Saturday, July 12, 2008

Two Reasons I'm not a Romanist

Because (1) you can do everything Rome tells you to do and still perish, and (2) the religion of Rome makes no promise to be the unique way to heaven. (link) Now, obviously, these are not the traditional doctrines (pre-Vatican II), but I don't think I could be a Sedavacantist for other reasons.

Warning: the priest in the video uses some ironic bad language in establishing point (1), and actually goes so far as to claim that atheists and Hindus will probably get to faster than him (an idea that I've never seen dogmatically defined anywhere in the documents published by the Vatican).

Second Warning: undoubtedly there are going to be folks who call themselves "Catholics" who disagree with this priest. Of course, 99% of them are not priests themselves. Regardless, even if someone will say that this priest just misrepresents "Catholicism," then the question is how those who make that claim feel qualified to make it?

I think the answer to that question is intuitive: that we exercise judgment (personal judgment) and appeal to a higher authority. Eventually, though, appeals to higher authority run out. Where's the stopping point? For the Reformed believer, the answer is - essentially - Scriptures. We accept the Scriptures on faith, and they are the authority by which we determine whether our churches are right. We do that, because Scripture is of greater authority than men - even than the men of the church. We could accept our churches on faith, but then we'd have no protection in the event that our church apostatized.

Since God has not promised to keep individual churches (even the church at Rome) from apostasy, it seems more reasonable to put our faith only in that which is deserving of it, namely the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments: because by trusting the Bible we are trusting God who communicated clearly in it.


Response to the Latest Gabcast of Godismyjudge

I apologize to any readers who are getting tired of the back-and-forth betwixt Godismyjudge (Dan) and myself. Dan has a new 43 minute audio response (link) to my latest blog post (link). I really don't like that format of response for several reasons: it takes longer to listen to him speak than to read what he writes, going back to find something is easier when scanning through text, and putting it in writing makes it easier to locate using Internet search engines, for the edification of others.

I didn't really appreciate Dan's suggestions that I am "shifting the question." I'm simply looking for clarification from Dan about what he means by "absolutely impossible." I also didn't really agree with Dan's characterizations of Edwards' discussion of the will, and I didn't particularly agree with his attempted three-fold division of Calvinistic thought on the subject.

Frankly, all those things are tangents, and I'd rather get past them to the meat of the matter. Here's my proposal going forward. To be clear, I'm not trying to "shift [any] question[s]" but simply to clarify.

For the sake of discussion, let's take the following model of God from my previous post (which, unless I missed it in the 3/4 hour presentation, Dan failed to address):

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God's timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God's acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

Question of clarification: What is the reference point that Dan has in mind for his question about absolute impossibility?

My best guess based on listening to his gabcast is between (2) and (3).

But perhaps Dan has some other point in the logical order in mind. Thus, I will respectfully request that he just point out what he has in mind, in terms of the order above, or to explain why that order is unacceptable etc., rather than try to provide a comprehensive answer for each question.

I also want to again direct Dan to consider what Turretin himself has to say about this topic, which can be found at pages 218-220 of the English printed edition of Volume 1 of Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Pars Prima, Locus Tertia, Quae. XIV).

Finally, I have a question for Dan, is God loving himself and/or his creation an action of God's in terms of the question that Dan is trying to ask? In other words, is Dan asking me to answer the question about absolute impossibility without reference to the Love of God for Himself and/or his creation?


What Place Has the Highest Crime Rate?

According to the Catholic News Service, "Per capita, Vatican City has the highest crime rate in the world." (read more) I was surprised to hear that. I'm guessing that if one considered violent crime, the ranking would be practically inverted because of the ability to control security there. Then again, who knows. Bottom line: Vatican City is no more heavenly than any other city on earth.


UPDATE: as Ben notes in the comments below, part of the reason for the high crime rate is that there are an enormous number of tourists, which draws pickpockets (who - in turn - contribute disproportionately to the criminal statistics for the burg.

"Jesus Loves Me" - Critique of Hymn 633

One thing I really disliked about Pastor Shishko's cross-examination of Dr. White in their debate on baptism was Pastor Shishko's suggestion that believers should teach their children to sing Trinity Hymnal #633, which the hymnal indexes, "Yes, Jesus loves me!"

First of all, the only religious songs authorized in Scripture are those found in the Psalter - of which there are but 150. Even leaving aside the second commandment, however, and the specific application of that commandment to songs of worship, #633 of the Trinity Hymnal is not a song that has particular doctrinal strength, as we will see below.

Stanza 1
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.

The Bible does not tell either all children or even children of believers that Jesus necessarily loves them. I realize that this flies in the face of Arminian theology, but within the context of my comments to Pastor Shishko, we can take for granted that Pastor Shishko also rejects Arminian theology as unscriptural.

