Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire (Review)

Viola, Frank.  Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire.  e-book.

Key points (and rebuttals that obtain)

Opening Salvo

*True, Charismatics sometimes put the Holy Spirit on the throne, but do not Reformed have their own pet doctrines (covenant theology, amillennialism, “THE” Christian view of apologetics, etc; Viola 13).

**Viola notes Macarthur paints the entire Charismatic world with one brush.  This makes any sort of dialogue (which anticipates correction) impossible.  But no one would accept reducing the entirety of the Reformed faith to Rushdoony, North, James Jordan, and Doug Phillips.

***Macarthur does cherry pick from the church fathers. (I noticed this when I read Strange Fire. I didn’t mention it because it only entailed bad historical scholarship, not a counter-refutation).  He notes where Chrysostom seems to say the gifts ceased, but he failed to quote Martin of Tours biography NPNPF 2 volume 11).

****Macarthur advanced the bizarre claim that charismatics teach the gifts ceased at the 1st century to be rediscovered in the 20th.  Yet, as Viola points out, he never tells us which charismatics taught this.  And Jack Deere specifically contradicted this (Surprised by the Voice of God).

*****In other words, Macarthur’s book is one large fallacy of composition.

Did the Gifts Cease?

Viola begins with what is probably the continuationist’s strongest position:   there is no verse in the New Testament that suggests that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased or will pass away before Christ's second coming” (Viola 18).  He points out that the clause “when the perfect comes” means the Bible simply negates all the other gifts as well.

Concerning the post-apostolic witness, Viola backs the truck up and buries the Strange Fire narrative (23).

Viola has an excellent section on Ephesians 2:20, which I beleive is the only real proof text the cessationist has.  Quoting Storms, we see that the prophets and apostles form the foundation, yes, but vv. 21-22 note the superstructure of the church is still under construction.  Let’s not push the metaphor beyond what Paul intended.  Further, we have no evidence that all prophetic activity (say, Phillip’s daughters) is necessarily laying the foundation of the church.  

Scriptures and the Spirit

Are Charismatics weak on the Scriptures?  Well, it depends of whom you are speaking?  Given Macarthur’s pattern of selective sources, it would appear so.  But notice he never references (with a few exceptions, like to Grudem and Piper) those who are might in the Scriptures.  Viola lists some names:  

N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, Sam Storms, Gordon Fee, Jack Deere, Bernard Ramm, John Piper, Michael Green, James D.G. Dunn, Howard Snyder, Wayne Grudem, Russell P. Spittler, J. Rodman Williams” (Viola 27).  I can only add my late uncle to the list, an Assembly of God minister who read the Bible cover-to-cover at least four times every year (multiply by 30 years as a conservative estimate, and you get a 120 readings--JBA).  

Viola again:  Point: Bizarre, exaggerated, misguided claims about spiritual gifts, failed healings, and trickery under the guise of the Holy Spirit's power do not disprove the reality of spiritual gifts” (31).  But according to Macarthur’s logic, that’s exactly what happens.

Revelation Misunderstood

Prophetic utterances are equal in truth (the Same Spirit) but not equal in authority to Scripture.


Using MacArthur's reasoning, there is no need to use judgment or spiritual discernment in testing revelation. If the gift of prophecy has ceased, then one can simply dismiss all claims of prophetic revelation, healing, or miracles without investigation or critical analysis. Simple enough. But is it accurate? Is it biblical? Paul says we prophesy in part, but he also says we know in part (1 Cor. 13:9). So teaching, like prophecy, must be evaluated. Using MacArthur’s reasoning, we should reject all teaching, since so much modern teaching is inaccurate (40).

Third Wave:

Some good points here.  Viola notes that Wimber simply “put wheels on” George Ladd’s kingdom theology (48).  I don’t think this explosive point has yet been truly explored.  With the exception of dispensationalists, every school of eschatology holds to already/not yet.  This means the kingdom has been fulfilled (if not consummated).  Therefore, we cast out demons. Any takers?

I also appreciated his links to Deere’s response to the Briefing.  I thought Macarthur was rather hamhanded in his criticism of Deere.  

Further, the Bible must be spiritually discerned.  Yet the Bible itself is not the spiritual discernment.  So if we say the “Bible is sufficient” (which I believe it is), we need to qualify what we mean by that.

Criticisms of Viola:

~This is more of an article length critique, not a book.  It’s not worth the $5.99.  Granted, Strange Fire isn’t that good, either, but I do fear Viola met Macarthur on Macarthur’s (non)scholarly level.
~Each paragraph is one or two sentences long.  This isn’t the worst criticism in the world, but it’s worth noting.


