Mailvox: atheist assistance

According to TN, it would appear to be not so much lacking as nonexistent:

My son-in-law and I went to Joplin, MO (about an hour from where I live) and spent a long day in the heart of the disaster area helping several people dig out and sort through what was left of their homes. There was not much to save. The pictures posted on several news sites can’t begin to tell the story.

While driving through the wreckage, we spotted Salvation Army, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran and Mennonite volunteer work teams. Free child care services are being provided by a host of local churches. Local gyms and warehouse facilities are loaded with donated items from regional churches. Of course, local businesses and individuals shared as well.

Not once did I see one atheist-sponsored group or work team. Not one. They were busy that day snarking on the internet. Just pull up any Joplin or Oklahoma tornado story or YouTube video that has a comments section and you will find hundreds of examples of aspie athiests taking pot shots at any reference to prayer, Divine Intervention or miracle that was witnessed.

As one survivor told me, “129 of us died, but thousands more would have if God hadn’t been with us.” I understood what he meant, but sadly, non-believers would only laugh.

I’m going back in a few days. There’s much more to be done.

I’m told that PZ Myers would very much have liked to help the unfortunate people of Joplin, but he was too busy desecrating Cheez-Its and posting snarky comments about Ken Ham’s Creation Museum. To be fair, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science did put out an appeal for money, which was sent to the American Red Cross.

In any event, I congratulate TN, his son-in-law, and those who are dedicating their time and effort to help those who are in need. It should never be forgotten that that is one of the core commandments of Jesus Christ.

And here I thought the slippery slope didn’t exist

Once a number of self-destructive ex-Christian denominations have embraced both female leadership and homosexuality, it was only a matter of time before some “Christians” began agitating for the acceptance of pedophilia:

The Dutch Catholic Church and the Salesian order are investigating revelations that a Salesian priest served on the board of a group that promotes pedophilia with the full knowledge of his boss. The order’s top official in the Netherlands, Delegate Herman Spronck, confirmed in a statement that the priest – identified by RTL Nieuws as 73-year-old “Father Van B.” – served on the board of “Martijn,” a group that campaigns to end the Dutch ban on adult-child sex.

The wicked will always attempt to not only coopt Christianity, but put themselves in leadership positions in order to steer entire churches awry. The pattern of the progression is perfectly clear. It starts with female pastors, continues with the embrace of homosexuality, and descends into either total depravity or the extinction of the Church.

The amusing thing is listening to those who have rejected Biblical teachings on one step in the process attempting to concoct reasons why the one step is acceptable, but the next ones are not only unthinkable, but impossible. And yet the results are perfectly predictable. One can violate the laws of God if one so chooses, but one should not expect the consequences to be significantly better than violating the laws of gravity.

Mailvox: two varying perspectives

PL has noticed the same sort of things that I have in his own encounters with omniderigistes:

Your post “Piper and the Schizo God” was of particular interest to me. I live in the Twin Cities and attend Greg Boyd church of Woodland Hills and have several friends who attend John Piper’s church of Bethlehem Baptist. There are three attacks Piper and his disciples routinely offer against open theism and they are:

1. It undermines the unity of the church
2. It goes against a 2,000 year old tradition
3. How are we supposed to trust a God who doesn’t know the future?

All of them silly and quite easily dismissed. 1. Unity is not the ultimate goal of the church, of course, unity is a good thing, but not if we must compromise scripture to get it. It is self-evidently not something we want to believe. 2. Really? It amazes me whenever protestants of any sort say this and fail to see the irony. I am a protestant also, so I can’t throw it in their faces like a roman catholic could. But I still politely ask them what their opinion was of a recalcitrant monk who nailed 95 theses to a church door, demanding reform from 1500 years of tradition, and suddenly, hey, they wish to change the topic. 3. It isn’t enough for there to be an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving being who deeply cares about you and died on the cross to save your sins. You need an omniderigent God who determines your future, robs you of your personhood, and your rights as a human being made in God’s image.

The evasiveness of the omniderigiste is typified in your analysis of John Piper’s changing the definition of the 1 Sam 15 text, from “regret” to “sorrow”. Just like a poker player who starts nervously darting his eyes back and forth, playing semantic games is a tell that you are on the losing side of the argument and must literally rewrite the dictionary in order to win. The exegetical gymnastics required to shift all of the relevant verses in the Bible to an omniderigent view would require you to bend your body to the breaking point many times over. That is why red herrings, ad hominem attacks, and appeals to emotion are often the attacking points of omniderigistes against open theists and not scripture. They know they can not answer the myriad of scriptural verses that open theists offer and must resort to other methods.

