White Elephant in the room [1]

Well, so this is the big news: after having a nice exchange of about 150 words, iMonk has asked me to have a little palaver over the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). I have honestly meant to blog hard on this subject since I opened up this Blogger account, but I always seem to find other things which grab my attention which also seem to have a broader appeal. And no: iMonk is not the "White Elephant".

iMonk has sent me 10 questions, and one of the terms of the chat is that we're going to share the content between our two blogs. I'll be posting the intro and first Q here, and I'll be sending him Q2 and my response for him to post over there. The subsequent cross-posting and eventual collision of worlds will undoubtedly bring and end to civilization as we know it, but the hits should be amazing, so it was nice knowing you.

Along the way, I'll bet iMonk will have some follow-up Qs, and I'd be willing to field those as we go. I'm not running for the presidency of the SBC, after all: no need to screen questions. The only real ground rule is that I'm not going to answer questions which I think strike too close to home and might raise the ire of my full-time employer.

Fair enough? On with the show. iMonk's words will be like this.

I've been wanting to do some occasional posts on Christian publishing and its influence and effect on American Christians, particularly the local church. I know a few folks in the business, but none of them are as interesting and as potentially entertaining as my personal therapist, Frank Turk. I've been impressed with Frank's posts on the CBA and his asides about Christian retail in his comments are always interesting. So I asked Frank- a Christian retailer himself- if he would answer some questions about this topic, and he was gracious enough to accept the invitation. Any resulting t-shirts are not my responsibility.

Before we kick this off, there might be some "new" readers who are unaware of the history of iMonk and centuri0n, and rather than rehash that history let me frame up this exchange in a couple of ways.

First, iMonk and I both think there are problems with the contemporary American church. However, painting broadly, I would say that I think what iMonk represents is a large part of the problem, and (again, broadly) iMonk thinks what I represents is a large part of the problem. We may both be right.

Second, it turns out that we prolly agree that another large part of the problem is what passes for "Christian retail". The Q & A that iMonk proposed here and I accepted really is a kind of ex tempore stink-eye against an industry that somehow takes itself both too seriously and too lightly.

Last, I claim full responsibility for all t-shirts and overpriced gimmicks that get created and sold as a consequence of this exchange. Let's just not pretend that said gimmicks and apparel are in any way spiritually edifying: they are merely self-deprecating commerce.

1. Where, in the recent history of Christian publishing, do you feel there was a significant shift in the relationship between publishers and the church? (My nomination: Late Great Planet Earth.)

Well, I think your question oversimplifies the problem by a lot. A good comparison would be the question, "Which church council founded the Roman Catholic church?" I think you and I would agree that no church council founded the RCC, but that it was built up by a series of events -- some pragmatically good and some cynically bad -- over about 1300 years.

So even if we zoom in on the history of the publishing industry as it interfaces with church life in America in the last 100 years, to say there was "one" significant shift is a little reductive. Someplace in a blog entry I said (in words to this effect) that the problems with Christian retail (which includes the ECPA marketplace) have one foot in the local church, and the other foot in the local church. I'd say that the bastardization of the local church over the last 100 years has been the foundational problem with American Christian culture, and in that it is the foundational problem with Christian retail today.

To answer your question more narrowly, I think the greatest single damaging "event" which intersects both ECPA/CBA and the local church is the explosion of media ministries, beginning with the grand-daddy of media minsitries: the Billy Graham Crusades. Hal Lindsey is a small fish in a dirty pond compared to the damage I think has come about in the exercise of the local church mission due to media-based ministries which have convinced people they don’t need to "go to church" in order to "be a Christian".

I think the chain of causation goes like this:

- media ministries (MM) have supplanted local church ministry over the last 50 years. If we're 100% honest with ourselves, local churches ceded their position to media ministries in part because MM looked good on the outside and in part because local churches tried to be "like" MM.

- media ministries are more like media-based organizations than like ministries

- media-based organizations thrive of "spin off" or "franchise"; for example, a good book gets a movie; if the movie is target-rich, it gets trinkets (cf. Star Wars); if the movie is hit, it gets a sequel; the sequel gets a book; etc.

- media ministries propagate themselves like media-based organizations and not like Gospel-based organizations.

- Thus, the franchise-driven CBA channel of retail.

So what we really have is a media-based paradigm frankly over-running any and all paradigms contained inside the Gospel. I'm 100% ready to admit that the delivery of the Gospel is not necessarily restricted to guys with one cloak and one staff and a pair of sandals who only stay in towns were someone will put them up for the night, but I am also 100% sure that the Gospel is tied inextricably to local church bodies who are working personally to deliver the work of Christ in word and example.

To be clear: CBA is a tangle because the right-side-up version of Gospel ministry from the local church is not even upside-down but inside-out. That doesn't absolve CBA and ECPA from its complicity in this gigantic mess, but it does explain why CBA and ECPA has such an easy time remerchandising its goods every coupla months: there's nobody there to stop them.

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

Hold on to your hat

I just got an e-mail which has proposed the unthinkable with the unmentionable doing the inconceivable.

And I don't believe I just agreed to it, but I did.

Stay tuned. This is bigger than WAL*MART.

risk and reward

I have no idea how I found this post, but I did, and now I'm going to pay for it.

See: I think that the right reverend iMonk has a lot of "right stuff" in that link. For example, it is for the most part neanderthal to get out the torches and the pitchforks and storm the gates of Duke U demanding that they deliver Dr. Ehrman in a cage so that we may then destroy the monster without at least doing ourselves the favor of reading the work in question. We are at out worst, culturally and ethically, when we start burning books -- figuratively and literally -- without having read them or, frankly, comparing them to what are rather vanilla claims about history which are not really in dispute.

It is also right to note that not everybody is equipped to read stuff like Ehrman's work and review it critically. For example, someone who has never read Livy or Tacitus (as two examples) -- either in a critical translation or in Dr. Brown's Latin class as an undergraduate -- probably doesn't have a lot of experience with ancient historical sources and the actual history of the first-century world. So that person is probably at a disadvantage in reading Ehrman and doesn't have the practical know-how to investigate Ehrman's claims. You know: for example, the average NPR reporter.

And in that, I have a problem with iMonk's approach to overviewing Bart Ehrman. I disagree with the idea that Ehrman is not "evangelizing" for his beliefs. In spite of Ehrman's faculty position, his view of the history of the church is problematic at best -- and not from a "it might hurt my faith" standpoint: from a "it is sloppy and glib" standpoint. It is precisely because Ehrman has a casual and superficially-dispassionate tone in his discussion that we cannot simply talk about him as if he is doing us a favor by challenging our beliefs.

Let me be clear: I don't think iMonk has endorsed Ehrman in his essay. iMonk has said that Ehrman is wrong about "a lot" of things. The question is if iMonk's essay here gives the impression that Ehrman is a merely clever foil or something more insidious.

Now talk amongst yourselves.

provocative speech

h, you crazy kids. I have a full calendar today, but I'm wondering: when was the last time we thought about the Eph 5 standard of Christian discourse?

Why, I'm not sure we have thought about it at all in this blog -- which is astounding, given the dust that was raised here over a certain 8-letter word of conflagration.

You think about the Eph 5 standard while I'm signing a new lease for the bookstore, and I'll get back to you on this topic this afternoon.

Shoot. I was gonna ...

fter a weekend off from everything except canoing with my kids, mowing grass and hitting my son in the face with a football so to make sure he's not a wimpy little bookworm like I was/am, I did a little toddle through the blogosphere and found that John MacArthur has blogged on a subject which I had on the agenda for the summer.

You can use that post for future reference on this subject, because I am sure it will come up again.

Another kind of ugly

You prolly read this someplace else, but if you didn't, read about the facts of hurricane Katrina.

Now, wait: before you do, let me ask you ...

How many people died in the state of Louisiana in the hurricane?

How many people died in the SuperDome?

What demographic was the most devastated by this storm?

OK -- now go and read that article.

