Monday, September 25, 2017

Take a knee

Over the weekend, Trump waded into another controversy. He didn't initiate the controversy. Rather, he responded to an ongoing controversy. Among other things, he said:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country. The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the No1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game. But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? he said. When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.

He continued on Twitter. His comments ignited a predictable firestorm on the left, along with some critics on the right. A few observations:

i) It would be unconstitutional for gov't to arrogate to itself the legal power to punish dissidents. And, indeed, that's what it's doing in the case of Christian businesses that refuse to collaborate with the LGBT agenda. That's gov't exercising official power to suppress political dissent. 

That's quite different from a president expressing the opinion that owners of a private business ought to fire political dissenters. We can still debate the pros and cons, but that's not unconstitutional, as I read the First Amendment.

ii) Trump is simply giving voice to what many sports fans feel. Only difference is that he has a megaphone. 

iii) I've read some people talk about how soldiers die for the flag. That, however, confuses the symbol with what it symbolizes. They don't die for the flag, but at most for what it represents. I'd add that before the advent of the volunteer army, many soldiers weren't dying for a cause. They died because they were drafted. 

iv) Sports used to be bipartisan. But the left insists on interjecting its social agenda into every venue. Many Americans resent that. This has even extended to conscripting 8-year-olds to take a knee. 

v) Strictly speaking, there's no intrinsic reason why a sporting event should open with patriotic ceremonies. But that's our custom. And many sports fans associate sports with patriotism. That tradition can't be rescinded without alienating the constituency. 

vi) The management has exposed itself as a bunch of arrogant out-of-touch elites who don't share the cultural outlook of many or most fans.  

vii) In addition, the management is arbitrary. It allows and defends players who protest the national anthem, but forbids players who wish to honor murdered police officers or 9/11 victims. 

viii) By the same token, you have Democrats who support a movement to violently suppress political dissent (Antifa), but suddenly pivot to defend the right of athletes to protest the national anthem. 

ix) However, some conservatives have said that if we object to Google firing political dissidents or politicians advocating boycotts of Chick-fil-A, then we must, in consistency, defend the rights of athletes to protest the national anthem. To that I'd say several things:

x) There's an important distinction between gov't penalizing political dissent–and economic boycotts. Protest is a two-way street. If athletes can protest, so can fans. 

xi) Moreover, the merits of an issue are germane to what we should or shouldn't tolerate. Now that's irrelevant to freedom of expression as a civil right. It's not for gov't to take sides at that level. But at the level of private citizens and sports fans, we are entitled to distinguish treatment depending on the merits of an issue. People can have good reasons and bad reasons for protesting. Chick-fil-A or Christian bakers, photographers, and florists are not morally equivalent to rich athletes who protest nonexistent structural racism. The difference between right and wrong makes a difference. 

xii) In addition, pro football, baseball, basketball &c. is big business. If you go out of your way to antagonize your customers, you literally pay a price. Entertainers like Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise have damaged their career by making themselves unlikeable. Professional athletes are subject to the same market forces. In the past, entertainers like Johnny Carson kept their political views to themselves because they knew their line of work was a popularity contest. 

The general resurrection

Chris date is a propagandist for annihilationism. Jonathan McLatchie recently did a webinar in which Date was the speaker. I'll make some brief comments about Date's presentation. 

1. One of Date's basic arguments is that in the NT, "eternal life" is a gift to/for the saved. By implication, the damned will not enjoy eternal life. Relatedly, the saved will be resurrected. By implication, the damned will not be resurrected. 

i) This raises a question of systematic theology. On the one hand are passages about the resurrection of the just. On the other hand are passages about the general resurrection. How should these be harmonized? Date only quotes one side of the evidence. If there's a point of tension in the "traditionalist" position, it doesn't originate with "traditionalism", but goes back to the witness of Scripture. 

Someone who denies the inerrancy of Scripture would say the Bible itself has divergent theological traditions regarding the fate of the damned. Date doesn't take that route, but in that event, the onus is on "traditionalists" and annihilationists alike to explain, if they can, how these two sets of passages can be integrated. Date acts as if that's a problem unique to "traditionalists". 

ii) In addition, passages for the general resurrection create a point of tension for the annihilationists. In that case, the resurrection of the body isn't confined to the saved. Yet Date wants to argue that resurrection entails immortality in the case of the saved. 

