November 2016 Archives
November 1, 2016
On God and the World Series
Something to lighten up the day.
Consider the following argument:
1. God does not have a preference as to whether the Cubs or the Indians wins the World Series.
2. The committed Christian should try to unite his will with God's will.
3. The committed Christian who realizes that God has no preference about who wins the World Series should try to achieve a state of indifference within himself concerning who wins the World Series.
It seems like there must be something wrong with this argument, but I'm not sure what it is. Thoughts?
November 2, 2016
The bad guys vs. Prof. Esolen
Rod Dreher reports on dramatic recent events at Providence College where Professor Tony Esolen teaches literature.
The first piece this fall, published in late September, is an eloquent plea for the humane learning of a Catholic liberal arts education. Esolen's chief theme in this piece is the homosexual agenda and the attacks from the left upon any organization that continues to maintain its distinctively Catholic identity in the realm of sexuality. He is particularly concerned about the abuse of the word "diversity" in this way at his own college. The editor at Crisis gave the article the very slightly provocative title, "My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult."
November 6, 2016
So Much For Moderate Islam
In case you haven’t been paying attention to world events (a lot has been happening right here at home!) there have been some nasty protests and riots in the capital of Indonesia recently:
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo postponed a visit to Australia on Saturday after a mass protest in Jakarta that briefly turned violent as Muslim extremists pressed for the resignation of the capital's governor, a Christian they say insulted the Koran.
Widodo has faced criticism for failing to rein in hardline groups that had promised for weeks to bring tens of thousands onto the streets of the capital, and during Friday's protest his office said he was inspecting a rail project at the airport.
At a news conference after midnight on Friday, he blamed "political actors" for fanning popular anger over city Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is standing for re-election in February, competing with two Muslims for the job.
The governorship of the capital is a powerful position and one held by Widodo before he became president two years ago.
Widodo had planned to use his Nov. 6-8 visit to Australia to cement improving ties, with a focus on economic and maritime cooperation and efforts to counter Islamist militancy.
"Looking at the latest situation and condition in Indonesia that require the presence of the president, President Joko Widodo decided to postpone his scheduled state visit to Australia," a statement from his office said.
The protest against Purnama, the first ethnic Chinese to hold the position of Jakarta governor, was largely peaceful but in the evening the crowd grew restive and police restrained them with tear gas and water cannon fire.
One person died and more than 100 were injured in the violence, many of them police officers. Three vehicles were torched and 18 were damaged, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told a news conference on Saturday.
Clashes broke out in a north Jakarta area where there are large communities of non-Muslims and about 15 people were arrested there for looting a minimart, Amar said.
Some Chinese-owned shops and restaurants were shuttered in northern Jakarta on Saturday, while security officers guarded a temple and a school, according to a resident.
A spokesman for the Islamic Defenders Front, a group that led the protest, denied responsibility for the violence and said the "provocateurs" were the police who fired tear gas.
The group may organize another protest if the legal process against Purnama for his Koran comments is not allowed to run its course, said Munarman, who goes by one name. "If the law is ignored ... then we will call for similar action."
Later, Reuters tells us what has Munarman and his fellow Islamists riled up:
About a dozen Muslim groups have accused Purnama of insulting Islam after he jokingly said his opponents had used a verse from the Koran to deceive voters. The verse implies that Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders.
Police are investigating the case against Purnama, who has apologized for his remarks, insisting he was not criticizing the Koranic verse but those who used it to attack him.
Notice that droll “about a dozen Muslim groups” – I thought Indonesia was the place with the moderate, live and let live peaceful Muslims? I used to comment back in the day here at W4 on posts about Islam; holding up Indonesia as a model for the future and suggested that their brand of Islam, which was promoted by two large national organizations known as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, might be a model for the rest of the Islamic world. Instead, it appears that more sinister (or normal?) Islamic forces are capturing the imagination of Indonesian youth and just like Islam around the world, we find increasing intolerance for other religions and violence at any perceived threats to any challenges to Islamic honor or ideology. It is all depressingly familiar.
November 8, 2016
Whither the First Amendment?
The free speech clause to the first amendment to the United States Constitution is a bit of a mystery. It holds that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. That's it. No frills, no clarifications. Yet we know, if we are originalists about Constitutional meaning, that it can't actually mean free speech absolutism. We know this if for no other reason than that federal legislation against pornography was not considered unconstitutional until much later--at least not on First Amendment grounds. (Back when the 10th amendment was taken seriously, such legislation might have required some justification in that connection.) Even the court's upholding of the Sedition Act of 1918 is some evidence that, the farther back you go, the less likely it is that you will find free speech absolutism as the interpretation of the First Amendment. On the other hand, the fierce and very early controversy over the even more restrictive speech provisions of the Alien and Sedition Act in 1798 does provide evidence that the Founders did intend to protect political speech and criticism of government activities, just as one would naturally assume.