It is true that Jesus is strong, and there is a sense in which not only little children but all of Creation belongs to Him. Is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Therefore, they are His. That said, many little children are not the recipients of the special saving love that Jesus has toward the elect. Both Jacob and Esau were children of believing Isaac, but God loved Jacob and hated Esau from before their birth, as Scripture tells us.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

This refrain expresses the same theme above, which is objectionable. It is especially objectionable to encourage young children who have not repented of their sins, as well as unbelieving visitors to one's church, to sing this song. I suppose such a problem could be handled by the minister (or one of the other elders) announcing that this song is to be sung only by those who have repented of their sins and believed on Christ. In fact, such a warning may be appropriate in the case of certain Psalms as well. Those who have not repented and believed need to recognize that the primary, outward manifestation of Jesus, the coming judge of all the world, is discfavor because of their sins, not a Santa-Claus-esque joviality.

Stanza 2
Jesus loves me, he who died
Heaven's gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let his little child come in.

Clearly the first couplet of this stanza presents the Arminian view of the atonement, and not the Reformed view. Indeed, even Arminians usually recognize that Scripture states that "strait" (narrow) is the gate that leads to eternal life. Furthermore, to emphasize, Jesus did not die simply to open Heaven's gate so that people could clamber up of their own free will. Instead, Jesus died to save his people (those the Father had given him) from their sins.

The second couplet would not be as objectionable if sung by those who had already repented and believed in Christ. For others, such a claim is presumptuous. That is to say, it is presumptuous for unbelievers to claim that their sins will be washed away and that they will be welcomed into heaven.

For believers, however, the second couplet is still objectionable because it seems to deny that justification has already occurred. Those who have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, have been justified in God's sight: their sins have been washed. Thus, in the case of those not already baptized, we illustrate that washing away of sins in baptism.

[The refrain, being repetitive, has been omitted, but is to be sung after each stanza as set in the Trinity Hymnal]

Stanza 3
Jesus loves me, loves me still,
Though I'm very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.

The first couplet of this stanza is objectionable basically for the reasons above. Obviously, it is true that Jesus love for his people does not depend on us being healthy. That may be an encouragement to those who are sick, as perhaps it was to Job who looked forward to the coming Messiah.

With respect to the second couplet of the stanza, Jesus is enthroned on high, but does not "come to" us personally. He certainly sees our affliction and watches over us. Perhaps the inexactness of theology here may simply be chalked up to an attempt to be poetic. That's one place where the Psalms have a marked advantage from a practical point (even overlooking the Regulative Principle of Worship), because as the inspired word of God they cannot justly be accused of compromising theology in order to be poetic. They certainly use literary devices, but they do so in a way that is proper.

Stanza 4
Jesus loves me, he will stay
Close beside me all the way:
If I love him, when I die
He will take me home on high.

A more succinct summary of conventional Arminian soteriology than what is presented in this stanza could not be hoped for. The basic theme seems to be that Jesus is going simply to love me throughout my life, and so long as I do my part, I will be in heaven after death. Of course, I must being doing my part at the moment of death, so the stanza seems to indicate, or it will be for nothing.

For a believer, the first couplet is certainly accurate. That is to say, as Reformed Christians we acknowledge that Jesus loves us and abides in his love for us, throughout our life.

Turning to the second couplet, however, we place our confidence in eternal life not in our own love for him, but in his love for us. We know that we will be with him, because he loves us. We know that we will die loving him, because he loved us. We try to avoid suggesting that we get to heaven because we love him, but rather acknowledge that he both works a love of God in us, and brings to God whom we love.

One certainly could try to defend the words of this stanza from a Reformed position, since it is true that if we love God when we die, we will go to heaven. It is also true for the elect that God loves us no w and always. However, as noted above, it seems Pastor Shishko wants to exhort people whose status as regenerate or unregenerate is unknown (such as covenant children who have not yet professed faith in Christ) to sing this song.

In short, while Pastor Shishko scored some minor points in the debate by pointing out that Hymn #633 is in the hymnal that Dr. White's church uses (a fact of which Dr. White was apparently unaware), the disuse of that hymn by the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Fellowship (the most obvious explanation for Dr. White not thinking it was among the hundreds of hymns found there) is more consistent with Reformed theology and generally more wise than Pastor Shishko's approach of encouraging covenant children to sing this song, prior to any expression of repentance and faith in Christ.

Furthermore, while the tune to which the song is set is catchy, it's a doctrinally flabby song that probably just should be avoided: particularly in a culture in which God is misportrayed as omni-benevolent.

"The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble ... Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright. Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call." (Psalm 20:1a and 7-9)


Update: 13 July 2008 - Apparently this hymn is number 189 in at least some editions of the Trinity Hymnal.

Thoughts on the Gospel and Government

One of my friends in an Internet chat room I visit, recently challenged me to consider what form of government is most conducive to the spread of the gospel. I believe this brother wanted to suggest that a pluralistic, liberal (original sense of the word) republican democracy is the best form.

There are ways in which this is true. Freedom of speech gives us freedom to preach. Freedom of assembly gives us freedom to engage in communion with our fellow-saints. Freedom of religion prevents currently prevailing religions from stomping us out using the force of government under color of law. Those are all valid points.

Let me give the reader a counter-point, though. Historically the gospel seems to have spread well at times/places where Christianity was persecuted and at times when there was a hierarchical government. The latter may simply be circumstantial, as the concept of a pluralistic, liberal republican democracy is a modern phenomenon.