Moreover, what's the point of restoring the damned to life if God destroys them all over again?

iii) One possible explanation, from a "traditionalist" perspective, is that "life" and "death" in some eschatological passages have a figurative significance that goes beyond biological life and death. So even though both the saved and the damned will be resurrected and exist forever, there will be a drastic difference in their respective quality of life.

2. Another issue is Date's flat reading of Scripture, where he assumes that when the NT uses imagery from the OT, that must retain the same meaning, as if NT usage can't be metaphorical. To take a comparison, consider statements about Jesus: Jesus is the paschal lamb, Jesus is manna, Jesus is the light of the world, Jesus is the vine. The imagery has OT antecedents, which are literal in the original context, but figurative in the NT context.

3. He deploys a self-defeating argument about how death and hades are thrown into the lake of fire, which he takes to mean nobody will ever die again. Yet that's an argument for everlasting conscious punishment rather than annihilationism.

4. Date uses an odd argument regarding vicarious atonement. Problem is, Jesus didn't die for sinners in the sense of dying our death, as if he died so that we won't. Each of us dies his own death. Jesus didn't die in place of my own death. It's not vicarious in terms of death, but punishment. He death doesn't take the place of my death, but the place of my punishment. (I'd say he died for the elect, but that's secondary to the immediate point at issue.)

Date misrepresents Beale's stated position (in the quote from his commentary):

i) Date defines "death" as biological death. But it doesn't follow that Beale defines "death" as biological death in terms of what "death" means in Revelation. There's an equivocation here, on whether "death" in Revelation is a metaphor for damnation. 

ii) Moreover, Beale says the redeemed won't have to suffer in the age to come. But Date turns that upside down, as if Beale says the damned won't have to suffer in the age to come.

5. One point of clarification: the orthodox position doesn't entail eternal "torment". Punishment is not synonymous with torment. There can be degrees of punishment. Different kinds of punishment. "Torment" has a narrow connotation (i.e. torture). Eternal "misery" would be more accurate.

To use the word "torment" as a synonym for everlasting punishment implies that all the damned suffer torment. But while some of the damned may well suffer torment, and deservedly so, is that a universal feature of damnation?

Is prayer pointless?

I recently responded to an atheist on Facebook:

"I don't understand why prayer is important, especially prayers that are requesting something from God. Isn't God going to do whatever he wants to do anyway?"

No. God acts according to his plan for the world. His plan includes many outcomes which are the consequence of answered prayer. 

"Why, when someone loses a friend or family member to death, do people tell others to pray for them? Does more people praying result in God relieving that person's grief more quickly?"

Merely adding people to the prayer chain doesn't ipso facto up the odds of answered prayer, although it ups the odds that a saintly Christian will prayer for the survivors. 

"Why doesn't God comfort the person at the maximum amount anyway without the prayers?"

For one reason, God has made humans social creatures. Prayer cultivates the virtue of compassion. God often acts through human intermediaries. That's not confined to prayer. 

"Same question with sickness. Why are we encouraged to pray for those who are sick? Doesn't God already know they are sick and that they desire healing?"

i) Another reason is that if we automatically got whatever we need, we'd value it less.

ii) In addition, prayer accentuates our helplessness and dependence on God's mercy. Answered prayer fosters humility and gratitude.

iii) Furthermore, answered prayer is evidence of God's existence, providence, and benevolence. 

"It's like a checklist."

Some people are guilty of mechanical, perfunctory prayers. Jesus warned about that.

"Do these prayers change things?"

i) Some prayers are answered while some prayers go unanswered.

ii) They don't change God's plan, but God's plan includes answered prayer. They change things in the counterfactual sense that certain outcomes wouldn't occur absent prayer.

"Are there tangible results?"


"Does God wait for a prayer before he will act?"

In some cases, answered prayer is retroactive inasmuch as a chain of events is already underway, prior to the prayer, which will eventuate in the answer.

