Friday, November 24, 2017

Christmas Resources 2017

Here are my previous posts on resources for the Christmas season:


You can go here to find an archive of our posts with the Christmas label. Scroll all the way down and click on Older Posts to see more.

I've written a couple of posts that provide the text of the infancy narratives with links to relevant posts added to the text. See here for Matthew and here for Luke.

Here's a collection of our reviews of Christmas books.

You can find a collection of responses to skeptical myths about the church fathers, including on issues related to Christmas, here.

And here are examples of our posts on Christmas issues, among many others you can find in our archives:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Miracles and modern infidelity

The Christchild

Modern readers are often skeptical about the nativity account in Matthew. In the first part of this clip, Dr. McGrew discusses how the timing of a particular event in the nativity account synchronizes with external historical collaboration: 

Why don't miracles happen whenever somebody needs them?

Is it up to us?

Robert Kane is a leading defender of libertarian freewill, so it's to examine how he frames the issue:

Doctrines of determinism have taken many historical forms. People have wondered at various times whether their actions might be determined by Fate or by God, by the laws of physics or the laws of logic, by heredity or environment, by unconscious motives or hidden controllers, psychological or social conditioning, and so on. But there is a core idea running through all historical doctrines of determinism that shows why they are all a threat to free will. All doctrines of determinism–whether they are fatalistic, theological, physical, biological, psychological or social–imply that, given the past and the laws of nature at any given time, there is only one possible future. Whatever happens is therefore inevitable or necessary (it cannot but occur), given the past and the law. Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 5. 

i) That overlooks an obvious counterexample. The occurrence of miracles is consistent with predestinarian traditions, yet some miracles are causally discontinuous with the past. You couldn't predict a miracle from the chain of events leading up to the miracle, because the miracle wasn't caused by natural processes. That kind of miracle is like a closed system within a closed system. The result of factors within that smaller closed system. Miracles like that are self-enclosed in relation to the past, but affect the future. 

ii) Likewise, according to predestinarian traditions, there's only one actual future, but not because the future is the inexorable product of the past and laws of nature. Predestination doesn't require that mechanism to implement the plan. 

To see why many persons have believed there is a conflict between freewill and determinism, so conceived, consider what free will requires. We believe we have free will when we view ourselves as agents capable of influencing the world in various ways. Open alternatives seem to lie before us. We reason and deliberate among them and choose. We feel (1) that it is "up to us" what we choose and how we act; and this means we could have chosen or acted otherwise. As Aristotle said, "When acting is 'up to us,' so is not acting." this "up-to-us-ness" also suggests that (2) the ultimate source of our actions lie in us and not outside us in factors beyond our control (5). 

That roughly corresponds to the phenomenology of human experience, which is what makes it appealing. Moreover, Calvinism affirms that we are agents capable of impacting the world in various ways. Likewise, the ability to contemplate hypothetical alternatives is consistent with predestination. That said:

i) The feeling that it's "up to us" could be illusory. For instance, memories are central to personal identity. Memories shape our character, our outlook, and our choices. Memories make a formative contribution to our psychological makeup. But suppose, like Dark City, it was possible to implant false memories. Unbeknownst to myself, my self-image derives from a fictionally personal history. My choices may seem to be "up to me," but they're conditioned by outside factors beyond my ken or control. 

By the same token, the feeling that it's "up to us" could be the effect of something that's not up to us. But that lies behind our experience, so we'd be unaware of what causes our feeling inasmuch as our feeling is the effect of that anterior dynamic. Take the creative process, where a novelist taps into the unconscious. Where do those ideas come from? He can't say, because that lies back of where consciousness takes over. Consciousness is at the receiving end of that subliminal process. The source is a step before that. So Kane's conclusion is underdetermined by the evidence. 

ii) Another problem is how his appeal artificially isolates one agent from another. If I'm the only driver as I approach an intersection, I have multiple options. I can go forward, backward, change lanes, turn right, or turn left. But once we add other cars, then that increasingly curtails my options. I can't change lanes if another car occupies that lane. I can't reverse course if there's a car behind me. I can't go forward if there's a car stopped in front of me. I can't go straight if a car in the opposing lane is turning right in front of me. I can't turn if cars in the opposing lane are turning in front of me. I may be hemmed in on all sides.  

If we lived in a world where every agent can access alternate courses of action, why wouldn't that generate gridlock, where my preferred alternative impedes your preferred alternative? Admittedly, we live in a  world where we aren't mutually hemmed in by each other's choices (although that certainly happens from time to time). But how is that possible if we each have libertarian freedom? Or is it possible because libertarian freedom is false, and there's a traffic light control system (predestination, providence) coordinating our respective choices so that we don't jam up? 

Was Jesus impeccable?

i) It's intuitively appealing to say that temptation requires an ability to succumb to temptation. But we could turn that around. Temptation is most unbearable when the opportunity presents itself, but you know that you cannot give in. 

