Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saving babies

I recently got into an impromptu Facebook exchange on infant salvation:
  • Steve Hays Moore's criticism is illogical. If someone is born with total depravity, that doesn't mean he dies with total depravity. If God choses to save a dying infant, he regenerates the infant. Justifies the infant. Sanctifies the infant. Glorifies the infant. Total depravity makes people liable to hell, but saving grace counteracts total depravity.
  • Steve Hays 
  • John Moore "You are born a sinner, you will always be a sinner even if regenerated (Westminster Confession), and the only way to be free of sin is when you die and are rid of your sinful flesh (body)" is the most damnable doctrine ever to seep it's way up from the pits of hell and into the church and the hearts of men!"
  • So is Moore a perfectionist? That's hard to live up to! Calvinism doesn't locate sin in "the body." By itself, there's nothing sinful about the body. It's what you does with your body that can be sinful. It's the mind that's sinful. The body simply does what the mind directs.

  • Steve Hays
  • Joel Tay Onan Coca, "I would say that it is inconsistent, since the issue is where we get the idea that a baby can be saved apart from a justification by faith--and whether a person can be elected apart from faith."
  • In Calvinism, election is unconditional. It's traditional Arminianism that espouses conditional election (i.e. election based on foreseen faith). In Calvinism, every elect person is elected "apart from faith." God doesn't elect someone on account of their faith. Faith is not the basis of election.
  • Rather, faith is an indirect result of election. Those whom God elects, he graces with other spiritual blessings–including the gift of faith. You might say faith is one *goal* of election. 
  • In Calvinism, moreover, regeneration is the cause of faith. So regeneration is more ultimate than faith. The elect can be regenerate before they exercise faith. 
  • Biblical commands about the necessity of faith are addressed to adults. Many biblical commands are specific to a particular class of individuals. Circumcision is addressed to males, not females. So you can't just assume that the necessity of faith is applicable to everyone, regardless of their cognitive status (i.e. babies, the developmentally disabled, senile Christians, comatose Christians, Christians with brain cancer).
  • Finally, if God saves babies, they presumably mature in the afterlife. They will reach the age of discretion, at which point they will be able to exercise faith.
  • Keep in mind, too, that it depends on the definition of faith. There's a sense in which, according to Scripture (e.g. Hebrews, 1 Corinthians), faith is supplanted by sight in the world to come. 
  • Therefore, the salvation of dying infants is not inconsistent with Calvinism.

  • Steve Hays
    Joel, are you attempting to interact with what I wrote? If so, your response is very incomplete. To begin with, even if the elect *will* believe, that fails to address the timeframe. When or where will they believe? In this life or the afterlife? In addition, you're sidestepping much of what I said. Is that because you don't have a specific counterargument?

  • Steve Hays
    Let's take a comparison, which I already hinted at, but you ignored. As a rule, those who die in a state of unbelief are hellbound. But does that apply to Christians who cease to believe due to brain cancer or senile dementia?

    Steve Hays
    So, Joel, are you asserting God never regenerates anyone below the age of discretion? If so, what's your basis for that blanket claim?

  • Steve Hays
    So are you saying babies exercise faith? Babies believe the gospel? What do you mean when you deny an age of discretion? Do you mean humans undergo no cognitive development from conception and/or birth to maturity? Does a 2-year-old have the same cognitive ability as a 20-year-old?

  • Steve Hays
    BTW, what's your evidence that regeneration immediately issues in faith, regardless of age?

  • Steve Hays
    If there's no such thing as an age of discretion, then what does this passage mean? 
  • "15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted" (Isa 7:15-16)?

