Monday, September 01, 2014

Humanism and human rights

Saving God from himself

I think there is an important apologetic aspect to this whole issue of whether God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanite infants...We cannot invite men to the source of all goodness and then play a bait and switch. We cannot turn around and say, "Oh, by the way, I told you that God is the source of love, mercy, pity, and the laughter of children. But actually, I also believe firmly that God commanded men to be pitiless upon little children and to cut off their laughter forever by putting them to the edge of the sword. And they carried it through, too. And in the end, I'm okay with that."
Which is why I cannot sit down and simply accept God's ordering the slaughter of the Canaanite children by the Israelites.

One problem with Lydia's position is the notion that she can erect a high wall between God and natural or moral evil. But even if she succeeded in that implausible exercise, it would relocate rather than resolve the problem of evil. It's like a black market arms dealer for a drug cartel who says he's not responsible for the cartel assassinating a prosector because, once the buyer takes receipt of the weapons, what's done with them is out of his hands. But, of course, we wouldn't accept that excuse.

Is God too pure to look on evil?

The Bible is very clear that God has nothing to do with evil. There is “no darkness” in God (1 Jn 1:5). Far from intentionally bringing about evil, God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Hab. 1:13).   All evil, therefore, must be ultimately traced back to decisions made by free agents other than God. Some of these agents are human. Some of these agents are angelic. Either way, evil originates in their willing, not God’s.

It's striking to see how badly Gregory Boyd quotes Hab 1:13 out of context. Let's begin by quoting a larger sample of the passage in question:

3 Why do you make me see iniquity,    and why do you idly look at wrong?Destruction and violence are before me;    strife and contention arise.
12  Are you not from everlasting,
    O Lord my God, my Holy One?
    We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
    and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he? (1:3,12-13, ESV)

Here's how Richard Patterson renders the Hebrew in his commentary:

Why do you make me look at iniquity while You behold oppression?
O Lord, You have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, You have established them to reprove. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot behold oppression. Why do You behold the treacherous and keep silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves (pp129,143).

And here's how F. F. Bruce renders the Hebrew in his commentary:

You have appointed them for judgment, O Lord; you have established them for punishment, my Rock. You are too pure of eyes to behold wrongdoing, you cannot look on evil; why do you look on treacherous people and remain silent when the wicked swallows up one more righteous than himself? (p852). 

i) Contrary to Boyd's denial, it's very clear from Habakkuk that God does have something to do with evil. He is behind the Babylonian resurgence. He uses them as executors of divine judgment against wayward Israel. As Bruce observes, commenting on v12:

The prophet goes on to acknowledge Yahweh's sovereignty over the nations; he ordains or overrules their actions for the furtherance of his purpose in the world. The Chaldean invaders have indeed been raised up by him for the punishment of the ungodly–this the prophet accepts without question (p853).

ii) Habakkuk makes formally contradictory claims about God. He says God both does and does not "look on" evil. So he resorts to paradoxical formulations.

There's a sense in which God does look on evil, and another sense in which God does not. A double entendre. Presumably, Habakkuk means God doesn't look on evil with favor or approval. 

iii) Yet God is using evil to punish evil. Poetic justice. Indeed, the Babylonians are even worse than apostate Israel. 

Habakkuk senses a tension between the means and the ends. God goes on to explain that having punished apostate Israel by the Babylonian scourge, God will punish Babylon for its own iniquity. 

Boyd's description conjures up the image of a king who is pure because he lives within a walled city, surrounded by beauty. There's no crime within the walled city. No moral ugliness. 

But outside the walled city is physical and moral squalor. Utopian conditions inside the walls. Dystopian conditions outside the walls. 

The king retains his stainless purity because he never leaves the royal city to see the rest of his kingdom. The royal city is walled off from the evil outside the walls, so the king never sees it. He retains his innocence by averting his eyes. By shielding his gaze from the sight of evil. The king can't bear the sight of evil, so he looks away. 

There are freewill theists like Boyd who act as if God would be morally tarnished if he even beheld evil. Like some Christians who defined holiness by never watching an R-rated movie. Of course, that's not a position which Boyd can consistently maintain. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The wheel of life and death

Victor Stenger passed away on Wednesday. He lived and died an atheist. From a secular standpoint, his death will be missed in the way some people miss a handsome oak tree that was destroyed by ambrosia beetles. They enjoyed looking at it. Now it's gone. Sad, but life goes on. Indeed, some people miss their favorite tree more than they miss dead humans. His demise is no more important in the great scheme of things than a fallen leaf. 
To put his life and death in perspective: 
We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. 
What are all of us but self-reproducing robots? We have been put together by our genes and what we do is roam the world looking for a way to sustain ourselves and ultimately produce another robot child. 
For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria.
– Richard Dawkins
Whenever an animal treats something as an agent, with beliefs and desires (with knowledge and goals), I say that it is adopting the intentional stance or treating that thing as an intentional system.   
So powerful is our innate urge to adopt the intentional stance that we have real difficulty turning it off when it is no longer appropriate. When somebody we love or even just know well dies, we suddenly are confronted with a major task of cognitive updating: revising all our habits of thought to fit a world with one less familiar intentional system in it…A considerable portion of the pain and confusion we suffer when confronting a death is caused by the frequent, even obsessive, reminders that our intentional-stance habits throw up at us like annoying pop-up ads but much, much worse. We can't just delete the file in our memory banks, we wouldn't want to be able to do so. What keeps many habits in place is the pleasure we take from indulging in them. And so we dwell on them, drawn to them like a moth to a candle. We preserve relics and other reminders of the deceased persons, and make images of them, and tell stories about them, to prolong these habits of mind even as they start to fade. 

– Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin 2006), 110, 112.

The wheel of life and death 
In Buddhism this is extended to the idea that everything physical or mental is by nature transitory and in a constant state of change. Whatever rises must fall. This state of change must thereby result in decline and decay. In this sense existence is an unending cycle of growth and decay, integration and disintegration.  
Along with the frailty and insecurity of life, it is believed that at the center of existence there is a void. This void is the result of the insubstantial nature of life, and the aggregates, although forming a recognizable and perceivable object, do not produce a substance " all of them are insubstantial, a part of the endless movement of life.

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 141-146.
But Freddie's Summer soon passed. It vanished on an October night. He had never felt it so cold. All the leaves shivered with the cold. 
One day a very strange thing happened. The same breezes that, in the past, had made them dance began to push and pull at their stems, almost as if they were angry. This caused some of the leaves to be torn from their branches and swept up in the wind, tossed about and dropped softly to the ground. All the leaves became frightened. 
"What's happening?" they asked each other in whispers. 
"It's what happens in Fall," Daniel told them. "It's the time for leaves to change their home. Some people call it to die." 
"Will we all die?" Freddie asked. 
"Yes," Daniel answered. "Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die." 
"Does the tree die, too?" Freddie asked. 
"Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life." 
"Where will we go when we die?" 
"No one knows for sure. That's the great mystery!" 
"Will we return in the Spring?" 
"We may not, but Life will." 
"Then what has been the reason for all of this?" Freddie continued to question. "Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?" 
Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, "It's been about the sun and the moon. It's been about happy times together. It's been about the shade and the old people and the children. It's been about colors in Fall. It's been about seasons. Isn't that enough?" 
Then, Freddie was all alone, the only leaf on his branch. The first snow fell the following morning. It was soft, white, and gentle; but it was bitter cold. There was hardly any sun that day, and the day was very short. Freddie found himself losing his color, becoming brittle. It was constantly cold and the snow weighed heavily upon him.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, Leo Buscaglia

Reverse bigotry

I'll comment on this:
During the last week, some genuinely concerned people have admonished me about what they perceive to be an unhealthy bias against police officers. They have with good intention taken the position that those in authority should have our trust and support. I’ve had a running conversation with at least four officers or former officers concerned that I’m spreading distrust of them and their mates. They think it’s better if people with a public platform of any size would encourage trust for officers.
I’ve benefitted from these exchanges, if for no other reason than it demonstrates once again the very different lives African Americans and White Americans live in the same country. For my white interlocutors, the thought of not trusting the police never crosses their mind. It’s the right thing to do. It’s basic civics.
Ah, yes, because white Americans automatically think we should trust and support those in authority. White libertarians, Tea Partiers, and/or conservatives vest implicit trust in the ATF (e.g. Ruby Ridge), IRS (e.g. Lois Lerner), HHS (e.g. Kathleen Sebelius), DOJ (e.g. Janet Reno, Eric Holder), VA, TSA, EPA, NSA, NLRB, &c. 
Funny how Thabiti stereotypes white Americans. Isn't there a word for that? Prejudice?  
The idea that African Americans have lived in a police state in the United States may be something new to White readers of this post. That, again, just shows how different the lived experiences have been.
Notice he makes a gratuitous assumption about what white Americans allegedly don't know, then faults them for his own imputation. 
For nearly all of African-American life in the U.S., the police force has been the local arm of white supremacy and oppression. Ask yourself, How does white supremacy, racism and oppression get enforced for centuries even in cities and places where African Americans were the majority? How was it possible to enforce slave codes and Jim Crow segregation? What local means of power did the state exercise to “keep Blacks in their place”?
Was Jim Crow nation wide? After Reconstruction, didn't many Southern blacks move north (e.g. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia) to put Jim Crow behind them? 
Since the late 1600s up to the end of official desegregation, the official local means for enforcing white supremacy was the police.
That’s been an everyday truth for most of African-American experience. It’s a truth passed down at dinner tables between mothers who love their sons and sons wanting to play with toy guns or imagine one day being officers. It’s a truth recounted in history books—not the official books of public schools, but the books African Americans have worked to write in order to remember their names and tell their stories first person. It’s an experience that shapes generations. So the moments when little boys and girls daydream with their parents about what to become when they grow up intersects the story of an entire people. Like waters flowing from oceans into rivers, the moving memories and sediments get passed along until they puddle up in some lake and there grow with each wave that enters. Memory is long. The memory of hurt longer.
Well, that's the problem. He's not describing the firsthand experience of contemporary black Americans. Today's black teenager doesn't remember going through that, because he didn't. Or his parents. Thabiti is talking about a story that's passed down from one generation to the next. 
And you may be asking at this point, “How long?” How long will the remembrance of past injustices dog the steps of inter-ethnic peace and progress?
Notice the key phrase: "the remembrance of past injustices." Frankly, social commentators like Thabiti are shortchanging blacks by trapping them in a now nonexistent past. A psychological prison. Not physical bars, but invisible bars. That holds them back. Fosters a defeatist mentality. 
First, how long do you think it takes a police system and a justice system to exorcise the poison of officially-sanctioned racial animosity? How long do you think it takes people and systems to move from embraced and open racism to something resembling a true content-of-character, love-believes-all-things heart?
What about when the Jim Crow generation retires? It only takes one or two generations to have a compete turnover in police departments or the judiciary. 
Are all the racists and the racist sentiments of a police force with hundreds of years of practice gone in one generation? Have all the attitudes and practices that made forceful subjugation of African Americans possible disappeared in a couple of decades?
But our police officers work in a system. And systems don’t change overnight. Systems have a way of molding the behavior and attitudes of the best of people. That’s true of every system, and it’s no less true of law enforcement. It’s true even when you put a black man in a blue uniform. They find themselves acting out prejudices or facing the prejudices inside the force. The invisible hand of systemic prejudice is always at work on everyone in the system.
Notice how he personifies the "system," as if that's is a long-lived human being. 

