Forgot he was a wanted man

Quick link to a story from Associated Press via Yahoo about Frank Dryman, aka Frank Valentine, aka Victor Houston, who is 79 years old and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

This is a real man's life, so let's not make light of it: he's a criminal, and a lawbreaker, and he's going to spend his last years in prison for two crimes -- murder, and the violation of his parole.

But it seems to me this is a parable as well -- something written by God's providence that we must see through the eyes of faith. When Frank Valentine didn;t want to be a criminal anymore, he simply said he wasn't that man anymore -- and did his work to prove he was a different man.

But history and the Law say differently: he is who he is, guilty of his crime, and worse for pretending it never happened.

This is a parable about us, dear reader. It is a parable about me. I dare say it is a parable about you.

More on Watchbloggers


For the record, when Pastor Silva reviewed this post, he made the correction on-line to the very post I referenced, and made it clear that his concerns have been addressed -- at least insofar as it relates to my opinion of him. I appreciate his forthright approach in this matter.

As I unwind this chain of posts (which are evolving and not canned or pre-recorded), I can’t help thinking about that scene in Star Trek VI where Star Fleet tells Kirk and crew that they are the ones who are going to negotiate the peace treaty with the Klingons. The money quote is when Spock tells Kirk that “Only Nixon could go to China.”

Let me be honest: I have not idea how that analogy works out on a one-to-one basis in this walk-through of differences in theology, ministry, and the basics of logic and civility.

That said, TeamPyro became the #1 blog in Technorati’s ranking of “Lifestyle: Religion: blogs last week, in part on the back of links my rebuttal to “Coram Deo” produced. In particular, Ken Silva posted this in two places – Apprising Ministries, and Christian Research Net:

And kudos, fwiw, to Pastor Silva for keeping the “Moses Lolcat” quote in there because it is the little things which make blogging so rewarding.

What I’m concerned about is the part I highlighted in yellow up there – the part where Pastor Silva says my statement is about “online apologetics and discernment ministries such as this one”. It’s a puzzling statement for at least three reasons:

[1] In my last post on this subject – and indeed, in almost everyone of the threads/posts where this comes up – I have made it clear that there’s a difference between “watchbloggers” and credible apologists and discernment ministries.

[2] In almost every list of “Credible discernment ministries” I have ever provided, I have been explicit to list “Pastor Ken Silva” as one of the good guys – in lists which include James White, Greg Koukl, and so on.

[3] When I have defined the purveyors of the problem, I have been explicit to say that these are people who are both anonymous and also unapologetic for their mistakes. To my knowledge, there’s no way this applies to Ken Silva, is there?

What seems to me to be true is that Ken Silva does not want to say that there are any “discernment ministries” which are, frankly, in grave error as defined by their tactics and their philosophy of ministry. And Pastor Silva is willing to stand arm-in-arm with those people to this extent: that he is also willing to publish something which is patently untrue to oppose the argument. My justification for saying this is the evidence above – in which Pastor Silva wants to put words in my mouth, specifically about his own work, in order to “expose” my error.

Look: as I said in my response to Chris Rosebrough, reputable discernment ministries (and reputable bloggers, for that matter -- you don't have to be an elder in a church to be a decent writer and thinker) should not fall into the trap that the "careful charismatics" fall into all the time. That is: the careful charismatics don't rebuke/disavow the awful charlatans like Todd Bentley until after they have discredited themselves through moral failure, after many have been bilked, for fear of being seen as a "friendly fire" against the charismatic movement and sewing the seeds of skepticism in their own ranks. The careful bloggers, apologists, and theologians should openly discredit anonymous drive-by slanderers who don't have any visible accountability – and the argument that they should somehow avoid “friendly fire” is simply not compelling. It doesn’t speak to the issues which are at the heart of apologetics, like discernment and maturity and humility in the face of the truth.