  • Steve Hays
    Your response suffers from multiple confusions:
    • i) To begin with, you don't seem to grasp what the phrase "age of discretion means." You act as if it's synonymous with the "age of accountability." Is English your second language? Actually, "age of consent" is "synonymous with "age of reason." "Discretion" has primary reference to intellectual aptitude/awareness, not responsibility. The imputation of Adam's sin is irrelevant to the age of discretion inasmuch as the age of discretion is not synonymous with the age of accountability. 
    • There is, of course, some connection between intellectual development and moral development. If a 2-year-old steals a toy from the store, and a 20-year-old steals a Rolex from the store, one committed a crime and the other did not. The law rightly draws that distinction. 
    • ii) LIkewise, the imputation of Adam's sin is irrelevant to the question of infant salvation inasmuch as infant salvation, in Reformed theology, takes the imputation of Adam's sin for granted. Although babies are guilty in Adam, elect babies are redeemed by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. 
    • iii) You also have difficulty following your own argument. I introduced the age of discretion in relation to the issue of faith. You're the one who keeps harping on faith. So I'm responding to you on your own terms. Faith presupposes a certain level of cognitive development. To require doctrinal faith from a 1-year-old is contrary to nature. The age of discretion is entirely relevant to the intellectual capacity or incapacity to exercise faith. Try to keep up with your own side of the argument.
    • iv) You miss the point about Isa 7:15-16. The passage indicates that below a certain age, a human lacks the cognitive development to know the difference between good and evil. By parity of argument, a human below a certain age lacks the cognitive development to exercise doctrinal faith. That's the connection.
    • I didn't introduce the verse to establish that dying children go to heaven. Rather, I cited the passage to establish the age of discretion–a phrase which seems to confuse you.
    • v) If you don't see why a baby can't believing the gospel, then you're not trying very hard. Do babies understand doctrinal propositions? Are babies simply tiny adults? Adults in baby bodies?
    • The Lukan text about the prenatal Baptist doesn't say he assented to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 
    • vi) "The idea that a baby can be justified apart from faith is nothing more than a denial of sola fide." You're repeating objections I already dealt with. That's a tacit concession your part that you lost the argument. 
    • vii) I actually haven't discussed whether all or even some dying infants go to heaven. You've forgotten what the issue was. The question at issue is whether infant salvation is consistent with Calvinism. At this point I'm not discussing whether Calvinism is true or whether infant salvation is true. Rather, I'm merely discussing the original issue, which is one of internal consistency. 
    • Perhaps you reject Calvinism, but that's beside the point. The issue is whether the possibility of infant salvation is logically incompatible with Calvinism. Whether Calvinism is true is a separate issue. Whether infant salvation is true is a separate issue. At the moment, the issue on the table is the logical relation between these two propositions. 
    • You seem to be conditioned to respond to position that's not actually on the table at the moment. You need to adapt to new challenges.
    • viii) Infants are a special case because infants naturally lack a certain level of cognitive development necessary to believe doctrinal propositions. From a Christian standpoint, infant mortality inevitably raises the question of their eternal fate.

    J.B. Lightfoot's Commentary On Acts

    It's available for preorder at Amazon. It's based on some previously unpublished manuscripts of Lightfoot's work on Acts recently discovered by Ben Witherington. If you want to know why the book is significant, read the description and endorsements at Amazon.

    Shooting blanks

    The Rational Skepticism Forum has been commenting on a post of mine:
    These are rank-and-file atheists. The lay atheist, compared to the high priesthood (e.g. Harris, Hitchens, Stenger, Dennett, Dawkins). Let's evaluate some of their responses:

    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Raëlians at Qumran

    Art Boulet recently graced my blog. He's a Peter Enns loyalist, who follows his master from behind, to carry the royal train of his hero and mentor. 
    To judge by his profile, Art has an impressive resume–as Editor of the Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls project. His stated interests include Hebrew, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic.
    Yet this is paradoxical. To begin with, why should we care about the DDS? Why should we care about ANE languages and literature?
    Well, one justification is that this helps us to understand the Bible. And, with due qualifications, that's true. 
    But that only pushes the question back a step: why should we care about understanding the Bible? Why should that merit out attention?
    The conventional answer is a theological rationale: the Bible is God's word. That's why we take a particular interest in ANE history and archeology. 
    Problem is, after you reject the inspiration of Scripture, after you reject the revelatory status of OT Judaism and NT Christianity, the theological rationale slips off its foundation. 
    The logical alternative is a naturalistic explanation. The Bible is not God's self-disclosure to man, but man's opinion of God. Not the inspired record of what God is really like, but the fallible, only too human record of what primitive Christians and Jews imagine God is like. An essentially secular outlook. A world without divine revelation or intervention. A world in which "God" is not a divine self-revelation, but a human self-projection. Mind you, Enns lacks the courage of consistency. But if you take his position to a logical extreme, that's where it terminates. 
    Once you remove the theological rationale, the resources devoted to the DDS, Second Temple Judaism, or biblical archeology is vastly disproportionate. Why should we care what a little Jewish breakaway sect believed? Why pour over their writings? Why try to reconstruct the history of their sect? Fight over alternate interpretations?
    What if the community at Qumran is the ancient equivalent of Scientology, Raëlism, the Order of the Solar Temple, or the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? One of hundreds of long-forgotten cults and splinter groups which, through an accident of history, had some of its homegrown scriptures preserved and discovered?
    Because what survives the ravages of time is so happenstance, it often receives attention out of all proportion to its historical or intrinsic significance. 
    Suppose Princeton was facing a budget crisis. Had to slash some programs. How would Boulet justify the DDS project? Would he try to justify the project on theological grounds? 
    As secularism and pluralism progresses, how can you defend this disproportionate investment in ancient Christian and Jewish literature? Due to its historical value? But why is that more important than Mesoamerican history and archeology (e.g. Incan, Mayan, and Aztec history and archeology)? Are Mayan hieroglyphics less interesting than the Amarna letters or the Nuzi tablets? 
    Same applies to Harvard and Yale Divinity schools. From a secular and/or pluralistic standpoint, that's terribly provincial and retrograde. 
    Why devote so much attention to a book you don't believe? Surely not for the purely literary values.  

