Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why the Paris Massacre Will Have Limited Impact

Militant Islam

Unforeseeable consequences

One common plank of the freewill defense is the contention that, to be meaningful, our choices must have predictable consequences. That entails a stable environment. And that means God can't jump in to save our bacon. The laws of nature are the price we pay for responsible decision-making.

This argument was popularized by C. S. Lewis. Although it's common to the freewill defense, a Calvinist can also incorporate the same principle into his overall theodicy. Making choices based on predictable consequences is certainly consonant with compatibilism. 

So I think the stable environment theodicy has some merit, but it's inconsistent. Although nature is predictable in some respects, nature is unpredictable in other respects, and some natural evils are among the least predictable features of nature.

We've gotten pretty good at forecasting hurricanes. (Of course, that's useless to our pre-scientific forebears.) But we can't predict earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, droughts (and drought-related famine).  

If a tsunami occurs, we maybe able to predict the trajectory and arrival time. However, that's generally useless because you can't evacuate port cities in a few hours. 

We can't forecast tornadoes. If they occur, we can track then, but the lead-time is often down to minutes. There really isn't time for advance warning. (And, or course, our prescientific forbears couldn't even track tornadoes.)

We have a far better understanding of disease transmission, so we can now avoid or reduce some epidemics and pandemics, viz. rat control, draining or spraying malarial ponds and swamps. (Again, that knowhow wasn't available to our prescientific ancestors.) 

There are genetic diseases we can now predict, but not prevent. So the patient feels doomed by a dreadful diagnosis and fateful prognosis. 

It's hard to protect against venomous snakes. If you see them in plain sight, you can avoid them or kill them with a rock or a stick. 

But take Indian farmers who are bitten by cobras when they harvest rice patties. That's predictable in the coarse-grained sense that there's an appreciable risk. But it's unpredictable in the fine-grained sense that you don't know where not to step until it's too late. 

Likewise, it's well-nigh impossible to snakeproof a house, especially huts, shacks, and shanties. These are porous. Lots of ways for snakes to get inside. 

If it's a nocturnal venomous snake, you may be bitten if you step on it in the dark. Or you may be bitten when it crawls into bed to snuggle up against that nice warm body.

So there's often no way to protect against kraits, mambas, cobras, Russell's vipers, &c. You can't take adequate precautions, or anticipate where they will strike. 

The stable environment theodicy is a poor fit with what the natural world is actually like. At best, it intersects with a part of nature.  

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Okay, so we have a coordinated, multi-pronged jihadist attack in Paris. What will change? Not much.

i) Sure, there will be a crackdown on a few jihadist cells. French authorities will round up some riff-raff. But that's treating symptoms. 

Problem is the premise: it's like inviting a bunch snipers into a high school, locking all the exits, then holding PTA meeting on what to do about the recent spike in hallway violence. A lockdown keeps the bad guys in rather than out. Keeps them inside with you. It's not enough to close the borders. As even a soft-touch like Michael Nazi-Ali concedes:

We can be sure that among those arriving in Europe are radical Islamists who will wish to use this mass movement of people to infiltrate and implant sleeper cells for future terrorism in Europe. Whatever methods are used to distinguish genuine refugees from others, this factor has always to be kept in mind. We are facing not a nationalist ideology or a liberation movement or even a localised religious revival: we are confronted with a globalised religious ideology which has world domination in its sights. The events of the last year or so should sober up those who say, “It’ll never come here.” It has — and unless we wake up and address the threat directly, we may find ourselves refugees fleeing its wrath.

And that was before the Paris attack. 

Europe and the UK have millions of Muslims per country. So long as that's the case, any policing efforts will be cosmetic. A partial solution is to do what Spaniards did during the Reconquista: expel the Muslims. Send them packing. Anywhere but here! 

It's striking that so many Muslim immigrants are so contemptuous of the host countries. The utter lack of gratitude. 

It could begin with an ultimatum: police yourselves or else! If you don't solve the problem, we will do it for you. We need to give "moderate Muslims" an incentive to take charge of the situation. Make them fear deportation more than the radical elements in their midst. 

But I don't see that happening anytime soon. It's too drastic for the political class to contemplate. Yet anything short of that is too little to make a dent in the underlying problem.

As usual, we hear about how about all the "moderate Muslims" who aren't terrorists. Problem is, "moderate Muslims" are either unable or unwilling to rein in the jihadists. And it's not just terrorism. It's a rape culture. Honor killings. Pedophilia. Anal sex. Female genital mutilation. And so on and so forth. 

ii) On the international front, the US should be a genuine military ally of Israel. But, instead, we have a president who's hostile to Israel and sympathetic to the Iranian terrorist state. 

iii) We need to get tough. Here's an extreme example:

There's something to be said for this. I don't think we should kidnap innocent relatives. But at the level of the "terror masters," those who plan attacks, give the orders, it's often a family business. Most of the adult males are involved. So they are fair game. There are plenty of bad guys to choose from. Some of their male relatives are monsters. 

So many Muslim terrorists are sociopathic. The notion that you should treat others the way you want others to treat you is a totally alien concept to them. Well, they need to be taught that lesson the hard way. 