So here I call on Ken Silva to disavow his statement that I have been including him [and all discernment ministries] in the “watchbloggers” category when in fact I have been circumspect to specifically disavow the idea that he’s a “watchblogger”. It doesn’t do his point of view any good to participate in muddying the water – because in doing so, it’s his own hands that get dirty.

Contemporary Reports

This weekend I got a tweet from a PyroManiacs reader who was worried about some “historical Jesus” polemics going on via Twitter under the hashtag "#atheist". Which, in my book, is like saying there was some basketball being played in the Boston (TD Banknorth) Garden – I mean: what did we expect? They’re atheists.

Anyway, I allowed myself to get roped into the “discussion”, and of course it got into the dating of the New Testament. One fellow has even found a “Christian-friendly” source that dates the Gospels to 120-170 AD. However “friendly” that source might be, I directed him to Wikipedia on the topic:
The earliest works which came to be part of the New Testament are the letters of the Apostle Paul. Most scholars generally agree on the dating of many books in the New Testament, except for those some believe to be pseudepigraphical (i.e., those thought not to be written by their traditional authors). The Gospel of Mark is dated from as early as the 50s, although most scholars date between the range of 65 and 72.[21] Most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were written after the composition of Mark as they make use of Mark's content. Therefore they are generally dated later than Mark although the extent is debated. Matthew is dated between 70 and 85. Luke is usually placed within 80 to 95. However a select few scholars disagree with this as Luke indicates in the book of Acts that he has already written the Gospel of Luke prior to writing the introduction to Acts. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was First Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably in A.D. 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. Of the pseudepigraphical epistles, scholars tend to place them somewhere between 70 and 150, with Second Peter usually being the latest.

In the 1830s German scholars of the Tübingen school dated the books as late as the third century, but the discovery of some New Testament manuscripts and fragments from the second and third centuries, one of which dates as early as A.D. 125 (Papyrus 52), disproves a third century date of composition for any book now in the New Testament. Additionally, a letter to the church at Corinth in the name of Clement of Rome in 95 quotes from 10 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and a letter to the church at Philippi in the name of Polycarp in 120 quotes from 16 books. Therefore, some of the books of the New Testament were at least in a first-draft stage, though there is negligible evidence in these quotes or among biblical manuscripts for the existence of different early drafts. Other books were probably not completed until later, if we assume they must have been quoted by Clement or Polycarp. There are, however, many discrepancies between manuscripts, though the majority of the errors are clearly errors of transcription or minor in scope.

On the other extreme is the dating proposed by John A. T. Robinson. He claimed that, since he believed none of the writings in the New Testament showed clear evidence of a knowledge of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (in A.D. 70), which Robinson thought should certainly have appeared considering the importance of that event for Jews and Christians of that time, that every book which would come to form the New Testament was therefore written before A.D. 70.[22] Given Robinson's appeal to the absence of evidence, his view is widely rejected by New Testament scholars.
Now, notice 3 thinks about this publicly-edited summary of the dating of the NT:

[1] It lists three distinct theories about the dating of the books of the NT, and discredits the one most favorable to the Christian case. This speaks to the degree to which there has been some amendments to the article over time as it diminishes the overzealous statements of the advocating side regarding the validity of Robinson’s theory. I like Robinson’s theory, but it’s right to say that it’s an argument from silence.

[2] It also discredits the worst case for the NT as attempted by 19th century German scholarship. What’s interesting about this section is that the Germans are discredited by the use of the NT by Polycarp (who lived 65AD – 155 AD), and Clement of Rome (died 99 AD), and by the archeological evidence in manuscript form. The case against the late-date of the NT has what the atheist is allegedly looking for: hard archeological evidence.

[3] The “majority” opinion, then, phrased by Wikipedia, is that the Gospels were written no later than 72 AD – a completely-conservative (in terms of “conservative estimate” not “conservative theology”) estimate.