Another Dip [3]

es, you thought I forgot
about the baptism thing, didn’t you? I cannot forget about baptism, people. It’s like a song I cannot get out of my head.

So that nobody thinks I’m shirking my agenda here, I was going to “do” Ignatius (c. AD 50 – 107?) next, but for those of you in the know, the references to “baptism” in his letters are all in the controversial longer versions and not in the more-traditionally accepted shorter versions.

Well, you know: except. Except in Ignatius’ epistle to Polycarp:
Chapter VI.—The duties of the Christian flock.

Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you for ever!
It’s the highlighted part that is somewhat engrossing. Ignatius is here using the “full armor” metaphor, and perhaps composing one of the first versions of “Onward Christian Soldiers” – because he is exhorting the believers (to and thru Polycarp) to be soldiers who do not abandon their posts.

Do not be deserters, he says. And the first item on the list of supplies is . . . baptism! “Let Baptism endure as your arms,” he writes, and in that, we have to consider what he means by that. For example, it’s clear he means “arms” in the sense of “weapons” or “equipment of war”, and not merely your beefy pythons. But in that he calls on those submissive to the bishop to let this weapon “endure”.

The good Presbyterians reading this know already what this means because they are not ashamed to use with the phrase, “improve our baptism”. Warfield said it this way:
Thus we shall, as our fathers expressed it, "improve our baptism." We improve it "by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein: by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ, and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body." Surely, he who does these things shall never stumble, but shall be fully girded for entrance into that eternal Kingdom for which we are marked and sealed in our baptism.
Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1, Edited by John E. Meeter, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970. originally from a pamphlet of eight pages published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1920.
Now, given that we are reading the ECFs to gain an understanding of how they thought about baptism, I’m not sure the part, in yellow above, is of much help. We’re trying to figure out or deduce the meaning of baptism from the ECFs, so assuming it has one which is 20th-century Presbyterian in meaning is not quite inside the methodology. But it seems to me that the rest of this is exactly what Ignatius is talking about. That is: baptism is surely something more than a bath – it is a sign of something in which we stand. I think it does Ignatius no injustice to say it is a sign of the Gospel itself from which we may desert if we are not watchful. In that, it seems clear to me that Ignatius calls our baptism part of the equipment of our faith. But it is no mere device: it is our arms, something with which we can act to advance our cause.

That’s an interesting affirmation as far as it goes.

Your turn: what’s Ignatius talking about here?

Mickey Finn. Eee. Finney.

f you go
poking around TheResurgence.com, you will eventually find this post, and you can read it for your personal edification. There's nothing like placing the blame at the feet of those who deserve it -- which would be all of us, btw, for allowing the kind of historical mistake this essay uncovers to simply pass by without a word of complaint.

Read that link so you know what you ought to be complaining about.

An interesting blog post

I was following the links from my site meter log this afternoon, and I found this post on Mark Driscoll. In reply to it, I said this:

here is a vast difference
between "There are flaws in some of the finest diamonds in the world, and yet they do not prevent their being rated at a priceless value" and refusing to reform one's tongue.

Listen: I have the same problem Pastor Driscoll has -- I feel better after I swear. I do -- I admit it. I feel like I said what I meant.

Here's the real question: should I feel that way in the first place? Should I feel the way you have to feel to drop an F-bomb? How about the way you have to feel to call something "BILL TUSH" (it's an anagram -- you do the cryptology)?

Out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart -- that's rudimentary Christian, NT reasoning. Hiding behind the "I'm a diamond in the rough in Jesus' eyes" riff is ethical quackery.

But, I think Pastor Driscoll has a problem he cannot admit: if he stops swearing in public, he'll lose cred with the Seattle crowd, which is his local church. That's no better or worse than an SBC pastor who has to wear an Armani every week in order to present himself approved to his congregation, I suppose -- if the point is that the pastor should seek the approval of his church.

The Welcome Mat

We have had some visitors from First Baptist Springdale to the ol' blog, and we bid you all a hearty welcome. Nice to see you.

As visitors, you probably have noticed that we're not always very excited about everything that happens in the Christian life. Well, who is, really? Sometimes things in this life aren't very humanly appealing, and sometimes, frankly, they're not very spirtually appealing.

The best thing (if you're looking for my opinion, and it's my blog so I suppose you are) in all accounts is that we know the difference between those two things, and we try not to be part of those thing in the latter group.

Is that fair? I thought you'd think so. Stop by any time.

Not a write-off

Just to be clear, it's posts like this one from Mark Driscoll that makes it impossible to write him off.

"TUB SHILL" aside, pastor Driscoll knows exactly when to throw up on his yellow tie.

UPDATED: Apparently, when you link to Mark Driscoll, Seattle comes to the blog. Welcome Seattle. Props to "hoodie".

All things to some people

hat's the difference
between a fellow who is currently enjoying the entertainment at strip clubs and a fellow who has given up being entertained at strip clubs? I mean, besides all the money the second guy is saving in tips and watered-down drinks?

OK: now what's the difference between the guy who doesn't care if he ever stops using the 8-letter word of blog ill-repute and the guy who learned that word when he was 8 and, after another 32 years, has gotten himself to the place where he can keep it from slipping out about 98% of the time?

Now, what if guy #3 uses the 8-letter word of calumny against guy #1 to descibe his lifestyle? Did guy #3 do a good thing or a bad thing?

Last question: what if guy #3 is a pastor?

Word to the wise: this post is not intended to disagree with Phil's post on vulgarity. It is actually about a book I'm going to review in the next 3 weeks. After a coupla more posts about ECFs and baptism.

This is where I am right now

I'm reading this post by Ligon Duncan, which is about the Gospel.

You should read it, too.

UPDATED: The other thing I'm doing right now is reading this post from Mark Driscoll, who seems to be late to the party on this one. However, he came wearing the right cloak, so I'm not sure there's anything to grouse about.

Thank Me Very Much

There are too many to list all of the reasons why I am permitting myself to be a blogger. However, I will take a moment to list a few of them for you to help you understand why I am doing this. I want to make it very clear: I did not choose to be a blogger. Many of you, our wonderful people, have asked me, “Cent, why would you do this and take on this responsibility?” That question is worthy and deserves an answer. I began to answer that question when I ran the "I'm a nutter" series. Let me continue by listing just a few of these reasons:

. . .

OK: now, is there any list of reasons I could put down after that opening paragraph which would make this blog entry look like something better than a "This is Where I am Right Now" post?

Seriously now. And I don't have a media director.


In an effort to aid and abet the "War on Easter", Pat Robertson has issued a prophecy "if [he] heard the Lord right about 2006".

If he heard the Lord right? Let me tell you something, Pat: I just now heard the Lord right, and he told me to tell you that if He said something to you of prophetic value for the nations to hear, you would "hear Him right". You'd probably wet your pants.

As I have said before, Pat Robertson has become a disgace to the American Christian community, and he ought to be taken aside by someone who is his peer and told to put a sock in it. He advances the cause of the Gospel about as much as a self-flagulating albino monk could advance the Gospel by protecting non-existent secrets about the life of Mary Mags and johnMark.

No offense to albinos, Dawn or Mark, of course.


Oh please. iMonk gets it 98.743% right (more or less), and I'm willing to split the difference with him. When he and I can agree about something like what Dr. Ergun Caner has said, you know something is probably very wrong with Dr. Ergun Caner.

On a related note, How come Ergun Caner gets to be the "pit bull" and I don't have a cool nickname? "centuri0n" is not a nickname: it's a user name. Maybe we can canvass the meta and get me a cool nickname, too.

Another Dip [2]

OK – so we touched on Justin Martyr’s (for the sake of the vulgar, Justin lived c. 100-165 AD) bit on baptism in First Apology, and we don’t see any covenantal implications to baptism in his short mention. He wasn’t really writing a systematic treatment (to be fair to our paedo brothers and sisters) but it just didn’t come up. For those following along, I’m using Schaff as a kind of surveying tool to get to the first pass of ECFs talking about this topic, and we’ll make a second pass as we go based on recommendations from you readers and other troublemakers who happen to pass through.