Suppose my kid brother and I live in West Berlin c. 1961. We're both teenagers. We make a short trip to East Berlin. But that's when the Russians close the border. So we're trapped in East Berlin. We're cut off from the rest of our friends and family.

Suppose I have an opportunity to bribe a guard at Checkpoint Charlie. He'll let me escape, but not my brother. I'd never see him again. 

It's very tempting for me to return to W. Berlin. I desperately want to return. Yet it's utterly unthinkable that I'd abandon my brother. In that case, what makes the temptation so galling is that I have the opportunity to do so, but as a practical matter, I have no real choice. Morally and psychologically, I could never bring myself to betray my kid brother.

Compare that to say, sexual temptation where there's no sense of moral restraint. That's temptation without resistance. Cheap temptation. 

ii) Unless one believes that the saints in heaven can still commit apostasy, a capacity to sin is not intrinsic to human nature.

iii) Unless the human nature/will can operate independent of the divine nature/will, Jesus cannot succumb to temptation. 

iv) Incidentally, that would make for a perpetually unstable Jesus. After all, he still exists! The Incarnation is permanent. He will live in that state forever.

So it isn't just a question about could he sin during his 33 years (give or take) life on earth, 2000 years ago. If he has the capacity to give into temptation, then that's a constant possibility. 

Calvinism and hard determinism

I'm going to comment on an article by self-styled Calvinist Theodore Zachariades

I have not met an Arminian that concedes this compatibilist view of freedom. To them only libertarian freedom is real.

Why should Calvinists use Arminian views as the standard of comparison? 

What is the point of using Arminian arguments about supposed freedom to plead for Calvinist conclusions?

Since, by his own admission, Arminians reject compatibilism, appealing to compatibilism is inimical using Arminian arguments about supposed freedom to plead for Calvinist conclusions.

God is a planning Agent.

Free will is thereby an illusion, as our lives have been scripted and planned before by God. 

At the end of the day, we live out a script that God has decreed. He asked no counsel or took anything into consideration but His own will in this eternal decree. Meticulous providence rules out free will. Calvinists that affirm their truncated version of free will do so to maintain human responsibility. But the Bible does not use free will as an explanatory category to sustain human responsibility. We are responsible or accountable because we are created beings. God’s character, as indicated in His prescriptive law for humans, is the standard by which human behavior will be judged. 

If predestination is true, and it cannot be doubted in face of so much evidence, it must follow that free will is false. There is no free will in a universe directed and upheld by the Lord God Almighty. There are those who wish to maintain a semi-Calvinist or hypo-Calvinist view that asserts that free will is compatible with determinism. That still leaves one as a determinist, an inconsistent one, however. I prefer to stress theological hard determinism.4 Take the fall of Adam. Was it a free action or was it determined? I believe you cannot have it both ways. If determined, then was Adam truly free? This problem has a long history. I side with God’s decree including the fall of Adam; indeed, even the fall of Lucifer! Free will in a compatibilist-determinist worldview is only free in name. 

Libertarians, of all stripes, renounce these arguments by compatibilists, and thereby they win the argument by the definition. If free will is compatible with determinism, why not claim that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism? The reason one cannot is that the determinism side weighs too heavily and truly precludes libertarianism or true free will. Compatibilists like to use the language of free will without having the substance.

i) Let's begin with some standard definitions of hard determinism (or theological hard determinism) from the philosophical literature:

Hard determinists (William James’s term) are also incompatibilists, but they accept determinism and deny that we have the sort of free will required for moral responsibility. Derk Pereboom, Living Without Free Will (Cambridge 2003), xiv.

Hard determinists are incompatibilists who take a harder line: since determinism is true, free will does not exist in the sense required for genuine responsibility, accountability, blameworthiness, or desert. Robert Kane, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (Oxford 2002), 27. 

But another option, typically only hinted at, is to endorse theological hard determinism, according to which theological determinism is true, but as a result we are not morally responsible in the basic desert sense for our actions. Derk Pereboom, "Libertarianism and Theological Determinism," Kevin Timpe & Daniel Speak, eds. Free Will and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, and Concerns (Oxford 2016), 116.

On that definition, Calvinism is antithetical to hard determinism. That humans are morally responsible agents whose actions are potentially blameworthy or liable to just desert is a Reformed essential. Zachariades is operating with an idiosyncratic definition of hard determinism that doesn't correspond to standard usage. He doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. Certainly his claim is uninformed. 

ii) When compatibilists say that human agents are "free" in some respects, what does that mean? The definition of "freedom" in the compatibilist sense depends on the point of contrast. "Free" compared to what? To take one representative example:

We typically make distinctions in the law and in morality between individuals who have been coerced and those who have not. Indeed, we distinguish between agents who have been manipulated (in certain ways), brainwashed, deceived, subject to clandestine subliminal advertising, and so forth, and those who are morally responsible. John Martin Fischer, "Semicompatibilism", Kevin Timpe, Meghan Griffith, & Neil Levy, eds. The Routledge Companion to Free Will (Routledge 2016), 5. 

