Thursday, March 26, 2015

Calling Christian Publishers to Account

The most recent Christian Research Journal has an item at the end that offers some particularly disturbing observations about the book The Boy Who Went to Heaven, by Alex Malarkey. I don’t mean revelations that the book’s account of a near death experience by Alex were fraudulent. That’s old news by now. 

The article is written by Hank Hanegraaff, who has been in touch with Alex’s mother, Beth, and reports some of the things she say about the book and its success.  Mrs. Malarkey is extremely regretful about the success of the book, and is doing all she can to erase its influence.  However, one of the saddest reactions she reports is from a pastor who balked at her news, because the book was “blessing” people.

This is not a new sort of reaction. I’ve seen the same thing said of Colton Burpo’s NDE account, and no doubt will continue to hear that about it even if someday Colton steps to the plate and declares that he, too, made the whole thing up. I’ve also seen and heard similar excuses for Hitler’s Cross, the execrable work of Erwin Luzter which badly misreports the truth about Hitler’s religious beliefs.

I wrote Hitler’s Christianity in part to correct such mistaken ideas as Lutzer’s. But the example of what’s happening with the Malarkeys confirms that I shouldn’t expect to see my analysis in print anytime soon. I did have one slight nibble from a reputable publisher, but was told, in effect, that they didn’t want it because they couldn’t see the point of it. That’s nice to know.

When the news about Alex’s story first came out a couple of months ago, it went everywhere. Secular outposts like NPR covered it. And there are some good indications that at least one major retailer knew that the book was false months before that; and that Beth Malarkey was warning the publisher of inaccuracies even years before now. You can see here how a Christian apologist tried to get people at Lifeway to answer some simple questions and got nothing but a stone wall in reply. 

I don’t expect I’d get anything much different if I approached Lutzer or Moody Press about removing Hitler’s Cross from bookstore shelves. But I’ve been inspired by Alex and Beth Malarkey’s gumption, and maybe it’s time I tried, and recorded the results publicly for all to see. It would also be nice to see the evangelical publishing award that Lutzer’s book got rescinded. If we have more people like the Malarkeys who take a stand on falsehoods in Christian publishing, and if we have more embarrassing revelations posted in secular sources, maybe we can get these popular Christian publishers to be less concerned about making a buck and more concerned about fulfilling the Great Commission. And maybe we can also get it so that popular pastors stop writing books about subjects they know nothing about.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Church in the Teapot

Previously on this blog I’ve made note of model church programs at First Baptist Leesburg (FBL) in Florida, the former pastorate of Dr. Charles Roesel (who, for full disclosure, I consider a personal friend, and whose son is my local ministry partner). FBL is a church that I see as doing the Gospel right – acting on the commission we have to not only preach the Gospel, but also help the poor and needy. They have a “ministry village” which includes services for the homeless, a thrift store, and much more.

They’re a church on target with their mission. They’re also dead in the heart of territory here in my home state ruled by those who complain that they have been “taxed enough already.” Many Christians have piled in to this movement for whatever reason; I have observed that in many cases, said Christians are very well off, and have a tax bill that is dwarfed by their expenses in other areas of their personal budgets, including travel and personal entertainments. 

Nevertheless, they say, we pay enough taxes and don’t need to pay more.

The church as a whole doesn’t seem too interested in stressing civic duty, and has all too often acceded to the attitude that government is always a problem. Well, now for FBL, the chickens are starting to come home to roost on that attitude.

A news story here refers to the basics. FBL has hanging over its head the very real possibility that they may have to pay some $55,000 in “fire assessment” fees. That would amount to 1/20th of their current budget.  And although they would no doubt spread the pain around to various programs, there’s no doubt that some of that would have to come out of the budget for the programs that are and always will be Dr. Roesel’s and FBL’s legacy. Other churches, smaller ones, would also have to pay large fees relative to their budgets.

I’ll frame the matter a little more distinctly with a past living example. As I said, the area FBL is in is radical “taxed enough already” territory.  Residents there are so stingy that one fire station had been housed in a motel for years because residents didn’t want to pay the taxes needed to build a real fire station. (More recently, they finally will be building one.)

Other stories of similar nature emerge from that and other counties under the same influence here. In the same county, residents have also been too stingy to fund the construction of sidewalks so that students didn’t have to walk in the streets mere inches from traffic.

I’ve heard of trickle down economics, but I thought it worked the other way.