In that, the first suggestion that intrigues me is the Didache. Given that this document is pretty hard to date, I think its use is not as influential as something written which is not anonymous and not difficult to date in this discussion. The consensus is that it’s “early”, prolly about the time of Justin’s birth. The current thinking is that it’s c. 100 AD. Fair enough?

It mentions baptism twice (J.B.Lightfoot’s translation):
7:1 But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize.
7:2 Having first recited all these things, baptize {in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit} in living (running) water.
7:3 But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water;
7:4 and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm.
7:5 But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
7:6 But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able;
7:7 and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before.
And then again:
9:1 But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus.
9:2 First, as regards the cup:
9:3 We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus;
9:4 Thine is the glory for ever and ever.
9:5 Then as regards the broken bread:
9:6 We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus;
9:7 Thine is the glory for ever and ever.
9:8 As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom;
9:9 for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
9:10 But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord;
9:11 for concerning this also the Lord hath said:
9:12 {Give not that which is holy to the dogs.}
And all the Baptists in the reading audience started holding their breaths, if they have any good sense. Now, why? Listen: section 7 again simply cannot be any reference to infant baptisms. The admonition to fast “for a day or two” prior to being baptized cannot be thought to be for infants, and there is no exception listed for one too young to fast. It’s a great tacit endorsement of credobaptism as far as it goes.

The part that should be putting a knot in the tummies of Baptists is the second section which tells us about the proper administration of the eucharist. In the first place, it is pretty, um, liturgical, right? It smacks of a rite. It makes me woozy just to glance it over.

But more challenging, look at the matter of who may and may not receive the eucharist: only the baptized my eat or drink; none which are not baptized may eat or drink because they are dogs and unholy.

“Cent, I’m a Baptist, and I don’t get any chill-bumps over that,” says one guy with a black Scofield. “We Baptists don’t let the unbaptized up to the table of the Lord. What’s the problem?”

The problem, my dear sock puppet, is that the distinction baptized=holy, unbaptized=unholy is precisely the FV view of the matter. That is to say, the Didache doesn’t say, “if he’s baptized and he’s still inside the bounds of orthodoxy,” or “if he’s baptized and the elders haven’t beat him up for reading from the Greek OT rather than the Hebrew OT,” or what have you: it makes the plain analogy that unbaptized is to unholy as baptized is holy.

Even if Didache does implicitly talk about baptizing grown-ups only, it says a lot more about baptism in that single analogy than a lot of Baptists can muster in a 20-page white paper on the topic.

BTW, this is exactly the kind of trouble Doug Wilson was talking about over at his blog. And before anybody starts e-mailing my pastor over this, let’s be clear that I’m not saying this is right Baptist teaching. I’m saying that the Didache plainly thinks more of baptism than the average Baptist does.

I am sure a healthy discussion of what kind of document the Didache is ought to ensue here. That’s what the meta is for.

As if I needed any more books ...

So Adrian Warnock is trolling for readers again, this time by giving away 5 copies of John Piper’s latest book, God is the Gospel. You can read about this contest here.

The gist of the thing is that he is trying to generate some cross-talk (heh – that’s funny) about the T4G affirmations and denials, which I think is a good thing and a kind of lazy thing, too. It’s good in the fact that this semi-creed deserves to have something happen to it other than everyone knee-jerkedly linking to it. You know: like you should read it and think about it because it is both instructive and descriptive of the work the hosts of the conference want to be about.

But it’s lazy, if you ask me. (No offense, Adrian) I have listened to all the major talks (the panel discussions aren’t available on MP3, which I think is criminal) at least twice, and one of the clear challenges I took away from these talks is, “stop thinking about preaching the Gospel and start preaching the Gospel.” I think it was Al Mohler who made the statement that just “wanting to” be in ministry like this isn’t enough: Sunday is coming, and it’s your first opportunity to be in ministry like this.

In that, just tawkin’ about the T4G statement is lazy because it’s not really about the Gospel – it’s about “standing together”. The irony is that I affirm the statement whole-heartedly, but I don’t think talking about it is the point of the statement: the point of the statement is to say, “look: the Gospel isn’t some kind of ploy or marketing tool, and God isn’t conducting a seminar to reach a consensus.”

So in that, I linked to Adrian’s blog and I have a coupla things to say, as you might expect.
Article I
We affirm that the sole authority for the Church is the Bible, verbally inspired, inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient and trustworthy.

We deny that the Bible is a mere witness to the divine revelation, or that any portion of Scripture is marked by error or the effects of human sinfulness.
Oh, the fireworks this will set off! Good Heavens – “sole authority”?! You mean these fellows are “solo scripturists”?

See: this is why discussing this document is going to go over like a glass lamp on an end table next to a 2-year-old. Even though this is foundational to the rest of the affirmations, and even though it is categorically foundational to being able to preach the word, in season and out of season, it immediately derails the actual preaching of the Gospel because now we have to spend 500 words exposing what exactly we mean by “sole authority”.

I’m sure this entry isn’t going to win me any books from Adrian, but the point of the conference was not the affirmations and denials: the point of the conference was to point men of God back to the Gospel by identifying the Gospel and by affirming the Gospel.

The Gospel! Listen: I’m the guy who has been blogging about 18 months and who keeps coming back – more and less, because we’re going into a “baptism” schtick here – to the matter of orthodoxy, and the Gospel, and what we mean when we say such things. I like the creeds; I like the confessions. I’m in favor of them. But they are internal and provisional documents in the best possible way and in the best possible case. So there is no doubt, I would affirm Article I of T4G. But so what? I affirm them all.

When do I start preaching the Gospel? The point of T4G is to preach the Gospel. Preach it from the pulpit; preach it from your life; preach it from the whole Bible; preach it to the culture; preach it explicitly from the narrative of God’s word; preach it focused on the main thing.

Go ahead and read the XVIII affirmations, and affirm them. That’s before lunch today, readers. The next thing is to get after it and preach the Gospel. To lost people. To confused people. To people who hate it. And to our brothers and sisters who are inside the Gospel, standing upon the Gospel, so that they may also know and live the power and work of Jesus Christ.


That kind of better ...

HT: Tom Ascol

I don't care who you are You must see the new series of Apple vs. PC commercials. Even if you are tired of the debate, the ads are funny.

Well, because they're true.

Another dip


Yeah, so I was reading along as if I didn’t have anything else to do. I’ve been working on the rough outline of what to say to Doug Wilson’s To a Thousand Generations for a while now – at least since his office sent me a copy to review – and since I have spouted off about this elsewhere, I’ll spout a little here today and let you good people have a whack at what I’m thinking.

The first thing I’d say about Presbyterian baptismal theology is this: it’s consistent. That is to say, it hangs together very well. It’s obviously well-considered. All the pieces fit the way I’d like them to fit. It’s very systematic, which of course is very appealing. So they baptize babies, and they have this long list of reasons why it’s a great idea to do so, and the ideas seem to flow one from another.

And in Mr. Wilson’s case, he does one better than most of them: he means it and is willing to live with all the consequences. That’s not saying that many Presbyterians are hypocrites (not any worse than most Baptists are, anyway), but it is saying that, for example, if baptism equals covenant membership, and somebody gets covenant membership, we can’t go and start ex-covenanting them because we didn't really in-coveant them. So some baby that grows up to be Pope, to use the most aggravating example available, can’t be said to be “not a Christian” even though he necessarily advocates the essential belief that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven, or that one earns forgiveness in confession through penance. In Mr. Wilson’s view, if you got baptized, you’re in – and you put yourself at great peril if you behave as if you are actually “out”.

And that’s based on the whole matter of the covenant, right? Baptism is the covenant sign; it’s the initiation into the covenant, and that covenant is manifest in the church. Covenantalism – seeing God as establishing relationship as covenant – is the backbone of this view, whether it be the “I abjure FV” Presbyterianism or “I affirm FV” Presbyterianism.