Folk Mass

Because royalty are just ordinary people with extraordinary perks, they've felt the need to have something that makes them seem special, more special than they really are. Something that sets them apart from the hoi polloi. Typically, this involves finery. Gold crowns. Jewelry. Ostentatious attire. There's nothing about a naked king to distinguish him from a naked peasant. The externals must make the difference. The externals confer artificial importance on royalty. The illusion of that these are a breed apart from ordinary mortals. They dress like demigods to disguise how average they are underneath. 

Traditionally, the Mass employs the same psychology. Allegedly, the consecrated communion elements are the True Body and Blood of Christ. The trick is how to make something essentially mundane seem magical. So you fancy it up with ritual and glittery trappings. Archbishop Sheen once teamed up with  Yousuf Karsh to produce an illustrated guide to the Tridentine Mass. It's an elaborate exercise in how to make something intrinsically unimpressive impressive. How to elevate something made from water and flour, or fermented grape juice, to an object of reverence and adoration. High Mass at St. Peter's is another example. The choir. The visuals. The incense. Same thing with a Russian Orthodox service. Glorious Hocus Pocus. A priest strumming a guitar just doesn't have the same effect. 

This is why the folk mass was so disastrous. It's like stripping royalty of their gold, ermine, gemstones, and putting them in overalls. There's the sudden shock of recognition. When you peel back the layers, what's left is banal. The Tridentine Mass is a Christmas present with fancy wrappings. But what's inside the box doesn't compare with what's outside the box. Removing the wrappings, peek inside, and it's just an empty box. Jesus isn't there. The folk mass was very deflating. 

It's interesting to compare the Mass with Solomon's temple. By design, that was a very impressive building. Impressive interior. Some top-quality furnishings.

The floor plan is concentric. Space within space. Progressively holier, progressively smaller. 

Imagine when Jerusalem finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar. I assume he was curious to see the temple. See inside the temple. Walking into the sanctuary must have taken his breath away. The inner sanctum would be the high point. Yet, when he pulled the curtain aside, it must have been a bit unprepossessing. Just a box. Albeit a gilt box. 

I imagine he was trembling with suspense. There must be something pretty important inside the box to justify the build-up. What could be that important in such a small space? 

He lifts the lid. What a letdown! The Decalogue. Aaron's rod. A pot of manna. And that's it!

Solomon's temple is deliberately anticlimactic, because it's only an emblem of God's presence. God didn't live there. When you peer around the veil, you don't see God on the other side. Nebuchadnezzar was lucky that God wasn't waiting for him. Had it been the Shekinah or the Angel of the Lord, that would be a fatal encounter for the impudent king. 

Unlike the Mass, Solomon's temple never pretended to be more than it was. A symbolic structure. A pointer. A memorial. God wasn't really there. At least, no more or less than God is anywhere or everywhere. That's not where you find God, because that's not how you find God.

The Reformed Church: “Best Understanding of What's Happening in Our Crazy World Today”

Carl Trueman has an article that makes genuine good sense in the current environment.
We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs….

But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

It’s not surprising that Reformed Christianity equips us well for exile, because it was itself forged in a time of exile, often by men who were literal exiles. Indeed, the most famous Reformed theologian of them all, John Calvin, was a Frenchman who found fame and influence as a pastor outside his homeland, in the city of Geneva. The Pilgrim fathers of New England knew the realities of exile, and the conditions that it imposed upon the people, only too well. Winthrop’s famous comment about being a city on a hill was not a statement of messianic destiny but a reminder to the colonists of the fact that their lives as exiles were to be lived out in the glare of hostile scrutiny. Exile demanded they have a clear and godly identity.

