Saturday, September 15, 2007

Prayers to Saints a Pot-Kettle Scenario

Recently (by the time this has been posted, "recently" will be about three months) Dave Armstrong wrote: "And (very unlike [Dr. White]) I will actually reply to and refute his objections whenever they are offered."

I respond: Actually, Dave, no you don't. To take one recent example, you failed to reply to or refute Dr. White's argument that the keys were given to all the apostles in Matthew 18:18. You did block quote Dr. White's argument, but you never addressed the substance of it. (anyone can see for themselves here)

On top of that, Dr. White could easily point out that unlike you, he has actually refuted the strongest objections presented by the other side.

Furthermore, aside from snide remarks like "fallacy-land" and "like a spouse snoring or a child who lisps or whines," you don't address the argument presented.

You don't establish what you know you need to establish, namely that "asking a dead saint to pray is just as reasonable and biblical as asking a friend on this earth to pray."

Communication with the dead is contrary to common sense (the dead have lost the use of their physical senses, because they have been disembodied) and is a species of necromancy, specifically prohibited in the Old Testament.

The excuse that those in Christ who are dead are alive spiritually is a red herring. Those who are alive but in rebellion against God are dead spiritually - yet there is nothing wrong with communicating with them. The prohibition on consulting with dead is the prohibition on consulting with the spirits of the deceased. The witch of Endor was a bad person, and what she did was wrong. She knew it was wrong, and Saul knew it was wrong. She was afraid to do what Saul asked, because Saul himself had carried out God's just judgment on witches throughout the land.

Dave presents a 7 part argument, of which 7 is the conclusion, 1-2 and 6 are generally acceptable.

The question then revolves around 3, 4, and 5.

Number 3 is based on faulty logic. Just because the prayer of a righteous man avails much, does not mean that prayers are more powerful the more righteous the person praying is. But this is not central to the argument. We can set it aside, even accept that it is true, and it doesn't matter, because ...

Number 4 "Dead saints are 'more alive' than we are," is not only false, but obviously false. They are not "more alive," they are only alive spiritually, whereas we who have received the gift of regeneration are alive both spiritually and physically. No, Dave, we are "more alive" than those who are dead. The problem is this argument is a throw-away. Dave can admit that number 4 is wrong, and still maintain the argument, because the saints are spiritually alive.

Turning to number 5, Number 5 is independently wrong as well. Armstrong wrote: "Dead saints are aware of what happens on the earth (Heb 12:1 etc.), and indeed, are portrayed as praying for us in heaven (Rev 6:9-10)."

The problem, of course, is that Hebrews 12:1 does not say or suggest that dead saints are aware of what happens on earth. On the contrary, Hebrews 12:1 says that we are aware of the lives of dead saints - of their faith while they were here on earth, as set forth in the previous chapter. The "great cloud of witnesses" testify to us, not about us, and Dave's failure to recognize this simply truth is reflection of the detail of his exegesis (none).

Revelation 6:9-10 likewise fails to say what Dave claims, rather it states:

9And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

These dead saints are neither praying for us, nor even about us, but are rather shouting for justice upon the wicked, i.e. for judgment day!

Thus, we can see that Armstrong's claims that Dr. White does not interact with him sufficiently are the pot calling the kettle black: Mr. Armstrong himself not only fails meaningfully to interact with Dr. White's response, Mr. Armstrong misrepresents Scripture and demonstrates the positional weakness of the Roman Catholic position on prayers to the departed.


Further Roundup of Kurschner Responses

The present author recently responded to Alan Kurschner's "8 Reasons." (link to the present author's rebuttal and the original article) Assuming, however, that there might be other responses, the present author went looking and found:

One other commenter suggests that Kurschner is unfairly lumping majority text advocates in with KJVO "kooks" (the commenter's word, not mine), and provides detailed responses to each of Kurschner's arguments in a thread format with other commentators interspersed. (link) It's really worth clicking through and reading the detailed response, even if one does not end up agreeing with the author.

I think that Kurschner is actually attempting to respond to KJVO-ism, and is less interested in the remainder of the majority text advocates. Perhaps, in the process, Kurschner fails to recognize the difference between the two, as well as the weakness of the arguments as applied to anything beyond KJV-only-ism.

Other than that, this author hasn't seen too much of a further response to Kurschner's article, though perhaps something is being overlooked. If any reader has links to other treatments of the article, those links would be most welcome.

First Rebuttal in Monergism Debate

The soteriology (monergism vs. synergism) debate (link) is progressing. Matt has now provided his introduction (link), and I am providing a rebuttal to it.