On that definition, compatibilist freedom means freedom from certain types of manipulation, coercion, deception, brainwashing. So a compatibilist can specify the sense in which determinism is consistent with freedom. Does Zachariades deny that human agents are free in that sense? 


Semicompatibilism is the view that even though some freedoms–for instance, the ability to do otherwise–are incompatible with determinism, moral responsibility is compatible with determinism J. Campbell, Free Will (Polity 2011), 29-30.

Does Zachariades imagine that Calvinism is inconsistent with compatibililism (or semicompatibilism) in that sense? On the face of it, Zachariades appears to be ignorant of what hard determinism and compatibilism (or semicompatibilism) even mean. Yet these are terms of art. These are philosophical concepts. He needs to show some understanding of what they represent before he's in any position to assess them. As it stands, his discussion is incompetent. 

iii) Finally, determinism does not entail premeditation. For instance, the sequence of a randomly shuffled card deck is determinate, but unplanned. If you take a deck of cards, which has a preexisting sequence, bisect the deck, then randomly shuffle the cards so that a card from one half alternates with a card from the other half, the recombined deck has a determinate sequence even though the order of the cards is random rather than planned. 

Determinism is equally consistent with intended and unintended outcomes. Although determinism may be a necessary condition for premeditated events, it's not a sufficient condition. Zachariades needs a more discriminating category than determinism to articulate how everything happens according to a master plan. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pagan miracles

The argument from miracles is a traditional evidence for Christianity. That goes all the way back to the Bible. In modern apologetics, I think that's often neglected compared to archeology and philosophical arguments. 

One prima facie objection to the argument from miracles are non-Christian miracles. If these occur, doesn't that cancel out Christian miracles?

i) In Exodus, there are pagan miracles, but they are trumped by Yahweh, who empowers his servant, Moses. 

Likewise, Christ's reputation as an exorcist involved his authority to overpower the kingdom of darkness. On the mission field, especially in Third World countries, Christian exorcism can be a witness to the true God, trumping animism, polytheism, and the occult.

ii) If miracles overwhelmingly cluster around Christianity, then the rarity of non-Christian miracles is easier to explain given the truth of Christianity, but much harder to explain otherwise. 

Judean succession

One of the oddities of Catholic apologetics is the appeal to Matthias to replace Judas. That's their major prooftext for apostolic success. But did Judas ordain bishops? Are contemporary Catholic bishops lineal successors to Judas? Did they inherit his teaching authority? If so, that would explain their character and behavior. They received the charism of Judas. 

For that matter, is there any evidence (besides etiological legends) that Thaddeus or Bartholomew ordained bishops? Are some contemporary Catholic bishops lineal successors to Thaddeus and Bartholomew? 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crying wolf

 A basic problem with Black Lives Matter is that its approach is counterproductive. In principle, "institutional racism" could exist on different scales. There might be pockets of institutional racism in the country. For instance, a particular police department or precinct might discriminate against blacks. 

However, BLM insists on promoting the narrative of nationwide institutional racism. And the message drowns out what might be actual incidents which don't corroborate that overarching narrative. If you cry wolf all the time, people tune out. If you exaggerate racism, people stop listening. We know that BLM will default to that explanation before it even hears the details. It already knows in advance of the evidence in any particular case what the true explanation is, which is always the same explanation. That's so predictable and disconnected from any specific case that people cease to pay attention. We know ahead of time what BLM will say, no matter the circumstances, no matter the race or ethnicity of the cop, or the racial composition of the police force, or the mayor or city council or DA's office or judges. 

As a result, there may be bona fide cases of racially motivated police abuse, but that's too provincial to play into the overarching narrative. 

In addition, if someone has a reputation as a liar, then no one believes him even when he happens to tell the truth. That same dynamic can operate at an organizational level. They've blow their credibility, so even when there's a legitimate grievance, that's lost in the shuffle. There's little incentive to sift through all the false alarms to isolate the true stories from the spin and propaganda.

That's a problem with the cottage industry of fake hate crimes. After a while, the reflexive outrage becomes collective exhaustion. The result is to unfairly impugn the credibility of real victims, because their own side chronically overplays its hand. 

The "campus rape culture" generates the same problem. So do exaggerated claims of child abuse. 

Because one side wants to use this as leverage, and is ruthless about doing whatever it takes to achieve its aims, the people who have the most to lose are real victims. Their grievance has been co-opted by a machine. 

And that's because the movement is about power rather than justice. "Social justice" is merely the sales pitch. 