If you ever find a Calvinist who honestly engages others in honest dialogue and deals with the facts and issues at hand, I would very much like to know who it is and talk to him or at least read his stuff. Because so far, my hope to find an honest omniderigiste has been as about as well-placed as my hope that I will ever see a Super Bowl ring on the finger of a Minnesota Viking.

PL obviously has more personal contact with omniderigistes than I do, so I will defer to his statements about what the most commonly presented arguments are. I would also encourage him to read Markku’s PUOSU on the subject. My response to the three points he mentioned are:

1. Good. When half the nominal Christian denominations in the West are embracing female pastors and gay marriages, unity and ecumenicism should be avoided at all costs.
2. Irrelevant. Wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter when the error is recognized.
3. Presumably the same way we trust people who don’t know the future. Is a Creator who doesn’t know the future any less worthy of worship than one who does? It’s still His Game, His Rules, regardless of whether He knows the outcome and/or every last twist and turn of the game or not.

Coming at it from the other side, Mudineri demonstrates that even those sympathetic to omniderigent theology can’t manage to keep track of all the twists, turns, and contortions required in defending it:

All that your posturing and bragging about you super duper intellect makes you, is well: a poser and a braggart. It would be interesting to see you call God a liar to His face. Don’t worry though, you will get a chance at some point to do just that. Being a potter myself, Romans 9:20 immediately springs to my mind when I read the all too familiar Arminian/Open Theist objections to God’s sovereignty.

“You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? “

Their logic is impeccable, and yet…. Do you not recognize yourself in the mirror?

Not in the slightest. First, as an advocate, and possibly even the coiner of the phrase “God’s Game, God’s Rules”, I am hardly one to deny the right of the potter to shape the clay however he pleases. And as one who is not shy about calling the intellectual dishonesty of others to account, I am not about to start engaging in false modesty of any kind. My intellectual superiority is neither a pose nor something worth bragging about, it is simply a statistical fact that should be taken into account in much the same way that it is wise to take Kevin Garnett’s height into account when deciding upon a drive to the basket. As soon as people stop attempting to make ridiculous claims that I do not understand perfectly obvious things that anyone with an IQ of 100 or more can understand, I will be delighted to stop reminding them that I am significantly more intelligent than they are.

(A brief tangent by way of example. The annoying thing about my appearance on Peter Schiff’s radio show was the way he kept repeating his basic Econ 101 argument. “They’re printing money, therefore inflation”. Yes, I understand the concept of supply and demand and how it should apply here. However there are some complicating factors as well as some observed anomalies that need to be taken into account-” “But they’re printing money, therefore inflation! Don’t you get it?”)

Now, why would I call God a liar to His face? I’m not the one claiming that God did not say in the Bible what is quite clearly written in the Bible. I’m not the one who holds to absolutely strict Biblical non-errancy or believes that any contradiction found within it therefore means that God is untrustworthy. It is apparent that Mudineri hasn’t been able to follow all the twists, turns, and contortions on offer from the resident “Calvinists”.

Anyhow, in keeping with PL’s observations, here is my completely unfair perspective how I see the way conversations with omniderigents tend to go:

Omniderigent: God knows everything, plans everything, controls everything, and does everything. You have no free will and evil as such does not exist.

Open Theist: I can see evil all around us in the world. You seriously believe it is God’s Will every time 10,000 civilians are massacred, a woman is gang-raped, or a pastor is axe-murdered in the pulpit?

Omniderigiste: Yes, it’s all good because it is in accordance with God’s Will, which is sovereign, and by sovereign, I mean micromanaging down to the atomic level. No matter how awful things might appear to be, from original sin to the Holocaust, it is all a part of God’s Perfect Plan.

Open Theist: How can you possibly say that when there are numerous incidents described in the Bible that were not planned by God, that were not desired by God, and that never even entered His mind?

Omniderigiste: Well, here’s a few verses about potters and clay and stuff that say otherwise.

