Monday, December 21, 2015

James 2:24 Debate with William Albrecht

Roman Catholics shouldn't cite James 2:24, because it doesn't mean what they think it means. Last Saturday I conducted a debate with William Albrecht (Roman Catholic) on the topic of the meaning of James 2:24. (link to mp3) I hope you enjoy it, particularly the cross-examination section. With all due respect to Mr. Albrecht, I think you will share my lack of satisfaction with the answers he provided. I even had the opportunity to ask him an additional (related) question during the "audience question" portion of the debate, so hopefully you will find the entire recording useful!

The following are some of my notes for the debate, much of which you will hear me present during my affirmative presentation:

James 2:24 is often referenced by Roman Catholic apologists whenever the topic of Sola Fide or Justification by Faith Alone comes up. They keep on citing this verse, but it does not mean what they think it means. Thus, they shouldn’t cite it for at least the following reasons:
1. Context of Book
2. Immediate Context
3. Distinction between James and RC Justification

1) Context of Book

The book of James is primarily wisdom literature. It’s not exactly the same as Proverbs, but like Proverbs it has a focus on the same kind of practical wisdom: how to live a godly life. The opening passage (James 1:2-8) lays out the major themes of the book:

a) Trials when applied to faith produce patience.
b) If you lack wisdom ask in faith
c) Contrasted presented to a wavering, double-minded man

None of these themes bring up the kind of theological discussions we see in Romans or Galatians, where Paul provides the theological framework for Sola Fide.

2) Immediate Context

James 2:24 is part of a longer passage that stretches from verse 14 to verse 26. The opening line of the passage is this “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”

James then compares such a statement to another statement: the statement to a hungry and naked person “be warmed and filled.” It sounds like a nice blessing, but it’s obviously insincere if it’s not accompanied by you actually helping them out, assuming you can.

James says that such an insincere profession of faith is “dead” because it is alone, like the dead blessing he just provided.

James then compares the profession of faith to the demonstration of faith. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”

James then notes that it’s good to believe that God exists – but insists that even this level of true belief can be the wrong kind if it leads merely to trembling, like the devils, not to right action.

James then provides two examples of works demonstrating faith:

1) James argues that Abraham’s faith was justified by works, when he offered up Isaac.
2) James argues that Rahab’s faith was justified when she aided the spies.

James then concludes by again reiterating that faith without works is dead.

The part I’ve skipped over (vs. 24) falls right between those two illustrations. In that context, James’ point should be clear – man is not justified by a faith that doesn’t bear fruit in works but by one that does.

3) Conflict with RC Dogma on Justification

Although sometimes Roman Catholics say they believe in Justification by Faith and Works, their system doesn’t provide a good match for what James is saying, at all. Even if James were speaking theologically and not practically, the examples James provides do not provide examples either of RC initial justification or RC subsequent justification.

Keep in mind that in RC theology initial justification is by infusion of faith, hope, and charity in baptism. Subsequent justification is work-based in a sense, but it is by simply avoiding mortal sin.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Immediate Context of James' Faith/Works Pericope

James discusses the relationship of faith and works in a pericope with well-defined boundaries: the passage starts at James 2:14 and ends at James 2:26.

We can see this from the signal, "my brethren," which James uses repeatedly throughout the book in various forms to set off various pericopes. James uses it once in verse 14 and then again at verse 1 of chapter 3 (the verse after James 2:26).

We can also see this from the subject matter of the pericope. Within the pericope, James mentions faith or believe (or some form thereof) about a dozen times, whereas James' only mentions faith a few times outside the pericope.

Nevertheless, while the pericope is an entity to itself, it also has a context within James as a whole (Wisdom literature with a central theme of demonstrated faith) and an immediate context.

The immediate context of Faith/Works pericope is the preceding respect-of-persons pericope (James 2:1-13) and the following tongue-bridling pericope (James 3:1-10). The respect-of-persons pericope generally deals with the importance of not discriminating against poor people in favor of rich people. By contrast, the tongue-bridling pericope deals with the importance of controlling one's tongue, as being the most difficult to control and dangerous part of the body. Nevertheless, they both have some common threads.

The respect-of-persons argument argues for the seriousness of the sin of discriminating against the poor by arguing that a violation of any aspect of the law is a violation of the law as a whole: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) Accordingly, James counsels that we should speak and act as those who will be judged by what James calls "the law of liberty," (James 2:12) warning that "he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment." James 2:13). Similarly, the tongue-bridling pericope begins by confessing that we have many offenses ("in many things we offend all" James 3:2), focusing on offenses of the tongue, which James says no man can tame (James 3:8).

Thus, both passages deal with the sinfulness of men and the inadequacy of men to keep the law. The references to tongue-bridling and the law of liberty actually hearken back to James 2:22-27, which states:
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
In other words, the bridling of the tongue is part of the obedience to the law of liberty, as is care for the needy.

When it comes to the Faith/Works pericope, we will see care of the poor as an example, which tends to tie that pericope together with the pericopes before and after it, since care of the poor is part of obedience to that law of liberty.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Not So Much Mystery, as Error

Per Cardinal Koch (link to report), the RCC affirms salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ and says that Jews can be saved without explicitly confessing Christ:
"While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel." (17)
"That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery." (36)
It would be better to characterize that as a real contradiction and consequently an error, not a divine mystery.

Interestingly enough, the report acknowledged the fact that this view is a departure from tradition:
On the part of many of the Church Fathers the so-called replacement theory or supersessionism steadily gained favour until in the Middle Ages it represented the standard theological foundation of the relationship with Judaism: the promises and commitments of God would no longer apply to Israel because it had not recognised Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, but had been transferred to the Church of Jesus Christ which was now the true ‘new Israel’, the new chosen people of God.

The same section goes on to admit the novelty of the Vatican II position:
Arising from the same soil, Judaism and Christianity in the centuries after their separation became involved in a theological antagonism which was only to be defused at the Second Vatican Council. With its Declaration "Nostra aetate" (No.4) the Church unequivocally professes, within a new theological framework, the Jewish roots of Christianity.
It should be interesting to listen to the various attempts to deal with this from various "conservative" RC groups.

Possible ideas:

1) It's only a report by a commission, it's not a papal encyclical. Therefore, even though it's on the Vatican website, it's not "really official."
2) The old standby, "well, this isn't ex cathedra."

Friday, December 04, 2015

Should We Pray to Michael the Archangel?

Pope Francis tweeted: "Let us ask the help of Saint Michael the Archangel to defend us from the snares of the devil." (source)
Paul, Apostle of Jesus, wrote: "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind," (Colossians 2:18)

And yes, that's what asking Michael the Archangel for help is - an example of worshipping of angels. We are nowhere encouraged to trust in angels for deliverance. Instead, our trust is to be in God. We should ask God for deliverance, not Michael the Archangel.

In case you think there is some ambiguity in the tweet, and that the pontiff could be just asking God to send Michael - consider these more complete remarks (from two and a half years earlier), "In consecrating Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him." (link)

Michael wasn't the only worshiped creature at that particular consecreation:
We also consecrate Vatican City State in St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus, the guardian of the Holy Family. May his presence make us stronger and more courageous in making space for God in our lives to always defeat evil with good. We ask Him to protect, take care of us, so that a life of grace grows stronger in each of us every day.
(same source)

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Early Father Worshiping with Icons?

I was listening to a recent panel discussion with William Albrecht and David Withun and a caller called in and asked if they could name any father before the 300s that used images in the church. Albrecht pointed to Tertullian, in his work on Modesty. In that work he makes reference to the image of a shepherd on a chalice. Even this reference (which is the best they could muster) falls short.

Tertullian's reference to an image on a chalice is part of a very flowery discusssion, not of his own practices, but of those of a different sect (one that, according to him, tolerated adultery). His words: "to which, perchance, that Shepherd, will play the patron whom you depict upon your (sacramental) chalice" (note the "your").

By "Shepherd," there, Tertullian is referring to the Shepherd in the book called the Shepherd of Hermas, a non-canonical early writing.

Contrasting with that, Tertullian describes himself by saying: "I, however, imbibe the Scriptures of that Shepherd who cannot be broken."

You can break a cup, but you can't break the Scriptures.

(Augustine was mentioned in the talk, but he was against the practice that was budding in his day.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

James as Wisdom Literature

It's important to recognize that James is unlike most of Paul's epistles. James, while a letter (James 1:1), is a book of wisdom in the category of the books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.

