Wednesday, July 30, 2014

God is my co-pilot

I notice that atheists and cessationists are both making hay about Prionda HIll, who ran over a motorcyclist because “she was driving and out of no where God told her that he would take it from here and she let go of the wheel and let him take it.”

i) It's predictable that atheists would cite this incident to discredit Christians. It's the kind of opportunistic, unprincipled attack you'd expect from atheists. 

ii) But for the same reason, that's why it's foolish for cessationists to seize in this incident as a way to discredit charismatic theology. There are responsible ways to critique charismatic theology. You can raise exegetical objections. You can raise empirical objections. But this is not a responsible way to attack charismatic theology.

iii) To begin with, why assume there's a charismatic connection? You don't have to be charismatic to hear, or claim to hear, strange voices in your head. Psychotics hear voices. In principle, a psychotic cessationist might hear voices. Cessationists are not immune to mental illness. Does the fact that psychotics hear voices discredit mental illness? 

iv) I'm reminded of how atheists pounced on Anders Breivik as a Christian mass murderer. But as we learned more about him, he didn't even claim to be a believer. He admitted that he was just a cultural Christian. 

If you're going to comment on Prionda Hill, you should at least wait for more background details to emerge. Did a tox report reveal drugs in her system? Does she have a history of mental illness?

v) Suppose she is charismatic. If her example disproves charismatic theology, do Westboro Baptists disprove Baptist theology? There's the obvious fallacy of the hasty generalization. 

vi) Likewise, evangelic cessationists believe in demonic possession. Someone who's possessed can hear voices. He may act on that, with dire consequences. Does that discredit belief in demonic possession? Does that bring the Gospels into disrepute? 

vii) There's also an elementary difference between saying you hear a voice and hearing a voice.

viii) Perhaps the cessationist argument is not that she actually heard a voice. Perhaps it's an argument from analogy: If you believe God still speaks to Christians in an audible voice, how can you deny that God may have spoken to Prionda Hill?

If so, that argument backfires. An atheist can easily turn that argument against them:

"Abraham heard a voice telling him to kill his son. If you heard a voice telling you do to that, would you?"

"How do you know God spoke to Abraham, but God didn't speak to Prionda HIll?"

Both cessationists and charismatics need to be able to answer the same type of question. There are parallel objections. 

Should Israel be held to a higher standard?

I expect the current conflict between Israel and Gaza will burn out. The media will shift attention to other stories, like the latest celebrity scandal. However, the current conflict is worth discussing because it's a microcosm of perennial issues and perennial arguments. 

1) One thing I notice is that opponents of Israel hold Israel to a higher standard. In the case of evangelical or "progressive Christian" critics, they judge Israel's conduct by Christian standards (as they define it). 

What's striking about this is how one-sided they are. They don't hold Israel's Muslim adversaries to Christian standards. They may admit that jihadist tactics are inexcusable, but that's a throwaway concession which they admit or volunteer at the outset to get it out of the way so that they can ignore it and fixate on Israel. 

There's a racist quality to that double standard. "Well, that's just the way Muslims are. What did you expect?" But it's clearly unfair to hold Israel to a different, and higher standard, than the Muslims. 

2) But another problem is disagreement over Christian ethics. What is morally permissible in war? 

i) Generally, critics of Israel operate with one of two ethical paradigms. Some critics espouse a crude form of deontology in which circumstances or outcomes never affect the morality  of the action. Every action comes down to a choice between what's intrinsically good or intrinsically evil. They don't allow for the possibility that there are special situations in which something that's normally wrong might be permissible or even obligatory. 

ii) You also have critics who operate with an abstract pacifism, a la Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Stanley Hauerwas, &c. 

In both cases, critics fail to offer workable guidelines on how a country like Israel can effectively defend its citizens. It's all about restrictions. What you're not allowed to do to defend yourself. 

3) Not surprisingly, these objections are typically raised by critics who are not in that position. And this can have profoundly ironic results. If you espouse the wrong ethical absolutes, then your position is inherently unstable. Today's moral absolutist can easily become tomorrow's moral relativist, if his ethical commitments are hypothetical and impractical. Today's pacifist can quickly become tomorrow's war criminal.