As a last resort, we should consider giving them a dose of their own medicine. They need to find themselves on the receiving end of what they dole out to others.

iv) In addition, because Muslim culture is a honor/shame culture, we need to use public humiliation as a deterrent. The whole notion of culture-appropriate menus for Muslim prisoners, going out of our way to avoid offense, is completely wrongheaded. Muslims need to be shamed into surrender. 

v) Thus far I've discussed ways of defeating Islam from the outside. But that's not all. We need to defeat Islam from the inside by seeding Islamic culture with Christian apologetics and evangelism. Examples include James White, Ken Temple, Nabeel Qureshi, Michael Nazir-Ali, David Wood, Sam Shamoun, Anthony Rogers, and Luis Dizon. 

Theology of rape

And the Word was God

I'm going to respond to some comments that anti-Trinitarian apostate Dale Tuggy left on my post. I also listened to his Podcast (#71):

The case seems so strong, doesn't it, when you only hear one side! Some things being left out: the precedents in early writings…

1. The only precedent we need for the Prologue to John is the Pentateuch. We don't need to postulate any other source to explicate the text. In John 1, the specific literary allusions are to the creation account in Gen 1 and the Shekinah/tabernacle in Exodus. 

The wording of Jn 1 echoes Gen 1 in several respects, viz.

i) The timemarker: "in the beginning"

ii) A divine Creator

iii) Creation by divine speech

iv) The opposition of light and darkness

v) Creation of life

2. However, that backdrop supplies a point of contrast as well as comparison:

i) It goes back a step from Gen 1 by describing what lies behind creation: the preexistent Father with the preexistent Son. 

ii) In Jn 1, the Genesis terminology has acquires a double entendre. In Gen 1, light and life refer to the origins of physical light and physical life. That's included in Jn 1, but in the Prologue they acquire the additional significance of new life or eternal life. Spiritual illumination and spiritual renewal. Likewise, "darkness," and the contrast between light and darkness, take on metaphorical connotations. 

…in the deuterocanonical books of parallel ideas to John 1:14, wherein something divine comes down from heaven to dwell in this physical realm - but it's not a self.

To the extent that there's a parallel in prior literature, that would be to the Shekinah coming down to fill the tabernacle, or the pillar of fire leading the Israelites at night. Just as Jn 1:1-3 is a deliberate allusion to Gen 1, Jn 1:14 is a studied allusion to the wilderness accounts. 

You also leave out the allusion to Prov 8 ("with God"), which helps us to understand the significance of "god/divine was the logos" at the end of v1. He's saying that this wisdom/reason through which God made all is just him, or his. It's not someone else. 

i) I can't leave out a nonexistent allusion. There is no allusion to Prov 8 in Jn 1. There are many problems with that alleged comparison:

ii) Jn 1 is a historical narrative, Prov 8 is a poetic allegory.

iii) Lady Wisdom in Prov 8 is a fictional character who parallels Lady Folly in Prov 9. 

iv) As Bruce Waltke explains in his commentary, Lady Wisdom is a metaphor for Solomon's proverbial wisdom. 

v) Lady Wisdom is an observer, not a creator–unlike the Logos in Jn 1.

vi) Lady Wisdom is God's first creature, whereas the Logos is the Creator. Lady Wisdom is on the creaturely side of the categorical divide whereas the Logos is on the divine side of the categorical divide. 

vii) Jn 1 doesn't use wisdom terminology. It calls the filial Creator logos rather than sophia

As the OT says in a few places, Yahweh (aka the Father) created the cosmos alone. You leave that out…

Since the OT never says Yahweh is the Father (in contrast to the Son, Spirit, or Trinity), I can't very well leave out that nonexistent identification. In fact, the NT often identifies Jesus as Yahweh.

...and also the fact that Jesus never takes credit for being the (direct) creator - which is quite surprising if it's true that he was. 

i) Jesus doesn't have to take credit for that because the Prologue credits Jesus as the Creator. 

ii) Moreover, John's Gospel is primarily about the history of the incarnate Son, and not the prehistory of the discarnate Son. It introduces Jesus as the Genesis Creator in an establishing shot. But it doesn't linger because, having made that point, it moves on to the redemptive work of the Son. The Creator is the Savior and Judge. 

For him, the Father is the creator. 

Not according to the Prologue. 

I think that's true for Paul too, but this isn't the place to argue the matter. 

Especially since you lost that argument in the past.

Also, that the pronouns in 2-3 can be translated as impersonal, although personal makes sense, if the author is personifying God's word. 

That's inept. Needless to say, the gender of the pronouns depends on the gender of the nous. When the Prologue uses theological metaphors like "word," "light," and "life" for Jesus, the gender of the pronoun will match the gender of the titles. 

For instance, "light" is literally an inanimate substance, but figuratively, it can characterize a personal agent–just as Scripture refers to God as "fire."

Another relevant fact: when the Philonic Logos theology was first propounded (c. 150-200) it was very controversial, and constantly drew the objection that it was positing two creators. Now why on earth would this be so widespread, if everyone was reading John in the way which seems so obvious to you? The answer is that it was not so obvious to them. It was the Logos theology winning out which really cemented the catholic reading. It seems that some of the "monarchians" and others read it more in the way I'm suggesting. 