This is a brief(?!) summary, so please forgive (and feel free to amend in the comments for my edification) any oversimplifications or errors.

But I’m not announcing that I’ve left the Baptist church for Presbyterianism today, so where am I driving this bus? Well, I’m going to spend all summer (so clear your calendars) recapping as much of the first 3 centuries of written stuff about baptism as I can round up to see if that’s what the fellows leading the church and exhorting others were saying about this rite back in the proverbial day. And let's be honest: it's a mixed bag.

Now, why do that? Because, in the first place, I don’t think any of these guys came out and said, “Pheh! Baby Baptism!” But at the same time, what did they say about baby baptism? And most importantly, what did they say about what baptism is for, what it does, and what we can use it to understand. I know I have personally been thinking and journaling about this for more than 2 years, and I’m at the place where I’m ready to think and write about this from the perspective, “If Scriptures says only this much (which is enough, btw), what did that teaching produce in others?”

Thus, we begin with Justin, in his First Apology, Chapter LXI.—Christian baptism:

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.
As I read this, I find three key points of interest, not necessarily underlined for emphasis, above. The first is this: Justin is very keen on associating the act of baptism with something in particular, namely the forgiveness of sins. There can be no doubt about that – if you want to refute that, you’ll have to go do that someplace else. You can’t read his statement highlighted in yellow, above, and come away with the idea that he didn’t really think baptism was associated with regeneration.

The big question, however, is how is baptism associated with regeneration? Does baptism cause regeneration? The blue highlighted section speaks to that specifically – concluding with the final underlined section.

The second key point of interest is what Justin does not specifically associate with baptism – namely, the new covenant. He calls this act a “[rite] we have learned from the apostles”, but the particular reason for the rite is not inclusion in the new covenant: it is to actively demonstrate choice and knowledge in what Christ has done for us. What is so exciting – from my baptistic perch – about this affirmation is that Justin has here contrasted the act with what we receive as children from and by our parents. From our parents we have received bad habits, and wicked training, but in Christ we receive something else which we demonstrate in baptism.

The last key point I would underscore for you is that Justin says we “dedicate ourselves to God” in baptism. Notice that he doesn’t mean that we apply baptism to ourselves (as someone leads us “to the laver”, as Justin says), but that in baptism we “dedicate” ourselves – which is to say, we commit or devote ourselves. We are willing, in other words, to do this thing. I'm sure that will lead to an explosive paedofaith steel-cage match, but here there's no way to construe what Justin is talking about as being infants with an unobserved faith.

Now, many of the people who read this blog are about to say, “well, what about Ignatius? What about the Epistle of Barnabas?” Dude: I said I was going to take all summer. Don’t get crazy because I didn’t start with your favorite ECF on this topic. We will get there. Let’s talk about this one – and I’d be willing to take any other part of First Apology into account in order to get clarity on this passage and this point.

Have at it.

another log on the fire

I was doing some reading after listening to some Piper this weekend, and in re-surveying the literature I was about to crack open, I found a very interesting bit from someone who will remain nameless at this time. I also admit that I have put his words in 21st century English, (and have inserted one editorial comment) so shame on me for bringing it up:
They divide the Scripture into four senses: the literal, the moral metaphor, allegorical and mystical or supernatural (which some also call the “liturgical”). The literal sense has become nothing at all, for these fellows have taken it clean away and have made it their own secret possession. They have partly locked it up with the false and counterfeited keys of traditions, ceremonies and feigned lies. You should understand that the Scripture has but one sense, which is the literal sense, and this literal sense is the root and ground of all and the anchor that never fails. If you hold fast to it, you can never make a mistake or wander off the path.
I don’t have much, really, to offer after this. It’s one of those striking citations from past troublemakers that makes you wonder if and when trouble will ever cease.

What do you think: is Scripture that clear?

My problem today

he first thing I do on Friday
is to read up on people in the news because it seems like a good idea. I say “seems” because after I do so, they always make me blog.

Saying that, let me be clear that I support the nomination of Dr. Ronnie Floyd for the presidency of the SBC. Whilst Gene Bridges is picking himself up off the floor, let me explain why, and then explain my problem.

I support Dr. Floyd because we aren’t going to get anybody better. Dr. Mohler isn’t going to think about it; Mark Dever isn’t going to think about it. Tom Ascol is not thinking about it. Frankly, I’m not thinking about it – as if I’d be better anyway, which I would not be, and I’m not even a pastor in the convention, so “pheh” to me. So given that none of my personal “dream” candidates will be in the mix, Dr. Floyd is qualified, gifted, and frankly inside the ballpark on the essentials (the “TR” question aside).

I also support Dr. Floyd because we could do much worse. I know you salivating carnivores are looking for me to dish on who is worse, but I’m not gonna do that. It is enough to say that there are probably 10 men in large churches today who might be considered by the convention and the Powers That Be® who would certainly be worse than Dr. Floyd in doctrine, in vision, in ability, and in spirit.

Now, I suppose that if Albert Mohler or Mark Dever somehow changed their minds about being willing to be considered, I’d be interested in discussing this again. However, that’s unlikely. Thus: I support Dr. Floyd, and God bless him as he leads the SBC as we can all anticipate that he will.

Now, what’s my problem?


I was reading Dr. Floyd’s blog (and who knew he was blogging? Is it really him?), and I came across this post, entitled “Right vs. Christ-like?” It begins thus:
One of my staff members sent me this phrase recently: “Most Christians would rather be right than Christ-like.” I am confident this statement is so needed in families, businesses, and in churches. Is that not a convicting word for all of us? It sure is to me.
OK: before the astute readers of the blog chime in, let’s be clear that near the bottom of that blog entry is this:
You can be right and be Christ-like at the same time. They do not have to be competing forces in your life. In fact, true rightness is done like Jesus would do it. When you evaluate Jesus’ life, He always did right, stood for right, and said what was right AND He always did it in the right way. A way that pictured godliness, holiness, and brought great glory to the Father.
Before airing this out, let’s remember something here: Dr. Floyd is not talking about righteousness here: he’s talking about “right action”. He spends a lot of ink in the actual link concerned about behavior and not justification by faith, so don’t get distracted by confusing what he is saying here with faith-plus-works. His point is that most Christians (and I am sure he means particularly “Baptists” since they don’t run a lot of Presbyterians through FBCS) would rather win an argument rather than be somebody who embodies the winning “argument”.

Yeah, fair enough. Pheh! Baptists! I’ve heard that somewhere before, but I’m not sure where ...
Anyway, I read that, I got his point, but I was still somewhat, um, lacking contentment with the rest of the post. For example, it also says this:

The Christian life is not about always being right. It is about being like Jesus. I remember this phrase that was said to me years ago: If Satan cannot get you to do the wrong thing, then he will try to get you to do the right thing in the wrong way! This is so true.
Seriously now: how many times can you be “like Jesus” and be “wrong” when it comes to the kinds of things Dr. Floyd is talking about here? I agree with him 100% in that the point is Christ-likeness – but you can’t be right unless you’re Christ-like.

So my problem today is really this: why would anyone create the separation necessary to make the statement, as above, that Christ-likeness sometimes means allowing yourself to be “wrong”? For example, when I used the 8-letter word of social disgrace earlier this month, was that Christ-like? Yeah, prolly not – so I was not Christ-like, and I was wrong. But was apologizing because I was wrong Christ-like? Of course it was! That’s not a pat on the back to me – that’s admitting that we are Christ-like and becoming more Christ-like when we are willing to reject sin.

Please: if you want to be right, admit to yourself that you must first be Christ-like in order to be right. If someone wants to beat me over the head about that, fine. But let’s never forget that there is no separation between being Christ-like and being right.

Even for leaders in the SBC.

Updated Christmas Card list

Far be it from me to start a rule 40 around here, but I had a discussion (if you can call it that) with Tim Enloe over the last 24 hours which doesn't need to be recounted, and doesn't need to be expanded upon. I still think well of Tim personally.