I don’t this is a full-orbed rebuttal to strange fire.  It can serve as suppressing fire until heavier resources (Grudem, Storms) are deployed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Demonic warfare argument against One True Church (™)

The point:  (1) I am making a claim against those traditions that posit their communion is the One True Church.

(2) If Satan's kingdom is divided against itself, it will not stand--Jesus (or Abe Lincoln)

(3) If Protestant/Evangelical pastors are successful in evangelism and church growth, then there is the likelihood that they are leading people away from the One True Church ().

(4) However, it is well-known that Evangelical pastors have been attacked by demons who opposed their churches (Wagner 1992).

(5) Demons do not attack their own outposts (Modus Tollens, 2).

(6) Demons, therefore, attack Christian outposts (or Kingdom outposts; I like that one better).

Therefore, one must conclude,

(7) Evangelical communions--some, anyway--are Kingdom communions and Christian churches.

Therefore, the position entailed by (1) is false, that only certain anchoretic communions are in fact One True Church (™).

The nicer adherents within those denominations will say,

(7') "We've never said the Spirit isn't working in Evangelical communions; He may be working but we are the One True Church (™)).

That is very kind of them, but it is really hard to square with (1) and (2).  To prove this we have to advance the next argument:

(8) The Spirit doesn't work counter to the Spirit.

If the Spirit is supposed to build up the Church, and the Church is defined as a specific institution of which Evangelicals are not a member, then the Spirit can't build up--and therefore lead away--those other communions.

An anchorite could respond with

(8') The Spirit can't be judged by human logic.

There is a truth to (8') but I think if applied consistently it is an epistemological acid drip.  Along with (8) we must also say,

(9) The Spirit doesn't work contrary to Christ (The Filioque really helps at this point, but I suppose it isn't necessary to the argument).

(10) If (8) and (9) hold, then we cannot really have no grounds for denying that Evangelicals are members of Christ's body, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Martyn Lloyd-Jones and a "Clean Power"

The following  is from John Piper’s talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though I had read the works in question long before I had heard the talk.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Personal Experiences of Unusual Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do.
Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit-medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion:

The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power“.
Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Piper’s website lists the reference as being in volume 2, The Fight of Faith, p. 221, but that is incorrect.  It is in volume 1, page 221.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Response to Toll-Houses

This topic deals with life-after-death experiences.  True, the bible says man is appointed once to die and then the judgment, but numerous anecdotal testimonies force us to give a more coherent account of the state of the soul after death before the final judgment.  

Maximovitch writes,

Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see.

So far, so good.  This corroborates other experiences.

He further notes,

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

Leaving aside the lack of Scriptural (or even Patristic) evidence, I don’t have a huge problem with this statement.  

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. [3] At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it.

This is a dangerous teaching because there isn’t a word about the Power of Jesus breaking sin in my life, or the Spirit’s being a downpayment, or that we are upon death made perfect in holiness (Hebr. 12:23).

According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself.

What is most terrible is that Jesus doesn’t seem strong enough or too interested to do anything to help.  I would hate to think that Jesus wasn’t good enough, that his cross wasn’t strong enough to save me, but rather the final instance of my getting into heaven has to do with enough people praying for me at the right moment. Further, what are these “various revelations?”  He gives a list of fathers but no references that we may check them.

But someone might say, "Jacob, you are a continuationist. How can you reject or falsify these claims to continuing revelation?" First of all, modern-day prophecy does not introduce new doctrine, which is precisely what the above claims are doing.

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead.

If this is true, not knowing where the soul will be, then how could Paul confidently state that he would be with Christ upon death? I think that decisively refutes the above anecdote that Mary had to pray to Jesus to make it past the toll-houses.

On the other hand, given that I don’t think heaven and hell are geo-spatial realities per se, I have no problem saying that the soul can “roam various spheres.”  Of course, we have no evidence for such a claim but I see no real theological problem with it.

To be fair, not all EO accept toll-houses, but a large and legitimate expression of certain traditions within EO do. Further, toll-houses seem to corroborate the larger EO mentality regarding an utter lack of confidence in Christ's finished work and my final salvation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

RE Hopko on Predestination

A friend asked me to look at this piece by Fr Thomas Hopko on predestination. I understand he is now with the Lord, so I write this in peace.  This is not an exhaustive commentary, either on his end or my end.  Further, while I hold to predestination I am not *defending* it per se, but rather rebutting some inadequate counter proposals.