Petitionary prayer is the:

i) Perception of a need

ii) Recognition that the need is beyond human ability to secure or ensure

iii) Verbally or mentally articulating that need (spoken or silent prayer)

iv) Directing a request to God to supply the need

Intercessory prayer is petitionary prayer on behalf of another.

Do you imagine that if God exists, believers (or unbelievers?) should never find themselves in a situation where they have need of something, which is even temporarily unmet? Do you think all needs ought to be automatically supplied so that we should never even be in a needy situation in the first place? Do you think we should never have to ask anyone for anything, or just God in particular? If so, why so? Do you think we should never do favors for other people? Do you think we should never be made aware of our dependence on God, assuming God exists?

The Star-Spangled Banner

The National anthem is currently a flashpoint of controversy. I plan to comment on that. But for the moment I'd like to focus on something else. The national anthem is hard to sing because its one and a half octave range is either too high or too low for most untrained voices. Even most soloists who are tapped to sing it at sporting events aren't really up to the challenge. However, here's a fine performance by a great Verdi baritone:

Early Interest In Gospel Authorship

It's common today to claim that the gospels initially circulated anonymously, even for as long as several decades. Here's something I recently wrote on the subject in the comments section of an old thread:

In closing, I suggest that people think about the context of early Christianity and whether it was a setting in which the gospels are likely to have circulated anonymously for nearly a century. Christianity wasn't a philosophical system of ideas that were being promoted independently of authority figures. Rather, it was a system founded on the authority of named individuals, starting with Jesus and going on to the apostles and other individuals who were named (Matthew 10:1-3, Mark 3:13-19, Ephesians 2:20, etc.). Luke's gospel opens with a reference to the significance of eyewitnesses (1:2), a concept that requires distinguishing among sources (differentiating between those who were eyewitnesses and those who weren't), which would include distinguishing among the authors of written sources. The fourth gospel expresses an interest in authorship, its own authorship with the implication of concern about authorship more widely (John 21:24). Ferguson raises doubts about whether Papias was discussing the authorship of the canonical gospels or the authorship of other documents instead, but there was a concern about authorship of gospels or similar documents either way. And Papias cited an earlier source (the elder, probably the apostle John), who likewise was interested in authorship issues. The same can be said about the authorship concerns expressed in the dispute between Marcionism and Christian orthodoxy. I've cited other sources in the same timeframe, prior to the late second century, with similar authorship interests.

In that sort of atmosphere of concern for named authority figures, distinguishing among sources, and trying to discern who wrote documents like the gospels, it's far more likely that the gospels were circulating with authorial attributions than that they were circulating anonymously. There would have been a high degree of interest in the gospels' authorship well before the second half of the second century. And early belief in their traditional authorship attributions provides a far better explanation for the prominence of the gospels and how little dispute there was about their authorship.

Nazi occult obsession

Protesting the national anthem

CHRISTIANS : I'm so mad the government is forcing those people to bake a cake against their beliefs!
SAME CHRISTIANS: I'm so glad that Trump is demanding those athletes be fired for their beliefs!
Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Without my wading into all the twists and turns of this particular kerfuffle, Pittman's comparison is simple-minded:

i) There's a fundamental difference between the state passing laws which discriminate against citizens who dissent from the LGBT agenda, and a public official expressing his opinion that a private business should fire political dissidents. In the former case, you have a direct exercise of government power to suppress political dissidents. 

ii) We shouldn't necessarily take the same side on every issue based on abstract consistency with some generic principle without regard to the moral or factual differences between one social issue and another. If this is representative of how Pittman evaluates issues, he needs to learn how to keep more than one idea in his head at a time. As I often say, we should treat like things alike and unlike things unalike. We need to take all the relevant variables into consideration. Ironically, Pittman is resorting to the same simplistic logic as the "marriage equality" lobby.  The comparison is more complex than Pittman's fallacious analogy. Does protesting the national anthem based on the BLM narrative have the same merit as Christians refusing to cater LGBT celebrations? 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

BREAKING: 62 scholars correct Pope Francis for ‘propagating heresies’

We will be hearing about this for a while:

BREAKING: 62 scholars correct Pope Francis for ‘propagating heresies’

ROME, September 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Expressing “profound grief” and “filial devotion,” Catholic clergy and lay scholars from around the world have issued what they are calling a “Filial Correction” to Pope Francis for “propagating heresy.”

