Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fundy Irony (repost, modified)

It is not uncommon when examining the doctrinal statements of fundamentalist churches that both dispensational pre-trib premillennialism  (Left-Behind-ism) and Young Earth Creationism (YEC) are both elevated to essentials.

Dispensationalism owes its popularity to C. I. Scofield who was, without question, a genius. A misguided genius, but nevertheless a genius. Scofield did something that was then novel. He published  his Scofield Reference Bible (1909, rev. 1917) in which he embedded his personal notes and extensive cross-referencing scheme--unambiguously written from a dispensational viewpoint, into the biblical text rather than, as was customary, in a separate commentary. In other words, his notes were not "sold separately." The direct embedding, when combined with the fact that his notes were written with an air of absolute authority, left many believers with the impression that Scofield's commentary had been vetted by ages and sages. No other printing of the bible has as much influence as the Scofield bible.

So, back to the modern fundy churchs that demand fealty to both dispensationalism and YEC-ism.

What about the hero of dispensationalism, the undisputed heavyweight champion, C. I. Scofield?

He needn't apply. Maybe the Methodists will take him (they'll take anybody!) But at the modern fundy church, Scofield would not be welcome. Why is that?

Because C. I. Scofield, hero of Rapture with a capital R, was an Old Earth Creationist (OEC).

It is interesting--dispensationalism is the only systematic theology developed in the scientific era. As such, Scofield was well aware of fact that geology teaches us that the earth is old. So he embedded a particular form of OEC into his notes: the gap theory. (C. S. Lewis was also a proponent of a form of the gap theory.) Scofield taught of an unknowable (from scripture, at least) long period of time between the first verse of the bible and the second. 1 When he picks it up in the second verse he sounds like a YEC--he taught literal 24-hour days and even included Bishop Usher's calculations (with the dreaded 4004 BC result) in his original notes. So many people think was a YEC. But he wasn't.

Even in the 1967  New Scofield Reference Bible (from which the Ussher chronology was purged) the notes in Genesis state that the age of the universe is unknowable from scripture.

1 The actual 1917 Scofield commentary on Genesis 1:1 reads:
But three creative acts of God are recorded in this chapter:
1. heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)
2. animal life (Gen 1:21)
3. human life (Gen 1:27)
The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Everyone agrees that memorizing scripture is a good thing...

except, apparently, for me. I don't think it is a good thing.

Well, OK, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with memorization. How could there be?

It is when we use it as a challenge/contest/requirement/litmus-test or in any of a number of ways make it an end unto itself that I deviate from the majority view. Under those circumstances I find memorization is often counter-productive.

It can even be stressful (especially as you get older) and result in meetings and bible studies and small groups that are not as enjoyable as they should be.

It is far more important that you come to an understanding of a passage, and remember its meaning rather than its exact wording.

I find myself asking "why am I spending my time memorizing this passage. I know what it means. I could easily paraphrase it in words that are close (but not identical) to whatever translation I am using. And I could spend the time I'm wasting trying to get the exact wording memorized on studying other passages."

Frustration should not be a part of scripture reading.

The fact that there are multiple acceptable translations also shows that memorizing the exact wording of some particular translation is actually not important.

Of course if it came easy to me I'd probably sing a different tune.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I recently got myself in serious ecclesiastical hot water over the doctrine of the Impeccability of Christ. If you don’t know what this is, let me give you a thumbnail sketch.

All orthodox Christians believe that Jesus did not sin 1.  The debate arises as to whether he was, in His incarnation, capable of  sinning.

In one view (my view) Christ was peccable.  He was completely analogous to Adam before the fall.  He could choose to sin, or not to sin.  (We, on the other hand, apart from the saving grace of Christ, can never choose not to sin. It’s all filthy rags.) Christ’s temptations were just as, well, tempting as were Adam’s. But while Adam sinned, Christ didn’t, and if he had sinned he couldn’t have saved himself let alone us.

The opposing view is impeccability which argues that, due to the presence in the incarnate Christ of  the dominant divine nature He, though tempted, could not have sinned. He was like an invincible army that could nevertheless be attacked—but with the outcome of every battle certain.

