Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The world is not enough

Some readers may well consider Ecclesiastes to be the most worldly book of the Bible. And there's a grain of truth to that. It's focused on what happens "under the sun."

Even so, there's an implicit doctrine of the afterlife. There's a doctrine of final judgment. Ecclesiastes notes the deplorable fact that in this life the wicked often elude justice while the righteous are often denied justice. A reversal of fortunes in the afterlife could be the only compensation.

However, I'd like to draw attention to a somewhat different point. Ecclesiastes encourages people to make the most of what this life has to offer. Earthly goods are good. Enjoy it while you have it. 

At the same time, no book of the Bible is more dissatisfied with what this fallen world has to offer. Throughout Ecclesiastes is an unrequited yearning for something greater, something better, than this fleeting, fallen world has to offer. In that respect, Ecclesiastes is one of the most heavenly-minded books of the Bible. This life is unfulfilling. The world is not enough. It longs for more than life "under the sun" can furnish–even at its best. In that respect, Ecclesiastes is a preparation for the Gospel.

Canaanite babies

i) Some Christian apologists defend the OT holy war commands by appealing to universal infant salvation. I'm skeptical about that postulate. However, it's pretty speculative either way. Certainly Calvinism has the internal resources to make that possible.

Keep in mind that denying universal infant salvation doesn't preclude God from saving some Canaanite babies. It's not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. (I'm using "babies" to cover anyone below the age of reason.)

ii) One objection to this appeal is that it's ad hoc. It superimposes on the texts something that isn't even hinted at. I'd like to comment on that objection.

iii) To begin with, suppose God planned to save Canaanite babies through the retroactive merit of the atonement. Would we expect Deuteronomy to say babies are saved by Jesus dying on the cross? Clearly that would be quite anachronistic. Indeed, it would be unintelligible to readers in the 2nd millennium BC. 

iv) In addition, the retroactive merit of the atonement is the way anyone was saved before the death of Christ. That's the way all OT saints were saved. To suggest that that's how Canaanite babies were saved is not carving out a special exception in their case. It's not concocting a mechanism just for them. Rather, that's a general principle.

v) In considering the silence of Scripture regarding the eternal fate of Canaanite babies, that silence isn't confined to them. What do the holy war commands say about the eternal fate of Jewish soldiers who die in battle? Precisely nothing. The holy war passages don't speak to that issue in reference to anyone. Not just Canaanite babies, but Jewish combatants. But surely some Jewish soldiers were devout Jews. Surely some of them were heavenbound. 

Indeed, it's a bit surprising that doesn't offer Jewish soldiers any hope beyond the grave. Perhaps that's to discourage belief that death in battle is a ticket to heaven.  

There are some OT texts that explicitly or implicitly teach the afterlife. But they don't figure in the conquest narratives or the holy war commands. So I don't think the silence of Scripture regarding the eternal fate of Canaanite babies is prejudicial. If so, that would be equally prejudicial to Jewish combatants who perish in holy war.

vi) Finally, there's nothing about Canaanite babies qua babies that essentially distinguishes them from other dying babies. So there's no antecedent reason, that I can see, why God would save non-Canaanite babies but not save Canaanite babies. 

"Open Theism and Past-Directed Prayers"

Prof. James Anderson has a forthcoming paper worth checking out.

An apologetic of horror

Since All Hallows' Eve is almost upon us, here is an article by Brian Godawa on the subject of horror. (He also appears to have an out-of-print lecture on DVD titled "Horror: A Biblical Genre.")

Here's an interview with Godawa on the same topic as well:

All good things must end

i) Scholars debate the meaning of hebel in Ecclesiastes. Popular offerings include fleeting, futile, enigmatic, and meaningless.

ii) One source of ambiguity is that we need to distinguish between appearance and reality in Ecclesiastes. Life could be "meaningless," not in the sense that it has no intrinsic purpose, but that it's ultimate is elusive. Everything happens for a reason, but we can't figure that out. In that respect, "enigmatic" is clearer than "meaningless." 

iii) Likewise, there are two senses in which it could be futile. It could be futile in the sense that trying to understand divine providence is an exercise in futility. Futility in an epistemic sense. Ecclesiastes is, in part, a frustrated quest for the meaning of life. He senses that there's more to reality than meets the eye, but providence is perplexing. 

Or it could be futile in the sense that even though we can plan for the future, even though we ought to plan for the future, life is fickle and unpredictable. Life is unfair. You can be responsible, do all the right things, yet lose the race. In addition, everything we have and do is ephemeral. Futility in a metaphysical, mundane sense. This life is futile. 

iv) Fredericks makes a strong case that hebel means fleeting. However, he admits that hebel (lit. "breath") is used metaphorically. So the question concerns the figurative connotations of the word.

v) There's also the danger of committing the word-concept fallacy, as well as the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy. The meaning of one oft-used word in Ecclesiastes isn't necessarily the interpretive key to the whole book. Moreover, whatever the word means, the concepts of life as fleeting and inscrutable are certainly pervasive in Ecclesiastes.

vi) One challenge for translators is whether to use the same English synonym throughout, or more than one synonym if they think the sense varies with the context. Using different English synonyms for the same Hebrew word will obscuring the function of the Hebrew term as a leading word. If, however, the sense varies, then it's inaccurate to settle on one synonym. 

vii) In addition, what we think hebel means (or connotes) in Ecclesiastes depends in part on how we interpret the writer's worldview. For instance, Fredericks' commentary is one of the best. But he pursues a relentlessly claustrophobic, this-worldly interpretation. That forces a simplistic consistency onto the book, as if the author's outlook must be one-dimensional. 

In this life, all good things must end. Yet death is not the end–but a new beginning. 

