Friday, May 25, 2018

Golden parachute

Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler collaborated to reclaim the SBC from liberal drift. That's been more successful at the level of SBC seminaries than colleges. 

Unfortunately, there's a historical pattern of insurgents who become (or always were) as corrupt as those they supplant. Turning parts of the SBC into personal fiefdoms and piggybanks for self-aggrandizement. That happened at First Baptist Dallas under W. A. Criswell, as documented by Joel Gregory, and it's happened again under the tenure of Paige Patterson at SWBTS:


A subplot in this squalid drama is whether Pressler is a closet sodomite who hit on men:


If so, did Patterson cover for him over the years? 

Trinity undefeated

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to critique my position:

I have often pointed out how, in his heresy hunting adventures, he nearly always skates by without actually taking a stand for any Trinity theory. Happily, he has decided to pony up, saying just what the thinks “the doctrine of the Trinity” is.

I've indirectly stated my position many times, but in response to unitarianism, rather than a stand-alone piece. 

The Strength Of The New Testament Text Without First-Century Manuscripts

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the fragment of Mark that some people had dated to the first century. It's important to keep in mind how much evidence we have for the New Testament text even without any first-century manuscripts. That includes a lot of evidence that's seldom discussed (how the transmission of the documents would have been monitored by the authors, corroboration of the text from early non-Christian sources, etc.). See here.

Definitive report on the “First Century Gospel of Mark”

Update: an earlier version of this article had noted that Brill Publishing played a role in establishing the identity of this manuscript fragment; it has been updated to note that the overseeing publisher is the Egypt Exploration Society. In addition, the image has been removed at the request of the publisher (via Mr. Hixson).

In addition, there is a large and growing comments thread at the Hixson blog post that offers far more relevant detail about the history and ownership of the fragment than I can provide here. In short:


The EES (Egypt Exploration Society) confirms that the Mark fragment comes from Grenfell and Hunt’s excavation at Oxyrhynchus, probably in 1903 (on the basis of the inventory number), and that it has never been for sale, whatever claims may have been made arising from individual conversations in the past.

* * *

Daniel Wallace and Elijah Hixson (and the publisher of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the Egypt Exploration Society) have confirmed that the papyrus fragment that has at various times in the past been reported as “the First Century Gospel of Mark” (by Wallace himself and Josh McDowell) has actually been confirmed to be a “(later) second or (earlier) third century” fragment of the Gospel of Mark.

From the Hixson article:
In summary, it looks very much like:
* FCM (the “First Century of Mark Fragment”) is finally being published as P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345.
* The fragment is very small. It has only parts of six verses from Mark 1.
* The fragment tells us nothing about the famous textual variants in Mark 1:1, Mark 1:41 or the Ending of Mark.
There’s more intrigue in the articles, but a lot of the rest of it is not so spectacular.

While there is some disappointment that it’s not the first-century fragment that was reported, it is still the earliest (or one of the two earliest) fragments of the Gospel of Mark that is available.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The invisible security guard

Imagine you are a woman who is told your apartment [is] protected by an invisible security guard. An intruder breaks into your apartment and rapes you. The guard is nowhere to be found. You ask the landlord, "Where as your security guard? Either he doesn't exist or is weak or evil or incompetent."

One of your neighbors studies 'invisible scrutiny guard apologetics'. He overhears your conversation. He says, "But if a-guardism is true, there is no security guard. You can't consistently argue against the guard's existence without presupposing his existence."

If you understood why his answer to you completely misses the point, you'll understand why it misses the point for theists to claim that the atheistic argument from evil presupposes theism".

https://twitter.com/SecularOutpost/status/999507572947173376

i) This is a hobbyhorse of Jeff Lowder. His point is that an atheist can deploy the argument from evil even if the atheist denies moral realism. In that case, the argument from evil will take the form of an internal critique. Showing that theism or Christianity in particular is inconsistent on its own grounds.

ii) That's technically true, but there's the question of why a moral nihilist cares about the problem of evil. If there are no epistemic duties, why is it important to disprove Christianity?

iii) In addition, an atheist who deploys the argument from evil assumes a burden of proof. Since he's raising the objection, he shoulders a burden of proof to make an argument. Moreover, he needs to take standard Christian theodicies into consideration, and show how those are wanting. It's up to him to make the first move. It's not incumbent on the Christian to recycle standard Christian theodicies. Since those are already on the table, an atheist needs to build that into his initial formulation.