Open Theist: All right, so one verse says X and this other one says Not-X. They can’t both be true, (or so we are informed by Logic Midget), so perhaps one of them is not being interpreted properly. And, if we look more closely at both of them, we can see that your interpretation is only one of several possible ones, in fact, it’s not even the most reasonable one.

Omniderigiste: Well, what if we do that to your verse instead?

Open Theist: There are a lot more of them. And they don’t lend themselves as readily to alternative interpretations. The verse you cited is the obvious outlier.

Omniderigiste: You’re calling God a liar and dishonoring Christ!

Open Theist: No, “outlier”, not liar. I’m merely pointing out that the Bible quite clearly says two contradictory things if we insist on interpreting the outlying verse your way.

Omniderigiste: You’re still calling Him a liar, because the Bible is His Word and it is completely without error. So, it can’t possibly contradict itself.

Open Theist: But, that’s not the relevant… okay, fine, let’s try it this way. Which of the many Bibles out there would you say is totally without error?

Omniderigiste: The only Bible. And by “Bible”, I mean “a complete figment of my imagination”.

Open Theist: Okay, so you’re quite clearly crazy. Is there anyone else on your side who might happen to have an answer that is within shouting distance of sanity?

Omniderigiste 2: There’s no contradiction at all. We simply read Not-X as X.

Open Theist: You read it that way?

Omniderigiste 2: Yes, of course, otherwise we couldn’t believe anything in the Bible at all.

Open Theist: Wait, what? One trivial mistake means you have to throw the whole thing out?

Omniderigiste 2: Naturally. God doesn’t make typos. How could He, when He dictated it all to Himself?

Open Theist: He dictated it to Himself? Why would you say that?

Omniderigiste 2: Because God has 37 different Wills. The Executive Will dictated everything to the Secretarial Will, which then transmitted it through the mechanism of the prophet-puppets. Every jot and tittle!

Open Theist: So… God is schizophrenic?

Omniderigiste 2: You’re anthropomorphizing. We prefer to say “multi=willed”. Or 37-willed, to be precise.

Omniderigiste 3: Also, God is a penguin.

Open Theist: A penguin?

Omniderigiste 3: Yes.

Open Theist: God is a schizophrenic micromanaging penguin with 37 personalities? That’s certifiable.

Omniderigiste 3: Ha! I’d like to see you deny God’s penguinhood when you face him beak-to-beak!

Okay, I admit I may have made up the bit about the penguin. But it’s about as rational and relevant as the other “arguments” presented.

Another denomination bites the dust

And the Presbyterian Church joins the growing collection of denominations dead by theological suicide:

With a vote in Minneapolis, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is expected to pass a measure on Tuesday afternoon allowing openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons.

Although Presbyterians have been debating the issue since 1978, the news will most likely come as a surprise to many church members. Only two years ago, a majority of the church’s regions, known as presbyterys, voted against ordaining openly gay candidates.

This time, 19 of the church’s 173 presbyterys so far have switched their votes from no to yes. The Twin Cities presbytery, which covers the Minneapolis and St. Paul region, is expected to cast the deciding vote at its meeting on Tuesday.

The Rev. Heidi Vardeman, senior minister of Macalester Plymouth United Church, in St. Paul, said in an interview, “Finally, the denomination has seen the error of its ways and it will repent, which means, literally, to turn around.”

The “Reverend” Heidi clearly has her directions confused. What the Presbyterian Church has to repent from, and from which it must literally turn around, is its present course, which is headed for extinction. The report mentions that 100 congregations have already left, and more will likely leave soon. It is a dying denomination that is already down to only 2 million members; this action means that they’ll likely fall below one million within a decade.

As I have often stated, female pastors are the first sign of a church dancing with the theological death spiral. It is safe to conclude that gay pastors are the final one, an indication that the spiral will soon be complete. And yes, I am aware of my old church’s position on the matter: “We affirm that ministerial authority is based upon a person’s character, calling and giftedness, not his or her gender.”

Piper and the schizo god

A number of the omniderigistes here have spoken highly of John Piper. Now, I haven’t paid any attention to the man in the past nor do I know much about him, only that I tended to disagree with his past statements about Greg Boyd and to agree with his more recent statements about Rob Bell. So, I thought it might not be a bad idea to read through a few of his arguments in order to see what this reportedly formidable theologian had to offer. I read a few of his articles and I downloaded a PDF of a book rather dramatically entitled Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity.