The reader may recall that the present author had previously summarized Monergism as:

"God's grace ensures the salvation of those upon whom God chooses to bestow grace."

Matt has countered by defining Monergism as:

"God has made salvation guaranteed for those he has chosen, having already determined who will perish."

Matt's modification contains a subtle shift that was perhaps not intended, and so the present author would like to address a potential misconception. Monergism teaches that salvation is all the work of God. Monergism does not teach the reverse, that perdition is also all the work of God. Instead, Monergism asserts that perdition is the work of man. Monergism denies "works salvation" but teaches "works perdition." Those who perish do so by their own "merit." (Adam earned death for himself and his children, but Christ earned life for his brethren.)

Specifically, mankind earns perdition by sinning, for as Scripture teaches:

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monergism adopts the asymmetry of Romans 6:23, teaching that perdition is merited, and eternal life is given gratuitously to those upon whom God chooses to bestow favor.

The effect, of course, is that those whom God passes over for eternal life receive what they deserve. Consequently, the point that God's decree determines (albeit negatively) who will perish is not entirely wrong - we certainly would not say that the destiny of the reprobate is uncertain. Nevertheless, the way of expressing that fact as "having already determined who will perish," would seem to be slightly off the mark. Furthermore, some monergists (sublapsarians) would explicitly hold that God first decreed to permit all men to fall, and then decreed to save some. Perhaps, however, that level of detail may be rendered superfluous by consideration of the three questions asked.

To set the stage for the three questions, Matt posed the following hypothetical scenario:
Two boys each have an inflatable raft and a group of kittens which they place into their respective rafts, which are in turn placed into a river. The first boy ties a string to some of the kittens. The second boy uses a plank to create a bridge between the raft and the shore. Both sets of kittens poke holes in their rafts, causing them to begin sinking.
The first question follows.

1.) Assuming there is a very good reason for kittens to be in a raft, is either boy justified in putting more kittens on his sinking raft?

This question is a bit puzzling, because it is unclear whether the "very good reason" extends to rafts in general or to a sinking raft in particular. If the latter, then it seems that the question answers itself: if there is a very good reason, that very good reason would seem to be the justification. If the former, then the answer would seem to be: "it depends." Specifically, it depends on whether this "very good reason" is negated in any way by the fact that these particular rafts are sinking.

For example, if the kittens are being placed into the raft because they love floating about the pond, then the fact that the rafts are sinking would negate that reason. If, on the other hand, the kittens are being placed into the raft because there is a fox on shore that will eat them immediately otherwise, well then perhaps there is still justification - as they will live a little longer in a sinking raft than on the land.

Perhaps this question could be clarified.

The present author supposes that the question may be aimed at the general idea of putting someone into harm's way. Normally (in the absence of justification) we are not permitted to do that to other people. Hopefully this answers the question, but Matt should feel free to clarify in his first rebuttal.

The second question was:

2.) The first boy rescues kittens by pulling on their string and dragging them to shore. The second boy rescues kittens by laying treats along the plank, by coaxing them, and by throwing down additional planks for any kittens who are seeking to escape the raft. Both boys save some kittens and not others. Which boy behaved more appropriately? Why?

Again, the question might seem to require a bit of clarification as to the foregoing issue of the very good reason for putting the kittens in the raft in the first place.

The determination of the correct answer to (2) will depend on whether the boys (either or both of them) had a duty to rescue the kittens. If the boys have a duty to rescue the kittens (either because they unjustifiably put the kittens in harm's way, or because they have some kind of general duty to rescue others), then it would seem that the more active attempt at rescuing the kittens would be more appropriate.

There is a bit of twist, though, because there is an open question about whether the string-pulling boy could have pulled all the strings. If he could have, and didn't, and if he had a duty to save as many as he could, then his passing over some of the kittens would seem to be unjust.

Likewise the plank-laying boy would have to be judged according to whether such an approach is a reasonable approach for getting kittens off a sinking raft. In other words, while simply passing over some kittens that the first boy had a duty to save would be bad, it would be worse for the other boy to leave it up to the kittens, if he had a good reason to expect that such an approach would not be successful.

Before a counter-examples are provided, let's address the third question:

3.) You're a kitten. Which raft would you rather be on?

If I were aware of the danger, I'd prefer the raft where I could exert my own effort rather than leaving my salvation from the raft up to the string-pulling boy. If I were unaware of the danger but hungry - probably still the plank raft. If I were neither aware of the danger nor hungry, in hindsight I'd prefer to be on the string-pulling raft.