Here’s the bottom line. One way or the other, essential services like fire protection have to be funded. And now churches like FBL may end up paying for the stinginess of that county’s residents. In turn, the poor and needy served by FBL will pay also, in their own way.

Now note, please, what I am saying and what I am not. 

I am not saying there is not government waste that could be cut. One of my favorite books some years ago was titled The Government Racket by Martin Gross. It was a catalog of outrageous government spending. But waste on the federal level is not a reason to deny funding to a local entity that may or may not need to trim expenses, any more than we refuse to feed one hungry person because another is wasting food.

I am also not saying that the situation is ideal in any event. In a perfect world, citizens would band together to voluntarily fund communal services like fire and rescue, without any taxation. Or, wealthy members of the community would step up and pay for those fire fees on behalf of local congregations. (I’ve been through Leesburg many times. There are citizens there who could wrap fish in $55,000 every year and still live in mansions.)

I’m disturbed by this for more than one reason, including some personal ones I will discuss in some detail later in a forthcoming e-book titled A Church Without Conscience. For now let’s just say that the Tekton ministry almost came to an end as a direct result of the same sort of attitude towards taxation. 

In the meantime, FBL and other churches will be asking for waiver of these fees, according to news stories, and it remains to be seen whether Dr. Roesel’s legacy as a servant of Christ will continue to receive the support it both needs or deserves – or whether the selfishness and stinginess of well-fed citizens will trump that legacy. That includes citizens who claim the name of Christ, but in their daily lives remain insulated from the troubles that Dr. Roesel’s missions were meant to address.

Are we sheep…or are we goats?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Unconditionally Deselected

From the January 2012 E-Block.
As we now move to the critic's treatment of the U petal in TULIP, we find that he has almost totally foregone dealing with the complex explanations I offer in favor of an excuse that he will only select certain foundation beliefs which he thinks undermine my whole argument. Unfortunately, in so doing, he manages to get my views mostly wrong as he tries to pigeonhole them into something with which he is familiar. 

As before, the representation of his replies are in bold, and any quotes from our original U article are in italics. 

You think that people have more of a problem with the idea of election itself than they do the unconditional piece. Actually most people consider “limited atonement” to be the most controversial point.
I don't "think" any such thing, nor do I indicate any such thing. I do say that the U is probably the most controversial point, and I base that on extended observation and discussion with those who oppose it -- and I might add that limited atonement, in terms of a category, merely describes what the election in the U amounts to; so in reality, what people find difficult in L comes of what is in U and is derived from it. So regardless, even if L offends most, it is because of U that it is controversial. 

It is not election that people find offensive, but rather the fact that the basis of election is wholly and entirely located in God, and not some outward work or decision or foreknowledge of some work or decision man makes.
That is merely the expected hyper-Calvinist response, which seeks to lay fault at the feet of human sin (rather than honest questions) for disputing Calvinism. In other words, even if you say it is election you find offensive, as most critics do, the Calvinist of this brand will simply say you are lying because in the evil depths of your heart, you are actually offended by the basis of election lying wholly in God. My experience and study shows that it is indeed election that causes the offense; but of course I will merely be told that every one of my sources is a liar refusing to acknowledge Calvinism's glorious truths.

From here the critic embarks on an extended critique of middle knowledge (Molinism). This was actually a considerable waste of time, because I have been told by several Molinists that my views are not in full accord with theirs. Not that it really matters, for despite my explanations indicating that God is fully sovereign, we are assured by the critic that I really do see the basis for election in human choice -- I just don't see it, or won't admit it. That's not an answer, of course, but once again, merely the same sort of pious hyper-Calvinist dismissal as the one above which simply calls people liars when no other option is available.

It is complained that I need to show how all this works with Romans 9, but apparently the critic failed to search my archives and locate that treatment when writing his critique. Additionally, the concept of free will is criticized under the premise that it is to be defined as "will that is free from any and all external causes." I did not offer any such definition, nor is what I offered in line with such a definition. Rather, I define free will as nothing more than the ability to choose among options. Externals may in some way influence the choice, so I would not say that it means "free from" such externals at all. Additionally, it is also assumed that I hold to the particular Molinist view that God cannot know what a free creature will decide, which I do not. And so the critic ends up criticizing, for an extended period, a view I do not hold.