Of one thing there can be no doubt: the plain reading of scripture does not support the impeccability of Christ.  I believe even the proponents of impeccability must concede this, and so will encourage us to look deeper for the truth. They may be right. But the plain reading is absolutely consistent with the notion that Christ was tempted as we are and nevertheless chose not to sin—but he could have sinned, with dire consequences.  Which is why he can sympathize with us. That is the clear picture we get of the incarnate Christ. I concede that the plain reading might be wrong, but there is an extraordinary burden of proof on those who wish to overturn the plain reading.  This is especially true for Protestants who also proclaim the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture.

The argument over impeccability more or less boils down to those opposed to impeccability arguing that an impeccable Christ could not have been, as scripture seems to indicate, tempted in any real sense of the word. Proponents of impeccability argue that Christ was tempted but that He possessed, in his divine will, an infinite resistance to sin.

There are notables on both sides of this debate. Against impeccability we have, for example, Charles Hodge:
“This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man, He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocations; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect and He cannot sympathize with his people.” 
Christ was uniquely sanctified and ministered to by the Holy Spirit. In order to sin, a person must have a desire for sin. But Jesus’ human nature throughout his life was marked by a zeal for righteousness. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34), he said. As long as Jesus had no desire to sin, he would not sin. I may be wrong, but I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. If that were the case, the temptation, the tests, and his assuming of the responsibility of the first Adam would have all been charades. This position protects the integrity of the authenticity of the human nature because it was the human nature that carried out the mission of the second Adam on our behalf. It was the human nature uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit. 
I agree with Hodge and Sproul, right down to Sproul’s “I may be wrong.” Because, well, I may be wrong.

Arguments in favor of impeccability general discuss two wills of the incarnation, and place the human will as subservient to the divine. Since the divine cannot sin,  the incarnate Christ cannot sin. They sometimes argue that a Christ who can sin represents a chaotic confusion between the wills that calls into question the deity of Christ.  I’m not sure why that seems obvious—I can only go so far to agree that a Christ who did sin would certainly unleash eternal chaos.

Theologian and former seminary president John Walvood, an impeccability proponent, explains in his (fairly standard) proof of impeccability:
The ultimate solution of the problem of the impeccability of Christ rests in the relationship of the divine and human natures. It is generally agreed that each of the natures, the divine and the human, had its own will in the sense of desire. The ultimate decision of the person, however, in the sense of sovereign will was always in harmony with the decision of the divine nature. The relation of this to the problem of impeccability is obvious. The human nature, because it is temptable, might desire to do that which is contrary to the will of God. In the person of Christ, however, the human will was always subservient to the divine will and could never act independently. Inasmuch as all agree that the divine will of God could not sin, this quality then becomes the quality of the person and Christ becomes impeccable 
Immutability is also used to prove impeccability. Once again, John Walvood:
The fact of the immutability of Christ is the first determining factor of His impeccability. According to Hebrews 13:8, Christ is “the same yesterday, today, yea and for ever,” and earlier in the same epistle Psalm 102:27 is quoted “Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Heb 1:12). As Christ was holy in eternity past, it is essential that this attribute as well as all others be preserved unchanged eternally. Christ must be impeccable, therefore, because He is immutable. If it is unthinkable that God could sin in eternity past, it must also be true that it is impossible for God to sin in the person of Christ incarnate. The nature of His person forbids susceptibility to sin.
This has the stench of question begging. There is, in this argument, a built in assumption that immutability implies impeccability and so invoking immutability “proves” impeccability. But to me, it’s a just-so story. We can agree that the bible teaches that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow—but that is as far as we can go. The bible does not get into the ramifications of immutability on the incarnation and we should, in light of that, allow for the possibility that they are beyond us, i.e., mysterious. To me immutability is used to teach us that we can have faith in the promises of God--we can rest assured they they will be kept. It is not meant as a plank upon which we can derive esoteric doctrines. We simply are not told enough about what immutability entails. 

My biggest criticism of the impeccability doctrine is that it relies upon and assumes details of the incarnation—the necessary relationship and consequences of the two wills, that are not found in scripture. They are derived. In my view the arguments in favor of impeccability assume knowledge that is not in evidence regarding the subtlety of the incarnation, jettison any mystery therein in favor of a just-so answer. 

