Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bibliography: First Half of 2014

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers January-June 2014. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.
 
Bahnsen, Greg, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith.
Bahnsen, Greg, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended.
Bockmuehl, Markus, The Epistle to the Philippians. BNTC.
Clark, Gordon H., Religion, Reason and Revelation.
Clark, Gordon H., Three Types of Religious Philosophy.
Clark, Gordon H., An Introduction to Christian Philosophy.
*Fee, Gordon, Paul's Letter to the Philippians. NICNT.
*Frame, John, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.
Frame, John, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction.
*Frame, John, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought.
Gundry, S., M. Barrett, and A. Caneday, eds., Four Views on the Historical Adam.
*O'Brien, Peter T., The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC.
Oliphint, K. Scott, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology.
Oliphint, K. Scott and Lane G. Tipton, eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics.
Osborne, Ronald, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.
Thielman, Frank, Philippians. NIVAC.
Thompson, Alan, The Acts of the Risen Lord: Luke's Account of God's Unfolding Plan.
Van Til, Cornelius, Christian Theistic Ethics.
Van Til, Cornelius, The Defense of the Faith, Fourth Edition.
Van Til, Cornelius, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, Second Edition.
Van Til, Cornelius, Christian Apologetics, Second Edition.
Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vaccination is NOT a "Personal Decision"

I have seen many times recently where someone posts an article, a comment, or whatever about how vaccination of children is the moral thing to do and then all sorts of people chime in with bad science and bad reasoning.  It drives me crazy and, frankly, makes me a bit angry at all the innocent people, especially kids, who will get horrible diseases as a result of the perpetuation of this latest bit of American gullibility, scientific ignorance and anti-intellectualism.  (So apologies if this post comes across more strongly worded than usual) But what irks me the most (well, one of the things at least) is when people trivialize or dismiss the issue by saying things like "it's a personal decision" or "every family must decide for themselves", etc. 

Now, let's back up for a second.  There are five basic groups (here's where I'll probably get in trouble!) of which I think most anti-vaccine folks fall into at least one (often more): 1) Charlatans; 2) quacks; 3) people with poor reasoning skills; 4) people who, as a result of poor reasoning skills (thus making this a subset of 3), think that faith in God is incompatible with modern medicine; 5) people who have been deceived by any or all of the above.  It's really a very similar phenomena to snake oil, superstitions, and all manner of popularly spread falsehoods that have polluted society from its very beginning.  It's really all in the same boat.

So when people say the sorts of things I listed at the end of the first paragraph, I can't stand it. Seriously, it's only a personal decision in the same sense in which it is a personal decision whether to fire a gun into a crowded room is a personal decision.  And every family must decide for themselves, yes, but in the same sense in which every family must decide for themselves whether to commit murder (thankfully, most choose not to).  These attempts to sidestep the issue or ward off the ethical duties associated with it are perilously close to a lapse into utter ethical or even factual relativism - the whole vaccine thing might be true for you, but not for me! Such attempts make it seem like it's a matter of taste whether we ought to vaccinate or how safe vaccines are, rather than a matter of objective fact.  They make it seem like the issue is unclear in some way or that reasonable people, reasoning well, with the same facts available, would disagree with each other.  But, of course, none of that is remotely true.  Nor is it true that it is strictly personal, since the effects of such decisions affect others and society as a whole.

I think it is telling that the issue is often spoken of in terms of "my beliefs" or "personal beliefs" and other language usually reserved for matters of taste, "philosophies of life", or weakly-held religious convictions, as opposed to the language of scientific fact, evidence, or objective ethical realities.  The latter kind of language is appropriate here, not the former.  Yet I think the former actually does capture how this opposition to vaccines actually functions in many people, even though it shouldn't.  It is a quasi-religious belief held dogmatically and immune to actual evidence or reasoning (and not based on any good evidence or reasoning and certainly anti-scientific authority).  Whereas I think religious beliefs can in fact be justified, being responsive to evidence and reasons, and, if true, can have adequate epistemic grounding, this anti-vaccine position does not have the benefit of being a central node in a foundational world view or being even supposedly divinely revealed. Whereas religious beliefs, for instance, can at least make claims to divine authority, anti-vaccine positions do not have anything close going for them - there is no real claim to authority here and hence no reason to treat it in the way it gets treated by its proponents.