The Reformed Church has its own baggage, but given the nature of its origins and our own moment, it is the right baggage: light when it needs to be light and heavy with the Gospel when it needs to be heavy. A marginal, minority interest in America for well over a century, she does not face the loss of social influence and political aspirations that now confront Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

There’s more “quotable Trueman” in there:

It is important to understand that the medieval Church’s failure to produce a theology that instilled this New Testament confidence contributed in significant ways to the Reformation. Luther’s notion of Christian freedom depends upon our clear knowledge of our identity in Christ. The bonds of sin are broken by faith’s secure hold on the truth of the Gospel. The way in which faith gives us a place to stand over and against worldliness was picked up and elaborated by Calvin and other Reformed theologians. The New Testament note of confidence—we really can know and give ourselves to the saving power of Christ—was cultivated by preaching and liturgy. This enabled Protestants to survive and then to thrive in the hostile world of sixteenth-century Europe. Our identity was not mediated by priest or sacrament. Then and today it is grasped by faith in the Word….

For those in physical exile, for those suffering for their faith, for those despised and marginalized by the world around them, the knowledge that history is under God’s control provides encouragement. However weak the Church appears to be, however many setbacks it faces, the end of history is already determined in Christ…

Reformed theology contributed to the rise of the theory of just rebellion, played a role in the English Civil War, inspired the Scottish Covenanters, and gave John Winthrop a vision for building a city on a hill in the New World. The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism. On the contrary, it has often proved a potent social force, even in situations of marginality and exile….

[John Calvin] spent much of his adult life in Geneva and was very influential in the city. But he was a foreigner, a Frenchman abroad, not even a citizen of Geneva for much of his time. He was never even powerful enough to persuade the magistrates to allow him to celebrate communion on a weekly basis. In short, Calvin was an exile, and he wrote his theology from the perspective of an exile. But this did not prevent him from speaking powerfully into the world where he found himself.

Yet there are differences between the Reformed and Rome. Calvin is no Thomas, and the Reformed faith is not Roman Catholicism. Where Thomas saw sin as exacerbating the limitations of nature in a fallen world, Calvin saw sin as bringing a decisive ethical darkness into the world. This difference is important and gives Reformed theology a more realistic understanding of Christian life in the public square and thus of the limits to what we might expect to achieve.

People do not call evil good and good evil primarily because they are confused or not thinking clearly. They do so because they are in basic rebellion against God.

It sounds a tad paradoxical: The Reformed use natural law for public engagement but expect little or no success. We believe that the world was created with a particular moral structure. Yet we also believe that fallen humanity has a fundamental antipathy toward acknowledging any form of external authority that threatens our own ultimate autonomy. This injects a basic irrationality and emotional passion into moral debates. This distortion of conscience and reason explains the apparent impotence of otherwise compelling arguments. And it surely reflects our actual experience as Christians in exile in twenty-first-century America.

I’ve lifted some of the passages that give the article its flavor. You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

And the walls came tumbling down

In my judgment, the only way to counter this for the inerrantists is to prove that the historical and archaeological evidence supports that account as it is in Joshua 6. 
On the problem passages, I have one big comment: inerrantists tip toe and tap dance around the fall of Jericho’s walls and end up denying the overwhelming conclusions of the archaeologists. Pete Enns is right here to challenge dust-in-the-eyes proposals of resolution to these sorts of problems.

Several issues:

i) There's the question of personal and professional ethics. McKnight used to teach at TEDS. That's a seminary committed to inerrancy. Yet he's attacking inerrancy. Has he changed his mind? Or did he dissemble about his true views when he was there?

ii) Biblical archeology is a wonderful discipline. But it has inherent limitations. Unless we know what Jericho looked like in the 2nd millennium BC, from one century to the next, we don't know what it looked like before or after the Conquest. Not to mention over 3000 years of subsequent erosion, reuse of preexisting materials, &c. So what's the basis of comparison? 

iii) Do proof and disproof have the same burden of proof? Does archeological proof that something happened, something existed, have the same evidentiary onus as archeological disproof that something never happened, never existed? 

iv) Josh 6 is, in itself, historical and archeological evidence for the event in question. Written records are a major source of archeological evidence. 

v) Why are inerrantists required to supply corroborative evidence? The area where I grew up has changed drastically in just 50 years. Many of my old haunts are now unrecognizable. From memory, I can mentally reconstruct what used to be there. But only someone who lived through that period is in a position to do so. And when that generation dies, those memories are lost. That knowledge is gone. 

vi) Incidentally, McKnight is a prominent Arminian. Once again, I'm struck by the fact that Arminians, especially in academia, are more liberal then their Calvinist counterparts. 