Also falsely attributed to me is a view that "predestination depends on good works." It is said that I "say as much" when I say:

Is there unrighteousness with God? Hardly. "Why not choose me?" -- Esau. At the very least it may be said in reply, "Because look what happens if you do."

However, this overlooks the much larger picture I painted in the article, in which God has designed -- by His own sovereignty -- persons for specific purposes. It also overlooks the fact that my subject here isn't even salvation, but the larger practical picture of all of the created order and God's purpose in it. In essence, the critic fails to grasp the actual complexity of my thesis, and so tries to force-fit it into categories he understands (or thinks he does) so that he can offer a misdirected critique.

Next up: we approach my minimal treatment of Romans 9 in the U article (not my detailed treatment in a later article). My commentary on high and low context is dismissed as "obscure" (which I suppose to this critic, it would be!), which is unfortunate since it is a point that is quite critical to my explanation. It is then said:

You contend that the Hebrew would have no interest in issues of free will and predestination. I wonder how you reconcile this with the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen writing to a Roman church that had a predominantly Gentile composition with a Jewish minority?

I don't need to, because the point is that the Hebrew resolved this issue by simply pointing out that God acted in history and was real, so whatever solution there might be, there had to be one -- it was trumped, though, by the simple fact that the universe was real, God was at work in it, and so that meant it wasn't our place to act as though it were a problem. That Paul was a Roman citizen did not change this ( how could it??); but this is all of no matter anyway, because Romans 9 is a case of Paul giving precisely this answer, as we showed in detail in our exegesis of Romans 9.

From here, the critic refuses to substantially deal with points I raise from Marvin Wilson, under the premise that Wilson is too biased, has an axe to grind, etc -- which I take to be the argumentative equivalent of a no mas. The critic does try to defuse some of Wilson's examples of block logic, but in so doing, merely unwittingly confirms Wilson's actual points. Thus, concerning both Pharaoh hardening his own heart, and God hardening it, is is said:

There are two perspectives here: God’s perspective and man’s perspective. We see Pharaoh hardening his heart in fulfillment of God hardening His heart. Moses was told clearly that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart.

But this does not defuse the paradox at all; it merely explains it in another way. "God's perspective" and "man's perspective" are just as much at odds and the paradox remains intact. All the critic has done has assumed that if he attaches a "God said so" to the front of it, the paradox disappears. It does not.

Two other examples are offered, but since no citation is given for where these are found in Wilson, I am not able to comment as not enough details are give. In the end, it is no surprise the critic instead find it necessary to resort to loaded language (eg, "Pelagian nonsense"), once again force-fitting ideas too complex for him into categories more familiar to him.

The critic closes with his own extended exegesis of Romans 9, leaving all else I say far behind. Since he has done nothing to address my own detailed exegesis -- not having even looked for it -- our own treatment ceases here as well. 

The critic skips our brief treatment of L, so we will continue with I next time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Puritan Files: Cotton Mather

From the December 2011 E-Block.


A reader has requested a look at a unique and (for us) obscure topic, that of Puritan theology. Though I very much enjoy studying early American history, I must admit that this is indeed a topic most obscure to me; most of the observations I make here will be fresh, and I suspect many will be naive or even outright wrong. However, we will do out best to evaluate what we read in terms of what I know of Biblical interpretation.

To begin, we will have a look at a small item by Cotton Mather (1689) titled (in short form) Soldiers Counselled and Comforted (hereafter SCC). The particular interest in this work arises from a brief analysis by Susan Niditch, in which she gave a less than positive perspective on SCC as one which related a prejudicial view of Native Americans, and used the Bible in an unjustified way to support militarism.

To begin, it should be noted that most of SCC can be regarded as non-controversial. The bulk of it reads like a devotional, encouraging the soldier to be on guard for their souls and trust God; in that respect, much of it could be retitled (e.g., Plumbers Counselled and Comforted) and read little differently. It is the last third of SCC in which most of the critical theology is offered, and without doubt there is much, qualitatively speaking, about which questions can be raised, though not all to the same degree.

27-8: This section encourages the soldier to be courageous in battle and not entertain cowardice. One might argue that this sort of thing might tend to warmongering; on the other hand, in principle, this sort of exhortation would have its rightful place even in a war that few would deny is just (e.g., at the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, the war against Nazi Germany).