With respect to the former issue, persecution provides an intrinsically stronger witness for Christians. It is obvious to everyone that it takes more sincerity to advocate the resurrection of Christ when doing so risks your life, than when doing so may make you a millionaire televangelist. When it is - to all appearances - easy to be a Christian, our faith in Christ is less clearly seen to be genuine.

Consider how Scripture even demonstrates the principle. Recall Job. Satan made exactly this argument: of course Job worships God, he has an easy life; take away his happiness and he'll curse God.

When Job did not curse God, but rather praised him saying, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." That's a testimony that the world and the devil are shaken by. That answer leaves little doubt for any but the most hardened skeptic to doubt that Job's faith in God was genuine.

Thus, a country where Christianity is persecuted provides a way for Christians to demonstrate that they are genuine believers, which combats the widespread current view among non-Christians in liberal democracies that Christians are hypocrites.

Persecution has another advantage as well: it helps us test the genuineness of our own faith. That's why James, the servant of God, can tell us:

James 1:2-3
2My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

James (to quote John Gill) is speaking of temptations,

not the temptations of Satan, or temptations to sin; for these cannot be matter of joy, but grief; these are fiery darts, and give a great deal of uneasiness and trouble; but afflictions and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel, which are so called here and elsewhere, because they are trials of the faith of God's people, and of other graces of the Spirit of God. God by these tempts his people, as he did Abraham, when he called him to sacrifice his son; he thereby tried his faith, fear, love, and obedience; so by afflictions, God tries the graces of his people; not that he might know them, for he is not ignorant of them, but that they might be made manifest to others; and these are "divers": many are the afflictions of the righteous; through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom; it is a great fight of afflictions which they endure, as these believers did; their trials came from different quarters; they were persecuted by their countrymen the Jews, and were distressed by the Gentiles, among whom they lived; and their indignities and reproaches were many; and their sufferings of different sorts, as confiscation of goods, imprisonment of body, banishment, scourgings, and death in various shapes: and these they "fall" into; not by chance, nor altogether at an unawares, or unexpectedly; but they fell into them through the wickedness and malice of their enemies, and did not bring them upon themselves through any crime or enormity they were guilty of: and when this was their case, the apostle exhorts them to count it all joy, or matter of joy, of exceeding great joy, even of the greatest joy; not that these afflictions were joyous in themselves, but in their circumstances, effects, and consequences; as they tried, and exercised, and improved the graces of the Spirit, and worked for their good, spiritual and eternal, and produced in them the peaceable fruit of righteousness; and as they were attended with the presence and Spirit of God, and of glory; and as they made for, and issued in the glory of God; and because of that great reward in heaven which would follow them; see Matthew 5:11. The Jews have a saying, "whoever rejoices in afflictions that come upon him, brings salvation to the world.'' (T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 8. 1.)

With all those things in mind, we must continually call to remembrance the fact that we are to honor whatever form of government that we find ourselves under, as having divine authority. As it is written:

Romans 13:1-7
1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Blessed be God who has given us ministers of justice as well as minister of the gospel,


Thursday, July 10, 2008

More (or More Complete) Answers for Godismyjudge

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided an audio response (link) to my post here (link) (see post for prior chronology).

Dan seems to complain that I haven't given a "yes or no" answer to the question that he posed. I think it would be foolish to answer a confusing (at best) or perhaps unexplainable question with a "yes or no"-type answer.

Dan argues that he could answer the question by saying "Yes God could have created a world in which it didn't rain on May 31st - God is allpowerful." In the sense of it being a trivial thing for God's power, I've already answered the question in the affirmative - but Dan did not ask (at least not clearly) a question about whether God had sufficient power to do so. If Dan's just asking about God's power, clearly God has the power to make it rain or not, according to the good pleasure of his will. God's power, however, is subservient to God's will.

Dan's argument that the question is easy for him to answer but "going to stretch [TurretinFan] a bit to answer," is a bit silly, because Dan doesn't actually answer the question as stated, but answers a question about God's power (as noted above). Furthermore, Dan has the inherent advantage of knowing (let's hope!) what he means by his question, whereas when he asks ambiguous and/or equivocal questions, I have to seek clarification from him. That's not so much me stretching, as me stretching him - trying to pull out the meaning of the question from him, so that it can be answered.

Dan seems still to misunderstand my comment about God's actions in eternity: confusing atemporal actions of that sort (within the council of the trinity) for something having to do with "logical order" (which is really irrelevant).

Dan argues, based on his seeming misunderstanding that the idea of an infinite series of causes and a first cause are contradictory. Since "series" is essentially temporal terminology, calling God's actions (whatever those may be) prior to time "an infinite series of causes" makes little or no sense.

God is the first cause of everything that comes to be. There is not an infinite series of causes with no starting point. God himself is the starting point. Let's be clear about that.

Given Dan's confusion, he wages war against the idea of a combination first and infinite regression of causes. I'm mostly in agreement with his critique - it's just inapplicable to my position, because of the flawed starting point to the analysis.

Dan is correct in several points, however, so let me identify those, as perhaps they will be helpful to the dialog, assuming Dan is willing to clarify his question (and assuming he wants an answer ... the audio suggests he did not ask the question to get an answer but in essence to challenge me to consider the consequences of my system of thought).

Dan is correct that from a temporal standpoint Creation is the first event. Creation is not the first cause, Creation is the first effect. God is the first cause.

