Monday, 27 July 2015

Monday quote

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Monday quote

The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit—replacing what works with what sounds good.

Thomas Sowell

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Does Moses force a woman to marry her rapist?

A not infrequent claim of the abhorrence of Scripture is that it commands victims of rape to marry their attacker. Support for this proposition comes from Moses' sermon before the Israelites entered the promise land.
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deu 22:28-29)
Even conceded by some Christians as a difficult passage, or even a harsh one, for those who have read the relevant sections of the Old Testament. The problem is, in part, not due to too much Bible but to too little.

It is worth reading a larger section of Deuteronomy, if not the entire book. Here is a slightly larger section. This comes within laws dealing with sexual crimes and immediately following the issue of sexual fraud.

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deu 22:22-29)
Adultery is forbidden and both participants are condemned to death.

Betrothal was a covenant to get married but the ceremony had not yet occurred and the marriage was not consummated. Thus coitus between a man and a woman betrothed to another was viewed as a violation of that covenant and a form of adultery. As such bath parties were to be executed. Both these situations describe consensual sex. But what if it is not consensual?

The next command states that if a betrothed woman does not consent but is taken by force then she is innocent. She is free but the rapist shall be executed.

Which brings us to the passage in question. There are several things to say about it because our culture is significantly different when it comes to issues of betrothal, marriage, provision, sexual consent.

The first thing to note is that the command is somewhat parallel to the previous commands. Each case reflecting further consideration. Consensual married, consensual betrothed, non-consensual betrothed, unbetrothed. The problem for the modern reader is that he is concerned about the consent but the law is concerned about the covenant. So sex with a person when they are covenanted to another is punishable by death, unless it turns out that it was non-consensual. The woman can not be punished when she was not breaking the covenant. So the last case is not so much discussing consent as it is discussing a case that does not involve transgressing a covenant. The woman is neither married nor betrothed.

So it is difficult to address the consent aspect in a command that is written for the covenant aspect. In the first 2 cases the man lies (shakab) with the woman. In the 3rd the man overpowers (chazaq) the woman and lies (shakab) with her. In the 4th the man seizes (taphas) the woman and lies (shakab) with her.

Now it may be that the man is doing this against the woman's will. The fact that the country or city is not mentioned in this case as it is in cases 2 and 3 means that this case covers both situations. Even so, if she were in the city she would be expected to call out. This means that the case is covering the situation where there may be consent. The term translated "seize" may cover both the concepts of seduction and subjugation.

The command is that the man in this position must take responsibility for his actions. That is he cannot have sex without responsibility. Such actions make the woman unmarriageable in this culture, or at least much less desirable as a wife. He is commanded to pay the bride-price and take her as a wife; that is provide for her. Further, he is forbidden to divorce her; that is his actions mean that he will be forced to provide for the woman for her entire life.

Note that this is not a command for the woman or her father, it is a command for the man. What if the father does not wish his daughter to be married to this man? In Exodus Moses gives this command for a man who seduces a woman and lies with her. This is parallel to the command in Deuteronomy except that the command in Deuteronomy may possibly be read to include both seduction and subjugation as mentioned. Moses writes,
If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exo 22:16-17)

The Bible allows a father to refuse the marriage of his daughter but still demand the bride-price. The ongoing provision for the woman will be the father's responsibility unless the woman subsequently married. Thus Exodus allows an out for the woman via her father if they so wish. But both passages command the man to provide as a husband. He must marry and provide and is forbidden to divorce but the woman could refuse.

The modern Westerner asks who would marry a rapist but this assumes a much different culture. We have a culture of much greater food and wealth; one in which woman frequently provide for themselves. And people usually marry those that they fall in love with.

This was much less common the past. Although there were some women of means in times past, daughters (and sons) were provided for by their fathers until they cot married and then were provided for by their husbands. Famine an starvation were frequent risks faced by the majority of society. Marriages were often arranged. In a culture where food was scarce at times provision was vital. Being able to provide was important in a husband.

It is the view and expectation in all societies that the married couples will be sexually active. In most societies having children is also highly valued. A girl in such a society is concerned that she is provided for and that she will have a family. It is her expectation that she will be having sex with her husband, and that she may have little say (and sometimes no say) in who her husband will be.

