Saturday, April 20, 2019

Yech. What's wrong with us?

So I stumbled upon this tweet:

This suggests that two celebrity teachers were dismissed as teaching fellows from another celebrity fueled parachurch organization 1 because they are soft on Social Justice (SJ). Exactly how far Mohler and Duncan had to deviate from the conservative standard in order to be labelled as "compromising" is unclear, but I suspect it is of the order of a Planck Length.

I don’t know if this tweet is true. I never heard of Jon Harris (he may be a rising star for all I know) so I don’t know how reliable he is, and he didn’t provide any conformation. From his twitter feed he seems to be greatly concerned about any change in evangelism in regards to social justice, as if American Christianity has already found the sweet spot thank you very much, and any leftward step amounts to gospel capitulation. 2

I'm not sure I can ever avoid wincing at the self-promoting bromide "Let us remember how to speak the truth in love [this summer] as this debate intensifies."

The whole story (not the tweet, that's just a tweet) makes me want to vomit in my mouth.  It somehow encapsulates what is, in my opinion, many of the problems in modern American Christianity:
  • Tribalism (I'm right and you're a heretic hysteria) fueled by social media 
  • Celebrity pastors
  • Powerful seminaries 
  • Powerful parachurch organizations 
  • Money-making conferences paying enormous speaking fees for headliners
  • Chicken Little/slippery-slope pronouncements of the impending demise of the church
  • The American evangelical bromance with conservative American politics 3
Eisenhower was prescient when he warned the country about the military industrial complex. Someone should have warned us (maybe someone did) about the evangelical industrial complex, where giant, allegedly Christian institutions wield enormous influence on the dialog and direction of American evangelicalism.

What to do? I don't know. I don't have a blasted clue.

I don’t think having no seminaries is the correct answer, but if I had to choose between the current mode, in which seminaries are like major private universities with politician-schmoozing presidents, influence-peddling with major donors, and tenured faculty who are academics first and pastors, if at all, second, I’d seriously opt for no seminaries. There has to be a better model.

I think all associations are problematic. I really can't think of an exception, even those I have supported. Coalitions, conventions, associations, councils, statements, institutes—they will all devolve into cliques, status-quo preserving cover-up machines, power-strugglers, "greater-good" rationalizers, insider v. outsider mentalities, and theological bullies.

One good thought to end with a joyous smile:

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

1 I didn't know Ligonier had teaching fellows. But of course they do.

2 I suspect the founders of the SBC felt much the same way about abolitionist Christians.

3 I am not a socialist, not by a long shot. But the bible does not endorse capitalism. I don't think the bible endorses any economic system, especially for all people and for all time. However if you do foolishly want to argue comparative economic systems based on scripture, I think socialism will have the upper hand.

Monday, April 08, 2019

What, me worried?

Everyone's favorite reading:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
This is a strange passage in that it is most frightening to those for whom it is not targeting in its condemnation. The warning is quite clearly intended for those who are attempting to buy a staircase to heaven with their good works. Furthermore it is aimed squarely at those who have given some manner of intellectual assent to the basic facts of the existence and deity of Christ, but they lacked a saving faith. In short, the Christianity of this group is distinguishable only in unimportant base claims from all other world religions. For it shares a common form and practice (try to be a better person and do good deeds) with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc. (You can even throw secular humanism into the mix.)

When someone takes aim at that nasty old Christian exceptionalism by saying “all religions are basically alike” they are correct to the extent that this is the “Christianity” they had in mind. Actual Christianity, however, springs from a supernatural, sovereign decree of conversion resulting in a new heart and the gift of faith, perhaps even prior to intellectual assent and even rudimentary gospel knowledge. 1 Actual Christians (yes, there is a subgroup of self-identifying Christians that are True Christians) have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And while we are never totally freed (OK, I’m speaking for myself) from a vestigial salvation by knowledge and works mentality, we have a growing, albeit in fits and starts, desire to conform to the ideal of Christ.