The Cat in the Hat

I'm going to comment on some of Lydia McGrew's latest statements on this thread:
I think if you have a real, absolute moral prohibition on killing infants, you should be very, very uncomfortable with these passages and especially with saying that it really happened just like that. You should have a serious conundrum. You should not be *just fine* with the, "God ordered it, so I guess then it's okay" response.
That's reversible. If you take Biblical revelation seriously, then you should question having "a real absolute moral prohibition" on killing infants.
There are plenty of reasons for not just taking it that it must be okay, the most important of which is that that would appear blasphemously to be saying that God ordered the murder of children. It's odd that those who are concerned for the honor of God aren't concerned that perhaps attributing this to Him isn't so honoring to Him.
Notice her tendentious tactics. Christians who defend Biblical revelation aren't saying that God ordered the murder of children. She smuggles in her own characterization, then imputes that to her opponents. 
As I said elsewhere, Scripture is full of statements that God is light, that God is love, that in God is no darkness at all, that God is good, that all goodness comes from God. If we are to consider that God ordered hacking infants to death, surely you can see that any attempt to say that our ideas of goodness are just radically faulty enough that we can't see why that is okay severely calls into question our ability to have any concept of divine benevolence! It raises the very real question of whether the passages could say that God ordered _just anything_ and people would believe it in the name of inerrancy. It also raises the very real question of what we are worshiping and whether we can be worshiping truly, truly adoring God's goodness, while attributing these things to Him. And if one were simply to accept such a thing, it raises the question of whether one who insists on doing that could literally _reverse_ the meanings of "good" and "evil" and still worship the god thus defined.
But that goes to the problem of evil generally. After all, infants have been "hacked to death" at various times regardless of whether or not God orders it. Since she considers that intrinsically evil, how is God benevolent towards infants if he twiddles his thumbs while that happens? 
As for its not being applicable to today, that seems to confuse the situation of the Israelites vis a vis the Canaanites with our situation vis a vis the Israelites. _They_ didn't get this order from a written canon of Scripture, because no such thing existed. _They_ couldn't have believed sola scriptura. Anyone who putatively received such an order today would presumably believe himself to be in _their_ position. He's not interpreting what God said to the Israelites but interpreting what he thinks God is telling him to do today. If you believe God could order the slaughter of infants over three thousand years ago, it seems rather too convenient, and argumentatively unsupported, to use the concept of sola scriptura to argue that God _couldn't_ do such thing today.
She's disregarding the specific reasons given in the text for the holy war commands. 
The putative slaughter of the Canaanites, with its apparent contradiction of the 6th commandment and even other OT statements, _does_ undeniably put strain on Judaism sans Christ, even as it puts strain on Christianity (which is a continuation of Judaism).
She keeps salting the mine. It's only in apparent contradiction to the 6th commandment if it's murder. That's the very question in dispute. 
First of all, I am not "setting" the Scripture against the Scripture. I am pointing out what seems to me a direct conflict, which would be there even if I never pointed it out. This isn't something I'm just making up. You yourself should be able to see the appearance of conflict, and simply resolving it by saying, "I believe in inerrancy" isn't much of a resolution. 
Notice that she's stipulating a "direct conflict." 
I would not apply the "consequentialist rationalization" label to God, because I've already said at the outset that the entire category of murder does not apply to God at all. It's just a category mistake to try to apply it to Him. So therefore the notion of a consequentialist rationalization of a wrong action cannot apply to God either.
If the entire category of murder does not apply to God at all, how does that mesh with her claim about "the very real question of what we are worshipping"? 
I'm surprised that you don't see the relevance of the hypothetical to the topic at hand. There are evidently some things that you would not believe to be true, even if found in part of the canon of what is designated as Scripture that has come down to us.
A counterfactual scenario can show a method to be mistaken. If your method is, as it seems to be, to take it as beyond question that anything that comes down to us in what is designated as the canon of Scripture must be true, even if that means attributing what appears to be an atrocity to God, and redefining our concept of "atrocity" accordingly, then that method is subject to a reductio ad absurdum. That reductio can be understand in terms of a counterfactual as to what that method would require us to do in the hypothetical case I have given. You cannot just say that the hypothetical is irrelevant because it isn't actual, because to do so is to show a failure to comprehend the nature of a reductio for a method of coming to a conclusion.
In trying to run a different reductio using a hypothetical, I'm simply finding something that you _would_ balk at.
Your method of believing whatever is in what is designated as the canon of Scripture _does_ have these absurd consequences as shown in my hypothetical. For some reason you just do not see that I have presented thereby a reductio of your method.
I'm pointing out, however, that someone could say exactly the same things you are saying, in exactly the same way, about *absolutely any content*. Since you don't apparently really want to say that you would accept *absolutely any content* as being true just because it is in the canon of Scripture, you should realize that what you are saying to me is also not argumentatively moving.
In that context, to try to move me *merely* by saying, "You can't call that into question. It's in the Bible" is a fairly weak argument and really does invite the sorts of reductios I have been bringing forward.
Why is this so hard? Why couldn't someone say the _exact_ same thing about "why the Bible shouldn't be the norm" if the Bible contained a record of God's telling the Israelites to rape the Canaanite children? The answer is, someone could.
This point has force whether you see it or not. If you have any line at which you would reject what is in the canon of Scripture, then you are prepared to do the exact same thing that I am doing.
i) Notice the bait-and-switch. When she asks, "What if the Bible said…?" she's no longer talking about the Bible, but something different. The fact that an inerrantist doesn't have the same deference for what's not the Bible as he has for what is the Bible proves nothing. That's not what has come down to us from the Jews, or Jesus, or the Apostles. 
ii) To say "what is designated as Scripture" is sleight-of-hand. Suppose an avid fan of Dr. Seuss founded the Church of Seuss. Members regard Dr. Seuss as a prophet sent by God to restore the true faith. In the Church of Seuss, his writings are designated as canonical Scripture. As a result, Green eggs and ham are the communion elements.
Suppose Lydia then says, "Well, if you balk at what Green Eggs and Ham teaches, then you ought to balk at what Deuteronomy 20 teaches." Really? How does that counterfactual scenario show that faith in Deuteronomy is misplaced? 
Yes, there are some things I wouldn't believe to be true, even if found in what the Church of Seuss designates as Scripture. I draw a line. And that's a reason to deny the Bible? 
iii) Lydia acts as if the designation of canonical Scripture is arbitrary. The title on the dust cover. What's inside could be anything. 
But, of course, the books comprising the canon aren't simply designated as Scripture by fiat, a la The Da Vinci Code. At least, not for Protestants. 
iv) In fact, this isn't just hypothetical. There are rival canons of the OT. The church of Rome, the Orthodox church, and the Ethiopian church have different OT canons than the Protestant canon. Protestants reaffirm the Hebrew OT canon because that has the best historical chain-of-custody. The OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha arose during the Intertestamental period, and there's no good reason to think the Jews, or Jesus, or the Apostles, ever viewed those Intertestamental writings as Scripture. Content, per se, is not the criterion, but the chain-of-custody. 
If the idea is that the reason we don't need to talk about those hypotheticals is that the real-life situation *isn't really all that bad* and hence needn't be compared to such a hypothetical, then that, of course, is where we disagree.
So if her opponents don't think the real-life situation is intrinsically evil, then by her own admission, the hypothetical comparison has no traction. 
What is her argument, anyway? Is this an argument from analogy? If you reject child rape, you ought to reject child homicide, because the two are morally equivalent? But if that's the claim, where's the supporting argument? To say they're morally equivalent begs the question. 
In what sane moral universe, I ask you, do we say, "Raping little kids, that can't be justified. I draw the line there. But cutting off their heads with swords--yeah, I can probably find a workaround to justify that"?
But we're talking here about swiping the heads off of babies, which, on the contrary, *is* one of the things which has been condemned both by natural law and by tradition all along. Therefore all manner of special pleading is necessary to try to justify it in the case of the Canaanites.
For some reason, chopping off children's heads just doesn't do it for you, but raping children does.
i) Are we talking here about beheading babies? That's what she's talking about, but does the OT command the Israelites to behead Canaanite babies? Where does the Pentateuch prescribe that method of executing the Canaanites? Why is she suddenly imputing that imagery to the text? Is it because she finds that polemically useful, even if it's untrue? 
ii) Since, moreover, she's conceded that God has the right to end a child's life, then her comparison between raping children and killing children isn't analogous even on her own grounds. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Disambiguating impassibility