Further, I think he and I are closer on free will than he might realize.

Fr Hopko begins on a positive note:  he points out that what most discussions on predestination usually concern “Providence” rather than predestination.  God’s governing the world is not the same thing as his choosing me (or choosing my choosing, what have you).  

Concerning “foreknowledge” Hopko writes,

It is on the basis of his foreknowledge that he makes his plan, that he works out his plan in relationship to creatures, who are free.

If I can rephrase this:  God orders the world based on his foreknowledge.  Okay.   However, we run into troubled waters:

You have to say, “Things do not happen because God knows them, God knows them because they happen.”

I can only ask in response:  Are they happening independent of God?    Hopko is even more explicit,

My action determines God’s knowledge, and that is very important. God knows things because I will freely do them. I don’t do them because God knows them.

This seems to contradict his earlier claim that God foreknows everything.  If God foreknows everything, then my action--since I do not yet exist--cannot cause his knowledge.   Concerning God and Time,

For God, there is no past, present, and future. All knowledge of God is in God before anything even happens. All the whole knowledge of creation, the whole knowledge of everything that could be, and would be, and how it will be, is in the divine mind of God before anything creaturely even exists. That would be a dogma of ancient Orthodox Christian faith; there is no doubt about that.

I don’t accept the Boethian view of time, but even here, if we say that I pre-exist in the mind of God, I only pre-exist as an idea, not as an acting agent.  This means a) God foreknows my actions because I am already in his mind and b) I am not yet acting as a physical agent, which means c) my actions cannot cause God’s knowledge.

Some writers, in fact some very important Christian writers, will say, “God will never violate the freedom of his creature. Once he gives the freedom, he will not violate it.” But I think that we would have to go a step further, on the basis of Scripture and understanding of Scripture in the Tradition of our Church, by our great spiritual teachers, and that is that it is not simply the case that God will not violate our freedom. We have to say something stronger. We have to say, “God cannot violate our freedom.” God cannot force us to do anything at all. He simply cannot do it.

Hopko is skipping over so many issues related to human freedom.  For what it’s worth, I accept real free will.  I don’t like the term “libertarian free will,” but I hold to free will.  

Hopko then goes on to speak of the “eternal council,” which is pretty good so I will move on.

But here, unlike the Calvinists, we Eastern Orthodox ancient Christians would never say that God arbitrarily chooses some and makes them elect, and he could choose anybody He wants. We do not believe in irresistible grace. We believe grace is resistible. We do not believe that the “sovereignty of God” means he could make anybody into St. Paul if he wanted to. That is simply not true, because our freedom is involved.

This is just bad.  Which Calvinist holds that God arbitrarily chooses people?  Citation, please.  We hold that God does not choose us as a reward for fore-knowing we would choose him.  That’s not grace.  That’s wage-labor.  And we believe grace is resistible.  We prefer to say that God’s ultimate calling is effectual.  Instead of interacting with cogent defenses of effectual calling, Hopko attacks bad connotations of “irresistible grace.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On the non-review of Strange Fire

I posted a long review of Strange Fire (Macarthur) at Goodreads.  I might post it here later.  One of the problems is that any discussion of Strange Fire will immediately focus on whether continuing prophecy violates sola scriptura.  That's frustrating because that is not relevant to Macarthur's thesis.  It sounds odd, doesn't it?  Macarthur's thesis is that it is wrong to elevate experience over doctrine (Macarthur 17).  Fair enough. That is completely independent of whether prophecy continues today.

Therefore, if the discussion of strange fire collapses into that, we've really missed the larger point of the book.  But that might not be a bad thing.  The book had interesting moments, but whenever Macarthur had the chance to advance interesting discussion, he derailed himself to attack Benny Hinn.  I don't mind that.  Hinn is a truly diabolical individual.  But attacking Hinn when you should be finishing a discussion on more substantial points is irresponsible.  And the average reader of Strange Fire is not a lay pentecostal.  It is a more or less Reformed continuationist like me.

So what did not Macarthur deal with?

Demon possession:  Does demon possession happen today?  It's hard to find any conservative evangelical (Or Catholic or Orthodox) who denies this?  If you think it happens today, then the obvious question is whether Christians have the power to cast out demons.  Again, it is counter-intuitive to deny that Christians have this power today.

