Saturday, November 05, 2011

Introduction to Islam

Dr. James White recently presented two lectures on Islam:

The lectures are lengthy, but may be informative as an introduction to Islam.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Iran, East Timor and Vatican

Responding to Ireland's decision to close "for economic reasons" its embassies in Iran and Vatican City, as well as its office of representation in East Timor, Federico Lombardi, S.J. (as Vatican spokesman) declared:
The Holy See takes note of the decision by Ireland to close its embassy in Rome to the Holy See. Of course, any State which has diplomatic relations with the Holy See is free to decide, according to its possibilities and its interests, whether to have an ambassador to the Holy See resident in Rome, or resident in another country. What is important are diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the States, and these are not at issue with regard to Ireland.
Vatican Information Service (4 November 2011)

If the Vatican thinks its diplomatic relations with Ireland are on good terms, it may want to consider what other nations were on Ireland's list of closures.  It may also want to consider the reaction of the Irish primate, Sean Brady:

“This decision seems to show little regard for the important role played by the Holy See in international relations and of the historic ties between the Irish people and the Holy See over many centuries,” said Cardinal Sean Brady.
 (The Star, 4 November 2011)

The Vatican should also take notice of the official denials by the Prime Minister:
Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny rejected claims Friday that the government’s decision to close its embassy in the Vatican had anything to do with recent child abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church.
(same source)


Reviewing Roger Olson's "Against Calvinism"

Dr. James White reviewed Roger's Olson's "Against Calvinism" on the November 3, 2011, Dividing Line.  Meanwhile, independently Paul Manata has prepared a detailed written review.

I think both reviewers would agree with the following from Manata:
In any event, Olson's book leaves much to be desired. It isn't anything like a "case" against Calvinism. Rather, it's more of a constantly repetitious list of unargued for complaints. There is weak theological argumentation, zero exegesis, unfamiliarity with critical issues discussed, and one self-excepting fallacy after another. 
The two reviews make many of the same points, but ultimately the problem is that Olson demonstrates a lack of serious engagement with the subject matter.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ergun Caner Debate Challenge from Adnan Rashid

Adnan Rashid has issued a debate challenge to Ergun Caner.  The point of the challenge, presumably, is to demonstrate Dr. Caner's alleged personal lack of knowledge regarding Islam.  This blog has previously noted a number of errors in Dr. Caner's presentations on Islam.  However, I am not sure what particular value there would be to a debate whose central purpose is to establish or debunk the credibility of one of the debaters.  Nevertheless, if Dr. Caner considers himself an expert on Islam, and thinks he can demonstrate that, this debate challenge provides an opportunity for him to do so.

Adnan uses an interesting turn of phrase in describing Caner's books.  He states: "you have claimed authorship of several books against Islam, such as 'Unveiling Islam' and 'More than a Prophet'."  I wonder whether Adnan is trying to suggest that Caner only claims authorship but did not actually write those books. Adnan further accuses Dr. Caner of presenting a "deliberately distorted caricatured picture of our way of life."

Adnan Rashid is an experienced Muslim debater who has debated some of the prominent Christian debaters in Muslim apologetics: Jay Smith, David Wood, and James White.  Ultimately, my advice to Dr. Caner would be not to take the debate challenge.  While Dr. Caner is an experienced speaker and could doubtless provide an entertaining performance, it may be better for Dr. Caner to leave the debating to people who have that gift.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Expert or Not? Jason Stellman Then and Now

In the first part of 2011, Jason Stellman solicited for contributions for the expenses of "expert witnesses" (the description used at the time) who were to testify at the trial of Peter Leithart (evidence here).  During the trial, as reported by Stellman himself, Stellman identified his witness as an expert witness:
MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, let me ask the prosecutor, why, what’s the nature of this witness’ testimony if it’s not expert testimony?

STELLMAN: Well, he has read every single theological piece of literature or writing that Leithart has written. He’s read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book I should say, every journal article. He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself. And so why his competence is called into question here is an answer I would like to hear.

MODERATOR O’BAN: No, I think the question more narrowly framed is in what capacity is this witness being called. He didn’t overhear a statement made by Dr. Leithart that no one else would know but for this witness and in that sense he would be a fact witness. It seems to me you’re calling him because he is conversant on Dr. Leithart’s theology through his writings


MODERATOR O’BAN: And you’re asking him not just simply to regurgitate those writings, but in fact to render and opinion on the nature of those writings vis-à-vis the standards. Correct?

STELLMAN: Correct.

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, that, that is, I’ll just simply rule, is the capacity of an expert witness. So the question is, is he an expert witness that, it just simply may be that your witness doesn’t, didn’t understand maybe that fine distinction. So you’re calling him here as an expert witness, correct?

STELLMAN: Insofar as I understood what you just said. Yes.

The cross-examination of Stellman's witness, however, seems not to have gone as Stellman would have liked, in that the defense suggested that Stellman's witness was not particularly more expert in theology than anyone else in the presbytery before whom was testifying.