We (meaning: you-all, and me) are just not going to bring him up anymore. I wish him well in his future academic endeavors, and I wish him success in Scotland, and I pray God's blessing on his mariage and his future family.

Next topic.

The way to win

James: broken links have been fixed. Thx!

As many of you know, Brian Flemming declared himself the winner at the DebateBlog, and that’s fine – everyone needs to pad their resume, and if that helps him he’s welcome to it. I didn’t know that there was supposed to be a "winner" – I would have listed a point system in the rules if that was how I was looking at it.

Anyway, as the winner, Brian has recently posted a new set of rules for anyone who wants to debate him, and I thought it would be interesting to read them and see what they say. His blog entry looks like this:

So you would like to challenge me about the claims I make in The God Who Wasn't There?

No problem. But please understand that I get a lot of these requests, and I can't waste my time arguing with people who are not open to changing their minds or who haven't developed enough familiarity with the material.

So just download and sign this "Statement of Belief" PDF, have it notarized, then mail it to Beyond Belief Media. Then we can talk.

If you are unable to sign the Statement, we cannot talk any further, for one or both of the following reasons:

1) You are not familiar enough with the facts to be ready for a meaningful discussion at this time.

2) Your capacity to understand the facts is so compromised by your religious ideology that a conversation with you would be pointless.
Honestly, who wants to debate somebody who is not in the game, so to speak? It seems superficially reasonable that Brian is simply eliminating people who don’t have enough information to make a case for their own side.

I think that’s a great idea – and given that I have a Master of Arts in Literature in English, I think that Brian is making a fair demand that people who want to talk about the Bible as literature ought to know something about literature. For example: we should exclude people who do not have advanced degrees in literature, or any complete formal academic training.

Yes, Certainly. James White and William Lane Craig have the same kinds of rules. I agree. Well, that is until I read the PDF:

I believe it is possible that Jesus did not exist.

I believe there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the time of his alleged life.

I believe there are no written eyewitness accounts of the existence of Jesus Christ.

I believe the names of the Gospels were added well after their composition, and there is no good reason to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.

I believe there is no good reason to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ, or that any eyewitnesses to Jesus were involved in their composition.

I believe the Bible is not infallible. I believe it is common for religious cults to make things up.

I believe it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.

I believe that any claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.

I believe that no figures such as "God" or "The Holy Spirit" or "Satan" performed any supernatural actions that had any significant effect upon the formation of early Christianity.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.
Now, re-read the bits I highlighted there. Go on.

Do they sound familiar in some way? Ah yes! They do! They are actually all the premises of Brian’s argument! So it turns out that Brian doesn’t want to debate anybody that actually disagrees with him about his argument.

Dude: maybe we should check the definition of a "debate" before we provide this document to the world. This is more like a mutual admiration society. It is exactly like me saying, "In order to play at DebateBlog, you have to first sign off (with witnesses) the T4G affirmations and denials. After that, we can argue all day long."

It’s an easy way to stay undefeated, I am sure. You can say without any question, "after every debate I have ever had, the person I debated agreed with me."

Well, except for that self-deluded fundie centuri0n – but he’s a liar who’s not familiar with the facts.

ADDITIONAL secret technorati tags:

HT: BUGGY (nice work, man)

ON A SIMILAR NOTE: I'm looking for a community of like-minded people to synthesize a Wikipedia entry for me -- for me personally. If Brian Flemming can have a Wikipedia entry and not feel any pangs of self-indulgence, so can I.

Let me also say something about the entry: I would love it if guys like Armstrong and Johnson and even Tim Enloe created their own sections of this entry to express their concerns about me. It would be fantastic to get both the loyal fans and the loyal opposition to all make a wikipedia stew for my wiki-bio.

If it works out good, we can get Phil and the rest of TeamPyro wikipedia entries. Any all the sidekicks, too.

laid it on my heart

Just watch it for yourself.

HT: Tom Ascol.

Read this today

And I quote:
As most would know, I had been asked to have my name placed for nomination as President. In fact, at the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference the announcement was made. However, due to not getting the real peace I needed in my heart to do this, I called Ronnie one month ago and shared this with him. When I called him to share this conviction about myself, I shared with an equal conviction that I believed he was the man God had raised up for such a time as this to lead Southern Baptists. After prayer over these days, counsel from some of his staff and church leaders as well as others in Southern Baptist life, Dr. Floyd called me last Wednesday and informed me that he will humbly accept this nomination due to God speaking to him dramatically through Acts 16:6-10. He never sought it one moment, but was drafted supernaturally to let me nominate him to be our next President.
It's a good thing he's not being nomintaed for the president of IMB -- he seems a little Charismatic for that.

Controversy Over

Darlene said I was wrong, so I was wrong. Next time, I'll stick to the King James version.

I'm wrong. Sorry to be wrong. Next Subject.

Al Mohler said this

I mean, folks: we are living in Canaan -- and the Canaanite bookstores are all over the place. And the Canaanite literature is coming into ours. I mean, you have this world of ... of inherent polytheism, except it's now so made into a consumer reality that you can just kinda buy this and buy that ... I mean, we have stores that sell "angel" products. And by the way, these are not the angels in the Bible. In the Bible, when an angel shows up, you wet your pants. You don't put a little cherub up on your bathroom wall. It's a completely different thing. The angel has to say, in the Gospel of Luke, "look: don't die. We bring you good tidings of great joy."
-- T4G MP3, ~1:03
I'm sure Dr. Mohler will be getting the requisite fan mail concerning propriety of language.

burlesque and the bovine male

All right: the jello has hit the fan in the meta, and my use of a term which I have castigated an atheist for using has become a point of honor among many of the readers, so let's order a party tray from Quizno's and have a little round-table about the art of writing.

Unlike some people -- for example, iMonk -- I am somewhat self-conscious enough about what I write and have written not to try to tell anybody that "Mark Twain did it, too," or "it's just like Shakespeare, only younger". I also have a little bit of anxiety about calling myself any kind of an "artist" because I don't work on that big a scale. But with that qualification in place, let me say that writing is an art form. All writing requires a certain degree of art-skill rather than science-skill to execute, and then on the backside it requires a certain degree of art-appreciation and not science-analysis to grasp.

Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that you can't count all the occurances of the vowel "u" in some piece of writing and draw a conclusion from it. You can't put a text in a centrifuge and hope the weighter matters separate out from the clear, thin plasma. In order to read even this post on a blog you have to have some basic appreciation for the fact that the word "word" doesn't always mean "a written or printed character or combination of characters representing a spoken linguistic form", and the ability to perceive some degree of nuance.

Given that premise, I want to address a couple of things I think are critical in reading my blog. You can call this my apology for me if you like -- because that's exactly what it is.

First on the agenda: while I suffer from the pretention of having few pretentions (think about that for a minute), I have a significant animosity toward those who suffer from the pretention that a kind of vocabulary or a kind of bibliography equals authority. Without using the word which has stirred up all the raised eyebrows and stunned looks, the layman's version of that is that money walks and the excrement of a bovine male -- no matter how deep and wide it may be -- walks.

So when I write, the deeper and wider the trail of intellectual dung, the bigger the shovel I intend to use -- up to and including deisel-powered earth-moving equipment and the Alpheus and the Peneus rivers, if need be.

The second thing ought to be obvious by now, but I'm going to say it anyway: if you're looking for bloodless, passionless, gutless prose from me, you're reading the wrong blog. When it is appropriate and useful and moves the story along, I'll be glad to give you journalistic-like exposition. However, when someone is carrying his spagetti-like argument along on a teaspoon-sized logical plastic fork and wants me to pretend that he's not constantly trying to fold the noodles of his reasoning back onto the pile before they hit the floor, I'm going to call him on it and enjoy doing it. And you should enjoy it, too -- because that's part of the art of writing.