Someone who espouses a chic, pollyannaish code of conduct is, if anything, far more likely to commit atrocities than someone with a principled, but realistic code of conduct. Oftentimes, their pacifism or idealistic deontology goes up in a puff of smoke the moment it comes in contact with harsh, unyielding reality. Because their moral absolutism is so inflexible, they have nothing to fall back on if it fails to give them practical guidance in a real-world situation. Once they lose it, they are prepared to do anything to survive. 

I lived through the Vietnam War. I wasn't draft age, so I didn't serve. But I was exposed to the coverage. Due to the draft, you had many G.I.'s who were opposed to the war. Some of them were very pacifistic or idealistic before they were deployed. They couldn't imagine killing another human being. 

But when they suddenly found themselves thrust into a combat situation where they own life was on the line, they ditched their scruples. Raw instinct took over. 

I remember watching an interview with some Vietnam vets. They talked about their attitude before they were drafted. Then they talked about the kinds of things they ended up doing in theater. 

Not only would they kill the Viet Cong– they cut their ears off and wore thesevered ears around their neck, as a trophy. Mutilating the dead would have been inconceivable to them before they were drafted. But once they shuffled off their glib, pollyannaish code of conduct, there was no moral floor left. 

This is the danger of having a purely abstract, unworkable code of conduct. It's an exercise in self-flattery. But it can only survive so long as that's never put to the test. The moment it's gone, the former absolutist has no moral inhibitions whatsoever. He will do whatever it takes to stay alive, by any means necessary. Having crossed a certain line, there is no line he will not cross. 

That's why the ethics of war need to be principled, but practical. Otherwise, anything goes. Sheer pragmatism. 

4) Let's take the ticking time bomb scenario. Suppose a terrorist is nabbed after he planted a bomb on a passenger plane. If you find out where he hid it, the bomb can be ejected from the plane before it denotates

If necessary, is it wrong to torture the terrorist to extract that life-saving information? I'd say no. By his actions, he has forfeited the normal immunities. He has no right to endanger the passengers. And he has no right to withhold that information.  

But what if he doesn't break under torture. Suppose, however, his 4-year-old son was with him at the time he was nabbed. He will divulge the information if his son is tortured before his eyes.

Is that permissible? I'd say no. His son has done nothing to forfeit his normal immunities. That would be committing one wrong to prevent another wrong.

Sometimes, doing the right thing has deplorable consequences. All the passengers will die. 

We're not God. There are limits to what we can prevent, consistent with our moral parameters.  

The hermeneutic of the WCF vs the hermeneutic of Newman

Here is my look at a comment that is instructive because it seeks to show how “Roman Catholics and Protestants do the same thing”, but where really, they are doing something completely different...

You are not arriving at your concept of “visible teaching church” from “all of Scripture”. You are beginning with the concept “visible teaching church” and then mining “the fathers” for kinds of proof texts that suit your needs.

Finding something “implicit in” is in no way “deducing by good and necessary consequence”.

Read more.

So what about Arab Christians?

Double effect principle in warfare

Its posts like these that allow Israel to target innocent women and children while the world just stands back and watches.
i) I'm flattered that you think Triablogue is so influential. Has Netanyahu been quoting my post in interviews and press conferences? 
ii) Israel isn't "targeting" women and children. Rather, Hamas is using women and children as human shields. Jihadis are cowards who hide behind women and children in a game of chicken. They attack Israel, then dare Israel to retaliate. 
Israel's response is justified by the double effect principle. For instance:
The true evil lies, not in killing women and children under those circumstances, but in putting women and children in harm's way–thereby forcing Israel's hand. Hamas is culpable, not Israel. 
Remember the good Samaritan? Jews despised the Samaritans because they did not believe as he did. But the Samaritan did the Father's will. He put his faith into action by doing it.
That's a non sequitur. Israel isn't striking Gaza because Israelis hate Arabs. Although the Arabs are motived by religion, many Israelis, especially the policymakers, are secular Jews or nominal Jews. Rather, Israel is counterattacking. Defending itself. 
And when Paul spoke against the works of the law he was speaking of the ritualistic Mosaic laws, not acts of kindness and love.
Paul didn't speak against works of the law. Rather, he spoke against law-keeping as a means of justification.