It seems to me that there is something of a dilemma that this passage presents to those who emphasize that Jesus was a really cool moral teacher, but just a man. If that were the case, you would think there would be no lesson, such as this one, along the lines of “you can do what is morally right, but, in the end, it’s not going to help you.”

I want to say something pithy, like “you should only be worried if this passage doesn’t make you worried,” but I can’t, because it doesn’t (any longer) make me worried.

So, should I be worried?

1 Although likely not the norm, but certainly for the case of elect infants, if no one else. Personally I do believe it is for others 2, although I can’t prove it from scripture. I just believe that scripture allows for (and is consistent with) the case of a missionary arriving on the scene and finding (although he/she may not recognize it) some already converted people who are totally lacking any head knowledge related to the gospel. The job of the missionary is not just to prepare people for their conversion, but to give the already converted a context to understand the supernatural gift they have received. Now you may want to tell God he can't do that, that's against the rules, but I'm not going to say it.

2 Before you scold me too much about that, you can’t even prove from scripture that there is such a thing as elect who die in infancy. Yet we all believe it to be so (if you don't, you're a monster) based on God’s mercy and sovereignty.

3 You know something? I think the salvation by knowledge (or doctrine) distortion of the gospel is more insidious and of comparable in magnitude to the salvation by works. Just less popular to acknowledge.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Grudem gets Theistic Evolution all wrong

Grr. I really do not understand how people can make such bad arguments. It is infuriating. And when it comes from someone with a reputation as a scholar (in this case, Wayne Grudem), it is doubly infuriating.

My current vent is related to the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique.  This is a pro “Intelligent Design” book, and as such it takes a critical view of theistic evolution. Fair enough. However, if you are going to present a criticism, it should be done without the use of fallacious arguments. Otherwise you are either simply preaching to the choir, or being lazy, or both. You are taking cheap shots, nothing more.

First, I will define theistic evolution. I will use this non-controversial definition:
Theistic Evolution: The belief that the world’s extensive fossil record and modern genetic science point to God using evolution as a secondary means to create the diversity of life on Earth. Furthermore, as God is acknowledged as sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscient, (it is theistic evolution after all) there is an acknowledgement that the process was never outside of God’s control.
That’s it. That is the definition that (I think) the majority if not all theistic evolutionists will support. It is the least common denominator.

Among theistic evolutionists, there is, as you might expect, a spectrum of views on how to read the creation account found in Genesis into their theistic evolutionism. Whatever those attempts at reconciliation are, and they are diverse, they are not theistic evolution. They represent diverse exegeses and hermeneutics that theistic evolutionists employ to make personal sense out of Genesis, but they are not theistic evolution.

This is not unlike, say, the Regulative Principle (RP). Everyone (I suppose) who supports the RP affirms its basic definition: worship only in a manner as prescribed by scripture.  Yet among those affirming the RP there is a spectrum from: only sing Psalms with no instruments to, say, sing mostly Psalms and lots of different instruments are fine. You do not argue against the RP by choosing one of the spectrum’s extreme readings of it, say Calvin’s “no instruments at all” view, and claim to be making a coherent case against the RP. No, it is an argument against Calvin’s application of the RP. To make such an argument using Calvin as the example, and then claim you are making a valid argument about the RP itself, is to make a fallacious strawman argument.

That is exactly what Grudem does when he argues against theistic evolution. He makes a brazen strawman argument. Grudem writes that there are twelve theistic evolution beliefs that conflict with the Genesis account. The twelve Grudem enumerates are:
  1. Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never existed).
  2. Adam and Eve were born from human parents.
  3. God did not act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground
  4. God did not directly create Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side.
  5. Adam and eve were never sinless human beings.
  6. Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve
  7. Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.
  8. Not all human beings have descended from Adam and Eve, for there were thousands of other human beings on Earth at the time God chose two of them as Adam and Eve.
  9. God did not directly act in the world to create different “kinds” of fish, birds, and land animals.
  10. God did not “rest” from his work of creation or stop any special creative activity after plants, animals, and human beings appeared on the earth.
  11. God never created an originally “very good” natural world in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles and similar harmful things.
  12. After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changes the workings of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.
If Grudem is making a coherent argument against anything, it would be against scientific deism, not theistic evolution.

