Thursday, October 19, 2017

Martyn Lloyd-Jones interview

Interesting interview:

One thing that stood out is was the interviewer's statement about the "amazing number of young people" who attended Westminster Chapel. Given the date of the interview, I assume that includes the height of the counterculture. Hippies. You might suppose young people would find MLJ too stuffy and formal. And it's not as if his church had drums and electric guitars.  But apparently, young Christians were drawn to MLJ's earnest, methodical expository preaching. Substance.  

Abortion and adoption

One popular argument for abortion goes like this: prolifers are hypocrites unless they adopt kids. 

i) I haven't seen them turn that allegation into an actual argument, but maybe I missed it. Is the argument that if more prolifers adopted kids, that would save lives?

If so, is there any demonstrable evidence that abortion rates are correlated to adoption rates? Mothers who contemplate abortion already have the option of putting their child up for adoption. Is there any demonstrable evidence that mothers contemplating abortion think, "If I knew there was a Christian couple waiting to adopt my child, I wouldn't abort it"? 

ii) I don't know the stats, but it wouldn't surprise me if Christians adopt at far higher rates than atheists.

iii) It isn't necessarily hypocritical to value life, yet not do everything you can to save lives. For instance, driving cars inevitably results in thousands of fatalities every year. Does that mean it's hypocritical to say you value life if you drive a car? 

iv) Sometimes people have prior obligations. Take a grown child who's the caregiver for an elderly parent. They're not in a position to adopt a child. They already have a full plate. 

iv) What, exactly, is the general principle which the allegation of hypocrisy exemplifies? Does it go like this: "It's hypocritical to oppose something unless you're prepared to take up the slack if you're in a position to do so"?

If so, is that a valid inference? Is that a reliable principle in general?

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of people who litter unless I take it upon myself to dispose of their litter?

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of shoplifters unless I personally reimburse the store for stolen goods? 

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of people who release dangerous reptiles into the Everglades unless I adopt the dangerous reptiles?

v) It's not hypocritical to have public policies that incentive parents to raise their own kids. As a rule, kids are better off with their biological parents. 

vi) In addition, it's not hypocritical to have social policies that incentive people to be responsible, productive members of society rather than freeloaders who expect others to foot the bill for their lifestyle choices. 

vii) Nowadays, you have secular progressives who lobby to prohibit Christian adoption because Christians repudiate the LGBT agenda. They are closing down Christian adoption agencies. 

Are they going to simultaneously say prolifers are hypocritical for not adopting more kids when they turn right around and prohibit prolifers from adopting kids? 

The Fall of the Roman Catholic Church

Important note: This has already happened.

For all of you naysayers out there who are prone to say “the gates of hell shall not prevail”, keep in mind here that I’m not making a prediction. I’m reporting on what has already happened. This is going to be largely a personal note, and more anecdotal than I’d like it to be. But I want to explain some of the excitement that I have right now, and some of the hope that I have for the future.

John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
I’ve been dealing with Roman Catholicism for a long time. I was born into a Catholic family. I grew up Roman Catholic. It meant something to be “a good Catholic”.

On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandparents were immigrants from Slovakia. My great grandfather died when I was very young – I remember being at his deathbed at some point. My great grandmother then went to live with my Uncle Eddie, who was the sixth child in that family of six (and the youngest brother to my grandmother). They had a nice, 1950’s style brick home in one of the newer suburban areas around Pittsburgh.

My uncle just had a young family at the time. He may or may not have had one small child at the time, my cousin Michael who, oddly, was my mother’s cousin. Because of their relative age, we visited them a lot.

It was the kind of big Catholic family that was prominent back then. My great grandmother didn’t know much English, even in the early 1960’s, but the phrase I heard all the time was, “you good boy Johnny”. She said that to me all the time, and rarely did she say anything else. And I’d smile and say “thank you”. We were in church very frequently, as part of a large, extended family – weddings, baptisms, funerals. And there was much family time and fellowship. It worked that way on my mother’s side of the family, where my mother was from one of the older siblings, and also on my father’s side of the family, where he was one of the younger siblings. I had some same-aged cousins, but most of my cousins were a lot older, with families of their own.