    A Review Of The Licona/Fales Debate On The Resurrection

    A few days ago, I linked to a video of a debate on Jesus' resurrection between Mike Licona and Evan Fales. I don't have much familiarity with Fales' material. I don't remember ever reading any of his articles or books, though I'd heard of him before and had read some excerpts of what he'd written. But I want to respond to what he said during the debate. He repeats a lot of common objections to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, in addition to arguing for some uncommon views.

    Unlike many critics of Christianity, Fales acknowledges a high level of honesty and intelligence among the early Christians. He makes some especially positive comments about the apostle Paul. However, he thinks the New Testament authors were often writing in a non-historical genre that modern Christians (and many non-Christians) are mistakenly interpreting in a historical manner. He focuses on the gospels, especially Matthew, for most of the debate, but he addresses Paul to some extent during the Questions and Answers segment at the end. He argues that the New Testament authors didn't intend to claim that Jesus rose from the dead in the physical, historical sense Christianity has traditionally maintained.

    In response:

    Fallen idol

    And here I thought all the misogynists were Bible-thumping fundies:

    Friday, September 19, 2014

    On God genes and extra estrogen vibes

    I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative. 
    It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.
    “I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

    Open letter on Doug Green

    I'd like to briefly comment on this open letter:
    The fact that former members of the WTS administration like Barker and Logan signed it might be impressive to some readers. 

    But I think it's a reminder that they were in charge when the WTS OT dept. was liberalizing, and they did nothing to counter that trend. They were complicit in the very situation which the current administration is attempting to redress. They were part of the problem rather than the solution.

    BTW, I can't helping thinking that Logan's lament about the current direction of WTS is related to his liberal politics and his homosexual son. Consider what he said on Facebook a while back. Consider his obsequious exchange with his dictatorial son (who apparently came out of the closet at some point in the past).

    There's a logical connection between theology and ideology. People who are theologically conservative are usually politically conservative. People who are politically liberal are usually theologically liberal. 

    Logan also seems to lack the necessary firmness of character to redress the straying OT dept. at WTS


    I think this is worth considering, especially the parts about all the damage that heterosexuals have done to the institution of marriage. And if you really want to know where THAT damage began, take a look at John Milton's, THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE, written in 1643 (at the very time the Westminster Assembly was meeting).

    • Boz Tchividjian likes this.
    • Talbot Logan To reduce the legal issue to "access to basic rights" I think it not an accurate nor fair summation. There are currently in excess of 1000 Federal benefits that are denied to same sex couples including Social Security survivor benefits, the right to inherit from a spouse, mandated family medical leave, partner immigration protection, tax on health benefits etc. Federal benefits are even more important for military personnel and government employees whose same-sex spouses are not accorded the same benefits. That is why this is an important issue.
    • Talbot Logan There is not a call to ask any religious institution to change their views or their definitions of their tenets. But unfortunately, the government has already redefined marriage by offering specific protections under the law and it is that "meaning" that needs to change. And as a gay may, I deny the author's denial that "changing the meaning of the word will improve the acceptance of gays in society". Many social injustices have been corrected by taking words and phrases that have been exclusionary and even hateful and redefining and/or eliminating. I deny that the author, since he is not a gay man, can even understand that what I don't want is access to basic social “rights.” I want to be treated with the same dignity and respect and protection as every American. That I believe is a God-given and inalienable right and supports the greatest commandment of "love thy neighbor as thyself". Far from "basic".
    • Sam Logan Very good clarifications, my son. THANK YOU! I agree with you that what our government has done is "unfortunate." I agree that this needs to change and I support that change in every way that I can. I agree that, no matter what they think about gay marriage, evangelical Christians (starting with your father) need to be much more aggressive and creative in "loving ALL of our neighbors" as ourselves. We/I have done a terrible job at that, not just with respect to gays but also with respect to the poor, to those of different races, AND to those of different religions (including Muslims, who probably are more discriminated against in our society than any other single group). And, as you will have note in my comments about this piece, I think its strongest point is what it says about how the greatest damage to the institution of marriage has been done by heterosexuals. So THANK YOU for your corrections and clarifications!