Dan is also correct in that, when considering what within God caused God to create what he did, logical priority is given to God's nature/attributes. Thus, we can view the actions/decisions of God as flowing out of the nature of God, although there is no sequence within God (though yet, as part of the Trinitarian marvel, there is communion within the Godhead).

Dan is right that there is no room for infinite regression on either a temporal or logical order. That's why I didn't mean to suggest that there was such a regression.

Dan seems to be confused about the following flow:

1. God's nature
2. Flowing from God's nature, God's actions.
3A) God's actions in eternity.
3B) God's actions in time.

That is to say, as a logical consequent of self-love, the Only-Begotten Son was loved by the Father from all eternity, and so also the Spirit proceeded from the Father from all eternity. God is a living God. His life is not something that came to be. It existed before time, and it does not change (though yet it may properly be described as active). I realize that this may be a lofty subject, but I hope this explanation clears it up for Dan, so that he can move past whatever "infinite regression of causes" barrier he has created for himself.

I'm concerned that perhaps Dan wants to suggest that there was a time when God was inactive, and then afterwards a time when God became active. I'm not sure that Dan really needs to get to "first cause" versus infinite regression here. There was a time before God was saying "This is my beloved Son," but that does not mean God was inactive before then. Also, it does not mean that something external to God moved God to say that.

Nothing external to God ever moves God to do anything. That's part of the impassivity of God, a logical consequence of omnipotence.

Dan then goes on to say that his answer is that "the agent is the source of the action" is the answer to the question of explanation of the actions of man. Dan apparently wants to suggest that each man is an uncaused first cause.

Dan actually goes so far as to claim, "There is no way to explain the source of actions." This is simply unbiblical. The Bible gives explanations for the sources of actions frequently.

Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Revelation 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Dan's statement, in fact, is contradicted not only by special revelation, but by general revelation as well. In nature, we may be able to track down the source of an action so far, but we can track it down somewhat. We understand that an apple moves down, as opposed to up, because of the attractive force of the Earth's mass. We can explain action, and we can assign causes to actions in the physical world.

Thus, on its face, Dan's claim that "There is no way to explain the source of actions," is both unbiblical and absurd. There is a way to explain the source of actions, it just would require Dan to give up his view of Libertarian Free Will (LFW).

Ultimately, Dan's description of so-called "agent causation" is problematic not only because it is special pleading, but more particularly because it ascribes to man what is only properly to be ascribed to God. That is to say, by suggesting that God is not the first cause of all things, Dan's view of agent causation removes some of that from God and gives it to man.

Eventually, in the audio segment, Dan goes back to the issue of Creation and the cause of Creation.

Dan seems to recognize (or if he doesn't, he should recognize) that the logical order I have presented is as follow:

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God's timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God's acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

That's the general flow. Dan seems to have tried to ask whether between 5 and 6 (or between 4 and 6), God "could have" created something different than what he did. If the question is as to God's power alone, the answer - of course - is yes. If the question takes into consideration God's decree, the answer is "no," because God cannot act contrary to his own decree - he cannot contradict himself. Likewise, if the question takes into consider God's knowledge of what God will do, the answer is "no," because God cannot render his knowledge invalid.

I suppose Dan may have wanted to ask whether God could have decreed differently. Again, the question comes down to whether we include everything that went into God's decision to decree as he did, or not.

This shouldn't be surprising. Working backwards, it is impossible for God not to exist. It is impossible for God to have a different nature or different attributes from what he has. Since God's actions flow from his nature/attributes (and not from any external source), God himself determines his own decisions.

God's decisions don't pop, without reason, from nowhere - they are wise decisions, as Scripture teaches. Wise decisions have a reason, they are not arbitrary. Furthermore, it is in God's nature to glorify himself. This nature guides and shapes the way that God exercises His power. None of this should really be surprising to Dan, so I'm not sure why there is a impasse of understanding.

Toward the end of the audio segment, Dan gets to the topic of "absolute impossibility," the ambiguous and potentially equivocal problem with Dan's original question (bypassed by Dan, in his own answer, by addressing God's power alone).

I had criticized the alternative question in which a "yes" would have said "God had to do it that way," by pointing out that the term "had" suggests to our mind external constraint. Dan agrees with me that there was no external restraint before Creation, but seems to want to insist that he can use such a word, despite its connotations, of God before creation. I don't agree. I think it is misleading to use words in a way that is so contrary to their ordinary meaning. Indeed, that's been one of my criticisms of the LFW movement, from the start: namely that it applies unnatural meanings to words to arrive at a superficially satisfactory result, that erodes once we realize what the words are intended to mean. I'm not the first person to note this. Hundreds of years ago, Jonathan Edwards noted the same thing.

Dan states that the question really is, "What were God's intrinsic abilities? Was it possible for God to create a world that didn't include rain [on May 31, 2008, at Dan's location]?" The answer to that question, as noted above, if one is speaking of God's power in isolation from the other attributes of God (the remainder of his nature), is yes. That would seem like the most natural way to answer the question, but I don't think it would be a satisfying way (to Dan's liking to answer the question).