When reading the book’s Forward, I was immediately unimpressed by the way Piper began by launching into numerous appeals to historical authority and emotion. I have no doubt it goes over well among like minds in the pews but I am entirely unmoved by emotional posturing, particularly of the self-elevating variety. Perhaps some will find my case less convincing for the admission, but I am not the least bit “broken-hearted” by what I consider to be the devious snake’s heart of Calvinism; I would be remiss if I failed to congratulate Piper for the invention of an exciting new logical fallacy, the Appeal to the Sad Puppy Face. People get things wrong all the time for a near-infinite variety of reasons, many of them less than nefarious, but I suppose it’s much more satisfying to see the hand of Hell behind every insufficiently orthodox idea. On my part, my sole interest in this, as in most things, is the purely Abelardian one of what is so and what is not so. I’m not the least bit interested in the personal angle, so there is no need for anyone to get his panties in a bunch on Piper’s behalf. Every argument must either either stand or fall on its own regardless of who first happened to formulate it.

After reading the forward, I then turned my attention to his article on the controversial repentance verse in 1 Samuel, and as I expected he would, Piper followed the conventional Calvinist pattern of interpreting the Biblical text naturally or unnaturally depending upon whether the verse fits his dogma or not. It is very easy to spot when he is interpreting it unnaturally – by which I mean that he is straining to force-fit an improbable or invalid interpretation of a passage – because he resorts to one or more analogical explanations to justify the misreading. And this is where his arguments are most vulnerable. Because his unlikely interpretation is a force-fitted one, he is forced to rely upon flawed examples that do not actually support the point he is attempting to make. This isn’t always immediately obvious to the casual reader, but to one who has a great deal of experience of picking out similar logical contortions and distortions in the arguments of the New Atheists, it is readily apparent. And these exemplary flaws are further highlighted by the need to subsequently turn around and deny the more natural reading of the text.

This is what I have observed to be the characteristic structure of the Piperian critical argument:

1. The Bible states A, which appears to prove B.
2. But A does not prove B because A is actually Not A.
3. A must be Not A because in a different verse, the Bible states C and C not only takes precedence over A in this particular application, but must be taken as universally applicable.
4. Provide an example substituting a for A.
5. Conclusion: because a is Not A, A fails to prove B and B is therefore incorrect.

Being aware of this fallacious structure, I spotted no less than six errors in Piper’s 1998 article entitled “God Does Not Repent Like a Man”. If one wishes to be truly pedantic, there are seven, but I see no reason that aprevistans need to resort to such dubious measures as would be required to assert the seventh flaw. These errors are particularly problematic in light of Piper’s claim that Open Theism “dishonors God, distorts Scripture, damages faith, and would, if left unchecked, destroy churches and lives.” But one must view Piper’s judgment with an extremely skeptical eye, given the way in which his own writings are quite literally error-filled; in the article criticized here he averages nearly an error per paragraph.

1. Factual Error. Piper says it is not true to human experience to say that God would not lament over a state of affairs he himself chose to bring about. (Or to remove the double negative, it is true to human experience that God would lament over something that He intended to do and successfully did.) But this not only substitutes the exception for the rule, it is an incorrect summary of the actual aprevistan argument. God didn’t merely lament making Saul king, He regretted it and then acted to undo His previous act. But since Piper is appealing to human experience, the observable fact is that most humans do not regret or attempt to undo things that work out exactly as they intended from the start.

2. Logical Error. Piper appeals to nothing more substantial than his own imagination when he claims, “more importantly”, that God “may well be capable of lamenting over something he chose to bring about”. Or, on the other hand, he may well not be. Piper would more reasonably have theorized that God may be schizophrenic on the basis of the apparent contradiction between repenting and not repenting, especially since the not-repenting aspect was actually given a different name. The fact that Piper places more importance on this appeal to his own imagination than his appeal to human experience highlights the inherently insubstantial nature of his argument.