Ultimately, there should not be "sides" as to whether most children should be vaccinated - any more than there should be sides over whether we should let toddlers play alone in a pool with a live handgrenade and a family of water moccasins.  And, what's more, these "sides" matter - lives, health, and economy are all on the line here - but people do not think properly about them; they do not actually look at the evidence objectively and without resorting to logical fallacy.  People should stop merely "feeling strongly" about the issue and start thinking strongly (and, more importantly, thinking well).  Perhaps critical thinking classes or classes on scientific reasoning would be useful, assuming people would pay attention or actually absorb what they were taught.  At the end of the day, I would make vaccinations mandatory for everyone for whom there was no special health risk associated with them.  That way, people can be ignorant, deluded, and so on all they want without it hurting others. But then, that's why, in America, I'd probably never be elected for office in the first place!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Favored: Joshua and Caleb Notes

Some notes on my contribution to the sermon prep study group - a bit shorter than usual and missing some of the Hebrew stuff I discussed, but I thought I'd throw this up anyway.  It's obviously geared toward the theme of God's favor for the "Favored" sermon series:



Numbers 13-14: Only Joshua and Caleb end up confident in the Lord. Out of the 12 spies (and ultimately the Israelites at large), only they trust completely in God’s promises. Joshua and Caleb accept the trustworthiness of God and his Word and his ability to do what was promised. What makes Joshua and Caleb unique is that they expect and trust in God’s favor and see everything through that lens - everything is interpreted in terms of God’s favor expressed in his Word to them. They choose to see God’s favor both in present circumstances and in the future. By contrast, the others experience only fear and the imminent danger of failure and death. They choose to see things through a different filter than faith and favor. This lack of faith in God and lack of seeing things in terms of God’s favor leads to disobedience and utter lack of faithfulness towards God, bringing God’s project with Israel almost to a screeching halt.

Joshua and Caleb, however, see God’s favor in what others would see as disaster. In the face of the seemingly dire report of 13:28-29, Caleb, for instance, sees only the certainty of success in 13:30. As a result, only Joshua and Caleb will be allowed to enter the promised land since only they see God’s favor there. For those who decided that the land did not represent God’s favor to them and thereby rejected God’s favor, God honored that decision and reserved that favor for Joshua and Caleb alone, as can be seen especially in 14:39-45.

After Moses’ death, Joshua and Caleb continue to see things in terms of God’s favor throughout the rest of their lives as they move in to the land to claim what God had promised. In Joshua 14:6-15, Caleb still expects God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises in bringing that favor in the context of the possession of land. And he gets it. Joshua, meanwhile, in places like Joshua 3-4 and Joshua 24, reacts to God’s favor by acts of remembrance and the institution of future remembrances, choosing to serve God and, by his example and calling to mind God’s past and present favor in the taking of and current possession of the land, encouraging both his and future generations to not take that favor for granted, to abandon it, or to scorn it in any way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Notes on Philippians 3:17-4:1




3:17 In 2:5+ Paul exhorted the Philippians to have the mindset of Christ, who humbled himself, took the way of the cross, and ultimately received resurrection and exaltation. Similarly, in chapter 3 so far, Paul has set himself as an example of following in Christ’s footsteps - of having the mindset of Christ - leading ultimately in the future to resurrection and being with Christ. Now, Paul says that the Philippians are to follow Paul’s pattern (and that of those who also follow the same pattern), being of the same mindset (3:15), like that of Christ (2:5 - which is echoed explicitly in 3:15). Why? They are to follow Paul’s pattern because he follows Christ’s and this is precisely how they can follow Christ’s pattern, being of Christ’s mindset, putting aside all else, all other advantages (compare what Christ did, and what Paul did), counting them as dung in comparison.
(Christians learn Christ’s pattern and how to follow it in everyday life most often by observing those who have already been doing it longer - who are more closely conformed to that pattern than they are. Rules or laws may help, but ultimately it’s about the shape of one’s life - Christ-shaped or not - and this is most easily achieved through following examples. Rules alone can be misunderstood, misapplied, rationalized, treated overly rigidly or overly loosely, subject to loopholes, etc. - but whether something fits a pattern or follows someone’s example can often be much more difficult to “escape” from. Ancient students, in fact, tended to learn primarily by an apprenticeship - following the example of someone who was further along in the subject than they. Examples: Think of a set of instructions but with no example or model to look at or follow - say, instructions for putting together a set of furniture, a model kit with no pictures or information as to what is being assembled, a kid’s toy which requires a lot of assembly, etc. Or maybe trying to learn how to excel at a difficult magic trick or sports technique by reading written instructions alone - it probably won’t work!)