In order for their to be "possibility" as contrasted from "actuality," we have to take something out of the picture. That's just the nature of the "possible" as opposed to the "actual." If we include the entirety of God, from whom the decrees come, we haven't taken anything out, and it makes no sense to speak of possibility, but only of actuality.

In fact, we can dig a bit deeper. The usual way to phrase the question would be: "If God had wanted to, could God have (would it have been possible for God to) make it stay from raining on May 31, 2008, at Dan's location?" The answer, of course, is a simple yes.

I guess Dan could then try to ask, "Could God have wanted something different from what God wanted?" The answer to that question is, if God were different from who he is, he could. In other words, since the source of God's wants/desires/etc. are purely internal, their content depends on who God is. If God were different, they would be different. If God were an arbitrary and foolish being, on May 31, 2008, water could simply have disappeared from the planet for a few hours, then popped back, then turned to gold, without any particular reason.

Now, I hope that the above will serve to answer thoroughly every variant of Dan's question that Dan may or may not have intended to ask. Let me provide a brief preemptive critique of the direction Dan seems to be headed.

Dan's seeming argument is this:

1. God's act of Creation is an example of "agent causation."
2. If an explanation for God's act is adequate, then the same explanation for man's act is adequate.
3. Therefore, "agent causation" is an adequate explanation of man's act.

There are several obvious problems with this seeming argument. Even granting the idea that "agent causation" is an "explanation" for God's Creation, because man is fundamentally different from God (and, in particular, man is neither omnipotent nor impassive), there is no good reason to suggest that an explanation that works for God would also be adequate for man.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that "agent causation" (if that is even a proper label for the idea that God's nature - who God is - fully determines his actions and that consequently God himself is the cause) makes sense (with all those qualifications) for God, but is plainly contradicted for man, who is not impassive and who is not eternal or immutable. Man came to be: God did not. Thus, even Man's nature: who man is, itself has a cause. God's nature, who God is, is simply self-existent. To assert that man is similarly self-existent is to describe a divine attribute to man, and to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, such a claim is simply absurd: children come from their parents - they are obviously not self-existent.

Likewise, not only special revelation but general revelation informs us of the fact that children are (at least to a very significant extent) the product of nature and nurture. In short, the idea that children's acts (or adults' acts for that matter) are simply uncaused causes, is contradicted by both special and general revelation.

Anyhow, Dan indicates that he wants to get to the core of "What are God's abilities?" The answer is: God is perfectly free: God can do whatever God wants to do, and what God wants to do is not externally influenced at all.


P.S. Dan graciously provides a postscript of thanks in his audio clip for the style of the discussion. I too am thankful to Dan for his kind treatment, which is not necessarily a given in Internet discussions.

Response to Steve Ray on Petrine Primacy

I've provided a response to one of Steve Ray's blog posts in which he suggests that there are some verses related to Peter and the Papacy that are frequently overlooked by Protestants. My response can be found here (link) at the Team Apologian blog.

Another time that the Team Apologian blog has addressed Steve Ray's teachings on the supposed primacy of Peter can be found here (link).

May God edify the readers!


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Is it a felony?

Anyone think that this guy will get charged with kidnapping and/or mayhem? (link) If not, do you think it is because he didn't remove a literal person from the room (or a little piece of a person)? Or perhaps you think that the crimes of kidnap and mayhem are only crimes with respect to the accidents of humanity and not the substance?

Granted, he may get charged with some lesser crime, like disturbing the peace or possibly some kind of dispossession by fraud (I don't pretend to know what, if anything, he will be charged with in the end). I'm not encouraging anyone to break any laws. I'm also not encouraging anyone to needlessly offend transubstantionists by going out and obtaining wafers the way this guy did, even if what he did is technically legal.

Any Aristotelean lawyers out there want to take a crack at it?


UPDATE: Another case, same problem, no charges of kidnap brought (link).

The Backwoods Presbyterian on the Second Commandment

Benjamin P. Glaser, at The Backwoods Presbyterian has an interesting and informative series of articles on the subject: Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment

Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - What do the Magisterial Reformers Have to Say Concerning Images?

Part 3 - What do the Magisterial Reformers Have to Say Concerning Images? (Cont.) (Including a quotation from the real Francis Turretin!)

Part 4 - Westminster Divines and of the Puritan writers on Images

Part 5 - Theologians of the 19th Century on Images

Part 6 - Bahnsen on Sources of Anti-Nominianism

Part 7 - John Murray on Pictures of Christ

Part 8 - Lesson from Ancient Israel

Part 8 (Cont.) - Application


The Importance of Doctrine

C.T. at the Plain Path Puritan has some good thoughts today on the importance of doctrine (link). Obviously, long time readers will also recognize that I disagree with C.T. on a number of issues, and that I cannot fully endorse everything on C.T.'s blog. Regardless of those differences, what C.T. has to say on this issue is good.

Further Response to Godismyjudge

Chronology of directly related posts on Libertarian Free Will (LFW)

(TF), (Dan), (TF), (Dan), (TF), (Dan), (TF), and (Dan).