I'm not writing a research paper here -- even if I do take some time to make sure I have the facts straight when I open my blog mouth. I'm not standing on the pulpit of your church or any church -- and when I am tasked to teach in Sunday school or what have you, I use different rhetorical tools. What I am doing here is -- and I know this is a shock -- blogging.

I'm blogging! Can you believe it? There was a time when this kind of writing was called "satirical monologue", or "letter writing". It's a popular art form -- it is also called "editorializing". And in that, there's a third point to be made: my intention is to entertain in order to inform or influence. See: if you can "get" the humor/satire/pokes-in-the-eye, you are more than half-way to understanding my overall point. In fact, I think you cannot understand my overall point until you get the sharp stuff.

Some people look down their nose at such things as "polemical" and "unproductive" -- until they think they have dreamed up a few good zingers and then they try their hand at the plow. Usually, they can only muster up some name-calling, which isn't exactly the same thing.

Which brings us all the way back to the really-loud complaint I'm getting right now that I have used a particular word too much and too easily in the last few days. Now, by my count, I have dropped about 3.5 million words into the blogosphere over the course of this little exercise, give or take a couple hundred thousand. All in all, Blogger says I have made more than 660 posts -- not including TeamPyro posts or comments in the meta (which it is a shame not to count). And in that tally, I have used this word about 7 times, including the meta. You know: not to be scientific or anything.

It's not on the tip of my tongue, but I admit it comes up. But why does it come up?

It comes up when someone in the meta uses it in the place of a reply to reasonable questions -- and I admit that I machine-gunned him with it. On purpose. See: it's one thing to say, "golly, that kind of language is a little rough, buddy," and another to make the point that rough language will not end the conversation or intimidate. Being a prude about a word that someone has introduced into a discussion in order to bully you and show how tough he is plays into his hands. If he can derail the conversation into school-marm finger-wagging, you never get back to the real point. And notice: when faced with the choice of having to defend his word when it was used against him or get back on track, what happened in that discussion?

The other time I used that word this week, I used it in order to make the point to a certain operatic harlequin that the kind of accusation he was making had no basis in fact -- and I admit that it was to verbally shock him (and you). As I think about the ways I have made the point that the 8-letter word made in that post in the rest of the blog, I suppose I could have used the words "daffy" or "ridiculous". I also might have juxtaposed "heretic" with "clown", but the problem there is that there are only two people upon whom I can placed the label "clown" in the blog proper, and one of them was the subject of the post, so my point wouldn't have been quite as interesting.

So that's why I did what I did. Was it right? I'll think about it some more and get back to you. In the meantime, don't pretend I didn't warn you or that my style and approach are somehow a secret. Even in my first series on Tony Campolo, I wasn't using the kid gloves.

Klarabell Johnson

Well, I promised that I'd get back to antagonizing the internet riff raff, and I had no idea that I'd have such a great opportunity immediately. Alert Reader Gene Bridges sent me a link to the execretous Kevin Johnson, and of course it results in the post you see here today.

Kevin saith thus:
I read with some amusement the post over at Flame Throwers Anonymous praising the new version of BibleWorks 7. For the uninitiated, BibleWorks is a computer program that gives you thousands of different texts of the Bible in different languages that you can't even read or speak as well as the underlying Greek and Hebrew tools all in a Ginsu steak knife like package.
Before we get to the fun part, let me admit something: I think Kevin is right about one thing here. BibleWorks is not for everybody. For example, if you couldn't write a decent expository essay on Keats or Yeats in college, BibleWorks is not going to help you write decent exposition on Paul or David or John or Isaiah or Moses, etc.

Neither, btw, will having a blog, or having MSWord instead of a quill, a pot of ink and a piece of parchment. That doesn't make MSWord or WordPress or Blogger the culprit for blogs like Kevin's.
However, it can lend itself to the idea that exegesis is really a matter of scientific computation more than anything else. After all, it's all right there on the screen for anyone to see.

One of the problems with this thesis is that it wasn't a very insightful or probing observation when Perry and Tim made it about 18 months ago, and Kevin here parroting it in order to taunt a fellow PyroManiac improves it about as much as opening a can of tuna improves the smell of your kitchen after frying chicken livers.

Pray, tell us Kevin: who exactly approaches the Bible text as if exegesis was a "scientific calculation"? I am sure there are a lot of guys who pass by this blog with "Dr." in front of their names, but among them I don't know any who try to determine how many ergs there are in a given passage of Scripture, or if Scripture has pharmacological properties heretofore only experienced in Assemblies of God congregations.

Don't have any names? OK: so what are you talking about?

Actually, the program is a great tool for those properly using the original languages-don't get me wrong. Used correctly it is an exceptional way for informed Christians to use many of the best sources available in studying the Scriptures especially in regards to the original languages.
Unless, of course, they are reformed baptists. Kevin can correct me if he has an objection to my interpretation of his veiled disdain.
But, I think it would be very easy for people who live in a world that emphasizes the importance of original language exegetical work coupled with an overly scientific or systematic view of how to interpret the text to rely too heavily on the information BibleWorks can provide. It's also dangerously easy for the uninformed to spend the $349, load it up on their computer, and use the information now at their fingertips the way a medieval peasant farmer might have used his lord's broadsword. The term "reckless endangerment" comes to mind.
That kills me. Again, Kevin: how about a short list of users of BibleWorks -- like 3 or 5 names -- who have done what you suggest here.

"reckless endangerment"? When you take the iPod off and hang up your cell phone and take the Rt 44 Slushie out from between your legs and put both hands on the steering wheel of your theology, Kevin, then I will be glad to listen to your lectures on who is endangering whom. Until then, bub, you keep weaving over the yellow line and you're making the guy driving the WAL*MART truck nervous.
And don't we see similar engagements regarding the text of Scripture in the blogosphere? There are the particular websites we all know about, usually in bold and bright colors, waxing eloquent about what the Bible says and how certain heretical types are most certainly wrong-"Thus Saith the Lord" is everywhere and anywhere against those of us who look to more careful and studied approaches to the text of Scripture and how it should be interpreted.
Well, the jealousy over blog design looks uglier on you than your normal mode of open-nostril huffiness, but again: dude, name names. You think I can think less of you because you mustered the chutzpah to use my name in your blog to attract traffic? I would actually think more of you for trying to attract my readers. It would show that you finally wanted to hear what people wanted to say about your daffy views.

I'd also like you to search my blog for the word "heretic", and then "apostate". OK: now search it for the word "bullshit". Isn’t that amazing? I have used the word "bullshit" to describe bad theology, but I have not used the word "heresy" or "apostasy".

How can that be? Didn’t I use the right test tube to mix my expository brew?

However, one has to give Kevin credit for good form. His crescendo is well-placed and comes exactly at the moment we either need a payoff or will click "next blog":

Then there are of course the comment threads that worm their way all through the Internet where biblical interpretation becomes a matter of short snippets of "prove this and establish that" and "if you don't succumb to our demands requests in that regard you're not even engaging in proper Christian dialogue about a subject".
As opposed to the blogs which close the comments threads when the blog owner is challenged and cannot back up his screed with the most remotely fact-like substantiation. Those other blogs -- fiendish! But the blogs which only foster agreement through anathema -- that's real ecclesiastical enlightenment. Those are the landmarks of universal brotherhood in Christ.
Go ahead, drop BibleWorks into the hands of those that type such things and watch the difference in discussion go from polite but uninformed dialogue to the sort of explosive but tragic silliness we see where the dogs bark and the fire never goes out.
As a devoted user of the Libronix ESV which came with my ESV (for free), I'd like to point out that Kevin, of course, doesn't have any idea what he's talking about. One of the things that makes internet discussions explosive and tragic is when one injects a monumental amount of stupidity into any subject, and because Kevin has such a massive stash of the stuff, every discussion he enters into turns into, well, this.