18-20 Some people outside the congregation - likely currently (or formerly) claiming Christ - behave as enemies of the cross by behaving in ways opposite of Christ’s pattern which Paul would have the Philippians continue to follow. Paul weeps over them! They are focused on their own desires rather than on Christ. Instead of working to further God’s kingdom, they work to further their own wants. But “we are citizens of heaven”. Philippi was a colony of Rome; its citizens, citizens of Rome. The point of a colony like this was to bring the homeland - here, Rome - to the place colonized - here, Greece. The point was not for the citizens in the colony to work to get away from Greece and go to Rome. Similarly, Paul’s point is not that the Philippians are working to get away from the physical realm and go to heaven but rather that they are there to bring heaven to earth (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...”). That is, they were called to bring themselves and creation into the fullness of the heavenly reality of the kingdom of God - God’s reign, his will being done. (Thus the contrast between the v.19 people and the Philippians is not between thinking about physical vs. spiritual things but rather not following Christ’s pattern, not submitting to God’s will or making Christ’s mindset their own, focusing on him above all else, vs. doing all that - there is no place in Paul’s theology for people who are “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly use”) This bringing of heaven to earth is finalized at Jesus’ return. Here, Jesus is called “Savior”, a title Paul rarely uses but which in the current context has great significance since it was a main title of the Roman emperor. This citizen/savior language, then, shows the Philippians where their true loyalties lie - who the true savior is, the true ruler or emperor of the world, calling them to forget their own advantages just as Paul had done his own (3:7 - and as Jesus had done in 2:6). The expression “Lord Jesus Christ” (there is no article (“the”) in the Greek) appears in this form rarely in Paul - here it is taken straight from 2:11 (which reads kyrios Iesous Cristos - the parallel does not show up in English since we have to supply a verb between some of the words in the expression to make it grammatical whereas this was not needed in Greek, so that in 2:11 it gets translated “Jesus Christ is Lord” whereas here the same expression in English becomes simply “Lord Jesus Christ”). This not only brings up again the pattern from chapter 2, especially the end part where Jesus is exalted over all, but it also prepares for the next verse.
(Do we work to bring heaven to earth or do we work only for our own benefit? How have we been false to our vocation as citizens of heaven and instead found our identity or citizenship primarily or first in other things, pursuits, loyalties? To connect this with the previous verses, do we have someone further along in following Christ’s pattern or example that we use as an example of our own to help us in this?)

21 This verse is a play on “form” (morphe) from chapter 2. Jesus in chapter 2 was in the “form” (morphe) of God but humbled himself, taking the form (morphe) of a man. But Jesus is ultimately resurrected and exalted as Lord. Now those who follow his pattern will ultimately be also raised by him, conformed (summorphon) in their bodies to his body. That is, the adoption of the pattern of Christ will be completed in us - our resurrection to be like him, heaven brought to earth, God’s reign through Christ that “every knee should bow” before him - Christ the Lord!
(The work of conforming to Christ’s pattern is ultimately God’s work - Christ’s work - not our own!)

4:1 Paul says all of this out of joy and confidence, not out of disappointment or shame in the Philippians. He knows they are overall doing very well - they just need some encouragement to keep going. (This is wise - knowing when to use encouragement and when, like in some other letters, a rebuke is more what is needed) Paul returns to the issue the letter began with in chapter 1 - that of the Philippians persecution. He had encouraged them to stand firm earlier, but now he tells them how - it is precisely by following Christ’s pattern, the pattern followed by Paul and his associates, that they will heal internal division (chapter 4) and withstand the persecution and hard times they have been going through. Rather than a digression, then, chapters 2-3 are precisely a response to the troubles they have themselves been encountering, a response centered on Christ and Christ alone.
(It seems paradoxical at first that the way to stand firm, to survive adversity and to bring heaven to earth, is through the way of the cross - through being humble, self-sacrificial and faithful like Jesus was. We want to force things through our own power rather than in obedient humility, submitting to God’s will!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Notes on Philippians 3:7-16

For the Cornerstone sermon-prep study group.  Basically, I see the passage as  an application of 2:5-13ish, which helps organize and make sense of all the material in 3:7-16 and how it all fits together.



Quick summary of the passage:

7-9: Value is found in Christ, not Jewishness (or anything else!), because of what Christ did in 2:6-11.

9-16: Therefore, like, in 2:5-11, we follow Christ’s pattern both in life and in our thinking: humility and suffering and death, but ultimately glory and resurrection, becoming like Christ and truly knowing him. However, we even now have a foretaste of that finale and must live in accordance with this.


Long version:

7-8 We have here financial terms - an accounting metaphor using the idea of a credit (or profit)/loss ledger. Referring back to his activities and privileges in 5-6, Paul is not saying each of them were necessarily bad but compared to how great a financial gain Christ is, they may as well be on the loss side of the ledger! Paul’s privileges in his Jewishness (both in his ancestry or upbringing and in how he lived as a Jew) are nothing - next to worthless - next to Christ. Even if everything else in the whole world was gathered together into the loss column, with Christ in the credit column, the profits overwhelm the losses! (Contrast this with our own privileges and accomplishments - do we really always think of them as dung next to Christ (or at least, do we consistently act like it)?)

9 “Righteousness”: probably here a state of being right with God (and probably others as well, though that’s not the important part at the moment). Being Jewish and following the Law do not guarantee one is righteous - Paul had all of this but what he did not have was Christ and it is Christ who counts, not being Jewish or following Moses. Being in the right with God is a status from God given to those who are in Christ - who have faith(fulness) - and this is based upon what we learned about Christ in chapter 2 - Christ’s own obedience and faithfulness to God and his calling, even to suffering, even to death, as our representative in our place.

10-11 Like in chapter 2, then, the focus is on imitating Christ based on what he has done - being obedient and having faith even if and when that means suffering or even death. It means “having the same attitude as Christ Jesus” as in chapter 2. Suffering for his sake is to participate in his sufferings. And the power of his resurrection - God’s resurrecting, creation-restoring power by which he raised Jesus - is already at work in us and will raise us also just as it raised Jesus following his own humility and faithfulness. Paul says he will attain to the resurrection “somehow”, being hesitant to presume upon his own accomplishments. But the end result, which is guaranteed by and delivered by God’s own power, is not necessarily in question - rather, Paul is acknowledging that his life is a process of following Jesus in suffering and that God will do much in and through him to bring him to that point. As Paul said earlier, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, knowing that it is God who both puts in the salvation and who is really behind the work. (No complacent Christianity here!)

12-14 As the “somehow” already admits, Paul’s final state of being in complete unity with Christ is still future - full knowledge of Christ, resurrection, and so on, await Christ’s return. Christ took hold of Paul for this final state and now Paul presses on to take hold of that state. Paul, however, has not yet arrived but he keeps moving in that direction. This process or activity is not so much a matter of earning merits or becoming a better person but rather running with one’s eyes on the prize - Christ. This is not an ordinary race with only one winner but where all who run may achieve the prize (but still they must run). With eyes focused on the prize, all else that might seem important pales in comparison (as he said several verses earlier) and this helps to order his life towards the goal, which comes from God’s call into his kingdom. This call into the kingdom is describe as “upwards”, which often has the idea of “heavenwards”. Paul is called to live in heavenly reality - divine reality - the reality of God’s kingdom, his will being done on earth as it is in heaven - the power and the presence of God. As he hints in verse 20 and says also in Ephesians (we are already seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms”), we are already in heaven, though it has not fully come yet to earth. So that final state discussed so far, Paul maintains, is one we have a foretaste of even now.

15-16 The adjective Paul uses to describe himself and others here (“mature” or “perfect”) is the adjective form of the verb Paul used in verse 12 to maintain that he has not yet reached his final state, his goal of Christ. Using this play on words, Paul affirms that though he has not yet reached his goal, he is already living in the light of it, with his eyes focused on it, in the foretaste of that goal, in the power and presence of God already available to Christians in Jesus. Those who are like Paul in this should take Paul’s same mindset, which is that of Jesus. Those in Philippi who might not think in such a manner will have that goal - that final state - revealed to them by God so that they may also have the mindset of Paul and Jesus. We are, however, to live according to what we have already attained - the power and presence of God that we possess in anticipation of that final state which is still future.

So we should set our eyes on Christ. (After all, we veer towards what we stare at - which is why when you’re driving on a cliff it is best to keep your eyes on the road and why drunks tend to crash into lights at night). God has given us his Spirit and empowered us even now in advance of the Second Coming - we should make use of that!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Notes on Acts: Introduction and Chapters 1-2

ACTS

Introduction
A. Author: Luke
     1. Sometimes a companion of Paul
          a) Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24
          b) Probably present with Paul during the “we” passages in Acts
     2. Physician (Colossians 4:14)
B. Audience: Theophilus
     1. Same addressee as Gospel of Luke
     2. An individual or group?
          a) “Theophilus” means “lover of God”
          b) Standard dedication for individuals used
          c) Maybe sent to an individual but meant to be used more widely as
              well
C. Purpose and Core Theme
     1. This is the second volume of Luke’s two-volume project, begun in the
         Gospel of Luke
     2. Purpose: To offer an “orderly account” of “the things that have been
         fulfilled among us”, “so that you may know for certain the things you
         were taught” (Luke 1:1-4)
          a) Luke wants his readers to know for sure how the stories of Jesus
              and the early church fit into Scripture and the story of Israel
          b) Concerned to place Jesus and the church as both the fulfillment of
              the Old Testament promises and the continuation of (and new
              chapters in) the Old Testament story
     3. Concerned throughout with the “kingdom of God”
          a) Reign or rule of God
          b) Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God (for example,
              Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16)
          c) The gospel the church preaches is also characterized as the gospel
              “of the kingdom” (Acts 8:12; cf. Luke 9:2, 60; 10:9; Acts 19:8;
               20:25; 28:23, 31)
          d) Brief Old Testament background
               i. Humanity sinful
               ii. Israel called in order to bless humanity (Genesis 12:1-3)
               iii. Israel given the Law but Israel is unfaithful to God
               iv. Israel is cursed and exiled
               v. Prophets proclaim a return from exile, restoration of Israel, and
                   the fulfillment of Israel’s calling (Isaiah 40:1-5; Jeremiah
                   29:10-14)
               vi. A physical return happens, but Israel is still sinful and not
                    restored
               vii. Even those in Jerusalem still see themselves as in some sense
                     “in exile” (Ezra 9:6-9; see also Daniel 9:1-24)
               viii. Restoration and fulfillment are still to come
               ix. “Return from exile” used to describe Israel’s restoration (e.g.,
                    Isaiah 60:1-5)
          e) Two ages:

The Present Age                          The Age to Come/Kingdom of God
Kingdoms of the world/Satan   Kingdom of God/Messiah/Israel
Israel under curse/exile              Israel restored/returned/forgiven
Israel under foreign rule             Rule of Messiah
Israel divided                                 Israel reunited
Enemies of God triumphant      Enemies defeated
Spirit empowers select                Spirit empowers all people of God
Separation from God                  God’s presence
Sin, Israel rebellious                   Faith(fulness), Israel repentant
Death, sickness                            Eternal life, health, resurrection
Israel God’s chosen nation        All nations into God’s family

          f) John the Baptist prepared for the coming kingdom in Christ (e.g.,
              Luke 1:16-17; Luke 3:3-6)
          g) Jesus announced and brought in the kingdom of God in his own
              person, taking on Israel’s calling (Luke 1:25-32; 1:67-79; 2:38;
              7:18-23; 11:20; Acts 15:13-18; see Isaiah 49:3-7; 61:1-6; Amos
              9:11-15), and then throughout the world through his Spirit-
              empowered church (Acts 1:8; see Isaiah 11:10-13; 44:3)
          h) The ages for now overlap: the old age isn’t fully gone or the new
              one fully come (e.g., Luke 17:21)
          i) The finalization or consummation of the defeat of the old age and
              triumph of the kingdom of God awaits Jesus’ return
          j) In the meantime, the church carries on Jesus’ mission (Luke
             24:45-49; Acts 1:6-8; 2:38-39)

1:1-11 Introduction and recap: The coming kingdom/restoration
A. Part two of Luke’s story (1-2)
     1. In the Gospel, Luke discussed “all that Jesus began to do and teach”
         (1)
     2. The Gospel of Luke ends with the Ascension (2)
     3. Acts will now detail further what Jesus continues to do and teach
         through his Spirit-empowered people
B. Jesus teaches about the kingdom (3-8)
     1. “What my Father promised” - Holy Spirit promised in the Old
         Testament (4) and by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16)
     2. “Restoring the kingdom to Israel” (6)
          a) The disciples are wondering if the kingdom of God will now come
              in full and Israel will be restored
          b) Luke uses redemption words always of Israel or Jerusalem - Jesus
              brings the promised restoration/return (Luke 1:68; 2:38; 24:21; cf.
              Acts 3:19-21)
     3. Jesus’ answer (7-8)
          a) The apostles won’t know the time of Jesus’ return and the
              kingdom’s consummation (7; cf. Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:31)
          b) But they will experience the coming of the kingdom - the
              restoration of Israel - soon enough (8)
               i. Jesus is not changing the subject, but still answering their
                  question
               ii. Jesus speaks here of their entrance into the life of the kingdom -
                   their restoration as Israel - through the promised Holy Spirit,
               iii. Of the spread of the gospel that the kingdom has come,
               iv. And the reunification of Israel, as foretold - “Judea and
                   Samaria”
               v. “To the farthest ends of the earth” - a phrase from Isaiah 49:6,
                   predicting inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s people
C. Jesus ascends to the Father (9-11)
     1. Jesus reigns in heaven as Lord and Messiah (see 2:33, 36)
     2. He will send the Holy Spirit from heaven to continue his work on
         earth
          a) As Jesus took on Israel’s mission and calling, so now he continues
              it through his disciples
          b) His power and authority are passed on through the same Spirit
              that empowered Jesus (like Elijah to Elisha following Elijah’s
              ascension)

1:12-26 Preparing for the Spirit
The proper number of apostles to experience the coming of the Spirit = 12. The Twelve represent the redeemed twelve tribes of Israel - the restored people of God. Hence, Judas needed to be replaced so that all Israel might be represented.
Drawing lots (26) - an Old Testament mode of seeking divine guidance in the absence of a Spirit-inspired person. Emphasizes that the time of the kingdom is drawing near and the old time without the Spirit is drawing to a close.

2:1-41 Israel restored/returned
A. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit (see 33) and God’s people enter into the kingdom of God (1-4)
B. Jews “from every nation under heaven” present in Jerusalem for Pentecost (5-13)
     1. Peter associates them with “the whole house of Israel” (14, 22, 36)
     2. Echoes of Ezekiel 37:14-25, a prophecy of the restoration of Israel
     3. Will scattered Israel be gathered again into a restored relationship
         with God?
C. Peter proclaims Jesus as Lord and Messiah (14-36)
     1. Quotes (17-21) from a prophecy of the restoration of Israel (Joel
         2:28-32)
          a) Prophecy, visions, dreams - examples of activities of the
              empowering Spirit
          b) Moses’ wish for God’s people (Numbers 11:29) is fulfilled
     2. The crucifixion was not an accident or a defeat but planned by God
         (22-23)
     3. “You executed” (23) - Luke clearly portrays the city of Jerusalem,
         including the pilgrims there for the festivals, to have rejected Jesus
         (see, for example, Luke 23:13-25)
     4. God’s Messiah was the first to experience the resurrection and Israel’s
         restoration (24-32)
     5. Jesus has been enthroned in heaven and reigns as Lord and Messiah
         (33-36)
D. The scattered exiles are indeed gathered again and restored (37-41)
     1. Repentance and forgiveness of sins (38)
          a) In the Old Testament, Israel is restored in the form of a repentant,
              faithful remnant (see especially Isaiah)
          b) “Forgiveness of sins” - Israel’s restoration from the curse/exile is
              here!
          c) Those who repent and join the remnant represented by the
              disciples will experience the gift of the kingdom - the Holy Spirit
     2. “All who are far off” (39)
          a) In Peter’s mouth in this context, would likely refer to scattered
              Jews
          b) In Luke’s writing in the larger context, Luke would likely also want
              us to think of the Gentiles, who live “to the ends of the earth” (see
              8)