There's currently a debate within evangelicalism generally and Calvinism in particular over the question of whether God is impassible. One problems with the current debate is equivocation: there are two different definitions of impassability in circulation. If you Google "impassibility," you pull up definitions like this:

1. Classic theism teaches that God is impassible — not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. 
Incapable of suffering or of experiencing pain 
Incapable of feeling 

Compare that to a more academic definition of the term:

2. Nothing created can cause God to change or be modified in any way…Many classical theists make this point by insisting that God is impassible. In this context "Impassible"…means "not able to be causally modified by an external agent"…God cannot be altered by anything a creature does. B. Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 3rd ed, 2004), 5. 

Notice that #1 doesn't mean the same thing as #2. #1 defines impassibility in terms of divine emotional generally or divine suffering in particular.

By contrast, #2 does not include emotion or suffering in the definition. Rather, it defines impassibility in terms of divine independence. God cannot be influenced by his creatures. 

Take another example:  

The view that God is in no way affected by creatures is called the impassibility of God. This seems to be the view that you favor. God cannot suffer emotional pain. 
Read more:

Craig begins with one definition, but immediately substitutes a different definition. He oscillates between two different senses of the word, without even registering the equivocation.  

For now I'm not discussing which one is true, or whether either one is true. The immediate point is that the current debate suffers from this semantic confusion. 

It's possible to see how these two different definitions might be interrelated. If you deny #2, then that makes God susceptible to emotion or suffering if God reacts to events in the world. 

Finally, I'd point out that impassibility, in the sense of #2, dovetails with Reformed theism, which stresses divine independence. God is never conditioned by the creature, but vice versa. 

Government as one big SWAT team

Clock time

Alan Kurschner solicited my comments on this argument:

We've had some amicable banter via email. I'm posting my side of the exchange (thus far). 

1. I think the inference involves a level-confusion. For the deeper question, or preliminary question, isn't so much how 19 and 20 are related to each other, but how the narrative was meant to map onto reality. The key issues isn't how these scenes are internally related but externally related. 

If, say, someone (like myself) views Revelation as an allegory (e.g. Pilgrim's Progress, The Divine Comedy), then even if we thought the narrative was linear, that doesn't resolve the larger question of how to match the allegorical story with real-world referents. 

And if there's evidence that the structure is more like a spiral than a line, then that further complicates attempts at directly correlating the narrative with real-world events. 

Put another way, the question is how to synchronize 19-20 with external events. That involves more than how the scenes are interrelated within the narrative. That involves how the narrative is related to the world outside the narrative. That question operates at a different level. 

I myself don't think Revelation has a single timeline, although there's an overarching direction. 

At best, your argument could be one element in a cumulative case for premillennialism.

2. In a book like Revelation I think it's important to distinguish between historical causation and dramatic logic. I think the sequence you describe follows dramatic logic. There's a distinction between those who take orders and those who give orders.

The foot soldiers have both a defensive and offensive function. They attack the people of God. But they also protect the ringleaders–like bodyguards. 