Before we part ways with the Koffee King, there's a comment from his meta that deserves a little autopsy:
What is necessary for one to rightly interpret the Scriptures? In this day and age, I think the missing element is the witness and participation of the covenant community we know as the Church in the hermeneutical process as well as the use of Scripture in liturgical settings quite apart from our own polemic interests. That would propel us far along the road to rediscovering Scripture as it has been and should be received.
I want to imagine something here. I am imagining Timothy, in Ephesus, with those plainly-Baptist miscreants he is trying to superintend for the sake of the Gospel. I say plainly-Baptist not because I think that Baptists predated the fellow in Rome but because only Baptists could behave like the folks in Ephesus -- you know, the panoply of warnings Paul issued in Eph 4 & 5 were not because they randomly occurred to Paul as he was blogging -- and call themselves Christians. But that aside, there is Timothy walking in Ephesus from the marketplace to the house where he is staying, and a messenger runs up to him. He hands the young man a scroll, and as Timothy turns the scroll over to the seal to open it, he sees the notation: "do not open until the Eucharist."

Because, you see, that letter can only be rightly understood in a covenant community in a liturgical setting. Timothy reading that letter as if Paul wrote it to him, for him, for the sake of his personal ministry and work, would be a tragedy. And, for example, for me to read it as if it was written to and for Timothy would of course be tantamount to drinking instant coffee. Perhaps if we had an abacus, we could work out the computations more formally ...

Brian's closer

Listen: I was about to respond to a couple of things at his personal slumdance blog, but after this closer, I don't need to.

Brian, if you're reading this, here's all I ask: You have obviously interviewed Richard Carrier. If you have not read his written work on this subject (particularly, his essay in The Empty Tomb), read it, and then read the sources in translation he says influenced the NT. While your point may be that "similarity" between Jesus and Romulus, or Jesus and Mithra, or Jesus and Attis is just enough to cause "suspicion", that is not Carrier's position.

However, to think honestly about what Carrier has proposed requires comparing the source texts. If the earlier source represents what Carrier says it does to the later source, the connection should be transparent -- because where that connection truly does exist in other cases (for example, Mark to Luke; Exodus to Matthew; Exodus to Hebrews; Daniel to Revelation; Homer to Dryden; etc.) you can place the texts side by side, read them together and the light bulb goes off.

After that, you can blame me all you want. If your testing reveals the kind of relationship Carrier asserts, publish it and put an end to the lie of Christian faith in the Bible, and blame Frank Turk for putting you on this job. If it doesn't, be equally brave and publish it, and admit that this piece of "probabilistic" evidence is nothing of the sort -- and without it, the myth of the myth of Jesus cannot stand.


I decided to go visit Brian Flemmings blog for his perspectives on the DBlog exchange, and I can't find the comment links for his posts.

Has he shut down comments at his blog?

Fear and clothing

OK: before I bore you all to tears with addenda to the last exchange on DBlog, I have one last thing I want to talk about and then we can get back to more important stuff – like making fun of other Christians and antagonizing bloggers with more traffic than this site.

Brian Flemming said this:
I should mention that the above essay merely skims some conclusions that I have reached in my own research. This essay is by no means a comprehensive representation of the mythicist case, nor is The God Who Wasn't There, which is merely an introduction to the case. Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier and others (none of whom I speak for here) have made the case and various facets of it more comprehensively and far better than I can. I would encourage readers of the DebateBlog to experience these works directly, especially if you fear them.
The underlined part there is what grabs my attention.

See: when a Christian expresses the Gospel, there is no doubt that part of the message is about something scary. After all, we’re talking about a savior, right? And a savior is not someone who saves us from ice cream or from endearing friendship, is it? No: if we are talking about a savior, he must be saving us from something bad. The definition of “savior” is “one that saves from danger or destruction”; if we want a savior, or need a savior, or are talking about a savior, we are talking about something else dangerous that, frankly, we should have some kind of apprehension over.

In order to deliver the Gospel, we have to deliver the bad news, the danger that all men are facing without Christ. And part of that news is that Christ himself is coming back as the judge of all men. So the choice we are offering is that there is danger, that Christ can deliver you from the danger, but that if you reject His help He will be the judge who makes sure that you do not escape the danger – the punishment of your sin.

So in one way, we are saying, “You should fear this person Jesus – let me tell you about him.”

But in what way should I fear Doherty, Price, Carrier, or any of Flemming’s experts? Let me admit that I think Earl Doherty is a scary guy, but not in a way that makes me want to give him a bigger slot in my PDA’s calendar. In the best possible case for Flemming and his war on Easter, these fellows offer a truth which is a hollow victory for rationalism.

What do I mean by that? I mean that even if their case is not like trying to carry a pound of boiled angel hair pasta on a KFC spork, and that in fact they can prove that there’s no Jesus, they offer nothing to compete with the positive implications in faith in Christ.

For example, Brian was obliging enough to offer this in his last answer to me at the DebateBlog:

Growing up Christian and attending Christian schools, I heard about Jesus a lot. No doubt some of the values I hold I first learned from Jesus, if only by default.

So, what in Christianity has been "beneficial or worthwhile" to me? I guess it would be those things that I grabbed from between the nasty bits and made part of my own value system.
Now: that is a huge concession by any atheist. I’ll go on-record to say that I have never heard any atheist make that kind of concession while in a debate over the existence of God or Jesus.

But it is large enough that it leaves the door wide open to asking: so how will atheism fill that gap after the abolition of Jesus?

If atheism offers nothing to those who cannot self-actualize, it also offers nothing regarding a sustaining moral direction -- not because atheists today are bad people who have vicious ideas of right and wrong, but because the way they learned about right and wrong is the very thing they are attacking.

The source of western values is Christian philosophy; the way those values have been taught for millennia has been Christ and the Bible. If we count those things as the great evil lie which Eusebius and his ilk fabricated out of the hodge-podge of legends started by disgruntled Jews who wanted to be more like the pagans around them, the methods of instilling moral behavior in the next generation are gone.

Unless Brian knows something that no other atheist has been able to explain in the last 150 years. You see: you can’t throw out the Jesus but keep his wardrobe and expect to wear it as if it has always been yours. It doesn’t fit you, and everyone can spot a kid in hand-me-downs from a mile away. And nobody I know is afraid of a kid who’s wearing second-hand shoes.

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Obviously Mark

Yes, I know this is a lot of text and no comic book pictures. Sorry to interrupt your day.

I have two texts that I’d like the readers of this blog to compare, just for their own peace of mind. The first comes from a fellow names Livy, who wrote this around 10 AD:
After these immortal achievements, Romulus held a review of his army at the `Caprae Palus' in the Campus Martius. A violent thunder storm suddenly arose and enveloped the king in so dense a cloud that he was quite invisible to the assembly. From that hour Romulus was no longer seen on earth. When the fears of the Roman youth were allayed by the return of bright, calm sun-shine after such fearful weather, they saw that the royal seat was vacant. Whilst they fully believed the assertion of the Senators, who had been standing close to him, that he had been snatched away to heaven by a whirlwind, still, like men suddenly bereaved, fear and grief kept them for some time speechless. At length, after a few had taken the initiative, the whole of those present hailed Romulus as ` a god, the son of a god, the King and Father of the City of Rome.' They put up supplications for his grace and favour, and prayed that he would be propitious to his children and save and protect them.

I believe, however, that even then there were some who secretly hinted that he had been torn limb from limb by the senators-a tradition to this effect, though certainly a very dim one, has filtered down to us. The other, which I follow, has been the prevailing one, due, no doubt, to the admiration felt for the man and the apprehensions excited by his disappearance. This generally accepted belief was strengthened by one man's clever device. The tradition runs that Proculus Julius, a man whose authority had weight in matters of even the gravest importance, seeing how deeply the community felt the loss of the king, and how incensed they were against the senators, came forward into the assembly and said: `Quirites! at break of dawn, to-day, the Father of this City suddenly descended from heaven and appeared to me. Whilst, thrilled with awe, I stood rapt before him in deepest reverence, praying that I might be pardoned for gazing upon him, `Go,' said he, `tell the Romans that it is the will of heaven that my Rome should be the head of all the world. Let them henceforth cultivate the arts of war, and let them know assuredly, and hand down the knowledge to posterity, that no human might can withstand the arms of Rome.'' It is marvellous what credit was given to this man's story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief which had been created in the immortality of Romulus.
You can read the entire text of Livy’s work here.