So let's reverse one of Macarthur's original arguments.  In his chapter on apostles--which I mostly agreed with--he argued that if the office of apostle died away, then it is possible that other "super" gifts died away.  Okay, let's take that line of argument and return it:  if it is possible that the gift of casting out demons is still operative, then perhaps other gifts are operative.

Is this a good argument? Of course not, but it is a perfect rebuttal to Macarthur's argument.

And on a more practical note.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Are God-Nudges Propositional?

The most common (and probably substantial) objection to continuing spiritual gifts is that if prophecy is true, it undercuts sola scriptura and the finished canon.  We will pretend that is a good argument for the moment, but it made me wonder.  Even the most ardent cessationist will pray that God give him guidance in a specific event.  Let's say the prayer is something like, "Oh God, please give me guidance."

Here is my question:  How exactly will you know that God answered that prayer?  Will he give you a gentle nudge in the right direction?  That could work, but it seems vague.  It seems the cessationist has to say that "gentle nudges" don't threaten the sufficiency of Scripture (which seems odd, since if Scripture were sufficient on the above gloss [I do hold to the sufficiency of Scripture] you wouldn't need to ask God), but if the nudges are put in propositional form by God then God is threatening the sufficiency of Scripture.

Dabney: Free Agency (Syst. Theol)

Chapter 11, pages 120-132.

Thesis:  God accomplishes his purposes not be compelling his creatures, but by operating through their free agency (121).

1.  The soul is the self-determining power.  "A free rational person does properly originate effects" (Dabney 124).  He is spontaenous and determines from within.  Man is not a machine, because the motive power is internal, not external.

This is different from Edwards.  While Edwards does say that man chooses according to his greatest inclination, man is yet within a system of a chain of external causes.

The Will and The Soul

Even though the soul is self-moved, the will is not (127).  The will is induced by some external object of choice, towards which the desire tends.  For example, a gold watch does not itself cause a thief to steal.  The thief's motive causes him to steal.  The gold watch induces his motive.  "The inducement is objective; the motive subjective.  The inducement is merely the occasion., the motive is the true cause" (128).

This is not fatalism or necessitarianism, though.  Dabney writes,

"Inducement is not motive; desire is an activity, and not a passivity of our souls.  Our own subjective judgments and appetencies cause our volitions" (128).

Our teacher Thomas Reid was correct to see that free agency is more than just the privilege to exercise the agency.  It is also seen in actively exercising the agency. Reid erred, however, in seeing the faculty of will and not the soul as self-determined (130).

Conative Powers:  This appears quite often in Dabney's corpus.  They refer to man's active powers of the soul; thus, the soul acts freely but not lawlessly (which corresponds to God's Providence). 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A brief note against skepticism

This is from Moreland's Kingdom Triangle.
A skeptic, to oversimply, is someone who does not believe we can have rational justification for our beliefs. 

The problem of criterion: let’s pretend we would want to put all our beliefs in two categories: the true or justified ones, and the false or unjustified ones. We have a problem, though. Before we can answer our question about the extent of our knowledge, we must first answer the question about our criteria of knowledge. Yet, to answer our question about criteria, we must first already know the extent of our knowledge (139).

So we are back to an old foundationalist problem: if we don’t know how we know things, how can we know anything at all or draw limits to human knowledge? There are three attempted solutions:

skepticism: no good solution exists and there is no knowledge.

methodism: Before I can know some specific proposition P, I must first know some criterion Q, and I must know that P measures up to Q. But this is problematic. It leads to a vicious infinite regress. The skeptic can then asks, “How is it that we know Q and R?” The methodist will have to offer a new criterion Q’ that specifies how he knows Q and another new criterion R’ that tells how he knows R. And the same problem will arise for Q’ and R’.

Particularism: we start by knowing specific, clear items of knowledge. I can know some things directly without needing to know how I know them. Does this beg the question? Not really, for the particularist can turn it around and ask the skeptic to give reasons for his skepticism. If he does that, then the same problem of criterion can be used against him. And we can only doubt if we have prior knowledge--otherwise, exactly what are we doubting? Finally, just because it is logically possible I am in error (or, e.g., I was born five minutes ago with pre-programmed memories) does not mean there are good reasons for believing that. 

Further, I can rebut the skeptic by showing he hasn’t shown his own position to be adequately true. I place the burden of proof on the skeptic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Issues Theonomy Needs to Resolve

These are not defeaters to theonomy.  They are simply loose ends taken from conversations with the so-called Level-Headed Christian Reconstruction Group."

1) to what extent is any talk of "equity" either allowed or inevitable?  Most recons today really don't know what equity means (of course, few critics of theonomy know either).