Travel to a Muslim country, and you will find that there is more kindness there then you will find from your average American neighbor. Don't be deceived by Western propaganda.

My view of Islam isn't based on "Western propaganda." I get my view of Islam straight from the horse's mouth.

ISIS - the radical group we are seeing today - is the product of a joint effort by the CIA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow Assad. 

Islamic aggression has been going on ever since Muhammad. Century after century. 
That failed, but now we have yet another radical group as an excuse to go to war yet again.
There's no evidence that we're going to wage another foreign war anytime soon.

Due to the fact that Islam destroyed idolatry, and returned many to monotheism, he was a sort of prophet.

Given your attachment to Swedenborg, I understand how one false prophet might pay tribute to another false prophet. Birds of a feather. 
False monotheism is no better than polytheism. Worshipping one false God (Allah) is just as idolatrous as worshipping many false gods. It simply consolidates idolatry into a single object of impiety. 
He was not given the same revelation as Christianity.
That's euphemistic. 
But it was a step in the right direction, for at that time the church began to fall away under the influence of the Catholic Church. 
Replacing one heresy with another is not a step in the right direction. 
Don't judge Islam by the radicals - its like Muslims judging Christianity from the crusades.
i) The Crusades were a counteroffensive to Muslim aggression. 
ii) I don't think there's anything wrong with judging Catholicism by the crusades (among other things).
iii) Radical Islam isn't the radical fringe, but the historic center. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Homosexual marriage and miscegenation

Homosexual activists like to compare opposition to homosexual marriage to opposition to interracial marriage. It's a familiar, guilt-by-association smear.
In a sense, they are half right. Mind you, it's dangerous to be half right–since the right part falsifies the rest.
There is a parallel, but not the parallel they intend. The actual analogy ricochets against their position.
Both homosexuals and segregationists try to artificially redefine the institution of marriage. Both try to define marriage for political reasons rather than natural reasons. 
Segregationists opposed miscegenation, not because blacks and whites are naturally incompatible mates, but because interracial marriage is incompatible with the socioeconomic system of segregation. If marriage is the fundamental social unit, then you can't very well maintain segregation if you permit interracial marriage. If you're committed to segregation, then you can't draw the lines on marriage where nature draws the lines. You have to redraw the lines in spite of nature.
This is directly parallel to homosexual activists. If you're committed to homosexual "equality," then you can't draw the lines of marriage where nature draws the lines. You have to redraw the lines in spite of nature. Homosexual activists support homosexual marriage, not because same-sex "couples" are compatible mates, but because natural marriage is incompatible with the homosexual agenda. 
(By "nature," I mean God's design for men and women.)
Ironically, the analogy backfires. Both homosexuals and segregationists are wrong for similar reasons. 