That is not to say that romantic love was unheard of (consider Jacob and Rachel, also Canticles); nor that parents never asked their daughters about prospective grooms. It just means that our thoughts about love and consent were not the significance to them that they are to us.

Consider the example of David's daughter Tamar. When Amnon asked her to have sex with him she said,
“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” (2Sa 13:12-13)
She declined sex but was willing to become his wife if Amnon requested this from the king. Nevertheless Amnon overpowered Tamar and raped her. Then he told her to leave. Tamar viewed Amnon's shaming of her by refusing to marry her as worse than him raping her.
But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. (2Sa 13:16-19)
It is right to see Amnon's behaviour as despicable. Yet moderns struggle to understand why Tamar thought Amnon's rejection of her the greater offence. You cannot assess how her culture viewed the situation from a 21st century Western perspective. In a culture with arranged marriages every women knows that she will have sex with the man who becomes her husband, not a man in the community who she happens to find appealing. This changes how they viewed sexual consent. We struggle because don't grasp the cultural issues. Moderns discuss the concept of marital rape whereas this would have made little sense to the ancients, they thought that married people have sex. Consent had to do with who you were married to, not who you wanted to do it with (though the latter is still a consensual issue). The much bigger issue is, Who is going to provide for me? not, Who am I going to have sex with? because it was assumed you would have sex with the man (husband) who was providing for you.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Monday, 6 July 2015

Monday quote

The post-evangelical Sexuality Gospel has simply replaced the Boomer Prosperity Gospel for a generation that idolises the comfort that experience offers, rather than the comfort that money offers.

Steve McAlpine

Sunday, 5 July 2015

40 answers on same-sex attraction and the Bible

Matthew Vines posted 40 questions to Christians who believe that people of the same sex cannot get married.

Below are the questions; a couple of comments about the them. Some are written from the perspective that homosexual behaviour is a morally acceptable therefore they can be difficult to answer without addressing or rejecting the assumptions behind the question. Further, I don't buy into the concept of gay Christian. The term gay is used to identify those who have sexual desires toward those of the same sex. But we don't say diabetic Christian, or covetous Christian, or vegan Christian, or lusting Christian. Christians who struggle with wrongly-directed sexual attraction should not define themselves by their inappropriate desire.

1. Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?

I think that sexual desire is a complicated situation. Men who desire other men do so to varying degrees. It is hard to know why this is always the case but it seems that sexual abuse by other men and lack of father input can contribute to this. This may mean an absent father or a soft father, especially in the context of a domineering mother. Other actions within the child's life such as a lack of redirecting desire or an encouragement toward same-sex desire can make things worse. Same sexual activity,even experimental in those who do not have much same sex desire, can intensify desire. That is, both actions by the person and actions by others, especially in formative years, can strongly influence later desire. There may also be intrinsic qualities, such as effeminacy, that contribute.

2. Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?

I think it can be in some circumstances. It depends on the strength of the underlying desire, the age at which it is addressed, the behaviour already engaged in, and the degree to which the environment encourages and discourages such behaviour. It can also be very difficult when there are significant spiritual issues that are not addressed.

3. How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?

How does one answer this and why is it relevant? And what do you mean by meaningful. For years it was pushed that 10% of the population is gay. This was unlikely to be true and shown to be false. Figures closer to 1% were more likely though I think this may rise as it becomes more culturally acceptable and somewhat trendy. Assuming 1% of the population are gay may suggest that 1% of my meaningful relationships would be with gay people but that's not how it works. I have greater or lesser meaningful relationships with people of various careers and ages and religions depending on my job and age and religion. As it is I don't exactly know because I don't know who is gay. Unless someone is vocal about their sexuality or demonstrates overtly gay stereotypes I do not know that they are gay. I have known people for several years before finding out that they are gay (openly so). On balance of probabilities, most people I know are heterosexual. Of the 10 I work most closely with 1 is gay.