That's because the church fathers were gentiles rather than Jews, so they were more attuned to Hellenistic philosophy and less attuned to the Pentateuchal background for Jn 1.

On the face of it, one would not expect "the Word of God" to be a person. 

Only if you artificially isolate Jn 1 from Gen 1. But in John's usage, the "Word of God" is a title for the Creator in Gen 1. That's because God in Gen 1 is a speaker. He makes the world by commanding the world into existence. Divine speech is the method of creation. 

A God who speaks stands in contrast to the dumb idols of heathen. The say-nothing, do-nothing, know-nothing gods of Israel's pagan neighbors. In comparison, Yahweh is a God who speaks. And his words have creative power. 

Of course, a person in whom God's word is uniquely and best expressed can thereby by called "the Word of God" as we see in Revelation. 

That's not what the Prologue says. Rather, the Prologue says the preexistent Word who made the world long ago later came into the world (in John's time) he made. He properly exists outside the world.  

Same point with "Life", "Light." Those wouldn't normally be terms for a self, but they can be, when God's word (which is life and light) is best expressed in that self, in the man Jesus. 

i) They are personal terms when they function as theological metaphors. 

ii) In John's Gospel, moreover, Jesus is the source of light and life–just as Yahweh is the source of light and life in Gen 1. 

iii) Furthermore, the light motif  trades on the Shekinah in the wilderness. The glorious radiance of God's visible presence. 

iv) Finally, notice Dale's false dichotomy. If God becomes incarnate and dwells with his people, then God's light, life, and word will be embodied in the person of the Messiah. That's an implication of the hypostatic union. 
About John 1, I don't see how that helps the catholic reading. John saw and touched God's eternal life and message as manifest in the real man Jesus, in his life, deeds, teaching.

Once again, the same false dichotomy. Eternal life is manifested in the person of God Incarnate.  

In Jn 1:1, the "Word" is a title for Jesus, while "God" in the second clause is a designation for the Father, and "God" in the third clause functions adjectivally to denote the deity of the Son. 

To paraphrase Jn 1:1: "In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with the divine Father, and the Son was divine." 

i) John uses the noun "God" (rather than the adjective "divine") in both clauses to strengthen the comparison. 

ii) At this preliminary stage in the exposition, John withholds the identity of the two principals because his first order of business is to give the backstory for Incarnation. At the time of writing, the Son had returned to the Father. But before narrating the public ministry of Christ, John wants to take the reader back in time to the prehistory of the Son. He identifies the Son as the Creator in Gen 1. The God who spoke the world into existence. And in due time, that's the world which the Son comes into, to redeem the lost.

All in all, not super-obvious either way. I don't think, though, that your arguments do anything to refute the multiply well motivated reading I've outlined. Also relevant will be whether we think a real man can have always existed, independently of Adam or any other previous humans, only lately becoming a human. 

That reference is very obscure. I take it that this is Dale's fallback when dealing with the preexistence passages. He will say that even if they do refer to a preexistent Son, this is a preexistent man. Although it's decidedly unclear how a "real man" who "always existed" "only lately become a human."

And, no, I don't think a real man can have always existed. For one thing, humans are social creatures. They require human companionship to maintain their sanity. A solitary man with an infinite past would be inhuman. 

What does Dale even have in mind? A human in a stasis chamber until God injects him into the world? How would he be socialized? Moreover, he'd begin his entrance into the 1C as preformed adult. But unitarians must resort to desperate measures to salvage their position.  

And: whether we're impressed at all with the idea that the synoptics assume or hint at the personal pre-existence of Jesus. 

As expounded by scholars like Simon Gathercole and Sigurd Grindheim. 

And whether we put any stock in the "two Yahweh" and other Jesus-in-the-OT arguments drawn from Philo and others, which made their way into catholic teaching in the latter 100s. 

No, that isn't germane to my case for the deity of Christ. I don't need esoteric sources. OT prophecy and NT Christology are more than sufficient.  

"Why, to protect Christ’s little ones"

The Illusion of Respectability by Allen Guelzo.

P&R interview with John Frame

Friday, November 13, 2015

An interview with Matt Chandler

I thought this interview with Pastor Matt Chandler was a valuable and edifying read. For example:

Man, let me tell you, when I got sick with a brain tumor, I was the least sexy I’ve ever been. All my hair was gone. I had a gnarly scar on my head, and I was lying on the bathroom floor trying to get the strength to vomit in the toilet again. Praise God my wife’s view of love wasn’t just about what I could do for her. If Lauren were to leave me in that moment, when I was sick and dying with cancer, no one, not even the worldliest person, would think that what she had done was right, good, or should be emulated. And yet, they’re fine with someone leaving under far less difficult circumstances. It’s crazy. It’s a total failure to understand what love is.


The litmus test I’ve always used on whether or not you really grasp grace is what you do when you blow it. If you blow it and you run from the Lord to try to clean yourself up and then come back, you do not understand grace and what God has done for you in Christ. But if you blow it and you run to him, that’s an evidence of grace. Ed Welch said, “Everybody thinks sanctification looks like strength. Really what it looks like is weakness.” It looks like failure. Sanctification looks like darkness and difficulty and pain and suffering. Show me someone who blows it and runs to the Lord and cries and snots and lays that before the Lord, pleads forgiveness, rests in it and gets up and continues to walk, and I’ll show you someone who understands grace. You show me someone who blows it, pulls way back for a season until they can either forget about what they’ve done or at least get some kind of control around it, I’ll show you somebody who doesn’t understand grace. They are their own functional savior—I can clean myself up.