Professor Grudem: theistic evolution does not deny that the God of the universe could interact or intervene or specially create or any of the things you seem to think it does deny. It does not deny that God could use special creation along side of evolutionary processes, not unlike using special creation of the universe along side of gravitation. It says only that all the scientific evidence suggests that God utilized evolutionary processes to create bio-diversity.  It has nothing to say regarding the Genesis account, and some theistic evolutionists deny the historicity of Adam and Eve, and some (such as myself) do not. Just like some RP advocates think snare drums are fine, and some do not. 

Of the twelve points Grudem makes, the only one that is general enough to (mostly) apply to theistic evolution is  number 9, God did not directly act in the world to create different “kinds” of fish, birds, and land animals.  But that is just a tautology. Grudem might as well have written, as a criticism, that theistic evolutionists do not deny evolution. Of the other eleven, none are demanded by the definition of theistic evolution. Not one.

Number 10, by the way, is more of a problem for Young Earth Creationists like Grudem than for theistic evolutionists, for YECs need a postdiluvian unrestful frenzy of special creation if they want to avoid the alternative of an unscientific hyper-evolution.

And yes, Grudem (it’s inevitable) moves from the strawman fallacy to the slippery slope fallacy, with the expected: “a number of crucial Christian doctrines that depend on these events will be undermined or lost."

I would have bet the farm that he would, as he did, move from one to the other.  Fortunately I didn’t get the memo that if I believe in theistic evolution I must deny crucial Christian doctrines.

In a future post, I will address my views vis-a-vis all twelve of Grudem's "problems".

Monday, April 01, 2019

Thoughts on Talents

The parable of the talents (did you think I meant something else?) is
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 25:14-30)
The unanswered question in this parable is this: what if one of the servants who put the talents (gold) at risk had lost the money? Would the master have been angry? Well, a real master would probably have been furious. But this is a parable, and I suspect that the lesson intended is that if you invest your gifts for the furtherance of your master's kingdom, the master's kingdom, the investment will always return a considerable profit. In such investment strategies, past performance is a guarantee of future success. (Just to be crystal clear, we are talking about evangelical and ministerial investment, not money.)

What really interests me is that this is often viewed as a parable about just two courses of action, faithfulness and unfaithfulness. However, there is a third option presented. The master describes an intermediate approach, which while not optimal is still acceptable. And that is: the gold could have banked, and while the profits would have been meager, it was greatly preferred when compared to burying the gift and thereby rendering it of no service.

If we can say that the first two servants behaved "perfectly", the alternate route mentioned by the master shows us the we have freedom of not worrying about perfection. What we do not have is the freedom of inaction.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

New Testament Writings (remix)

The New Testament Writings

There was an interesting issue that troubled early Christianity: the question of sin after baptism. This was a very difficult subject. The source of the problem can be traced to a passage in Hebrews:
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:26-27)
We would tend to paraphrase this passage like this: For those who heard the gospel and continue to sin without repentance, completely alienating themselves from the church, where can they turn? There is no sacrifice remaining that will result in forgiveness.

But by some in the early church this passage was interpreted to mean that there was little hope for forgiveness of post-baptismal sin. (So difficult was this passage, that some denied the authority of Hebrews for lack of a satisfactory explanation--for to accept that there is no forgiveness after baptism was too difficult a yoke to bear.)

This was one of the reasons some of the church fathers (Tertullian, in particular) supported adult baptism: once baptized there was no turning back. In order to fit their severe view of post-baptismal sin, it was taught that it was possible for man to live a post-baptismal sinless life.

To see how seriously this was taken, let us look at the appearance of a milder view, which is found in the allegorical The Shepherd of Hermas by a Roman writer, sometime early in the second century. This work was a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for the early Christians and was widely distributed among the churches. Addressing post-baptismal sin, you read in The Shepherd:
1[29]:7 "If then, Sir," say I, "after the wife is divorced, she repent and desire to return to her own husband, shall she not be received?"

