision and fight for our religious and civil liberties. Apparently for Dr. Moore vigorous political action on the "gay marriage" issue comes under the heading of "doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural 'Christian America.'" Yet Dr. Moore has repeatedly advocated for political action favoring an Obama-like illegal immigration policy.
Of course, it would be equally wrong to do to Dr. Moore what he has so frequently done to the older generation of so-called "cultural warriors"; namely, to broadbrush Dr. Moore in a completely negative light. There are a number of things that Dr. Moore has done and said over the years that I appreciate, especially as regards the issue of abortion.
Yet there are also real problems with the way Dr. Moore conducts himself and the ERLC that need addressing. It is not at all unusual that those who fund the ERLC would like Dr. Moore, as its head, to represent them better than he currently does, since after all they pay for the whole operation, including his very generous salary. When one runs continually on the platform "I'm not like those other Southern Baptists that society hates," one should expect some justifiable opposition from the same caricatured circles. People will take only so much parody of themselves before they reach the conclusion that it is counterproductive to fund it. I doubt that David French would be advocating for Dr. Moore to stay at ERLC, much less supporting the ERLC financially, if Dr. Moore's position toward No-Trumpers was that they were unfaithful Christians who had abandoned much of the gospel. Nor would he be designating Dr. Moore a prophet.
Many people in the Southern Baptist Convention are afraid of speaking about these problems in ERLC leadership for fear of retribution from Dr. Moore. I have heard from a number of them privately over the years.
Many people outside the SBC are also afraid to speak up out of fear for being blacklisted by prominent Evangelicals and conservative Catholics with whom Dr. Moore has worked hard to cultivate influence. He is a major player in the evangelical Gospel Coalition and a darling of the Catholic renewal publication First Things, two organizations that I respect greatly.
However, it should not be acceptable for Dr. Moore to beat up on others harshly with his rhetoric while his influential friends argue that he himself should be exempt from major criticism. (David French ironically refers to evangelical "snowflakes" who can't take Dr. Moore's criticism.) For some in these groups Dr. Moore can do no wrong. This is not a healthy environment.
[Nota bene: Lest it be thought that I am writing from the vantage point of a strong Trump supporter, let it be known that I backed Ted Cruz, spoke out vigorously against Trump during the primary season, mourned his nomination for several months (and, to some extent, still do), and voted for him for the sole reason that a Clinton election would have resulted in a significantly greater cataclysm on a host of key issues (the courts, transgenderism, the definition of marriage, the fate of the unborn, and religious liberty protections, inter alia). I remain a critic of Trump, albeit one generally relieved that Clinton does not occupy the White House.]

Appointed boundaries

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands (Act 17:26, NIV).

This verse is interesting in political history and church history because both sides of the segregationist debate appeal to it. Segregationists appeal to the second half while opponents appeal to the first half. But assuming Paul is consistent, both appeals can't be right. 

Let's briefly focus on the segregationist appeal. One basic problem with their appeal is how they arbitrarily freeze one particular period in the history of human geographical distribution. But when was the normative status quo that we should retain or restore? 

In the American context, for instance, is c. 1850 AD the standard of comparison? If so, why that date rather than, say, 1000 AD, or 1000 BC, or 2017 AD? 

Or consider the original setting. This statement was made in the mid-1C. Does that represent the normative status quo? If so, what was the racial composition and distribution, within what become the northern and southern boundaries of the USA, in c. 50 AD? 

Doesn't every period of history reflect God's appointed boundaries for that time and place? It's fluid. But that's because God predestines history, and history is fluid. For a segregationist to cite some period he regards as the golden age, and make that the standard of comparison, has no warrant in his prooftext. 

Atheism and its discontents

I recently got into a debate with a former evangelical Christian turned atheist. Here are some bits and pieces from my replies I thought might be helpful to some. Apologies if there's still a lot of filler or fodder in here as I wasn't necessarily all that discriminating in what I left in or took out. Also sorry I don't have the time to better organize this (e.g. topically). It's mostly just a quick copy and paste job in chronological order. And keep in mind I'm not a biblical scholar, theologian, or philosopher so I'm open to correction.

The Evidence For Organized Religion Can't Be Ignored

I recently listened to Alex Tsakiris' interview with Leslie Kean, a journalist who's published some books on paranormal phenomena. The books discussed during the program (one on UFOs and one on the afterlife) seem to have a lot of good material, and I've ordered both. I expect to eventually read them, but it may be a while before I get to them. What I want to do in this post is make some comments about the interview.