3. Logical Error. Piper provides an inappropriate example in an attempt to assert that God can simultaneously lament and affirm an act as being for the best. In postulating a spanking of his son that leads to his son running away, Piper says that he “may feel some remorse over the spanking – not in the sense that I disapprove of what I did…. If I had it to do over again, I would still spank him.” But this example is not relevant to the situation described in Samuel, where God not only laments having made Saul king, but also acts to undo Saul’s kingship. It is clear that if God had to do it over again, He would not have made Saul king, otherwise He would not be stating His regrets as well as undoing the results of His previous action. At no point does God affirm His selection of Saul as having been for the best, and His actions, as well as His earlier statements that Israel’s request for a king was evil, indicate that it was not. Note that Piper concludes the flawed example with a second appeal to his own imagination.

4a. If I wished to be stubbornly obtuse in the way some omniderigistes are when presented with a literal text, I would point out that “the Glory of Israel” is not necessarily God. However, since I prefer to read a text in a straightforward manner without utilizing dogmatic lenses, I accept the assumption that “the Glory of Israel” is a reference to God. But note that it is still an assumption, even if the assumption is a perfectly reasonable one.

4b. Logical Error. Piper claims that the difference between God’s regret of verses 11 and 34 and the Glory of Israel’s non-repentance in verse 29 “would naturally be that God’s repentance happens in spite of perfect foreknowledge, while most human repentance happens because we lack foreknowledge”. This is complete nonsense. It would most naturally be nothing of the kind. Piper is making the customary Calvinist mistake of taking a singular action and transforming it into a general principle on the basis of nothing, and doing so in contradiction to other singular actions.

Piper has ignored that Samuel’s statement about God is made in the context of Samuel’s angry attempt to get the Lord to change His mind about taking Saul’s kingship away. “Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” Piper has also ignored that Samuel’s statement is in direct response to Saul’s plea for forgiveness and the removal of the punishment. The natural explanation between two repents and one not-repent is not a bizarre change of subject to divine versus human foreknowledge, but the fact that God does not repent of His decision to take the kingdom away from Saul and is not lying when He says that He has already taken it away and given it to another when neither Saul nor Samuel nor anyone else can possibly see any sign of that having happened yet.

Piper would no doubt be confused should he read an Agatha Christie novel. After all, since Poirot repeatedly says that he “knows everything” when confronting a culprit at the climax of the book, why would he have any need to gather clues and talk to people on his next case? Since he knows everything, obviously he must know who all subsequent murderers are, correct? This resort to a universal interpretation is no less absurd in the Biblical context than in the Christie novels.

The same contextual point holds true for the reference to Numbers 23:19. Balaam is referring to God’s specific command to bless Israel instead of cursing it, the statement is no more intended to be universally applicable than the immediately subsequent statement that no misery is observed in Israel. That Piper’s universal interpretation is incorrect should be obvious, given the subsequent curses God later metes out to Israel.

5. Factual Error. Piper substitutes “feel sorrow” for “regret”. This substitution is not valid because it is not sufficient and Piper himself notes that “regret [= repent]”. When Jesus Christ calls us to repent, he is not merely expecting us to feel sorry, but to take action as well. Piper writes: “For God to say, ‘I feel sorrow that I made Saul king,’ is not the same as saying, ‘I would not make him king if I had it to do over.’ That is perfectly true, but it also doesn’t suffice to correctly describe the situation. For God to say “I regret that I made Saul king” and then to remove the kingship from him most certainly amounts to saying “I would not make him king if I had it to do over.” Piper focuses on the emotion and completely ignores the action: the fact that God undid His previous action at what appears to have been the second opportunity.

6. Logical Error. Piper asserts that “God’s commitment to his promises hangs on his not repenting like a man”. But this, too, is an entirely spurious statement. It is an observable fact that mere men can, and do, keep their commitments to their promises. Therefore, God’s ability to do the same clearly cannot depend upon a total incapacity for changing His mind or regretting a past action.

Based on what I’ve seen thus far, Piper’s omniderigent theology rests upon a combination of willful obtuseness, a determined lack of reading comprehension, emotional appeals, and invalid logic. It is primarily the result of confusing capability for action and mistaking singular statements for universally applicable ones. In any event, I have pointed out six specific errors committed by Piper, four logical and two factual. I shall be interested to know exactly how many of those six errors his fellow omniderigents and/or Calvinists are willing to assert are not, in fact, errors.

Mailvox: Who rules the world?

AS took exception to my column yesterday:

I’ve been a faithful follower of your commentaries at WND for many years now, and I do quite often side with you when you assert perspectives that make other conservative Christians squirm and squeal (though they should not). That being said, from one Christian to another, I cannot fathom how you can simultaneously make the emphasized statements in [three long quotes from the column] your April 25 editorial “The Problem with Evil” at WND.