    Legal technicalities

    16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins (Exod 22:16-17). 
    23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 
    25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her. 
    28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days (Deut 22:23-29).
    i) I'm going to comment on a controversial OT law (Deut 22:28-29). Atheists routinely take this to mean a rape victim is required to marry her rapist. Atheists don't bother to exegete the offending text. Rather, you have atheists quoting other atheists quoting other atheists. This is a polemical tradition, handed down without question.
    ii) As I've often noted, atheists have no basis to attack OT ethics inasmuch as atheism can't justify objective moral norms. And many secular philosophers admit it.
    iii) We need to consider the legal rules of evidence. The Mosaic law must address the challenge of potential crimes for which there's no direct evidence. Take the comparison with murder in Deut 22:26b. Often, there are only two witnesses to a murder: the murderer and the murder victim. The murderer won't incriminate himself while the victim can't incriminate his killer.
    So the Mosaic law sometimes resorts to circumstantial evidence. The burden of proof. The Mosaic law will sometimes assign a technical presumption of guilt or innocence depending on the circumstances. That's different from actual guilt or innocence. 
    Take the case of a sexual encounter in the countryside, where there are no third-party witnesses. It could be consensual or coercive, seduction or rape. There's no direct evidence. In that setting, the law simply gives the woman the benefit of the doubt. Both parties could be guilty, but that can't be determined as a matter of fact. 
    iv) Penalties have a deterrent value. If a single man can engage in sexual activity with no strings attached, then he has no incentive to refrain from so doing. If, however, premarital sex obligates him to pay a fine or provide for the woman, then that's a disincentive. So that protects the woman.
    However, deterrents may carry a tradeoffs. When the deterrent works, that's better for the innocent party. It prevents the crime. The innocent party is never victimized in the first place. But when the deterrent fails, it may worsen the situation for the innocent party (i.e. the accused). Laws are often a compromise. 
    Take the case, alluded to in v16, where the law infers criminal intent (cf. Deut 19:4-13). That has deterrent value. That's better for the potential victim. But if in fact the belligerent neighbor is innocent, that's far worse for him.  
    v) Deut 22:28-29 is ambiguous in several respects. It isn't clear that this is a case of rape. It uses a different word (tapas), and a weaker word ("handle," "take hold of") than the word (hazaq) in v25. Although this might be a synonym, if both cases refer to rape, it's odd that the second case uses a different word and a weaker word. Scholars differ on the connotations of the word.  
    vi) Keep in mind that Deut 22:28-29 is a hypothetical case. For hypothetical purposes, the man is presumptively guilty. But that's abstract. 
    In a real-life situation, the man may be innocent. The law doesn't specify how the couple were "discovered." Does the woman cry out? Does someone happen to walk in on them? If they were "caught in the act," a witness doesn't know how that was initiated. Is it consensual or coercive? 
    So we're dealing with an allegation. Even assuming this law refers to rape, this is an accused rapist. But that doesn't mean the defendant is guilty. 
    vii) Moreover, the law may be addressing a question of seduction rather than rape. If so, who seduced whom? How should the law deal with he said/she said allegations?
    In either case, the onus is technically on the accused. That's potentially unfair to the defendant, if in fact he's innocent. But because the law must deal with uncertain situations, it sometimes resorts to technicalities. Balancing one potential injustice against another potential injustice. 
    viii) There's also the question of whether Exod 22:16-17 deals with the same situation, or a similar situation. Scholars disagree. Even if Exod 22:16-17 only deals with a similar case, that may still have interpretive value in how we construe the details of Deut 22:28-29.
    ix) The details may be fuzzy in part because case law is illustrative. It gives a judge general guidelines for adjudicating certain kinds of situations. But the law doesn't address every conceivable situation. So case law often leaves loose ends. OT Judges must exercise discretion. 
    x) Assuming that Exod 22:16-17 parallels Deut 22:28-29, the woman is not obliged to marry the accused. But the man is required to pay the equivalent of a fine. Financial compensation. In ancient Israel, deflowering a virgin outside of marriage greatly reduced her eligibility. So whether or not it was consensual, it is still a crime. And the penalty also has deterrent value, reducing the incidence in the first place. 

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    What's so bad about dictation?

    Theological liberals try to lampoon plenary verbal inspiration as the "dictation" theory of inspiration. That's despite the fact that classic exponents of verbal plenary inspiration like Warfield champion the "organic" theory of inspiration. To caricature plenary verbal inspiration as the dictation theory is either an ignorant misrepresentation or malicious misrepresentation. 
    That said, what's so bad about a dictation theory of inspiration? Consider the following:
    1:11 “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 
    19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.  
    2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:  
    8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  
    12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  
    18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  
    3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 
    7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  
    14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  
    21:5 “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
    Looks like a dead-ringer for a dictation theory of inspiration to me. Christ casts John in the role of scribe or stenographer. Christ dictates seven letters to John. In addition, the specter of John taking dictation extends more broadly in 1:19 and 21:5 to the entire experience.
    So, there's nothing intrinsically unfitting about a dictation theory of inspiration. On the face of it, here's a prime example. 
    Now, some scholars might dismiss this as a literary convention. Possibly. But if Christ speaks to John in a vision, why wouldn't he tell John to transcribe what he says? Unless you think the vision itself is a literary convention, why assume the dictation is a literary convention? For speakers are a fixture of the vision. And the only reason to classify the vision itself as a literary convention is if you reject visionary revelation outright.
    I'd add that even if you deny divine revelation, it's a fact that some people have visions. You might try to explain that away naturalistically, but since visions are a common religious phenomenon, there's no reason to automatically classify a visionary account as a literary convention. Although that's a convention in some instance (e.g. 1 Enoch), that doesn't squeeze out records of real visions.
    My point is not that dictation is the only, primary, or even usual mode of Biblical inspiration. But when theological liberals burn this in effigy, it's worth noting that a dictation theory of inspiration is not outlandish. And, in fact, it's not just a "theory," anymore than verbal plenary inspiration is just a "theory." Scripture bears witness to both modes of inspiration.  