The Filial Correction, in the form of a 25-page letter, bears the signatures of sixty-two Catholic academics, researchers, and scholars in various fields from twenty countries. They assert that Pope Francis has supported heretical positions about marriage, the moral life, and the Eucharist that are causing a host of “heresies and other errors” to spread throughout the Catholic Church.

The letter was dated July 16 of this year, and “delivered to the Pope at his Santa Marta residence on August 11, 2017”. (It seems to me they could have just emailed him, it would have been quicker).

Unlike the “Dubia” last year, a formal document issued by four Cardinals last year simply asking for clarity on particular questions, this document has no formal standing. In fact, it is already being dismissed as simply “conservative theologians” who are “failing” to exercise “prudence” and “discernment”.

The traditionalist (and yet not having broken communion with the pope, as opposed to, say, the SSPX) Rorate Caeli begins its dramatic coverage of this item with the phrase, “And So It Begins: ‘FILIAL CORRECTION OF POPE FRANCIS For the Propagation of Heresies’.”

On the other hand, officially, nothing has really begun. They are still just throwing insults at each other, for all practical purposes.


i) I'd like to briefly compare the orthodox position on the Christian afterlife with physicalist annihilationism. I'm going to focus on the afterlife of the saints rather than the damned.

ii) On the orthodox position, humans have immortal souls which survive the death of the body. On this view, the postmortem state has both a vertical and horizontal dimension. Vertically, the human race dies in stages. The older generation dies, then the younger generation dies. Great-grandparents die, then grandparents die, then parents die, then children die, then grandchildren die, then great-grandchildren die, and so on and so forth.

This means that, to a great extent, the intermediate state mirrors a historical sequence. The first human generation died first, then the next human generation, and so on. From the earliest to the latest. 

In that respect, the intermediate state preserves the cultural memories of every time and place. Each period and culture and is represented in the memories of particular saints. And that's laid down in a natural sequence, based on their arrival date. In that respect, dying is a bit like stepping into a time machine. 

That also raises the question of whether the intermediate state has a blended culture, as saints from different times and places socialize.

Related to the vertical dimension is a horizontal dimension. We don't simply die as discrete individuals. Rather, we die with our contemporaries. Death is roughly grouped according to age-mates. People of the same generation tend to die within the same basic time span. That's a part of what defines a generation. They were born around the same time and they die around the same time.

Of course, there are partial exceptions. Sometimes a member of the younger generation predeceases a member of the older generation. Yet they are still contemporaries. It's just a distinction between younger and older contemporaries.

On this view, when you die, there are members of your own generation waiting to receive you. Likewise, there are members from the generation before you. And in this life, you knew members of the generation before you. There are roughly three generations alive at any particular time in the here and now–sometimes more. 

When you die, the greeting party includes, or consists of, your contemporaries. You and they speak the same language. Not merely the same language, but the same period language. You and they have the same cultural background.

In addition, the intermediate state contains people from different periods. But because new arrivals disembark in a historical sequences, and because they disembark incrementally, rather than all at once, new arrivals are gradually acculturated to the intermediate state. There are people there whom they can instantly relate to on their own level. And that eases the transition as they get acquainted with saints from different times and places.

iii) Now let's compare that to physicalist annihilationism. On that view, the brain generates the mind. When your body dies, when you undergo brain death, that erases your personality. You cease to exist. The mind is gone.

Then, at the resurrection of the just, God recreates your body and uploads your mind (consciousness, memories) into the new brain. God had a copy of your mind, which he transfers to the new brain.

Millennia may separate your death from your resurrection, but you're oblivious to the interval, long or short. There's no you to be aware of the gap. There's the moment of death, when you pass into oblivion, for however long, then the next thing you know, you're alive in your new body. 

There is no intermediate state, just the final state on the new earth. Because the resurrection of the just is simultaneous, all the saints who died at different times and places are suddenly restored to consciousness at the same time. There's no transitional stage. No phasing one generation of decedents into the company of former generations. It happens all at once. 