In the first and third instances quoted, to imply or infer that Satan is (or ever has been) in control of this world to a greater degree than God and/or in a way independent of the sovereignty of God, is quite frankly not an orthodox Christian doctrine. Surely, Job 1-2 ought to be enough to put that idea to rest forever. I would much prefer to charitably credit what you said here to carelessness than to intention. The second instance quoted gives me hope for what you might mean given more articulation. You are quite right to say that the glorious redemptive events of Good Friday and Easter required a truly heinous context in which to occur, but to say that God was not in control of them is quite contrary to Scripture.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it.”
– Acts 2:22-24

“For truly against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and your purpose determined before to be done.”
– Acts 4:27-28

The word for “determined purpose” and “determined before” in both of these passages is not a light or passive word. The root ‘orizo (from which we get the word horizon, i.e. boundary) and the compound proorizo indicate a very active demarcation of limits and actions. There is a great deal more that could be said.

As for the “prince of this world” still being the ruler, he most certainly is not still the ruler. Jesus was quite clear about that. Speaking of his impending crucifixion in John 12:31, Jesus said: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out.” And he elaborated on the ministry of the Helper (Spirit) to come in John 16:11 saying that he would “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment … of judgment, because the prince of this world has been judged.” I don’t know what could be clearer about this than the Great Commission and the necessity of Christ’s present session and continuing conquest.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, going, disciple the nations, baptizing [the nations] in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching [the nations] to obey everything I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you, even to the consummation of the age.
– Matthew 28:18-20

He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy [not the first enemy] that will be destroyed is death.
– 1 Corinthians 15:25-26

It’s only fair that I lay all my cards on the table and say that I’m coming at this as a postmillennialist and Calvinist. And from what I’ve gathered over the years, you’re neither. But Scripture is Scripture, and you must be more careful, accurate, and honest about what the Word of God teaches.

I replied thusly: Look, if you want to believe that God and Jesus are homicidal maniacs and there is no difference in Satan ruling over the world prior to the Resurrection and Jesus ruling over it afterwards, that’s fine with me. But if you genuinely believe that there has been no Satan in the world for 2,000 years, I suggest you are simply not paying attention.

As is so often the case in such matters, I think you are applying a POSSIBLE meaning which contradicts that which can be observed and arguing that it is the ONLY meaning. For example, you don’t appear to understand the concept of “sovereignty”. Queen Elizabeth may be sovereign over her English subjects but she exercises virtually no control over them. In fact, I would question if you have a reasonable understanding of the concept of control. So, I will ask the obvious question: do you believe God micromanages and is personally responsible for every single human and demonic action in the world?

If your answer is yes, then we will simply agree to disagree. If it is no, then we simply have different opinions regarding the degree to which human events are dictated by Divine will and which are the result of independently exercised free will.

AS replied:

That was poorly reasoned response. But worse, it was not a Christ-like response but rather carnal response to give to anyone, especially a fellow Christian (who is usally quite agreeable to your views, who shares your views with others, and defends them when necessary). Such a response is quite unbefitting of you.

I neither said nor implied the following:

“Look, if you want to believe that God and Jesus are homicidal maniacs and there is no difference in Satan ruling over the world prior to the Resurrection and Jesus ruling over it afterwards, that’s fine with me. But if you genuinely believe that there has been no Satan in the world for 2,000 years, I suggest you are simply not paying attention.”

This is belittling and inflammatory language, a red herring and an ad hominem attack. It’s a distorted, over-simplied, and caricatured version of what I said. I said nothing one way or the other about how the triune God’s rule and exhaustive providence (“micromangement” if you wish) relates to the willful actions of men. (I could give a rather long and qualified response to that issue.) It assumes that all death caused by God (if he does do that) must be homicidal mania and could not be justifiable or characterized in some other fashion. (I would support the latter.) I said nothing one way or the other about a difference in the oversight and character of human affairs and civilization before and after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. (I do think there are element of continuity and discontinuity in that regard.) And I said nothing one way or the other about Satan’s non-presence in the past 2000. (My understanding on the matter is that of a severe restriction, not a total expulsion.) At no point was Scripture itself engaged and exegeted (not that any burden on your time is required or obliged to me).