2) Just because almost all of Christendom advocated some usage of the judicial laws does not prove Bahnsenian theonomy.   Bahnsen advocated a specific hermeneutics.  Brian Schwertely is really the only theonomist who understands this.  

3) Which denomination/confessional stance will interpret the laws?  This is a big problem.  We all laugh at the idea of "nondenominational churches" but advocate just that with regards to the State (except for Covenanters, but that entails another set of problems). Case in point: will the Sabbath be enforced?  The Rushdoony and Gary North students say no.  Morecraft (and probably Bahnsen if he were alive) would say yes.  

3a) Will pornography be allowed in the public forum?  Surprisingly, a number of recons say they can't pass laws against it because the Bible doesn't legally condemn it.  Perhaps the bible doesn't, but this is a hard pill to swallow.  

3b) What is the penalty for prostitution?  Many recons say the Bible only condemns Temple (whether pseudo-Yahwist or Ba'al) prostitution, not the lady on South 3rd Street.  Yet this goes against almost every Western law tradition, even secular 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Plato's 3rd Man Argument, and an infinite regress

From "Parmeninides."

Third man argument (Plato): Let’s say that A, B, and C, partake of Largeness (L₁).  By self predication L₁ is also large.  There is now a new plurality: A, B, C, and L₁.  Given the One-over-many principle, there is a form of largeness in which all of the above partake.  We will call it L₂.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dabney and the Will's Movement

One of the things that concerns me about the modern use of terms like "libertarian" or "compatibilist" is that it is hard to read a lot of earlier Reformed thinkers, since they didn't really fit into either camp.  While I would come down closer to the compatibilist camp, I wonder how often the fine distinctions can be maintained.  In any case, here is R L Dabney on human volition.  The relevance is that Dabney affirmed a strong doctrine of the will's free choice, albeit limited.  This allows us to blunt libertarian critiques of Reformed theology.

On the converse:  if you think that Jonathan Edwards's view is the Reformed view of the will, you will find it much, much harder to argue cogently for a moral universe.

Calvinists mean by “will” the whole subjective activities.  This includes disposition and subjective desires, both of which lead to volition (III: 221).  The important point for Dabney is that volition--the act of willing--must be cause or influenced by something.  The Calvinist finds the proximate cause in our disposition and subjective desires.

In regeneration God efficiently produces the holy disposition which regulates (acts as proximate cause) man’s volitions (227).  This means that in a very real sense, man is causing his actions from within himself.

Dabney accepts Edwards’s larger premise but notes Edwards erred in linking the motive of volition as the object and efficient of a volition (237).

Monday, March 9, 2015

Holy Fire, Not Strange, chapters 1-4

Chapter 1 is simply a string of recycled sermon notes on how silly and evil various brands of charismania are.  Okay, but anyone can play this game.  I agree there are hucksters and there is a special place in hell for them, but this is not an argument.  Macarthur does actually get to something like an argument:

Thesis:  "It is the elevation of experience over the authority of Scripture that grieves and demeans the Holy Spirit most of all" (Macarthur 17).

I have several observations:   1) it is dangerous to elevate experience over theology, but where is the proof that it grieves the Holy Spirit most of all?  How does Macarthur know this?  The Scriptures he cites are about the Holy Spirit's inspiring the Word and the Spirit's testifying to Christ.  Great, but that is immaterial to this thesis.  Indeed, is this not Macarthur's own experience?

2) If this is Macarthur's thesis, and if he is successful in proving it (I don't think he can be), then we should note that the truth of continuationism stands or falls independent of this thesis.

Chapter 2

This is a history of the modern Pentecostal movement and most of it, while interesting, is irrelevant to his thesis.  Except for one part:

But here is the point to all of this history:  if the Holy Spirit intended to recreate the day of Pentecost, is this really how he would do it? (27)

I really don't know what to say.  I suppose some early Pentecostals said something like this.  Sam Storms specifically argued against this point.  See Point 9.  Macarthur continues,

Why focus on these two men [Charles Parham and E. W. Kenyon]?  The answer is simple.  These two men are responsible for the theological foundations upon which the entire charismatic system is built (31)

At this point I have no idea if this historiography is true. I am not persuaded that one can make a 1:1 connection between the early Pentecostals and Wayne Grudem.   Genealogical arguments are always dangerous to make and they rarely deliver on their promises.