But by the early 21st century, extreme conclusions by SCOTUS about the First Amendment had become commonplace. In the Ashcroft decision (2002) SCOTUS even went so far as to conclude that child pornography could not be banned by content but only in virtue of its having actually been produced by the abuse of real minors. That this was anything like the intent (or for you textualists, the understanding) of the original First Amendment is ludicrous.
As things now stand, flag burning, strip dancing, and virtually all pornography are all treated as first-amendment-protected free speech. (Yes, I know about the "local values" supposed exception on obscenity. In practice, what it means is that the local strip joint and dirty book store threatened to sue my city for any attempt to get rid of it, and the most the city could do was to induce the business to move to a different neighborhood.)
November 14, 2016
Extended Ramblings, Post-Election Edition
It would take conscious effort to be more spectacularly wrong than I have been about the likelihood of Donald Trump’s ever becoming president. After many months of arguing, with no small degree of vehemence, that this year’s general election result was more or less impossible, it turns out that my reading of this year’s political scene was badly askew. It is of course true that I have a lot of company, and not only among partisans of the Never Trump persuasion, but this does nothing to obviate the simple fact: I was as wrong as it is possible to be, not once, but many times over the course of this interminable election season.
The Trumpists have responded to their great victory at the polls, and to the prospect of a refashioned Republican Party under President-elect Trump’s leadership, with their characteristic good grace and charm. The same could be said of those on the left who in many cases had already begun gloating over their inevitable triumph from the moment Trump secured the Republican nomination. This is to be expected, and hardly counts among the more dire consequences likely to follow his ascendancy to the nation’s highest office. That the administration of so great a country will fall to the likes of Steven Bannon and Corey Lewandowski is the greater occasion for mourning than the bleating of emotionally immature Trump enthusiasts, or the unseemly histrionics of the left.
November 16, 2016
First Old Testament undesigned coincidence post--Hezekiah's treasure chamber
First of all, update on my forthcoming book Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.
DeWard Publishing is gathering "blurbs" right now, having sent out advance reading copies. I'm doing a last read through for typos or other errors and have found a handful. I've been having a nice, peaceful, nerdy time indexing the book. It is going to have three indices (I know they are usually called indexes, but I kinda like "indices")--a Scripture reference index, an index of authors and modern names, and a subject index.
Right now the hope is for a spring release, with "spring" somewhat ambiguous, depending on how quickly we get endorsements. I hope that before too long the book will be available for pre-order on DeWard's site.
Meanwhile, I have been carefully re-reading John James Blunt's Old Testament section in Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings Both of the Old and the New Testament. I got started doing this both because it seemed intrinsically interesting and also partly because I'm so ornery. I have a good friend who, every time the name of Blunt comes up in conversation, will pause to say that he thinks the OT coincidences are not as good as the NT coincidences.
Now, granted, the OT coincidences are less densely packed than the NT coincidences, and they often lack the interesting characteristic of involving multiple accounts of the same event. Occasionally one does get that characteristic when the same incident is told both in Chronicles and in Kings. But for the most part, the OT coincidences are of different kinds. They may concern facts or social conditions rather than specific events, for example. The one I will be discussing in this post does involve several different books that tell about events surrounding the same event--namely, Sennacherib's attack upon Jerusalem and King Hezekiah's sickness and recovery.
November 20, 2016
Updates on Timo Miller and Kenneth Miller
Thanks to Scott W. for alerting me to a new post at Kenneth Miller's site. Pastor Kenneth Miller had a rough couple of months being transported around the U.S. in shackles so that he could be given the "opportunity" to testify at the Zodhiates trial. He refused to do so (as I previously reported). He now seems hopeful that perhaps additional time won't be put onto his federal sentence for his refusal. (He says, "Until negotiations between the U.S. prosecutors and another party are completed, I'm not free to comment much. But it appears unlikely that I will face further charges, praise God!" which seems to be a reference to the charge of criminal contempt that the judge told him he could face.)