1[29]:8 "Certainly," saith he, "if the husband receiveth her not, he sinneth and bringeth great sin upon himself; nay, one who hath sinned and repented must be received, yet not often; for there is but one repentance for the servants of God. For the sake of her repentance therefore the husband ought not to marry. This is the manner of acting enjoined on husband and wife.
In other words, the radical new idea was that believers could be forgiven for post-baptismal sin, but just once! Tertullian, for his part, refers to Hermas’s work as "The Shepherd of the Adulterers".

After some time, necessary expedients were developed. Of course, not all sin was equally heinous, and some sin was mild enough that confession and repentance sufficed for complete restoration. However, the big three, that is the three major sins in Judaism: murder, perjury, and adultery, were excommunicable, as was apostasy -–which is self-excommunication at any rate. So a new issue arose concerning whether one who was excommunicated could ever be restored.

A serious dispute arose in Rome over this question in the early part of the third century. Callistus, Bishop of Rome (Pope Callistus I) from 217 to 222, ruled that the sincerely repentant may be readmitted even after adultery or fornication. Tertullian was outraged and responded with venom from across the Mediterranean at what he viewed as a “peremptory edict” issued from “the Bishop of Bishops” (intended sarcastically.)

There was also serious opposition from within Rome, and it lead to an early schism. Hippolytus, considered by some to be the greatest scholar in the Western world of his time, complained of Callistus’s “criminal laxity.” Then, with his followers, he withdrew from fellowship and established a rival Roman church, giving him the distinction of being the first antipope (a false claimant to the papacy) in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. A great scholar, yes. A great theologian, no. Callitus’s psotion more accurately reflected the gospel. The schism was short lived. Hippolytus was banished to Sardinia in A.D. 235, during a period of persecution, along with Callistus’s successor, Pontainus (Pope St. Pontian). The rival popes were reconciled before their martyrdom, and Hippolytus is now a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

A little later, during the persecution under Decius (249-251) you might recall that many believers renounced their faith, unable to persevere when faced with the prospect of torture and death. Another debate arose concerning whether they could be restored. To some, who conveniently forgot the example of Peter himself, those who lapsed were analogous to traitors to an army, and reconciliation was impossible. To more reasoned others, a distinction was sought to differentiate between those who took active measures to renounce their faith and those who recanted under torture. Dionysius, Bishop of Rome (Pope St. Dionysius) was of the moderate (and, in this case, correct) camp who argued against those who said that restoration was impossible, calling them “those who slander our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ as unmerciful.” Once again, controversy led to schism. This time the antipope was a man by the name of Novatian. Novatian, c.200-c.258, was a Roman theologian and the first writer of the Western church to use Latin. He had himself consecrated bishop of Rome in 251 in opposition to Pope Cornelius, believing, as mentioned, that Cornelius was too lenient toward those who had apostatized during the Decian persecution and had then sought readmission. Novatian was excommunicated, but his followers formed a schismatic church that persisted for several centuries. Novatian himself was probably martyred in the persecution of Valerian.

The New Testament Writings

Some would like to couch a portion of the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church in this way: The former believes that Jesus rose from the dead because he reads it in the New Testament, while the latter believes it because the Church says it is true. In fact, that’s a distinction without a difference (which is not to say there is not considerable differences between Protestants and Catholics to be found elsewhere.) Both the New Testament (the scriptures) and the church are a consequence of Christ’s resurrection. The New Testament did not create the church, nor the church the New Testament. As some have put it: the two grew up together.

Throughout the first Christian century, the apostles’ writings were conveyed both orally and in writing. This was true from the earliest days of the Church. When Paul was at Ephesus, he heard of problems in the church at Corinth, and he immediately dispatched an epistle. Later, in Corinth, he sent a letter outlining the essentials of Christian theology to the church at Rome. By about A.D. 60, there were several letters from Paul and other apostles in the hands of various churches and individuals.