That was the form of pre-Vatican II form of “Roman Catholicism” that I knew in the early and middle 1960’s. You didn’t get “catechized” back then. You lived it. You lived your life, and life revolved around “the Church”.

Political polarization

Some social commentators lament the degree of political polarization. But I don't seem much solution.

i) People can agree to disagree when they are free to disagree without that affecting what they do. Two people or two groups can agree to disagree so long as each side is free to act consistent with its beliefs.

But that breaks down in politics, when the disagreement concerns issues of law and public policy. In political disagreements, there are winners and losers. The winners impose their viewpoint on the losers. You are forced to do what the winners mandate. You are forced to stop doing what the winners ban. 

In addition, as gov't increasingly encroaches on every aspect of human life, the losers have too much to lose. The states are too high. 

ii) Democrats/secular progressives/SJWs don't think Republicans/Christians/conservatives are simply mistaken. Rather, they think they're downright dangerous. And that's logical given the (false) premise. If you think anthropogenic global warming poses a threat to the biosphere, then it's dangerous to oppose green policies. If you think private access to guns endangers public safety, then the gun lobby is dangerous. If you think there's a campus rape epidemic, then opposition to affirmative consent policies puts women at risk. If you think LGTB people have higher suicide rates due to social stigmatization, then that attitude puts them at risk. 

They think Christianity is dangerous because Christianity is the motivation for these dangerous attitudes. Their premise is false, and they are glaringly inconsistent (what about Islam?), but their animus towards Republicans/Christians/conservatives is understandable given their biased, blinkered outlook. 

iii) In addition, they think Republicans/Christians/conservatives are evil. They equate voter ID initiatives with voter suppression. That's "racist!". They think the only motivation to restrict or outlaw abortion is to "control women's bodies". 

They equate supporting free speech with supporting whatever the speaker says. If you defend the Constitutional rights of Nazis, you're defending Nazis! They don't differentiate "should people do x?" from "should people be free to do x?"

Given their insular, simplistic outlook, it makes sense that they view the political opposition as evil.   

Likewise, they can't imagine how a person of good will would oppose humanitarian-sounding policies like universal healthcare, universal basic income, "marriage equality". And they make no effort to acquaint themselves with the opposing side of the argument. 

iv) Because humans are social creatures, a lot of what they believe isn't based on reason and evidence, but fitting in. You think, say, and do whatever is necessary for social acceptance within your community. That's why rational persuasion is often futile, since that's not what motivates them in the first place. 

v) Constructive dialogue requires good will on the part of the dialogue partners. If, however, people are only looking out for Number One, then constructive dialogue isn't possible. They aren't truth-seekers. They disdain dutiful self-sacrifice. They wish to destroy anyone who gets in their way, anyone who inconveniences them. Yet the social fabric depends on altruism. And that's a logical position for an atheist. If this life is all there is, why should you ever subordinate your self-interest to the common good? 

vi) Nowadays, so many unbelievers have such bigoted views of Christianity, you have to peel away so many layers of ignorance and prejudice, that it's extremely time-consuming. And they're not listening anyway. Every time you talk to a new person, you have to start from scratch, because they always raise the same hackneyed objections. They don't bother to study the other side of the argument. They don't know the answers. They don't know there are any answers. 

That doesn't mean we shouldn't make the effort, but many people are a waste of time. There are not enough hours in the day to individualize, so you have to make snap decisions about where to invest your time. You can spend weeks and months pouring reason and evidence down a rat hole. So you have to make some time-management decisions. Pick a few dialogue partners. Or use a mass medium (one to many). Scatter seed. Pray that some will take root. We should do as much as we can, but we need to avoid utopian expectations. 

vii) In addition, atheism is evil. As secular progressives become more consistent, that exposes their malevolence and ill-will. Left to run its course, atheism becomes increasingly Nietzschean, increasingly sociopathic in its hatred of the defenseless and dependent (e.g. babies, children, developmentally disabled, elderly). In full rebellion agains the natural order (e.g. transgenderism). In some cases, there's no common ground left. Just their unreasoning malice. They hate the very idea of God. 