4. How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?

Again, why is this relevant? And why would it be likely that I have close friends that are gay. My closest friends are Christian, yet the number of Christians in society is much lower than the percentage that are my closest friends. Some good friends are highly skewed careerwise. Friendships are not random. Men have more male friends. Policemen have more police friends. If I have say 10 good friends there is no reason to suspect that at least one of them would be gay, especially if my friends are more likely to be Christian.

5. How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?

Faith? As much as they wish to talk about it. Sexuality, not a lot, but then I don't talk about this a lot with my friends either. And some gays are more than happy to tell me far more about their proclivities than I really wish to listen to.

6. Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?

No I do not accept that, at least for those who wish to follow Christ. While this question requires a post of its own, I think that marriage between a gay man and a woman, or a gay woman and a man can be useful depending on the reasons, and so long both parties are aware of the other's struggles. If the issue is companionship then (heterosexual) marriage may be appropriate as most men can find companions in either men or women. If the issue is sexual desire then many gay men can perform sexually with a woman even if they do not desire a female in a sexual manner.

7. Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?

I think that unmarried gay men should avoid sex just like all unmarried men and women. I also think the term celibacy is unhelpful rhetoric. Chaste is the expectation.

8. How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?

I have walked the path (in as much as it is appropriate) with a single woman for many years; she would like to be married and is not and is therefore not sexually active. I have encouraged a Christian who struggles with attraction to men to hold onto God's grace in his struggles. I know of men married to women who struggle with attraction to other men and who struggle with this at times. But again, why is this relevant and why is every Christian expected to both know and walk with multiple Christians who struggle with homosexuality?

9. What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?

Press into Christ. And address the issues that make suicide seem like an option.

10. Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?

Chaste behaviour leads to less problems than unchaste behaviour in Christians. I don't see why this should be different for those who are gay.

11. How many married same-sex couples do you know?

I deny that same sex couple can ever be married. The concept is oxymoronic. Further the issue is the same as #3 and #4. If it matters, I have worked with a a few females who have longish-term relationships with other women, one of whom would call herself married. Many gay men I meet are highly promiscuous.


12. Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

I believe a relationship could show that. Any relationship between 2 people, married or unmarried, friend or acquaintance, could exhibit patience for example. But this is not really what the fruit of the Spirit means. Rather it means that these (love, joy, etc.) are qualities that the Spirit is developing in those in which he dwells. Unbelievers can exhibit some of these qualities in various measures. I don't believe that the sexual aspect of same-sex couple's relationship is one that is revealing the fruit of the Spirit. Such sexual behaviour is a fruit of abandoning God.

13. Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?

Yes and no. My concept of salvation is such that people can believe a range of things including unorthodox ideas. A person may be a Christian and misguided about this. If they have been a Christian for some length of time and this issue has been addressed and they do not come around to understanding that marriage is between men and women they may not be Christian. If they have gone from thinking that marriage is only between men and women to thinking people of the same sex can get married then they may not be Christian or may have abandoned the faith. If they are in a position of leadership in the church and they advocate for same-sex marriage then they are a wolf in the church and should be removed.

14. Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?

Yes.

15. If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?

Not applicable, but note also what it means to be saved.

16. Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?

Yes. Much worse. One must also distinguish between the institution of slavery and the slave trade.

17. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?

I don't believe it is always wrong. The Bible condemns kidnapping (Deu 24:7) and the slave trade (1Ti 1:10). It does not condemn owning slaves, though freedom is better than slavery (1Co 7:21). It seems ironic that you seem to think slavery is wrong and not homosexuality given that both appear in the same vice list: the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers.

18. Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?

It concerns me that moderns don't understand these distinctions.

19. Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?

While I don't hold to geocentrism for our planet within the solar system, the idea that our planet and solar system is near the centre of the universe is not an unreasonable assumption. It also has some empirical evidence depending on one's interpretation of red-shifts. The church held to the idea of geocentrism as much as the surrounding un-churched culture. It did so partly based on the teachings of Aristotle and Ptolomy. It was Christian scientists who challenged this belief based on their strong Christian convictions. They were opposed by those within the church who were married to the pagan ideas. Kind of opposite to the current situation.

20. Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?