The prologue (James 1:2-8) introduces wisdom in exactly the way wisdom literature would: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." Notice the characteristics of identifying the practical need and the practical mechanism to resolve the need. Notice as well the method of argumentation supporting the practical instruction. It can be illustrated in this form (James 1:5):

Need | If any of you lack wisdom,
Technique | let him ask of God,
Argument 1 | [God] giveth to all men liberally, and
Argument 2 | [God] upbraideth not; and
Solution | it shall be given him.

We see James use this form or similar forms throughout the book. For example, in the very next maxim, James writes (James 1:6-8):
Technique | But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
Argument 3 | For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Result | For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
Argument 4 | A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The remainder of the book tends to address the same issues at the prologue, though in greater depth, with the same wisdom-genre emphasis on holy living.

James 1:9-15 is a discourse on the temptation issue mentioned in James 1:2-3.
James 1:16-18 is a discourse on the God's gift issue mentioned in James 1:5.

James 1:19-4:12 are discourses on holy living with frequent returns to the issue of double-mindededness. James 2:14-26 provides a special case with respect to faith, that we will discuss in more detail in another post, Lord Willing.

James 4:13-17 and 5:1-6 are two calls of condemnation on the presumptuous rich.

James 5:7-8 and 9 are two encouragements to the brethren to holy living in view of the Lord's imminent return.

James 5:10-11 is an exhortation to endure trials/temptations harkening back to the James 1:2-3 and James 1:9-15 points.

James 5:12-18 are more encouragements to holy living.

Finally, James 5:19-20 is particularly an encouragement to assist other brethren in holy living.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Faith Demonstrated - a Central Jacobian Theme

After a brief greeting, James immediately begins his first of several brotherly admonitions.

James 1:2-3 calls believers to be thankful for trials because the testing of faith works patience.  

James 1:12 promises the crown of life to those who endures temptations.

James then approaches the same point another way.  He points out that the engrafted word is able to save our souls, but immediately distinguishes between a (mere) hearer and a doer. (James 1:21 and following)

James 1:26 proposes a specific test - the use of the tongue.  A person who seems religious but fails to bridle his tongue is self-deceived and his religion is "vain."

This vain religion is then contrasted with a pure religion that results in care for those who have lost fathers and husbands.  

This second test becomes more central in the second chapter.  Here James suggests that care of these poor people is a part of obeying the law of God.  

He even explains (vs 18) that faith is shown by works in the form of a challenge to a "vain man" (vs 20) who claims to have faith but lacks works.

James then illustrates the principle by providing two examples of people performing works that demonstrated their faith:

1). Abraham offering his son
2). Rahab sending out the spies another way

James then compares faith without works to a corpse.

James then returns to his previous example about the tongue (ch 3).  He argues that wisdom is demonstrated by - you guessed it - works (vs 13).

James contrasts such works with sinful envy and the like.  James concludes that the good works are the fruit sown by the peaceable wisdom from above (vss 17-18).

Chapter 4 is an extended call to holiness. James begins by identifying an internal source of sin (vss 1 and 5).  James contrasts that with the grace that God gives (vs 6).  

Chapter 5 begins with a condemnation of rich oppressors before turning back to exhort the brethren to patience.  The letter then ends with a variety of practical guides for such endurance, including the prescription to sing Psalms when we are merry and to pray when we are not.

James is a sort of anti-Joel-Osteen - eager to exhort his listeners to go beyond surface level professions of faith and especially to beware of rich hypocrites, rather than favoring people who are rich.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Infants and the Millenium - a Pre-Millenial Quadralemma (Guest Post by Ben. W)

The following guest post by Ben W. presents a question to our premillennial brothers and sisters:
*** Guest Post ***
What happens to babies born during the millennial reign after the return of Christ?
  1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned.
  2. 2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.
  3. 3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.
  4. 4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.
Each of these options is problematic.
1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned.
The problem with this view is that scripture makes it clear that Christ will not return until all of his people have been brought in.
In 2nd Peter 3, Peter makes the argument that Christ has not returned yet, and that God has not yet judged the Earth because not all of God’s people have been saved, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” God waits until the full number of his people have been gathered.
In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says of his own return that he will gather his elect from the entire Earth, “the four winds” North, East, South, West and from one end of Heaven to the other, both those on Earth and those in Heaven will be gathered together upon Christ’s return. All of God’s people will be gathered upon Christ’s return.
Finally, in Romans 11:25 scripture says that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This hardening will end when Christ is reigning from Jerusalem and the temple has been rebuilt. If the hardening of Israel has ended this must mean that the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and if that’s the case, it would appear that no Gentiles will be saved during the millennial reign.
2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.
This view has the benefit of avoiding the problems brought forth by the previous view; however, it introduces two problems of its own.
First, it describes a world in which Christ is physically ruling from the Earth, and yet, there are none for a thousand years, while Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, that believe in him.
Even from the view of premillennialism the outlook is never this bleak, which leads to the second problem.
In Isaiah 65:23-24, which premillennialists view as a description of the millennial kingdom, it says:
They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
Here we see it is said that the children born during the millennial reign, and their children will be called offspring of the blessed of the Lord. If every generation’s descendants are called the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, it follows that their parents too will be his blessed. The next verse makes it clear that God will hear and answer the prayers of these generations; surely this is not descriptive of a planetary population that has rejected King Jesus and his rule.
In Zechariah 14, and Micah 4 it is said that all the nations will come and worship Christ in Jerusalem when he reigns there.
If we read these texts without spiritualizing or allegorizing it seems clear that there will be a partial, if not total conversion to Christianity by the population of the Earth during this time.
3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.
If there are no unbelievers during the millennial reign, who rebels against Christ at the end of the 1000 years? If all those born during the millennium are saved, there is no one to rebel as described in Revelation 20:7-10.
4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.
This position too fails because as we previously saw, Isaiah 65 describes the offspring of those living during the millennial reign, and as we noted in the previous option, if there are no unbelievers in the millennium, then there is no one to rebel against Christ when Satan is loosed.
A person might argue that, while there are no babies born during the millennial reign, those unbelievers still alive when Christ returns will enter into it, and they will be the ones to rebel. However, Revelation 19:17-21 describes the total destruction of all unbelievers upon Christ’s return. There will be none of God’s enemies left after Christ returns.
*** End of Guest Post ***
As noted elsewhere, I (TurretinFan) am not particularly dogmatic on eschatology. I found this puzzle interesting, but it's not the reason I'm postmillenial. I'm postmillenial because I think the Lord is coming back on the last day, as per John 6 and 1 Corinthians 15. I think the author of the post, Ben. W., is actually ameillenial, which is a quite similar position.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

James White: The Same Sex Marriage Debate vs Codrington

Dr. White debated Graeme Codrington on the topic of same sex marriage (link to debate on SermonAudio). I agreed with Codrington that Dr. White did an excellent job defending the "traditional" view. I wanted to mention a few points that occurred to me in listening to the debate, while encouraging you, my reader, to go listen to the debate for yourself. Also check out the related debate that I mention in my comments below.

1) Heteronomative Scripture
Dr. White made a good point in the debate that it's more than just the "six verses" that specifically call out homosexual practices as sin. Instead, the remainder of Scripture provides a positive presentation regarding sexuality. That positive presentation makes heterosexual relations the norm. That's an important point, because it frames the issue. Within the context of Scripture, the pattern is "husband and wife" not simply life partners.

2) Patriarchal Scripture
Codrington raised the point that Scriptures present a patriarchal model in which there is male headship and even male ownership of wives and children. I noticed a similar issue arise in the debate between Jason Wallace and Scott Dalgarno (link to youtube video of that debate). One thing we need to be prepared to do is to confound Codrington and Dalgarno by affirming that the Biblical norm of patriarchy. Basic consistency does demand this from us - if we are going to affirm the creation ordinance of heterosexual marriage, we should also affirm the creation ordinance of how that heterosexual marriage is to be ordered. There is a sort of perverse consistency to Codrington and Dalgarno rejecting the Biblical norm of heterosexuality, given that they have already rejected the Biblical norm of patriarchy. If Biblical norms for the ordering of society matter, we should hold the. If they don't matter, we shouldn't insist on them.