Hank Hanegraaff, Inc.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Adoption and penal substitution

Here's a neglected argument for penal substitution. The NT says Christians are heirs. And inheritance has a vicarious dimension. An heir is the beneficiary of someone else's action. An heir needn't do anything to be the beneficiary. He can simply be an heir in virtue of his relation to someone else who did something. An heir typically has an ascribed status rather than an achieved status. A status conferred on him in relation to someone else.

According to the NT, Christians are heirs in virtue of their union with Jesus. And by reason of that relation, they are heirs of salvation rather than damnation. They escape eschatological judgment they are God's adopted sons, and they enjoy that status in virtue of what God's ontological Son did on their behalf. So that has a penal dimension as well as a vicarious dimension. 

Hiding behind skepticism

A simple argument for penal substitution

There are fine-grained exegetical arguments for penal substitution by scholars like Thomas Schreiner and Simon Gathercole. But I'd like to sketch a simpler argument:

i) In the Gospels, one individual (Jesus) does something for the benefit of second parties. That's a one-to-many relationship. He takes an action for the good of many. Not something they do by themselves and for themselves, but something one individual does on behalf of others. That, in itself, is vicarious. A benefit accrues to them as if they themselves did it, when in fact someone else did it. And that's not an incidental consequence, but by design.

ii) And it has a more specific dimension. He suffers punishment. As a result, those who trust in him won't suffer eschatological judgment.   

The principle doesn't turn on a particular verbal formulation in the NT, or picturesque metaphors. It's operates at a more generic level. 

Is 76 Years Too Long to Live?

Windows into the Trinity

Indexical perspectives are a striking feature of human experience. For instance, the starting-point of science is the first-person perspective of an observer. But science attempts to translate that indexical perspective into an objective third-person description. 

If the Trinity is true, then the one God has three first-person viewpoints. Father and Son are objective to the Spirit, Son and Spirit are objective to the Father, Father and Spirit are objective to the Son. 

Unitarians say that's contradictory. Christians say that's a revealed mystery or paradox. Unitarians say that's euphemistic language to camouflage special pleading. 

An analogous indexical perspective is the insider/outsider dichotomy.  For instance, an observer can stand inside a house, viewing the outside through a window. Or the same observer can stand outside a house, viewing the inside through a window. Or an observer can stand outside, viewing another outside object. Or an observer can stand inside, viewing another inside object. But we typically think of viewing something from the inside out as contrary to viewing something from the outside in. You can experience both at different times, but you can't experience both at the same time, because these represent opposing physical positions. You can't be in two different places at once, so you can't simultaneously experience an insider as well as outsider viewpoint. Or can you?

On one occasion I was sitting in church. The sanctuary had the traditional cruciform design. I was sitting in the back of the transept, next to a corner window. From my seat, I could look outside. 

In addition, there was a corner window in the nave, at right angles to the window beside me. Sitting in the transept, I could see the nave through that window. From the inside I was looking outside back into the inside. So I simultaneously enjoyed an insider and outsider viewpoint. 

If I made that bare claim without providing the context, it might seem paradoxical or contradictory. But with a bit of additional information, it relieves the apparent contradiction. My point is that something which seems to be hopelessly contradictory may in fact be consistent, even simply so, if we see it in relation to a larger context. Just because a proposition appears to be incoherent doesn't mean there's even a presumption of actual incoherence. 

Amazon review of Roman but Not Catholic

I've posted my review of "Roman but Not Catholic" at Amazon:

Pop on over and check it out, and give me a "helpful " rating if you thought it was helpful.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

C. S. Lewis on Roman Catholicism

In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect. I must therefore reject their claim. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis; Volume II : Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949, 646-647. 