No. It delights me that faithful Christians (such as Kepler) thinking God's thoughts after him made such strides in understanding  the natural world.

21. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?

I am familiar with verses that some have used to defend geocentrism in times past. The interpretation is poor and unwarranted by context. More importantly, although I think the Bible talks to history and facts that are observable, morality is not the same kind of issue. A book can mention the colours of various plants and a person may observe the same plants, but morality is not observed in the same way. Some morality can be observed in the sense of natural revelation, but more is gained from special revelation. Aristotle was wrong in thinking physics could be entirely deduced by logic. Moderns are wrong in thinking that moral knowledge can be obtained via experiment.

22. Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?

I don't know enough specific writings but am aware that prior to the 20th century the church taught that sex outside matrimony is sinful as was sodomy was condemned.

23. If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?

Chaste behaviour is a very traditional position: no sex for those who are not married and  sex only with one's spouse for those who are married. You are trying to create arbitrary categories to legitimise your claim.

24. Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?

I believe the Bible teaches that men can only marry women and women can only marry men. I do not believe it bans people who are sexually attracted to someone of the same sex from marrying someone of the opposite sex, and in some situations that may be appropriate.

25. If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?

Again, arbitrary categories. If people wish to be sexually active they must be married to someone of the opposite sex.

26. Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?

No. I believe that wrongly directed sexual desire is lust. Expressed desire: behavioural or willful (covetness) towards anyone you are not married to is lust. Expressed desire: behavioural or willful to someone as the same-sex as you is lust. All sexual activity including kissing, petting and sodomy between 2 men is inappropriate desire, that is lust, regardless of their feelings.

27. Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?

Yes. Sin between 2 people is forbidden even if they both agree to it. Bondage is sinful between a married man and woman even if they both wish to engage in such behaviour.

28. Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?

I believe that all same-sex sexual relationships are intrinsically sinful. "Shameful" and "unnatural" are descriptors of this. There are sins that are not shameful. There are sins that are not unnatural. Paul uses natural (φυσικα) to highlight that the activity is contrary to nature. He probably uses shameful (ασχημοσυνην) because of its connection to nudity, and because the behaviour should make them ashamed but doesn't.

29. Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?

It is not completely certain what Paul means here. Samson certainly had long hair as did any Nazirite; and also Absalom. Although "long hair" is the usual translation for koma (κομα), the context is in comparison to women's hair; it may mean "tresses". The point seems to mean that it is unnatural for a man to grow out his hair in order to look like a woman. Thus this passage speaks against effeminacy. And Paul says that this is more dishonourable (ατιμια) than shameful.

30. Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?

Yes, in the sense that procreation is a design feature of marriage.

31. If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?

It means we should mourn with them that they suffer this way in a fallen world.

32. How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?

Never heard of them. While I believe that such engagement may be necessary in the current milieu for the sake of the church; the idea that one can affirm sin, aberrant sex, and psychologically disturbed positions is antithetical to the Christian faith.

33. What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?

In terms of their relationship, as opposed to any contract 2 people enter? None specifically, though I expect the courts to honour property issues that have been agreed to such as shared ownership of a house.

34. What are you doing to advocate for those rights?

These are established and are indifferent to sexuality.

35. Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?

No.

36. Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?

I suspect the case is similar for thieves, murderers, anorexics, alcoholics if we compare families rejecting and accepting them. I wouldn't be surprised to see an increased risk for any youth who are rejected by families even those without any vices.

37. Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?

No. Nor do I see any reason to. One could say that paedophilia is partially non-analogous because of consent issues, but the others are fitting.

38. How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?

Absolutely certain that it is God's will for all people to be chaste. Fornication and adultery are forbidden.

39. What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?

And this means what? So I tell the children who earn their money to spend it wisely. Is it somehow wrong that I tell a child-thief that he is not to spend the money wisely but rather return it. If I tell the young married youth to enjoy sex with each other, is it bad that I tell the unmarried youth to abstain. Your question assumes that homosexual acts are morally acceptable. If such acts are sinful the question is irrelevant.

40. Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?