3) Ownership of Humans in Scripture
Codrington and Dalgarno raised the ubiquitous objection that Scripture doesn't condemn slavery. Again, we need to be prepared to confound these men by affirming the Scripture's position. We are "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23). We are slaves of Jesus, our master. He owns us. We are his property. We are not absolutely opposed to slavery on Enlightenment grounds, even though we are opposed to any form of slavery that is based on denying the full humanity of people based on their skin color or the like. We recognize that the Bible affirmed that slaves were the property of their masters (e.g. Exodus 21:20-21 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.). Thus, we don't agree with the idea that it is somehow intrinsically immoral for a man to own another man, even though we recognize limitations on that ownership (see the same verses above).

Both Codrington and Dalgarno seem to take for granted that the Bible was wrong on the relationship of masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and parents and children. The "liberal church" has certainly begun to take those debates for granted. We need to be ready to shock them by affirming that the Bible was right on those things.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What does Christ mediate to non-elect covenant members?

The title question is sometimes asked of those who hold to Calvin/Turretin's view of Covenant Theology. I respond that the question seems to contain two flawed premises.

First, a mediator is a person who reconciles two parties. Christ does not serve as a mediator for the non-elect, only for the elect.

On the other hand, the non-elect members of the church should expect to receive something from Christ. It is written, "the Lord will judge his people." (Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalm 135:14; Hebrews 10:30) So, those who are merely outwardly part of the covenant should expect Christ to serve not as mediator, but as judge.

But Christ does not "mediate wrath" to those people, because that is not a mediatorial role. In his role as judge of all the Earth, Christ does not stand between God and man, but simply stands as God against man.

My emphasis on "outwardly," above, brings me to the second flawed premise. There are no non-elect members of the covenant of grace, under either the Mosaic administration or the NT administration. Those non-elect people who are part of the assembly/congregation/ekklesia but never believe are only outwardly members. Thus, they may bear the signs of the covenant (i.e. circumcision and/or baptism) but they lack the cleansing, forgiveness, and regeneration that those symbols represent.

The true Jew or true Christian is one who is one inwardly. Circumcision is of the heart.


Saturday, October 03, 2015

Pope Francis on June 1, 2015 and the Failure of the Cross (with Bonus)

When you read the Pope's comments about the "failure of the cross" in light of this homily from earlier this year, I think it sheds some light on the subject. Just as Scripture interprets Scripture, so also Francis interprets Francis:
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope said the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone; the scandalous executioner’s block that appeared to put an end to the story of hope, marked the beginning of man’s salvation.

And highlighting how the Scriptures speak to us today, the Pope said God builds upon weakness and waste; he said God’s love for mankind is manifested in the apparent “failure” of the Cross.


But above all - the Pope said - the story tells us of how Jesus’s death led to his ultimate triumph.

Let us not forget the cross – he said – because it is here that the logic of “failure” is turned upside down.

Jesus – Pope Francis said – reminds the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that although we can expect trials and rejection, in the end we will see triumph and he quotes the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

“The prophets, the men of God who spoke to the people, who were not listened to, who were rejected, will be His glory. The Son, His last envoy, was seized, killed and thrown out. He became the cornerstone” he said.

“This story that begins with a dream of love, that seems to be a love story, but ends up looking like a story of failures, ends with the great love of God who offers Salvation through the rejection of his Son who saves us all”.


Bonus Update:

Here's what Francis said back on May 29, 2013:
“Triumphalism in the Church halts the Church. The triumphalism of us Christians halts Christians. A triumphalist Church is a half-way Church”. A Church content with being “well organized and with... everything lovely and efficient”, but which denied the martyrs would be “a Church which thought only of triumphs and successes; which did not have Jesus’ rule of triumph through failure. Human failure, the failure of the cross. And this is a temptation to us all”.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

More Thorough Exegesis of Francis' "Failure of the Cross" Phrase

In response to Pastor Hall quadrupling down on his misinterpretation of Francis' words, let me explain how I know (with certainty) that Pope Francis was contrasting the divine perspective with the human perspective, when he said:
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
a) Notice that the point of the paragraph is to explain the right way of measuring success. It's not a discourse on the atonement or on redemption, but instead of metrics of success. The cross is an example of how to measure success.

b) Not only is this confirmed by the thesis sentence of the paragraph, but also by the way that the paragraph fits within the section of the speech:
And it diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ. We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why god's people rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in god's eyes, to see and evaluate things from god's perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
b) Thus, the point of the Pope's statement is to contrast outward success, success as perceived by men, with true success.

c) The pope is drawing a distinction between measuring worldly endeavors (like businesses) with "our apostolic works" or "apostolate."

d) So, in context the pope is saying that measured by business standards, i.e. "humanly speaking" the cross was a failure.

e) The pope is saying that this is the wrong way to measure spiritual endeavors. It's an argument from the greater to the lesser. If measuring the cross by business standards would make it look like a failure, we shouldn't worry that our apostolate/apostolic works look like a failure by that standard.

f) That the pope was talking about failure that shouldn't count as failure can be seen from the fact that he refers to "seem to fail" when describing our efforts and works.

g) The alternative understanding, that Francis meant that the cross really did fail, would undermine the point of using the cross as an illustration. If the cross actually failed, then business method of measuring success is right, and we're not dealing with a "different way of measuring success," but with a same way of measuring success.

h) Finally, we see the same thing confirmed in the way that the pope wraps up his discussion in a subsequent paragraph:
I know that many of you are on the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape, like Saint Peter, I ask you, that regardless of the difficulties and trials that you face, be at peace and respond to them as Christ did. He gave thanks to the father, took up his cross and looked forward.
Notice that he encourages people to imitate Christ in their "front lines" of "an evolving pastoral landscape." That makes sense if the cross was a success spiritually, though not "humanly speaking," but makes no sense if the cross was truly a failure.

Now, I certainly agree that the RC views of the atonement and of the mass treat the cross as being at least partly a failure - but that's an external critique of their position - not something they themselves admit. Acting like Francis was admitting it here is inappropriate "gotcha" apologetics at best. We need to be honest in our criticisms, even of the Man of Sin whom God will destroy with his Spirit.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On Founders and Fathers

People like me appeal to the Founders of the American republic as authorities on what the Constitution meant when it was written. We do that because we believe in a grammatical-historical method of interpretation of any written document. In a similar way, many people like to appeal to the Church Fathers to understand the Scriptures. There are some similarities and some differences in these approaches.

Some Differences:

Unlike the Founders, the Church Fathers did not themselves write the Scriptures. The Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by those with a prophetic gift. Even the earliest of the Early Church Fathers we have were probably pretty young when the Scriptures were written. Furthermore, the writings of the earliest of the Early Church Fathers never explicitly purport to provide any insight into what was meant by the text as written. There is not a body of literature contemporary to the writing of the New Testament, parallel to the Federalist Papers (for example), to which we can appeal for documentation regarding why things in Scripture were probably written the way they were written.

In fact, most of the church fathers were separated as far as we are (or farther than we are) from the Founders. Thus, their value in a grammatical-historical model of interpretation is quite dilute. They may be useful in helping us confirm that we're still reading Greek in about the same way as they did, but folks like Augustine and his contemporaries didn't have any first hand, or even second or third hand knowledge of the apostles and evangelists, much less of Moses, David, and the prophets.

Additionally, the Bible is perfect. It is a complete document that will accomplish exactly what God intended it to do. Those tasks include communicating the way of salvation and thoroughly furnishing the man of God for every good work. The US Constitution is an impressive document, but it is far from perfect. We don't even have a reason to think it would be perfect. It's a merely human work, and humans make mistakes. There is no guarantee that it will accomplish all its authors intended.

Similarly, the Bible is perspicuous. By contrast, there is no doctrine of the perspicuity of the US Constitution. Even on important points, it is possible for the US Constitution to be vague. Just as their is not guarantee that the Constitution will work as intended, there is no guarantee that a fair-minded reader trying his best will correctly understand even the most important points.

Thus, the need to rely on external authorities becomes important when dealing with the Constitution in ways that it is not when dealing with the Bible.

Some Similarities:

Like the Fathers, the Founders were not always of one mind. In one interaction I had with a Roman Catholic, I recall the following interchange (I'm paraphrasing):

RC: Are you saying that church went off the rails from the very beginning? Because we know what Clement of Rome taught about ecclesiology.
TF: You're referring to the book of 1 Clement, which is usually attributed to Clement of Rome. But note that the author of that work was arguing with the Corinthians. He was saying that they went off the rails. So, did someone go off the rails right at the beginning? Apparently so - the very evidence you cite is proof of that, whether Clement was right or wrong.