Chapter 3

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.
  1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
  2. Does it oppose worldliness?
  3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
  4. Does it elevate the truth?
  5. Does it produce love for God and others?
I've dealt with the specifics here.   It really is a good chapter.  He notes (rightly) that the Spirit testifies of Christ, so those who are filled with the Spirit will testify of Christ.  Sadly, this is absent from a large part of the Charismatic world.

I do find it interesting, though, that Macarthur didn't clinch his argument with Revelation 19:10, "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy."  In fact, the book doesn't mention this verse at all.

Chapter 4, same contd.

Most of this chapter reads like the tabloids.  Interesting, mind you, but not really germane to the thesis, except where noted above.

Cessationism's missing premise

This post is not arguing that cessationism is wrong.  I am simply looking at one of it's arguments. Cessationists use "revelation" in an equivocal sense.  This is a problem when we examine practices in the 1st century church.  Paul tells the church to prophesy (and one can find numerous other examples).  How does the cessationist respond?

First, let's look at the argument:

1: God's speaking is what constitutes revelation, and revelation was eventually codified in the canon.
 This seems to entail the following:

2: The canon is closed (let's leave aside messy issues like who had the authority to close the canon and how do you know).

I think Ephesians 2:20 affords the cessationist another premise:

3.  The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  Assuming apostles means those associated in one way or another with Jesus's ministry, I think we can safely affirm (and this would be the position of many continuationists) that apostles aren't around today.  Therefore,

3.1.  Prophets aren't around, either.

The Continuationist Responds,

Is (P1) true?  I agree with the first half if it is phrased like this:  God reveals himself and this usually happens by speech or in words (whether internal or external).  The second half of P1 is unproven.

What about P2?  Practically, we have to assume that the canon is closed, but we have no evidence from God that it is.  Honestly, how do you know the canon is closed?  I think wiser Protestants were right to say that the Canon is "a fallible collection of infallible books" and leave it at that.

As to P3, my question is:  are all acts of "prophesying" in the New Testament establishing the foundation of the church?  Are Phillip's daughters part of that foundation?  When Paul acknowledges different men are prophesying is that, too, part of the foundation?  Maybe, but we have no evidence that such is what Paul meant.

The only way the cessationist can salvage this position is to add another premise:

P4:  Paul's command to prophesy only functioned until the canon was closed.

The main problem with that statement is there isn't a single verse that says that.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Modern Theonomy: A Crisis of Vision, A Crisis of Voice

It's hard to get excited about the recent theonomy debate.  It doesn't matter who "won."  (Is it really possible to objectively "win" a debate, anyway?)  Even if theonomy "won" that debate, it would be a Pyrrhic victory, which leads to the point of this post:

Quo vadis, Theonomy?

Who is the public leader and spokesman for theonomy today?  One could remark that since it is not a "movement," there is no need for a leader.  That's not true, though.  Even if the US Govt introduces theonomic codes, which will never happen, some "voice" will be informing said Republican Congressmen.   And such a voice in any situation usually will be the most capable.

So who is the voice?

Probably American Vision, I think.  They are the ones sponsoring the debates and putting out the material.  One could say "Chalcedon Foundation," but American Vision has traditionally been pro-GOP politics, so they get the edge.

Leaders like Gentry will not take the role for a variety of reasons.  Morecraft is the bishop, practically speaking, of his own denomination and he has mostly alienated all of NAPARC.  Leaders can't be merely capable.  They have to have influence as well.

Who else is out there that doesn't reduce to one of the above categories?

So why is this a problem if it falls to American Vision?  It's a problem for theonomy because theonomic discussions are now divorced from the Church setting, particularly at the synodal level.  Whatever problems NAPARC leaders may have, presbyteries can hold each other accountable and keep a lot of nonsense from emerging.  Would the debate over the audio rights happened if there were mature third-party mediation (like a synod)?  You see my point.

And since most NAPARC churches merely tolerate theonomy, theonomists now that they can't "make a difference" from within the churches themselves.  They literally have to go "outside" the church.   At this point any "kingdom activity" has been reduced to the level of a parachurch (and Rushdoony was quite explicit on this point).  Now people will have to face the question:  where do I want to invest time and money where it will do the most (perceived) good?

The Church doesn't promise civic righteousness.  It doesn't promise outward justice lex talionis.   It is the kingdom of mercy (though aspects of judgment are present).  The Church promises that Jesus will feed you at his Table.  The Church promises that Jesus will speak to you from his Word.