The entire interview is well worth reading.

God’s Refugees

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dystopian prophecy

Rev 8-9 & 16 contain end-of-the world descriptions. How should we take that?

i) Is this supposed to refer to events pretty much as described? If so, what's the timeframe?

For instance, one might use that to support a futurist interpretation. Since that didn't happen in the past, it must lie in the future. 

Conversely, a liberal preterist would say it predicted the destruction of the Roman Empire, which was roughly conterminous with the known world. Therefore, it predicted the end of the world when the Roman Empire ended. But since that didn't happen, it's a false prophecy. Moreover, although the Roman Empire disintegrated, it didn't fall apart in the way Revelation envisions. So, once again, it's a false prophecy.

So there's some circularity to how we use that to date the outlook. 

ii) Another approach is to say it uses end-of-the-world symbolism to refer to something else. One potential problem with that approach is that unless you have reason to believe the Bible wouldn't predict the end of the world, or unless you have reason to believe the end of the world (as we know it) won't involve cataclysmic natural and humanitarian disasters, why would you assume this imagery stands for something else?

iii) You can also take the position that even though it refers to the end of the world, it uses surrealistic imagery. This is, after all, a vision. The images are dream-like or nightmarish. Things can happen in dreams and nightmares that are physically impossible in real life. That's my own inclination.

iv) There is, however, a final option. Assuming this is a long-range prophecy, then the referents have modern analogues. The reader should mentally substitute a modern equivalent. If, say, John depicts ancient military technology (e.g. archers, warhorses), and this actually looks forward to the distant future, then you update the technology. 

Mind you, that can be hazardous. Unless you know when it will happen, your modernization may soon be obsolete. A reader can only use the present as his frame of reference for modernizing the text. So that will be different for a 21C reader than a 19C reader. 

v) In terms of the sheer scale of damage, one interesting thing about Rev 8-9 & 16 is that it's unrealistic in light of 1-2C history, but becomes more realistic the further we move into the future. For instance:

The Justinian PlagueThe first recorded pandemic, the Justinian Plague, was named after the 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I. The Justinian Plague began in 541 AD and was followed by frequent outbreaks over the next two hundred years that eventually killed over 25 million people (Rosen, 2007) and affected much of the Mediterranean basin--virtually all of the known world at that time. 
"Black Death" or the Great PlagueThe second pandemic, widely known as the "Black Death" or the Great Plague, originated in China in 1334 and spread along the great trade routes to Constantinople and then to Europe, where it claimed an estimated 60% of the European population (Benedictow, 2008). Entire towns were wiped out. Some contemporary historians report that on occasion,there were not enough survivors remaining to bury the dead (Gross, 1995).
Imagine a contemporary of the Justinian Plague or the Black Death reading about natural disasters (in Revelation) that kill 1/3 of humanity. That would be a good ballpark figure. In his experience in time and place, that would be terrifyingly true.   
vi) Let's play along with (iv-v). On this interpretation, John describes destruction raining down from the sky, from angels and meteors and so forth, because that's the imagery he had available to him. But from a futuristic perspective, modern analogues might be bombers dropping napalm and Agent Orange. Or orbital weapons. Space-based lasers. If God were revealing the distant future to a 1C seer, isn't that how God would convey the idea of advanced military technology? 

Or take the 200 million-man army in 9:16-17, consisting of fire-breathing warhorses. Now I myself think the figure is hyperbolic. The point is to conjure the impression of an overwhelming invasion force. 

But suppose we think it's more realistic. A stock objection is that a 200 million-man army is infeasible. The logistics of moving and supplying that many square miles of infantry is impractical. A problem Robert Thomas overlooks. 

But suppose this refers to military robots? Miniature tanks armed with flamethrowers and rocket launchers? Isn't that a good modern analogue for fire-breathing warhorses? And it's more feasible. But if God was revealing that spectacle to a 1C seer, he might use images of mutant equine monsters instead. 

vii) Apropos (vi), consider the talking eagle in 8:13. Robert Thomas takes that literally. But that's problematic. Even allowing for supernaturalism, there's a dilemma:

If the eagle is near enough to be seen and heard by some observers, it's too close to be seen and heard by everyone. Conversely, if it's far away, then it's too far to be seen (much less heard) unless you have a telescope and know where to point it.

We need to ask what is the purpose of the eagle? A talking eagle at the cosmic zenith point functions as an international broadcast system–or warning system. Using 1C conceptual resources, that's one way to convey the idea. But assuming this is futuristic prophecy, what if the talking eagle stands for a communications satellite? 

viii) Likewise, I mentioned the Bubonic plague. That had a vast death toll despite being a natural pathogen. A more recent example is Ebola in Africa. The last outbreak nearly lost containment. 

But in futuristic prophecy, we should make allowance for weaponized pathogens. Pathogens engineered to be more contagious (by contact or airborne), have a longer incubation period, and be resistant to antibiotics and antivirals. 