4 tips for developing a worldview

Election and adoption

“Roman but Not Catholic” is released today

Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation
Why Walls and Collins are not Roman Catholics
Today is the official release date for “Roman but Not Catholic”, a book by Jerry Walls and Ken Collins. The original title of the book was to be “Why I’m Not a Roman Catholic”, through the Brazos publishing house (a division of Baker Books) – perhaps a part of a pair of books which also featured “Why I’m Not a Protestant” (and similar to the “Why I’m Not a Calvinist/Arminian” pair in which Walls was one of the authors). But as the authors began to write, it soon became apparent that the subject matter was going to be too great for just a small book. So the book was moved to the Baker Academic division, and now at 464 pages, I think the intention is for this work to become a kind of textbook for seminary students.

I think this is highly appropriate. The late Fulton Sheen made the statement that “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix”). While contesting Sheen’s numbers, I think it has to be admitted that very many Protestants don’t know what Roman Catholicism claims, nor what it is all about. Just to be fair, it seems that, in the era of “Pope Francis”, many Roman Catholics, too, show evidence of not knowing what “the Catholic Church” really is all about.

Here is the main point:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Schreiner on Rom 2:14-15

Praying for stalled cars and frozen computer screens

The lonely god

A. Some Christian philosophers and theologians have proposed a priori arguments (i.e. arguments from reason) for the Trinity. And this has relevance to Islam, rabbinical Judaism, and the oxymoronic "Christian unitarianism" alike. 

Apostate Dale Tuggy has attempted to debunk these arguments on more than one occasion:

B. Let's reframe the issue. Instead of considering a priori arguments for Trinitarianism, suppose we consider a priori undercutters for unitarianism. These don't propose to directly prove the Trinity. Rather, if successful, they provide indirect support for the Trinity by undermining unitarianism. 

Take an eyewitness to a crime. Turns out he's known to drop acid. That doesn't falsify his testimony. It doesn't prove he was high at the time he allegedly witnessed the crime. It is, however, reason to impugn his credibility.

Suppose these arguments fall short of proving that God must be no less than three persons and no more than three persons. Although they fail to prove that God is tripersonal, if they undermine the grounds for believing that God might be unipersonal, then they are successful undercutters for unitarianism. That's analogous to a Christian apologist who proposes an undercutter for atheism. If successful, the logical alternative isn't necessarily Christianity. So additional arguments would be required to narrow the field down to Christianity. However, to eliminate atheism from rational consideration is a significant first step. 

C. The nature of proof

We need to define what we mean by proof. Traditionally, I think some philosophers and theologians regarded theistic proofs as "demonstrations". These were thought to have apodictic force. 

But there's an influential alternative, promoted by philosophers and theologians like Locke, Butler, Newman, and Plantinga, who regard that criterion as artificially stringent. Hardly any of the important beliefs we most care about are susceptible to rigorous proof, so why should we hold theistic proofs to that austere and inhuman standard? Instead, they recast the criterion in terms of what is rational, probable, or warranted. 

D. The nature of love

1. How can God be love if he has no one to love? In the nature of the case, love is a relation. 

Notice what this argument doesn't claim. It doesn't claim that love must be generous. It doesn't claim that love is diffusive. 

It doesn't claim that God would be imperfect if he had no one to love. It doesn't even claim that God would be imperfect unless he was loving by nature. 

Rather, it's a conditional claim: If God is love, then given that postulate, divine love must have an object–because love is a relation. 

2. Dale might respond that God does have something to love. God loves his creatures. 

That, however, raises another issue. If creatures are all God has to love, then there's a lack of parity between the lover and the beloved. A unitarian god relates to humans the way a boy related to his pet lizard. Christians are rightly critical of couples who choose to have pets as an alternative to kids. If love is an essential divine attribute, can that be satisfied by a contingent and inferior corollary? 

3. Dale might respond that self-love is adequate. If so, one problem with that response is that it's equivocal. To be loving in the sense of self-love isn't the same kind of love as loving another. 

We could pursue this general line of argument in additional directions, but let's save that for a related argument:

E. The nature of personhood

1. Does the very idea of a person necessitate interpersonal relationships? Is personhood intrinsically relational? 

2. One of Dale's counterarguments is that love is a character trait, not an action. An agent can possess that disposition or virtue even if he never has a chance to actually manifest that virtue.