If given the choice at the end of the day, what would you prefer:  Taking Back City Hall or Eating with Jesus?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reformed Epistemology Beyond Plantinga

Owen Anderson has written a small piece aiming to show difficulties in Alvin Plantinga’s conception of warrant.   Anderson asserts that Plantinga’s position leaves the unbeliever with a legitimate excuse for not believing in the Christian God.  Along the way Anderson advances a number of philosophical theses that I maintain are problematic for a Reformed Christian and subsequently limit the agreement one has concerning his critique of Plantinga.

This paper will follow the following structure:

  1. Plantinga and Warrant
  2. Anderson’s Critique
  3. Anderson Critiqued
  4. Warrant without Defeaters
  5. Anderson’s position incompatible with Reformed Theology
  6. Plantinga Reconsidered
  7. Conclusion

Plantinga and Warrant

In short, Plantinga’s position maintains that one is warranted in believing in God without having to give justification for foundationalist evidential demands.  Further, one is warranted in knowledge if one’s cognitive faculties are functioning properly in a proper environment.

Anderson’s Critique

Anderson says Plantinga’s position is incompatible with Christian teaching because of the following claims:
  1. Guilt presupposes inexcusability
  2. Inexcusability presupposes ability
  3. Ability presupposes clarity
  4. Clarity presupposes rationality

The main criticism is that Plantinga (seems) to allow that other religions can claim warrant for belief and thus evade Romans 1:21.  Another criticism is that Plantinga does not allow that God’s existence is sufficiently clear.

Anderson Critiqued

P1 seems like standard ethical and Christian teaching.   P2 is incompatible with Reformed Theology (see below).  P3 is not necessarily wrong, but it rests upon a major confusion throughout Anderson’s paper.  When he says “ability presupposes clarity,” does he mean moral ability or natural ability?  In fact, I don’t think he can answer the question because of his commitment to P2.  However, I don’t disagree that there is a clear, rational standard to which men are held accountable. P4 is fine; however, I have a problem with the way this clause is phrased:  if the alternatives to knowing God are rational then humans have an excuse to not knowing God.

Further, there is a difference between the clarity of God’s revelation and willing not to worship God.  Indeed, Anderson writes, “Inexcusability requires that if they had wanted to, they could have known God as they should have.”  Besides the confusion of moral and natural ability, this entails Anderson’s rather unique view about Romans 1:21. In another essay Anderson argues that this verse does not teach that the heathen knew God, but that God’s special revelation has undergone decay.   

For the moment I feel justified (warranted?) in standing with the tradition of commentaries on Romans 1:21 and say that the unbeliever knew (in some sense; I wonder if we are all interpreting “know” in a univocal sense) God.  

Excursus:  Commentaries on Romans 1:21

(Instead of quoting publisher, text, and page number, I will simply say Charles Hodge in loc, etc.)

John Murray:  “The knowledge of God must in this context be the knowledge derived from the manifestation given in the visible creation...The inexcusableness resides in the fact that being in posession of this knowledge they did not render to God the glory.”

John Calvin: “He plainly testifies here, that God has presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having so manifested himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know.”

Charles Hodge:  “Thus, in the first instance, in verse 19 and 20, he proved that the heathen had a knowledge of God which rendered them inexcusable, and then the fact that they were without excuse, is proved by showing that they did not act in accordance with the truth.”

Anderson says his paper is about “the clarity of God’s existence, not epistemic rights.”  Well, if that’s true then why is Anderson discussing Plantinga’s earlier works (Warrant and Proper Function and Warrant the Current Debate)?  Those books are defending the claim of warrant against foundationalism; they are not attempting to set forth God’s existence.  

A critique on more factual grounds

This doesn’t really affect the substance of the paper, but it’s worth pointing out.  Anderson says “Plantinga never endeavors to show that it is clear that God exists.”  This is odd, since Plantinga has defended the Ontological Argument (Doubleday 1965) and has offered Two Dozen or So arguments for the existence of God.   If this is indeed what Anderson is saying, then (P)3--4 fall.  

Warrant Without Defeaters

Much of Anderson’s critique seems to operate on only half of the Plantingian position.  Anderson writes, “All the adherents of world religions are rational in this broad sense of the term,” yet Christianity holds them accountable without excuse.  This is similar to the famous “Great Pumpkin” charge thrown at Plantinga:  Why can’t someone say that belief in the Great Pumpkin is perfectly basic and one has rational warrant?