That could be produced by governments, but it could also be produced by well-funded, biotech savvy ecoterrorists who think the survival of the biosphere depends on wiping out the human race, or at the very least decimating the population. 

Chemical weapons would be another threat: say, to poison municipal fresh water supplies. Even with respect to what's naturally possible, the scale of damage envisioned in Revelation becomes increasingly realistic as we head into the future. 

I'm not saying that's the right way to interpret Revelation; but it's something to consider. Hold in reserve. 

Is Jesus the eternal Logos?

Let's begin with a recent exchange between Dale Tuggy and me:

Tuggy: In brief, John never says that the eternal Logos is Jesus, and 1:14 doesn't say or imply that they are the same person. The Word is something like God's plan or wisdom, by which, the OT says in a couple of places, God created. It was "with" him then. 
Hays: In Jn 1, the Logos is a personal agent, not a plan. And it says the same Logos in 1:1-4 becomes flesh in 1:14. That refers to Jesus. It doesn't merely say the Logos was "with" God. It goes onto say the Logos was God (not to mention the Son's preexistence in 17:5). And this line of argument is capped in 1:18, where there are two divine subjects: Father and Son. And the Son reveals the Father because like reveals like. They are two of a kind.
"In Jn 1, the Logos is a personal agent, not a plan. And it says the same Logos in 1:1-4 becomes flesh in 1:14. That refers to Jesus. It doesn't merely say the Logos was "with" God. It goes onto say the Logos was God." 
Tuggy: Total question-begging, unfortunately, and a failure to appreciate the biblical reasons which motivate the view.

Let's compare Tuggy's claim to the text:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:1-14).

In Jn 1, the same X is called the word, life, light, and son. Notice the use of "light" as a leitwort connecting the coeternal Word that was with God, and was God, with the light to which John the Baptist bore witness. The same word and light made the world. The light that came into the world, parallels the word that became flesh and dwelt among them. Two descriptions of the same event. Likewise, the very Word which the narrator saw.  

By the same token, "light" and "life" are titles for Jesus in the Gospel. These terms are links in a chain connecting the Word in 1:1-3 with the "light" which John the Baptist witnessed, as well as the embodied Word which the narrator witnessed. Those are coreferential terms. They all denote the same X. 

In addition, we can use 1 Jn 1 as a commentary on Jn 1. Given common authorship and very similar vocabulary, is it not unmistakable that this is referring to the same X as Jn 1? 

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Did the author of 1 Jn "see" with his own "eyes" an abstract, impersonal "plan"? Did the author "touch" with his own "hands" an abstract, impersonal plan? 

No. This descriptive language has reference to a personal, empirically discernible agent. 

Notice, too, the allusion to the post-Resurrection appearance of Christ in the Upper Room (see below). 

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn 20:24-29).

Prophets, Precogs, and the Purposes of God

James Anderson reviews Minority Report in "Prophets, Precogs, and the Purposes of God". It's one of the best movie reviews I've ever read. (And I'd say the movie is better than the present television show! Although I've only seen the first few episodes.)

University of Missouri

Comrades, hear Communications Minister Click! Defend free expression! Resist the media invaders!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Nicene Creed

I concluded my last blog with a number of conclusions I have drawn as I have read, studied, and taught the doctrine of the Trinity in the midst of the modern debate over “egalitatarian” views of the Trinity and the role relationships of men and women. The first of those conclusions was that significant problems have developed among evangelicals since the Enlightenment on the doctrine of the Trinity. 
I suppose that the first question someone might ask me about that assertion is, “By what standard?” My answer is by the standard of the Bible, but also by the standard of the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed or at least its identifying trinitarian formulas were adopted by all the mainstream confessions and creeds of the Reformation. Here is the language of the Nicene Creed in the form that it emerged after the Council of Constantinople in 381 and in which it is commonly used liturgies today.  
The key words of importance for the modern debate I have placed in bold italics. The Nicene Creed asserts, of course, that there are three persons who are God. It also asserts that there is only one God. Thus, the deity of the Son and Spirit is identical to the deity of the Father. The Son is “of one substance with Father” and by implication so is the Spirit. 
But when these two truths (that there is one God and that there are three persons who are God) have been stated, the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity has not yet been fully stated. The Creed is at pains to state with incredible repetition and emphasis what we call the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Unless we believe this doctrine, we do not believe the Nicene Creed; and we do not—by the standard of the Nicene Creed—hold to the Trinitarianism of historic Christianity. Modern evangelicals need to think about that!

i) I, for one, am an egalitarian about the Trinity, but a complementation about men and women. 

ii) The subtitle ("Do we really believe in the Nicene Creed?") of Waldron's post is ironic. Does he believe in "one baptism for the forgiveness of sins"?

Let's evaluate the Nicene Creed:

WE BELIEVE in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,

i) The English translation has a comma after "one God," which might suggest the "one God" includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But to my knowledge, the Greek text doesn't have that punctuation. 

ii) These seem to be parallel clauses:

We believe in one God the Father

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ

If so, that suggests the Nicene Creed only affirms the Father as the one God–not the Father, Son, and Spirit inclusively. If so, that's a very defective formulation. 

maker of heaven and earth,

i) In Scripture, the creation of the world is not unique to the Father. In fact, the NT typically ascribes that action that to the Son. 