Fatal attraction

When Christians Become Apologists for Terror

Three-hanky theology

I'm going to comment on this post:
If I had my druthers, I'd rather not pick on Bethlehem Bible College. Problem is: their statement has been hailed in many quarters of the Internet as representing the authentic Christian response. Modeling how Christians ought to view the issue. Striking the right balance. 
I have great sympathy for the plight of indigenous Christians in the Mideast. They find themselves caught in a vice. Usually it's a Muslim vice but sometimes they are squeezed between Muslim and Israeli combatants. It's a pretty untenable position. 
By the same token, I realize that Arab Christians aren't free to speak their minds. Even if they were more sympathetic to Israel, or resentful of their Muslim overlords, they can't afford to say what they really think. 
If the question of "occupied territory" simply involved Israelis and Arab Christians, I'd take a different position on israeli claims. The problem is that Muslims make compromise impossible. 
Unfortunately, the statement issued by Bethhem Bible College is sappy-headed sentimentalism. Bad theology underwriting bad ethics. 
Today God weeps over the situation in Palestine and Israel. Today God weeps over Gaza.  With God, our hearts are broken when we see the carnage in Gaza and in Israel. 
i) Does God weep at the sight of violence? Is God sitting on the throne with a big box of Kleenex, daubing his moist eyes and blowing his nose whenever he sees human violence? 
Honestly, what kind of God merely weeps in the face of evil? How does that help anyone?
ii) Imagine if a sniper entered an elementary school. Imagine if an armed security guard was on duty. An hour later, police have secured the scene. You have 20 dead children. A TV reporter interviews the security guard: "Why didn't you do anything?"
"Oh, I did," says the guard. "Every time I saw the sniper shoot a child in the head, I cried. I pleaded with the sniper to stopping killing them."
Would we consider that a satisfactory response?
iii) If God is that passive and ineffectual, then the logical response would be to conclude that, "Hey, God won't intervene–ever. So we better arm ourselves to the teeth and take preemptive action. Shoot first, ask questions later. For we are on our own. No one will rescue us–least of all God. It's every man for himself."
“All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally”, stated the Christ at the Checkpoint manifesto…As Christians committed to nonviolence, we do not and cannot endorse Hamas’ ideology.
i) Okay, so they're pacifists. Now I realize that at this point, armed resistance is probably futile. Arab Christians are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Muslims. So pacifism is making a virtue of necessity–like people who become vegetarians because they have no meat to eat–even if they wanted to. 
ii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that God is a pacifist. Does that mean you should be a pacifist? Follow his example?
Problem is, God has nothing to lose. It doesn't cost God anything to be a pacifist. He's invulnerable. He doesn't bleed. He can't be hurt. If anything, the comparison invites the reverse strategy for Christians.
At the same time, we are shocked by the unproportional and inhuman response by the Israeli military and the disregard of civilian life and specially innocent women and children.
In a fallen world, sometimes it's necessary to take life to save life. Otherwise, even more innocent women and children will die. 
A "disproportionate" response may be necessary to remove the threat. 
In the face of this, we affirm – using the words of our own Dr. Yohanna Katanacho:
We are against killing children and innocent people. We support love not hatred, justice not oppression, equality not bigotry, peaceful solutions not military solutions. Violence will only beget wars, it will bring more pain and destruction for all the nations of the region. 
That's the cycle of violence nonsense. But violence doesn't necessarily beget more violence. 
Suppose a couple of men armed with baseball bats break into your home, threatening you and your family. You have a choice: you can reach for a gun or a box of Kleenex. 
Here's my advice: put the box of Kleenex down and pick up your gun. Two well-placed bullets will end the violence before it begins. 

Weeping for Jerusalem

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44).
Here's a popular Arminian prooftext. But it backfires. In principle, there are two ways of understanding the passage.
I. God's perspective
On this view, the passage isn't just a reflection of Christ's viewpoint, but God's viewpoint. A window into God's attitude towards the lost. 
Let's grant that understanding for the sake of argument. Problem is: the Jews of Jerusalem weren't the only people to suffer or die in the siege and sack of Jerusalem. Many Roman soldiers were maimed or died in that operation. Yet Jesus doesn't weep for them. He doesn't weep for the aggressors. 
Perhaps you'd say the Roman soldiers aren't entitled to sympathy. But that's inconsistent with the Arminian emphasis on God's omnibenevolence. 
In addition, Rome never had an all-volunteer army. The Roman army included many forced conscripts. Hence, there's a sense in which the Roman casualties are as much victims as the Jewish casualties. And it's not as if the Jews went down without a fight. They took a lots of Romans with them. 
So if this text reveals God's perspective, it reveals his selective concern for the Chosen People. If we grant the Arminian premise (i.e. it reflects God's outlook), then it becomes a prooftext for the partiality of divine love. An Arminian premise yields a Calvinist conclusion. 
II. Christ's perspective
Not everything that's true of God incarnate (the Son) is true of God discarnate (the Father & the Spirit). Due to the two natures of Christ, some things will be true of Christ that won't be true of God qua God. 
So this passage may well reflect the humanity of Christ. His human feelings. His human attachments. His natural empathy for his own people: the Jewish people. A sense of solidarity with his relatives. His extended family. 
You weep when your own mother dies; you don't weep when every mother dies. 
The Incarnation makes a difference: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15).
If, apart from the Incarnation, God has the same perspective, then the Incarnation is superfluous–for the divine nature can do the whole trick all by itself. And that's amplified by Arminians who reject penal substitution. In that case, there's even less rationale for the Incarnation. 