I don’t really care whether I’m right or wrong on this doctrine (or most any other doctrine except Total Depravity--I really want that to be true.)  I do care that some find affirmation of this doctrine so important as to label those of us who oppose it as blasphemers.  For another example, the reknowned theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921):
“Christ could not sin. For in that case either God Himself would have to be able to sin—which is blasphemy—or the union between the divine and the human nature is considered breakable and in fact denied. " 2
If Bavinck provided a straightforward scriptural prove of this, I am unable to find it. (not even in his book, Doctrine of God.) Here we have nothing more than a proof by assertion coupled with a false dilemma.

Ultimately God and his nature—including the details of the incarnation, are mysterious. We should not push the mysterious--God's immutability, the precise nature of the union--in fact anything regarding the inferred details of God's nature--beyond what we need and are told. And most importantly if someone tells you, via a slippery slope argument, that denying the impeccability of Christ is blasphemous and/or leads to dire consequences—tell them they’re full of crap.

1 Which maybe to you means he perfectly obeyed the Mosiac law, but not to me. I don’t think he did. I’m fine with that because while they may be highly correlated I do not equate sin with breaking the Mosaic law. But that is a separate matter. We can agree that Christ did not sin.
2 Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 of Reformed Dogmatics; ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 314.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

According to legend...

... this is how it was accomplished.

Science and Faith at War (Part 6) (Repost, Modified)

6. There’s Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and finally…

Last time we discussed the fact that, remarkably,  according to scripture Adam lived for 900+ years after the day he died. That is, God promised Adam that on the day he ate the forbidden fruit he would not "start the process of dying" but that he would surely die. Since God is not in the habit of changing his mind, we have limited possibilities:

1) That Adam died a spiritual death (on that very day), in which case you can't use the fact that through Adam death entered the world to prove that there would have been no physical death before the fall. You can only use it to prove that universal spiritual death (i.e., Original Sin, or Total Depravity, or Moral Inability--whatever you want to call it) entered through Adam.

2) Adam did in fact, on that very day, die physically (as God promised) but that day was not 24 hours long.

Many of the early church fathers solved the dilemma via option 2. It was called the millennial day solution.

The importance cannot be overstated: Many church fathers did not accept (let alone demand) that the Genesis days were 24 hour days, because they could not reconcile such a dogmatic view with the promise that Adam would surely die on that day he ate.

If you think a non 24-hour view of the Genesis days is a modern development, you are very wrong. If you think that insisting on that interpretation is the historic position of the church, you are wrong.

Drawing a line-in-the-sand over the 24-hour view of the Genesis days is a sad and counter-productive modern development.

Let's look at some examples.

Justin Martyr (100-165) is on everyone's top ten list of early church fathers. Wikipedia provides this thumbnail biography:
Most of what is known about the life of Justin Martyr comes from his own writings. He was born at Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Judaea/Palaestina, now modern-day Nablus). According to church tradition Justin suffered martyrdom at Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168). He called himself a Samaritan, but his father and grandfather were probably Greek or Roman, and he was brought up a Pagan. It seems that St Justin had property, studied philosophy, converted to Christianity, and devoted the rest of his life to teaching what he considered the true philosophy, still wearing his philosopher's gown to indicate that he had attained the truth. He probably traveled widely and ultimately settled in Rome as a Christian teacher.
What did Justin write concerning the problem at hand?
"For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression 'The day of the Lord is a thousand years' [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 81 [A.D. 155]).
What Justin is saying, is that a solution to the problem is to take "day" in Gen. 2:17 to mean a thousand years, a la Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8.

Another prominent church father is Irenaeus (1?? – c200). Again we make use of Wikipedia:
Irenaeus was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyons, France. He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.

Irenaeus's best-known book, Against Heresies, (c 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of Valentinus. As the first great Catholic theologian, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority--episcopal councils. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none of them was a Gnostic.
Regarding this same problem, Irenaeus mentions the same solution as Justin:
"And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since 'a day of the Lord is a thousand years,' he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin" (Against Heresies, 5:23:2 [A.D. 189]).
Based on the wording one might argue whether Irenaeus himself accepted this solution. For our purposes it doesn't matter. What matters is that Irenaeus did not view the solution as improper for a Christian. Even if he did not affirm it, and he very well may have, he did not disparage or criticize the millennial day solution.