Indeed, the Creed goes on to say "all things were made through" the Son. 

But in that event, it fails to single out any particular act or attribute that distinguishes the Father from the Son. 

ii) The Creed is deficient in that respect because patristic theology was underdeveloped. For instance, a Calvinist would say the work of the Father includes election and justification, as well as raising Jesus from the dead. In the economy of salvation, that's distinctive to the Father.

of all that is, seen and unseen.

Strictly speaking, I wouldn't say everything invisible was created. Numbers weren't created. Possible worlds weren't created. Rather, these inhere in the mind and nature of God.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,

As I've explained before, I do not affirm the eternal generation of the Son. God is not derivative. 

of one Being with the Father.

That's the best part of the Creed. Unfortunately, it fails to extend that principe to the Spirit. It never says the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father. That's a serious omission. 

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

That's all good.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

i) That's rather perfunctory. It fails to mention the work of the Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. Once again, that deficiency reflects the underdeveloped state of patristic theology. 

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

By the same token, I do not affirm the eternal procession of the Spirit. God is not derivative.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

That's fine.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

i) Isn't it redundant to say the church is both "one" and "universal"? By definition, there can only be one universal church. 

ii) The other marks are somewhat arbitrary. Yes, the church is "apostolic," but why not say the church is "prophetic, apostolic, and and dominical" (Eph 2:20)?

Likewise, the church is "spiritual." A fellowship of the Holy Spirit  

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I don't acknowledge that baptism confers the remission of sins, if that's what it means. 

We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.


In sum, the Nicene Creed is very uneven. Gets a number of things right, gets some things wrong, and is defective in some of its formulations. 

Divine chastisement

13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:1-5). 

9 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (Jn 9:1-3). 

4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (Jn 11:4). 

i) Natural evils are sometimes remedial or retributive punishment for sin. 

ii) However, natural evils can, and often do, befall the righteous and unrighteous alike. Much suffering is due to original sin rather than personal sin. Due to the fall, humans are liable to suffering or death by disease, senescence, war, murder, starvation, poisoning, fatal accident, fire, natural disaster, &c. 

iii) Apart from special revelation, we can't justifiably conclude that a particular illness or tragedy is divine punishment. Sometimes that's the case, but in many situations, that's not the case. Ironically, that connection is made by health-and-wealth charlatans.

There are heretics, infidels, or generally wicked folk who lead long, healthy, comfortable lives, viz. Hugh Hefner (89-), Robert Mugabe (91-), Adolf Grünbaum (92-), Mary Midgley (96-), Bertrand Russell (d. 97), W. V. O. Quine (d. 92), Martin Gardner (d. 95), Edward Teller (d. 95), Linus Pauling (d. 93), Leo XIII (d. 93), Hans Bethe (d. 98), Ernst Mayr (d. 100), John Hick (d. 90), Harry Emerson Fosdick (d. 91), Leni Riefenstahl (d. 101), Charles Hartshorne (d. 103). 

So there's nothing approaching a one-to-one correspondence between holiness/orthodoxy and good fortune, or sin/heresy and ill-fortune. Indeed, there's no probable correlation.  

Conversely, there are devout Christians who had short, often hard lives. Westminster Divine George Gillespie died at 35. Missionary Jim Elliot died at 28. Missionary Eric Liddell died at 43 of brain cancer. Robert Murray M'Cheyne died at 29. Missionary David Brainerd died at 29.

iv) We need to distinguish between individual divine judgment and collective divine judgment. In the nature of the case, collective judgments are indiscriminate. If God unleashes a pestilence on a community, those who become sick or die will be those with the least natural resistance to the contagion or those with the greatest contact, not those who are the most sinful. Collective judgments don't target sinners. Innocent and guilty alike will suffer.

v) There's a big difference between allowing for the possibility that ill-fortune is punishment for sin, and presuming that to be the case. Scripture warns us to avoid judgmental inferences (e.g. Job; Lk 13:1-5; Jn 9:1-3; 11:4). 

vi) Since illness and tragedy are sometimes divine chastisement, a suffering Christian should make allowance for that possibility and consider if there are unexamined sins of omission or commission in his life. If, after he rectifies the problem, the illness abates, that might be evidence that it was remedial punishment. Even then, that's iffy.  

Dale Tuggy's Da Vinci Code

Anti-Trinitrian apostate Dale Tuggy left a number of comments on my Rom 9:5 post. Most of his remarks were directed at someone other than me. In some cases I'd frame the issue differently. But I'll comment on some of his remarks, even if they weren't in response to me. 

i) I'd note in passing that even liberal scholars can take the position that Rom 9:5 refers to Jesus as God. Joseph Fitzmyer argues for that identification in his commentary on Romans, even though the modern church of Rome doesn't require its Bible scholars to defend the traditional interpretation of stock prooftexts. 

And for interested parties, here's an exhaustive analysis of the text, defending Jesus as the referent:

ii) If someone is going to reject orthodox Christology, then critical Christology is a more logical alternative than unitarian Christology. Liberal critics take the position that the NT reflects theological diversity. Low Christology and high Christology. Supposedly, Mark has low Christology, Matthew and Luke have a higher Christology than Mark, while John has a higher Christology than Matthew and Luke. Likewise, the so-called Deutero-Paulines supposedly have a higher Christology than James. That sort of thing.