Kean's book on the afterlife seems to have some overlap with Patricia Pearson's book that came out in 2014, which I reviewed here. There's also some overlap with Tsakiris' interview of Pearson. I'll refer to perspectives like those held by people such as Tsakiris, Pearson, and Kean as a paranormal view of the afterlife.

Dictionary Of Christianity And Science

I recently saw Chad Gross posting about an upcoming book that looks promising.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


The problem of evil is the most popular objection to God's existence. And not just among village atheists, but philosophers. If an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God truly existed, he'd either prevent evil or step in before things become horrific. 

There is, though, something to be said for God letting evil run its course some of the time. There's a scene from a documentary about Nazi propagandist Riefenstahl (The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl) in which she and her surviving camera crew return to the site of the 1936 Olympiad, which she immortalized in one of her infamous films. This was shot during the heyday of the Third Reich, when the Nazis seemed to be unstoppable. But, of course, the viewer perceives the scene in hindsight, as does Riefenstahl. This was the apogee of human hubris, but the stark contrast between the Titanic megalomania of Germany in 1938, and its humiliating, devastating defeat, would be a lesson lost if God had intervened. Or, to take a more recent example, consider the situation of Venezuela after Chavez.

Many people ignore or mock dire warnings as alarmism. They don't take evil seriously. It's only when things it bottom, when they see it for themselves, that the unwelcome truth finally sinks in.

Of course, that's a very hard lesson for all concerned parties, but that's mitigated by eschatological justice and eschatological compensations. 

Pathways to inerrancy

How can a Christian make a case for the inerrancy of Scripture? I'd like to sketch some apologetic strategies.

1. Before doing that, permit me to draw a some preliminary distinctions:

i) What makes something true may be different from how we prove it true. Suppose I see a sign that a pet owner posted about their missing dog. It has a description. Let's say it's a border collie. Now, it can't be a collie unless it's a dog, and it can't be a dog unless it's a mammal. Suppose I saw missing the dog, and I notify the owner. However, I don't need to first prove that the animal is a mammal, then prove that the mammal is a dog, to be justified in believing that I saw a border collie fitting that description. So the logical or ontological order in which something must be the case needn't mirror the order in which we prove that it's true. A multi-staged argument may be artificial in that regard. 

ii) By the same token, we can believe something for different reasons than the reasons we give to justify our belief. Or there may be some overlap. 

For instance, I may believe that a certain high school once existence, even though the location is now a vacant lot, because I attended that school when I was a teenager. That may be all I know, but that's that's all I need to know. And it would be reasonable for a second party to accept my testimony.

On the other hand, I could prove the existence of the high school by producing photographs or public records. I don't need that kind of evidence for me to know or be justified in my belief. But were I proving it to someone else, who didn't have my firsthand knowledge, I might resort to corroborative evidence for his sake. 

iii) By the same token, a person might believe in Christianity for very personal reasons. Maybe he has firsthand experience of a Christian miracle or answered prayer to Jesus. Or a trusted friend or family member relayed to him an experience in kind.

When, however, we make a case for Christianity, we generally confine ourselves to publicly available evidence, since an outsider isn't privy to our personal experience. Hence, I may have greater warrant for my faith than the evidence I adduce in mounting an argument for Christianity, because I'm confining myself to kinds of evidence accessible to outsiders. Even though I'm using probabilistic arguments, that doesn't necessarily mean the basis for my own belief is reducible to the evidence I present to persuade others. 

2. The inerrancy of Scripture is logically grounded in the inspiration of Scripture. 

3. Apropos (2), the argument from prophecy is an argument for divine inspiration. And that's a paradigm of Biblical inspiration. I've discussed how we can justifiably extrapolate from the prophetic paradigm to the inspiration of Scripture in general:

And Michael Kruger comes at the same issue from a different angle:

4. Likewise, we can argue for and from the the general historical reliability of the Gospels. That, in turn, ratifies the inspiration of the OT via the testimony of Jesus. And the OT is a paradigm of inspiration that applies perforce to the NT (see above). 

At this stage of the argument, an apologist is not assuming the inspiration or infallibility of the Gospels. Rather, that will be the conclusion of his argument.

Keep in mind that this is a logical strategy. A stepwise argument. It doesn't mean the apologist is in a state of suspense regarding the outcome of his argument. He isn't waiting to find out what the answer will be. He believes in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture going in. So this is just a way of formulating the argument incrementally. We leave the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture in abeyance until we reach the conclusion for the sake of argument. 