I had written recently:

Given that we are Trinitarians, there is no reason to hold to a view that God has ever been inactive, such that there was a "first act" of God. (link)

Previously I had written:

Although there was no action before Creation, nevertheless God's nature and counsel, being eternal, preceded the first action. (link)

This apparently (and understandably) confused Dan. Dan wrote:
Before you seemed to be denying action regressed infinitely, and affirming a first act. Now you seem to be asserting an infinite regression of actions, and denying a first act. This is an important point to clarify as your comments above shaped my question. How do you reconcile these two statements?
I answer:

Creation is the first action of which there is any record: it is the first action in time, as opposed to eternity. It can be viewed as a first action, and yet the Trinitarian council can reasonably be viewed as eternally active - in other words there is no reason to suppose that the Trinity was eternally inactive - that there was no eternal divine communion of the persons of God. There was no physical activity, and no activity that involved any sort of change. I hope that is enough reconciliation, but if not ... I'd be happy to elaborate where anything is unclear.

Dan wrote:
The idea that God’s nature causes His action (an idea that I previously understood you to assert) seems inconsistent with the idea of an infinite regression of actions. This seems circular. Since we are talking about a logical order (I assume that’s what you mean) an infinite regression seems like a denial of a logical foundation. For my part, since God is one and simple, His nature logically precedes His actions. The persons in the Trinity and their actions are logically subsequent to God’s essence. The opposite opinion seems in opposition to God’s aseity and simplicity.
Any action before the creation of time, i.e. in eternity past, would not have been temporally sequentially. Whether or not there was a "first action," however, God's nature is logically prior to his actions, on that much we have agreement. Thus, presumably this issue of a first action verses continual eternal action is a non-issue.

Dan continues:
This answer effects how I should respond to what you said about a cause of the first act and foreknowledge.
Hopefully the above sufficiently clarifies.

Dan continues: "Perhaps I can clarify one point. You said: The "had to" vs. "did" is falsely dichotomous at least in connotation. We would not say that God "had to," because that would seem to suggest something external to God forcing God to do the thing."


Dan again:
Within the context of “before God’s first act” no one else exists to force God’s actions. “Had to” in the context of before God’s first act is a question of God’s intrinsic abilities. Either God was unable to do anything else (i.e. He had to what He did), or He was able to do other things. But again, this point may be moot, if God doesn’t have a first act.
Before Creation no one else exists to force God's actions, whether or not Creation is the "first act" or God has been eternally active. So, no ... I don't think the "first act" issue renders anything moot.

Again, as noted above, if there is no one else to force God's action, using "had to" is at least a little misleading - even if God's nature could be said to render him unable to do something else.

Dan again:
Sure is hard for Calvinists and Arminians to find some common ground to hold a discussion on, so I appreciate your effort. If you wish, we can go back to proof texting out of context at each other. I’ll start. Christ says “ye do error, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God”. With statements this obvious, how then to you stick to Calvinism?
I suppose that this was intended to be humorous. I can't think of a witty comeback, though, so I'll have to leave it at that. Eventually I hope that you'll be sufficiently satisfied with the answers to the questions that you get to get back to some of those more interesting issues we were discussing before.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Terrorism Counter

I recently came across the following terrorism counter that is apparently updated daily. It tracks terrorist attacks by Islamic terrorists.

Thousands of Deadly Islamic Terror Attacks Since 9/11

As of 8 July 2008, the counter was at 11407. That may provide you with a benchmark if you are viewing this counter in the future. Since the counter is simply a linked image, you may have to "refresh" or "reload" the graphic to see the update, if the counter has changed since your last visit here.

Clicking on the image will take you to the "The Religion of Peace" web site.


LFW vs. Scripture

One of my readers, Magnus, wrote in a previous combox here (link):

This whole idea that we make choices independent of our nature is foreign to Scripture.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. Luke 6:45

Yet if one holds to LFW you must deny this truth, even though it is revealed throughout the pages of Scripture. So if I have to choose between a philosophical construct [LFW] or what the Bible clearly teaches, I will stick with the Bible.

I mostly agree with what Magnus has to say, but I want to offer a few additional comments.

1) The fact that there is a causal explanation for human actions (including decisions) negates the idea that human actions (including decisions) are uncaused.

2) One attempted evasion of the conclusion that causal explanations negate Libertarian Free Will (LFW) (as opposed to simple, compatible free will) is to claim that causal explanations are ex post only. That is to say, if we pick up the donut, the cause is our hunger, but if we leave it on the table, the cause is our vanity: we could have gone either way, and we call the desire the cause, if it prevailed in that instance. Such an evasion, though, doesn't jive with the "fruit of the tree" analogy in Scripture. No one would say that the tree becomes a pear tree by bearing pears. Instead, we all know that the tree bears pears because it is a pear tree - the nature of the tree is the causal explanation for the species of its fruit - an ex ante explanation.

3) Another attempted evasion of the conclusion that such causal explanations negate LFW is to provide a counter-analogy in which the nature serves as some sort of guardrails, limiting choices but not actually determining specific choices (the precise choices being the expanse of road between the guardrails). Thus, in the counter-analogy, we can choose to drive in the right or left lane, even if we cannot drive over the cliff.