I don't agree. But a liberal doesn't have to explain away high Christological texts the way Dale must. In that respect it's more consistent. 

Taking Steve as your authority in matters of logic and philosophy is a huge mistake. 

I never offer myself as an authority figure. 

Do you think a guy who had a handle on those things would so consistently feel the need to abuse rather than argue? You will notice that people trained in philosophy generally don't get aggressive like he does. This is because they know how to argue, and how to understand their opponent. Steve, as soon as he doesn't understand something I'm saying, resorts to abuse. 

i) Dale makes no attempt to show that I failed understood his position. 

ii) As a philosophy prof., Dale ought to know what a false dichotomy is. I don't "abuse rather than argue." I've presented copious counterarguments to Dale's positions. 

iii) A friend of mine shared an anecdote about the late Dallas Willard. He was a presenter at a UCLA conference on "the Bible and Philosophy," organized by Robert Adams. But as my friend observed:

Dallas Willard was the first example to me of an academic who was willing to go against majority opinion in a public context for the sake of Christian truth. Incredibly, none of the presenters at a UCLA conference was willing to defend the proposition that Christ is central to Christianity, except Dallas Willard.

Many "Christian philosophers" have no commitment to the Christian faith, or to Jesus in particular. For them, it's just intellectual play with religious ideas. That's why they don't "get aggressive." 

iv) Dale is a very unethical disputant. For instance, I've repeatedly corrected Dale on his bad arguments, but his response is to recycle the same bad arguments. He just hopes readers will forget that his argument was debunked. That's not the practice of an honest philosopher. An honest philosopher doesn't keep repeating the same refuted arguments. 

Likewise, an honest philosopher will assume the opposing viewpoint for the sake of argument. By contrast, Dale acts as if certain Biblical phenomena are inconsistent with Trinitarian, Incarnational theology, when he knows perfectly well that the phenomena in question are perfectly consistent with the theological paradigm. His behavior is a breach of personal and professional ethics alike, and it gets in the way of honest debate. I'll give specific examples as well proceed. 

[quoting Porter] "functions as one with God, and is, in fact, the God"
Cooperates with God (so not identical, but rather someone else) but is God (so is identical, God himself). At least, that's how many will read this. Sad that standards of clarity are so low. A good editor should have hammered that sentence.
This passage deserves a full arguing through, but here's a quick way to rule out that Paul is in 9:5 identifying Jesus with his God: note that all through ch. 8 he distinguishes between them. Same in 1:1-7. Charity prevents us from attributing this contradiction to Paul.
Whether Jesus is in some lesser way "divine" is another issue, of course.

I realized that you're perennially intellectually challenged, but Porter isn't substituting philosophical jargon to draw theological distinctions. Rather, he's simply reusing the language that's used in the text, where "God" is generally a synonym for the "Father" in Romans. A way of naming a referent. Goes back to your persistent inability to distinguish between proper nouns and common nouns.

In Rom 9:5, however, Paul breaks with customary usage to apply that preeminent designation to Jesus. And that's all the more dramatic, given the backdrop of his customary usage.

Paul isn't saying Jesus is divine in some lesser sense. To the contrary, he's saying Jesus is divine in the same way as the Father, given the precedential terminology of the descriptors.

"Many, many unitarian scholars have dealt with this too."

You mean, like the "scholars" at the Watch Tower?

"Is Paul (RSV) just piously punctuating an aside here, praising God? Or is he (NRSV) dropping a theological bomb, asserting that the human Messiah is as divine as God, aka the Father, is? And then he just says 'Amen' and moves on??! This would be a big deal in the 1st c. I know which I think is more likely."

There are many occasions when Paul affirms the deity of the Messiah.

Yes, it's a big deal–and as Porter explains, this is not just a parenthetical aside, but the climactic point of his argument (in this section).

"Also, notice that on the RSV reading…"

Yes, Dale, I'm aware of the fact that different versions give different renderings. That's why we need to sift the arguments. That's why I began by noting Metzger's classic article. And that's why I quoted Porter's exegetical argument.

"But if 'all' is unrestricted here, we recall that Paul says that God is over Christ. Compare also with"

In that context, Paul is framing the issue in terms of his ideal Adam typology/Christology. That's discussed by Greg Beale in his A New Testament Biblical Theology.

"But hey, if you want to stake your christology on some fine and disputed points of grammar instead of explicit NT teaching, you're free to do that."

The deity of Christ is explicit NT teaching.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Dumb schmuck Christology

It's useful to compare and contrast the mission of Christ from an orthodox standpoint with the mission of Christ from a unitarian standpoint. Heresy can unwittingly illuminate truth. We're so used to the right reading that contrasting that with a wrong reading can help us to appreciate things we might not otherwise notice.

Reading the mission of Christ through an orthodox (e.g. Reformed, Incarnational, Trinitarian) lens, it goes basically like this:

The Father sends the Son on a redemptive mission. This was a timeless, Trinitarian plan of salvation, in which each member had a role to play. The Son not only knows the details of the plan, he had a hand in formulating the plan. He knows in advance exactly what to expect. He agreed to that. 