On the face of it, that would be extremely disorienting. OT saints, medieval saints, saints from the 18C, 19C, 20C and so on, all thrown together. Bedlam. 

I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker for physicalist annihilationism. But it's a jarring scenario compared to the orthodox position. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Warfield Lectures: Anthropology & Transgenderism

Mortality and prayer

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk 12:16-20).

Some professing Christians lose their faith because they treat passages like Mk 11:24 ("Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours") as absolute promises. But let's compare that to the parable of the farmer (see above). Although that's not about prayer, that has implications for prayer. We don't know the future. We don't control the future. We may not have as much time remaining as we take for granted. We could die tomorrow.

That's one of the implicit caveats on what appear to be unqualified prayer promises. And it's not a rare exception. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for people to die suddenly, from illness or injuries. 

One last time

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk 12:16-20).

One striking feature of human experience is that in the course of life we often find ourselves doing something for the last time. Indeed, we ultimately do everything for the last time. Take your last day of high school. Or retirement. Moving away. Your last day as a teenager. Your last day as a bachelor. Or the demolition of landmarks from your childhood. 

Doing something for the last time subdivides into prospective and retrospective viewpoints. On the one hand, there are situations where we know in advance that we're doing it for the last time. On the other hand, there are situations where we only know after the fact that we're doing it for the last time. And the former experience further subdivides into dreading the final time we do it or looking forward to the final time we have to do it. 

Doing something for the last time can make it especially significant, if you don't get another chance, yet ironically, there are many situations where we fail to appreciate the significance of that event because we didn't know at the time that this was the last time we were going to do it. It's only in hindsight that we realize it was the last time. If we knew at the time this was going to be the last chance, we might make more of the occasion. Make a mental note, to remember it better. Make the most of the final opportunity. But by the time it's behind us, it's too late for that. No going back. 

Sometimes it's a relief to do it for the final time. Sometimes it's lamentable to do it for the final time. 

Perhaps the most dramatic example of doing something for the last time is death. It can be your own death, or the death of an acquaintance. The last day you see them or speak to them. If we know they are dying, we have greater opportunity to take advantage of the remaining time. If the death is unexpected, then there's often regret at lost opportunities. 

It might be someone we're close to, or someone we only knew in passing. Suppose they die in an accident. We may regret that we were in too much of a hurry to get to know them better. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ravi Zacharias Eulogy at Nabeel Qureshi's Funeral

Reformation Videos

PBS recently aired a two-hour documentary on Martin Luther that's worth watching. The page just linked says something about "expiring" on September 27, so the video may not be available to watch for free after that date.

Here's an eleven-minute collection of clips I put together on John Wycliffe, taken from Ken Connolly's video, The Indestructible Book (Santa Ana, California: International Baptist Missions, 2004).

And here's an eight-minute video on Thomas Bilney.

Last will and testament

Vetting creeds

Some evangelicals suffer from a superstitious reverence for the so-called ecumenical creeds, as if that's an electrified fence. If you dissent from anything in the so-called ecumenical creeds, you will be electrocuted. Technically, they admit the creeds are fallible, but in practice they act as though that's divine revelation. Yet all creeds need to be means-tested against Scripture. 

The so-called ecumenical creeds are simply positions taken by some ancient bishops in some church councils. There's nothing intrinsically sacrosanct about the process or the product. 

In his providence, God leads many people to saving faith by raising them in churches that are theologically orthodox in the main. God uses socially conditioning to save the elect. If they were born and bred in a different denomination, their theology might mirror that particular denomination. But there's a certain margin of error. Saving faith doesn't require theological infallibility. 

I don't think every Christian has the same obligation to evaluate their hereditary indoctrination. It varies according to an individual's aptitude and opportunities. To whom much is given, much is required (Lk 12:48). Teachers are held to a higher standard (Jas 3:1).

But some Christians do have a duty to sift historical theology. Catholics say that's a "me and my Bible" hermeneutic. But even if that were true, the same could be said for the church fathers. "Me and my Bible" is truer the further back you go in church history. Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom et al. are constantly making individual judgment calls in their exposition of Scripture. Them and their Bible. 