After having pointed this out to the Twe-atheists, I was called a liar (which, of course, thanks for that – of course I wrote the Wikipedia entry), and then told, “we agree then: there are no contemporary reports of Jesus.” (or words to that effect)

Well, if one is looking for newspaper clipping, of course not. But let’s consider something:

This is a chart which shows when stuff happened historically, and when someone thought it was about time someone wrote something down about it. It speaks to a short list of concerns:

[A] It speaks to the preservation of the manuscripts we are talking about. The amount of skepticism we should have toward the Gospels regarding their reliability based on how well they are preserved has to be minimal – unless we want to start elevating our skepticism toward Plutarch and Pliny as well.

[B] It speaks to the proximity of the Gospels to the events they report. That is, the Gospels were – even in the most conservative estimate – written down only 30 years after the events. That’s entirely consistent with the practices of other historians in the ancient world.

[C] It speaks to the perception of Jesus at the time of the composition. Let’s face it: the ancient world was not like our world in about a million different ways, but the two most striking differences for this examination are that they did not have mass media, and they didn’t spend a lot of time doing things which didn’t directly relate to staying alive – they didn’t have a lot of free time due to the lack of, well, stuff. So for not one but four stories about the life of Jesus to be circulated and then copied and propagated with a high degree of concern for accuracy speaks to the perception that the earliest writers about Jesus had toward the telling of his story.

Does this prove the tales of the miraculous? Of course not. Does this demand that atheism is utterly false? Not hardly. But what it does do is speak directly to the claim that these tweeting atheists have made that Jesus was not even a person. It speaks to the kind of evidence they are and are not willing to accept to even begin to frame their own arguments – and whether they are consistent in their demand for the “scientific” and the “rational”. The dating of the books speak to their origin and autheticity -- which is to say, their overall reliability.

If you want to disbelieve God, I leave it to you to do so. But you ought to first be sure you’re not disbelieving God a priori and then demanding the evidence fit your own requirements – because that is, in fact, dishonest.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

Coram Deo has decided to be my Jiminy Cricket, for which I am grateful. I think. Thanks for following the link from the comments at TeamPyro.

| I'm not sure how helpful that
| response actually was, Frank; but
| it was rather revealing.
It always is. It ought to point you back to the other responses on this topic I have given you as well, CD, but it doesn’t. What that reveals, of course, is your own shallow vision of discernment.
| For all your usual ability to
| appreciate fine distinctions, and
| understand nuance, you once
| again lump together an entire
| genre of bloggers (the 95-
| percenters) and caricature them
| negatively.
I have actually already made a very necessary distinction: between reputable people (i.e. – pastors and theologians/teachers with public ministries who do not hide behind aliases and anonymity with a clear view of accountability) and people like you who [since we need to be as specific as possible for the sake of nuance] who are not accountable, are not public people, do not have any regard for the biblical standards for discernment, and who want to be the judges of others without impunity or responsibility.

I made that distinction back when you decided to start your campaign on this issue over at Zach Bartels’ blog. Since you missed it then, I’ll put it here for your review, and you can consider that aspect of your concern answered.

There is a vast difference between being a minister of discernment (a la James White, Greg Koukl, Mike Horton, etc.) and being a loose cannon who simply cannot engage anyone in a way which really is meant for correction rather than self-aggrandization. Because you and your cohorts don’t understand that, it should be the first sign that what you do is not actually very discerning.

Take, for example, this statement:
| Are there some really bad
| watchbloggers out there? Of
| course!
| Are there some that are truly
| edifying and Christ-honoring? Of
| course!
| But there's apparently no
| distinction in your mind.
Now, think about this -- your approach says this specifically: Frank has never made a distinction between good and bad discernment blogs. This is demonstrably false even if I have never given the abridged list of names of examples because I have in fact given the core criteria for telling the apples from the poison. The distinction I have given above is the one I have given you at least once before. But on top of that, I have also given you a short list of examples previously.

So let’s think about how that reflects on your discernment personally:

[1] You have the clear evidence you need to dispose of this statement
[2] Because you have made it before, the very least you should do in honesty is to retract it; the actually-contrite thing to do would be to disavow the statement and apologize.
[3] Instead, you repeat it as if I have never confronted your complaint.