A similar issue was recently raised by my brother, Jordan Hall, in a post about the Constitution. There he raised a comment by Thomas Jefferson in a letter written around 1819. My brother wanted to argue that Jefferson's position reflected what "the Founders" thought about the Constitution. The problem is this - Jefferson's letter is one that is arguing against his contemporaries (link to letter). In other words, while my brother may want to side with Jefferson, Jefferson is arguing with another of his contemporaries. "The Founders" were not of one mind on the subject, but of two (or more) competing minds.

That leads us to another similarity. It's not always easy to identify a "Founder" just as it is sometimes difficult to identify a "Father." Should we count Origen and Tertullian as Fathers? They are certainly highly influential early Christian authors, but their full orthodoxy is sometimes questioned. Similarly, who do we count as a Founder? One Constitution-focused website explains the problem:
Other U.S. Founding Fathers were not there [TF insertion: at the Constitutional Convention], but made significant contributions in other ways. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was serving as ambassador to France at the time of the Convention. He kept abreast of the proceedings in Philadelphia by carrying on correspondence with James Madison. John Adams, as ambassador to Great Britain, wrote "Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America." Thomas Paine wrote the influential pamphlet "Common Sense," which immeasurably influenced the philosophy reflected in the Declaration of Independence. One of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, was initially opposed to the very idea of the Constitution! He wanted to keep the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution. However, when an agreement was made to add a "bill of rights" to the Constitution, Henry fought hard for its ratification.
(link to site)

We see similar divisions amongst the fathers. There were various theological battles over which those in the early church fought - sometimes on central issues (like Jesus' divinity) and sometimes over relatively trivial issues (like when Easter should be celebrated). While I certainly wouldn't treat an Arian as a "father of the church," it's important to realize that this identification involves me using the Scripture as my standard for deciding who to label a "father." Thus, my list of "fathers" is going to include generally orthodox men. I can't then turn around and say that their opinion proves that my doctrine is orthodox, as Roman Catholics sometimes erroneously attempt to do.

People who are trying to round up opinions of the Founders to support their views need to be similarly careful. Jefferson's view on the judiciary (as interpreted by my brother) would seem to place him at odds with John Marshall's views on the judiciary. Nevertheless John Marshall, like Thomas Jefferson, was a founding father (link to relevant information on Marshall). Although Jefferson is more famous, both men were founders and arguably represent (on some issues) competing views found amongst the Founders even in the early days of the republic. If you only count the Founders who agree with you as being Founders, your appeal to them is no longer grammatical-historical analysis but simply partisan politics or propaganda.

So be careful when applying external sources. The Constitution may need them to be understood-- Scripture doesn't need them, even if they are helpful. Moreover, when you are looking at them, look more for the points on which those debating found common ground. In the case of the Fathers, that was that Scripture is the highest and most ultimate authority, aka Sola Scriptura. Look for the things that they took for granted that their opponents would agree with, not those points on which they wanted their opponents to submit. Those points provide much stronger evidence for "the opinion" of the Fathers or the Founders.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Humanly Speaking the Cross was a Failure

The pope wasn't saying that Christ's death was a failure. He was saying the same thing that both Roman Catholics and Protestants affirm, namely that the disciples were expecting a Messiah that would give military victory over the Romans. Instead, the Romans killed him. He looked like a failure to those who had only a human perspective on things. The pope was contrasting the divine perspective with the human perspective, when he said:
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
This shouldn't be any surprise, since others have said the same thing.

Roman Catholic expressions of this:
"It is love and loyalty which persist even where humanly speaking there seems to be no reason for it — just as the cross of Jesus was humanly speaking hopeless, but brought salvation and goodness." A New Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults, with Supplement

"Humanly speaking, a failure: a colossal, blatant failure. Yet when all seemed to be lost, all was in fact saved. " Federico Suarez

Non-RC expressions of this:
"5. He was rejected and despised by the people among whom He labored. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." His work was, humanly speaking, a complete failure, and when He left the world He had but a handful of followers who had remained true to His teachings and person." Albert Simpson

"With all reverence, let me say to you, humanly speaking, the day the Master died on the Cross it seemed a colossal failure." D. L. Ferris

"That beautiful Iife promised so much, but the Cross shows how those promises, humanly speaking, ended in failure. The nation He came to teach rejected Him; the people He came to save crucified Him; a few Disciples only remained faithful to Him; and yet out of that " failure" came the greatest success the world has ever known, the success which has regenerated mankind!" Alfred Mortimer

"Humanly speaking, his work had failed. " Warren W. Wiersbe

"What enabled the disciples of Jesus to understand this enigmatic "message of the cross"? At first sight, we see in the cross the sign of a failure, humanly speaking. " Taize

There are good reasons to be opposed to the papacy, but this isn't one of them.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Judicial Precedent as Law - Summary

In America, judicial precedent is law. This is true even if it is true that:
a) Some of that law is bad law;
b) Some of that law is unconstitutional law;
c) Some of that law would be "honored in the breach";
d) Some of that law outrages us;
e) Some of that law could be overturned tomorrow;
f) Some of that law is contrary to God's law;
and we could probably think of many more to go with those.

The fact that judicial precedent is law in America can be seen in a variety of ways:
1) Look at dictionary definitions (I was told that this approach is un-American, but let the reader judge)
2) Look up what it means that America is a "Common Law" jurisdiction as distinction from a "Civil Code" jurisdiction.
3) Look up what the expression "case law" means (not in reference to the Torah, but in reference to the American legal system)

Now, Jordan Hall​, Marcus Pittman​, and Joel McDurmon​ have all expressed disagreement with my thesis - and they are all talented brothers in Christ. But on this point they are wrong, and not just white shoes after Labor Day wrong - they are as wrong as putting a "Tribble" caption on a photo of an Ewok, as wrong as thinking that "RC" in RC Sproul stands for "Roman Catholic", and as wrong as Bruce Jenner's current restroom choices.

There are lots of good reasons to oppose the new precedent set by the Supreme Court, but they don't include the absurd notion that, because the decision is not legislation it is not law (the errant opinion expressed by Jordan and Marcus and defended by Joel).

So please, brothers. Stop it. Just stop it. The media get lots of things wrong all the time, but this is not one of those things. This is actually one of those rare cases where they've made an accurate statement.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Taking an Un-American Stance

In English the word law includes both statutes and judicial precedent.

"The judgment of a competent, court, until reversed or otherwise superseded, is law, as much as any statute." (Black's Law Dictionary, 1910)

American Heritage Dictionary
a. A statute, ordinance, or other rule enacted by a legislature.
b. A judicially established legal requirement; a precedent.

Webster's (1828)
11. Unwritten or common law, a rule of action which derives its authority from long usage, or established custom, which has been immemorially received and recognized by judicial tribunals. As this law can be traced to no positive statutes, its rules or principles are to be found only in the records of courts, and in the reports of judicial decisions.

One will find similar entries in other dictionaries as well. Some will simply have general statements about binding rules, but where you find mention of statutes, look and see whether judicial precedent or "common law" is mentioned. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I've been told that this is an un-American approach, but I can live with that. Words have meaning after all, and as general rule, the dictionaries are great sources for those meanings.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Distinguishing Reality from Fantasy

No matter how good of an argument for Departmentalism my exceedingly brilliant friend and brother, Steve Hays offers (here, for example), Departmentalism is a pipe dream. It's not the way America actually works.

In practice, in America, the Supreme Court has a final say. Knowledgeable advocates of the position Steve Hays mentions continually rue this. For example, Ed Whelan, as quoted by Steve Hays in an earlier post, states: "We live in a legal culture besotted by the myth of judicial supremacy." And again: "Although there are some scholars, both on the right and on the left, who challenge it, most lawyers across the ideological spectrum, having suffered the detriment of a modern legal miseducation, embrace it." In other words, Whelan's position is a minority position that reflects the way he thinks the system should be not the way the system actually is.

That said, I don't think any of the arguments for Departmentalism are very compelling. For example, Whelan argues (quoted by Hays):
It is one thing for the Supreme Court to decline to apply a law that it deems to be unconstitutional; it is quite another for it to maintain that presidents, members of Congress, and state officials must likewise regard the law as unconstitutional and, further, must accept and follow the rationale of the Court’s decision.
Whelan is whiffing. There are at least three strikes there.