But when someone like me is assessing the "ecumenical creeds," it's not just "me and my Bible". I have many theological consultants. Commentaries. Reference works. Systematic theologies. Exegetical monographs. And so on and so forth. 

Could I be wrong? Sure. But the same could be said for a Catholic apologist, church father, or bishop. 

Is Doubting Thomas doubtful?

Moreover, with Judas now dead, there were eleven main disciples. Thus Luke 24:33 can speak of Jesus's first appearance to a group of his male disciples as including "the eleven and those with them." However, John 20:19-24 tells us Thomas was absent during that event. Thus, only ten of the main disciples would have been present. Accordingly, either Luke conflated the first and second appearances to the male disciples, or John crafted the second appearance in order to rebuke those who, like Thomas, heard about Jesus's resurrection and failed to believe it. M. Licona, Why are There Differences in the Gospels? (Oxford U 2016), 177-78.

A few observations:

i) It's not my primary objective to offer my own harmonization. But I'll make two brief observations. I think Luke and John were written about 30 years after the event. By that point I think it would be natural for "the Eleven" to be a stereotypical descriptor. Because the Gospels (and Acts) are written from a retrospective viewpoint, it's not unexpected if they'd use terms that reflect later usage, just like a historian might refer to a particular state as Arkansas even though it was technically Indian Territory at the time the historian is referring to. Historians sometimes employ conventional anachronisms to make historical referents recognizable to modern readers. I suspect that by the time of writing, "the Eleven" was a traditional designation rather than a count noun. 

I'd add that, assuming traditional authorship, John has firsthand knowledge of the event whereas Luke has secondhand knowledge of the event. Therefore, it's not surprising if John's account of this particular incident is more detailed, whereas Luke's is more sketchy. An outline and a plot are both compatible. 

ii) I don't object to the category of redaction in reference to the Gospels, but it's overused. There's a common assumption that redaction is theologically motivated. But I think redaction is typically more mundane: to touch up the language, to free up space for independent material, to forestall a misunderstanding on the part of the reader.

iii) Let's talk a bit about genre. Suppose a director makes a movie about a past event, like the Civil War. The movie might be classified as historical fiction. We expect the director to exercise artistic license. 

Even in that respect, there's a difference between artistic license and historical revisionism. For instance, Ridley Scott was criticized for airbrushing Islam and minimizing Medieval Christianity in Kingdom of Heaven. That wasn't a case of taking artistic liberties to improve the dramatic values of the story. Rather, that was filtering the past through the political and secularizing sensibilities of a British director, c. 2005. Even in a fictional or quasi-fictional genre (historical fiction), where we make allowance for artistic license, that doesn't justify an ideological misrepresentation of the past. 

iv) Compare a movie about the Civil War to an account of the Civil War by an academic historian. It would be unethical for him to "craft" an incident that never happened. That's because we're reading the book for information about what really happened.

By the same token, Christians have always read the Gospels for information about the life of Christ. The Gospels are the backbone of the Christian faith. 

v) Notice, too, the openness to classifying a reported Resurrection appearance as a fabrication. But if that's a fabrication, what about the other Resurrection appearances in John? And if the Johannine narrator invents fictional accounts of the Resurrection, what about the Synoptics? That's especially corrosive on the part of a Christian apologist who makes the Resurrection the centerpiece of his apologetic.  

Peter Hitchens interview

Healing in death

There's two ways to kill a tree. The quick way is to cut it in half. It topples over and that's that.

The other way is to cut into the tree so deeply that it cannot heal. The tree then begins to bleed to death. Dies from the top down. First the leaves on the crown dry up, turn brown, and fall off. Then the process of desiccation proceeds downward. The tree dies by inches. First leaves dry up, then branches become brittle. Sapless. Riddled with dry rot. Insects invade the tree and consume it from within. 

Outwardly the tree may remain intact until a wind storm blows it over. Outwardly, it still looks sturdy, but that's deceptive.