The seasons of life

11 Cast your bread upon the waters,    for you will find it after many days.Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,    for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.If the clouds are full of rain,    they empty themselves on the earth,and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,    in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.He who observes the wind will not sow,    and he who regards the clouds will not reap.As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
Eccl 12 is a famous passage about aging and death. It's usually taken to be an allegorical description of the aging body. However, the anatomical interpretation is difficult to carry through consistently. For that reason, some commentators reject the allegorical understanding. 
I think the problem is not with the allegorical understanding, but identifying a single controlling metaphor. Fredericks has argued, the dominant metaphor is the storm. The direct comparison is not between a house, birds, trees, grasshoppers, and the aging body, but between the approaching storm or its aftermath and the aging process. 
This also means we should interpret chap. 12 in conjunction with chap. 11, as part of a thematic unit. They share a common meteorological motif. 
So this involves a poetic comparison between the cycle of life and the seasons of life. Unfortunately, that's such a cliche that it's lost some of its power. Yet when this was originally written, about 3000 years ago, it wasn't such a cliche! 
In this metaphor, Spring and Summer represent youth and the prime of life, while Fall and Winter represent middle age and old age. You can have Spring and Summer storms, but after the storm, the sun returns. Yet there comes a time when the weather turns. When the sun doesn't return after the rain. There are parts of the world where the sun doesn't shine in winter. It disappears behind the clouds and remains out of sight until next Spring. 
Unfortunately, the aging process can be like that. In youth you have mostly good days–with a few stormy days. In old age, you alternate between good days and bad days, then bad days and worse days. 
The skies darkens with the approaching storm front. The sun disappears behind the lowering clouds. In a dry, sunny climate like Palestine, people generally work out of doors. But when a storm front approaches, the noisy, busy streets empty as people take shelter indoors–peering through windows at the angry skies. Even the songbirds fly away. Houses are buffeted by high winds. 
After the storm has passed, people emerge to survey the damage. The battered landscape. Lighting or whirlwinds can down trees, ruin crops, or smash hanging pottery, If they live by a river, torrential rain can cause flooding. 
That, in turn, becomes an allegory (or partial allegory) for the aging process. The elderly withdraw from public life. Spend more time indoors. Their eyes dim, their hearing hardens, their hands tremble. They lose balance. They suffer from sensory deprivation and social isolation. Living alone, they suffer the loss of physical affection. A simple hug. Their world grows ever smaller. 

Gagnon v. Vines

I am copying here the conversation between Matthew Vines and me at Preston Sprinkle's website: . Preston is a professor of New Testament at Eternity Bible College, currently working on a book about homosexuality. Matthew Vines, as doubtless you know, is a young (24 year-old) same-sex attracted Harvard guy (not graduated, though; quit after 2 years to pursue his objective to convert Christians to his view) who is heading up a "Reformation Project" to convince the church that Jesus and the writers of Scripture were not opposed to committed homosexual unions entered into by homosexually oriented people. Here it is (for now at least):
1. Matthew Vines:
I disagree about Brownson. Gagnon's interpretation of Genesis 1-2 lies at the heart of all of his other exegesis of Scripture re: same-sex relations. That is the very foundation of his scriptural argument, and Brownson quite thoroughly dismantled it. Notably, Gagnon has not responded at all to that core challenge -- in fact, he's completely ignored it. Personally, I think that's because his reading of Genesis 1-2 can't be put back together again after Brownson's response. And that is not a good sign for the rest of Gagnon's case.
2. Preston Sprinkle:
Matthew, .... I'll let Robert chime in if he wants, but I don't see his arguments resting on Gen 1-2 at all. In fact, his book is nearly 500 pages and he only devotes 6 pages to Gen 1-3. Anyway, no need for me to defend Gagnon. It's just my impression.
I actually agree with Brownson's view of "one flesh" and several other points he made in Gen 1-2. I just think he stretches some of their implications. And he didn't deal with other issues in Gen 1-2 (e.g. the use of kenagdo in 2:18, 20; the underlying emphasis on creational complimentarity, etc.) in that passage. Of course, you can't do it all. But I would hardly say that Brownson's reading of Gen 1-2 ends up dismantling Gagnon's 494 other pages of exegesis.
3. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Hey Matthew Vines, where do you think Brownson dismantled my argument on Gen 1-2? I don't see it. Be specific, right here. What is his argument that you find convincing and what is the evidence? I will be responding to Brownson in due course. Other more pressing obligations have taken up my time. There is so much that is wrong in Brownson's work that it will take a significant chunk of my time to point it all out and resupply the evidence that I have already supplied but which he (and you) have ignored.
If Brownson has dismantled my work, and you believe this to be the case, why won't you debate or dialogue with me in a public forum. Brownson has repeatedly refused such requests. What are you guys afraid of? I should be easy pickings, based on your comments above. The fact that you two (or anyone else) won't engage me in a real-time public debate, filmed, and available for others to watch, is self-evident, isn't it? If I were as worried or stumped as you say that I am, I would be terrified at the prospect of folding like a house of cards in public debate or dialogue. But that seems rather to characterize the actions of Brownson and yourself in ducking a debate.
Don't worry. It will be a friendly discussion. No name calling. Just lay out the evidence and let the audience decide. Nobody has anything to fear insofar as neither you nor I (nor Brownson) should be making false representations of Scripture, right? I mean, we would want to be corrected if we were misrepresenting God, wouldn't we? A problem would only come if we deep down know that we are misrepresenting Scripture and the hermeneutical application of it to others but feel compelled to misrepresent it in order to maintain an ideological objective more important to us than speaking truthfully about what Scripture says and what it means.
4. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
I've already addressed the "one flesh" thing in my Scottish Journal of Theology article rebutting Prof. Stacy Johnson of Princeton Seminary. I have a copy of the article on my website: See pp. 10-11:
"Johnson argues that ‘one flesh’ in Gen 2:24 has the asexual meaning ‘the same family’ since the formula ‘you are my bone and my flesh’ is ‘more about kinship than sexuality’ (Gen 29:14; et al.; 145-47). In response:
"First, introducing a sexual dimension in some covenantal relationships violates the covenant. An obvious case in point is the very example that Johnson uses to validate homosexual unions, Ruth and Naomi. Had Ruth and Naomi engaged in sexual intercourse they would have committed a capital offense of incest between parent and daughter-in-law, irrespective of their loving commitment (Lev 18:15; 20:12). Sexual bonds have their own distinct set of requirements.
"Second, context dictates meaning. When we use the comparable phrase ‘you are my flesh and blood,’ it means something different when spoken by a husband to his wife (a sexual context) than when spoken by a parent to a child, a brother to a sister, or a friend to a friend.
"Third, the specific expression ‘one flesh’ does not appear anywhere else in the OT or in early Jewish or early rabbinic texts apart from a reference to Gen 2:24. This makes it unlikely to have been an expression for denoting covenant bonds outside a context of man-woman marriage.
"Fourth, it takes a determined effort to ignore the fivefold reference in 2:21-23 to forming woman by taking from the ’ādām a part of him. The ’ādām declares not merely that the woman ‘is my bone and my flesh’ but, more, that the woman ‘is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh … for from man this one was taken’ (2:23). What is missing from the ’ādām (human), who is now an ’îš (man), is the part that God has built into a woman. In this context ‘one flesh’ clearly implies the restoration of the two divisible parts into an indivisible whole, not just ‘the same family.’
This is certainly how Jesus and Paul understood Gen 2:24. The meaning ‘same family’ would not restrict the number of participants to two, since families are not limited to two members. Yet both Jesus and Paul (1 Cor 6:16) understood ‘one flesh’ unions as properly restricted to two. Having additional sexual partners violates the principle that a man-woman sexual bond creates a self-contained whole that ought to admit of no third parties. In this context talk of ‘cleaving’ must have its deepest sense of reuniting through a committed sexual bond what was once a single entity: the two, ‘male and female’ or ‘a man’ and ‘his woman/wife.’
Jesus himself clearly understood ‘two becoming one flesh’ in the sense of an exclusive sexual bond between two and only two people. If the meaning of ‘one flesh’ were merely ‘the same family’ as Johnson thinks, there would be no reason to restrict the number of participants in the sexual union to two, since there is no criterion that families can only have two members. The sexual act is obviously part of, and emblematic or symbolic of, two persons merging into a single, exclusive entity that admits of no third parties in the sexual relationship. In this context talk of ‘cleaving’ (i.e., sticking, joining, uniting) must have its deepest sense of bringing back together through a committed sexual bond what was once a single entity: the two, ‘male and female’ or ‘a man’ and ‘his woman/wife,’ remerging as one.
What is your next point, Matthew Vines?
5. Matthew Vines:
Hi, Dr. Gagnon-- thank you for your comment. First, Brownson offers an extended critique of your reading of the creation texts in chapter two of "Bible, Gender, Sexuality." In particular, he argues against your view that the Yahwist treats marriage as a "reunion of the sexual unity of the original adam," pointing out that your evidence for interpreting the text that way rests largely on the third-century AD rabbi Samuel bar Nahman rather than any commentary within Scripture itself. His chapter obviously goes into considerably more detail than I can recap here, and I think it deserves a response.
Moreover, he makes what I believe is a compelling case against your view that Paul invokes same-sex relations in Romans 1:26-27 in part because of that which is "plainly" or "visibly" wrong about such relationships -- i.e., the alleged anatomical discomplementarity of same-sex relations. As Brownson writes on p. 241, "Gagnon argues that this text focuses on what is visible, or 'plain.' Therefore, what is contrary to nature about same-sex eroticism must focus on plain or visible differences between men and women. But this reading confuses Paul's meaning. What Paul actually says in these two verses is that what can be known about God is plain or visible in the creation, specifically God's eternal power and divine nature. The focus here is not on knowledge of human things, but on the knowledge of God. The text goes on to say that when this knowledge of God is suppressed through idolatry, the consequences are that God 'hands over' idolatrous humans to lust and the degrading of their bodies (Rom. 1:24). Gagnon confuses the initial revelation about God suppressed by idolatrous humans (which focuses on visible things) with the later 'handing over' of humans into depravity (which focuses on lust, shame, and the violation of what is 'natural'). Romans 1 says nothing particular at all about the 'visible' quality of nature...."
Another example is what Brownson writes on p. 200 about your argument that "Scripture avoids the twin extremes of too much structural identity between sex partners and too little." He says, "Gagnon attempts to make this case by appealing to Lev. 18:6, where prohibited incestuous relationships are characterized as relations with the 'flesh of one's flesh.'... But this argument is unsustainable when we bring forward analogous texts. The man in Gen. 2:23 speaks of the newly created woman as 'flesh of my flesh.' How can 'flesh of my flesh' denote appropriate gender complementarity in Gen. 2:23, but an almost identical phrase connote 'too much structural identity' in Lev. 18:6? These problems suggest that this entire line of reasoning ('too much' or 'too little' difference) is foreign to the logic of Scripture itself. In both cases, the issue is not the ratio of similarity and difference, but the recognition of kinship bonds."
These are just several examples. To my knowledge, Brownson was invited to a debate with you prior to his book's publication, but declined then as he wanted his work to be published before doing a debate. I am not aware of any invitations you or other organizations have issued to him since the publication of his book for you both to debate. I know that is a conversation he would be open to considering. But I also think it would make the most sense for you to publish a detailed written response (as you often do) to his specific exegetical and academic contentions prior to a debate in order to have a potential event be as productive as possible. And while I am open to doing public dialogues, debates, etc., in this situation, I think it would be more appropriate for Brownson to do that instead, as he has important scholarly credentials I do not have, and as he is the one who has most extensively critiqued your work. In fact, given that his book is increasingly regarded as perhaps the most thorough academic rebuttal to your own, it surprises me that you have not published a detailed written response yet, as you do in so many other cases. I know I and many others would appreciate seeing such a response.
6. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Matthew, I will deal with your other points later today. But, regarding debates with Jim Brownson, he declined that debate (to which you refer) on the grounds that he didn't want this to turn into a debate but rather wanted to bring unity to the church. But since I wasn't asking for us to come to blows but simply respond to each other's arguments, he gave nothing more than an excuse. Since that time there have been a couple of occasions when people have approached me about a debate and I immediately suggest Brownson and then they come back and tell me that he doesn't want to debate Gagnon. So I will say again publicly, as I have said on many occasions, that I will be delighted to debate or dialogue with Dr. Brownson at any occasion where we have equal time to present our positions, and preferably adequate time for rebuttal arguments. You know Jim, Matthew. Ask him yourself if he is willing to debate or dialogue with me in a public forum. If Jim is willing to do it, I'm sure some theological institution would love to sponsor this kind of event.
And let me also take up your statement, Matthew: "I am open to doing public dialogues, debates, etc." Are you willing then to engage me in a church, college, or seminary forum? If so, I'm sure we can make that happen. This is not to the exclusion of debating Jim Brownson. I would love to debate him too, separately from you, though again you will find that Jim doesn't want to do it.
7. Preston Sprinkle: Whoa...and here we go
8. Matthew Vines:
I am open to considering that, yes. But I think Brownson would be a better debate partner than I. I will see him next week and gauge his interest level. That said, I still think a written response from you would be quite helpful prior to the arranging of any formal event.
9. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
I'll start with your 2nd paragraph, Matthew. Brownson's argument is flawed because the fact that Rom 1:24-27 speaks about desires is not antithetical to the argument about visible structures in creation. On the contrary, Paul's point is precisely that these desires are opposed to the visible structures observable in nature. "Nature" in context is simply the well-working processes set in motion at creation. The nature argument in 1:24-27 clearly coordinates with the creation argument in 1:29-23. The desires for "use (intercourse) contrary to nature." The reason why Paul selects homosexual practice among all other sexual offences in this particular context is precisely because it affords the best parallel on the horizontal level to the deliberate "suppressing of the truth" (1:18) laid out in the vertical dimension of idolatry in 1:19-23.
In other words, those who had suppressed the truth about God visible in creation went on to suppress the truth about themselves visible in nature. It is not just a matter of dishonoring but of dishonoring that comes about by suppressing foundational knowledge of the truth that is clearly accessible through a proper perception of the still-intact material structures of creation (i.e., seen in nature). The key parallel is the absurd denial of natural revelation in one’s worship of God and intercourse with other humans.
The case for nature in Rom 1:26-27 referring to male-female embodied complementarity is cinched by the use of just such arguments by Greco-Roman philosophers, moralists, and physicians. According to the classicist Thomas K. Hubbard, “basic to the heterosexual position [against homosexual practice in the Greco-Roman world of the first few centuries C.E.] is the characteristic Stoic appeal to the providence of Nature, which has matched and fitted the sexes to each other.” Similarly, classicist Craig Williams, who has written what many regard as the premiere book on Roman homosexuality, concedes: “Some kind of argument from ‘design’ seems to lurk in the background of Cicero’s, Seneca’s, and Musonius’ claims [against homosexual practice].” Also classicist William Schoedel, emeritus of the University of Illinois, acknowledges that ancient writers “who appeal to nature against same-sex eros find it convenient to concentrate on the more or less obvious uses of the orifices of the body to suggest the proper channel for the more diffused sexual impulses of the body.”
The second-century physician Soranus (or his later “translator” Caelius Aurelianus) referred to molles, “soft men” eager for penetration (the Latin equivalent for the term malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9), as those who “subjugated to obscene uses parts not so intended” and disregarded “the places of our body which divine providence destined for definite functions” (On Chronic Diseases 4.9.131). Part of Charicles’ attack on all homosexual practice in the pseudo-Lucianic text Affairs of the Heart, a work that contains a debate about the respective merits of heterosexual love and homosexual love, is the assertion that male-male love is an erotic attraction for what one already is as a sexual being: “Then wantonness, daring all, transgressed the laws of nature. . . . And who then first looked with the eyes at the male as at a female . . . ? One nature came together in one bed. But seeing themselves in one another they were ashamed neither of what they were doing nor of what they were having done to them” (19-20; my translation).
Appealing to the material structures obvious to view is a common trope of Stoic moral discourse. Jews and Christians appropriated this trope in their own discussions of nature. It is hardly surprising that Paul does so here.
Care to respond, Matthew? If not, let's bring James Brownson in, if he is on FB.
10. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Matthew, in your third paragraph above you say:
'Another example is what Brownson writes on p. 200 about your argument that "Scripture avoids the twin extremes of too much structural identity between sex partners and too little." He says, "Gagnon attempts to make this case by appealing to Lev. 18:6, where prohibited incestuous relationships are characterized as relations with the 'flesh of one's flesh.'... But this argument is unsustainable when we bring forward analogous texts. The man in Gen. 2:23 speaks of the newly created woman as 'flesh of my flesh.' How can 'flesh of my flesh' denote appropriate gender complementarity in Gen. 2:23, but an almost identical phrase connote 'too much structural identity' in Lev. 18:6? These problems suggest that this entire line of reasoning ('too much' or 'too little' difference) is foreign to the logic of Scripture itself. In both cases, the issue is not the ratio of similarity and difference, but the recognition of kinship bonds."'
Unfortunately, Brownson seems to think that I've written nothing about the Bible and homosexual practice since the 2001 book. Prof. Stacy Johnson made the same argument that Brownson made and my response to Johnson in the Scottish Journal of Theology article (all cited above) remains the same:
"As regards Gen 2:18-24, Johnson argues that the 'adam’s exclamation at the creation of woman (2:23) ‘does not celebrate her otherness but her sameness’ (120): ‘This one at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! To this one shall be given the name “woman” ('isshah) for from man ('ish) this one was taken.’
"Johnson’s argument makes an either-or out of a both-and. The first half of Gen 2:23 does stress, in part, human sameness in contrast to the animals, among which God had not found ‘a helper as [the 'adam's] counterpart.’ Yet Johnson ignores the repeated references in 2:21-23 to woman being formed by a ‘taking from’ 'adam. As a ‘counterpart’ or ‘complement’ to man (kenegdo), woman is both similar as human (‘corresponding to him’) and different as a distinct sex extracted from him (‘opposite him’). There is also some basis for translating Hebrew tsela‘ as ‘side’ rather than ‘rib’ or at least as an indeterminate amount of bone and flesh on one of adam’s sides, from which is formed man’s sacred side or complement, woman. The principle of two sexes becoming one flesh is correlated with the picture of two sexes being formed from one flesh. It is not another man that is the missing part or sexual complement of a man but rather a woman, a point reflected in several early Jewish texts (Philo of Alexandria, Allegorical Interpretation 2.19-21 and Creation 152; 4 Macc 18:7; Apocalypse of Moses 29:9-10)."
The fact that 4 times in the short space of Gen 2:21-23 the text emphasizes that something was extracted from the human surely indicates that man and woman are complementary parts of the same sexual whole.
-God ‘took one of [literally: one from] the 'adam’s sides/ribs’ (2:21).
-God ‘built the side/rib that he took from the 'adam into a woman (2:22).
-The 'adam declares not merely that the woman ‘is my bone and my flesh’ but something more, namely, that the woman ‘is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh … for from man this one was taken’ (2:23).
This idea of woman being made from an original human/man is important because it diverges from the traditional Mesopotamian story of the creation of woman, written a few generations after Hammurabi. In Atra-hasīs seven human males and seven human females are formed separately from a mixture of clay and the flesh/blood of a slaughtered god. Woman is not molded from material extracted from man and so there isn’t anything missing from man.
It is probably not mere coincidence that the gender specific word 'ish, ‘man,’ does not appear until after material is taken from the 'adam, ‘human’ or ‘ground creature.’ True, Gen 2:23 states that woman was taken ‘from man’ (me'ish). Yet this appears to be a statement formulated in retrospect. ‘Thus he discovers his own manhood and fulfillment only when he faces the woman, the human being who is to be his partner in life’ (Nahum Sarna, Genesis, 23).
Woman relates to man “as his counterpart” or “complement” (Gen 2:18, 20). The Hebrew term here is kenegdo, which consists of ke- meaning "as, like"; suffix -o meaning "(of) him, his"; and neged connoting both "corresponding to" (i.e., similarity as humans) and "opposite" (i.e. difference as regards a distinct sex extracted from him). Translations that correctly capture this sense of difference within sameness are “counterpart” and “complement.” A woman is man’s sexual counterpart or complement. A man is not another man’s sexual complement or counterpart, nor a woman a woman’s—anatomically, physiologically, and psychologically—no matter how hard the same-sex partner may try to simulate that role.
Context indicates that Lev 18:6 identifies as the key problem of incest that of attempting a sexual union with "the flesh of one's flesh," someone who is too much of a formal same as regards kinship. Brownson's translation of Gen 2:23 ("flesh of my flesh") obscures a key difference in the Hebrew text with Lev 18:6 ("flesh of one's flesh," in addition to Lev 18:6 using 2 different words for "flesh"). In Gen 2:23 the preposition min is used: "flesh from my flesh." Lev 18:6 simply uses a construct chain denoting possession. Flesh is extracted from the human ('adam) to form woman and thereafter the human is also designated an 'ish, a gender-specific man. As with the term kenegdo (see paragraph above), that image conveys not just sameness but difference because it denotes a now missing part. There is an appropriate sameness so far as a fellow human is concerned; but there is equally appropriate difference so far as sex or gender is concerned.
The problematic dimension of sex-sameness is conveyed both in the Levitical prohibitions and in Paul's treatments in Rom 1:26-27 and 1 Cor 6:9. The Levitical prohibitions forbid a man from lying with another male as though lying with a sexual counterpart, a woman. Inferred in the prohibition is a structural compatibility between man and woman and thus a structural incompatibility with another male. The term arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9 makes the same point: "men who lie with a male," someone who in terms of sex/gender is a same rather than a complementary other. Romans 1:27 refers to "males (having sex) with males," an obvious allusion to much gender sameness, especially given the explicit contrast with "the natural use of the female." So Brownson thinks the concept of uber-sameness is "foreign to the logic of Scripture"? Really? "Males with males" as opposed to "males with females"? That's not connoting too much gender sameness?
The point of too much embodied sameness, not enough structural otherness, is confirmed in the complementarity arguments from the Greco-Roman milieu that I cite in the previous comment, including Charicles’ attack on all homosexual practice in the pseudo-Lucianic text Affairs of the Heart: “Then wantonness, daring all, transgressed the laws of nature. . . . One nature came together in one bed. But seeing themselves in one another they were ashamed neither of what they were doing nor of what they were having done to them” (19-20; my translation).
As by now this discussion, along with my "one flesh" discussion in a previous comment here, should provide a clear answer to your first paragraph. You say: Brownson "argues against your view that the Yahwist treats marriage as a 'reunion of the sexual unity of the original adam,' pointing out that your evidence for interpreting the text that way rests largely on the third-century AD rabbi Samuel bar Nahman rather than any commentary within Scripture itself." I've cited other Jewish texts above from the first century above, but all of these simply reinforce a point that is self-evident in the narrative of Genesis 2:21-24. Something is extracted from the human. That's now missing from what can appropriately be called a man. That something missing is formed into a woman who is referred to as a "counterpart" or "complement" to the man, a person both like (as a human) and different (in terms of sex/gender). It is clear from this that the sexual bonding of the two reunites the sexual whole. The two halves of the sexual spectrum join into a single sexual whole, "one flesh."
11. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Okay, Matthew, I've now dealt with what you apparently regard as the salient arguments in Brownson's arsenal. To me it doesn't seem like Brownson's arguments are at all persuasive. As Preston has noted, this only begins to unload the evidence on a host of other missteps on Jim Brownson's part. I really hope we can work out an occasion where you and I and also Jim and I can publicly discuss this issue in videotaped forums. You or Jim present for 40 minutes, I present for 40, break, each of us have a rebuttal for 20 minutes, perhaps a short 5-minute rejoinder from each to wrap up, short break, then open to questions from an audience. Should be lots of fun. Civility will of course rule the time together. I think this will help people decide whether the case from Scripture (including Jesus) really does decisively rule out every and any form of same-sex relations.
12. David Nash:
If this were to happen Robert A. J. Gagnon, please make time for cross examination. In the debates that I've watched, this is really where the rubber meets the road.
13. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
I fully agree. In fact that is the whole point in having a real-time interaction. James Brownson and Matthew Vines can say when I'm not standing next to them that Gagnon does not address so and so, or Gagnon overlooked this or that point, or Gagnon claims this (when that is exactly what I claim), or (the more usual route) just plain ignore a truckload of evidence that I do provide. Jim and Matt can likewise do the same for me, though be assured that I will not be overlooking their best arguments. The conversation can be done constructively (what does Scripture say with clarity and where shall we go from here?), respectfully (no yelling, name-calling, personal attacks), and even hopefully to build relationships (Matt and Jim are not enemies, even though they promote views that I think are harmful, as doubtless they think the same about me).
Once debated David Bartlett (NT, homiletics) of Yale, where he claimed (as Jim and Matt do) that Jesus and the authors of Scripture are not opposed to committed homosexual relationships. After he and I had made our initial presentations, the opportunity came for 15-minute rebuttals. Bartlett got up and said, "Well, it is not really about Scripture for me anyways," and after another 2 minutes of comments sat down. That is helpful for people to know in making their decision about which direction they want to go in.
William Loader, NT scholar from Australian who has written 9 or so books on sexual ethics in early Judaism and Christianity (the only biblical scholar who has written more on sex than I have, though not about homosexuality), who, though an advocate for gay marriage, already agreed with me that the indictments of homosexual practice in Scripture include committed same-sex unions, said after my critique of his orientation and misogyny "new knowledge" arguments, "Well, we are not that far apart after all." He even agreed that Jesus believed strongly in a male-female requirement for sexual relations but added, "I disagree with Jesus because I can't share his acceptance of the creation myth in Genesis." That too is helpful for people to know in deciding which direction to go in.
As it now stands, Jim and Matt make the public case that Jesus and the writers of Scripture were not (and would not be) opposed to committed homosexual unions entered into by homosexually oriented persons. That is a thesis that can be tested and evaluated. If their thesis is true, it has significant implications for the church. I contend that a male-female requirement for sexual relations is viewed by Jesus and the writers of Scripture generally as foundational. If true, that has significant implications for the church. Either way an evening of this sort can be a constructive enterprise in having people think through these crucial concerns.
Beyond all that, it would be good to meet young Matt and renew acquaintances with old Jim (who was a couple of years ahead of me in the doctoral program at Princeton Theological Seminary; we overlapped for a time).
14. Preston Sprinkle:
Robert, I really like your proposal for a dialogue between you and Jim. My only request is that we all go for beers afterwards, which, as a Lutheran, I'm sure you would gladly accept. Matthew Vines and I will buy. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm sure he would concur.
Salting our "debates" with a bit of relational flesh could actually further the discussion and put flesh on the "issue."
As we banter around with Greek words and verses, we all need to keep in mind that we're talking about real people with a myriad of joys and pains, fears and struggles. Like Maddie, who was chained to a toilet for 3 months by her father when she was 9, then raped for the next 4 years, by her father, and then told she would be killed if she told anyone. Maddie isn't attracted to women, but she's a self-professed Lesbian because "no man will ever touch me again."
This doesn't change my theological position. But it does temper my rhetoric and sharpen my pastoral heart. I now read Romans 1 with tears and an anxious heart.
So let's make sure we go for beers after the debate.
15. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Agreed, Preston. Only (and don't hate me for this) I don't drink beer. Never developed a taste for it. (Root beer, yes.) I'll drink a little wine now and then, but not too much. To me it is more tempting to have a root beer float, a banana split with all the toppings, or a nice big chocolate cake (and when I say chocolate, I mean chocolate). Oh, and I'm Presbyterian, not Lutheran, with a Baptist and Charismatic streak.
16. Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Just saw this posted on the Wikipedia page for Matthew: "Requests for public debates with Vines have tended to be declined or ignored." Shouldn't that rather be posted about me?

The sexual revolution

Hunt or be hunted

So I've been watching The Walking Dead.

This may not be worth reading for most people. But if anyone is interested:

Spoilers from here on out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

sooner or later, they’re going to come for people you do like

“My life has been hurt by Democrats”

This video appeared on the Drudge Report today -- so far, there are 46,000 views. Perhaps soon there will be 46,000,000 views in the near future.

The cosmic magician

“When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining God as a magician, with a wand able to make everything. But it is not so,” the Bishop of Rome affirmed.
“He created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and their fullness of being. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality. And so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things…The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
Of course, "magician" and "magic wand" are pejorative characterizations, but the underlying idea is fiat creation. Making something directly. Not from preexisting stuff. Creation ex nihilo. 
That's not something we "risk imagining" when we reader Gen 1-2. That's not something we imagine. And that's not risky. Rather, that's precisely what it depicts. A God who needn't create some things from other things. Rather, a God who makes some things from scratch. Especially, and not coincidentally, when it comes to the origin of the world. 
Actually, theistic evolution is demiurgical. A God who organizes the world from preexisting matter. Emergent properties. By contrast, Yahweh wills the world into existence. Commands the world to be.

Kill the Indian, save the man

Christians sometimes defend the OT holy war commands on the grounds that some cultures are so depraved that you have to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. The culture is corrupt from top to bottom. 

Some critics of the holy war commands counter that israel could have adopted Canaanites babies. That would break the cycle. 

I've discussed this before, but now i'd like to approach it from a different angle. As a matter of fact, this isn't purely hypothetical. That's been tried in the past. Beginning in the late 19C, there are off-reservation Indian boarding schools. Indian children were taken from their families and put in boarding schools, far from home. Physical separation was considered essential to deprogram the children and acculturate them to white society. The Carlisle Indian School is a famous (or infamous) example. 

This was sometimes done with the best of intentions. Yet, not surprisingly, it has been denounced. I daresay the same people who find the holy war commands objectionable would find this form of assimilation equally objectionable. We generally think it's wrong to break up families, unless the children are in a gravely abusive situation. 

Hired guns

i) Moral debates sometimes appeal to science. For instance, contemporary proponents of transgender rights sometimes appeal to alleged neurological evidence of gender dysphoria. 

Scientific appeals can put Christians at a disadvantage. After all, most Christians (as well as most unbelievers) lack the training to evaluate scientific claims. That's even more so in the case of "cutting-edge" science in contrast to "settled" science.

ii) Keep in mind that appeals to science cut both ways. For instance, it's a scientific fact that homosexual activity is very destructive. 

iii) Another problem is when scientific results are rushed to corroborate a social agenda. For instance, "gay rights" didn't begin with a scientific theory of homosexual orientation. Rather, it began with a notion of "social justice." The scientific justification, if any, was an ex post facto rationalization of a position motivated by considerations having nothing to do with science. The same is true for transgender rights. 

iv) Apropos (iii), it's amusing to see the sudden shift in arguments for transgender rights. The argument used to be that gender is just a social construct. Now, however, some proponents are asserting that it's hardwired. They adopt arguments and ditch arguments depending on whatever's political expedient at the moment.

Just a few years ago, the search for a "gay gene" was all the rage. But that's dampened down somewhat, because, at best, that's scientifically simplistic. 

v) And this brings me to my final point and major point. Social activists begin with a political agenda, then cast about for scientific evidence to prove their foregone conclusion. 

It reminds me of expert witnesses for hire. Corporations and rich defendants often hire expert witnesses to testify in their defense. This can happen in murder trials, where guilt or innocence depends on forensic evidence. It can happen in malpractice suits. Or suing tobacco companies or pharmaceutical companies. Law-suits involving scientific technicalities.

The prosecution has a theory of the crime. The prosecution then shops around for an expert witness to support its theory of the crime. The defense may have an alternative theory of the crime. Or it may simply poke holes in the prosecution's theory. In any case, the defense shops around for an expert witness to support its alternative theory of the crime, or debunk the prosecution's theory of the crime. 

Notice the pattern. Both sides begin with what they want to prove, then find an expert witness to argue their position. The prosecution calls an expert witnesses to implicate the accused while the defense calls an expert witnesses to exonerate the accused. 

This is all "scientific." Expert witnesses typically have very impressive credentials. The point is, though, that you can find an expert witness to scientifically defend anything the prosecution's theory of the crime requires. Or scientifically impugn the credibility of the prosecution's case. Whatever the defense or prosecution requires, an expert witness is readily available. In trials like this, you have distinguished expert witnesses scientifically contradicting each other's scientific testimony. 