That's a somewhat anthropomorphic way of putting it. To be more precise, the plan existed from all eternity. 

Moreover, his atonement is inherently supererogatory. For the Creator to submit to creatures, for the sinless Son to die for sinners, is intrinsically above and beyond the call of duty. 

Now let's read the mission of Christ through a unitarian lens:

Jesus is a fallible shortsighted human being. As a zealous, idealistic Jew, he has a sense that God is calling him to go on a mission. But Jesus doesn't know what he's getting into. Because he imagines that God has his back, Jesus takes crazy risks. And because he eludes the lynch mob on more than one occasion, that emboldens him. But just when events come to a head, God deserts him. God withdraws the backup. 

Or maybe Jesus was deluded all along. He keeps sticking his neck out because he figures God will protect his servant. But that's wishful thinking. In the end, he was hung out to dry. At best, just another Jewish martyr. At worst, God's fall guy. 

The unitarian Jesus is a dumb schmuck who walked right into a trap that God could see coming from miles away. The unitarian Jesus didn't know what hit him until it was too late. And his death is so pointless anyway. 

Unitarian theology implicitly casts God in a sinister light. In unitarianism, God is to Jesus as David is to Uriah. Or, to take an illustration from John LeCarre (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), God is to Jesus as Bill Haydon is to Jim Prideaux. Haydon is a high-ranking spy in MI-5. Control and George Smiley are attempting to ferret out the spy in their midst. Haydon needs to do something to throw them off the scent.

So he sends his old friend and subordinate, Prideaux, on a mission. Prideaux believes he will meet with a Czech general who intends to defect. But it's a setup. Haydon tips off the Czech authorities. Prideaux is shot in the back and tortured. When returned, he's a broken man. 

But the plan succeeds in the sense that it terminates the investigation. Control and Smiley are sacked. Haydon is promoted. 

There were two different missions: the mission Prideaux thought he was going on, and the actual mission that Haydon had in mind, that Haydon kept to himself. 

P&R interview with Vern Poythress

Was The Star Of Bethlehem A Comet?

Colin Nicholl recently published a book arguing that the star of Bethlehem was a comet. The book has gotten some impressive endorsements from several astronomers and New Testament scholars, as well as some scholars in other fields. It's also getting a lot of attention on the web. Here's a review I just posted at Amazon.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Through the wardrobe

There's photographic evidence that Geerhardus Vos was actually Mr. Tumnus. Evidently, he entered our world through the wardrobe, taking "Geerhardus Vos" as an alias. 

Image result for geerhardus vos images

Image result for mr. tumnus images

Atheist splinter groups

Yes, Jesus knows who will win the World Series

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser did an odd post recently:

Well, I guess it's not odd coming from Rauser. His post has an illustration, like those garish pictures in Watch Tower pulp literature, of the disciples asking a very Aryan Jesus: "Master, who will win the 2015 World Series?"

And this is framed by questions like "Was Jesus omniscient?" or "Did Jesus know absolutely everything?"

It would be easy to mistake Rauser for a unitarian at this juncture. He belittles the notion that Jesus was omniscient by this mock question about the World Series.

i) To begin with, what's silly about the question is not whether Jesus would know enough to  answer that question, but whether the disciples would know enough ask that question. Obviously, 1C Jews knew nothing about a 21C American baseball championship. They could only know about that if God revealed it to them, and God had no occasion to do so.

But it hardly follows from the absurdity of the question that it's equally absurd to suppose Jesus could know the answer. The silliness of putting that question on the lips of his disciples hardly makes it silly to put the answer on the lips of Jesus. 

ii) Moreover, the question trades on equivocation. Given the two-natures of Christ, there's a sense in which Jesus both is and is not omniscient. That's not contradictory, because that's true or false in different respects. It takes different referents. Jesus qua the Son, Jesus qua divine, is omniscient. Jesus qua a man, Jesus qua human, is not omniscient. Because Jesus is a complex person, he can be simultaneously omniscient and not omniscient. 

iii) Furthermore, the scope of Christ's knowledge isn't especially paradoxical. It's analogous to divine inspiration. God can reveal something to a human that a human wouldn't or couldn't naturally know. 

Only the relationship is more direct in the case of the hypostatic union. The divine nature can share information with the human nature. That's standard Christology.

iv) The problem is that Rauser needs Jesus to be fallible because Jesus affirmed some things that Rauser denies, or denied some things that Rauser affirms. 

Oh how good it is

Oh how good it is
When the family of God
Dwells together in spirit
In faith and unity.
Where the bonds of peace,
Of acceptance and love
Are the fruit of his presence
Here among us.

So with one voice we'll sing to the Lord
And with one heart we'll live out his word
Till the whole earth sees
The Redeemer has come
For he dwells in the presence of his people.

Oh how good it is
On this journey we share
To rejoice with the happy
And weep with those who mourn.
For the weak find strength
The afflicted find grace
When we offer the blessing
Of belonging.

Oh how good it is
To embrace his command
To prefer one another
Forgive as he forgives.
When we live as one
We all share in the love
Of the Son with the Father
And the Spirit.