If that is all that warrant said, then that would be a problem.  Yet just because one claims “properly basic belief” and “warrant” does not mean the position is immune to defeaters.  Consider:
  1. a more thorough and robust account of a warranted belief is one that is not subject to defeaters.  So, I'd say that and adherent of ____(insert deity)_____ has undefeated defeaters (think Islam, for example).
  2. Also, if one includes positive arguments (perhaps revamped natural theology ones), then we actually have reasons *for* our belief as well.  Why should I believe in ____(insert deity)_____?  I can tell others why they should believe in ____Yahweh____, can they do the same?
  3. many versions of beliefs in _____(insert deity)____ do not provide a basis for our belief in the reliability of our cognitive faculties, hence they'd have a defeater for all their beliefs, including belief in ____(insert deity)____.  So, why should the believer in ___Shivah___ think his/her cognitive faculties are reliably aimed at truth?  Does ___Shivah___ believe in those categories (i.e., true/false)?  If not, would he design his "children" to have cognitive faculties with beliefs aimed at truth?  And, if so, why believe this?  Is it revealed in the Vedas?  Where?

Anderson’s Position incompatible with Reformed Theology

Anderson holds to the principle “ought = ability.”  This follows upon his confusion of natural ability with moral ability.  This is not an extreme position to hold, as most free-will theists hold it today.   The problem is that Reformed theology rejects this position.  If [moral] ought = [physical] ability, then man has free will to believe in God apart from considerations of sin.  This is perfectly consistent with Kantian ethics and Arminianism.  It is not with Reformed theology.

Anderson writes, “If this [sin] is the result of something outside my control, then I cannot be held accountable.”  But the consequent does not follow, at least not universally.  What about original sin?  Why am I held accountable for what Adam did?  

Plantinga Reconsidered

Let’s pretend for a moment that Anderson’s critique holds.  What must we give up of Plantinga’s position and what can we retain.  Anderson says Plantinga’s views are incompatible with Christianity, yet one suspects that Anderson is overreaching on Plantinga.  Plantinga’s initial forays into warrant  merely dealt with belief in general in response to Cliffordian Evidentialism.

Beyond Foundations

The initial attraction to Plantinga’s “warrant” is not its providing an argument for the existence of God.  In fact, I don’t think that is Plantinga’s position at all.  As I’ve read the development of Plantinga’s corpus, Plantinga developed his “warrant” in response to classical foundationalism’s challenge on epistemic justification, not for whether warrant offers a “silver bullet” argument for God’s existence (to borrow an illustration from John Frame).  

The evidentialist challenge: if it is not rational to accept some proposition about God, then one ought not to accept it; b) it is not rational to accept such propositions without adequate evidence and with firmness not exceeding the evidence (Wolterstorff 136).  But as Plantinga pointed out, evidentialism of this sort usually connotes a form of internalism: I must satisfy some epistemic duty in order to have proper belief in God.  However, why should we suppose that it is irrational to accept theistic belief in the absence of evidence?  What exactly is the obligation here?  Which intellectual obligations?  What about Russellian paradoxes, when a self-evidently false follows from a self-evidently true?

If internalism is false, as I maintain the above evidential variety is, does this mean some form of externalism follows?  I think so, though I can’t argue it here.  But more to the point:  are all forms of externalism versions of warrant?  I don’t think so.  Reliabilism and models of perception are externalist, though inadequate by themselves.  

Let’s Assume Plantinga is in Fact False

If Plantinga’s account is incorrect, must I abandon externalism and embrace internalism?  I have seen no convincing arguments that I should (though to be fair that wasn’t Anderson’s point). But are all of Plantinga’s unique points wrong?  Let’s consider “proper function.”  If I am drunk are my reasoning faculties performing correctly?  Obviously not.  But that’s probably not why people object to “Proper Function.”  Does sin make my cognitive faculties malfunction?  Well, maybe.  This brings us in to the psychology of belief, a study I am not prepared to enter.


Anderson’s critique has forced Reformed Epistemology adherents to clarify a number of issues.  Unfortunately, one has to pay a high price to fully accept Anderson’s position.  His equivocation of natural/moral ability and is ought = can positions render many of his conclusions unacceptable to traditional Reformed theology.

Works Cited:

Calvin, John. Romans.
Hodge, Charles. Commentary to the Romans.
Murray, John. Commentary to the Romans.
Plantinga, Alvin.  “Reason and Belief in God.” Faith and Rationality.
-----------------.  The Ontological Argument.  Doubleday, 1965.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  “Can Belief in God be Rational if it Has no Foundations?”  Faith and Rationality.  Notre Dame.