    Getting People More Interested In Church History

    James White recently delivered a series of presentations on church history. I've only listened to the first one so far, but it's good, and I suspect the same is true of the others. The series would especially be good for those who don't know much about church history or don't have much interest in it. The first presentation addresses some of the reasons why we should be interested in the subject.

    Courage, corporality, and the ghost in the machine


    According to Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

    Nowhere does the Bible say, nor does Christian tradition require, that God literally "breathed out the very words" of the Bible. That's the dictation theory (sometimes called "verbal plenary inspiration). "Theopneustos" can and should be interpreted as "breathed into by God."

    It's impressive to see how much error Olson can squeeze into two short sentences:

    1) Verbal plenary inspiration doesn't presume that God "literally" breathed out the very words of Scripture. Verbal plenary inspiration doesn't require divine lung-power or a divine respiratory system. Divine "breath" is a metaphor for inspiration. 

    I assume Paul uses this metaphor in 2 Tim 3:16 for one or two reasons:

    i) Both in Greek (pneuma) and Hebrew (ruach), the words are synonyms for "breath" and "spirit." To say Scripture is "breathed by God" trades on one connotation to attribute Scripture to the agency of God's Spirit.

    ii) In addition, it trades on the other connotation to associate Scripture with the spoken word: Scripture as divine speech.

    3) What makes Olson suppose that verbal plenary inspiration is equivalent to dictation? What does he even mean by that? Does he imagine that plenary verbal inspiration has God actually dictating a speech to the authors of Scripture, like a king dictating a letter to a royal scribe? Does he really think plenary verbal inspiration is that anthropomorphic? 

    Or is he using "dictation" as a metaphor? Does he think verbal plenary inspiration is equivalent to dictation? If so, how so? Does he mean the process is equivalent? But if "dictation" is metaphorical, then the actual process is clearly different. Or does he mean it's functionally equivalent? The effect is as if God dictated the message? If so, what's wrong with that?

    Keep in mind that this is how Scripture distinguishes true prophets from false prophets. True prophets speak the very words of God. They deliver God's message. 

    4) Perhaps Olson's underlying objection is that plenary verbal inspiration violates libertarian freewill. If God controls the process from start to finish, that infringes on the libertarian agency of the speaker or writer by preventing him from making mistakes. Of course, it's because humans are normally fallible that inspiration is a necessary safeguard against error.

    In that case, it's a question of theological priorities. What gives: libertarian freedom or verbal plenary inspiration? 

    5) Olson offers no lexical evidence that theopneustos means God "breathing into" rather than "breathing out" or simply "breathed." Standard lexicons (BDAG) and commentaries on the Greek text (I. H. Marshall) define the compound word as "God-breathed." 

    As far as the metaphor goes, since the context concerns the effect of divine agency, where Scripture is the effect of divine "breathing," then exhalation would be more consistent with the metaphor. Or, more precisely, verbalized breath. A divine utterance. 

    Sailing under false colors

    Let's briefly compare some statements by Peter Enns:

    scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive. 
    That happened over 20 years ago, and the memory is still vivid. 
    I taught at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) from 1994-2008.

    According to his own timeline, he lost faith in the inerrancy of Scripture before he started teaching at Westminster. He didn't change his mind during his tenure at Westminster.

    Which raises an awkward question: did he take the job under false pretenses? It's hard to avoid the inference that he was sailing under false colors the whole time.  

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Acts and apologetics

    Midcourse correction at Westminster

    Tremper Longman continues to inveigh on WTS. I'm going to comment on his latest post:

    As you know a number of us are concerned about what we understand to be heavy-handed moves by the administration…
    i) It's  possible that the WTS boad/administration has been "heavy-handed." It's also possible that some colleagues who were originally more supportive of the OT dept. reversed themselves when the sensed a change in the weather. 
    Conversely, since Gaffin, for one, is safely retired, he's free to speak his mind. The fact that his public statements have defended the newer regime can't be chalked up to the fear of losing his job. 
    In addition, I've heard horror stories about the heavy-handed liberal culture of Calvin College, &c. So it's a two-way street. 
    ii) We also need to distinguish between optics and substance. Even if, for the sake of argument, the WTS administration was maladroit in dealing with the problem, that doesn't mean it wrongly identified the source of the problem.
    …to shape the seminary in a different direction than the proud history of the school would lead. 
    Well, historically, WTS was founded to carry the torch of the Old Princeton theology after Princeton Seminary went liberal. What we're witnessing is a replay of the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy, with Enns reprising the role of Briggs. The names change but the play remains the same. 
    I certainly acknowledge the right of the school to define itself in any direction it should chose to go, but people should know that direction and judge for themselves if they want to support it. 
    I like the direction in which WTS is  going. It's a long overdue midcourse correction. 
    Also, they should be aware of the tactics used in accomplishing their purposes. Though he does not play a role in the Chris Fantuzzo’s account of his treatment at Westminster, we should remember Carl Trueman’s honest and public description of the means that the seminary used to accomplish that purpose that I posted earlier.
    Actually, I don't recall having seen the offending statement by Trueman. I think that may have been from an earlier post before Longman changed the privacy settings to make his posts public.
    In any event, if Trueman was an instrumental figure in the ouster of Enns (not that Trueman could do that single-handedly), then so much the better for Trueman. 
    For those of you who are not familiar with the academic process, it is unbelievable that the president would make an appointment as in the case of Iain Duguid or let go a member like Chris Fantuzzo without departmental involvement from the very start. This is particularly the case for Westminster. It may be legal. It may be hidden away in the bylaws, but it is unprecedented…
    i) To begin with, this complaint is silly. From what I can tell, the WTS board/administration thinks the OT dept. needs to be rebuilt from scratch. In that event, you wouldn't expect the board/administration to seek the advice and consent of the very people whom they deem to be the source of the problem. 
    ii) And is this really unprecedented? When Jack Preus lowered the boom at Concordia Seminary, did he first consult the liberals? When SBC conservatives regained control of their seminaries, did they consult the liberal faculty first?  
    I'll now switch to Fantuzzo, whose letter Longman posted:
    Doug Green has received was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. 
    And a gratifying pattern at that.
    I was warned by a supervisor not to return to that world, and former teachers told me about the toxic culture at WTS.
    "Toxic"! Where have we heard that before? Witness the evolution of an urban legend before your very eyes.
    After the board meeting, Peter Lillback (twice) conveyed his belief that I would become “a superstar” (his term)—just finish the dissertation! Then Jeff informed him that President Lillback had decided to block the department’s decision to promote me. (Peter was not present.) I also indicated that Tipton and I had discussed the matter, adding that he had suggested in personal conversation that he might be more careful. My comment got back to Tipton (another recording?), and he phoned me. During the conversation, he denied telling me he might be more careful.Dick Gaffin [a former colleague of Longman and Dillard’s] was also familiar with my position and pledged to support me before the faculty and board, if/when I ever required it.)
    An obvious problem with this account is that it's a he said/she said recap. So whose version of events are you supposed to believe? 
    The only difficulty I faced during the interview process came in a phone interview with Greg Beale, which I thought inappropriate because he wasn’t a Westminster faculty member. He mainly voiced objections to Longman and Dillard’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, expressing disagreement with their views on Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, authorship of Isaiah, and the composition and date of Daniel. 
    Good for him.
    We disagreed about his reading of Longman/Dillard, but nothing more came of it.
    Beale isn't the only one to reads their introduction that way. So does O. Palmer Robertson. 
    In this phone conversation, Tipton also objected to my view of the controversy over Enns’s, Inspiration and Incarnation. I thought OTI students should read the book for themselves, that we (OT students) had an opportunity to go back to the drawing board. I told Tipton that I believed WTS was drawing lines too strongly, that it was rolling back the clock too far, that this was due to the model of Enns’s book as a cancer: WTS was in danger of cutting away healthy tissue. His response? I should “seriously start searching for another job,” for my view of the Enns controversy had disclosed that I “lacked sufficient militancy to be a Westminster professor.” 
    I'd say that's a pretty good reason to ax Fantuzzo. And that's based on his one-sided, self-serving account. 
    Later Lane Tipton objected to my teaching on the NT writers’ use of the OT. I discovered that a certain student was taking him recordings of my lectures, and I believe he was feeding this student questions to raise in class.
    What's wrong with recording his lectures? Rather than secondhand summaries, anonymous tips, or unsourced attributions, you have the speaker in his own words. Isn't that a fairer way to judge his position? 
    Recognize that no one had ever come to observe my classroom.
    If his lectures were recorded and distributed, isn't in-person observation superfluous? 
    Students were telling me (I believe as early as 2010) that in his AP and ST classes Scott Oliphint would openly object to my teaching the comparative approach in OTI. The mere inclusion of the subject meant I was “Enns all over again,” and “anyone who thinks understanding the ancient Near Eastern environment is important for biblical interpretation has an aberrant doctrine of Scripture.”
    This seems to be hearsay rather than direct quotes from Oliphint. 
    When Mike asked Jeff to explain this act, he was told that certain faculty were "strongly opposed" to my advancement.In this conversation, Tipton warned that opposition was mounting against me. I inquired further, and he said Beale (now a voting faculty member) objected to my teaching about multiple hands in the authorship of Isaiah.You can imagine my colleagues’ reaction. Neither the President nor the Dean had consulted Mike or Doug about this decision. As senior OT scholars, their professional counsel had not been sought; as faculty members, their academic and administrative roles had been disregarded; as leaders of the OT department, their choice of colleague had been rejected without discussion. No one had spoken with them about the matter before this meeting, and no open discussion about Peter’s decision was permitted afterwards. It was decided, having already been determined behind closed doors. In what was historically a faculty-run institution, Peter’s act was unprecedented: my colleagues and I had been snubbed; Iain had been promised the job by Presidential fiat! In my view, Peter, Jeff (and Iain?) had treated the OT department, the WTS faculty and board, and its staff and students (all typically involved in the hiring process) with utter contempt. For Doug Green (at least), this abuse of power was a sign of things to come.
    Several problems with this complaint:
    i) Once again, if the WTS board/administration regarded the OT dept. as hopelessly compromised, you wouldn't expect the administration and the board to seek their input. From what I can tell, the board/administration think the problems with the OT dept. require a root-n-branch remedy.  
    ii) Fantuzzo is trying to reframe the issue as a conflict between the administration and the faculty. Yet by his own admission, some of the opposition to the OT dept. came from faculty. Indeed, we know from the divided vote to grant Enns tenure that the faculty was quite polarized on the issue. 
    So what Fantuzzo is really insinuating is that each department should be autonomous, not merely in relation to the administration, but in relation every other department. The NT dept, or church history dept. or systematics dept. should have no vote on hiring or firing in the OT dept.  
    iii) In addition, consultation with the OT dept. would give its faculty lead-time to mobilize opposition. Recruit students to the cause. Mount a public campaign. "Save our Seminary." Why invite opposition? 
    iv) Are students typically involved in the hiring process? I guess I never got the memo. 
    Mine is yet another chapter in the abuse of power by Westminster’s administration and board. And OT studies at the seminary is characterized by the doctrinaire control of OT interpretation by non-specialists…
    The hermeneutical issues are interdisciplinary. How the OT is fulfilled in the NT is a question for OT and NT scholars alike. That can't be compartmentalized, for that, by definition, involves an understanding of the OT and NT alike.
    Moreover, when Enns makes 1 Cor 10:4 a paradigm-case for his hermeneutic, or when he and McCartney make Mt 2:15 another paradigm-case, surely NT scholars have at least as much competence to address that issue as OT scholars.
    …who aggressively seek to marginalize colleagues wanting to do justice to the OT’s distinctive ‘voice’ as witness to Christ.
    But the very question at issue is whether the OT does, indeed, witness to Christ. Or do NT speakers and authors impute an OT witness to Christ in defiance of the sense, reference, intentions, implications, and context of the original? 
    Tremper Longman there is no liberalism creeping in at Westminster... Doug Green and Chris Fantuzzo are not liberals by any stretch of the imagination.