While he was being dragged from pillar to post, he actually ran into missionary Timo Miller (the two men are not related) in a prison in Youngstown, Ohio. (Question: Why was he taken to a prison in Ohio in the course of being transported back and forth from Florida, where he is serving his sentence, to Buffalo, New York? Yeah, I don't know, either.) One of the most moving parts of his post is about his meeting with Timo Miller. Remember a couple of facts as you read this: Timo Miller actually cooperated with the prosecution against Ken Miller back in 2011 to the extent of giving a videotaped deposition that was used against Ken Miller in his trial. Timo then returned to Nicaragua, where his wife was having a baby. He did not return to the U.S. to testify in person at the trial, and it is partly on that basis that U.S. prosecutors have now arrested him. (Because he didn't "cooperate fully.") Still, that was his response to the demand that he testify. Ken Miller, in contrast, has refused repeatedly to testify against anyone else as a matter of conscience and has faced the possibility of having time added to his sentence in federal prison as a result. Meanwhile, Timo Miller has just spent weeks in dungeon conditions in Nicaragua before being extradited to the U.S. Ken Miller got Timo Miller involved in this whole case in the first place, asking him to help Lisa and Isabella, which is the reason for what Timo Miller is going through. When the two men met, this is how Ken Miller reported it:
November 22, 2016
Evangelical inside baseball
I'm going to report here on a couple of dustups in the evangelical world, apropos of the issue of homosexuality. Whether you consider them "little dustups" depends on how important the evangelical world is to you.
The first such dustup concerns the relationship between InterVarsity Press and the Society for Biblical Literature. The SBL is an important organization that runs conferences at which evangelical authors sell their books, usually through their presses, which have tables at these conferences.
A couple of months ago, InterVarsity decided to make a rather feeble move to try to (maybe) purge its employee ranks of those who support homosexual "marriage." Exactly what it consisted in was unclear. The Atlantic reported that IVP was asking employees to read their statement on sexual matters and then to "out" themselves and leave the company if they disagreed and that involuntary termination would be triggered if they did not leave voluntarily. See also here. IVP said that this wasn't correct because they had no official position on employee views on civil marriage. Presumably that meant that employees were being asked to do this only if they thought that God approves of homosexual "marriage" and that it should be given religious sanction. (That's my best attempt to make a consistent position, though frankly, I think the whole brouhaha showed that there were various opinions among the higher-ups at IVP itself rather than a consistent position.) IVP also insisted that this applied only to its employees, not to the authors who published with the press. By the way, IVP had already published a book quite confused about and in that sense quite friendly to homosexuality, so they were hardly turning into a bunch of hard-liners on the issue.
The SBL then said that, for this extremely minimal move, they were seriously proposing to ban IVP from their conferences in 2017, which would of course have been quite bad not only for IVP but for all of its authors. This was, I repeat, the Society for Biblical Literature, planning to ban an ostensibly Christian press for the mildest attempt to bring about some sort of unanimity among their employees concerning God's alleged approval of sodomy and other forms of sexual immorality.
November 23, 2016
Thanksgiving: Infinitely costly
[This year's Thanksgiving piece is a slightly modified version of a post originally made at my personal blog.]
On Passion Sunday of this year (back in April), it came to me in a flash that all of God's generosity, his gift of the "blessings of this life," is infinitely costly. It seemed to me somehow that even the beauty of a sunrise or the goodness of food comes to me through the death of Jesus Christ. Although God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, nonetheless there seems to be a sense in which these natural blessings have had to be "bought back" for us by the death of Christ. Hence, while in one sense it costs God nothing to pour out the rain upon the just and the unjust, to give us every good gift and every perfect gift, because God is the creator of all these good things, yet in another sense, due to the sin of mankind and the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, we now enjoy these things only as a gift for which Jesus had to give everything. So it is not only the forgiveness of our sins--the "means of grace and the hope of glory"--that we have through the blood of Christ, but literally everything. Every good thing.
Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich. (II Corinthians 8:9)
November 29, 2016
W4 reprise: Santa Claus
As Christmas is around the corner, several of my FB friends began sharing a link to this post (from last year) by William Lane Craig, in which he says many sensible things. Viz.,
On the one hand, the replacement of Jesus Christ at Christmas by Santa Claus is a sacrilege. Santa Claus is obviously a sort of God-surrogate: an all-seeing person endowed with miraculous powers, who’s making a list and checking it twice in order to find out if you’ve been naughty or nice. “He knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good, for goodness’ sake!” But never fear: Santa Claus is a kindly old man with a long white beard who never judges that someone has been bad. No matter what you’ve done, he thinks you’re good and delivers the presents. Such a caricature of God is so perverse that one wonders how Christian parents could possibly allow their children to believe in such a being. Christmas, as the word suggests, is supposed to be about Christ, not about this imposter.
On the other hand, who wants to be an old Scrooge, spoiling all the fun and dampening the festiveness of Christmas? Poems like “The Night before Christmas” are so much fun to read to your children. Isn’t there some way to reach an accommodation?
I think there is. Saint Nicholas was a historical figure, an early church bishop. We can teach our children about who he was and explain how people like to make-believe that he comes and brings children presents today at Christmas time. Children love to make-believe, and so you can invite them to join in this game of make-believe with you. When you see a Santa at the shopping mall, say, “Look, there’s a man dressed up like Saint Nicholas! People pretend that he is Saint Nicholas. Would you like to tell him what you want for Christmas?”