1) Although in some cases the Supreme Court decides whether something is unconstitutional as applied, the Supreme Court often decides whether something is unconstitutional on its face, and consequently void. Whelan tips his hat to this point, but doesn't seem to realize its far-reaching implications.

2) Not all of the Court's decisions relate to the Constitution. Sometimes the question requires interpreting a piece of legislation and deciding what the legislation means. We'll come back to this issue shortly.

3) In America, no one has to "regard the law as unconstitutional" (in the sense of agreeing that the Court decided rightly) nor must they "accept and follow the rationale" that the Court offered. They are free to think the Court decided wrongly. However, even if they disagree with the ruling, they have to obey the ruling until it is overturned. That's true whether it's a really controversial Constitutional issue or a less controversial legislative issue. And that is how the system works. It's easier to overturn decisions about the meaning of statutes and much harder to overturn interpretations of the constitution. But the same rule applies.

According to Whelan, the Court didn't come up with judicial supremacy until 1958. That kind of claim runs face-first into a more complete history of the situation (see here, for example). Famous cases along the way include the Court striking down the original income tax law, leading to a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the court's decision.

The most bizarre part of Whelan's argument is this: "But none of this speaks with clarity or force to the judicial-supremacist claim that other governmental actors must abide by a federal judge’s view that a law is unconstitutional." What would be the point of having a judiciary that no one had to obey? The idea that the Supreme Court's decisions on constitutional matters are just advisory is just nuts. One doesn't have to agree with the Court, but one does have to obey the Court.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Judicial Supremacy

In a number of great posts at Triablogue, Steve Hays has raised the question of the legitimacy of what he terms Judicial Supremacy. His question is not totally illegitimate, even though it in no way rebuts (in fact, it presupposes) my argument that Obergefell is law. So, let's briefly consider the question of so-called Judicial Supremacy.

The US Constitution is a great document, but it has certain gaps that have been noticed over the last two centuries of use. One of those gaps is the question of whether the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution should be treated as better than the President's interpretation of the Constitution or the Congress's interpretation. When the branches of government disagree about what the Constitution means, who wins?

In practice, i.e. the way things are, the Supreme Court's interpretation wins. That's the way it has been, almost without interruption since the time of the founders. There are some rare situations that have challenged that status quo, such as when around 1832, President Jackson supposedly said "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" Nevertheless, if someone wants to know how the American system actually works, the answer is that the Supreme Court's interpretation wins.

In theory, the answer is not quite so clear. After all, each branch swears allegiance to the Constitution. If the Supreme Court's decision is not just wrong, but actually contrary to the U.S. Constitution, then the Congress should not make laws consistent with the Court's decision and the President should not enforce either the Court's decision or any other unconstitutional laws. In other words, each branch seems to have an independent duty to make sure that the Constitution is obeyed.

Of course, a lot of the controversial Supreme Court decisions don't fall into that theoretical category where the President would have to choose between contradicting the Constitution and following the Court or contradicting the Court and following the Constitution. For example, while the recent Obergefell decision may not be an objectively correct interpretation of the Constitution, it's much harder to argue that obeying the rule in Obergefell would violate some other part of the Constitution.

If one wished to argue that it does violate it, one would presumably rely on the "reservation of powers" clause or something like that, and suggest that obeying the Supreme Court would require usurping rights reserved to the states. On the other hand, that argument does not seem to have a lot of teeth. The real problem with Obergefell is its objective immorality and/or its objectively unreasonable interpretation of the Constitution.

It seems to be much less compelling that the President or Congress could simply disregard a Supreme Court decision because they don't think it was justified, even if they don't think it would violate the Constitution. After all, what if the Court did that? In other words, what if the Court didn't say laws were unconstitutional, but simply refused to treat as valid laws it didn't think were justified? That would seemingly potentially cause chaos.

Thus, in cases where there is not a clear inherent conflict between following the Court and following the Constitution, it seems that even on a theoretical level there is a legal (though not moral) obligation to follow the Court.

That's still not actual Judicial Supremacy (just so-called supremacy) because - as I've previously pointed out - there are checks and balances against a runaway judiciary. One check is that judges can be removed. Another check is that Constitution can be amended. The former option can provide new judicial precedent that overrules prior precedent. The latter can simply directly overrule the precedent.

Steve's biggest challenge to this was:
But since you refuse to challenge judicial supremacy, your appeal to impeachment or the amendment process is preemptively derailed by the very institution you presume to rein in, given the incontrovertible prerogative you ascribe to it. If the Constitution only means whatever judges say it means (a la Chief Justice Hughes), then they can "interpret" the Constitution to immunize judges from impeachment or forbid the abridgment of their authority.
Steve's argument here is wrong. What Steve should say is that if the Supreme Court were consistently given an incontrovertible prerogative, they could avoid impeachment and ignore Constitutional amendments. But the current American system does not give them that level of incontrovertible prerogative. The American system lacks that kind of consistency, and as a result does not have that absurd outcome.

Steve may want to argue that the American system would be better if some changes were made, or Steve may want to argue that the American system is inconsistent. Both of those may even be legitimate criticisms (not of me, but of the American system). But both of those arguments from Steve presuppose the point my original article made, one which my friends need to hear, namely that although Obergefell is a very bad law, in the American system it is law.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bad Law is Still Law

Steve Hays has a thought-provoking post (link) sparked by my own previous post (link). Since his post doesn't seem to directly dispute the central thesis of my own post, namely that Obergefell is law, no rebuttal is needed. In fact, I find a lot of points in Steve's post with which I agree - or at least I think that there are issues worth considering.

For example, Steve wrote: "Whether executive agency regulations should have the force of law is hardly indisputable." Whether they do have the force of law is different from whether they should have the force of law. In practice, they have a slightly different effect from legislative law, but they are (in general) still laws that people have to abide by. Whether this should or shouldn't be the case is essentially academic.

Moreover, Steve's point about executive agency regulations helps underscore the point of my original post. After all, while agency regulations may have disputable standing on some academic level, judicial precedent is not disputable.

Steve commented (regarding agency regulations): "To my knowledge, that's not something the Founding Fathers envisioned." Whether or not they did, they definitely envisioned judicial precedent as law.

Skipping over other interesting things Steve said, toward the conclusion of the post, Steve raises a question of whether there should be judicial supremacy. If the question here is founder's intent, it's worth noting that Judicial supremacy goes back to 1803 in which the Supreme Court first declared a law void based on the law being unconstitutional. That was in a case brought against President Madison, who was one of the founders. Once again, there is a sort of academic argument to be made that the final determination of constitutionality should lie in the Executive or Legislative branches, but in practice that's not where the American system is today.

Today, even when the Supreme Court makes bad Constitutional decisions, its decisions stand as law until either they are overruled by subsequent Supreme Court decisions or the U.S. Constitution is amended. That's how the system is, whether or not that's how the system should be. I leave the should be question to the academics and the rich.

As a result, Christians should not go around making foolish claims that Obergefell isn't law. They may oppose it, but they should recognize it for what it is.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Obergefell is Law

Some dear friends have been going around claiming that Obergefell(fn1) isn't the law of the land. These dear friends are wrong.

But the Constitution vests all legislative authority in the Congress!

Yes all federal legislative authority is Congressional, but legislation isn't the only kind of law. There are also laws that come from the executive branch (e.g. regulations) and laws that come from the judicial branch (e.g. judicial precedent). There are even treaties, which the President enters into with the consent of the Senate.

But the Founders never intended for judicial precedent to be law!

Actually, the founders accepted the idea of judicial precedent as law. They all had as their framework the English "common law" system, in which judicial precedent was treated as law. The Constitution doesn't oppose this framework. In the historical context in which the Constitution was written, it was assumed that judicial precedent would be treated as law.

But this is Legislating from the Bench!

What you really mean is, you don't agree with the justices' decision. You think they were wrong to conclude as they did. That doesn't make this legislation from the bench. It's just judicial precedent.

But it's just an Opinion, look it says "Opinion" right on it!

This has to be the most ignorant (or deceptive) objection I've heard. Yes, judicial decision is typically called an "opinion." That doesn't mean it's simply some kind of personal opinion that lacks the force of law. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court is legal precedent that controls - lower courts must follow it.

But Kentucky's law is different

When Federal law and Kentucky state law come into conflict, Federal law wins (US Constitution, Article VI).

But Article VI doesn't mention judicial precedent!

Even if that mattered, it mentions the US Constitution and - according to Obergefell - the US Constitution conflicts with some state laws.

Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate!

Suffice to say that this doctrine is one that relates to rebellion by the lesser magistrate against the greater magistrate. When or whether such rebellion may be Scripturally warranted is a different topic, but the point is that we are no longer talking about whether Obergefell is law, but whether the lesser magistrate is going to obey that law or rebel against that law. In principle, there are times when lesser magistrates ought to rebel against the law, but it is still rebellion against the law. Those who rebel against the de facto authorities, including an unjust greater magistrate, should fully expect to reap the consequences of death, imprisonment, loss of property, and so on.

But #datnotpostmil!

Just because we know that God's kingdom will continue to advance doesn't mean we know how precisely that will come to be. Perhaps it will be a reformation in this land. Perhaps it will be through God bringing just judgment in this land. I hope it will be the former, but the more bad laws we have, the more we invite the latter.

But then what can we do?

Within the law, we can remove Supreme Court justices for bad behavior and install those who will overturn bad precedent. Alternatively, we can amend the Constitution to overcome bad judicial precedent regarding the Constitution.

More significantly, we can proclaim the truth that is revealed in Scriptures to those around us. The Word of God is more powerful than you think, no matter how powerful you think it is. It's ok for us to use the political process, but that's not the primary way by which #datpostmil will come about.


FN1: For those living under a rock, Obergefell held: "The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Calvinism vs. Reformed Molinism Debate

The debate has been posted at the Seeing God Ministries website (link to page)(direct link to mp3). The debate pitted Reformed Molinists Richard Bushey and Zachary Lawson against myself and Josh Sommer.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Unlawful Orders and Options - Some Thoughts on Persecution

Steve Hays has already provided some excellent thoughts on the issue of unlawful orders over at Triablogue (link). In supplement of those thoughts, I wanted to add a couple of additional semi-related points.

1) Distinguishing Permitted Disobedience from Required Disobedience

In some cases, when someone in authority over us commands us to do something, we are required by God's law not to follow those orders. Often, there are two ways in which can "no follow orders."

For example, if a judge ordered a clerk to issue a "gay marriage" certificate, the clerk has a moral obligation under God's law not to follow that order, assuming following that order was sinful. However, there are at least two real alternatives this hypothetical clerk has. The clerk could simply refuse (i.e. disobey the order) or the clerk could resign (i.e. avoid the order). Both of these alternatives are legitimate.

Some people seem to think that a Christian's duty to disobey also entails a duty to do so following the path of least resistance. In other words, some people seem to be arguing that our hypothetical clerk must resign, rather than simply disobeying orders. This view seems to suggest that disobedience can only be a last resort - we can only disobey when our back is to the wall, so to speak.

That rationale seems intuitively wrong. It seems as though the midwives in Egypt could have sought other career options instead of continuing to deliver babies, but their choice to continue delivering babies while disobeying orders seems praiseworthy.

There may be cases where we cannot resign our way out of direct disobedience. For example, I don't think anyone believes that the apostles had the option of resigning their apostolic office in order to avoid directly disobeying the Sanhedrin.

On the other hand, that does not mean that direct disobedience is always mandatory. Remember that sometimes Christians are called to flee persecution. For example,

Matthew 10:23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

So, in our hypothetical example, the clerk is permitted to flee persecution, for example by simply resigning.

This is distinct from cases where we may not have any way of fleeing the persecution and disobedience is our only option, as with the Apostles in front of the Sanhedrin. Still, it is important to recognize the distinction and to permit Christians their liberty in Christ to elect between enduring persecution for the name of Christ and fleeing that persecution.

While enduring such persecution is noble and praiseworthy, it is not mandatory in every case. Therefore, while we should praise those who suffer for the sake of the kingdom, we must not condemn those who flee into another city, so to speak.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Jonah - Haimo of Auxerre

I'm grateful to translator Deborah Everhart (and in general the consortium for the teaching of the Middle Ages) for providing a very readable translation from the original Latin of Haimo of Auxerre's Commentary on Jonah. Haimo died around A.D. 875. So this is not an "early church" commentary, but it is part of Western church history.

Haimo provides a very fluid set of interpretations of the text - proceeding from the literal to various non-literal interpretations (trological, analogical, spiritual, etc.). Haimo treats Jonah as a type of Christ in a way that would fit extremely well in today's Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic.

The commentary is quite short, naturally, in view of the short length of the book being discussed. Still, it is a nice addition to any collection of commentaries on the minor prophets.

Here a few quotations that I found interesting, without any suggestion that these are representative of the work as a whole (footnotes omitted):
And the mariners were afraid, and the men cried to their god, and they cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them (Jonah 1:5). The mariners, not knowing the one and true God, invoked gods, knowing that nothing is done without the providence of God. From this we understand that He is feared and perceived by all men, although they may be seduced by false religions from the one and true God to many gods.
(p. 11 - at Jonah 1:5)

The above quotation fits quite nicely with a presuppositional viewpoint. Haimo is saying that people not only know that God exists, but that He is in control of everything that happens.

Moreover, they sacrificed victims, not animals, which, according to the literal level, they would not have had on the waves, but spiritual victims, that is, thanksgiving and praise. The Psalmist says, "Offer to God the sacrifice of praise" (Psalm 49:14), and the prophet says, "Take away all iniquity and receive the good, and we will render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:3).
(p. 17 - at Jonah 1:16)

The importance of recognizing spiritual sacrifice as distinct from animal sacrifice becomes important in understanding a variety of these minor prophet allusions to sacrifice.

"All thy billows, and thy waves have passed over me" (Jonah 2:4). The billows and waves are the temptations and the beatings, which never happen without the permission and will of God.
(pp. 20-21 - at John 2:4)

Once again, note Haimo's seemingly high view of divine sovereignty.

"I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains: the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever" (Jonah 2:7) ... The soul of the Redeemer descended to the abyss, not so that He might be held there, but so that He might snatch away his own men. These bars of the earth, as it were the door bars of the final prison and punishment, wish always to hold these souls once they have accepted them. The Lord is shut up by these bars; but, just as it was predicted in Isaiah, He broke the brass gates and burst the iron bars (Isaiah 45:2).
(pp. 22-23 - at Jonah 2:7)

While Haimo does not seem to make the direct connection, this explanation fits very well with a proper understanding of "the gates of hell shall not prevail."

"But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to you: I will pay whatsoever I have vowed for my salvation to the Lord" (Jonah 2:10). The prophet is animated with good hope, and now secure about his liberation, he promises that he will sacrifice thanksgiving and that he will fulfill all vows.
(p. 25 - at Jonah 2:10)

Once again, Haimo recognizes the category of spiritual sacrifice.

And the older generation begins, the younger follows, because no one is without sin, not even the infant whose life upon the earth is but one day.
(p. 29 - at Jonah 3:5)

Haimo's acknowledgement of the universal sinfulness of men, infants included, is not tempered with any caveat about certain particularly righteous people.

But in the Church, just as in a great house, there are vessels, and some are for honor and some are for insult; some are carnal and some are spiritual ...
(p. 38 - at John 4:11)

I found this seeming application of Romans 9 to the church itself an interesting observation. It seems as though Haimo is acknowledging the mixed nature of the New Testament assembly.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

John of Damascus Interpreting James 2:26

It was interesting to read a late patristic-era author (his death is sometimes used as the end of the patristic era) interpreting James 2:26. In An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, vol. 4, chapter 9, "Concerning Faith and Baptism," (PG 94:1121-22) John of Damascus writes (translation available here, emphasis mine):
It behooves us, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit [2 Peter 2:22], make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. [James 2:26] For the true faith is attested by works.
It's particularly interesting to note that the Damascene correctly ascertains that James' point is that works testify to true faith.

For those who like the original Greek or the Latin translation in Migne:
The key word there is δοϰιμάζεται (comprobatur), which is accurately translated as "is attested by" as in the translation provided.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pseudo-Augustine "Doubt is an element of Faith"

One of my friends pointed out to me a quotation attributed to Augustine, but which didn't sound Augustinian. My friend's suspicions were correct. The quotation in question was this: "Doubt is an element of faith."

I found this attributed to Augustine in a number of sources:

"Doubt, as Saint Augustine wrote, is actually an element of faith." Immersion Bible Studies: 1 & 2 Corinthians, James L. Evans (2011), Section 4, "Hope Really Does Float" at 1 Corinthians 15-16.

"St. Augustine: 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" and "Augustine could say, 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" Faith and Reason, William Hemsworth (2009).

"Saint Augustine, early in the first millennium, wrote that 'doubt is but another element of faith.'" Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (2013), John Sexton et al., Third Inning "Doubt".

"St. Augustine: 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" Doubting Toward Faith: The Journey to Confident Christianity (2015), Bobby Conway, p. 35.

"As St. Augustine said, 'Doubt is but another element of faith,' so for some deeply religious people, the absence of doubt is not the best measure of religious commitment." Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 19

"'I've told you what Saint Augustine said about not taking Bible completely literally—and "doubt is but another element of faith."'" Kurt Andersen, "True Believers: a Novel," (2012) p. 59.

The actual source for this quotation, however, is Paul Tillich. Ironically, the Baseball book above actually noticed the same thought in Tillich but apparently didn't realize that Tillich was the original source. Tillich wrote: "But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith." (Systematic Theology, 1975, vol. 2, p. 116) The quotation falsely attributed to Augustine (never with any actual citation to Augustine's works) is actually just a slight rewording of what Tillich wrote.

I'm not sure exactly how the misquotation began. One possibility is someone misreading Kent Smith's "Faith: reflections on experience, theology, and fiction" where the quotation from Tillich comes shortly after a mention of Augustine (p. 2). Even more probably, the phrase got stuck in someone's mind as a pithy quotation. That person then later couldn't remember who actually said it, and assumed that a pithy quotation like that would have come from a smart guy, and consequently named Augustine as the source.

I'm constantly trying to call folks who write to a higher standard of scholarship, particularly when it comes to use of sources. If you quote something from someone, make the effort to track down your source. If you read something in a book that lacks citations, take it with a grain of salt. It may be right, but a lot of books without citations are poorly researched from other secondary sources, also without source citations. I have no reason to suppose that the original source of this misquotation had any malice. Still, this kind of false attribution can lead to problems that go beyond the original mis-attribution.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Molinism - Responses to a Some Attempted Defenses

Someone posting under the name Richard Bushey has a post attempting to defend Molinism against some of the criticisms offered by my friend, Dr. James White (link). I'd like to rebut a few points.

Is Molinism too heavily reliant on philosophy? Mr. Bushey argues that philosophy is inherent to every kind of theology. However, that misses the point. The problem is not simply that Molinism employs philosophy but that it is (at best) totally speculative, based solely on philosophy, rather than being based on Scripture with philosophy being employed to draw out what is implied by Scripture.

Does Molinism begin with libertarian free will aka the "autonomous will of man"? It certainly does. Mr. Bushey says that Molinist just "recognize that freedom of the will exists." The problem is that Molinists cannot establish this starting principle from Scripture. The Scriptures teach that man has a will and that he makes decisions, but not that man's will is autonomous. On the contrary, the Scriptures have plenty of contrary examples.

Does Molinism compromise God's sovereignty? Yes, though not as much Mr. Bushey seems to be willing to let it. Mr. Bushey thinks that on Molinism, God "does not have to dictate every single movement to have sovereignty." Actually, on Molinism God does decide every single movement in his decree to instantiate a single feasible world. Even so, God's sovereignty is compromised because there is a difference between the set of "possible worlds" that God could create, and the set of "feasible worlds" that humans would cooperate in bringing about. Thus, God's choices are limited by human autonomy. Oddly, they are limited by a human autonomy not even yet in existence and consequently having no actual basis.

Mr. Bushey admits, "the Molinist is saying that with the additive of human freedom, then God’s choices become limited because he wants to persist in allowing humans the luxury and virtue of freedom of the will." Since this imagined freedom supposedly results in the eternal damnation of many, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a luxury, and it quite obviously isn't a virtue when exercised in that way.

Furthermore, the idea that freedom to fall into damnation is somehow a good thing contradicts the idea that heaven is going to be a good place, since we won't have the possibility of falling into damnation. Similarly, God himself necessarily lacks the freedom to sin, which suggests that the freedom to sin is certainly not a virtue and is not truly a luxury.

Finally, the Scriptures do not teach or suggest that God has a desire that humans be autonomous. That's that unbiblical philosophical presupposition creeping back in.

Is predestination still personal on Molinism? In some strains of Molinism, where it is suggested that God tries to save the maximum number of people, it does seem impersonal to that extent. Naturally, there are a variety of Molinistic views, so William Lane Craig's views on that point are not representative of the entire spectrum of Molinists. When God chooses to instantiate a particular world, that inevitably leads to a particular group of individuals certainly being saved and all the others being certainly lost, on Molinism. So, from that perspective, it is personal and individual.

Who dealt God the cards? One of the central problems of Molinism is the grounding objection. I've dealt with at length in a previous post (here), so I won't repeat it all. In short, while human autonomy is supposed to limit God's choices prior to the final decree of creation, the problem is that there is no existing created thing at that logical instant to provide the limitation, and the limitation is not internal to God. It's an insoluable problem that can get glossed over, but which ought to trouble every Molinist. On Molinism, God is not literally dealt cards by a card dealer, but what other than a co-eternal being could limit God before God's decree to create?

Does Molinism retain freedom of the will? On Molinism, a person in a particular situation would always make the same decision. That does not look, walk, or quack like autonomy - it sounds like determinism. IF a die is a fair die, it has an equal probability of coming up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But the Molinist will would, in a particular situation, always come up the same. That looks more like loaded dice.

Is David's experience in Keliah evidence for Molinism? Some Molinists think that God's answer to David's hypothetical question supports the idea of middle knowledge, because it suggests God knows what a person would do, even in circumstances that don't come to pass. Unfortunately, these Molinists have overlooked that God's answer is exactly the same as it would be if the men of Keliah were purely deterministic. If you don't see why, just substitute a non-human in David's question - "If I stay, will the walls collapse on me?" Obviously, in that case, the answer has nothing to do with middle knowledge. The same is the case with David's actual question. The only reason for thinking it has to do with middle knowledge is the insertion of the idea of an autonomous human will - an insertion that lacks basis in Scripture.


I've skipped over the stuff about Dr. White supposedly not knowing various things. Those accusations can hopefully be seen to be false in view of the explanations above.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Calling Discernment Bloggers to Use More Discernment

Chris Bolt did an excellent job of debunking JD Hall's inaccurate criticism of Karen Swallow Prior (link to Chris' post). I was disappointed to see that JD has not repented of his post, but instead has doubled down on it with a new post insinuating the same kinds of things as the original post.

I mentioned my concern about JD's hatchet job on facebook and tagged Karen. Her comments regarding her motivation were refreshing and provide a very different light on her actions:

Karen: "I was invited to the event specifically to represent the "non-affirming" view, which I did."
In response to the question: "Did you get a chance to use the divinely inspired biblical terminology and the hope of the gospel?"
Karen responded: "That's the goal I went with and I pray God used my witness. The event also included folks who have renounced their past homosexual behavior and it was a blessing to support and encourage them."

As I said in my facebook post, I may not agree with Karen Swallow Prior's choice to attend the event she attended. Based on Karen's further comments, I might actually agree with her choice, but that's a moot point.

Even assuming I disagree with her on that point, my disagreement with her on that point does not allow me to stand behind hatchet jobs accusing her of all sorts of worse things. We Christians need to hold ourselves and the "discernment bloggers" to a high standard of honesty, integrity, and accuracy. Thanks to Chris Bolt for demonstrating that. It's not about "choosing sides," or about necessarily agreeing with every last one of Karen's decisions, but it's about basic honesty and carefulness. It's a ninth commandment issue.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Two Recent Debates

I recently did two very different debates:

1. Is the Father Alone Almighty God? David Barron vs. TurretinFan (link to debate page)(direct link to mp3)

2. Intercession of the Saints - William Albrecht vs. TurretinFan (link to debate page)(direct link to mp3).

I'd like to provide more comments on the debates, but I lack time at present.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Defining "Responsibility" for Leighton Flowers

I was listening to Professor Leighton Flowers talk about "responsibility," (mp3 - around 29 minutes into the debate) and he noticed that he tried to define it as "able to respond," as in being able to respond positively to God's commands and exhortations. That definition is just fanciful.