The need for a written account became acute when the apostles advanced in age, for it was clear that at some point they, as the eyewitnesses, would not be around. The Roman church (it appears) asked Mark to write down the message that Peter had delivered to them. At an earlier time, written collections of the sayings of Christ took shape. Shortly after Mark’s account was written down, Luke penned his two part history of Christianity, the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. Then in the Syrian region, another gospel appeared: the gospel of Matthew. Later in the century, at Ephesus, the gospel of John, the last surviving apostle, appears.

As long as these documents were scattered about, there was in no sense a New Testament. Not that the documents were not accepted as authoritative, for they certainly were, as were Paul’s correspondence, even though (for example in Corinth) there was some questioning of Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul himself wrote:
If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. (1 Cor. 14:37)
Here we see that Paul is affirming the absolute authority of what he is writing.

What was lacking, in this early period, was a canon, or an officially recognized list of sacred writings. Now an example of such a thing did exist: the Old Testament. What was needed was a similar compendium of apostolic writings.

Toward the end of the first century, a movement developed to collect the writings of Paul, which consisted entirely of letters. The motivation for the movement is uncertain, but some have speculated that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles became widely known and extremely popular around the year 90, and this sparked interest in Paul. It is know that about this time various churches began searching their records and archives for Pauline correspondence.

By about the year 95, the “Vatican Library” of the time held Paul’s letter to the Romans, his first epistle to the Corinthians and possibly one or two others letters of Paul. It also contained the letter to the Hebrews, and First Peter, some of the gospels, and the Greek version of the New Testament (the Septuagint).

An incontrovertible piece of evidence is the letter written to the Corinthian church in A.D. 95 by the bishop of Rome (Pope) Clement, in which he wrote:
Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas [Peter] and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties. (1 Clement, 47)
So without question Clement had access to Paul’s first Corinthian epistle. Since he nowhere quoted Paul’s second letter in his own correspondence to the Corinthians, even though parts are apropos to what he writing, it is concluded that Rome did not have a copy of that correspondence.

So the effort to collect Paul’s writings continued, and by the end of the first century, it is evident that there existed a Pauline corpus that was in the hands of various churches. At first it contained ten letters, but shortly thereafter the three pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were added.

At the same time, another collection began to circulate among the churches: the four gospels. From the beginning of the second century, the Catholic Church used these and only these gospels, even though the occasional gospel of someone-else appeared.

So in the early years of the second century there were two books in circulation: The Gospels, with contents According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and The Pauline Corpus, with subheadings To the Romans, First Letter to the Corinthians, etc.

The church was making admirable progress in establishing a canon. And then something happened to expedite the process.


Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus (Asia Minor), born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. Around the year A.D. 140 he traveled to Rome and presented his peculiar teachings to the elders. They found his ideas unacceptable, to say the least. Marcion’s response was to leave the church and form his own heretical sect.

Marcion’s heresy anticipates some that will follow, and we will have more to say about it in a subsequent post. For now, we note that Marcion (1) denied the authority of the entirety of the Old Testament and (2) denied the authority of all the apostles except Paul, because only Paul (according to Marcion) did not allow his faith to be defiled by mixing it with Judaism. Only Paul had not apostatized from the teachings of Jesus.

Marcion was perhaps the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Jesus’ many appeals to the Old Testament notwithstanding, Marcion believed that Jesus Himself placed no authority in the Old Testament and had come to liberate man from the bondage to the Old Testament God.

Jesus, according to Marcion, was not the son of the God of the Old Testament, but the son of the superior God of goodness and mercy of the New Testament whom Marcion called the Father.

The sacred writings (including Paul’s letters), Marcion taught, had been corrupted by Judiazers if not directly then by the Jewish sympathies of the apostles (excluding Paul). All scripture was in need of a cleansing under Marcion’s direction.

So Marcion deleted the Old Testament, and developed his own canon consisting of two parts: The Gospel, a sanitized version of Luke’s gospel, and The Apostle, a similarly sanitized version of Paul’s first ten letters. Marcion’s canon provided the impetus for the Church to redouble her efforts to establish a proper canon of her own. Immediately there was anti-Marcion pronouncements that voiced support for the Catholic writings, but still, those writings were not officially delimited into a collection of sacred scriptures.