Early External Evidence For An Early Date For Luke-Acts

I think the best explanation for the ending of the book of Acts is that the events at the close of the book are the last significant events of church history that occurred before Luke published his work. So, it was published in the early to mid 60s.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Boomerang objections

As this reviewer notions, when annihilationists raise philosophical objections to the traditional position, their objections boomerang on annihilationism:
There are objections to conditionalism, of course, most which focus on matters of biblical interpretation, and I will not rehearse them here (for more see this pair of essays by Alan Gomes: 1, 2). Since I am trained as a philosopher, I will focus on some of the philosophical motivations for the view. With respect to proportionality, the objection that finite sins do not merit infinite punishment is ambiguous. In what sense are sins finite? Is it in terms of the amount of time it takes to commit them? If so, why couldn’t this undermine conditionalism as much as it does traditionalism? After all, the consequences of sins are eternal in both. Interestingly, this does not go unobserved by a contributor in this volume who argues that a good God could never perform divine capital punishment on sinners, and opts for a view where one goes out of existence as a result of one’s own spurning divine grace. According to this author, God is not in the business of meeting out punishment in the afterlife, which seems implausible given the biblical evidence cited above. 
Perhaps the finite/infinite distinction is to be understood in terms of harm: no sin could do infinite harm; therefore, it is not worthy of infinite punishment. But this is far from obvious. Suppose Smith would have repented at time t2, had Jones not murdered him at t1. Since Smith is forever shut out from the presence of God, Jones’s sin causes Smith an infinite loss. Assuming Jones does not repent, why shouldn’t Jones be suffer this same infinite loss too? Thus, the proportionality objection proves too little and the goodness-of-God objection proves too much. Conditionalism should probably just stick to the biblical arguments and not wander into these rhetorically empty maneuvers.

Testing Mill's maxim

"Testing Mill's Maxim"

Evaluating the Arab–Israeli conflict

One reason professing Christians disagree on the Arab-Israeli conflict is because they approach the issue with different criteria. Instead of debating the particulars of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it would be more productive to analyze the criteria by which they evaluate this conflict. To some extent I think there's a failure to recognize or make explicit their criteria.

I. Theological

Dispensationalists side with Israel because they think the modern state of Israel represents the ongoing fulfillment of promise and prophecy. God gave the Jews this land. That's an irrevocable divine promise. 

Conversely, you have Reformed Baptist and Reformed Presbyterians who either side with the "Palestinians" or at least try to be even-handed (as they see it) in opposition to dispensationalism. The position they take on the Arab-Israeli conflict is an indirect result of the direct position they take in opposition to dispensational theology.

Nowadays, some Christians have a Calvinist soteriology, but a dispensational eschatology. But I'm referring to Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians who espouse traditional covenant theology.

II. Social justice

i) Many people who side with the "Palestinians" frame the issue as a social justice issue. This includes many secular liberals, and "progressive Christians," as well as some conservative evangelicals. 

The liberals view Hamas and the PLO as freedom fighters rather than terrorists. They distinguish between the just cause (as they define it) and the means. Even if Hamas or the PLO resorts terrorist tactics, that's in the service of a just cause. And they view that as counterterrorism in response to Israeli terrorism. 

The just cause is the axiom that Palestine is "occupied" territory. The Israelis expelled the Palestinians from their homes during the war of independence. Therefore, "Palestinians" are simply fighting back to reclaim what was theirs all along. 