In fairness, that doesn't mean a Christian apologist has no corresponding burden of proof. But an atheist can't shift the burden of proof onto the Christian by simply exclaiming, "How can an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God permit evil!" Atheists are often lazy in that regard.

iv) The parallel is ill-conceived. If you posit that the apartment is protected by an invisible security guard, then that's his sole job, so if the tenant is attacked, then on the face of it "either he doesn't exist or is weak or evil or incompetent." But the comparison breaks down since protecting humans from harm is not God's only job. Unlike the security guard, God may have a number of priorities. So the analogy is vitiated by disanalogies.

v) And even on its own terms, maybe the security guard was sick that day. Maybe his car broke down. Maybe the landlord failed to get a temporary substitute. Or maybe the security guard had a family crisis which took precedence over his day job. Invisibility doesn't make him omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. So that's a very poor example to illustrate the point.

Putting "1C fragment of Mark" in perspective

https://www.michaeljkruger.com/is-there-a-first-century-fragment-of-marks-gospel-apparently-not/#more-6789

Gag rule

The debacle about the "1C fragment of Mark" raises questions about the wisdom and ethics of nondisclosure agreements in scholarship. How widespread is this practice? Is there a danger that scholars will be required to sign nondisclosure agreements to function in the guild? What if a scholar signs a nondisclosure agreement, then has second thoughts or changes his mind as he becomes aware of new evidence, but is not at liberty to publicly revise his position due to the gag rule? 

This damages Wallace's credibility while giving Bart Ehrman an unmerited boost:


Craig Evans put his reputation on the line as well:


Evans spearheaded a Fragments of Truth documentary. Does the "1C fragment of Mark" figure in that documentary? 

Murder mystery

Some folks love reading murder mysteries. Swiss-Reformed theologian Roger Nicole was a big fan of murder mysteries. I don't read murder mysteries, although I've seen my share of movies and TV dramas based on the genre.

In general, the challenge of a murder mystery is to make the real killer a plausible candidate, so that when he's finally identified, that will be logical, but to throw readers off the scent by making other characters appear to be more plausible candidates. Sometimes the writer makes the reader initially focus on the real killer, to eliminate him from further consideration. Other characters are decoys, false leads, to confuse the reader. Distract the reader from the identity of the real killer.

Columbo was an exception to the formula. Each episode began by showing the crime in progress, so the audience knew the identity of the killer from the get-go. The fun part was the cat and mouse game between Columbo and the killer.

One variation on the murder mystery is where it's not just a past event, but an ongoing threat. For instance, you may have group of friends or classmates who spend vacation on a remote resort island. That's only visited by boat once a week. After they're there, there's a power outage, so they can't contact the mainland. It then turns out that there's a serial killer on the island. Is he from the island, or is he a member of their group? 

They begin to suspect each other. And they begin to reflect on motives. Did they mistreat a member of their party which would motivate him or her to exact revenge? Candidates for the killer are eliminated by process because they die! Increasingly intense when it's down to three survivors. When it's down to two, the remaining characters know who the killer is, since one of them is the killer, and one of them is not–although the audience may not yet know. 

In a well-written Whodunit, once the reader learns the identity of the real killer, that forces him to revise his interpretation. He had a shifting interpretation as he was reading the story (or watching the movie), but now that he knows where the truth lies, that causes him to reinterpret the story from the outset. He can now see how his first impressions were mistaken. Reaching the end requires him to reconsider the beginning, reconsider each step leading up to the end. For the ending may revolutionize what he thought the prior action was leading up to. 