1) The Rich Man

A certain rich man has a large family and a beautiful house. One day, when the man is away taking care of some business, five thieves break into the house, plunder its goods, torture and kill the man's family, and finally burn down his house. Their crime spree, however, is cut short when the men are caught by the authorities.

Suppose that despite all that the five thieves did wrong, the rich man decides to help two of the five thieves in their criminal defense. He hires them the best lawyer, and pleads for mercy to the judge on their behalf, even offering to serve their prison time or receive capital punishment in their place.

Has the man acted unjustly because he has only assisted two of the five, while permitting the others to receive what they richly deserve? Is such an act "cruel" of the rich man? Surely not.

2) The Potter

A certain potter goes out and finds a large clump of clay. He brings it back to his shop and makes from it four pieces. One piece is a beautiful vase, which the potter then paints in gold leaf and enamel and places in his front hall to be shown off for its beauty.

A second part of the lump is used to make a frame for one of the potter's favorite photos. This frame is given little ornamentation, and no gold leaf.

With a third part of the lump, the potter makes a chamber-pot. This too he paints, but mostly to keep its surface smooth so that it can serve its purpose by his bed at night.

Finally, the potter makes from the fourth part of the lump a small disk to be used as a clay pigeon. He does not paint this piece, but leaves it unornamented.

Has the potter been unjust or cruel toward any of the parts of the lump? Does any of the parts of the lump have the right to complain that they were not treated fairly? Is the potter "cruel" towards the clay? Surely not!

3) Two Kittens

Suppose that there are two kittens in a sinking raft. One kitten is given the choice about whether to stay in the raft or go, and the other kitten is pulled out of the sinking raft by the scruff of the neck. Which kitten would you rather be? Surely the latter.

Suppose again that there are two kittens in a raft but that, rather than gradually sinking, the raft is about to be hit be a torpedo. Suppose also that the kittens cannot appreciate the danger the torpedo poses. Would you, as a kitten, prefer a boy who simply tells you about the torpedo and tries to persuade you of the danger, or a boy who grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you to safety? Surely the latter.

4) Two Lifeguards

Suppose you develop a cramp while swimming. Would would you prefer a lifeguard who merely makes your rescue possible, or a lifeguard that grabs out of the water and administers CPR? Surely the latter.

The point of these four counter examples is this:

1) We all richly deserve to perish. We are not fuzzy innocent kittens that someone else has placed in harm's way. We have harmed the rich man, he has not harmed us.

2) God could have made us all for the purpose of having lives of suffering and destruction, without being unjust or cruel. The potter could have operated a clay pigeon factory, or a chamber pot assembly line. It was his clay to do with as he pleased.

3) It is better to be saved without dignity than to perish with dignity. Better a living dog than a dead lion.

4) A savior that saves is better than a savior that merely makes salvation possible. A lifeguard who wants to save tries hard.

Thus, contrary to Matt's assertions, the present author suggests that monergism presents God as powerful and man as weak, but not God as cruel or unjust. Monergism also does not teach that men are bound for eternal damnation "regardless of their choices," but as a punishment for their sin. Monergism teaches works-perdition. Monergism also teaches that men freely choose to rebel against God. The destruction of mankind is caused by the choice of mankind. Salvation of the elect, however, is caused by a choice of God.

Contrary to apparent implicit assertions of Matt (perhaps unintended and colored by the present author's previous interactions with other synergists), God does not have the same relationship to us as we do to our fellow men, or even as we do to little kittens. Instead, God's relationship to mankind is more like the relationship between a Potter and Clay.

God did not have a duty to prevent man from sinning in the first place, and God does not have a duty to rescue mankind from the effects of sin. Consequently, there is nothing unjust or cruel about God choosing to turn some from destruction and leave others on that path.

Matt makes one claim in particular that seems to this author to betray a mistaken assumption about God's duty to man. Matt writes: "Since God is the sole determiner of whether or not a person is created, if God is also the sole determiner of that [person's] eternal state, then justice demands that God saves all those he creates." Justice demands only that people receive what they deserve. No sinner deserves salvation, and all men freely sin. Instead, sinners deserve eternal condemnation. Thus, what justice requires is that all men be eternally condemned.

The gospel is about another way for justice to be satisfied, namely by the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died to satisfy God's justice and reconcile God to those who Christ represented as federal head. Christ standing in someone's place is gratuitous, and based on love by Christ for that person, not based on that person deserving or meriting escape from judgment in any way.