Grief can be slow death. We rebound from some losses but other losses may cut too deep to heal. There's a tendency to view death as tragic for the decedent, but sometimes death is a merciful release, while death may be tragic for the survivor. Sometimes it takes two deaths to heal one death. There's healing from death and then there's healing in death. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On alleged literary devices

Catholicism of the mind

Bryan Cross:

Today some Protestants publicized what they call a “Reformed Catholic Confession” that at least 250 have signed as of today. Much of the content of this Confession, of course, is common ground with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. And at least one of the intentions of the authors of this Confession seems to be growth in unity among Protestant Christians, for which I’m thankful. But this Confession neither bears any authority nor is formally or explicitly intended to be authoritative. Insofar as it is entirely a non-authoritative statement of the signers, it does not face the problems I described above with Clark’s position. Hence for that reason, just as with all the other Protestants confessions made over the past five hundred years, it is merely an historical record of what the signers presently believe, a sort of publicized theological snapshot or ‘selfie’ of the present theological position of persons brought together by their interpretive agreement with those who share the same general interpretation as themselves. Regarding the problem of ad hoc ‘catholicity,’ see the section with the heading “Ad hoc catholicity” in Matt Yonke’s article “Too catholic to be Catholic?: A Response to Peter Leithart,” and the section titled “Confidence and the Consensus Criterion” in my reply to Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli, along with comment #16 under that post. And see the last paragraph of my reply to Carl Trueman in comment #89 under Brantly Millegan’s CTC review of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation.

However, insofar as this Confession sets itself up implicitly as an arbiter for all other Christians (or even for all Protestants) of what is or isn’t “catholic,” and is or isn’t “mere” Christianity, it arrogates to itself an authority it does not have, and thereby faces the problems I described above with Clark’s position. For example, this Confession treats Catholic doctrines concerning the Eucharist, ordination, baptism, Tradition, etc. as not part of what is “catholic” and “mere Christianity,” while it treats sola scriptura and the first four ecumenical councils as inside the bounds of “catholic” and “mere Christianity.” And this “catholicity” excludes Church Fathers as well. Tomorrow, for example, we (Catholics) celebrate the feast of the Church Father St. Chrysostom. But what St. Chrysostom teaches about the priesthood and about the Eucharistic sacrifice is incompatible with the “mere Christianity” of this “Reformed Catholic Confession.” In other words, this Confession is not sufficiently ‘catholic’ to include St. Chrysostom. And because not only St. Chrysostom but all the Church Fathers taught doctrines that are Catholic and incompatible with Protestantism, this Confession excludes them as well. So this implication not only raises a red flag, but it also raises the question of who has the authority to determine what is and is not ‘catholic,’ and what does and does not belong to Christianity.

The Church Fathers all believed and taught that the authority by which such questions were to be answered rested in the bishops who received this authority in succession from the Apostles. The authors of this Confession performatively arrogate this particular authority to themselves by what they include within the Confession and what they exclude from it. And throughout Church history there have been heretical and schismatic groups that did the same, banding together around their shared heretical beliefs (mixed with orthodox doctrines), and arrogating to themselves the authority to determine what is and isn’t orthodoxy, catholic, etc. Such groups and their confessions fade into history over the centuries, even as the Church carries on. Lumen Gentium teaches that many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of the Church’s visible structure; these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (Lumen Gentium, 8) May those elements and truths continue to impel our Protestant brothers and sisters toward the true catholic unity which is full visible communion with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church Christ founded.

i) I agree with Bryan that by framing the issue in terms of "catholicity", the document draws ad hoc distinctions. Of course, that's true of ecumenism generally. 

ii) But notice how Bryan can't think outside of his "authority" paradigm. Like Catholic apologists generally, he suffers from tunnel vision as he obsessively recasts the issue in terms of "authority" rather than truth or evidence. Why does a creed need to be authoritative rather than true? Put another way, why isn't truth inherently authoritative? 

