Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weeping for Jerusalem

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44).
Here's a popular Arminian prooftext. But it backfires. In principle, there are two ways of understanding the passage.
I. God's perspective
On this view, the passage isn't just a reflection of Christ's viewpoint, but God's viewpoint. A window into God's attitude towards the lost. 
Let's grant that understanding for the sake of argument. Problem is: the Jews of Jerusalem weren't the only people to suffer or die in the siege and sack of Jerusalem. Many Roman soldiers were maimed or died in that operation. Yet Jesus doesn't weep for them. He doesn't weep for the aggressors. 
Perhaps you'd say the Roman soldiers aren't entitled to sympathy. But that's inconsistent with the Arminian emphasis on God's omnibenevolence. 
Moreover, the Roman army included many forced conscripts as well as volunteers. Hence, there's a sense in which the Roman casualties are as much victims as the Jewish casualties. And it's not as if the Jews went down without a fight. They took a lots of Romans with them. 
So if this text reveals God's perspective, it reveals his selective concern for the Chosen People. If we grant the Arminian premise (i.e. it reflects God's outlook), then it becomes a prooftext for the partiality of divine love. An Arminian premise yields a Calvinist conclusion. 
II. Christ's perspective
Not everything that's true of God incarnate (the Son) is true of God discarnate (the Father & the Spirit). Due to the two natures of Christ, some things will be true of Christ that won't be true of God qua God. 
So this passage may well reflect the humanity of Christ. His human feelings. His human attachments. His natural empathy for his own people: the Jewish people. A sense of solidarity with his relatives. His extended family. 
You weep when your own mother dies; you don't weep when every mother dies. 
The Incarnation makes a difference: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15).
If, apart from the Incarnation, God has the same perspective, then the Incarnation is superfluous–for the divine nature can do the whole trick all by itself. And that's amplified by Arminians who reject penal substitution. In that case, there's even less rationale for the Incarnation. 

Early External Evidence For An Early Date For Luke-Acts

I think the best explanation for the ending of the book of Acts is that the events at the close of the book are the last significant events of church history that occurred before Luke published his work. So, it was published in the early to mid 60s.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Boomerang objections

As this reviewer notions, when annihilationists raise philosophical objections to the traditional position, their objections boomerang on annihilationism:
There are objections to conditionalism, of course, most which focus on matters of biblical interpretation, and I will not rehearse them here (for more see this pair of essays by Alan Gomes: 1, 2). Since I am trained as a philosopher, I will focus on some of the philosophical motivations for the view. With respect to proportionality, the objection that finite sins do not merit infinite punishment is ambiguous. In what sense are sins finite? Is it in terms of the amount of time it takes to commit them? If so, why couldn’t this undermine conditionalism as much as it does traditionalism? After all, the consequences of sins are eternal in both. Interestingly, this does not go unobserved by a contributor in this volume who argues that a good God could never perform divine capital punishment on sinners, and opts for a view where one goes out of existence as a result of one’s own spurning divine grace. According to this author, God is not in the business of meeting out punishment in the afterlife, which seems implausible given the biblical evidence cited above. 
Perhaps the finite/infinite distinction is to be understood in terms of harm: no sin could do infinite harm; therefore, it is not worthy of infinite punishment. But this is far from obvious. Suppose Smith would have repented at time t2, had Jones not murdered him at t1. Since Smith is forever shut out from the presence of God, Jones’s sin causes Smith an infinite loss. Assuming Jones does not repent, why shouldn’t Jones be suffer this same infinite loss too? Thus, the proportionality objection proves too little and the goodness-of-God objection proves too much. Conditionalism should probably just stick to the biblical arguments and not wander into these rhetorically empty maneuvers. 

Testing Mill's maxim

"Testing Mill's Maxim"

Evaluating the Arab–Israeli conflict

One reason professing Christians disagree on the Arab-Israeli conflict is because they approach the issue with different criteria. Instead of debating the particulars of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it would be more productive to analyze the criteria by which they evaluate this conflict. To some extent I think there's a failure to recognize or make explicit their criteria.

I. Theological

Dispensationalists side with Israel because they think the modern state of Israel represents the ongoing fulfillment of promise and prophecy. God gave the Jews this land. That's an irrevocable divine promise. 

Conversely, you have Reformed Baptist and Reformed Presbyterians who either side with the "Palestinians" or at least try to be even-handed (as they see it) in opposition to dispensationalism. The position they take on the Arab-Israeli conflict is an indirect result of the direct position they take in opposition to dispensational theology.

Nowadays, some Christians have a Calvinist soteriology, but a dispensational eschatology. But I'm referring to Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians who espouse traditional covenant theology.

II. Social justice

i) Many people who side with the "Palestinians" frame the issue as a social justice issue. This includes many secular liberals, and "progressive Christians," as well as some conservative evangelicals. 

The liberals view Hamas and the PLO as freedom fighters rather than terrorists. They distinguish between the just cause (as they define it) and the means. Even if Hamas or the PLO resorts terrorist tactics, that's in the service of a just cause. And they view that as counterterrorism in response to Israeli terrorism. 

The just cause is the axiom that Palestine is "occupied" territory. The Israelis expelled the Palestinians from their homes during the war of independence. Therefore, "Palestinians" are simply fighting back to reclaim what was theirs all along. 

Conservative evangelicals don't go that far. But they try to be equitable. They deplore the "cycle of violence" on both sides. They want to be fair to the "Palestinians." They think the "Palestinians" suffered a genuine and grave injustice during the war of independence. "Palestinians" have legitimate historical grievances with their Israeli overlords. 

ii) One problem with the social justice angle is that it's premised on a historical narrative that's hotly contested. Jewish sources present a very different version of events:

iii) Apropos (ii), someone might object that I just cited a biased source. And I don't dispute that. But that's a problem with the premise. Most of us aren't qualified to assess the historical claims and counter-claims. Most of us are in no position to sift through the competing narratives and decide which account is more accurate. 

iv) However, some proponents of this criterion also cite pro-Palestinian Jewish sources. Supposedly, that's objective and unbiased. After all, these are Israelis or Jews criticizing their own people. Speaking for myself, the mere fact that you can find Jews who take the Palestinian side leaves me unimpressed. 

a) Judaism isn't monolithic. It ranges all along a political and theological spectrum, from far left to far right. 

b) To my knowledge, Israel has nearly universal conscription (with few exemptions). The IDF isn't composed of rightwing patriots who volunteer to defend their country. Rather, every political viewpoint will be represented in the IDF, due to the demographically sweeping scope of the draft. As such, it isn't hard to quote dissenters within the ranks.

Likewise, you have Jewish-American professors who, from the safety of their American campus, can afford to pander to the jihadists. So what? 

v) There is also the underlying assumption that social problems in the present have their "root cause" in the past. To solve the problem, we must discover the source of the problem by tracing the effect back to some past miscarriage of justice–be it real, imagined, or exaggerated. It's like Freudian psychology transposed to a sociological key. Like something went wrong in childhood. So we're always treated to a history lesson. 

But aside from the question of whether the historical reconstruction is accurate, another weakness with this analysis is that the same types of problems recur in different settings, where the background conditions are very different. 

vi) Yet another problem with the social justice angle is the assumption that Israel should treat Muslims better than Muslims treat each other. But why do Muslims expect strangers to treat Muslims better than Muslims treat their own kind? Muslims routinely brutalize fellow Muslims. 

vii) Apropos (vi), by what standard are we judging Israelis? Are we holding them to Christian standards? But since most Israelis aren't Christian, why would we expect them to defend themselves according to Christian ethics? In a sense, we can judge all parties to that standard, but we can't very well hold them to that standard. 

viii) There's also the question of how Christians could or should defend themselves in similar circumstances. If you're up against a ruthless, fanatical opponent who sacrifices his own women and children for the cause, who will never make peace with you, what realistic choice does he leave you? Frankly, I think Israel exhibits excessive restraint.  

ix) Thankfully I don't live in Israel. I can only imagine what a tremendous cumulative psychological toll it takes to live in a place where you never feel safe. Where you're in constant danger.

The predictability of the general threat (something bad is bound to happen every so often), yet unpredictability of the specific threats (not knowing when and where the terrorists will strike next). The tunnels exemplify that. The enemy can pop out of nowhere. I think that would generate a claustrophobic cultural mindset. 

That's exacerbated by the fact that Israel is so small: the size of NJ. So there's no buffer zone. It can hit you before you know it. The enemy can be right on top of you before you know it, much less have time to react. 

How can you live in a state of fear 24/7? Do Israelis just become inured to the omnipresent sense of danger? Do they become fatalistic? 

III. Risk Assessment

Then you have folks who pick a side based on who's a natural ally or adversary. Who poses a threat to you, your family, you're livelihood? It isn't based on history or eschatology, the past or the future, but on the present. Jews and Israelis aren't dangerous to Americans–although some Jews espouse secular ideologies that are dangerous to Christian freedom of expression. By contrast, Muslims have proven themselves to be dangerous to everyone. 

This is not the same thing as Realpolitik. We have a Christian duty to protect our dependents and practice our faith.  

Charting the “Reformed” Postmoderns

A Postmodern Continuum, by Jacob Aitken

One of the most useless terms in lay apologetics is “postmodern.” It usually means “someone different from me but I am not sure how.” Or it means Brian McLaren. Postmodernism as a critical literary and philosophical position is rarely distinguished from applications of postmodernism by hippie, angry, post-evangelicals. ...

For my own view, I see postmodernism as a literary-philosophical position in critique of (if not parasitic upon) late modern structures. Such a view is mediated through the works of Michael Horton and Kevin Vanhoozer.

We will start with the most radical and dangerous postmoderns to those who are sympathetic to postmodern, but would probably fit in a Reformed church. This list is not exclusive but is limited to those thinkers whom I have read...

Read more: A Postmodern Continuum

Gripped By A Great God

I wish this would be shown at every high school graduation:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some Bad Advice From Tony Miano

Tony Miano, well-known street preacher, had this to say on Facebook recently:
Can't find a solid church that supports open-air preaching?
Then go to a solid church that doesn't support open-air preaching, and submit to the authority of the pastors/elders of the church. It is more important that you are a serving member of a local church than it is for you to open-air preach.
Christian Brother: God has certainly called you to be a hand, or foot, or arm, or leg in His Body. But He may NOT have called you to open-air preach. The fact that you want to open-air preach doesn't mean God has called you to open-air preach. You may not be finding a church that supports open-air preaching because that may not be the role the Lord has for you in His body.
So, get plugged into a local church; live in submission to the elders and in love with the rest of the congregation. Be willing to work the nursery, or scrub a toilet, or teach a Sunday school class (if you're qualified). Be willing to serve for no other reason than it is a fulfillment of the two greatest commandments--to love God and to love people.
The Lord may yet call you to open-air preach (if you are a man), and you will know that because your pastors/elders will affirm your call to preach the gospel in the open-air. And they will likely affirm that call once they see you are willing to submit to authority, serve the Body, can rightly handle the Scriptures, and once they see that the gospel of Jesus Christ is more important to you than hearing your own voice preaching it.
Give it some thought.
I gave it some thought, and I'd like to share a few.

Notice that Miano didn't frame the issue in terms of whether the church thinks the individual reader ought to open-air preach (OAP). It is plausible a church might not want a particular individual to OAP. For example, if the aspiring preacher is not very good at explaining the Gospel, or he hasn't mastered his temper yet and easily gets mad and challenges people to fistfights. But Miano is talking about OAP in general.

On the other hand, Miano seems to be referring to a situation where an aspiring OA preacher is not a member of a church because he can't find one that supports OAP. It is a pitifully sad commentary on the state of Reformedigelical churches in the West that this is a plausible scenario. I would at least agree with Miano on this - if you're not a member of a church, there had better be a really really good reason. Ie, you live in a location where despite faithful searching you have not been able to connect with anybody who actually loves Jesus.

Paganism, Satanism, and witchcraft

I'm going to quote this as a foil:

Paganism should not be understood as a synonym for Satanism. For many Pagans such an association is offensive, being understood as one of the many ways Christians have historically sought to demonize indigenous, nature-venerating religions. Most contemporary Pagans will insist that because Satan does not feature in the Pagan worldview, and because Satanists work with a perverted understanding of the Christian worldview, Satanists are not Pagans, but rather Christian heretics. Indeed, many Pagans will actively distance themselves from Satanists and Satanism. The Paganism-Satanist  confusion, which probably stretches back to the Christian denunciation of Pagans as "devil-worshipers," has been exacerbated in recent years by misrepresentations in films, horror novels and popular books dealing with the occult. "Pagan and indigenous religions," New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics (IVP 2006), 524b. 

This raises a host of issues:

i) Methodologically speaking, I imagine it must be difficult to find any "pure," indigenous forms of paganism or witchcraft in the modern world. After 2000 years of church history and Christian mission, contemporary paganism and witchcraft have almost inevitably been impacted by contact with Christian theology and practice. Indeed, it is often in deliberate reaction to Christianity.

ii) Of course, we have many literary and archeological sources for varieties of pre-Christian paganism and witchcraft. However, that's problematic for the sanitized image of modern pagans and modern "wiccans," inasmuch as ancient pagans often practice human sacrifice or child sacrifice in particular.

iii) There's an obvious sense in which pre-Christian witchcraft isn't a synonym for Satanism. Pre-Christian witches and pagans didn't consciously worship Satan. That requires a revelatory perspective. However, it's quite possible to be unwittingly in the service of the Devil. 

iv) As scholars have documented, European witchcraft evolved into diabolical witchcraft. Cf. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 1984), J. B. Russell & B. Alexander, A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans (Thames & Hudson; 2nd ed., 2007).

Due, moreover, to the global reach of Christianity, European witchcraft is hardly confined to a particular period or geography. To take one example, consider Voodoo's amalgam of Catholicism and witchcraft.

v) European witchcraft was an eclectic synthesis of sorcery, old paganism, necromancy, folklore, and heresy (e.g. the Cathars, Luciferians, Adamites). That's often an explicit version of diabolical witchcraft.  

vi) One interesting question is the degree to which Roman Catholic sacerdotalism and sacramentalism might have been a partial catalyst for European witchcraft. To what extent is Satanism black magic to Catholicism's white magic (as it were)?

vii) I also wonder if European witchcraft wasn't influenced by the "whore of Babylon" in Rev 17-18. Both at a substantive and iconographical level, the image of a harlot and sorceress riding on the back of a scarlet beast is rife with connotations (e.g. immorality, bestiality, seduction, spells, human sacrifice) that feed into Satanism. Did that contribute to the development of diabolical witchcraft on the Continent? 

viii) A pagan/wiccan apologist might object that European witchcraft isn't "true" paganism, but an artificial, culturebound construct. No doubt there's a grain of truth to that complaint, although paganism and witchcraft are inherently syncretistic and opportunistic. 

ix) However, it could also be argued that the encounter between paganism and Christianity was a clarifying moment for paganism. The shock of recognition. Removing the mask to reveal what (or who) actually lay behind paganism and witchcraft. 

x) Finally, what about the incendiary charge of child sacrifice? I doubt contemporary Western pagans and witches generally practice child sacrifice. However, I suspect the basic reason is the fact that, at present, child sacrifice is illegal. Murder. A punishable offense. 

There are, however, parts of the world where life is cheap, where there are many unwanted children, abandoned children, street children. Children sold into slavery. There are parts of the world were modern-day witches could probably procure children (for a price) for ritual sacrifice. And that would mark a reversion to pre-Christian pagan practice. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Omelianchuck on the Free Will Defense


Paul Draper on God and the Burden of Proof


Islam is the problem

Some evangelicals are confused or conflicted about taking sides in the "Palestinian" conflict. They think support for Israel is too one-sided. We need to be fair to the "Palestinians." 
Speaking for myself, I'm not a dispensationalist. I'm not a Christian Zionist. 
I don't assume that 1948 is a significant date on the eschatological timetable. I don't assume the establishment of the modern state of Israel represents the fulfillment of prophecy. Perhaps it does. I don't rule that out. But it's not a presupposition of my position.
I don't base my position on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I don't need to know who fired the first shot. 
My position can be summed up in one word: Islam.
My position is less about supporting Israel than opposing Islam. Opposing Islam is my default setting. That's the frame of reference. 
Perhaps the so-called Palestinians have historical grievances. Frankly, that's irrelevant.
I don't need to research the past to arrive at my position. The present will do just fine. 
I see what happens when Muslims migrate to other parts of the world, like England, Europe, Canada, and the US (e.g. Michigan) where they have no historical grievances. Where it's a clean slate. 
They begin to impose Sharia. They begin to persecute the locals. 
They bring their culture with them. They import their religion. 
Notice, too, how Muslims are systematically and ethnically cleansing historically Christian pockets of the Mideast. Take a cue. 
Islam is the problem: first, last, and always.
Islam should be opposed, always and everywhere.
It's a simple policy.
I see what Muslims to do others, and I see what Muslims to do themselves. 
Some people might object that I'm overgeneralizing. Not all, or even most, Muslims are terrorists. Maybe not, but just see how they behave whenever and wherever they come to power. 
Even if (ex hypothesi) most Muslims aren't terrorists, the "moderates" are intimidated by the zealots. They keep their mouths shut and go along with the radical elements.
Like an invasive species or computer virus, Islam takes over.
Never empower Muslims.  Don't give an inch. 
No one benefits by empowering Muslims. Everyone suffers as a result: Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 
Islam is the world's most dangerous ideology. It produces a pathologically destructive and self-destructive culture. 

Whose Land? Whose Promise?


Friday, July 25, 2014

Peace in the Mideast

Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

– Golda Meir 

Be careful about who you invite inside


Invidious comparisons

I'm going to comment on a post by Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

The underlying problem that (so far) I have heard no one talking about is our American affluence, including conspicuous consumption and luxury, promoted to the world via movies and television as the result of “the American dream,” combined with our boast to be a “nation of immigrants.” While we do have our own poor in the U.S., most of them are living in the lap of luxury compared with many people in Latin America. And we love to show off our prosperity and affluence, even our luxurious possessions and lifestyles, to the rest of the world—including our neighbors. Then we expect them to stay away. But we are like a magnet to the poor next door. Who can blame them for being drawn almost inexorably to us? 
My wife and I often watch a television show called “House Hunters International” on the Home and Garden channel. But my stomach turns when I see U.S. rich people south of our border to spend hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars on mansions on beaches in Latin American countries where just a few miles away thousands of children are literally suffering malnutrition, infant mortality (that could be alleviated), lack of education, and are living like animals in hovels. 
You question that? A few years ago my wife and I took our one and only vacation to Mexico. We stayed in a very simple, inexpensive “eco-resort” on a beach south of Cancun. In the nearby town and surrounding jungles we saw with our own eyes two shocking things. Lining the beaches near our extremely modest “resort” (not even electricity in the cabanas) were enormous, luxurious gated resorts inhabited almost exclusively by Americans. In the nearby town we saw one neighborhood made up of what looked like animal barns surrounded by mud with pigs and chickens. These hovels were inhabited by women and children. The children were obviously malnourished (hugely extended, bloated stomachs typical of that disorder) and “playing” in mud among the pigs and chickens. 
These people “know” that within reach is a paradise of affluence and luxury, free universal education, health care, food and…hope. And yet we who live in the lap of luxury expect them to stay away. 
The problem is often framed as “those bad Latin Americans who want to come and take what we have” rather than as “we rich Americans who show off our luxury and want to keep it all to ourselves.” 
As a Christian, I ask my fellow Texans and others (many of who consider themselves Christians) to consider Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Who are we, America, in the parable? Who are the Central American children standing or sitting on one side of our border or the other? 
Recently a Christian man in my town, very well known, a “pillar of the community,” purchased a partially built mansion on the edge of town with twenty-three thousand square feet of living space. 

Notice how he lumps middle-class Americans in with the super rich.

More to the point, there's more than one way to react to the invidious comparison. When Russian communists were exposed to American freedom and prosperity, that caused them to question their own system. "Why can't we do the same thing in our own country?" 

Boris Yeltsin reacted somewhat differently to a Houston supermarket in 1989. He expressed astonishment at the abundance and variety of the products he saw, but in his autobiography Against the Grain he describes the experience as "shattering": "When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it."
After Yeltsin visited that Houston supermarket, says Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "he became a reformer." Bill Keller, a former New York Times Moscow correspondent and now the Times's executive editor, sees Yeltsin's visit to the United States in even broader perspective: "The prosperity, the rule of law, the freedom and efficiency [Yeltsin] witnessed in America, catalyzed his notions about the fraud of communism."

"This land is mine"

Debates over the Arab/Israeli conflict (which the politically correct dub "Palestinians") often center on the question of whether the Jews have a claim to the land. Richard Tucker, the late great opera tenor and observant Jew, performed a stirring rendition of "The Exodus Song":
Yet it's misleading to say "this land is mine." According to Scripture:
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me (Lev 25:23).
God is the landlord, while Israelites are tenants and caretakers. 
Although the debate often swirls around the identity of the land (e.g. the borders), the larger theological issue concerns the identity of the people. Ironically, the terms of the Abrahamic covenant are deliberately ambiguous in this regard:
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
vv2 & 6 allude to Gen 1:28 and 9:1,7. Just as Adam was the progenitor of the human race, Noah is the new Adam, and Abraham is the progenitor of a new race. 
In this passage, is Abraham the father of the Jews, or the father of the gentiles? His national or international descendants? The promise encompasses both referents. 
i) It would obviously be cynical for secular Jews to claim God gave them the land.

ii) The Mosaic covenant is defunct. However, the land promises go back to the Abrahamic covenant, which is not defunct.

iii) Observant Jews who reject the Messiahship of Christ are covenant-breakers. Also, many modern-day Jews aren't ethnic Jews. So that's a complicating factor.

iv) Messianic Jews are arguably in a position to claim the land promises. But I think the ultimate fulfillment lies in the world to come.
v) One can be pro-Israel for geopolitical rather than theological reasons. Muslims are dangerous to themselves and to everyone else. It's foolhardy to support Muslims. 
vi) Some Arab Christians complain that they were dispossessed when the modern state of Israel was established (1948). For all I know, they may have a legitimate grievance. But that's complicated. Palestine has been invaded and conquered for millennia. Successive inhabitants have dispossessed the previous inhabitants. Who are the squatters? 
Arab Christians fare far better under Jewish rule than Muslim rule. It's not as if Arab Christians would be better off absent Jewish "occupation." If they didn't live in Jewish "occupied" territories, they'd live under Muslim occupied territories. See how well that works for Christians in the Mideast. 

Running the race