Even if the synergists were correct about how salvation is administered, God could have permitted all mankind to perish, without making a way of escape possible. It seems hard to believe that Matt would deny such a fact. If he does not deny that, however, it seems as though the remainder of his argument for eliminating monergism unravels. If God does not have to save anyone, then how God chooses to save people is completely up to Him: he could do so out of pre-love (monergism's explanation), arbitrarily (the usual misrepresentation of monergism), or any other way. No matter which way he picks, he is neither cruel nor unjust. In fact, no matter which way he picks he is kind and merciful.

Now, Matt has not presented a positive case for synergism, but let's flip the tables a bit, and take a shot across synergism's bow.

P1) Let us suppose that God wants to save at least some people, and that this was God's purpose in sending Jesus Christ into the world.

P2) Let us further suppose that God wants to save this group of at least some people on the basis of his love for them.

Scripture seems to teach both of those propositions quite clearly. In fact, many (probably most) synergists take the position that God wants to save not only some, but all people. Furthermore, most synergists will attribute this desire to God's love, not - in any way - to God's justice.

If, however, those to propositions are true, something has to give. Because from those two premises, we can conclude:

C1) God will exercise His power to save those whom he loves and wants to save. (By coupling those premises with the idea that God's intent is sincere.)
C2) God's exercise of His power will succeed in its intended purpose. (By coupling those premises and C1 with the idea that God is omnipotent.)
C3) All whom God wants to save, will be saved. (By coupling C2 and P1, with the result of universal salvation of those whom God intends to save.)

Although it is not required as essential to synergism, synergism usually arises from an attempt to explain verses that appear (to some) to suggest that God wants to save each and every person. In essence, synergism denies C2 above. It states that God exercises His power by sending Christ to die and giving prevenient grace, but denies that God's exercise of power will fully succeed. Alternatively, sometimes synergism argues that God has other competing intents besides saving everyone, and that these other intents prevent God from fully exercising His power.

Neither of the two options provided in order to bolster synergism are supported by Scripture. Instead, the former is positively at odds with the doctrine of divine omnipotence, and the latter is special pleading and also tends to undermine the alleged love of God toward those whom He wants to save.

To illustrate: consider a sinking raft full of kittens. Suppose that a boy claims to love the kittens very much and to desire their salvation from drowning. Nevertheless, suppose that the boy (a) does not exercise all his power to save them or (b) exercises all his power, and nevertheless some kittens drown. In situation (a), we would question the strength and sincerity of the boy's love or desire to save the kittens. In situation (b), we would chalk up the boy's failure to save all the kittens to a lack of ability: i.e. to the boy's impotence.

In essence, in the absence of universal salvation, those are the choices provided to a synergist who (like the typical synergist) asserts that God loves and desires to save each and every person. So, that should be the counter-question:

Matt, in your view of synergism, is God unable or merely unwilling to save everyone?

Let me be clear about something, monergism asserts that God is not willing (unconditionally) to save each and every person, but that God instead has mercy on whom He will have mercy. The point is not that monergism provides a way to reconcile God's universal desire to save with a limited number of people actually being saved, but that synergism's primary raison d'etre is false: the only escape from an assertion that God is unwilling to save each and every person, is that God is unable to save each and every person, and that assertion denies God's omnipotence.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Lunacy - of a different sort

Godith asks:
Totally unrelated to anything:
Ps. 121:6 Why would God assure His people that the moon would not strike them by night? Were they irrationally afraid of the sky falling (Chicken Little Syndrome) or meteors or lunar eclipses? Just a nagging question.

It could also be that they were afraid of becoming lunatics (recall that Latin: luna = moon), werewolves, or the like.

None of those explanations, however, seem to be the most obvious explanation. The most obvious explanation is that in the ancient world, both the sun and the moon were thought to be the most powerful things in the created order. Consider, for example, their prominent roles in most pagan religions. This role is reflected in the English days of the week: "Sunday" took first place, followed by "Monday."

The fact that God is more powerful than the sun and the moon should be a comfort to any Christian, as God is able to protect us not only from wild animals and dangerous men, but even from "the stars" - the influence of the zodiak.

It is - in some sense - lunacy for Christians to be afraid of anything created, for God is the creator.


GNRHead Follow-up

A while back, GNRHead (William) had provided some comments to a rebuttal the present author had provided. GNRHead disputed the idea that Tertullian was the first early church father of record to identify Peter as "the rock" in Matthew 16. At that time he referred us to his videos. The present author can report that he has now watched every YouTube video that GNRHead has produced. GNRHead lists six church fathers that alleged identify Peter with Matthew 16's rock.