It all depends. People can be mistaken; see #13. I don't think we should attempt to pull up the weeds before time, we don't want to exclude those within the kingdom who are still mistaken in their acceptance of homosexuality. But we should drive away the wolves.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Monday quote

Our culture tells a lot of lies about sex. Your teacher is one of the liars.

Matt Walsh

Monday, 22 June 2015

Monday quote

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.

Joseph Epstein

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday quote

There is no Bible verse that says chocolate cake is tasty, but that should not preclude coming to that conclusion.

Jason A. Staples.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

What is the gift?

In Ephesians we read:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul is contrasting a gift which is freely given with works which is what is earned. When mentioning gift, what is Paul referring to? The "gift of God" is referring back to the word "this" which refers back to words in the preceding phrase. The options as I see it are:
  1. Grace
  2. Salvation
  3. Faith
  4. The entire clause
I don't read Greek so can only offer some preliminaries on the language issues, but below I will show parallels to this elsewhere in Paul's writing.

The nouns in Greek are
  • gift: doron (neuter);
  • grace: charis (feminine); and
  • faith: pistis (feminine).
The pronoun "this" is touto (neuter) here. The verb "saved" is sozo.

Options 3 and 4 above are often proposed as the solution. The word "this" and the word "faith" are not in the same gender but I am told that this doesn't necessary exclude option 3.

There are several verses in which Paul uses similar phraseology. Elsewhere in Ephesians he writes:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:7)
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7)
And in Romans he also mentions:
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,... (Romans 3:22-24).
The parallels in Ephesians and Romans associate the gift with grace. Comparing these parallels with our passage it would be reasonable to conclude that the gift in Ephesians 2 refers to God's grace.

Earlier is Ephesians Paul writes,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and in our passage he also says,
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Clearly associating grace with salvation.

Now consider Paul in Romans,
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:... (Romans 4:3-6).
Paul says that wages are not a gift, but that faith is counted as righteousness apart from works. As per Paul, faith is often contrasted with works. Works result in wages not a gift. But faith results in a gift. The same contrast is in Ephesians. By grace you have obtained salvation. And this is by faith, not as a result of works. The faith here is contrasted with works as it is elsewhere in Paul. So Paul frequently says that grace is a gift and he frequently contrasts faith with works and here in Ephesians he pulls both these concepts together. Grace is a gift; and it comes by faith not works. But somehow because these words all appear together an argument is made that faith is a gift. However it doesn't fit the contrast of the passage and it doesn't fit with how Paul writes elsewhere.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The reliability of the gospels

Peter Williams defends the gospels being authentic by appealing to names of people and places mentioned by the authors. The first 20 minutes discusses just the names of various persons. Held my attention, even though I was previously aware of this argument. Worth the 30 minutes.



Hat tip: canon fodder

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Faith and ineffectual regeneration

Jason asks,
Scripture does seem to indicate that saving faith is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8) While we are culpable for all our sins, including our unbelief, am I right in understanding that you believe God offers all people grace through faith (the kind that raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life) and that some people reject the offer? If that is correct, do you believe that faith is only operable upon receipt by the individual? In other words, how does one receive the gift offered if they are dead in their trespasses and sins?. You mentioned “ineffectual regeneration” in the post. I’m not sure if you accept that term or not, but if you do, do all people get “spiritually raised from the dead” and then spiritually die again if they reject?
I think that faith in 1 Corinthians 12 is a special gift of faith that is not given to all Christians; for example the sort of faith that can believe for miracles. This is because it occurs within a list where Paul states each gift is limited to some.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-1)
Paul says: to one is given this, to another this; this includes faith. Then he summarises by saying, "to each one individually as he wills." This is not particularly controversial, even Calvinists see a special faith here.