Conservative evangelicals don't go that far. But they try to be equitable. They deplore the "cycle of violence" on both sides. They want to be fair to the "Palestinians." They think the "Palestinians" suffered a genuine and grave injustice during the war of independence. "Palestinians" have legitimate historical grievances with their Israeli overlords. 

ii) One problem with the social justice angle is that it's premised on a historical narrative that's hotly contested. Jewish sources present a very different version of events:

iii) Apropos (ii), someone might object that I just cited a biased source. And I don't dispute that. But that's a problem with the premise. Most of us aren't qualified to assess the historical claims and counter-claims. Most of us are in no position to sift through the competing narratives and decide which account is more accurate. 

iv) However, some proponents of this criterion also cite pro-Palestinian Jewish sources. Supposedly, that's objective and unbiased. After all, these are Israelis or Jews criticizing their own people. Speaking for myself, the mere fact that you can find Jews who take the Palestinian side leaves me unimpressed. 

a) Judaism isn't monolithic. It ranges all along a political and theological spectrum, from far left to far right. 

b) To my knowledge, Israel has nearly universal conscription (with few exemptions). The IDF isn't composed of rightwing patriots who volunteer to defend their country. Rather, every political viewpoint will be represented in the IDF, due to the demographically sweeping scope of the draft. As such, it isn't hard to quote dissenters within the ranks.

Likewise, you have Jewish-American professors who, from the safety of their American campus, can afford to pander to the jihadists. So what? 

v) There is also the underlying assumption that social problems in the present have their "root cause" in the past. To solve the problem, we must discover the source of the problem by tracing the effect back to some past miscarriage of justice–be it real, imagined, or exaggerated. It's like Freudian psychology transposed to a sociological key. Like something went wrong in childhood. So we're always treated to a history lesson. 

But aside from the question of whether the historical reconstruction is accurate, another weakness with this analysis is that the same types of problems recur in different settings, where the background conditions are very different. 

vi) Yet another problem with the social justice angle is the assumption that Israel should treat Muslims better than Muslims treat each other. But why do Muslims expect strangers to treat Muslims better than Muslims treat their own kind? Muslims routinely brutalize fellow Muslims. 

vii) Apropos (vi), by what standard are we judging Israelis? Are we holding them to Christian standards? But since most Israelis aren't Christian, why would we expect them to defend themselves according to Christian ethics? In a sense, we can judge all parties to that standard, but we can't very well hold them to that standard. 

viii) There's also the question of how Christians could or should defend themselves in similar circumstances. If you're up against a ruthless, fanatical opponent who sacrifices his own women and children for the cause, who will never make peace with you, what realistic choice does he leave you? Frankly, I think Israel exhibits excessive restraint.  

ix) Thankfully I don't live in Israel. I can only imagine what a tremendous cumulative psychological toll it takes to live in a place where you never feel safe. Where you're in constant danger.

The predictability of the general threat (something bad is bound to happen every so often), yet unpredictability of the specific threats (not knowing when and where the terrorists will strike next). The tunnels exemplify that. The enemy can pop out of nowhere. I think that would generate a claustrophobic cultural mindset. 

That's exacerbated by the fact that Israel is so small: the size of NJ. So there's no buffer zone. It can hit you before you know it. The enemy can be right on top of you before you know it, much less have time to react. 

How can you live in a state of fear 24/7? Do Israelis just become inured to the omnipresent sense of danger? Do they become fatalistic? 

III. Risk Assessment

Then you have folks who pick a side based on who's a natural ally or adversary. Who poses a threat to you, your family, you're livelihood? It isn't based on history or eschatology, the past or the future, but on the present. Jews and Israelis aren't dangerous to Americans–although some Jews espouse secular ideologies that are dangerous to Christian freedom of expression. By contrast, Muslims have proven themselves to be dangerous to everyone. 

This is not the same thing as Realpolitik. We have a Christian duty to protect our dependents and practice our faith.  

Charting the “Reformed” Postmoderns

A Postmodern Continuum, by Jacob Aitken

One of the most useless terms in lay apologetics is “postmodern.” It usually means “someone different from me but I am not sure how.” Or it means Brian McLaren. Postmodernism as a critical literary and philosophical position is rarely distinguished from applications of postmodernism by hippie, angry, post-evangelicals. ...

For my own view, I see postmodernism as a literary-philosophical position in critique of (if not parasitic upon) late modern structures. Such a view is mediated through the works of Michael Horton and Kevin Vanhoozer.