    The fact that Longman vouches for his erstwhile colleagues hardly inspires confidence. He's not exactly an impartial character witness. Heck, he even defends John Goldingay.  

    The present Westminster would fire or "retire" both Ray and me and Al...

    A promising development. 

    Jonathan Bonomo What we see here is a world in which those in positions of power prevail over the humble in deals made behind closed doors. This is the way of the world, not the kingdom of Jesus. May the Lord have mercy upon his people.

    Some readers may remember Bonomo as a member of the "Reformed Catholic" clique (a la Paul Owen). Gives you some idea of where he's coming from. 

    Monster God

    Normally I wouldn't bother commenting on this:

    "Progressive Christians" like Brian Zahnd are a dime a dozen. However, SEA has been promoting Zahnd of late, so this tells you something about contemporary trends in Arminian theology.

    By way of one preliminary observation, I'd note that this is a variation on an old debate. 60 years ago we had the same debate over propitiation. C. H. Dodd thought propitiation was a heathen concept, unworthy of God. It assumed a God of wrath (horrors!) who had to be placated by sacrifice (horrors!).

    Roger Nicole and Leon Morris responded by first correcting Dodd's caricatures, then documenting from Scripture that, in fact, divine wrath is a Biblical concept, in response to which God commands or even provides (in the case of Jesus) propitiatory sacrifices. 