In dramatic logic, first defeat the foot soldiers, in part as a way of getting to the ringleaders. Capture and punish the ringleaders after eliminating their security detail. You have to go through the phalanx to reach the commanders. 

Satan is saved for last because he's the ultimate ringleader. He comes in for special treatment. 

Orders come from the top down. Defeating the enemy reverses the process by working up the chain of command. 

That's dramatic logic rather than historical causation. 

4. There's the familiar problem of where Satan gets his army for round 2 (20:8-9), since his army was destroyed in round 1 (19:21). That suggests recapitulation. 

This is one reason I'm hesitant about reducing the action to a single timeline. There's a certain back-and-forth in Revelation. 

Of course, premils can posit that the millennium itself creates a new generation to resupply Satan's depleted ranks. There's nothing inherently wrong with that postulate. But it's not specified by the text. 

5. I don't know the specifics of your overall position. So I'll take a stab at it, and you can correct me. 

It's my impression that you think Revelation is basically a historical narrative written ahead of time. Not just that it refers to real future events. But that in terms of genre, it's essentially a history book, like Genesis, Chronicles, or Acts. The difference is that unlike ordinary historical narratives, which record the past or present, this is about the future–given the author's advance knowledge of things to come. So you think Revelation is fairly prosaic and chronological, like other historical narratives. What makes it different from a typical historical narrative is not the genre but the timeframe.

Likewise, given your view of Biblical supernaturalism, it's my impression that you don't think Revelation is nearly as symbolic as amils typically take it to be. That is to say, the surreal elements could well be realistic. The grotesque monsters aren't symbolic. Rather, given Biblical supernaturalism, why can't reality be like that? 

I'm also assuming you think 4-22 is chronological. And I assume you think that jumps ahead to the endgames, in contrast to the 1C setting of 1-3. 

Again, correct me of I'm wrong.

Assuming that's correct, I'll say a few things for now, and save the rest for later.

Regarding the grotesque monsters, there are various possibilities or interpretive options:

i) John could be using zoological analogues for advanced technology. Maybe they represent predator drones. Writing for an ancient audience, John must use imagery that's intelligible to his audience. 

ii) The monsters could be real zoological organisms. But perhaps they are bioweapons. Bioengineered by the Dragon or the Antichrist, as part of their army of darkness. 

iii) The monsters could be occultic entities who are able to assume grotesque physical form.

Speaking for myself:

i) My default position is to regard them as literary composites, based on OT antecedents. Their hybrid features symbolize the abilities we associate with fearsome animals.

ii) However, I'm certainly open to the possibility (perhaps more than a possibility) that these are occultic entities who are able to assume that form. Just recently I was reading about an Eskimo village on the North Slope of Alaska. Due to coastal erosion, it relocated. The new site was built on old Eskimo burial grounds–which included the graves of Eskimo "shamans" (witch doctors).

From time to time, residents reported sightings of a black, winged wraithlike entity that terrorized the community. Of course, that could just be a tall tale. However, I'm willing to entertain to the possibility or probability that this was the ghost of a witchdoctor. A damned soul haunting the village for disturbing its grave. 

On a related note, M. Scott Peck was trained (at Harvard) in secular psychiatry, yet later in his career, two patients were referred to him whom he diagnosed as possessed. Indeed, according to him, when the possession manifested itself, they'd take on a reptilian appearance. Cf. Glimpses of the Devil

iii) To take a comparison, the seraphim/cherubim in Ezekiel's visions are tetramorphs. But they aren't literary composites. Rather, that's what Ezekiel actually saw. I don't know if it was a subjective or objective vision. But in any event, that's how they manifested themselves to him. 

iv) Preterists and amils typically regard the chronological gap which premils posit between 1-3 and 4-22 as ad hoc. Now, I myself don't think 4-22 has exclusive reference to the distant future. 

However, I don't think positing a chronological gap is necessarily ad hoc. John didn't know the duration of the interval between the first and second advents. And the question is what would be the next big event in redemptive history. Arguably, the next big event is the cluster of events involving the return of Christ and the final judgment. So it wouldn't be out of the question to have a lengthy gap.

4. I think you're conditioned to counterattack a conventional version of amillennialism which isn't identical to my position. I think you're responding to something like this:

i) The structuring principle of Revelation is recapitulatory parallelism. This is a systematic structuring principle. 

19 belongs to the 6th cycle, while 20 belongs to the 7th cycle. 20 begins a new cycle. The narrative isn't continuous from 19 through 20.

20 refers to the first advent of Christ. The "first resurrection" is the new birth. The binding of Satan is Christ's 1C defeat of Satan's kingdom, illustrated by dominical exorcisms.

ii) You object to this partly on the grounds that it's anachronistic. If 19 is about the second advent of Christ, then it does violence to the narrative flow to make 20 about the first advent of Christ. 