Some Bible stories are like a Whodunit. Job is a classic example. The reader knows something Job doesn't. Same thing in Exodus, where the reader knows something Pharaoh doesn't. 

Likewise, in Gen 22, the reader is told that this is a test. But Abraham doesn't know that. He's in the dark. 

God's command to Abraham is a temporary deception. Isaac is never actually in danger, but for the test to be effective, Abraham must believe that everything is on the line. The stakes couldn't be higher. Structurally, it's like a murder mystery where the truth is postponed through misdirection. 

Sometimes the walk of faith is like a Whodunit. Deliberately confounding. It may only be at the end that it all falls into place. And that will force us to rethink everything that happened before. Maybe we thought we knew what it meant, or maybe it seemed to be pointless. But now it finally makes sense. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Who are the creationists?

http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/2018/05/who-are-creationists.html

MS-13 "animals"

i) Last week, Trump generated a keruffle by calling MS-13 gang members "animals". The media waxed indignant. This plays into Trump's hands. He says things normal people think, the media freaks out, which reinforces popular impression that the media is hopelessly out of touch with normal people. 

ii) Some critics object that calling MS-13 animals dehumanizes the gang members. However, the figurative use of animals in reference to humans imputes bestial traits to some humans. A moral analogy. It doesn't imply that they are actually subhuman, but that they kill without compunction, like savage animals. 

iii) It is, of course true, that humans are moral agents in a way that animals are not. Behavior that's immoral in humans is amoral in animals. That, however, is the point of the comparison. Some humans are so morally callous that they've become like animals in that regard. They have no conscience. 

iv) Of course, there's still a difference. Animals, however vicious, aren't sadistic, whereas MS-13 goes out of its way to be cruel. But that's pedantically parsing an offhand comment. 

v) Scripture uses animal metaphors or similes for humans. These may be metaphors with positive connotations (e.g. dove, lion), ambiguous connotations (e.g. sheep), or pejorative connotations (e.g. wolf, dog, snake, pig, cow).

vi) The reaction is ironic because we live in a time when progressives regard pets as people. When animals enjoy protections denied to babies. When evolutionary theory says humans are animals. So once again we witness the reflexive intellectual schizophrenia of so many pundits. 

Clustered miracles

Accounts of the virgin birth occur in two of the four Gospels. That's not surprising, considering the fact that only two of the four Gospels even have nativity accounts. 

The virgin birth has a litmus test of orthodoxy. Unbelievers regard the virgin birth has a transparent cover story for a prenuptial scandal. 

I presume most of Mary's relatives and neighbors were initially skeptical. But the credibility of the virgin birth doesn't occur in isolation. Suppose you were one of Mary's skeptical in-laws. You think she had premarital sex. Indeed, that's what Joseph thought. He intended to divorce her.

But then Joseph abruptly changes his mind. He tells you about a revelatory dream he had. 

Then Elizabeth becomes pregnant, even though she's well past childbearing years. After Zechariah recovers his speech, he talks about an angelic apparition. 

Then shepherds say angels appeared to them, heralding the birth of Jesus. 

Later, the Magi arrive. 

Maybe you notice the odd behavior of a "star". 

Then Joseph claims to have another revelatory dream, warning him of danger, so he skips town with Mary and the Christchild. Shortly thereafter, soldiers sent by Herod massacre all the young boys. 

Maybe you near rumors about Anna and Simeon in the Temple.

Finally, Jesus grows up to be a renown exorcist and miracle-worker.

Mary's explanation, which struck you as initially highly implausible, becomes highly plausible in light of so many other miracles clustering around the person of Jesus. 

Is Jesus Lady Wisdom?

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/05/dancing_with_the_distinguished.html

“Pope Francis” Names 14 New Cardinals

“Pope Francis” has named 14 new Cardinals, 11 of whom are of voting age, and may vote for his “successor” in the event of the death of this current pope. For whom will they vote?

It is said that the Roman Catholic Church thinks in terms of centuries, not in years. So, we might consider that a lot of the bickering back-and forth among the Traditionist, conservative, and progressivist Roman Catholics is just so much tempest in a teapot – a lot of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing, because it’s “the Church” and especially “the Magisterium”, and especially “the Papal Magisterium” that sets the direction of things.

But that doesn’t mean that the current crop of Church officials won’t have their shorter-term agendas. As I’ve written before, “Pope Francis” is in a kind of horse race now, to have named enough Cardinals of his stripe, to assure the election of another liberal pope once he’s gone. Here’s what that looked like just about a year ago (May 25, 2017):

At the present time, the number of voting totals in the Ratzinger/Wojtyla block is 72 – there is no guarantee that all 72 of those would “vote conservative” in any event (many of them likely voted for Bergoglio in the first place – that’s how he won). On the other hand, the Bergoglio total is 44 now, going up to 49 by June 28. That’s a difference of only 23 in favor of the Ratzinger/Wojtyla side. Fully 30 of the voting-age Cardinals are 75 or older, which means that over the next five years, almost half of the Ratzinger/Wojtyla Cardinals will become ineligible to vote (at age 80).

The liberal-leaning “National Catholic Reporter” has helpfully given us the following tally:

The June 29 ceremony adding the new cardinals will mark the first time in his five-year papacy that Francis has appointed a plurality of the prelates who will one day choose who succeeds him as head of the global Catholic Church. After the ceremony, Francis will have named 59 of 125 cardinal electors. Forty-seven of the remaining electors were named by retired Pope Benedict XVI; 19 by John Paul II.

So that breaks out:

 


2018


2017


“Pope Francis”


59


49


JP2 + BXVI


66


72


As we can see, “Pope Francis” is still just about seven Cardinals behind – but again, as I’ve noted, there’s no guarantee that any of the 66 JP2+BXVI Cardinals wouldn’t have voted for him anyway.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Field guide to atheism

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/seven-types-atheism/

Don't look back!

Here's a parody of Catholic natural law reasoning on artificial contraception:

Don't look back
By MICHAEL FRAYN
It is with a close and warmly sympathetic interest that all men of good will, whatever their creed, are following the vigorous debate now going on within the Carthaginian Monolithic Church on the vexed question of rear-view mirrors.
It has long been the teaching of the Church that looking backwards while travelling forwards is categorically and explicitly forbidden by God, since it was for doing this that He visited instant fossilization upon Lot's wife. In this context "looking back" has always been interpreted as frustrating the natural forward gaze of the traveler, whether by turning the head (visus interruptus), or by the interposition of a mechanical device such as a mirror. Carthaginian Monolithic theologians claim that looking back is not only divinely prohibited, but can also be seen by the light of reason to be contrary to natural law, since it is patently interfering with nature to inhibit the inherent tendency of fast-moving objects to collide, and is frustrating the natural consequences of the act of driving—the possibility that an heir may succeed to the driver's estate. Moreover, they argue, there is a strong aesthetic objection to looking backward, since it must plainly detract from the spontaneity of the driving act, and they point out how much more insipid life becomes if the spice of the unexpected is removed altogether. It must in all fairness be pointed out that the keen interest of the monolithic clergy in preserving spontaneity and avoiding insipidity is entirely altruistic, since they do not themselves drive. Those arguments notwithstanding, the Church has long recognized the need to prevent cars crashing into the backs of one another indiscriminately, and Monolithics are permitted to avoid it by abstaining from driving altogether, or by driving only during the so-called "safe period", between midnight and 6 a.m., when the chances of being crashed into are greatly reduced. Nevertheless, there is a sympathetic—indeed anguished—realization among many Monolithic leaders today that self-restraint alone may be inadequate to meet the situation. The question was less crucial in the days when the main effect of the doctrine was to prohibit Monolithics from sitting with their back to the engine in railway carriages. But the increasing popularity of the motorcar is putting an intolerable burden upon the accident wards of the world's hospitals. There is intense sympathy, too, for the great strain undergone by Monolithic drivers who have been run into from behind perhaps 13 or 14 times already, and who now scarcely dare to drive home to see their wives if it involves turning right, or pulling out to pass a parked car. To is to this agonizing problem that "the Box" may provide an answer. "The Box" is a rearward radar scanning device which scientists are still testing. Monolithics believe that scanning aerial cannot be said to "look" back in the natural sense of looking, and that the radar screen does not deflect the natural forward gaze of the driver, like a mirror, but is a natural part of his natural forward view. It is emphasized that even if "the Box" were to be accepted, it could never be used for merely selfish purposes, to avoid a crash simply because a crash was not desired, but only where a driver had already had three or four crashes, and there were genuine grounds for believing that another one might have serious effects upon his health. All the same, some authorities doubt if the box could ever be an acceptable compromise. They believe that the safe period principle is more reliable—making absolutely sure that the road behind the car was kept clear by scattering perhaps nails or broken glass, perhaps small high explosives or napalm bombs. The Heights, Volume XLVII, Number 15, 17 February 1967

Christianity Considered

http://www.booksataglance.com/author-interviews/interview-with-john-frame-author-of-christianity-considered-a-guide-for-skeptics-and-seekers/

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sola traditio

At the bottom of this post I'm going to quote two Catholic bloggers. The Francis pontificate is becoming a clarifying event for doctrinally-minded Catholics. There are, of course, many Catholics who remain blissfully oblivious to the civil war currently raging in the hierarchy and Catholic commentariat. Thus far it's what Ross Douthat dubs an "elite crisis" since it's primary the concern of prelates and Catholic intellectuals. However, that will have a trickle down effect. The side that wins will dominate church policy for the laity. 

John-Paul II had RadTrad critics. They were especially incensed by his interfaith summit at Assisi. However, mainstream Catholic conservatives generally felt that John-Paul II was in their corner. They held the center. That continued with Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI), who mended fences with the RadTrad wing. He was succeeding at solidifying two factions on the right. But age and palace intrigue sabotaged his papacy. Not having the stamina to ferret out the fifth column in the Vatican, he withdrew. 

But Francis is forcing Catholic elites to take sides. The conservative center is rapidly shrinking. Middle-ground is disappearing. No room for Catholics who identified with the vision of Ratzinger and John-Paul II. Catholics of that stripe are being squeezed out. If they wish to remain Catholic, they have few options. They can move left, move right, or wait out the clock, hoping the next pope will swing the pendulum back to the Ratzinger/John-Paul II era. 

But some aren't waiting. On the one hand we have blank check Catholics. Whatever the latest pope says is truth for now. We go with that. If the next pope contradicts it, we whip out our erasers. Truth is relative. The deposit of faith is written in pencil rather than ink. That way lines Etch-a-Sketch Catholicism. 

There's a certain logic to this alternative. Consider the standard Catholic retort when debating Protestants: "By what authority do you interpret Scripture? That's just your private opinion!"

On that view, tradition is ultimately whatever the latest pope says tradition is. He's the "final interpretive authority" (a la Bryan Cross). As Pius IX put it, "I am Tradition!" 

In the past, there's been a gentlemen's agreement or honor system: the pope has absolute authority so long as he doesn't act like a despot. It was like the Roman senate conferring dictatorial powers on a magistrate to deal with an emergency situation. He was supposed to relinquish his dictatorial powers after the crisis passed. 

But once you give the pope that unchecked authority, you can't take it back or make him give it back. You've created a doomsday machine. It has an on-switch but no off-switch. 

The blank check approach is the reductio ad absurdum of Catholic apologetics, where they defend to the death the orthodoxy du jour. What they defended yesterday they attack today, what they attack today they defend tomorrow, depending on script changes. "These are my principles! If you don't like 'em, well, I've got others!" 