Without getting into whether these fathers were misquoted, we can dismiss GNRHead's claim on the following basis:

1) Ephraim of Syria lived ca. 306-373;
2) Hillary of Poitier lived ca. 315-367;
3) Cyril of Jerusalem lived ca. 315-387;
4) Gregory of Nazianzus lived ca. 330-390;
5) Jerome lived ca. 347-420; and
6) Augustine of Hippo lived ca. 354-430.

In contrast, Tertullian lived ca. 155-230.

So, no, the alleged testimony of those six men in no way substantiates the claim that "all the church fathers believed Peter was the Rock." The claim remains unproven, as GNRHead remains unable to demonstrate even a single (much less "all") church father who lived before the middle of the third century who believed that Peter was Matt. 16's "Rock" upon which the church was built.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Responding to Critiques

Although it is not perfect, and although I in no way endorse either the author's opinion (on this issue or in general) or any of the substance of his comments, the form of this response (link) was a model that could be adopted by others whom James White has validly criticized (such as D.A., J.P., J.A., or A.S.). It attempts to clarify what was originally intended, while humbly acknowledging error and keeping both the number of "my critic is an idiot" comments and the number of "I've been misrepresented" comments to a minimum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So Benedict XVI said that, so what?

A couple months ago, the pope made a statement allegedly clarifying what Vatican II meant about the relationship between salvation and the Roman Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) still states:
"841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.""

So, the question is, does the CCC say that Muslims are saved or not?
After all, there are two ways to read the statement, either that the plan of salvation includes them as part of the mission field or (more naturally) that the plan of salvation includes people being saved by being devoted Muslims.

This further comment does not particularly help:
"848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.""

I'm inclined to believe that the Official Catholic View (OCV) is that Muslims are saved but stupid (i.e. not Catholics through no fault of their own).

Consider this comment from Cardinal Shen:
As Christians we should not be paralyzed by fear, but should find new ways and means to keep open the doors of dialogue and mutual understanding with different religions. This is especially important with the Muslims who are unjustly perceived as evil by a large majority of people.

Unjustly perceived as evil? Unjustly? Really?

In contrast, Cardinal Sanchez seems to take the extreme opposite view:

Pastoral charity for brother priests and for the faithful should not make the priest forget the missionary requirements of dialogue with and evangelization of the "de-christianized," non-Catholics and non-Christians present in the area where he lives (ecumenical dialogue, dialogue with the Muslims and believers of the traditional religions).

Really? Non-Catholic Christians are "de-christianized"??? They need to be subject to evangelization? Interesting!

Likewise, JP2 canonized Ignatius Maloyan, a Roman Catholic bishop who was allegedly martyred by Turkish Muslims in 1915 for refusing to convert to Islam. Ignatius Maloyan allegedly answered that he would never betray Christ and His Church. His words, according to JP2, were: "It does not please God that I should deny Jesus my Saviour. To shed my blood for my faith is the strongest desire of my heart," to which JP2 added: "May his example enlighten all those who today wish to be witnesses of the Gospel for the glory of God and for the salvation of their neighbour."

So, are the Muslims saved or not? Must they become Christians to be saved or not? And are non-Catholic Christians saved? What truly is the OCV, and isn't this just a little bit important?


Catholic Alleged Impenetrability

Impenetrability (lack of understandability to outsiders) can be a real problem in many situations. It is a real problem, for example, to the doctrine of "Total Depravity," which is mistaken by many (such as, apparently, Art Sippo) to mean that everyone is as depraved as they possibly can be.

Nevertheless, in Roman Catholic Apolegetical circles a standard part of the fare has been to assert that virtually all critics have not been able to comprehend Catholicism. That standard response is typified by this quotation that I gleaned from the signature block of an internet poster:

"There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church...."


I do not know whether the quotation is genuine or the context of the quotation. I also do not know whether Archbishop Sheen is a Roman Catholic archbishop. The point is that the comment illustrates a typical line of argument by RC apologists today: nobody knows what we believe.

You'd think that the most popular denomination would be able to have at least a couple of hundred critics who really don't like the doctrines of the veneration of Mary and the "Saints," who really don't like the doctrine of papal infallibility, and who really don't like the doctrine of indulgences and the treasury of merit.

There are many misinformed critics, but there are also many sound critics. RC responses that group both camps into one risk exposure, even if they persuade many to come "home to Rome" in the short term, once the converts start to recognize that - in fact - many notable critics are actually more familiar with Catholicism than is their parish priest.

Oh, and there are far more than 100 people in the U.S. (or even in a smaller country like Wales) who hate God and who hate what Christianity universally is, whether or not they hate Roman Catholicism.