5. Apropos (4), the Gospels give redundant testimony regarding the person and work of Christ. So the conclusion doesn't turn on any particular verse. No single passage is crucial to the conclusion. The Gospels could be fallible, but even if (ex hypothesi) they contain mistakes, there's a wide margin for error giving redundancy and multiple attestation. 

6. Apropos (5), if the Gospels bear witness to Jesus as God Incarnate, and if Jesus bears witness to the historicity and inspiration of the OT, then we can derive the inerrancy of Scripture through a chain of inference: general reliability of the Gospels>identity of Jesus>dominical attestation. 

Notice that I'm not inferring inerrancy directly from general historical reliability. Rather, the argument is indirect. If it's demonstrable that the Gospels are generally historically reliable, then that affords a reliable account of who Jesus is and what he thought of the OT. That in turn validates the OT. And that in turn validates the NT, inasmuch as the NT is a continuation and completion of the OT paradigm. 

7. On a related note is the argument from miracles. If the NT is a trustworthy account regarding the miracles of Jesus and the apostles, then that's authenticates the divine mission of the messenger. 

8. There are multiple lines of evidence for the historical reliability of the NT:

i) Undesigned coincidences

Suppose a biographer interviews friends and relatives of the person whose life he's narrating. What one informant says will often overlap with what another informant says. Not only is that multiple attestation, but in some cases what one informant says will fill in gaps left by what another informant says. So you have independent, interlocking lines of evidence. And that phenomenon has been documented in the Gospels and the record of Paul:

Lydia McGrew, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (DeWard, 2017)

ii) Archeological corroboration.

The Gospels often correspond with extrabiblical evidence for what was going on at that time and place. Some critics attempt to dismiss this by saying that's consistent with historical fiction, where a narrator will sprinkle his account with enough realistic details to give it an air of verisimilitude. 

However, that objection is at cross-purposes with another objection critics raise: namely, their claim that Gospels were written by narrators far removed from the time and place of the events they purport to record. But the critic can't have it both ways. Either the narrators were out of touch with time and place of Jesus, in which case they'd be too ignorant to write good historical fiction–or else they were conversant with the facts on the ground, in which case you can't chalk up the corroborative evidence to the artifice of historical fiction. 

On a related note is the historicity of Acts. Because the historical purview of Acts is more cosmopolitan than the provincial focus of the Gospels, it intersects with more 1C history. As a result, the Book of Acts enjoys greater historical corroboration. Yet the author of Acts was the same person as the author of Luke's Gospel. That goes to show that Luke is a conscientious historian with many informants. 

Monographs that collate this kind of evidence include:

Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Jesus (Eerdmans, 2009)

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2nd ed., 2017) 

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016)

Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archeological Evidence (WJK, 2012)

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns, 1990)

Craig Keener, Acts: A Exegetical Commentary, 4 vols. (Baker Academic, 2012-2015)

Stanley Porter, John, His Gospel, and Jesus (Eerdmans, 2016)

Bruce. W. Winter, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, vols. 1-4 (Eerdmans)

9. Another line of evidence is the traditional authorship of the Gospels. That includes both internal and external lines of evidence;

i)  Patristic testimony. 

ii) Textual evidence for the originality or extreme antiquity of the titles (e.g. Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham). 

iii) By process of elimination, the narrator of John's Gospel is an eyewitness disciple–in all probability the Apostle John. 

iv) If Mark was a younger contemporary of Jesus, as well as a native of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), then it's likely that his account is based in part on firsthand observation. 

10. Assuming that Matthew and Luke make use of Mark, that gives us an opportunity to check on how they handle source material. By comparing Matthew and Luke with Mark, we can see that Matthew and Luke are quite conservative in their use of Mark. Very faithful to their source. So that's a good reason to think they are trustworthy when they supplement Mark with independent sources of information.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Clark biography

The Absence Of A Papacy In Early Responses To Christianity

One way to study early Christianity is to look at it through the eyes of its opponents. I've often noted that the early opponents of Christianity describe the religion in a manner that contradicts Roman Catholic claims about church history. It's instructive to observe what men like Trypho, Celsus, and Caecilius tell us about early Christianity and what arguments they bring against the religion. It's also important to notice how individuals like Justin Martyr, Origen, and Minucius Felix respond on behalf of Christianity. Those early interactions between Christians and their critics provide us with a lot of evidence against the claims of Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.) on the veneration of images, prayer to the dead, and other issues.