Now, in contrast to that story, here’s another by a fellow about 60 years later, give or take a few years. The writer is called “Mark” by history, and his composition looks like this:
    [Mark 15] And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole Council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

    Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

    And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

    And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

    And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"

    There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

    And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

    [Mark 16] When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back--it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you." And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The reason I provide this comparison is that it is the assertion of Richard Carrier – one of Brian Flemming’s panel of experts – that:
At the end of his life, amidst rumors he [Romulus] was murdered…and dismembered, just like the resurrected deities Osiris and Bacchus), a darkness covered the earth, thunder and wind struck, and Romulus vanished, leaving no part of his body or clothes behind; the people wanted to search for him but the Senate told them not to, “for he had been taken up to the gods”; most people then went away happy…but “some doubted”; later, Proculus…reported that he met him “on the road,” and asked him “Why have you abandoned us?” to which Romulus replied that he had been a god all along, but had come down to earth to establish a great kingdom and now had to return to his home in heaven…a scene so obviously a parallel to Mark’s ending of his Gospel that nearly anyone would have noticed —and gotten the point. Indeed, Livy’s account, just like Mark’s emphasizes that “fear and bereavement” kept the people “silent for a long time,” and only later did they proclaim Romulus “God, Son of God, King,and Father.”

Already, the Romulan celebration looks astonishingly like a skeletal model of the passion narrative…It certainly looks like the Christian passion narrative is a deliberate transvaluation of the Roman Empire’s ceremony of their founding savior’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. (Empty Tomb, 181)
I think it is interesting how this particular assertion fares when you compare the texts for yourself. Not only does Carrier’s description of, for example, Livy’s narrative leave something to be desired, the claim that the account of Romulus’ end and the “end” of Christ are “astonishingly alike” needs some fleshing out.

By anyone. Anyone who can make the generalization stick after viewing the two works side by side ought to do so here. These works are only alike in that they are literature at all.
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I was reading another blog yesterday, and someone over there made a reference to Eusebius saying this:
We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.
This person, who is Brian Flemming btw (no reason to talk about him as if it were a secret), makes that citation in this context:
Even on the off chance that back then evidence arose to question the veracity of the gospels, we can have relative confidence that church leaders would suppress or destroy it.

Historical accuracy was most certainly not the first priority for the early church. Church father Eusebius probably puts it best in his own words: "We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."

If the legend was false, how was it maintained as dogma? Just ask Eusebius. It was useful. It didn't matter whether it was true or false. That's pretty obvious.
We can be grateful, btw, that Brian has the circumspection to include his source for that quote, which is Wikipedia. You have to admire a guy who is honest about where he gets his information.

The problem, however, for Brian's point is at least three-fold.

FOLD #1: What was Wikipedia's purpose in expressing Eusebius' words here?

The passage in Wikipedia goes like this:
The limitations of Eusebius could be said to flow from his position as the first court appointed Christian theologian in the service of the Constantine Roman Empire. Notwithstanding the great influence of his works on others, Eusebius was not himself a great historian. His treatment of heresy, for example, is inadequate, and he knew very little about the Western church. His historical works are really apologetics. In his Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 8, chapter 2, he points out, "We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."

In his Praeparatio evangelica (xii, 31), Eusebius has a section on the use of fictions (pseudos) as a "medicine", which may be "lawful and fitting" to use [3]. With that in mind, it is still difficult to assess Eusebius' conclusions and veracity by confronting him with his predecessors and contemporaries, for texts of previous chroniclers, notably Papias, whom he denigrated, and Hegesippus, on whom he relied, have disappeared; they survive largely in the form of the quotes of their work that Eusebius selected and thus they are to be seen only through the lens of Eusebius.

These and other issues have invited controversy. For example, Jacob Burckhardt has dismissed Eusebius as "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity". Burckhardt is not alone in holding such a view. However, Professor Michael J. Hollerich thinks such criticisms go too far. Writing in "Church History" (Vol. 59, 1990), he says that ever since Burckhardt, "Eusebius has been an inviting target for students of the Constantinian era. At one time or another they have characterized him as a political propagandist, a good courtier, the shrewd and worldly adviser of the Emperor Constantine, the great publicist of the first Christian emperor, the first in a long succession of ecclesiastical politicians, the herald of Byzantinism, a political theologian, a political metaphysician, and a caesaropapist. It is obvious that these are not, in the main, neutral descriptions. Much traditional scholarship, sometimes with barely suppressed disdain, has regarded Eusebius as one who risked his orthodoxy and perhaps his character because of his zeal for the Constantinian establishment." He concludes that "the standard assessment has exaggerated the importance of political themes and political motives in Eusebius's life and writings and has failed to do justice to him as a churchman and a scholar".

While many have shared Burckhartdt's assessment, others, while not pretending to extol his merits, have acknowledged the irreplaceable value of his works. {Emph added}
Let's be clear that this entry doesn't paint an overly-rosy picture of Eusebius, but in demonstrating Eusebius' shortcomings, it says something else about ancient historians in general. Particularly, the Eusebius does not represent a class of dishonest church historians but that he stands alone as a kind of ancient historian, and that very few (if any) other historians did what he confessed to doing.

Wikipedia's citation here is meant to inform us of the uniqueness of Eusebius' position, not to denigrate a class of historians or to denigrate church history as a practice.

FOLD #2: When was Eusebius writing?

In the discussion at DBlog on the topic of Jesus, Brian has made a very big deal about the lack of contemporaniousness of the Gospels to the period in which Jesus was supposed to have lived. You can read for yourself what kind of big deal it is in his view. My point here is that the Gospels were written -- even in Brian's view -- only about 30-40 years after the events they claim to be describing, and that brings them into suspicion of being fiction.

Eusebius was born in the late third century. In the best case, that means that Eusebius was writing about 250 years after the composition of the first Gospel.

Well, so what? If the Gospels, because of their dating, cannot be trusted to report the events they describe -- or rather, to stay inside the bounds of Brian's arguments, ought to be viewed with adequate suspicion -- after only 30 years of disconnection, in what way can Eusebius be employed to speak in any way reliably about the intentions of writers nearly 3 centuries prior to himself? Even if Eusebius is openly hostile to truth, and is confessedly a manipulator of facts, the grounds for rejecting the Gospels as an account of the life of Jesus must be applied equally to Eusebius as an account of hat the writers before him did.

FOLD #3: What was Eusebius' purpose and function in writing the statement Brian cited?

Let's let Eusebius speak for himself:

[The Events which preceded the Persecution in our Times, cf. VIII, 1] were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies. When also, according to another prophetic word, “Contempt was poured out upon rulers, and he caused them to wander in an untrodden and pathless way.”

But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them, as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment.

Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.
{Emph added}
Now, think on this: what Eusebius is here confessing is not that he is a liar or a fabricator. This passage is Eusebius' confession that he's not writing an encyclopedic or exhaustive history of these times, but instead is writing a history which is about the faithful people only and not about those who, after being persecuted, departed from the church.

That's hardly a crime, and it's hardly dishonesty in the sense that Brian would like to promulgate. Thus, even if Wikipedia had intended to use Eusebius to indict all Christian history in the first 3 centuries of its existence, and even if Eusebius could be used to gage the intentions or opinions of the writers of the Gospels and the rest of the NT, there is still the fact that Eusebius is here not confessing to historical revisionism but is simply stating his intention not to write a history of the whole of Roman civilization but only that of the faithful who survived persecution.

See: that's why this work is called Church History.

Sorry to be so unreliable in terms of daily blogging, btw. As you can imagine, I have been busy.

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