Niditch expressed particular concern about Native Americans being referred to here as "murderers". Mather does indeed use that designation, and calls down vengeance upon them. But it is not clear whether Niditch is objecting simply to the use of such strong language, or whether she is charging Mather with misguided falsehood (Does she think the story is one sided, or exaggerated?). 

Apart from consideration of historical matters outside our scope, we cannot answer this question fairly, though it is easily suspected that Mather was using loaded language to inspire negative impressions about the enemy his readers were soon to be at war with.

32: Here Mather reminds the soldier that "you are fighting for the defence of and succour of the blessed thrones which our David, our Jesus, has here erected for himself." And in this we do encounter some problematic theology, which we see repeated in other ways as well: There is an implication that in some way, God specially represents those for whom the soldier fights -- at this early date, not America as a nation, but New England. Moreover it is said that the soldier fights "that the churches of God may not be extinguished, and the wigwams of the heathen swarming in their room: you are fighting that the children of God may not be made meals or slaves...", and assurance is given that "you have with you, the Hosts of the Lord; the very Angels are your Companions in your present Enterprise." (33)

And so it goes, for the next few pages; a highly dualistic "us vs them" template, matched with "good vs evil" in turn -- to the point that Mather even refers to his readers as the "New English Israel." It is this attitude Niditch made much over, and arguably, some would say, rightly so. And yet as well, I am presently suspicious of too literalist a reading of a text like SCC, especially given that we found Niditch previously taking certain Biblical texts too literally. Are Mather's assurance to the soldiers the manifestations of foaming hatred? Or are they no more than the exhortations of an earnest preacher, speaking in the "trash talk" of his time and place?

If they are the former, then of course, we manifestly have a series of theological problems. Arguing that God is on "our side" in some war is exhortational nitroglycerin. If you think God is on your side, like Mather, then you had best be very, very sure that He is before saying so -- and using that as a rallying point. 

By the same token, if, like Niditch, you think that's inappropriate and that God doesn't take sides, you had also better be sure that He is not before condemning those who say otherwise. The long and short of it is that prudence dictates silence in terms of claiming the allegiance of God, certainly until you know what is what.

I am certainly not here to argue that Mather was right or wrong, or that Niditch was right or wrong to use Mather as a bad example of what she wished to illustrate. Neither of them provide any sustained argument to make such points, and as such, neither fulfills their responsibility to the uninformed reader by themselves.

And yet, two questions arise. One, again, is whether Mather expected to be taken literally and seriously, or whether he is engaging the "trash talk" of his day -- expecting as well that his Native American opponents would likewise exhort themselves with the assurance that their god or gods were on their side, and that all the hosts of heaven would surely fight for them. Second, it should be asked whether a critique like Niditch's misses the point. Let us say that Mather lived in alternate universe where Christianity did not exist. Should we suppose that he would be able to find no other religious or even secular text to validate and assure his readers? Would he not call Native Americans nasty names? A criticism like Niditch's seems to presume that without the Bible to call on, Mather's soldiers would have peacefully extended an olive branch to the local sachem, and all would have been well from then on.

So as we examine Puritan theology further, one thing we will look for is this idea of God being "on our side" -- what justification is given? To what extent is this idea of Mather's readers as an "Israel" defined out and justified? How is the Bible used? Mather's SCC doesn't present so much as an argument beyond "we good, they bad," and we may agree that this isn't enough by any stretch to rationally defend the notion that "God is on my side, especially in these particulars."

In close, I might briefly note something of the concept of a new Israel, as Mather alludes to, but does not define. There are some who have argued for a "replacement theology" in which America is a new Israel. I have rejected that view; the new covenant is not theocratic, but is "signed" with each member of the Body of Christ. While this may have certain implications for how we conduct our daily lives, even in politics and war, it does not mean we can expect to be subject to the Deuteronomic blessings (or curses, for that matter) as a nation. To what extent, if any, later authors we visit offer or defend such notions, remains to be seen.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Totally Depraved

From the December 2011 E-Blokck.


We now begin a series in which we will be answering from certain unnamed quarters varied critiques of our material on TULIP. The source of these objections shall remain unnamed as a rhetorical device, and because they deserve not the credence of being named, but interested readers may query for further information.

One thing we shall say is that this source is of the type that defiantly rejects any scholarship that interferes with their perceived notions of how Christianity is to be defined and ordered. Hence we will see that they often dismiss credible observations by serious scholars as invalid. As well, this personality retains a rather vengeful, childlike mentality which compels them to discover problems where none exist. However, we deemed it well to have an answer ready for any who inquired.