Later in the third century, Lactantius (c 250-325), Victronius of Pettau, and Methodius of Olympus also argued for the millennial day view.41

Other church fathers wrote concerning Genesis. Consider Clement of Alexandria (c150 – c215). He wrote:
"And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist? . . . That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: 'This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth' [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression 'when they were created' intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression 'in the day that God made them,' that is, in and by which God made 'all things,' and 'without which not even one thing was made,' points out the activity exerted by the Son" (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]).
And finally, read the words of Origen (c185-c254). He makes the argument that since the sun did not appear until day four, the concept of "day" cannot possibly have its ordinary meaning:
"For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (The Fundamental Doctrines, 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

"The text said that 'there was evening and there was morning'; it did not say 'the first day,' but said 'one day.' It is because there was not yet time before the world existed. But time begins to exist with the following days" (Homilies on Genesis [A.D. 234]).

"And since he [the pagan Celsus] makes the statements about the 'days of creation' ground of accusation—as if he understood them clearly and correctly, some of which elapsed before the creation of light and heaven, the sun and moon and stars, and some of them after the creation of these we shall only make this observation, that Moses must have forgotten that he had said a little before 'that in six days the creation of the world had been finished' and that in consequence of this act of forgetfulness he subjoins to these words the following: 'This is the book of the creation of man in the day when God made the heaven and the earth [Gen. 2:4]'" (Against Celsus 6:51 [A.D. 248]).

"And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day . . . and of the [great] lights and stars upon the fourth . . . we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world" (ibid., 6:60).

"For he [the pagan Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world's creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep the festival with God who have done all their work in their six days" (ibid., 6:61).

To be continued...

41Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, bk. 7, chap. 14. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed. v7.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Another Oldie-But-Goodie

Click for a larger image

Best. Gameshow. Ever.

The BBC2's Only Connect.

Only the [Brits, English] (pick the one you prefer) would play such a challenging game for a just a trophy. In the US, the connections would be way easier (Micky,  ... Donald, ... Minnie)  and the prize would be a million bucks.

Here is an episode:

Noteworthy Miracles and Resurrections: Come and get 'em! (Or just send a Q-Tip. It should suffice.)

More vomitous Christian behavior.

Rick Joyner describes a visit to his church from healer-of-apostolic-proportions David Hogan. Hogan is not your garden-variety healer. No sir, not even close. He can heal by-proxy. Bring a hanky from a sick person, have David do his mojo, take the hanky back and voilĂ ! A picture of health. Heal broken limbs! Kid's stuff! Hogan regrows missing limbs!

At Joyner's church, a man crippled for six years was running laps the day after Hogan's visit. For Hogan that's almost anticlimactic. Joyner's congregation should feel a bit cheated.

Because Hogan's real power is the power over death. According to Joyner (and Hogan's site) the man has hundreds of verified resurrections to his credit. 

And he's kept all those resurrections off the 11 O'Clock news. Another miracle!

Atheists can't harm Christianity. Muslims can't harm Christianity. Only Christians can harm Christianity.

Monday, March 13, 2017

That's big of me, too

The Decalogue, if it is the comprehensive eternal moral law of God, has surprisingly little to say about polygamy. In the New Testament we get clear indication that polygamy is adultery. If remarriage and sexual relations without a proper (and suddenly, under the Law of Jesus,  rather difficult to obtain) divorce is adulterous, then so is polygamy. It would be hard to argue that you can keep marrying, and that is not adulterous, but if you (improperly) divorce and remarry that is adulterous. That would be inconsistent.

In the Old Testament polygamy was common, with no indication whatsoever that it was outlawed by the Decalogue. And divorce, which if not legal is naught but a special case of polygamy, was relatively easy:
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, (Deu. 24:1)
and of course Jesus famously addresses Mosaic divorce:
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matt 19:8).
I would summarize the situation this way:

A case for a prohibition against polygamy is very strong, but not based on the Mosaic Law, which tolerated both polygamy and easy divorce. How could the ultimate, eternal moral law of God accommodate such a cavernous loophole?

It couldn't. But a shadow of the more fully revealed moral law as given by Jesus would necessarily be incomplete.