Speaking for myself:

I) I do think Revelation exhibits a fair amount of recapitulatory parallelism. However, I doubt that's a systematic structuring principle. I think that imposes a degree of artificial symmetry on the book. So I'm dubious about making a hard break between 19 and 20 based on recapitulatory parallelism. 

ii) I agree with you that the first resurrection doesn't refer to the new birth. One reason is because I think Revelation describes public events. External phenomena. Not private, inner experiences. 

iii) That said, I classify Revelation, not as historical narrative, but fictional narrative. Allegory. There are different kinds of fictional narrative. There's historical fiction, which is based on real people and real events. Fiction set in the past. With accurate period detail. There's supernatural fiction. And there's time-travel fiction, where the protagonist travels back into the past to change the past, with a view to changing the future, then returns to the new future. Often he's dissatisfied with the results, so he keeps going back in time to change the past until he either gets the results he's hoping for or gives up trying. 

I think Revelation has elements of all three fictional genres. Like historical fiction, it refers to real agents and real events. Sometimes in the past, or John's own time, but also in the future. Like supernatural fiction, it has supernatural characters and miraculous events–which stand for real agents and real events. 

And like time-travel fiction, it's repetitious in the sense that the story restarts several times, reaches the denouement ("It's the end of the world!"), circles back and starts over again–but each time it's different. 

Revelation has a series of narratives within the overarching narrative. Narrative units that have a chronological sequence (a beginning and ending), but the next unit doesn't begin where the last unit ended. Rather, the next unit begins where the last unit began. Like a row of snowglobes. A self-enclosed world within a world. Each with its own, internal timeline. 

I think this periodicity is there to show us that no matter when you live, you can expect the same kinds of challenges as a Christian believer. 

iv) I don't mean the whole book is cyclical. Revelation is like a passenger ship. Passengers are moving backward and forward, up and down, although the ship itself has a definite direction. In that respect, the passengers are going where the ship is going, even if they are going in all directions on deck. 

v) We should also resist the inclination of imposing our sense of clock time on the text. Our modern obsession with punctuality. From my reading, ancient and/or primitive cultures don't have that rigorous sense of clock time. They don't live by the clock. They don't operate with that rigid schematization of time or causality. 

This consideration is reinforced by the fact that John received his visions in an altered state of consciousness. Precognition and retrocognition flatten the perception of temporal succession.   

Saints, Satan, heaven and hell

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-4).
John's millennium receives disproportionate attention. That's unfortunate inasmuch as his millennium is secondary or penultimate to what follows. Of much greater importance is how the story ends (chaps. 21-22).
i) One question is where the millennium takes place. The text itself doesn't specify the locale. It's essential to the premil scheme that it happen on earth. Conversely, an earthly setting would be awkward (but not fatal) for amils. 
In favor of the earthly locale is the parallel with 5:10. By contrast, amils appeal to the parallel in 6:9-11. In that event, it takes place in heaven. This is reinforced by the fact that v4a has its background in Dan 7:7-27, which is set in heaven. On balance, I think there's more exegetical support for the heavenly setting of the millennium. 
ii) There is, however, another related issue. How is the binding of Satan related to the millennium? One key is the probable contrast between the location of Satan and the location of the saints. The "pit" or abyss is a synonym for hades or the netherworld. In John's symbolic cosmography, that's down under. The lowest part of the universe. And that would form a natural contrast to heaven, which is the upper story of the universe. 
Indeed, this implicit contrast would furnish supporting evidence for the heavenly setting of the millennium. 
That, in turn, suggests the significance of their respective domains. The spatial separation between the saints in heaven and Satan's incarceration in hades means, among other things, that the saints are safe from Satan. Out of reach. Untouchable. He can't get to them. Not only is he imprisoned, but his prison is physically separated (symbolically speaking) from them. He's at the opposite end of the universe. 
iii) Incidentally, this may be one reason why Scripture uses the sky to symbolize God's dwelling place. God is invisible. You can scour the earth, but never find him. 
Putting God in the sky (as it were) is a way of saying God is out of sight. Too far away to be seen. Transcendent. 
Of course, God can make himself accessible to man. But that's at his initiative. 

An overview of different methods of apologetics

From Nathan Rinne:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” — 2 Cor. 10:5

There are generally thought to be three approaches to Christian apologetics. Definitions will vary, but here are what I think are some good ones.

One approach is known as fideism which says that the best defense of the faith is preaching the Gospel, and that “rational evidences” have nothing to do with the process. Faith and reason, while both having their place, are opposed to one another like oil and water.

Presuppositionalism has its roots in Calvinist theology, emphasizes the unbelievers darkened reason and the power of the Word of God to convert, and, according to John Frame, “should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion of an argument, but as the one who makes argument possible” (Cowan, Five Views on Apologetics, 2000, p. 220).

Evidentialism looks to engage a persons’ rational capacity and takes advantage of accepted methods of doing scientific and historical research. It examines the claims made about Jesus Christ by the eyewitnesses of the Biblical narratives, and looks to determine whether or not the claims are, as the Apostle Paul put it, “true and reasonable” (Acts 26).

What is one to make of the variety of approaches to Christian apologetics?

Nathan cites writers as diverse as Kierkegaard, Plantinga, John Warwick Montgomery, and Sye Ten Bruggencate. In the comments, Richard Swinburne is cited (“On my view, Christians can quite properly offer any arguments for the truth of Christian belief they think are appropriate. I doubt that these arguments are sufficient to warrant the firmness of belief involved in faith (as traditionally understood) but it doesn’t follow that they have no use at all. On the contrary; they can be extremely useful, and in at least four different ways....”).

Read the whole article here, which promises to turn into a series....