What kind of discernment is that, exactly?
| And it's
| not even as though you caricature
| them as well meaning yet
| miguided Biblically-impoverished
| lone rangers on ill-advised
| Jeremiads. Such would at least
| demonstrate some level of actual
| patience and love on your part
| towards your errant brethren, but
| no.
| You characterize them as a self-
| appointed "magisterium" and
| deride them as subjecting those
| who disagree with them to
| treatment akin to that doled out
| during the "Spanish Inquisition".
Before we get to your next indictment, let’s remember that after giving the clear distinction between watchbloggers and actual apologists, I have then given some specific complaints about the methods and modes of those who are the bad examples.

For example, they are uncorrectable (see above). Not only will they not offer corrections when they are wrong, they are revisionists who delete blog posts and comment threads. They cannot ever offer an apology – in spite of the damage they do to others. It is simply unheard of and unfound in fact.

That sort of activity in the NT was dealt with in the harshest terms, and I think that’s a mandate to do the same when one is dealing with that sort of error. For example, Paul tells Titus that people who are “teaching” but misleading people through falsehood (again, see above) are “detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work”.

I have not done more than that by any means. What I have done, however, is use a word which they/you will find most offensive: “magisterium”. The offense is meant full force, and I stand by it – until such a time that those who are guilty of it (see above) repent.
| Can you see the rich irony here,
| Frank?
I can – but I think you have missed it. The rich irony is that you demand something of others you have no intention of ever delivering. You want to hold others captive by their good conscience but hold yourself to another standard – one which is disabused of fact and charity and humility.

Look to your mistake in defining my own position, and do something about that if you are remotely serious. Then apply the principles which guide you to that effort broadly. And then you won’t be a watchblogger anymore.

This next part is actually my favorite part, in two acts. Act 1:
| Is it really the love of Christ
| that compels you to sacrificially
| love those with whom you
| disagree by equating them with a
| corrupted body that has
| arrogated to itself the role of the
| Holy Spirit Himself (the infallible
| magisterium) and their work as
| being equivalent to the Spanish
| Inquisition?!?
Given that you and yours, CD, are doing exactly what they did, and making the same scope of errors they made, and eliminating any opportunity for rebuttal, rebuke, reconciliation, or retraction, I would say, “yes, it is the love of Christ which causes me to tell you how far from the true vine you find yourself.”

The evidence of that love is that I am replying to you (again) in spite of your failure to repent of your mistakes toward me, and spelling out in detail what my concerns are. If I hated you, I’d just ignore you as irredeemable.
| Really Frank?
Really. And the next part is the best part, Act 2:
|'Cuz I can tell that
| I'm not feeling the love, brother
| and although I smell something, it
| doesn't smell like the pleasing
| aroma of the love of Christ. It
| smells more like a pair of sweaty
| gym socks that have been left in
| the locker festering for way too
| long.
Now, think on it: what’s that sound like? If we pulled it out of this discussion and just cited it randomly as a response to criticism (overlooking its error and omissions to get to this conclusion), who could this be?

It could be the retort of a careless charismatic who doesn’t actually have any arguments left.

It could be the retort of a KJVO guy who cannot respond to the criticisms of his position.

It could be the first round of responses from an Emerg* advocate.

That is: our mate the Watchblogger finds himself in the same place all people who are doing the indefensible find themselves – complaining about how “unloving” his adversaries are because they cannot agree with him and fully capitulate.
| As far as your much vaunted high
| view of repentance and
| reconciliation, that's a good thing,
| but methinks log should meet
| mote in genuine repentance ...
... which has been demonstrated repeatedly in 6-7 years of blogging in practice through a commitment to offer plain apologies with no qualifications in plain view, and a practice which does not revise the record in order to hide my own fallibility, ...
| ... because (at least on this subject)
| your level of snark and hyperbole
| belies something other than the
| sacrificial love of Christ you claim.
Ah. So sarcasm < > love; but anonymous and a-biblical exercises in character assassinations, and failing read and address the clarifications of those reproached, and thereafter not retracting or apologizing for one’s own errors == LOVE OF CHRIST!
| Think about it.
I have thought about it. This has been the result of that. May it be a blessing to you.