But there are problems with that counterargument:

i) Although love is a disposition or character trait, personhood is not. Rather, personhood is the basis for dispositions or character traits, which inhere in personhood. So that's more fundamental. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, why would God have an intrinsic capacity for something merely contingent? For something that God can do without? Humans can have an unrealized potential for interpersonal relationships, but that's because humans are essentially social beings.  Why would a unipersonal God have that innate capacity in the first place, if his ability to socialize is inessential to who or what he is? In unitarianism, the existence of other persons is a contingent fact.

3. Dale has leveled another counterargument:

The same point can be made with a simpler, more chilling story. Some have speculated that those who are sent to Hell are neither literally burned nor actively tormented, but are simply cast into permanent, utter isolation. Imagine this happening to you; you are judged for your deeds, and then find your self in an empty, dark place. You call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Days, weeks, months pass, and your sanity hangs by a thread, for you are deprived of any degree of attention, as far as you can tell, from anyone. (If God is aware of you, you have no hint of this – he has seemingly abandoned you.) You are devoid of any sort of friendship or communion. But, you are as much a self as you ever were – not a thriving one, to be sure, but a self nonetheless. 

But ironically, his counterargument is self-defeating:

i) Let's play along with the notion of solitary confinement. In this case, unitarian solipsism. 

Suppose you put a person in a windowless cell. No companions. No movies. All he had was his own mind to entertain him. 

And suppose this person was immortal. Remember that Dale regards God as everlasting rather than timeless. For him, God has no beginning or ending. So God experiences the (psychological) passage of time.

Suppose, after a century, or millennium, or million years, or billion years, or trillion years, you open the door and let the inmate leave solitary confinement. What will his mental condition be like? To judge by a human standard of comparison, he'd be catatonic or stark raving mad. 

So it's not just a question of whether a unitarian deity can initially be a person, but whether the psychological integrity of personhood requires companionship, in whose absence it will deteriorate. 

4. Perhaps Dale would say that's too anthropomorphic. That illicitly extrapolates from human nature to the divine nature. 

If so, there are problems with that rejoinder:

i) Dale is an open theist, so he already has a far more anthropomorphic view of the deity than classical theism.

ii) What are the limitations of an argument by analogy from man to God? God and man are different in two ways: some things are true of God that can't be true of man while some things are true of man that can't be true of God. For the extrapolation to be vitiated by disanalogy, Dale needs to show that one of those two things limitations applies in reference to the argument at hand. 

iii) It isn't simply an extrapolation from the creature to the Creator. The comparison is more specific. Of all God's creatures (that we know about), man is the most godlike. Angels may be comparable, but they too, like man, are interpersonal agents. 

Indeed, there's a certain hierarchy wherein the more sophisticated the creature, the more socially complex. So there's a kind of trajectory leading up to God. 

ii) Dale constantly impugns Incarnational, Trinitarian theism for taking refuge in mystery or paradox, but if unitarianism posits a God for which there's no analogy in human experience, then unitarianism is apophatic, which is an appeal to mystery. An ineffable, inscrutable God.

A being that's said to be essentially personal or unipersonal without being essentially interpersonal is opaque to human understanding. That doesn't correspond to our grasp of what it means to be a person. When the unitarian makes God that remote to human understanding, that inapprehensible, then what does his concept of God amount to? What's the difference between God and no God?  

The preacher as sacrament

1. When I was younger I made of point of listening to some famous preachers to find out what made them famous preachers. What was their reputation as great preachers based on? I've since forgotten who most of them were, although the list included W. A. Criswell and George W. Truett. 

2. Recently, out of curiosity, I've been catching up on the current crop of famous Reformed preachers. Outside of church attendance I don't normally listen to preachers. I focus on reading. 

It's my impression that Paul Washer has quite a following in Reformed circles. I've seen some excerpts. It may not be a representative sample. But this is my cursory impression. I may step on some toes, but in that event, don't walk barefoot through my post.

3. I agree with just about everything he says about the altar call, sinner's prayer, easybelievism, decisional evangelism. 

In one clip he makes a hyperbolic statement about how that's sent more people to hell than anything else. Really? That's sent more people to hell than Islam, Catholicism, Communism, Buddhism, Hinduism? There's a danger of getting caught up in his own rhetoric.

Although I don't agree with him that infant baptism in principle is a source of false assurance, it's undoubtedly the case that many people vest false assurance in the sacraments. 

4. That said, to judge by what I've seen, I wouldn't recommend Washer. For starters, take this example:

That's either fake emotion or manufactured sentiment. If this was, say, Steven Furtick, Rod Parsley, or Jimmy Swaggart (before his downfall), I don't think most Calvinists would hesitate to dismiss that as a put-on. But if it's one of our own, the temptation is to drop our guard. 

Perhaps he's sincere, but even so, it should be obvious that he is working himself into a frenzied state of mind, the way athletes psych themselves up for a performance to get the adrenaline pumping. There's nothing supernatural about this. It's not the unction of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it's trying to work yourself into a highly agitated state of mind. 

Notice, too, the three-hanky musical accompaniment. If his delivery alone doesn't get the viewer in the right mood, then his delivery in combination with the musical background should do the trick. That's calculated emotional manipulation. And a lot of his video clips have musical accompaniment.  

I don't object to passionate preaching. Up to a point, I don't object to weepy preachers. But that should be spontaneous. 

And this isn't an isolated case. From a lot of other clips I've seen, he has a very studied delivery. Straining for effect. The tremulous voice. The lump in the throat. Like hearing an Italian tenor sing Vesti la giubba with the interjected sobs. 

His preaching style is self-conscious. And that's not a good thing. The focus ought to be on the message, not the messenger. Yet in a lot of clips I've seen, he's constantly drawing attention to himself. 

The most charitable interpretation is that he's cast himself in a Puritan script. He thinks that's how he's supposed to feel, so he aspires to play that role. 

It's dangerous if we confuse that with sanctification. Even if the motivation is well-meant, hamminess isn't holiness. 

It's striking to compare this with an interview of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Towards the beginning, he says he wasn't thinking about himself or his qualifications. Rather, he was convinced that something needed to be said. 

4. I don't deny that preaching can sometimes have a supernatural element. But as a rule, preaching makes use of sanctified natural abilities. There's nothing wrong with a preacher who simply exegetes the text, then applies it to the situation of his parishioners. 

5. In one clip, Washer talked about how, as a young man, he spent hours a day in his prayer closet, for about four months, hankering after a particular experience from God:

In charismatic lingo, he sought the "anointing"–although he avoids that association. His orientation is very self-centered, as if the preacher is supposed to be a theophany. 

6. Given how much time he spends on the sawdust trail, I wonder how much time he has for his wife and kids. Did he take them along on these preaching junkets, or leave them behind? 

Just to be a faithful Christian spouse and parent is a laboratory for sanctification. Just to cope with the disappointments, aggravations, deprivations, anxieties and demands of life in a fallen work is a laboratory for sanctification. Sainthood isn't something apart from mundane, day-to-day, down-to-earth experience. Rather, that's how to live out the Christian faith. You don't have to cry out all night in the snowy woods. Rather, it's the marathon of faith. To be faithful day in and day out. To repent when you fail, and keep stepping. 

Consider this clip, complete with the tearful violin accompaniment:

Frankly, his notion of having to "tarry" until God comes down can easily be mock pious escapism. Running off to chase a feeling as a substitute for facing the relentless,   grinding demands of ordinary Christian existence. 

7. Finally, for a Calvinist, there's a synergistic quality to his notion of piety. According to Calvinism, we're saved by grace alone. It's ultimately up to God.

Yet Washer often makes the walk of faith sound extremely precarious. We're walking a tightrope from start to finish. We could fall off at anytime. 

But is the Christian faith really that hard? Life can be very hard. But does Christianity make life harder? If you suffer persecution, perhaps. Unanswered prayer is frustrating. Resisting temptation is a struggle. But in general, Christianity has resources that make life so easier to take. So much easier to get through.