The relevant question shouldn't be "who has the authority to determine X", but whether the statement is true, and whether we can assess the truth or falsity of the statement by available evidence. By what "authority" did Bryan decide to convert to Catholicism? Not by Magisterial authority, for at that stage of his investigations and reflections, he wasn't convinced of Catholicism. He had to exercise his (gasp!) private judgment. In his personal fallible opinion, the church of Rome is the One True Church®.

iii) In addition, for converts like Bryan, their reference point isn't the empirical Catholic church. The object of their faith isn't the Catholic church as it actually presents itself in the course of church history. Not an audible, visible, verifiable organization, but the church as it exists in their minds. The Roman church as an idealized mental construct or mental projection. The Roman church as a philosophical solution to what they perceive to be the philosophical problem of Protestant epistemology. They don't convert to Catholicism based on evidence for Catholicism. Rather, they convert to Catholicism despite evidence to the contrary. They are captivated by a pristine idea that magically transcends the contradictions of Catholic history. 

iv) Incidentally, Bryan was raised in Pentecostalism, and he's publicly discussed the death of his 3-year-old son in 1995. One wonders if that wasn't the catalyst that triggered his exit out of Protestantism and eventually into Catholicism. He was raised in a theological tradition that inculcates expectant faith in miraculous healing. So that tragedy wasn't supposed to be in the cards. For many people, their childhood religion remains their frame of reference. Even if they rebel against their childhood religion, that's the standard of comparison. They continue to measure the alternatives by that yardstick. 

Two confusions on prayer for healing

The presumption of salvation

How the assurance of salvation is dealt with is a distinguishing feature of different theological traditions. Some theological traditions deny the assurance of salvation because they say the regenerate can lose their salvation. Some theological traditions affirm that assurance of salvation is possible, although attaining a sense of assurance may need to be cultivated. Some Christians vest assurance in the altar call. Some Christians vest assurance (or hope) in the sacraments (e.g. baptism, communion, absolution, last rites).  

I think these debates tend to labor under a common misunderstanding. Many theological traditions operate as if there's a presumption against salvation, so it's then a question of how to overcome that presumption, while some deny that possibility outright. 

To the contrary, I'd say there's a presumption of salvation. That statement needs to be qualified, but here's the basic principle: Biblical soteriology presupposes that humans aren't good enough to attain salvation through their own merit or willpower. God must save them because they cannot save themselves. Put another way, if they were good enough to save themselves, they wouldn't need to be saved in the first place. If they were good enough to save themselves, they'd be too virtuous to be in need of salvation. So Biblical soteriology presupposes that salvation depends on God's will and God's grace rather than our own goodness or willpower.

In that event, the bar for salvation is quite low. And by the same token, the bar for the assurance of salvation should be quite low. To worry that you're too sinful to have confidence in your salvation is not a good reason to doubt that you are heavenbound, for the whole point of biblical soteriology is that you're too sinful to save yourself. Only God can do it for you.

Now, to say the bar is low doesn't mean there is no bar. A person needs to believe core doctrines of the faith. And God must be at the center of his life. That should occupy his thoughts. He should have a daily prayerlife. He should reflect the religious psychology we see modeled in the Psalter, of an intellectual and emotional life directed towards God. And by "God" I mean the God of Biblical revelation. 

A Poltergeist On Video

I recently had an email exchange with Stewart Lamont about his 1978 coverage of the Enfield Poltergeist for the BBC. His team captured some of the poltergeist phenomena on film, and that video is the only one to have done so that's extant and available to the general public. What I want to do in this post is discuss the history of Enfield videos in general, quote some of Lamont's comments to me in our email exchange, and add to what I've said before about the contents of Lamont's video. One thing I want to do is say more about the poltergeist knocking that occurs in the video, particularly some evidence for it that I haven't seen anybody else mention.

Since the release of The Conjuring 2 last year, YouTube has been inundated with people looking for videos about the Enfield case. Lamont's video has been widely viewed in that context. If you read some of the YouTube threads, you'll see that Lamont's video has also been widely cited by skeptics as a justification for their rejection of the authenticity of Enfield.

The use of the video by skeptics is nothing new, but the degree to which it's being used by them is. In the 1980s, Bob Couttie referred to the Lamont video as something that "many sceptics regard as highly evidential [against Enfield]" (Forbidden Knowledge [Great Britain: Lutterworth Press, 1988], 64). In the 1990s, Mike Hutchinson wrote: