Theology: August 2006 Archives

One of the bigger difficulties of an old-earth view of the early chapters of Genesis is how to deal with what seems to to be the biblical teaching that death came into the world through sin, since old-earth views usually involve lots of animals dying, eating each other, and even extinction of species long before humans even existed, never mind sinned. David Heddle has some very interesting thoughts on what old-earthers can say about death, some of them entirely new to me.

The most important suggestion is perhaps that death was already around before the human fall because of the earlier angelic fall, but this was not death for humans. That's what made Eden special. What separates Eden from the rest of the world on the young-earth view? If there's no good answer to that (and there are some answers in the comments, but nothing as huge as death), then this problem, originally against old-earth views, one of the few that I consider serious enough to worry about) actually favors old-earth views on one score rather than undermining them.

This is part three of what I was expecting to be a four-part review of Mary Kassian's The Feminist Mistake. I have decided to post what I've written of part three and then not continue, primarily because I have not been reading any more of this book for quite some time, and I need to limit my reading list down to something much more manageable given that I would like to finish my dissertation by the end of next summer. So I've decided not to finish this book in the foreseeable future. Here, then, is the last part of my series of reviews on this book, covering a few chapters into the third section.

Gift of Singleness

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Andreas Kostenberger has a thoughtful post on singleness in the Bible. I especially found one observation noteworthy. He finds a trajectory across salvation history with regard to singleness and marriage. Marriage is part of the creation order, part of God's original intent before the fall. It isn't until Jesus comes along to initiate the new covenant that you get any sense at all that there's anything but marriage as the norm, with singleness as an extraordinary exception (e.g. widows, serious illness). But Jesus indicates that some will be single by choice, and Paul even argues that the kingdom is more greatly served (in certain kinds of situations?) by those who are single, and therefore what was once the exception becomes something especially useful.

But Jesus also indicates that there will be no marriage in the resurrection. That means the intermediate phase between the initiation of the new covenant and its ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection is in tension between the marriage norm of the old covenant and the singleness norm of the resurrection. Seeing this according to a trajectory makes so much sense of how Paul can have such a high view of marriage and yet also view singleness as something for some to strive for. This doesn't (as some have argued) imply a lower view of marriage but simply reflects the tension between these two norms, one eventually to be replaced by the other but both having value in the in-between time. But Kostenberger does take marriage as a sort of norm even in this age, citing Matthew 19 as evidence. It's just not a norm in the fuller sense of when most everyone would be expected to get married.

Uncertainty about what the original autographs said is no argument against inerrantism about what the original autographs said, not just because whether the original has errors is independent of whether we know what the original said. Kenny Pearce offers some Bayesian probabilistic reasons for concluding that a doctrine of inerrancy might still make a difference epistemically about particularly propositions despite uncertainty about whether the original autographs teach those propositions. He applies this to doctrinal issues that inerrantists who accept some principle of sola scriptura might nevertheless dispute, and then he applies it to science and evolution. I don't really know any Bayesian probability, so I can't really evaluate this in those terms, but what he's saying seems right to me in general.

I've cross-posted this at Prosblogion, so you might want to check the comments there to see if it generates a good, higher-end philosophical discussion.

Ecclesiastes and Joy

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From one of the recent Christian Carnivals: Ecclesiastes and Joy at Thinking Christian. A number of scholars go to one extreme or the other on how pessimistic Ecclesiastes is, and Tom Gilson seems to me to get the balance right.

Molly Ziegler, Leaving politics aside?, looks at the media coverage of borderline evangelical Greg Boyd's recent controversy over refusing to get his church involved in politics. (I say borderline because Boyd is an open theist, and many consider open theism automatically a disqualifier for evangelicalism, while others do not.) While I agree with the general sort of view of the church and politics that Boyd is saying, I agree with the criticism of his erroneous claim that Jesus didn't push people's buttons about sex. He most certainly did. Also, I think the abortion discussion toward the end reveals that there's a distinction between the church taking a stance on the best political policies and leaders (which I'd say is contrary to the church's purpose) and the church taking a stance on moral issues that are clear in scripture (which I think is its obligation).