In addition, the agenda and demeanor of BLM and other SJWs is to put whites in their place. Their assigned role is to obsequiously submit to the judgment of the self-appointed SJWs. As a result, many whites who'd otherwise be sympathetic to a credible witness or well-documented grievance have become hardened to the nonstop character assassination of white folks and especially white males, or white straight males, or worst of all, white straight Christian males! Anyone who disagrees is labeled a Nazi. That tactic is a recipe for political oblivion. 

The One True Puppet Church

Conversion testimonies

So-called Street Epistemologists (i.e. militant atheists who ape A Manual for Creating Atheists) like to interrogate Christians about their conversion experience, then attempt to poke holes in their conversion experience. Same thing with cradle Christians who were raised in church, and never questioned their faith.

Here's one of the problems with that tactic: It's possible for somebody to have a belief that's unwarranted insofar as the immediate evidence or cause of that belief is insufficient or unreliable to pick out that explanation to the exclusion of other tenable explanations. And yet the belief could well be true. And there could be lots of confirmatory evidence for that belief, over and above whatever caused a person to form that belief in the first place. 

Suppose I see someone breaking into a house. I notify the police on the assumption that it's a houseburglar. Yet it's possible that the homeowner locked himself out of his own house. Likewise, before the days of powerlocks, drivers might inadvertently leave their keys in the car, then use a coathanger to unlock the car. Yet to a passerby, that looks like auto theft. 

In that respect, my initial belief might be unwarranted. Yet I might be still right. In addition, I might read a report in the newspaper that corroborates my initial impression. 

Most people assume their ostensible parents are their biological parents. It's possible that they were kidnapped as babies. Or the maternity ward mislabeled the babies. Or adoptive parents never told their adoptive kids. 

In that respect, my belief that my ostensible parents are my biological parents might be unjustified. For the preliminary evidence on which I base my belief is consistent with other scenarios. Yet my belief could still be true. Moreover, subsequent evidence like a DNA test might confirm my prior belief. 

Or suppose, as an atheist, I witness what I take to be a healing miracle in answer to Christian prayer. As a result, I become a Christian.

Now let's say I made a snap judgment without knowing enough about the diagnosis or prognosis to rule out a natural explanation. Yet my initial impression could still be correct. And the naturally inexplicable nature of the healing might be subject to medical verification. Suppose I have an opportunity to research the healing and discover that it's naturally impossible. Even though my initial conclusion was hasty, it turned out to be right. 

When Street Epistemologists query conversion testimonies, that's an exercise in misdirection. For even if the original experience a convert appeals to is less than probative, the real issue is whether his belief can be verified by reason and evidence after the fact. 

Mind you, it can be a good thing to scrutinize our beliefs, whether religious or secular beliefs–as the case may be. Some people convert to a false belief-system. Some people deconvert due to false or fallacious reasons. 

But Street Epistemologists deliberately ask the wrong questions. The important question isn't necessarily how you formed a belief in the first place, but whether that belief is justifiable–all things considered. In some instances, the precipitating cause might be sufficient. In other cases, the initial belief might have been underdetermined by the evidence, yet a true belief may be demonstrable by additional lines of evidence, which were not available or under consideration when the belief was first formed. 

Hope for the world

I just received the following note from Richard Pratt at Third Millennium ministries. I know it's a form letter, but items such as the one shown in the image above give me an incredible amount of hope for the Gospel in the world.

Here is the whole text of the letter:

Dear Friends,

This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The invention of the movable-type printing press and the Reformers’ commitment to translating the Scriptures into every language has given access to God’s Word to more and more believers around the world.

At Third Millennium Ministries we continue in the Spirit of the Reformation. We believe that Christians everywhere in the world have a right to well-taught leaders. God has blessed us this year as we continue to pursue our goal: Biblical Education. For the World. For Free.

We give God all the glory for what he has achieved through Third Millennium. The following are just a few of his accomplishments in 2017:
• Our production team completed 10 new series across our five core languages, and we are accelerating Hindi translations.

• With the addition of new partners like The Gospel Coalition and YouVersion’s Bible App, we now have partnerships with 102 ministries.

• We are producing a free Study Bible available in the public domain, translated in multiple languages, and distributed worldwide.

• This year we fulfilled requests for 1,051 USBs loaded with our curriculum in five languages to church leaders around the world.

• We currently have 687,464 verified supervised students studying our curriculum through one of our partners or on our eLearning website.
In 2018 we are celebrating 20 years of service to Christ. Will you pray for God’s blessing as he continues to expand our ministry over the next 20 years so that every Christian has a well-trained pastor? Your continued support – both spiritually and financially – are absolutely critical to our success.

As you decide how to best steward your resources this year, I ask you to consider partnering with us. If God’s Spirit leads you to join with us, click here to make a donation online.

I pray you will know the joy and peace that only Christ can give as you celebrate His birth this special Christmas season.

In Christ,

Richard Pratt
Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
President of Third Millennium Ministries

P.S. - You can also set up a recurring donation. A monthly donation of just $25 is enough to send a USB filled with our entire curriculum to a different pastor each month. Thank you so much.