For this entry, we will look at critiques of our material on total depravity. As a reminder, I agreed that this notion is to be found in the Bible, though not in as many passages as some believe. Hereafter, my quotes are in italics; the criticisms follow, paraphrased at times, in bold.

What is the exact meaning of "total depravity"? Here are the points it generally offers, which one will find repeated in various forms throughout works in favor of TULIP:
  • Sin corrupts the whole person -- emotions, will, and intellect.
  • Although this is so, we are not as bad as we could be; we could be worse. We are, as Palmer puts it, not as intensively evil as possible; but we are as extensively evil as possible. [Palm.5P, 9] For example, while we as individuals may lie and cheat, this does not mean that we will go as far as murder.
  • We are incapable of a truly good act of our own selves. Any good deeds we do (outside of Christ) is merely a "relative" good deed. A truly good deed is done for the glory of God; unbelievers are incapable of this.
  • The supreme point following from these three: We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved.
Why didn't you just refer to a proponent of Calvinism to define what is meant by total depravity?

I did. This is an example of what I mean by finding problems where none exist. The above is a summation of what, in practical terms, total depravity means, and is derived from a collation of numerous Calvinist authors (Palmer, White, etc.) In reply to this, our critic quotes from a couple of obscure Calvinist authors some highly technical points (e.g., "Sin, however, is not a substance.") many of which are not uniquely Calvinist (do Arminians think sin is a substance?) and none of which have any bearing on my intended reader -- the Christian who wants to know, in practical terms, what total depravity means in terms of their salvation. Other points offered merely repeat what I said above, in more complex terms (saying in 100 words what could have been said in 10).
The critic from this finds it necessary to deem my summary point, "We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved," inadequate, for no other reason than that I do not add enough emphasis to suit his piety: E.g., it is not enough for me to say, "we are unable"; to be in accord with the truth, I must rather say, "we are utterly depraved"! Why "unable" is not sufficient to describe this phenomenon is hard to fathom; one can only guess that it does not suit this Calvinist's felt need for dramatic exposition intended to impose guilty feelings on the poor sinner.

have now concluded that all 4 of these points are true according to Scripture -- and therefore, I affirm that the T in TULIP is valid. However, I must qualify by saying that while it is valid, it is not supported by as many Scriptures as some are wont to think. Originally this essay was to explore the doctrine as expressed in the epistalory literature, but since it seems that "T" is clearly affirmed (in the first verse to be examined below) I see no need, at present, to proceed further.

It isn't clear what you mean by this. Why'd you use the word "valid"? 

An argument can be valid but still untrue.
The critic continues in this vein for some time, making much of the use of the word "valid," but they would have saved themselves some trouble by simply consulting a dictionary, and noting a primary meaning of valid, as "sound; just; well-founded." The definition they are assuming I use involves a highly technical and relatively arcane definition of "valid" that reflects the use of the word in formal logic.

It doesn't make sense to say that total depravity is not supported by as much Scripture as some are “wont to think”. If you agree that Scripture teaches total depravity, then why bother with such a qualification?

One must wonder at the blunt insensitivity of a critic who asks such a question. If we appeal to 5 passages for support of doctrine X, but only 3 actually support the doctrine, then there are multiple reasons to shed the other 2 -- not the least of which is the responsible use of Scripture and exegesis; but also because continuing to use the other two contextually invalidated texts leaves open a valid charge of dishonesty. This is, again, the critic creating a problem where none exists.

The next quote from me is extensive:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

I will begin, therefore, with the verse that clearly does teach total depravity. Palmer [Palm.5P, 16] tells us, "Here is total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus, unless the Father draws him." This is indeed total depravity, but there is a factor involved that looks to shift the matter back to individual choice. Jesus goes on to say in John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The Greek word behind "draw" in the two verses is the same. Note the connotation that this word can have:

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers...

James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

This word has the connotation of being brought somewhere by force if needed, and against the wishes of the "draw-ee." This verse does indeed teach the doctrine clearly.

But once John 12:32 is thrown into the mix, something is indicated which may throw the matter back into human hands -- at God's sovereign directive and because of His actions. How are men drawn onto Christ? We know and all agree that the Holy Spirit is the "drawer" on men. But Jesus says that all men will be drawn unto him. So what does this lead to?