I've just spent a good deal of time working through Augustine on this issue, and when I get a chance to put it into post form I'll be posting my notes. I really appreciate almost everything he has to say on it, but that will have to wait.

Justification in James

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Alan Bandy has a nice post on the eschatological sense of justification in James as opposed to the Pauline initial justification that in some ways is out of step with the way Hebrew thought (including in the Old Testament) had typically applied terms for justification, which is more like the way James used it.

His bringing in the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is especially helpful, because that's exactly the kind of way James is thinking when he uses justification language. Keith Green used to say that the only difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did and didn't do. His mistake was in assuming that the overt difference is the only difference. It is a difference, but it isn't the only difference. Paul's initial justification and sanctification are the underlying cause of James's overt difference in the outworking of what the final justification will observe, the outworking of sanctification.

But Green was right to point out that the means of differentiating the sheep and goats is what they did and didn't do. That suggests that a judgment by works as a final justification will not disagree with a judgment by grace through faith at an initial justification. But those who judge only by works now have not seen the whole picture. The way to tell if someone has lived a life of genuine faith from the outset is to see if they have lived a faithful life by the end. This is a case where a "both/and" perspective is the only way to make sense of the biblical statements on the issue.

Author of Sin

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Rebecca Stark looks at the expression 'author of sin', finding that many who use it don't really have a clear idea what they mean, and once they clarify it what they're saying may not follow. I think she's expressing thoughts I've had for a long time but haven't really been able to express well. One line struck me:

Somehow, for those who argue that it's the purposeful nature of God's permission of sin that makes him the author of sin, a supreme being who permits sin for no reason is better than one who permits it for a reason. When it comes to the permission of sin, in their view, arbitrary is better than purposeful.

This is something that has always seemed strange to me about certain Arminian/libertarian responses to the problem of evil (especially in their open theistic form but sometimes even in more standard libertarian views that don't necessarily imply open theism, e.g. some of Peter van Inwagen's work). I can't understand how having no reason for something is supposed to be better than having a really good reason for doing or allowing it. But this is commonly trotted out as a better defense of how God would allow evil than the traditional view that God really does have good reasons for allowing evil

I really like Augustine, but the following is just terrible biblical exegesis:

What was said to Cain about sin, or the perverted desire of the flesh, is said in this passage about the sinful woman, and here is to be taken as meaning that man, in ruling his wife, should resemble the mind which rules the flesh. For that reason the Apostle says, 'A man who loves his wife is loving himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh.' [Augustine, City of God, XV.7, Henry Bettensen translation, 1972 Penguin edition]

The sense of 'flesh' Paul has in mind in Ephesians 5:28 is not the same sense as when he speaks of the flesh as something to resist. He's talking about people loving their own flesh as a good thing and thus a model for how a husband treats a wife. How can it follow from that that a husband would rule over his wife the way my mind might rule over my flesh in the bad sense of 'flesh'?

This is an obstacle complementarians face in recognizing distinction of gender roles but equality of nature. That kind of relationship isn't master-slave but can nonetheless have an authority structure. Augustine's view of a husband-wife relationship isn't standard complementarianism today, and it's not the view that I think the biblical passages on this assume. Complementarians tend to place themselves in a mediating position between Augustine and absolute egalitarianism, which calls any gender role distinctions evil.

Egalitarians naturally resist that characterization, since calling a position mediating suggests that other views are extreme. But such resistance shouldn't justify mischaracterizing another's view. We should seek accuracy in representing how relate to each other, and I've seen countless attempts by egalitarians to place contemporary complementarian positions such as those of D.A. Carson, Thomas Schreiner, William Mounce, Craig Blomberg, or Bruce Waltke on the same level as what Augustine says. Those who really do know what complementarians are saying who do this are making the difference between Augustine and contemporary complementarianism out to be nothing, and that strikes me as deliberate misrepresentation. Advocating ultimate husband leadership in a marriage but with significant input and even major decision-making on the part of the wife will in practice look far more like an egalitarian marriage than like the master-slave model that many egalitarians portray complementarianism as advocating. Even those who will still disagree with complementarianism ought to acknowledge that, and I see much egalitarian rhetoric as trying to cover over such distinctions rather than acknowledging them.

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