The term "responsible" actually means "answerable" or "accountable" - in other words, it's about the fact that the person is going to have to answer or respond for what he does. It means that the person will have to face the consequences of his actions. When we say that man is "responsible," we're not talking about some hypothetical philosophical ability to do something, but instead we're talking about the fact that man will have to give an account for all his actions before the Judge of All the Earth on judgment day.

Inability to do what is right is consistent with responsibility for doing what is wrong, because "responsibility" doesn't imply some very specific kind of hypothetical philosophical ability to have done otherwise, but rather it implies that the person will be punished for his sins - unless the person has a penal substitute in the person of Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Matt Slick Errs on Textual Transmission / Textual Criticism Again

Matt Slick has again (The Bible Thumping Wingnut, Episode 61, around 30 minutes into the episode) erred on the topic of textual criticism.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slick seems to be confused about the transmission of the New Testament compared to the translation of the Old Testament. His comment about adding up numbers seems to be based on something Mr. Slick has heard about the process used by the Masoretes (and it doesn't even appear to be accurate regarding their process). It does not describe the Christian process, especially not in the early Christian period. Early Christian textual transmission was, as far as we know, not done by professional scribes and did not include letter-counting techniques (such as those later used by the Masoretes) to ensure the reliability of the copies. These facts don't undermine the reliability of the New Testament text, but making errors in this area may undermine the other valid points that Mr. Slick is trying to offer.

Additionally, Mr. Slick repeated the same error regarding how textual variants are counted (which we already corrected here).

It's great that Mr. Slick is going to be debating a Muslim on the divinity of Jesus soon, but it seems likely that these issues of textual transmission will crop up in apologetics with Muslims (as they frequently do), and it would be good for one of Mr. Slick's friends to help get him straight on these issues before then.

*** Updated 4/13/2015

By the way, Mr. Slick should probably update his own web pages once he realizes his mistake. This same repeated error about how to count variants appears on at least the following pages of :

That same page also claims "Furthermore, the New Testament is approximately 99.5% textually pure. This means that of all the manuscripts in existence they agree completely 99.5% of the time." That's also not the case.

This page claims "The copies are so accurate that all of the biblical documents are 98.5% textually pure." Even if Mr. Slick decides he has some insight into textual transmission, he should presumably harmonize his own pages.

This page also claims (similar to Mr. Slick's comments on the show): "Similarly, the Greek writers of the New Testament would copy the biblical manuscripts. By default, every letter also has a numeric value. When the copies were done, the copyists would add up the numeric values of the words copied and compare them to the original copy. If there was an error, the copy was destroyed and a new one was begun. This was done with both the Hebrew and Greek writings of the Bible. Therefore, the Bible was copied with extreme care." That's not an accurate depiction of the New Testament transmission. It seems to be taken from some information regarding the extreme care the Masoretes took in copying the Old Testament, but even then it's not quite right.

The page also mentions the accuracy of the Isaiah scroll in the Dead Sea scrolls compared to the Masoretic text. It's true that the texts were very close. Not all the scrolls share that same closeness, however, especially in Jeremiah. So, it might be good to provide some additional information and caveats regarding the reliability of the Masoretic textual transmission.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Does Religion Poison Everything?

One of the claims of the new atheists is that "Religion Poisons Everything." This has been the subject of a number of debates. Typically, the non-atheist will point out folks like Stalin and Mao were not religious and yet were responsible for enormous harm. Thus, while religious people may also cause harm, the harm of atheism are even greater, certainly on a per capita basis. Some folks will also go farther and point out that the methodology used by atheists is fundamentally flawed - they don't have any controlled comparative data upon which to make their conclusion. All of these are legitimate criticisms of the atheistic assertion - but it occurred to me that Christians are missing an opportunity or two here.

Religion affects everything. We should be willing to concede that it does, or at least should, affect everything. No, it doesn't necessarily mean that a Christian cyclist will use a different kind of brakes, but religion (especially the true Christian religion) is a worldview. It affects everything - or should. The does not mean we all try to wear the same kind of sandals and robes that Jesus and the apostles did, or the same kind of leather that Adam and Eve wore. We certainly don't dress or eat like John the Baptist regularly. Still, religion as a worldview to does touch on and affect everything.

The term "poison" is a pejorative term - a value judgment. Obviously, atheists who object to the Biblical worldview are going to see those aspects of influence as "poison," but they are wrong to view them that way. As for the things that we commonly agree are "poison," we call on the atheists to distinguish between the sinners trying to live out the worldview and the worldview and the worldview itself. It is sin that poisons everything, while the gospel begins to correct that.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

John Owen on the Theonomy Debate between Joel McDurmon and Jordan Hall

John Owen, Works, Volume 8 ("Sermons to the Nations"), p. 394:
Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not, in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the gospel, — and that because the magistrate then was "custos, vindex, et administrator legis judicialis, et politiae Mosaicae," from which, as most think, we are freed; — yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion. Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, arid what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding.
I wonder if both the debaters would agree with that quotation? If so, then the resolution of their recent debate can be affirmed in one sense (i.e. the civil laws are obligatory as to their moral aspects and analogously) and denied in another sense (i.e. the civil laws are not obligatory in their Judaical form).

I note that Bahnsen himself seems to have felt that he could agree with Owen, since Bahnsen himself quoted it in his interaction with Ian Murray (as can be seen here).


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Variants and Matt Slick

I'm listening through a variety of episodes of the "Bible Thumping Wingnut." Despite the very low quality stuff on theonomy in a few of the recent episodes (I don't see the point to correct these errors - there are plenty of other folks doing that and being ignored), there are some good discussions on a variety of topics, particularly when Matt Slick addresses atheists/agnostics. However, in Episode 44, when asked about textual variants, our brother Matt dropped the ball, so I want to take the opportunity to correct this point.

Matt took the position that if an article (a word meaning "the") is dropped in a copy, and then that typo is copied by five further scribes in their respective copies, that's six variants. Matt's not right - that's not how it works. That would be a variant with six witnesses.

The reason the number of variants is so high is because of the large number of hand copies, but not because each copy of each typo is counted as a variant. Instead, it's because there are numerous possible misspellings for many words, particular for words with a "movable nu" (similar to the difference between "a" and "an" in English) and numerous variants in the order of words.

In any event, to answer the bigger question about whether we can know what the original was, there are tools for reconstructing the original text from copies containing variants. While there are a few different ways of doing this, they all yield substantially the same text at most points. (see Dr. White's excellent discussion here).


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Innocent X vs Sound Doctrine

In 1653, Innocent X released the constitution "Cum Occasione" (May 31, 1653)(full text here). In that document, there were errors said to have been extracted from the Augustinus of Cornelius Jansen. These are also printed Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (1957)(Dz. 1092-1096)(link)
1. Some of God’s precepts are impossible to the just, who wish and strive to keep them, according to the present powers which they have; the grace, by which they are made possible, is also wanting.

Declared and condemned as rash, impious, blasphemous, condemned by anathema, and heretical.

2. In the state of fallen nature one never resists interior grace.

Declared and condemned as heretical.

3. In order to merit or demerit in the state of fallen nature, freedom from necessity is not required in man, but freedom from external compulsion is sufficient.

Declared and condemned as heretical.

4. The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of a prevenient interior grace for each act, even for the beginning of faith; and in this they were heretics, because they wished this grace to be such that the human will could either resistor obey.

Declared and condemned as false and heretical.

5. It is Semipelagian to say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men without exception.

Declared and condemned as false, rash, scandalous, and understood in this sense, that Christ died for the salvation of the predestined, impious, blasphemous, contumelious, dishonoring to divine piety, and heretical.
The condemnation of these five statements was then affirmed by Alexander VII (Constitution, "Ad sacram beati Petri Sedem," October 16, 1656 and Constitution "Regiminis apostolicis," February 15, 1665)(more discussion and links here)

It is interesting to note that Innocent X appears to be affirming perfectionism (contra 1), denying irresistible grace (contra 2 and 4), denying compatible free will (contra 3),and denying limited atonement (contra 5), and on each of these points appears to err, since Scriptures teach that we continue to struggle with sin in this life, Scripture teaches irresistible grace, Scripture teaches that free will is compatible with divine necessity, and Scripture teaches that Christ died specifically for the elect.

- TurretinFan