On the other hand, the situation was not hopelessly muddled, not by a long shot. The church did have an effectively recognized ad hoc canon, but it lacked official sanctioning. Documents discovered in the twentieth century attest to the fact that by 140-150, the collection of writings accepted by Rome was virtually identical with our New Testament.

So the Catholic response to Marcion was this: (1) We accept the Old Testament because Christ fulfilled them and stamped them with his approval. (2) The divinely inspired books of this new age do not supersede the Old Testament but stand beside it. (3) The Gospel contains not one but four accounts, including the one that Marcion mangled. (4) The Apostle contains not just ten of Paul’s letters, but thirteen, and it also contains correspondence of some of the other apostles. (5) Special emphasis was placed on Luke’s second half of Christian history, the Book of Acts, which Marcion omitted from his canon. Its special place was now recognized: it bridged The Gospel to The Apostle. (It was at this time that the book became known as The Acts of the Apostles, although in some anti-Marcion literature it was dubbed The Acts of All the Apostles.

Another response to Marcion was to write prologues for each of the gospels in order to establish their legitimacy. The prologue to Matthew’s gospel was lost. Part of Mark’s prologue reads:
…Mark declared, who is called 'stump-fingered,' because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.
Luke’s prologue has a lengthy biography:
Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch, a physician by profession, a disciple of the apostles. Later he accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom, serving the Lord without distraction, for he had neither wife nor children. He died in Boeotia at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit. So then, after two Gospels had already been written - Matthew's in Judea and Mark's in Italy - Luke wrote this Gospel in the region of Achaia, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. At its outset, he indicated that other Gospels had been written before his on, but that the obligation lay upon him to set forth for the Gentile believers a complete account in the course of his narrative and to do so as accurately as possible. The object of this was that they might not be captivated on the one hand by a love for Jewish fables, nor on the other hand be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus wander from the truth. So, right at the beginning, Luke has handed down to us the story of the birth of John [the Baptist], as a most essential [part of the Gospel story]; for John marks the beginning of the Gospel, since he was our Lord's forerunner and associate both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry [of John's] was foretold by one of the Twelve Prophets [i.e. the minor prophets]. Later on, the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.

The anti-Marcion flavor of this prologue is evident when it is understood that included in the considerable mischief Marcion made with Luke’s gospel, he completely excised any reference to John the Baptist, since John the Baptist was a link between the new age and the Jewish past. Furthermore, the explicit reference to The Acts of the Apostles is a not very subtle reminder that Marcion rejected that work.

The most intriguing is John’s prologue:
The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John when he was still in the body, as Papias of Hierapolis, John’s dear disciple has related in his five exegetical books. He wrote down the gospel accurately at John’s dictation. But the heretic Marcion was rejected by John, after earning his disapproval for his contrary views.
There are several inaccuracies that jump out—certainly the apostle John was not a contemporary of Marcion.

Another anti-Marcion document was a list of books that represents the canon near the end of the second century. It was discovered by L. A. Muratori in 1740. The beginning is missing, and the first book mentioned is the gospel of Luke and it’s called the third, so it is reasonable to assume that it included Matthew and Mark as the first and second books.

I. ...those things at which he was present he placed thus. The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself as one studious of right. Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, "Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to each of us." On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind. And hence, although different points are taught us in the several books of the Gospels, there is no difference as regards the faith of believers, inasmuch as in all of them all things are related under one imperial Spirit, which concern the Lord's nativity, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent,-the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these several things so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, "What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written." For thus he professes himself to be not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer; and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord in their order.

2. Moreover, the Acts of all the Apostles are comprised by Luke in one book, and addressed to the most excellent Theophilus, because these different events took place when he was present himself; and he shows this clearly-i.e., that the principle on which he wrote was, to give only what fell under his own notice-by the omission of the passion of Peter, and also of the journey of Paul, when he went from the city-Rome-to Spain.