A logical syllogism: All men are drawn to Christ. The Holy Spirit works this function in all men. But clearly not all become Christians, and these verses only say that one cannot make the choice without the drawing first.

Even Yarborough, writing in favor of Calvinism in Still Sovereign, admits that this can refer to a "more general attraction that, say, renders persons accountable but not yet regenerate in other" and tries to make "all men" mean "all elect men" [as below] with no justification other than a pre-conceived application of Calvinism.

Therefore, practically speaking, while we absolutely must have God's prodding to come to Him, we are all getting that prodding -- just like you can't decide on a path without information on the path first. Geisler [Geis.CBF, 6], citing Sproul, observes that the question now is whether God gives the ability to come to Him to all men, and we discuss that more here.

I should note one response to this verse, which says that "all men" means "men from all nations" rather than literally "all men." This seems an all too obvious contrivance to save the doctrine of irresistible grace; in the previous verse Jesus speaks of judgment of the kosmos and the prince of the kosmos. It is the burden of the Calvinist to prove that "all men" [in fact, only "all" is actually in the text; "men" is implied] means "men from all nations" or "elect men".

After by some unfathomable means left unexplained getting from the above that I do not accept the approved definition of total depravity, and rambling on about intellectual dishonesty for a few lines, we get to actual objections:

You miss the context of John 12:32. Some Greeks had come seeking Christ. God is about to extend covenant blessings to Gentiles too. You give no reason to think that "all men" should not mean "all kinds" other than bias by Calvinists. That's not a reason.

Yes, actually, is it. The fact that Greeks had come doesn't in any way affect the context such that "all men" becomes "all kinds of men." The Greeks who came would be representative of either of those categories, so this "context" has no bearing whatsoever on the issue. Only presupposed Calvinism lies behind the need to insert "kinds of" between "all" and "men". Those words are not in the Greek. Nor does the "context" warrant their inclusion.

You interpret John 12:32 the way universalists do!

How interesting. And Calvinists and Mormons interpret certain verses the same way, too. This proves what? However "universalists" interpret this verse, or others, it remains that merely being universalists doesn't make their every interpretation of Scripture erroneous. And I do not advocate universalism, which can be wrong while my reading of this verse remains right. In the end, the critic is merely attempting to childishly influence readers by using a scare-word ("universalists").

But if Christ meant all men without exception, how does that work? You admit the Holy Spirit does this, but that requires preaching!

It requires, actually, information that points the way to salvation -- not "preaching" per se. As I have noted in other contexts, I believe every person is given more than adequate information to make a decision for salvation (aside from eg, infants, the mentally disabled, etc). How they get that information is their own business and God's. Perhaps they are given special revelation. Perhaps they go through certain logical steps. Perhaps they are sent a missionary. It doesn't matter, and it isn't our business. Thus the appeal to those who have never heard of Christ is misguided, to say nothing of being obnoxiously presumptive and imperialistic.

At the same time, the critic makes the rather idiotic assumption that my view requires that all men be drawn to Christ at all times. I don't see Jesus saying anything about the "drawing" being 24/7 and have never said that it says such a thing.

In the end, the begged question which allows the critic to turn this into "all kinds of men" is but a vain attempt to resolve other problems of their own making. That said, the critic from here tries to argue that my reading of John 12:32 is too literal (!) based on other passages:

John said that Jesus enlightens all men who come into the world in John 1:9.

Yes, and what of it? This is simply the same message as John 12:32. Jesus gives light to all men -- even though not all may accept it.

Ananias prophesied that Paul would be a witness to all men about the things he had heard and seen in Acts 22:15.

Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the critic "proves" more than he wants to. Whether we take this as "all men" universally, or "all kinds of men" as he wants it to be, Anaias' prophecy would still be wrong. Paul of course did not witness to all men; and he didn't even witness to a fraction of the extant people groups in the world, such that one could hardly say he witnessed to "all kinds of men" either. He didn't witness to any Cherokee Indians, or any Ainu from the Japans, or any aborigines from New Zealand.

So what does that leave us? It leaves us with Acts 22:15 as a sort of legal witness, indicating that Paul's testimony is out there in the public square, so to speak -- and indeed, that is the sort of sense the word "witness" here can carry. In that respect, it is like the modern phrase that the President addresses the whole nation -- even those that are watching Hee Haw instead.