I do not think that faith in Ephesians 2:8 is a gift (this will require a post of its own). So I don't see faith in God as a gift from God. I see it as our response to his calling.
Am I right in understanding that you believe God offers all people grace through faith (the kind that raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life)
Well, I wouldn't say "through faith." Part of the problem here is that I am addressing Calvinist terms which carry suppositions that I do not subscribe to. So I am trying to be generous by using the term they have chosen but this can backfire because by conceding the term it may seem as if I agree with their suppositions, or worse, they equivocate. So I don't mind the theological term "synergist" but I object to those who go from synergism to the claim that Arminians think that they save themselves. I would prefer to say that God is calling all men to himself. Because God is calling us that is an act of kindness, or, if you like, grace. This is usually called "prevenient grace". God does that regardless of whether we will have (saving) faith. By "saving" I mean the type of faith that results in God saving us, I don't mean our faith effects salvation for us. I don't think that prevenient grace saves people, it is God showing his kindness to us.

This prior state Calvinists call "total depravity" and (spiritual) death (Eph 2:1). So all men are in this state prior to God regenerating them and God effecting a saving faith in them. They claim this is effectual because God's regeneration can not fail to result in a man coming to faith and being saved.

Now I don't really agree with what Calvinists think "dead" means. Are people spiritually dead? Yes, but in the sense that they are lost without Christ. Those who die without him are damned. I don't think that we are unable to do things, nor do I think we are unable to respond to God. We are disposed against God but we respond to him. To the (hypothetical) question "can dead people do anything ?" my response is this is over-reading a metaphor. When Isaiah says all our deeds are filthy rags he is speaking hyperbolically. I believe men are fallen and sinful, and men are often worse than they realise, but I am cautious when people apply deductive logic to statements that are not meant as ironclad premises.

So God desires all men to be saved. He calls all men to himself. We can accept or reject God's call. That is what Arminians mean by resistible. Using Calvinist terminology this would mean that God's call is "ineffectual" in those who reject him, but this is not a useful term as it is subtly conceding that the call could be effectual. However Arminians don't think that the call is effectual or ineffectual. We don't think it works like that at all. Rather we think that faith is something we choose to have or decline to have. We do not receive faith. Faith is not something that God can cause; just as love is not something God can cause. This is not a limitation of God, this is the nature of love and faith. For love to mean anything it must originate from the person.

So people aren't made spiritually alive and then made spiritually dead if God's call is ineffectual. Rather God's prevenient grace is always at work and those who respond to God in faith God saves.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Monday quote

There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.

G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Calvinist memes

Not a meme. But funny.
I have seen some discussions on social media, though not participated in, that involve Calvinist memes. I am aware that the nature of memes limit nuance, and that some claims are intended for their rhetorical effect: they attempt to focus on the main issue and statements may be hyperbolic. Nevertheless, several are just plain false. And I am somewhat taken aback at the superficiality of some Calvinists as well as their arrogance. However what most struck me was that they seem to hold to a theology that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul castigated in the Jews. But to that shortly.

So a search for Calvinist memes (and Arminian memes) shows that a lot of time has been put into this. I wanted to deconstruct a few of them which will lead to where I wish to go.
Unregenerate people are dead in sin and cannot choose God, it requires God's sovereign mercy to give life.
The problem here is that the contrast is not dichotomous. Let's assume that "deadness" prevents men from choosing God. How does that relate to God saving us? God is surely able to vivify a dead sinner so that he is able to choose God, or not. Such vivification does not necessarily entail salvation which is what "life" here means. And why sovereign mercy?
God chose Abraham but you choose God.
That God chooses means that we can't? So choice is not a communicable attribute of God? I'll see your Calvinist philosophy and raise you Scripture.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Scripture constantly tells us to choose righteousness and shun evil. God tells us why he chose Abraham. Abraham responded to God in faith. God is always looking for faith. We are to have faith Christ. Choose life and live.
Would a loving God pick and choose? What about Israel being the chosen ones of God.
And this is just the point where (some) Calvinists are close to following the Jews into damnable doctrine. The Jews thought that they were in because they were the chosen people. So God sent his prophets against the Israelites again and again. Jesus warned that the Ninevites would be entering the kingdom before the Jews who rejected him (Luk 11:32). Paul warns several times in Acts and in his letters, including in the very book that Calvinists so love—their favourite chapter even—that being part the chosen race does not get you into heaven (Rom 9:6,31). You couldn't rely on being an Israelite then and you can't rely on being a Calvinist now. God does save men, but what does he say? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Act 16:31). God's criterion is faith.

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