2:42-47 New lives in the kingdom as the restored Israel
A. Restored Israel devotes itself to the apostles’ teachings just as it once
    did to Moses’
     1. The apostolic teaching is thus put on par with the Old Testament
         Torah!
     2. This authority ultimately results in our New Testament
B. God’s people are transformed by the Holy Spirit (44-47)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Philosophical Take on Van Til

Actually, this is a very brief take on apologist/theologian/philosopher Cornelius Van Til's work as contained in the readings and interpretation found in Greg Bahnsen's massive tome, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis.  All in all, I'm very sympathetic with a lot of Van Til's ideas.  I think he gets better than most apologists how the way we react to, interpret, experience, filter, and reason about ourselves and the world around us is in large part dependent on what we already believe (philosopher W.V.O. Quine and others have made some headwork with this idea), particularly our most fundamental beliefs or assumptions - and that Christians and non-Christians come to the world with different sets of these.  I also appreciate the idea that sin affects this set - it has real consequences for the way our minds work - and that our knowledge of God is based not primarily on reasoning or experience but on God's own testimony (we have, as made in the image of God, a sensus divinitas). 

So far so good - when Van Til (and Bahnsen, who substantially agrees with Van Til) goes beyond all this, however, it hard to follow what the reasoning is supposed to be.  Van Til thinks that the only appropriate apologetic method is to use a transcendental argument to the effect that only on the presupposition of Christianity is reasoning or pretty much anything else possible at all.  Here's where things start to get messy.  Sometimes it seems like Van Til is saying that unless a person already assumes Christianity, they cannot make sense of any of this stuff.  Other times, it seems like he is saying that unless Christianity is true, none of this stuff would be possible.  These are two distinct claims, but he seems to slide back and forth between the two without noticing and this creates a lot of problems with some of the arguments in favor of his method and against other apologetic methods.  Most often, he seems to slide back and forth, equivocating between metaphysical and epistemological senses of various terms or concepts, again making for potentially fallacious argumentation.  There also seems to be some equivocation relating to other terms such as "authority" or "primacy".  Then there's the claim that there are no neutral beliefs - one either presupposes Christianity or its opposite.  His claim is that to the extent that a non-Christian agrees with Christianity on some fact, he or she is unwittingly (and inconsistently with his or her own position) presupposing Christianity, an idea which seems to depend on the successful implementation of his transcendental argument (and which, unfortunately, inherits the same ambiguity which then affects his arguments against opponents). 

Unfortunately, Van Til (and Bahnsen) does not do a lot to actually show that the transcendental argument works.  Simply saying that only on the presupposition of Christianity is, say, reasoning possible does not show that it is so.  We need more argumentation.  Unfortunately, not much is forthcoming, and what is provided tends to contain gaps in reasoning that are (again, unfortunately) not filled.  Over and over again, claims are made as to what the non-Christian is committed to with little in the way of proof that he or she is actually so-committed.  This also infects arguments against other methodologies (not to mention some of the mistaken or at least controversial interpretations of various historical philosophers).  To take but one instance (my own comments are in brackets), Van Til claims that traditional methods are "allowing for an ultimate realm of 'chance' out of which might come 'facts' such as are wholly new for God and for man. [Where do they do this?  How?  Is this really a good interpretation?]  Such 'facts' would be uninterpreted and unexplainable in terms of the general or special revelation of God. [Why?  How does this follow?]" I won't even start on the claim that the use of logic in traditional methods of defending Christianity puts logic above God or in control of God or makes God not God, etc. (There are many things wrong here, one being that Van Til seems to assume without argument that the facts of logic are things out there to which God might be subordinated, whereas many philosophers (not all) would deny that such that there are facts of logic at all in a metaphysical sense - the law of non-contradiction is, on such a view, necessarily true but without some unique entity out there making it true since describing substantive reality is not even what the statement is supposed to do in the first place)

I sometimes had similar problems with the other presupposionalist book I read recently, Vern Poythress's book on logic, which, in its statements and arguments, pretty clearly confused logic with reasoning over and over again and explicitly stated that logic is something like a codification of rationality, which it is not.  In any case, I was a bit dissapointed with the argumentation of the presuppositionalist writings I have read so far, despite agreeing with a fair bit as well.  I have some other books along the same vein lined up to read (including more Van Til and Bahnsen), so I am hoping that there is more to some of these arguments than I have already seen.