Paul said that we should respect what is right in the sight of all men in Rom. 12:17. Is anything right in the sight of every single man?

No, but all men have a sense of what is right, and this is what Paul commends us to respect -- the critic is naively finding in Paul's words some sense of universal morals. At the same time, if their reading is right, it is no more possible to do what is right in the sight of "all kinds of men," either.

Paul said the Corinthian church was like an epistle, known and read by all men (2 Cor. 3:2).

And as above, the critic has the same problem, since the Corinthians church wasn't seen by any Cherokee or Ainu. However, this is resolved easily as a legal witness, as it is in Acts.

Thus, the critic's attempt to blunt the force of "all men" in John 12:32 fails. His other examples fail, either because they make no more sense read as "all kinds of men," and/or because "all men" makes just as much sense read literally there as in John 12:32.

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

I would also note as well that John 6:65, which I previously included in the above, does not say that God enables people to believe -- I think that that is a Calvinist reading of the verse. Indeed the connection between belief and the Father's permission is not specified -- it's just as well to say that the Father has to act as an access-granter because people can and will join the movement under false pretenses that no man can discern, which would make much better sense under the client-patron relationship understanding.

The critic here offers an extended rant exclaiming that patronage has nothing to do with any of this, which is an example, as I noted above, of his disdain for credible scholarship. We are told that Jesus "did not adopt the mindset" of his culture, but amazingly, the result is that Jesus manifested a mindset that happens to match the 21st century, a convenience that speaks for itself.
In any event, my main point -- that no mechanism is specified whereby the Father gives the ability to believe -- is simply ignored with a tautology: It is pointed out that some men do not believe because it is not given to them by the Father. Since this is granted as true by my very explanation, it is hard to see what the point is. There is still no mechanism specified whereby the Father does or does not enable belief and faith (which the critic also assumes an incorrect definition of).

I can honestly interpret Genesis 6:5 under no different principles. This is undoubtedly exaggeration for effect, for of course one cannot literally have thoughts of the heart that are continually evil (for we must all sleep sometime); certainly the hearts of these antediluvians were wicked and depraved, but whether this means that they were depraved to the extent that total depravity requires simply cannot be determined from this verse -- much less can it be said that this automatically applies to all men throughout history, although it offers persuasive evidence that it is so. Nor does this verse say anything either way about whether men were unable to behave otherwise.

You're being inconsistent because you allow for hyperbole here but not in John 12:32.

Unfortunately, the critic is oblivious to a basic literary point concerning the identification of hyperbole: That is, some sort of literal or practical impossibility in what is expressed. What is expressed in Gen. 6:5 is, indeed, literally impossible, for reasons specified. In contrast, God has all the ability and power needed to make John 12:32 a literal and practical reality, which means one needs a good reason to designate it as hyperbolic, or to in some way qualify it. Thus far, no Calvinist, nor this critic, has provided any such reason.

Psalms 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

This verse offers a standard Ancient Near Eastern exaggeration for the purpose of expressing a point: That we're sinners and we express it from even the youngest age; in this case, David expressing the utter depth of his own sin, in light of events with Bathsheba. While I in no way mean to imply that our sin is not serious or extensive, it is no more legitimate for the Calvinist to use this verse as they do than it is for the Skeptics (who make the same arguments using it), and the verse in no way says that we can't make a right choice.

The critic here begins by wondering if I am denying original sin; the answer of course is no (see here), and there is no reason to think so other than wishing to arbitrarily cause problems that do not exist. Beyond this the critic merely reaffirms the Calvinist reading of the passage, though failing to explain how a newborn infant can be a "sinner". (Perhaps this can be understood, under the usual view of original sin; but under ours, it is exposed as a contrivance designed to explain away logical and practical inconsistencies in the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.)

The critic further says that our choices "always contain an element of idolatry and self-worship in one way or another." Really? So our choice of bacon or waffles for breakfast has an element of one of these in it? We are choosing between the gods of Eggo and Hamm? This merely exposes the absurdity and inherent contradiction of this extremist view of depravity -- for by the same token, the critic's own words here, his own exposition of total depravity, itself reflects choices he has made, which by his own reckoning contain an element of idolatry and self-worship. And so, why heed his sin-tainted exposition?