Literate writing and literate reading

I have a lot on my heart today, but I am going to post something here which I think I have mentioned often in the last 6 years. Yesterday, I tweeted the following:

Of course, my iPod corrects a lot of typos (whether they need it or not), but it didn't catch that one. So much for actually-literate. But some have asked, “well, what do you mean by that?” That’s a reasonable question, and I have a reasonable answer.

The biggest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms, yes? It’s huge. Nothing compares to it as a feat of literature, or, if I may be so bold, as a feat of theological exposition. And you would think that, for the latter to be true, it would have to be rote seminarian essays in somewhat-bloodless prose. But instead we get stuff like this in Psalms:
    Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
    Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever."
    Let the house of Aaron say, "His steadfast love endures forever."
    Let those who fear the LORD say, "His steadfast love endures forever."
    Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
    The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
    The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
    It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.
    It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.
    All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
    They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
    They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
    I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. [Ps 118:1-16]
That’s not an essay. That’s not a book report. That’s not “exposition” in the sense that it has a topic sentence, three examples and a summary statement. It’s a poem about the grace of God.

Now, that should be enough to run after the idea of literate reading – for example, is this poem about a promise being made or a promise being kept? Why is that distinction necessary to comprehend and therefore interpret the meaning of the Psalmist’s thanks to YHVH? A literate person would grasp this immediately and know it’s part of what we’re getting ourselves into here.

But there’s more to it than that. This poem occurs in the Old Testament, and speaks to both some event in the history of Israel, and ultimately to the victory of Christ. Therefore the literate reader sees this psalm occurring in the narrative of the Gospel; that is, somehow the story of which it is a part is necessary and meaningful for the reader who is actually reading the psalm. The ESV study Bible tells us that this is the Psalm the crowds sang as Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, and that Christ intimated it would be sung at his second coming.

Now seriously: so what? Is this just another kind of internet snobbery about to make the rounds? Is this just another way to look down the nose at other people and dismiss their use of Scripture and their kind of faith in Christ?

It could be. In fact, I would say that in some circles it is. For me, I bring it up for one reason only.

We love the Bible: all you readers and me love the Bible. Let’s not love it like we love Ice Cream – that is, for the short and self-centered moment in which it tastes sweet and cold. Let’s love it like a living and active thing which will cut us meat from bone, and also equip us, and inform us – if we treat it like what it is.

But this was said to me yesterday, also via Twitter:
I agree. It's most common to tell stories in Scripture. But it is not the way the apostles taught the Church ab Christ.
There are at least three things wrong with this view of the NT which point to a deficiency in having or showing knowledge of literature, writing, etc.:

[1] The apostles preached the Gospel, but they aren’t hardly the only place where Christ is expounded and extolled. For example, the letter to the Hebrews is almost entirely a book about Christ fulfilling the Old Covenant – which is a narrative point, requiring all the types and symbols, and yields a rich theology of salvation in the Bible.

[2] This completely overlooks the role of the four Gospels in presenting the Gospel, and neglects the book of Acts as a book which informs us on everything from soteriology to evangelism to ecclesiology.

[3] This denigrates the Old Testament in an entirely unacceptable way because it ignores the apostolic use of the OT, and it ignores the nearly-complete apostolic reliance on it as the firm foundation of scripture.

The bottom line is that the Bible – not our doctrines of the Bible – will do more to help us reform ourselves and evangelize and inform others than our cultural pup tents set up for a short time in the changing world will do. We have to read it as if it was literature and not as if it was merely the annotated and unabridged version of the reformed confessions.

Just for the record

Instapundit just called President Obama "Jimmy Carter".

He's only 18 months late to the party.

Separated at Birth?

Emperor Palpatine & Helen Thomas?