The primary problem with the counter-analogy is that one of the usual accompanying principles and intuitive grounds for accepting LFW is the claim that "free will" is connected with moral responsibility. The "fruit of the tree" analogy from Scripture indicates that "good" vs. "bad" is a function of nature. Even if there is "free will" (of some libertarian kind) among different good options or different bad options, if there is no libertarian free will (LFW) between good and bad, then LFW is clearly not relevant to the issue of moral responsibility - a conclusion that practically eviscerates LFW, even if it theoretically permits the continued existence of some form of partial libertarian free will.

A secondary problem with the counter-analogy is that it seems to be simply a new example of special pleading. If the "choice" between good and bad is a nature-determined choice, why would we expect that the morally less significant choice between "greater good and lesser good" or between two indifferently good options is not also somehow determined? If the answer, is "but they could be" or "but you haven't proved they aren't," so be it. The burden of proof of the existence of supposed LFW is on its advocates, not the other way 'round.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Is Christianity the Problem?

I recently enjoyed listening to a debate between Dinesh D'Souza (representing the Christian point of view) and Christopher Hitchens (representing the non-Christian point of view) on the topic: Is Christianity the Problem? While Dinesh used some arguments I would never use (and seemed to base part of his argument on "free will" in a libertarian sense), he made some good points that Professor Hitchens had trouble addressing. Both men have sharp wits, and it shows. There were a few points at which the debate started to get a little sharp-edged, but on the whole it seemed to be reasonably calm and moderate. If you have interest, consider blocking off an hour and forty minutes to listen to the debate in its entirety. (link)

What's Not to Like?

At Dave Armstrong's blog, a post entitled: "Why is the Catholic Church so Hated?" caught my eye (to give you some background, Dave Armstrong is himself a papist). The format of the post is as follows:

1) A "Presbyterian" woman makes a claim that she sees a lot of "hatred" for "the Catholic Church."

2) A former "former Presbyterian" woman responds by attributing the "hatred" to "hell" attempting to prevail against "the Catholic Church."

3) Finally, Dave suggests that the "hatred" is a function of (1) the size of the target, (2) the widespread "misrepresentation," and (3) the "very strict morality" taught by "Catholic Christianity."

The post is interesting because it omits glaring reasons for true hatred and because it mistakes judgment for hatred.

Reasons for true hatred:

1) Association with Christianity. Rome claims to be Christian, and consequently receives some of the antipathy provided generally towards Christians by those who hate God.

2) History of Persecution: there are many folks that have not forgotten the history of persecution by the Vatican either in the form of Inquisitions, papal armies, and crusades or in the form of exhortations to "secular" rulers.

3) Scandals. There are people who truly hate the Vatican because of corrupt and scandalous activity by its priests and bishops - that can especially be the case for victims and their families.

4) Personal Experience. There are people who truly hate the Vatican because they have had a "bad experience" with Catholicism. This could be as simple as being rapped on the knuckles with a ruler by a nun in gradeschool or much more complicated, involving a priest taking sides in a family dispute.

These are all notable causes why there is true antipathy - true hatred toward the Vatican, which is often then directed to individual members of the church of Rome.

On the other hand, much of what is called "hatred" is not hatred at all. For example, most of what the first woman in Dave's post viewed as "hatred" is actually an expression of judgment, namely that the Vatican does not preach the Gospel, and that faithful devotion to the religion taught by the Vatican does not lead to salvation.

The second woman improperly assumes that "the Catholic Church" is the true church, and that consequently any desire to be separate from that church must be hell-based. If her assumption were correct, it would be a reasonable line of thought. The problem, of course, is that it is not the case that the Church of Rome is the true church.

Dave's own comments are not as far from the mark. Surely, part of the volume of negative things (all of which get labeled "hatred") is a factor of the size of Catholicism. The errors of Ebionite heretics while heinous are not a significant voice on the scene. The errors of Rome, with its claimed billion plus members, are a significant voice.

It should be noted, though, that Islam is the target of similar "hatred" in the form of saying that Koran-observing Muslims are not saved, are not the true followers of Jesus, etc. (i.e. any negative comment, particularly about eternal things) Furthermore, it's fair to say that most Christians in the English-speaking world know less about Islam than they know about Catholicism. As the number of Muslims rapidly increases in the English-speaking world, you can expect to see less emphasis on the errors of Rome in favor of emphasis on the errors of Mecca and Medina. And, of course, there are people who truly hate Islam because a 9/11 terrorist killed one of their friends or family members, or some similar reason.

Dave's comment about misrepresentation is less accurate. Surely there are misrepresentations of the Church of Rome out there, but the true hatred is not based on those misrepresentations. Even the hatred-so-called - the negative comments - are for the most part based on the truth, not on misrepresentations.

Finally, there is a seed of truth in Dave's comment about "very strict morality." There are those who reject the Church of Rome because of its emphasis on works righteousness, and specifically its legalistic rules of "morality." Surely there are people who hate the Church of Rome because she continues to acknowledge the truth that homosexual behavior is sinful, immoral, and should not be done. On the other hand, rejection of the legalism of the Vatican is Biblical and proper. It's not hatred, but judgment.