That's something to keep in mind when social activists appeal to "scientific evidence" for homosexual orientation, gender dysphoria, global warming, macroevolution, &c. Think of hired guns at trials who argue both sides of the case.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Report On The Groningen Star Of Bethlehem Conference

Several months ago, I mentioned that there would be a conference on the star of Bethlehem at the University of Groningen in October. That conference was held last week. Aaron Adair is one of the scholars who attended, and he's written a report of what happened. There's a lot of significant information there, and I recommend reading the whole thing. For those who don't want to read it all, I've included some excerpts below. You can read my review of Adair's book on the star here. And here are some of his comments on the conference:

What's your worldview?

The Confessing Church

I'll using Jonathan Merritt's piece on David Gushee a launchpad for some general observations:

Keep in mind that this is the very same Jonathan Merritt whose interview with Austin Fischer the Society of Evangelical Arminians was trumpeting last Spring. But be that as it may:

Conservatives are about to learn that one of America’s leading evangelical ethicists is defecting to the opposition.

By whose yardstick? When I think of leading American evangelical ethicists, I think of John Frame, John J. Davis, and Scott Klusendorf–as well as John Feinberg and his late brother Paul. I'd also include the British evangelical ethicist Christopher J. H. Wright. I might add Gordon Wenham's fine work on OT ethics. 

Gushee doesn't make the cut. I vaguely remember him from the waterboarding controversies, where he took the politically correct position. 

He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed. 

Actually, he instantly discredits himself by his new position. 

In addition, Merritt is indulging in a fallacious argument from authority. Gushee's mere opinion carries no presumption that we ought to agree with him. 

It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. 

Actually, that's a transparent attempt to make his defection impactful by hyping how allegedly impactful it is. It's like how opinion polling can influence public opinion. Reading opinion polls can influence the reader's opinion. A circular process. 

So what's the actual significance of his defection? His defection is insignificant in itself. It is, however, part of an unfolding pattern. How far that goes remains to be seen, but at the moment we're witnessing a growing schism which parallels the split between the Confessing Church and the Reichskirche

Many nominally Christians institutions are hollow shells. They are now openly siding with the secular liberal establishment on LGBT issues. We can expect to see more nominally Christian colleges, seminaries, and denominations break ranks with the faithful and realign with the secular state. 

Quislings like Gushee are ratting out faithful Christians to the authorities in exchange for protection. Give them up to save yourself. 

It's a repeat of the Third Reich. On the one hand were the Nazi theologians like Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch. (We might add Martin Heidegger among philosophers.) On the other hand were anti-establishment Christians like Barth, Bonhoeffer, von Rad, and Ernst Käsemann–who resisted the Nazi regime. 

During his incarceration as a political prisoner, Käsemann wrote a commentary on Hebrews (The Wandering People of God) in which he saw the plight of faithful Christians under the Reich allegorized in Hebrews. Cori ten Boom's The Hiding Place is another case in point. 

Other disturbing historical parallels include the moral disdain for the OT by "progressive" Christians–as well as rising anti-Semitism in Europe and American academia. For instance:

If things continue on their present trajectory, we may need a new Barmen Declaration.

That's on the evangelical side of things. Even more momentous is a parallel development on the Catholic side of things. Pope Francis has already signaled that he intends to change church policy on LGBT issues. Presumably, he was using this year's synod to probe how much support or opposition such a change would receive within the hierarchy. No doubt the reaction was somewhat disappointing. But he doesn't require the support of the bishops. He can act unilaterally, like Paul VI did on Humanae Vitae

If he goes through with this, it will leave faithful Christians extremely exposed to persecution by the liberal establishment. That will put papal court apologists like George Weigel in a bind. It will also cut the ground out from under Catholic bioethicists like Robert George and Francis Beckwith. It will signal to the liberal establishment that it's open season on faithful Christians. 

Hermeneutics in Light of the Divine Author of Scripture

The Reformed Forum has a podcast with Vern Poythress on his article "Dispensing with Merely Human Meaning: Gains and Losses from Focusing on the Human Author, Illustrated by Zephaniah 1:2-3."

News from the other side: “Apocalypse Now: Seriously, It’s Time for a Major Rethink About Liberal and Progressive Politics”

Hope for conservatives to be encouraged, and reasons to double-down in the coming cycles:

I am sorry to share my deep-seated opinion, which should jibe with anyone who is paying attention. After decades of engagement in progressive politics and media, it is very clear to me: we progressives, liberals, common-sense people, are losing badly to the conservative business state, the tyranny of massively expanding tech companies, theocratic right-wing forces and pervasive militarism, home and abroad. By virtually every measure, things are getting worse. And things are trending much, much worse in ways we can easily measure, like inequality, climate, militarization of police forces, etc., and in ways that are more psychological and emotional...

Blips on the Screen, But the Larger Truth

Of course, there are a few blips of good news here and there. We live in a complex society with some contradictions. But often when the occasional success gets appropriately celebrated, like gay marriage, it is often seen as proof of how things are going to change, and not as the anomaly it is with very particular ingredients. Public opinion has shifted on gay marriage, and obviously among leaders like Hillary Clinton, and even some conservatives. That is progress. But we would have no gay marriage if there wasn't huge money in favor of it, if powerful people didn't have skin in the game, and if it threatened corporate power and profit, which it doesn't, since gay marriage has been somewhat of a boon for the business sector, and many corporations support it...

There has been both a sharp decline in union membership and influence, as anti-union campaigns from Reagan to the present day have decimated a chunk of the union movement. The state of Michigan, the birthplace of the autoworkers and the labor vision, is now a "right-to-work" state. Some unions spend many millions of dollars fighting each other over decreasing numbers of members.

The same can be said of community organizing. Over the past 40 years, organizing has shrunk dramatically. Part of the blame is that large foundations, which represent individual and corporate wealth, have given billions of dollars to organizations with the end result of moving away from efforts to exercise power, to make trouble and push for change. Instead, they study things and become calm advocates for policy shifts. Often progressives have their own revolving doors between non-profits and foundation jobs...

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Racial dysphoria

We now have laws which confer special rights on men who self-identify as women, or vice versa, due to "gender dysphoria."

What about racial dysphoria? If I'm a white guy who self-identifies as a black man, am I entitled to affirmative action benefits?

If gender is a social construct, why not race?

Bubble-wrapped atheism

Recently, I noted that Jeff Lowder posted an intellectually confused critique of article by Warner Wallace. Jeff has responded with an intellectually confused reply to my observations. At least he's consistent–albeit consistently confused. 