We will start with the most radical and dangerous postmoderns to those who are sympathetic to postmodern, but would probably fit in a Reformed church. This list is not exclusive but is limited to those thinkers whom I have read...

Read more: A Postmodern Continuum

Gripped By A Great God

I wish this would be shown at every high school graduation:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some Bad Advice From Tony Miano

Tony Miano, well-known street preacher, had this to say on Facebook recently:
Can't find a solid church that supports open-air preaching?
Then go to a solid church that doesn't support open-air preaching, and submit to the authority of the pastors/elders of the church. It is more important that you are a serving member of a local church than it is for you to open-air preach.
Christian Brother: God has certainly called you to be a hand, or foot, or arm, or leg in His Body. But He may NOT have called you to open-air preach. The fact that you want to open-air preach doesn't mean God has called you to open-air preach. You may not be finding a church that supports open-air preaching because that may not be the role the Lord has for you in His body.
So, get plugged into a local church; live in submission to the elders and in love with the rest of the congregation. Be willing to work the nursery, or scrub a toilet, or teach a Sunday school class (if you're qualified). Be willing to serve for no other reason than it is a fulfillment of the two greatest commandments--to love God and to love people.
The Lord may yet call you to open-air preach (if you are a man), and you will know that because your pastors/elders will affirm your call to preach the gospel in the open-air. And they will likely affirm that call once they see you are willing to submit to authority, serve the Body, can rightly handle the Scriptures, and once they see that the gospel of Jesus Christ is more important to you than hearing your own voice preaching it.
Give it some thought.
I gave it some thought, and I'd like to share a few.

Notice that Miano didn't frame the issue in terms of whether the church thinks the individual reader ought to open-air preach (OAP). It is plausible a church might not want a particular individual to OAP. For example, if the aspiring preacher is not very good at explaining the Gospel, or he hasn't mastered his temper yet and easily gets mad and challenges people to fistfights. But Miano is talking about OAP in general.

On the other hand, Miano seems to be referring to a situation where an aspiring OA preacher is not a member of a church because he can't find one that supports OAP. It is a pitifully sad commentary on the state of Reformedigelical churches in the West that this is a plausible scenario. I would at least agree with Miano on this - if you're not a member of a church, there had better be a really really good reason. Ie, you live in a location where despite faithful searching you have not been able to connect with anybody who actually loves Jesus.

Paganism, Satanism, and witchcraft

I'm going to quote this as a foil:

Paganism should not be understood as a synonym for Satanism. For many Pagans such an association is offensive, being understood as one of the many ways Christians have historically sought to demonize indigenous, nature-venerating religions. Most contemporary Pagans will insist that because Satan does not feature in the Pagan worldview, and because Satanists work with a perverted understanding of the Christian worldview, Satanists are not Pagans, but rather Christian heretics. Indeed, many Pagans will actively distance themselves from Satanists and Satanism. The Paganism-Satanist  confusion, which probably stretches back to the Christian denunciation of Pagans as "devil-worshipers," has been exacerbated in recent years by misrepresentations in films, horror novels and popular books dealing with the occult. "Pagan and indigenous religions," New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics (IVP 2006), 524b. 

This raises a host of issues:

i) Methodologically speaking, I imagine it must be difficult to find any "pure," indigenous forms of paganism or witchcraft in the modern world. After 2000 years of church history and Christian mission, contemporary paganism and witchcraft have almost inevitably been impacted by contact with Christian theology and practice. Indeed, it is often in deliberate reaction to Christianity.

ii) Of course, we have many literary and archeological sources for varieties of pre-Christian paganism and witchcraft. However, that's problematic for the sanitized image of modern pagans and modern "wiccans," inasmuch as ancient pagans often practice human sacrifice or child sacrifice in particular.

iii) There's an obvious sense in which pre-Christian witchcraft isn't a synonym for Satanism. Pre-Christian witches and pagans didn't consciously worship Satan. That requires a revelatory perspective. However, it's quite possible to be unwittingly in the service of the Devil. 

iv) As scholars have documented, European witchcraft evolved into diabolical witchcraft. Cf. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 1984), J. B. Russell & B. Alexander, A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans (Thames & Hudson; 2nd ed., 2007).