All in all, the reason for this post is to highlight and differentiate the reasons for hatred of the church of Rome and the condemnation of the false doctrine and counterfeit gospel of Rome. The former is generally unjustified, though perhaps one might feel righteous indignation reading an account of the persecution of the Albigensians. The latter is fully properly, and is not hatred in the colloquial sense at all, but the exercise of godly discretion and wisdom - something with respect to which I'm afraid the nameless "Presbyterian woman" that Dave first mentions seems to be deficient.


(link to Dave's post)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Trying out Godismyjudge's Clarification

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided some clarification (link) to an earlier question to which I had responded here (link). Earlier posts in the series (first)(second).

Dan had asked: "Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008[,] in the afternoon?"

I had asked for clarification regarding what Dan meant by "absolutely impossible." He apparently took this as a broad request for clarification about each of the terms of the question.

His bullet-point explanations follow:

* Where the “first act” is either creation or whatever else you might consider God’s first act.
* Where “first” probably means temporal order but if you believe in atemporal, but logically sequenced, actions, then logical order.
* Where “act” means you would no longer just say “God is XYZ”, but “God does (or did) XYZ”.
* Where “act” includes not only physical motion but also spiritual action or anything else you consider action.
* Where “whatever existed” includes God’s nature and council and whatever else you think existed inactively before God’s first act.
* Where “absolutely impossible” means that not only did God create the world as He did, but He had to. And not only did God not create anything different than He did, but He could not have created the world any differently.
* Where “absolutely impossible” is not a sense which excludes some things from consideration, but rather on that includes all things which existed before the first act.
* And “rain on May 31, 2008 in the afternoon” means drops of water coming from the clouds yesterday after 12PM or rap artists with so much cash that they tossed it in the air and watched it fall all around themselves and their crew.

Those are his clarifications. Actually, several of them muddy the water, particularly those related to God's "first act." Given that we are Trinitarians, there is no reason to hold to a view that God has ever been inactive, such that there was a "first act" of God.

That would seem to torpedo all of Dan's question. Rather than stop there, though let's treat Creation as though it were God's first act.

Another clarification that would seem to sink the question is Dan's comment that he wants to speak of possibility (or more properly "absolutely impossible") with respect to all preceding things to the act in question. But if we include the cause of the act, we are out of the realm of possibility into the realm of actuality. Thus, it does not make any sense to speak of a possibility of the act occurring, since the cause of the act is a given.

With particular respect to Creation, the idea of possibility is also nonsensical. Acts 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Even if that verse were not there, our belief in the omniscience and immutability of the divine mind would prohibit the idea of possibility in a sense that includes the knowledge of the future. That is to say, since Dan has insisted that we consider all preceding things, and one of those preceding things is that God knows the future, there is no possibility assignable to a world in which God's action does not match his knowledge of the future, or in which God's knowledge of the future changes in order to accommodate a different action.

The explanation, "Where “absolutely impossible” means that not only did God create the world as He did, but He had to. And not only did God not create anything different than He did, but He could not have created the world any differently," is a bit confusing too. The "had to" vs. "did" is falsely dichotomous at least in connotation. We would not say that God "had to," because that would seem to suggest something external to God forcing God to do the thing. Likewise "could have" vs. "did" is similarly a false dichotomy. We would not deny that God "could have" created the world with - say - one additional grain of sand on the beaches. But that "could have" is inherently a sense of speaking that does not take into account the full purposes and decrees of God. It would be a trivial exercise of God's creative powers to create a single additional atom, just as it would be a trivial exercise of a weaver's skill to substitute black thread for white for a few passes of the shuttlecock. On the other hand such a substitution would be contrary to the sensibilities of a weaver, and perhaps a single additional atom would be contrary to God's wisdom.

So, perhaps we are still at an impasse in terms of Dan's sense meaning what he wants it to mean. I'm not sure how to interpret it in a way that provides an answer that would be helpful to him. Again, though, if he can provide further clarification about what he means by "absolutely impossible," I'd be happy to try to answer.

Dan continued to a second question: "Let allow me to ask a second question, which I think is similar to the first (although you might disagree with me that it’s similar). You speak of God having determined things. Was God’s determination an action or an inactive part of His nature preceding His first act?"

God's determination is described as though it were an action anthropomorphically. They are nothing an action, nor an inactive part of His nature. They are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby He has foreordained for his own glory whatsoever comes to pass.

We can view God's decrees as coming to be within a logical analysis, but not within a temporal analysis. It's one of many differences between God and man.

Dan continued to a third question: "Kindly permit me to ask a third question which again I think has an equivalent foundation to the first and second. John the Baptist claimed God could raise up children of Abraham out of stones. Was John right?"


Dan continued: "With great presumption on my part I will press my luck and ask a fourth and impertinent question. If I ask does God have LFW, is your response “LFW doesn’t exist” or “don’t know, don’t care”?"

Hopefully my response is a bit more nuanced, with an inclination toward the former option. The response is that LFW is a philosophical construct founded on a denial of God's sovereignty in the decree of Providence. That is to say, it is a philosophical invention, designed to deny divine predetermination. There's no positive reason for it to be accepted as true. There is no reason at all to think it exists. Furthermore, there are good reasons to deny its existence. Thus, while we'd want to provide more detail, the former choice would be preferred to the latter one ... though ultimately, the "don't know, don't care" answer would be sufficient to stop the use of an argument that springs from claiming that God has LFW.