One of the most substantial problems for Catholicism in the early responses to Christianity is the absence of any reference to a papacy. Remember, Catholics often tell us how important the papacy allegedly is. We're supposed to think that it's the foundation of the church, central to Christian unity, an infallible source of Christian teaching, and so on. We're told how valuable the papacy is in the abstract and how practical it is, how it's such a good idea on so many levels to have such an office. We're often pointed to John 17:21, as if Jesus was referring there to denominational unity under Roman Catholicism and the papacy. Well, if we need to submit to the papacy "so that the world may believe" (John 17:21), shouldn't we expect the world to know that the papacy exists and to refer to it when discussing Christianity? Isn't that especially true during the earliest centuries of church history, when, according to many Catholics, there was such widespread and consistent unity under the Pope? What if, instead of acknowledging such unity and responding to it along the lines of John 17:21 or focusing on the papacy as one of the most foundational issues to be addressed (as we'd expect if Christianity was Roman Catholic at the time), the early responses to Christianity show no knowledge that a papacy even exists and sometimes make comments suggesting its nonexistence?

Something worth considering in this context is what Celsus, a second-century pagan critic of Christianity, said about Christian disunity and how Origen, a Christian, responded. See here.

Neither Celsus and his Jewish sources nor the other earliest non-Christian sources who comment on the religion refer to a papacy. And we have much more than documents like Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho and Origen's Against Celsus to go by. Larry Hurtado notes:

"Whatever their actual success, clearly some Christians made impressive efforts to disseminate their works, not only among fellow believers, but more widely as well. Here again, it is difficult to find an equivalent effort by other religious groups of the day….Philo of Alexandria's Embassy to Gaius might serve as a kind of precedent. But the sheer number of Christian apologia [apologetic] texts is unprecedented." (Destroyer Of The Gods [Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2016], 132-3, n. 90 on 249)

Men like Aristides and Tertullian wrote apologies in which they responded to objections to Christianity and anticipated potential objections. They address the deity of Jesus, his virgin birth, his resurrection, the second coming, the inspiration of scripture, how to interpret various passages of scripture, Christian moral standards, the apostles, Christian teachers, the nature of the church, and many other topics. But they say nothing of a papacy, to explain it, defend it, anticipate objections to it, or anything else.

God at the center

Some people have experiences which, if they bother to think about it, ought to make them mindful of how vulnerable and alone we are unless we have God to center our lives. For instance, suppose you're traveling alone. In a motel. In a strange town. You go for a walk. You don't know anyone. No one knows you. You don't belong to anyone there. You could be anywhere or nowhere. 

This experience can be heightened in other ways. Suppose you're moving. You're in-between homes. Say you sold your house, gave the realtor your keys. No going back.

But you have yet to take possession of your new home. So you're adrift. At the moment you have nowhere to call home. 

Say you stay at a motel until the deal closes on the home you bought. You can feel naked without your house keys. You're in a habit of never leaving home without your keys–so that you won't be locked out. But now all you have is the key card to your motel room. It's an odd sensation to instinctively reach into your pocket for your keys, but the familiar, comforting objects are gone! A momentary, conditioned sense of panic ensues. 

Likewise, suppose you're not just traveling alone, but you're truly alone. Single. Widowed. Divorced. That, in combination with moving or traveling, can intensify the sense of isolation. At the mercy of strangers. People who really don't care what happens to you. No one to rescue you. No one to call if you're stranded. 

It's similar to the sensation of being lost. Some people feel enshrouded by a sense of alienation and lostness from living in huge, impersonal cities. The irony is that there's a special kind of loneliness which people can feel when they are surrounded by other people–strangers. 

Or take someone who's diagnosed with a serious, complicated illness. He's referred to a specialist, then the first specialist refers him to second specialist, who refers him to a third specialist. A succession of strangers. 

This is one reason people marry. To have someone to grow old with. But oftentimes, one spouse will outlive another by several years. So you may still end up being alone at the most vulnerable time of life.

Friends and family mask how essentially isolated we are. Their presence fills the foreground, blocking out the background. But when they're gone, we may discover that there was nothing behind them: just empty space.

If you really stop and think about it, unless God is the hub connecting the spokes, our lives have no stable center. Nothing to keep things together or bring things back together. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Larry Hurtado lecture on “Destroyer of the Gods”

Published on Oct 14, 2016
Lecture by Larry Hurtado “A New and Mischievous Superstition: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World” given September 10, 2016 at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, TX.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kubo and the Two Strings review

(Spoilers contained below.)

I recently watched Kubo and the Two Strings. It's a beautifully rendered stop-motion animated feature film. It looks, sounds, and even "feels" exquisitely crafted. The voice acting is superb as well. Regina Spektor's rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was a pitch perfect way to close out the film. Overall I loved the movie.