Progressive Christians>atheists

Peter's sinking barque

Bourgeois Religion
An interviewer asked Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, “Is gay sex sinful?” He gave a diffident response. “I don’t do blanket condemnation, and I haven’t got a good answer to that question.” This is not to say the Anglican primate has no moral compass. He went on to affirm the importance of “faithfulness, stability of relationships, and loving relationships.” But Welby allowed that he is “having to struggle to be faithful to the tradition.” While he won’t say that the traditional view is wrong, he can’t say that it’s right.
We can make fun of Welby’s Anglican waffling. But most Catholic bishops in North America and Europe also waffle. Ask Cardinal Blase Cupich if sodomy is a sin, and in all likelihood he will start talking mumbo-jumbo about conscience and then say something about the Church’s emphasis on mercy. The Holy Father himself famously replied to a similar question with the memorable (and misleading) paraphrase of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, “Who am I to judge?” One of Pope Francis’s close associates, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, told a colloquium at Boston College on Catholic teaching regarding marriage, sex, and the family, “It is no longer possible to judge people on the basis of a norm that stands above all.” I could add many more instances, but we know the routine: conscience, accompaniment, the “ladder of love,” etc., etc. That’s Welby’s answer with a more elaborate apparatus—and without his honesty.
The Catholic Church’s retreat from anything resembling clarity about sexual morality does not surprise me. It’s been a long time coming. Catholicism and other forms of establishment Christianity in the West tend to take the form of bourgeois religion. That term denotes the fusion of church culture with the moral consensus held by the good, respectable people who set the tone for society as a whole. In the aftermath of the sexual revolution, that consensus shifted. For a long time now it has been socially acceptable to divorce and contracept. Soon thereafter it was OK to cohabitate, and then the good and responsible people who run things adopted an affirmative attitude toward gay sex. During all this, the same consensus became hostile to those who say otherwise. It became “cruel,” “hateful,” and “bigoted” to call something wrong that the bourgeois consensus now deems right. In this way, the good and responsible people did not just accommodate themselves to the sexual revolution; they took ownership of it.
Amid this change, most Catholic bishops and priests have been disoriented. Not too long ago, they were happy chaplains of the bourgeois, the good people, who tended to affirm the moral code that the Church taught. As the sexual revolution worked its way through elite culture, bishops and priests were eager to sustain their place as chaplains of the establishment consensus. Unfortunately for them, the Catholic Church has a rigorous tradition of moral philosophy and theology. This closed off the broad, well-traveled avenues of revisionism used by mainline Protestants. Do the loving thing! This noble and conveniently vague imperative offers wide latitude. In the smug and self-complimenting culture of the bourgeois, that meant pretty much anything they did was by definition loving. These sorts of people are always seeking to do what’s best!
Given the inconvenience of the Catholic commitment to moral truth, the approach has been to remain silent. Insofar as bishops and cardinals have spoken about sex, it has almost always been to qualify and soften the Church’s moral voice. The strategy was one of careful retreat. The enduring hope has been to find a way to moderate the obvious clash between what the Church teaches and the bourgeois consensus about sex.
It has become apparent that Pope Francis wants to make this retreat more explicit. For this reason, I have given up trying to keep track of controversies surrounding Amoris Laetitia. The details don’t matter. Pope Francis and his closest associates have no interest in the sacramental coherence of their positions on matters such as divorce and remarriage, nor do they care one whit about defending the logic of the arguments they put forward. I admire those who have explained the limits that the rich tradition of Catholic sacramental and moral teaching places on our interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. This is important work. But it has little bearing on the near-term outcome of this controversy. Pope Francis and his associates want to sign a peace treaty with the sexual revolution. They will use whatever arguments and rhetoric are necessary to achieve this goal.
One can see the urgency of the task. Reconciling the Catholic Church with the sexual revolution is necessary in order to preserve Catholicism as a bourgeois religion. Unless this is done, more and more of the good and responsible people will come to regard the Church as a regressive, harmful force in society, a source of repression and bigotry that is antithetical to the spirit of inclusion and affirmation that promotes human flourishing. This is especially obvious in the controversy surrounding divorce, remarriage, and communion.These are good, sensitive people trying to make the best of a difficult situation!How can the Church deny them communion? The same is true for those who use artificial means of contraception or who are committed to another person of the same sex—which is why it’s reasonable to think the pontificate will seek to muddy the Church’s teaching on those issues as well.
This papacy’s goal of aligning the Catholic Church with the bourgeois consensus has other dimensions that show how unprincipled this process will be. Euthanasia is not something our bourgeois consensus wishes to endorse, at least not enthusiastically. Most good and responsible people have misgivings. They recognize the dangers it poses to the weak and vulnerable. But they believe that intelligent, self-possessed people like them ought to have the option of doctor-assisted suicide, at least in some cases. The general tone of the Francis papacy thus encourages bishops to mirror this position. Doctor-assisted suicide is not OK, exactly, but it is OK-ish. It falls under the rubric of “accompaniment,” which means saying “no” without saying “no,” which is a way of saying “yes” without saying “yes.”
One need only consult the opinions of earnest and progressive secular elites in Germany, France, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere to be able to predict the positions that will be taken by this papacy on a wide range of issues. It will be permissive where permission is wanted, not so much changing the Church’s teaching as sidelining it. But Francis also will denounce where denunciations are wanted. Recently, he declared capital punishment always and everywhere forbidden. One can argue that this pronouncement is inconsistent with the Church’s two-thousand-year tradition of moral teaching on the matter. But that’s beside the point. The notion of Pope Francis defining any act as intrinsically evil is laughable on its face, given how often he attacks the “doctors of the law” who speak about objective moral norms. And didn’t Fr. Antonio Spadaro very clearly tell us that the time has passed when we can speak of “a norm that stands above all”? Pope Francis takes the hard line because it’s required if the Catholic Church is to remain aligned with the good and responsible people. After all, only barbarians in Texas continue to support the death penalty.
Christianity orients us upward and toward the divine. Bourgeois religion is horizontal. It takes its cues from the consensus of the moment, the opinions of the good and responsible people. This reduces Christianity to a political religion organized to buttress the status quo. The Francis papacy largely follows this pattern, making it quite predictable. We can count on Pope Francis to talk about the poor in exactly the same way that people do in Berkeley, which means with great earnestness and little consequence.
This papacy is not hard to figure out. Pope Francis and his associates echo the pieties and self-complimenting utopianism of progressives. That’s not surprising. The Jesuit charism is multifaceted and powerful. I count myself among those profoundly influenced by the spiritual genius of St. Ignatius. Yet there’s no disputing that for centuries Jesuits have shown great talent in adjusting the gospel to suit the powerful. And so, I think the European establishment can count on the Vatican to denounce the populism currently threatening its hold on power. I predict that this papacy will be a great defender of migrants and refugees—until political pressures on the European ruling class become so great that it shifts and becomes more “realistic,” at which point the Vatican will shift as well. What is presently denounced will be permitted; what is presently permitted will be denounced.
Adjustment, trimming of sails, and accommodation are inevitable. The Catholic Church is not set up to be countercultural. Catholicism, at least in the West, has establishment in its DNA. But this papacy is uniquely invertebrate. I can identify no consistent theological structure other than a vague Rahnerianism and post–Vatican II sign-of-the-times temporizing. This makes Francis a purely political pope, or at least very nearly so. No doubt he has an evangelical heart. But ever the Jesuit, he seems to regard every aspect of the Church’s tradition as a plastic instrument to be stiffened here or relaxed there in accord with ever-changing pastoral judgments.
This will not end well. The West has seen a long season of loosening, opening up, and deconsolidation, of which the sexual revolution is but a part. Our establishment is committed to sustaining this consensus. This is why it has been at war with Catholic intransigence, which is based on the Church’s insistence that she answer to timeless, unchanging, and demanding truths. It’s foolish for the papacy to make a peace treaty with this establishment consensus. It’s theologically unworkable. It’s also politically inept. For the establishment consensus is failing, and that includes the sexual revolution, which made many promises that were not fulfilled.