Yes, I grant you that my use (and generally the Reformed use) of “sovereignty” is unlike that of any earthly sovereign. I’ll find a better term for it if that helps; I’ll even accept the label of “micromanagement” despite its verbal baggage.

“So, I will ask the obvious question: do you believe God micromanages and is personally responsible for every single human and demonic action in the world? If your answer is yes, then we will simply agree to disagree. If it is no, then we simply have different opinions regarding the degree to which human events are dictated by Divine will and which are the result of independently exercised free will.”

I think that’s a bit of a false dichotomy. As such I’m willing to say a bit of both your proffered answer. Yes, we will have to agree to disagree to an extent. Also, yes, we do have differing opinions about the degree to which divine will dictates human events. It’s certainly not a new argument in church history.

I can only ask that when you speak for Christianity as a whole, that you do so in a manner that is more mindful and reflective of the full range of doctrine which has defined the genuine Christian faith and the one holy catholic and apostolic church of Christ. You’re piece from last week regarding Rob Bell’s TIME magazine interview is a great example of that; I was very pleased and encouraged by it and shared it with others.

First, I have to note that this is the third emailer in three days who does not know what ad hominem means to claim that I have made an ad hominem response to him. It would appear general ignorance of logical terms spans a very wide breadth of creeds. But ad hominem does not mean “a response that is less polite than I would like”. It does not mean “a response that I find insulting” or even “a response that is unequivocally full of direct personal insults”. It means “a criticism that attempts to rebut the argument by attacking the arguer instead of the argument.”

A failure to understand that is bad enough, if not unusual. But what renders AS’s opinion completely invalid, from my perspective, is his attempt to dance around the Aristotelian logic which states that A cannot equal Not A. How can it be a “false dichotomy” to force him to choose between “God micromanages and is personally responsible for every single human and demonic action in the world” and “God does not micromanage and is not personally responsible for every single human and demonic action in the world”? Can God be both personally responsible and not personally responsible for a given act? Can God act and not act in the very same action? I don’t see how I can be expected to take seriously the criticism that my argument is “poorly reasoned” from anyone who hasn’t yet mastered A!=Not A.

I must also point out that it makes no sense to attempt to blindly apply the Bible without also paying attention to the world to which one is attempting to apply it. If our sensory observations that tell us of of a world that is still fallen, that is still full of evil, cannot be trusted, then we cannot rely upon our reading of the Bible either, since our reading of the Bible also depends upon our senses.

The unavoidable fact of the matter is that free will either exists or does not exist. If I am correct, I am choosing to type these words of my own free will and God is not responsible for them, He is merely responsible for setting in motion the chain of events that eventually led to me typing them. If I am incorrect, then I am simply a puppet and God is dictating these words to you, which would seem to imply that anything I write should be taken as the literal word of God. So, even if I am incorrect, I must be correct – therein lies the real dichotomy.

It is important to understand that sovereignty neither implies nor requires action. The confusion of sovereignty and action on the part of the Calvinist is remarkably similar to the common confusion between divine capability and divine action on the part of the atheist. I don’t think this ironic similarity is purely coincidental, however, as both creeds tend to lead to similar conclusions. For the atheist, do what thou wilt because thy will is the whole of the law. For the Calvinist, do what thou wilt because thy will is intrinsically guided by the Will of God.

Now, I am entirely open to the possibility that we are all puppets in an extraordinarily complicated kabuki that an omniderigent God performs by Himself for His own amusement. I simply don’t regard that to be either the most logically credible possibility nor do I consider it to be the one most strongly supported by Scripture.

When I look at the world, I see no shortage of evil. I observe that while there are pockets of resistance to his rule, the present ruler of this world is the one to whom Paul referred, post-Resurrection, as “the god of this age”. And finally, I must note that I do not speak for Christianity, either in whole or in part. I speak only for myself, because I am the only person for whom I am authorized to speak.

WND column

The Problem with Evil

The fact of the existence of evil troubles many individuals, religious and irreligious alike. Numerous strategies have evolved for dealing with it, from denying it like the Buddhists, enduring it like the Stoics, combating it like the Christians or redefining it like the Marxists. But regardless of the method one chooses, there is observably something to which all of these people from the panoply of religious and philosophical creeds are responding.