    Back to Zahnd:

    Particularly abhorrent are those theories that portray the Father of Jesus as a pagan deity who can only be placated by the barbarism of child sacrifice. The god who is mollified by throwing a virgin into a volcano or by nailing his son to a tree is not the Abba of Jesus!
    i) When I see Arminians attack penal substitution as "child sacrifice," or "cosmic child abuse," or compare the vicarious atonement of Christ to human sacrifice in general, I have to wonder: what kind of being do they think Jesus is?
    "Child" has connotations of a human being between infancy and puberty. A creature who's the offspring of a mother and father. A vulnerable human being. 
    "Child abuse" has connotations of physical or emotional harm inflicted on an underage son or daughter by a parent with power over their child.
    ii) For the moment, let's bracket the Incarnation and just consider the Son qua Son. 
    As a divine being, the Son is invulnerable to physical or psychological harm. The Father couldn't harm the Son even if he wanted to. The Father doesn't have that kind of power over the Son. It's not as if the Father is more omnipotent than the Son. Likewise, the Son is not a contingent being.  God is a se. There's nothing to hurt. How do you hurt a timeless, spaceless being? There's no chink in the armor. 

    Even if (ad impossibile), the Father could harm the Son, he could only do so by harming himself, given the unity of the Godhead. 
    Do Arminians like Zahnd think the Father can make the Son suffer by withholding affection? Injuring his self-esteem?
    Ironically, it's Arminians like Zahnd who operate with a "pagan" paradigm, as if the Trinitarian Father/Son relationship is equivalent to Odin and Thor. 
    iii) Now, there's no doubt that the Son qua Incarnate can suffer. The humanity of Christ is vulnerable to physical and psychological harm. Indeed, he can die. 
    Keep in mind that God often requires his people to suffer. God's prophets are called upon to suffer for the cause. Take Jeremiah. 
    But the Incarnation doesn't mean the deity of the Son becomes liable to harm. That's why radical theologians redefine the divine nature to provide for a suffering God. A God whose emotional equilibrium is contingent on human behavior. They know that the Incarnation by itself won't do the trick. 
    Neither is the death of Jesus a kind of quid pro quo by which God gains the necessary capital to forgive sinners.
    Sure about that?
    25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:25-26). 
    Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13). 
    that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:14-15,21). 
    He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet 2:24). 
    For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18).  
    5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;    he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,    and with his wounds we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray;    we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;    he has put him to grief;when his soul makes an offering for guilt,    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,    make many to be accounted righteous,    and he shall bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death    and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,    and makes intercession for the transgressors.(Isa 53:5-6,10-12).

    Back to Zahnd:
    An “economic model” of the cross just won’t work. It’s not as if God is saying, “Look, I’d love to forgive you, but I’ve got to pay off Justice first, and, you know how she is, she’s a tough goddess, she requires due payment.” This understanding of the cross begs the question of who exactly is in charge — the Father of Jesus or some abstract ideal called “Justice”?But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.
    Justice is a divine attribute.  Zahnd might as well say Arminian theism represents a penultimate god subordinate to love.
    Are you squirming yet?
    Can't say I am. Sorry to let you down. 
    “This Jesus…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” –Acts 2:23 
    “You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” –Acts 3:15 
    “God raised up Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” –Acts 5:30 
    “The Righteous One you have now betrayed and murdered.” –Acts 7:52 
    The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. 
    Except that Zahnd makes his case with half quotes. But according to Acts:
    This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and prior choice of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23). 
    27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
    Back to Zahnd:
    When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” he was not asking God to act contrary to his nature.
    i) To begin with, the textual authenticity of that verse is contested:
    ii) Moreover, Zahnd is burning a straw man. Of course forgiveness isn't contrary to God's nature. But God is just. Divine forgiveness doesn't come at the expense of divine justice. 

    Total war

    Lately, SEA has been touting Brian Zahnd:

    Notice the pattern we find among contemporary Arminians:

    i) The God of Calvinism is morally monstrous

    ii) The God of the OT is morally monstrous

    iii) The God of penal substitution is morally monstrous

    Increasingly, Arminians link these propositions–and others (e.g. the God of inerrancy is morally monstrous). They stand or fall together. 

    Zahnd himself explicitly attacks penal substitution for the same reason he attacks Calvinism, just as Roger Olson explicitly attacks OT theism for the same reason he attacks Reformed theism:

    Yet SEA touts both Olson and Zahnd. SEA might excuse this by laboring to compartmentalize the attack on Calvinism from the attack on Yahweh or the attack on penal substitution, yet Olson and Zahnd vigorously deny that compartmentalization. 

    SEA's behavior is typical of Arminian apologetics. Total war. Attacking Calvinism is their overriding priority. If the cost of destroying Calvinism is to destroy inerrancy, OT theism, or penal substitution in the process, that's collateral damage. That's necessary to achieve the strategic objective. The mentality is like saying: We've tracked the FBI's Most Wanted to LA. We don't know where exactly, so let's nuke LA to make sure we get him. By killing everybody we ensure killing the primary target. Impugning Yahweh, impugning inerrancy, impugning penal substitution is the margin of error we need to nail Calvinism.