The same sort of response is offered for Jeremiah 17:9; again, it escapes the critic that if indeed the heart is that deceitful, his own exposition is badly tainted. The critic also makes the rather peculiar comment that Jer. 17:9 cannot be proverbial because it is "in the middle of a prophetic utterance." By what rule these two categories became mutually exclusive is not explained.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Palmer [Palm.5P, 17] points to this verse and argues:

A baby never desires or decides to be born. He never contributes an iota to his own birth. In the whole process from conception through birth, he is completely passive and totally unable to control his birth. In a similar fashion, the unbeliever cannot take one step toward his rebirth.

Though this relates to the "U" aspect of TULIP as well as "T", let's consider it now. I asked here at one point whether Palmer is getting his biological facts straight; I have never understood that a baby is a totally passive bystander in the birth process, but rather, does a little struggling of its own instinctually, which would rather reduce the impact of Palmer's analogy, since no one thinks instincts have anything to do with conversion.

As it turns out, a science-minded reader has told me that, indeed, Palmer is wrong: A baby even determines when it will be born, for it secretes a hormone that induces labor.

But I rather think the analogy Palmer draws is stretched anyway. The metaphor of new birth is appropriate; how else would the idea of a new creation be better expressed? In order for this argument to work, Palmer has to show that there was no better analogy available which would have illustrated both a new creation and a active choice behind the matter. Otherwise, he is simply stretching the analogy for his own purposes -- and we may next ask questions like, "What is conception analogous to?"

Our critic first makes rather a fool of himself mocking the point about a baby and hormones, asking first whether this secretion is an "act of the will." Where I said that it was is far from clear. The point rather was that Palmer's own reckoning of the matter was incomplete; note too that I said determines, not decides, a word which carries among its meanings a causal rather than a determinative sense (though it has that sense as well in other contexts). I did not think it necessary to insult reader intelligence by explaining which sense would be intended of an unborn baby, but I underestimated some such as our critic.

The critic also supposes that our scientific consult is just someone who is "curious about science." I was not at liberty to reveal this at the time, but I may now say, in this context -- much to the embarrassment of the critic --that the reader in question was one of the credentialed scientists at Creation Ministries International (at the time, though, part of Answers in Genesis). I would rate this person well above any local gynecologist our critic uses as a source.

In any event, the critic rails on in this vein a bit longer, having assumed I was arguing that this was an act of will by the baby, which was never said.

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Palmer tells us of Lydia, "Only after the Lord opened her heart was (Lydia) able to give heed to what was said by Paul. Until then, her understanding was darkened, to use Paul's description of the Ephesian Gentiles (Eph. 4:18)." [Palm.5P, 15]

Granting this -- for no such description is applied to Lydia at all by Luke -- I can see no reason why this cannot be an example of the paradigm I have outlined above whereby the Holy Spirit, drawing upon all men's hearts, now gives them what they need to make the decision of their own accord. If I may hypothesize a moment, it now appears that we will be leading into another petal off the TULIP doctrine -- that of Irresistible Grace -- and we found that to be lacking here.

Scripture nowhere says that a heart opened for response may offer a negative response.

That's a rather bogus argument, since Scripture nowhere says every heart opened to respond will respond positively, either, which means neither side can simply yell, "Scripture says..." Apart from this, the critic again refers to his prior responses on John 6, and further Calvinist interpretations (which are not found in Scripture, but rather, read into it as the mechanism of faith) of John 10: Jesus says, yes, people do not believe because they are not his sheep, but this hardly establishes to any degree the Calvinist cause-effect mechanism.

After much aimless nattering and braggartry, the critic returns with a complaint that I did not deal with certain Pauline texts. I made it quite clear that since I concluded from what texts I did consider total depravity Biblical, there as no need to address any further texts, whether they supported the doctrine or not. Some may, but some do not clearly do so: 1 Cor. 2:14 for example describes a phenomenon of spiritual insensitivity, but does not specify the cause of this insensitivity as total depravity (though it probably is). Beyond that, since I was not trying to rebut the doctrine of total depravity, it is dishonest for the critic to observe that these Pauline texts are difficult to refute and suggest that this is why I did not deal with them.

The critic concludes with a charge that I have not understood total depravity. This is curious since, as noted, all my definitions came from Calvinist authors. One may rightly ask whether it is rather not the case that Calvinists have not produced a uniformly agreeable definition either -- perhaps because in the end, the mechanics of the doctrine are indeed not in the text, which forces critics like this one to add to the text to make their case.

We will return in the next issue for the critic's treatment of the U petal and our response.