In the title of his post (as well as the body of his post) he misclassifies what I wrote as a Another Failed Defense of “The Inevitable Consequences of an Atheist Worldview”

Unfortunately for Jeff, my original post wasn't a defense of Wallace's article. So Jeff's entire response goes off on a tangent. I'm not defending (or opposing) Wallace's article. That was never my stated aim or implicit aim. Rather, I was making a narrow, but damaging, point about Jeff's response. I can critique Jeff's response without endorsing what he attacks. So Jeff's reaction is illogical. 

In commenting on his critique of Wallace, I drew attention to the fact that Jeff fails “to distinguish between the logical implications of atheism and what individual atheists happen to believe.” 

Jeff denies this, yet that's exactly what he does. For instance, Jeff tries to counter E. O. Wilson's contention that morality “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate” by citing Larry Arnhart's Aristotelian ethical naturalism. 

But that confuses atheism with atheists. The fact that some atheist subscribes to "objective moral values and duties" doesn't make his subscription a logical implication of atheism. Indeed, his position could be logically incompatible with atheism. 

Likewise, Jeff tries to prove that atheism is neutral on morality with a name-dropping footnotes. But that, once again, illustrates my point. Citing what any particular atheist believes is a separate issue from the logical implications of atheism. For one thing, many atheists try to make the best of the losing hand they dealt themselves. They labor to turn a losing hand into a winning hand. They can't face up to the unremittingly bleak consequences of atheism. 

Jeff then casts himself in the role of scorekeeper:

Final score: Lowder 8, Hays 0.

But, of course, his score is predicated on his false premise that my observations constituted a "failed defense" of Wallace. Since, however, they were never a defense of Wallace, I can't very well fail to defend what I never attempted to defend in the first place. Jeff's final score is about as nonsensical as accusing Magnus Carlsen of losing the Superbowl. Well, it's true that Carlsen didn't win the Superbowl, but not because he failed to win the Superbowl.

Jeff isn't in the same game I'm in. He's not even in the same kind of game I'm in. I can't lose a game I wasn't playing. 

That they are inconsistent is the very point at issue. Hays hasn’t shown that yet. Hays hasn’t yet responded to my logical critique of these claims of the “logical implications” or “radical consequences” of atheism.

True. I haven't responded to that because that was never my objective. That wasn't the target. 

Again, Hays offers no defense of his claims about the “logical implications” or “radical consequences” of atheism. Instead, he just continues to beg the question by ignoring my point-by-point rebuttal to all of Wallace’s claims.

I needn't reinvent the wheel for Jeff's benefit. I've been defending my claims about the logical implications and the radical consequences of atheism for 10 years on my blog. 

I’m going to end this post by paraphrasing something William Lane Craig once wrote in response to one of his critics (Sean Carroll), keeping the essence of WLC’s point while applying it to Hays.
Finally, I’m disappointed that Hays cannot find it in himself to have a collegial discussion of these important questions but feels the need to resort to snide, personal attacks in his closing paragraph, as well as numerous blog posts. … His condescension is especially awkward in light of his own missteps in correctly characterizing the logical implications of atheism. Hays will pardon us, I hope, for our skepticism about his counting himself among the ranks of the open-minded.

To be open-minded about atheism is to be open-minded about moral nihilism, existential nihilism, and global skepticism. That kind of open-mindedness is not an intellectual virtue, but the subversion of all normative values and virtues. 

I would add this. I used to consider Hays a friend, but I don’t find Hays’ recent behavior very Christ-like. 

It's true that my behavior towards Jeff is unchrist-like. If Jeff dies as atheist, this is how Christ will behave towards him:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:31-32-41). 
when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thes 1:7-9).
I will never be in a position to do that to Jeff. Indeed, it's way above my pay-grade. 

I’ve interacted with many scholars who try (and, I think, largely succeed) in being polite when doing Christian apologetics: William Lane Craig, Michael Horner, Glenn Miller, Doug Geivett, Victor Reppert, Craig Blomberg, and Richard Swinburne, to name just a few. If you’ll pardon an atheist offering advice to apologists, I’m pretty sure the NT never says that rudeness is a necessary condition for giving a reason for the hope that lies within you. If I ever become a theist, it will be in spite of Hays’ recent behavior, not because of it.

Several issues here:

i) Jeff is a hardened atheist. The existence of "polite" Christian apologists hasn't made a dent in his ardent atheism. So his admiration for "polite" Christian apologists is just a throwaway line. 

ii) Jeff doesn't specify what's "rude" about my recent comments. I know he's been complaining about how I tag some of his posts, as well as those of Keith Parsons, as "village atheist" material. Well, I do that when their arguments operate at that level. 

iii) The fact that I used words like "confused" or "village atheist" to characterize some of his arguments is exceedingly tame compared to much Biblical rhetoric about unbelievers. If anything, my language is charitable to a fault by biblical standards. 

iv) More to the point is judging Jeff's pique by secular standards. Jeff is one of those Dudley Do-Right atheists who never lets the raw, radical implications of atheism sink in. His moral vanity blinds him to the abyss. It's like a concentration camp where the guards are never rude. They politely ask the inmates to step into the gas chambers. They say "please" and "thank-you." Be oblivious to the surroundings. Be oblivious to your fate. Smile a lot. Admire a fresh coat of paint on the gas chambers. 

Jeff goes through life in his bubble-wrapped atheism. He doesn't allow himself to see himself from the viewpoint of the universe if atheism is true. What is he? Just a clump of matter. A little clump of matter that will cease to exist almost as soon as it came to exist. It didn't exist for billions of years. It will cease to exist for billions of years thereafter. Forgotten. Forgettable. Irrelevant.

If atheism is true, Jeff is worthless. Utterly worthless. He's defending a worthless creed that renders him worthless. 

He plays the straight-man to the gallow's humor of the universe. The straight-man never gets the joke. He's too serious–because he takes himself too seriously–to ever catch on to the fact that the joke is on him.  

Even though Jeff founded The Secular Web, he doesn't see himself as atheism sees him. He doesn't see himself for what he is if what he says is true.

One reason for this is that atheism is too degrading to take. The other reason is that atheism is false. An atheist is a rebel. A creature made in God's image. A creature who must think and live in a God-defined reality. 

As a result, an atheist can't help but view himself as something with inherent value. He never takes to the role that atheism assigns to him. It's too unreal. Too impossible.