Now Stellman has post talking about how there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts (link to post). That is all well and good, and perhaps - after the fact - he is right.  But what was he doing soliciting for contributions for a role that doesn't exist in the PCA?  Why didn't he know that there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts during this trial that was so important that he flew what he then considered an "expert witness" to be a part of the trial? I thought Stellman was the prosecutor for the trial?  Shouldn't he have familiarized himself with the rules of the PCA before the trial began?

It may not be a lost cause.  Stellman's witness was really called as a fact witness - someone who had carefully read everything that Leithart wrote and could report on that.  Stellman was simply outwitted by those sympathetic to Leithart in his own presbytery. 

Whether or not Stellman knew the rules, the presbytery is charged with following the rules, and while the presbytery's error in discounting the testimony of a fact witness on grounds that are not really relevant to the fact witness's role may be in some sense an understandable error under the circumcstances, it is still an error.

One question that the presbytery needed to consider was whether Stellman's witness or the defense's witness had a better understanding of Leithart's teachings.  While theologically training may not be entirely irrelevant to that question, having actually read what Leithart has written seems like a very important consideration, and Stellman's witness actually read what Leithart wrote.


Calvinism is Wrong Because Love Must Be Free?

I've heard an objection to Calvinism along the lines of the title of this post many times.  The argument is that "irresistible grace" is at odds with the nature of God, since God wants us to love Him freely.  Paul Manata has a succinct answer to that kind of argument.

I would like to build a little on my friend Paul's point.  Often we are told that Calvinism's teaching on irresistible grace is some equivalent to divine rape.  This analogy is necessarily wrong.  First, rape involves violation of the will of the rape victim.  However, God's efficacious grace does not violate man's will, it transforms it.  God's transforming act of regeneration is not coercion of the will (like a rapist), nor is it a fooling of the will (like a hypnotist).  God actually changes the desires of a person so that they not only no longer hate God, nor imagine they love God, but actually love God.

Second, in addition to the fact that God commands love (which is my friend Paul's point, and he makes it effectively), God also threatens punishment to those who do not love.  Roger Olson technically may be able to maintain his position that "it must be factually possible for both [parties] to a possible loving relationship to be able to say 'no' to the other" (p. 167 per Paul's post) even in the face of a command.  After all, people in fact do say "no," to God's commands that we love God and love our neighbor.  However, if this escape is employed the analogy breaks down.  After all, we would still consider someone a rape victim if they gave consent only after a gun was pointed at their head, even if they technically could have said "yes."  But the coercive power of the message of Jesus is even stronger than that: "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:5)

So, on the one hand, irresistible grace is not coercion and on the other hand God does (undeniably) employ coercion.  So, the objection posed by Olson cannot stand both because it misses the mark and because it strikes a point that Olson must accept as true.  Olson (and other non-Calvinists) have to admit that God employs coercion by threatening punishments on those who do not do as they are told.  Yet irresistible grace is a means that God uses that does not itself involve coercion, but transformation.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ergun Caner "The Secret of Islam"

Apparently, on October 29, 2011 (link to partial audio)(notes from an attendee) Dr. Ergun Caner presented a talk on Islam.  The audio recording is only the last twenty minutes or so of the presentation.  If someone has a more complete recording, I'd be interested to hear it.

A lot of the presentation was on making parallels between Islam and Mormonism, many of which are legitimate and interesting.  It was a humorous presentation with plenty of jokes, including some self-deprecating humor.  Nevertheless, there were at least two points where I think Caner was inaccurate in his account of Islam:

1. Ergun Caner says: "As a matter of fact, one of the keys, one of the celebrations at the end of Ramadan, you take the child, you take the commemoration of Ibrahim (Abraham) taking his son, placing him on the altar, bringing down the knife, at the last moment, Allah saves the life of Ishmael." (2:53 - 3:11)

The celebration of Abraham's sacrifice of his son in Islam (Eid al-Adha) takes places two months and ten days after the end of Ramadan (see here).  It seems that Caner has accidentally confused Eid al-Adha with the other, lesser "Eid" of Islam, Eid al-Fitr (aka Eid as-Saghir), which takes place the first day of the month after Ramadan (i.e. the day after the last day of Ramadan) and can last up to three days.

2. Ergun Caner says: "What is Shahada in Islam, what is Kalima, what is the creed? 'There is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his final prophet.'" (3:52 - 4:00)

While most Muslims may believe that Mohammed is the final prophet, that's not what the Shahada says.  The Sunni Shahada says simply that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."  There is no "final" in the Shahada.  Even the longer Shia Shahada does not include that "final" characterization (see discussion here).

On the bright side, it seems that Caner is now confirming the story his blogger critics had presented: "And when I first came to America in 1969, and Emir was born in 1970 ... " (15:02 - 15:05)

It's good that he's being frank about that.  I don't know Caner's heart and I don't know whether there is some reason he cannot overtly repent of his prior autobiographical claims.  There is more than can and maybe should be said, but I'll leave it at that.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Killed Mohammed?

David Wood has a powerful new video:
The video makes a serious point, although it uses a lot of "pop culture" clips.  It's the sort of video that would get David Wood in a lot of trouble in Muslim countries. Hopefully our Muslim friends, relatives, and neighbors will consider the serious point, notwithstanding the fact that the video is critical of Mohammed and his claim to be a prophet.