3. As to the epistles of Paul, again, to those who will understand the matter, they indicate of themselves what they are, and from what place or with what object they were directed. He wrote first of all, and at considerable length, to the Corinthians, to check the schism of heresy; and then to the Galatians, to forbid circumcision; and then to the Romans on the rule of the Old Testament Scriptures, and also to show them that Christ is the first object in these;-which it is needful for us to discuss severally, as the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans. Moreover, though he writes twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians for their correction, it is yet shown-i.e., by this sevenfold writing-that there is one Church spread abroad through the whole world. And John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes only to seven churches, yet addresses all. He wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey.

4. The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John-are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church. The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Plus sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time. Of the writings of Arsinous, called also Valentinus, or of Miltiades, we receive nothing at all. Those are rejected too who wrote the new Book of Psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides and the founder of the Asian Cataphrygians.

So from this we see what books are in the canon around A.D. 200. The four gospels, Acts, Paul’s thirteen letters, Jude, two epistles of John (the second of which is possibly what we now consider the second and third.) Revelation, and a second Revelation due to Peter. This book is known and was read in some churches –its lurid treatment of the state of the damned is believed to underlie much medieval writing on the subject including Dante’s Inferno.

Some believe the epistles of Peter are omitted by error. Regardless, we have essentially a recognizable canon, with the notable absence of Hebrews and James.

Friday, March 22, 2019

If my representative commits a crime, I don't go to jail

Among my Reformed brothers and sisters, I might be a minority of one (and so I'm probably wrong), but so far nobody has made me budge on this issue.

I agree in Federal Headship, i.e., that Adam was our representative, and that when he fell, we fell. However, it appears that many believe we suffered a twofold condemnation:
  1. Adam’s sin of disobedience—his actual instance of taking the forbidden fruit, is in our debit column.
  2. Adams sin corrupted his moral DNA, and we inherited that foul genetic material, so that we are sinners even from within the womb.

When we (or when I) speak of the fall, I am only referring to point 2.

Now the 2nd point in some sense renders the 1st point irrelevant. Whether or not Adam’s actual sin is charged to us doesn’t matter much mathematically, since (N+1) N for large values of N. (And all values of N are large, even though N = 1 is big enough.) However, proclaiming the truth of point 1 bothers me because I think it rather transparently impugns God’s character.

The Federal Headship teachings are fraught with bad political analogies, at least if you are trying to support the first point. It is quite true that a President, as my representative, may cause me all manner of difficulties (including death) as a result of his moral failings. This is likened to point 2.  However if the President commits a crime, then (in principle) he goes to jail, not me. That would be likened to point 1.

The proof texts for Federal Headship (such as Rom. 5:12-14) do not require point 1. They can easily and naturally just refer to the moral DNA corruption that left all with the double-negative cringeworthy inability to not sin.

Many will then, in the most common of Reformed (or simply theological) fallacious arguments (proof by assertion, or one of its variants, such as proof by slippery slope) make this kind of argument:
[To] deny Adam's representative headship logically leads to a denial of Christ's  representative headship on the Cross.
No it does not logically follow. The situation has some symmetry, but not perfect symmetry.  When Adam sinned, his nature was instantly (i.e., in "this life") actually and physically (and mentally) corrupted, as were ours by normal inheritance.  At birth (conception), nobody is reckoned as corrupt, they are corrupt. In Christ’s perfect obedience our nature (in this life) is not instantly transformed into actual physical and mental moral righteousness, we are reckoned as righteous. There is no corresponding state: reckoned as evil. The symmetry is there, but certainly it is not perfect.

If you accept point 1, then you must allow for this hypothetical dialog:
Now behold, a young man came and said to Him, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” 
So Jesus said to him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” 
Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 
The young man did as Jesus demanded and returned.  "Master, I have done what you requested. Am I now perfect as you promised?" 
“Um, no, sorry, my bad. See I didn’t think you’d actually do it... because you see, and this is rather embarrassing,  you also are charged with eating the fruit, even though you didn't… I kinda forgot to mention that…

May it never be, even in a hypothetical.