Due, moreover, to the global reach of Christianity, European witchcraft is hardly confined to a particular period or geography. To take one example, consider Voodoo's amalgam of Catholicism and witchcraft.

v) European witchcraft was an eclectic synthesis of sorcery, old paganism, necromancy, folklore, and heresy (e.g. the Cathars, Luciferians, Adamites). That's often an explicit version of diabolical witchcraft.  

vi) One interesting question is the degree to which Roman Catholic sacerdotalism and sacramentalism might have been a partial catalyst for European witchcraft. To what extent is Satanism black magic to Catholicism's white magic (as it were)?

vii) I also wonder if European witchcraft wasn't influenced by the "whore of Babylon" in Rev 17-18. Both at a substantive and iconographical level, the image of a harlot and sorceress riding on the back of a scarlet beast is rife with connotations (e.g. immorality, bestiality, seduction, spells, human sacrifice) that feed into Satanism. Did that contribute to the development of diabolical witchcraft on the Continent? 

viii) A pagan/wiccan apologist might object that European witchcraft isn't "true" paganism, but an artificial, culturebound construct. No doubt there's a grain of truth to that complaint, although paganism and witchcraft are inherently syncretistic and opportunistic. 

ix) However, it could also be argued that the encounter between paganism and Christianity was a clarifying moment for paganism. The shock of recognition. Removing the mask to reveal what (or who) actually lay behind paganism and witchcraft. 

x) Finally, what about the incendiary charge of child sacrifice? I doubt contemporary Western pagans and witches generally practice child sacrifice. However, I suspect the basic reason is the fact that, at present, child sacrifice is illegal. Murder. A punishable offense. 

There are, however, parts of the world where life is cheap, where there are many unwanted children, abandoned children, street children. Children sold into slavery. There are parts of the world were modern-day witches could probably procure children (for a price) for ritual sacrifice. And that would mark a reversion to pre-Christian pagan practice. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Omelianchuck on the Free Will Defense

Paul Draper on God and the Burden of Proof

Islam is the problem

Some evangelicals are confused or conflicted about taking sides in the "Palestinian" conflict. They think support for Israel is too one-sided. We need to be fair to the "Palestinians." 
Speaking for myself, I'm not a dispensationalist. I'm not a Christian Zionist. 
I don't assume that 1948 is a significant date on the eschatological timetable. I don't assume the establishment of the modern state of Israel represents the fulfillment of prophecy. Perhaps it does. I don't rule that out. But it's not a presupposition of my position.
I don't base my position on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I don't need to know who fired the first shot. 
My position can be summed up in one word: Islam.
My position is less about supporting Israel than opposing Islam. Opposing Islam is my default setting. That's the frame of reference. 
Perhaps the so-called Palestinians have historical grievances. Frankly, that's irrelevant.
I don't need to research the past to arrive at my position. The present will do just fine. 
I see what happens when Muslims migrate to other parts of the world, like England, Europe, Canada, and the US (e.g. Michigan) where they have no historical grievances. Where it's a clean slate. 
They begin to impose Sharia. They begin to persecute the locals. 
They bring their culture with them. They import their religion. 
Notice, too, how Muslims are systematically and ethnically cleansing historically Christian pockets of the Mideast. Take a cue. 
Islam is the problem: first, last, and always.
Islam should be opposed, always and everywhere.
It's a simple policy.
I see what Muslims to do others, and I see what Muslims to do themselves. 
Some people might object that I'm overgeneralizing. Not all, or even most, Muslims are terrorists. Maybe not, but just see how they behave whenever and wherever they come to power. 
Even if (ex hypothesi) most Muslims aren't terrorists, the "moderates" are intimidated by the zealots. They keep their mouths shut and go along with the radical elements.
Like an invasive species or computer virus, Islam takes over.
Never empower Muslims.  Don't give an inch. 
No one benefits by empowering Muslims. Everyone suffers as a result: Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 
Islam is the world's most dangerous ideology. It produces a pathologically destructive and self-destructive culture. 

Whose Land? Whose Promise?