Another problem is that on this view, since there's no independent interpretation of tradition, there's no independent criterion to assess a religious claimant. Tradition has no intrinsic meaning or authority. It's whatever the latest pope says it is. So tradition ceases to be a yardstick of orthodoxy. Or at best it becomes a rubber yardstick, which will expand or contract as required. 

To be a faithful Catholic apologist under the Francis pontificate, you drop your pants, bend over, clasp your ankles, and take a deep breath. Some apologists like Dave Armstrong are willing to assume the mandatory posture to retain their press credentials as Rome's loyal spokesmen. 

Is there a tipping-point? If the policies of the Catholic church become indistinguishable from mainline denominations, will they pretend that Rome is essentially different so long as there's no official retraction?  

On the other hand are Catholics who measure popes by tradition. The RadTrad ranks are swelling with refugees who held the center under the Ratzinger/John-Paul II regime, but now find themselves banished. Now they're falling back on classic RadTrad arguments. 

Why weren't they RadTrads all along? In theory, maybe they always believed that popes were answerable to tradition, but it wasn't until Francis forced the issue that tradition and the papacy came unstuck. 

This exposes tensions in Catholic apologetics, because there's a side to Catholic apologetics which accentuates alleged continuity with tradition. Protestants are guilty of introducing innovations into what "the Church" always believed–so we're told. By that logic, even popes are accountable to tradition. But they didn't think that was a real problem since they didn't believe it was possible for tradition and the papacy to be at loggerheads. 

A problem with the RadTrad appeal is that you can't simultaneously assail private interpretation while you attack the papacy for breaking with tradition. You must pick one or the other. If you use tradition to measure the papacy, then you're conceding the legitimacy of individual interpretation. You're conceding that it isn't necessary to start with an "authoritative" interpretation. But in that event, Protestants have the same right to pull rank on the papacy by appealing to their interpretation of Scripture. So it's a double-edged sword. 

Of course, "tradition" changes over the centuries, so that's not much different from the blank check position if you take the long view. RadTrads pick an arbitrary chronological benchmark. Nothing before or after that. 

If Catholicism was the only option, it would be an intractable dilemma. Allowed to run their course, unstable positions self-destruct as latent contradictions become patent and mutually annihilating.  

Finding the church

We believe in one holy catholic, and apostolic church.

That's a traditional definition of the church, from the Nicene creed. Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox use that as a frame of reference. The terms are ambiguous, and become ciphers in the hands of high-church partisans. They don't use those criteria to define the true church, but use their denomination to define the criteria. The criteria become mirror images of their denomination. 

Catholic converts and apologists like Bryan Cross harp on "the visible church". Where do you find the visible church? Protestants don't have a visible church. 

Here's another definition of the church:

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

That's a nifty compact definition. A functional definition.

i) What constitutes apostolic teaching is illustrated throughout the Book of Acts. The apostolic kerygma centered on the mission of Christ. Key events in the mission of Christ, interpreted through the lens of the OT. And Luke's Gospel supplies background information.

Nowadays, the teaching of the apostles is preserved in Scripture. 

ii) "Fellowship" is a broad concept for the communal life of the church. Pooling resources as well as a common faith (cf. 4:32). Alms. Corporate worship. 

iii) Does "breaking of bread" (cf. v46-47) allude to the eucharist or ordinary communal Christian meals? False dichotomy inasmuch as that formal distinction didn't exist at the time. The eucharist was incorporated into common meals (cf. 1 Cor 10-11).

iv) Private and corporate prayer have always been fixtures of Christian life, a carryover from Judaism. That's illustrated in the Book of Acts, as well as other NT documents. 

This is where you find "the church". You find the church whenever and whenever you find groups of Christians who exemplify Acts 2:42, both inside and outside of church. 

For further reading:

Darrell Bock, Acts (Baker 2007), 149-51.

Craig Keener, Acts 1:1-2:47 (Baker 2012), 1000-1011. 

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Eerdmans 2009), 159-62.  

Eckhard Schnable, Acts (Zondervan 2012), 177-80.