Craig on penal substitution

Righteous Lot

7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) (2 Pet 2:7-8).

Peter's commendation of Lot's character is puzzling to Bible readers because it doesn't seem to be derivable from the depiction of Lot in Genesis. It may be necessary to distinguish between the historical Lot of Genesis and the literary Lot, who undergoes character development in the Intertestamental literature. For instance:

She it was who, while the godless perished, saved the upright man as he fled from the fire raining down on the Five Cities (Wisdom 10:16, NJB).

This whole section of 2 Peter uses words and pictures from Intertestamental literature (1 Enoch) and Greek mythology ("tartarus"). So the positive image of Lot is probably filtered through that kind of material.

This might be analogous to how, in our own culture, we use allusive analogies to famous movies, or legends about the Founding Fathers (e.g. George Washington's cherry tree).

That's understood to be a fictional gloss. It may be that in 2 Peter and Jude, we have examples of audience adaptation, where the author is evoking popular tropes that had resonance with their readers. The Genesis account would be the historical core, but with this overlay. 

There are other examples of this. Take Ezekiel's creative description of Adam's fall or Lucifer's fall in Ezk 28. Readers would instantly recognize the allusion to Gen 3, but Ezekiel has recast that in a more poetic vein. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church

Salvation for all

i) I'd like to revisit an exchange I had with Jerry Walls a while back. According to what's become a stock objection to Calvinism, the Calvinist God is (allegedly) able but unwilling to save everyone.

ii) Now that's only a problem on two assumption, one being: the God of freewill theism is willing, but unable to save everyone. However, that claim isn't obviously true. For instance, some freewill theists are universalists. They believe God will wear down the resistance of unbelievers. He's got all the time in the world. Eventually, they will see the light. So critics like Jerry have to show that freewill theism doesn't suffer from the same problem it ascribes to Calvinism.

iii) In addition, the objection only has teeth if you think God is less than good unless he saved everyone he could. But that doesn't chime with my moral intuitions. Irrespective of Calvinism, it's by no means obvious to me that God isn't good in case he damns Pablo Escobar, Charles Manson, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, Ted Bundy et al. Pick your villain. Even if I wasn't a Calvinist, freewill theism hardly entails that God can't be good unless he saves ISIS thugs who burn people alive and vivisect children with chainsaws–assuming he was able to do so. 

iv) So the point of this exercise is to respond to the freewill theist on his own grounds. I'm not conceding his standards. But the question is whether there are limitations on what even a Calvinist God can do in that regard. 

v) As I pointed out to Jerry, the statement is ambiguous. Who's the everyone that God can save? Suppose God regenerated "everyone" in the womb. Would that save everyone?

It would save everyone in that timeline. But regenerating "everyone" in the womb will produce a different world history than a world in which God doesn't regenerate everyone. Some people who are born into a world where everyone isn't regenerate won't be born into a world where everyone is regenerate. As a result, some people are heavenbound in a world where everyone isn't regenerate from the womb who won't be heavenbound in a world where everyone is regenerate from the womb, because they won't exist in that alternate timeline. So even in deterministic universalism, there still are losers. People who miss out on heaven. 

vi) To that, Jerry responded two different ways. One response was to play the Epicurean card. There are, however, serious philosophers like John Martin Fisher who argue that nonexistence, be it prenatal or postmortem, is a deprivation. Cf. J. Fischer, ed. The Metaphysics of Death (Stanford 1993); J. Fisher, Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will (Oxford 2009). 

Let's take a comparison. Suppose I'm a teenager. There's a classmate who's competing with me for the affections of a pretty cheerleader. But I have a time machine. If I go back in time, I can erase him from the space-time continuum. My action will replace the current timeline with a new timeline that has a very similar past, only he doesn't exist. Instead, on the alternate timeline, his parents had conjugal relations a half hour later, conceiving a different son. 

I suspect many people would say that's tantamount to murder. Yet my rival classmate never existed in the new timeline. He has no idea what he's missing. From Jerry's Epicurean perspective, is there anything wrong with a time-traveler who scrubs people from the timeline who happen to cramp his style? 

vii) Another response was to invoke postmortem salvation. Jerry said the Calvinist God could regenerate unbelievers after they die. That wouldn't change world history in this life. So there'd be no losers, only winners. 

What about that? One stock objection to Calvinism is that God's choice of who's elect and reprobate is (allegedly) arbitrary. Let's grant that objection for the sake of argument. 

But by that logic, it's still arbitrary that only the folks in one world history are saved. Even if everyone in that world history will ultimately be saved, what about all the folks who still miss out on heaven because God didn't instantiate an alternate timeline in which different people exist and go to heaven? 

So for Jerry's argument to go through, it requires the Calvinist God not merely to instantiate a world history in which everyone is saved, but to instantiate a multiverse in which every conceivable person in infinitely many world histories is saved. 

Jerry could duck that by playing the Epicurean card, but I just discussed problems with that. Or he might try to dodge it by withdrawing the charge of arbitrariness, yet that's one of the primary objections that freewill theists level against Calvinism. 

viii) Yet a universalistic multiverse may still be arbitrary, inasmuch as there's no logical cutoff regarding how many possible persons to create. Is there any upper limit on the number of conceivable persons? 

And these alternate timelines will generate scenarios in which, say, someone who wasn't tortured in one world history will be tortured in another world history. Likewise, there will need to be an indefinite number of Incarnations to redeem the lost. Even hypothetically, there seem to be limitations on what even the Calvinist God can do in that regard. 

The argument from undesigned coincidences

One of the nifty things about the argument from undesigned coincidences is that it's self-contained. All you need is the NT. You don't need extrabiblical corroboration. In that regard it's like a priori theistic proofs. 

Atheists love to put in the mouths of Christians "the Bible is the word of God because it says so", as an illustration of viciously circular reasoning. 

Mind you, I rarely if ever see atheists actually quoting Christians who say that. And if they did, it would likely be some Christian layman. 

However, using X to prove X isn't necessarily viciously circular. Appealing to Biblical authority to prove Biblical authority is viciously circular. 

But to take a comparison, there are probably many undesigned coincidences between The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and the Memoirs of General William Tecumseh Sherman. These are independent of each other, based on each man's firsthand experience.

You don't have to come to either autobiography with prior confidence in the credibility of the author. But if you systematically compare them, I expect they contain many cases where a statement in one memoir sheds light on a statement in the other memoir. That would be highly implausible if these were penned by writers lacking access to the actual events. 

Gardens grow at night

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mk 4:26-29).

i) This is a deceptively simple illustration. What does it mean? It maybe that Jesus gave the listener a thumbnail sketch that can be developed in more than one direction. It's up to the listener to responsibly fill in details.

ii) Who is the sower? Or does that matter? Some people think the sower is God or Jesus. But it makes no sense to say God/Jesus doesn't know how the kingdom grows and does nothing beyond scattering seed to promote its growth. 

Probably, the sower stands for pastors, missionaries, and evangelists as well as Christians generally throughout the course of church history. They scatter seed, but the results are ultimately out of their hands. In many cases the results outlive them. Or may not become evident until after they die. 

iii) That the sower "rises night and day" is a Jewish idiom for rising at sunup and sleeping after sundown. In Jewish reckoning, a new day began at dusk rather than dawn. 

iv) Does automate mean "by itself" or "without visible cause"? In one respect it was mysterious to ancient farmers how a seed was programmed to develop on its own. 

Presumably, Jesus doesn't mean to teach that the kingdom grows with no human contribution. Evangelism is essential to the growth of the kingdom. Normally, it prospers from watering, weeding, pruning, fertilization–both literally and figuratively. 

Sometimes Jesus expresses himself in deliberately provocative, contrarian terms to shake up the complacency of the listener and galvanize attention. 

He may mean, in part, that it grows despite opposition. In addition, the kingdom grows in ways surprising. We scatter seed, but when and where it takes root and grows to fruition may unexpected. Take birds that pick up seeds, then drop them elsewhere. 

The growth of God's kingdom is mysterious in the way God's providence is mysterious. Sometimes we can discern the hidden hand of God from opportune, but highly improbable events. Naturally inexplicable outcomes that reflect God guiding events from behind the scenes. 

v) The seed grows at night as well as day. Ironically, the kingdom sometimes grows because hostile forces are oblivious to the kingdom in their midst. They don't know where to look. Their social circle excludes believers. Consider atheists who confidently say there's no evidence for miracles. They don't experience miracles or know anyone who does because they associate with like-minded atheists. They avoid the very circles where that's more likely to happen. Like plants growing at night, it could happen in their own backyard, but they wouldn't observe because they are in the dark (as it were). And by the time it becomes so conspicuous that even they take notice, they've been overtaken by events. 

Indeed, many atheists have a secularization thesis. They take for granted the inexorable progress of atheism. Christianity is bound to die out. Every generation, they say that's just around the corner. So they're often caught off-guard by unforeseen developments. 

SEA on gun control

Friday Files, 17 Nov 17

, posted by K.W. Leslie
Once again it’s time for The Friday Filesour weekly stack of links. We highlight older SEA posts of interest, and post some of the latest from Arminian and non-Calvinist blogs. Names in green indicate SEA members.
Inclusion isn’t necessarily approval or endorsement. (Some articles aren’t even Arminian!) We offer these links because they’re thought to be of potential interest to those interested in Arminian/Calvinist issues. Blame K.W. Leslie for the brief summaries.
Steve Hays (Calvinist), Triablogue“SEA jumps on the gun-control wagon.” [10 Nov 17] Hays reads the Friday Files! Pity he doesn’t read the disclaimers about how inclusion isn’t endorsement.
This refers back to a previous Friday Files, where SEA plugged an article by Kirsten Powers advocating gun control.
Pity Leslie doesn't read the disclaimers. How is propaganda for gun control of potential interest to those interested in Arminian/Calvinist issues? How is that related?
And what"s the point of posting it? You can post something you disagree with to serve as a foil. You then engage it. But Leslie never did that. If SEA doesn't endorse gun control, then what purpose is served by plugging that article? Are these throwaway disclaimers that don't mean anything? Unless SEA was tipping its hand regarding its political sympathies on this issue, what's the rationale for promoting that article? 
It's also possible to link to an article without comment, with the tacit understanding that your target audience will react to it the same way you do. Such as Ben Shapiro linking to articles about SJWs run amok. 
But what's the corresponding attitude that Leslie expects the SEA constituency to share in reference to the gun-control propaganda? 
Instead of just making a snide comment about me, which doesn't say much about the Leslie's Arminian sanctification, what was the justification for plugging that article? Just to cite the disclaimer fails to explain why it was included in the Friday Files. 
It's extremely rare for SEA to weigh in on culture war issues. So what accounts for this exception, and if SEA is going to wade into the gun rights/gun control debate, why an article supporting gun control/confiscation rather than an article opposing it? 
But I don't expect to get a rational explanation, because I'm a Calvinist, and Arminians only love their own kind. They treat Arminians one way and Calvinists a very different way. Their universal love begins and ends with people they like.