A bad argument for purgatory

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I’ve started listing to Pints with Aquinas very recently. So recently that I only just listened to episode four today. But you’ve had a few too many pints with Aquinas if you think the host’s argument for purgatory is a good one.

The podcast is well made and easy to listen to, and Matt Fradd presents it well. His dedication not only to his audience but to Christ is evident, and his passion is contagious. But I don’t know how long I’ll be listening. Time will tell. In today’s episode (ie the one I listened to today), I rolled my eyes as Matt repeated as fact the chestnut that all of the books used in the Catholic Bible were accepted by Christians until the Reformation, when Protestants started throwing out books that contradicted their theology. Nobody faithfully representing history in an informed manner would say this, as I’ve shown in the past. Is the podcast going to turn out to just be another bad Catholic apologetics ministry? I hope not. As I said, time will tell. The podcast might turn out to be my all-time favourite! Continue reading “A bad argument for purgatory”

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How to escape the Bible with your theology intact

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There is a way of using the Bible to support your theology that really just amounts to doing everything in your power to avoid what the Bible has to say so that you can escape from the ravages of Scripture with your precious doctrine still intact.

Without naming names, over the last year I have had several conversations about the doctrine of hell with people who advocate the doctrine of eternal torment, where they argued in a manner very much like John in the following conversations (right down to the same phraseology, eg “equally likely as an interpretation” and “use Scripture to interpret Scripture”):

Karen: Hi John. Have you read passage A? It seems to pretty clearly deny the doctrine of eternal torment. It says that one day the lost will be destroyed. They will die and be gone. Don’t you agree?

John: No, I don’t think so. I think eternal torment is equally likely as an interpretation. Continue reading “How to escape the Bible with your theology intact”

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You don’t matter just because I care

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We can’t erase the fact that abortion is homicide just because we aren’t as attached to the unborn as we are to other humans. The truth is that whether or not your life has value, and whether or not you are disposable, cannot be determined by how I feel about you.

There’s a view that pro-lifers (those who think it is wrong to kill unborn humans) are ignoring the reality that the death of an unborn child is less tragic than the death of somebody else. The death of an unborn is not the death of a human – not really – and actually we all know it, because we react differently to the death of an unborn child than to the death of somebody else. So wrote one blogger:

If you try to get pregnant and fail, it is frustrating. If you have a heavy menstruation slightly late, suggesting that fertilization occurred but the pregnancy failed very early on, it is even sadder. But it is not the same as managing to be pregnant for several months and then finding that the fetus has died. And that in turn is nowhere near as tragic as having your delivery date arrive and the child be stillborn.

Mothers know this. Fathers who’ve experienced any aspect of this know it too. And so how can so many people nonetheless accept the stark and unnuanced claim that “abortion is murdering babies” without a blink?

Continue reading “You don’t matter just because I care”

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Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God

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Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.

At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:

Continue reading “Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God”

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Pro-life slogans and groupthink

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I’ve seen a couple people share this picture. I’ve removed the original speaker’s name, but he’s a relatively well-known speaker in Evangelical circles and is does a lot of work in Christian apologetics. I also have no particular issue with him in general, so I didn’t want to make it about him at all.

Think about what is stated here:

If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary.
However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate.

You may think it unfair to criticise such a short piece of text. Surely I’m taking things out of context. I disagree. Someone put this picture together to share, all by itself. Presumably the intention in sharing it is that someone will see it and see that it really spells out a simple truth in a clear and concise way. I don’t believe that even couched in a much longer talk, the meaning of what is claimed here could properly be construed in anything other than a direct, literal way.

When I saw this picture being shared, I asked pro-lifers (those of us who believe that abortion is, prima facie, morally indefensible) not to share it. I asked them to be more careful and critical than that. Continue reading “Pro-life slogans and groupthink”

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Hell and broken thinking

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Life is worth nothing. Having eternal life is worth nothing. Nothing at all. Enjoying eternity with God is not something to be prized, so if you lose it, you have lost nothing. No big deal. It has no value. If you lost your life, or you had the chance of eternal life taken from you (when it is actually a real possibility), then you have lost nothing at all. Zip.

If you tell anybody that this is not so, then you’re not a real Christian, but a phony. If you deny these things, then you’re accursed. You must tell people that these things are true, because if you tell them anything else, you’re not being loving. You’re just letting them die in their sins. If you want to be faithful to God, then you must tell people that their lives are worthless, and that there is no value in eternal life. This is an essential part of defending the Gospel.

Of course none of that is true. It is bizarre, false, and certainly not a view that I would ever call biblical or Christian. And yet, I have just read an article by the head of a major Evangelical apologetics organisation in which he claimed all of these things. Continue reading “Hell and broken thinking”

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Pat answers: No, do not steal his wallet

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So I have this problem with Christian pat answers.

I recently watched a clip of footage from a conference where a panel of experts (or so I assume) was addressing pastoral, moral and theological questions. This question was basically: My brother isn’t a Christian. He doesn’t believe that there’s any such thing as sin, so we don’t need to be saved from it. What should I say to him?

Listen to the answer for yourself: Continue reading “Pat answers: No, do not steal his wallet”

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Book Review: The End of Apologetics

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Myron Bradley Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013) (Follow this link to get the book in electronic format from Logos.)

Full disclosure: I do not publicly label myself an “apologist.” However, in some ways that’s what I am just by virtue of many of the things that I do and say, and there are others who refer to me that way. At times I defend the truth claims of Christianity against criticisms, and at times I offer reasons for thinking that those claims are true. That is what “apologetics” means here. I have my share of problems with the “apologetics culture,” if I can speak of any such thing. But I appreciate the fact that I can separate apologetics per se from the various cultural forms in which it is expressed.

Myron Penner quite openly does not have this appreciation, or indeed much regard at all for the practice of Christian apologetics. What follows is my review of his book where he explains himself. The review is not exhaustive, so there may well be times where somebody reading this review might note “but you didn’t note that Penner says….” I probably did not. But I have read it, and if I didn’t mention it here it’s because I think that what I do say here takes it into account.

Further disclosure: Given some of my reservations about certain aspects of the apologetics culture, I expected that I might find at least a considerable amount of agreement with this book. But I may as well honestly say that I did not. I disagreed with nearly all of it, and also found it disagreeable (those two reactions are quite different from each other).

Here goes… Continue reading “Book Review: The End of Apologetics”

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Are “fundies” inconsistent on homosexuality?

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It happens far too often that somebody thinks that they are criticisng simplistic fundamentalism, when in fact they are the practitioner, rather than the genuine critic, of simplistic thinking.

Someone recently pointed out a video clip of a guy named John talking about homosexual relationships and the Bible. This is the point where I would normally offer a one-sentence summary of what his central claim is, but I’m not absolutely sure what it is. It has something to do with homosexuality, the f-word (fundamentalists), and consistency. Here’s the clip:

Continue reading “Are “fundies” inconsistent on homosexuality?”

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How not to argue against Protestantism

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Several months ago a Catholic friend of mine made a comment about a church. It was an Anglican church that every year seeks attention by putting up potentially offensive posters that have been known in the past to mock tradition Christian theology (the church has a reputation as being theologically liberal). My friend did not suggest that this showed that Anglicanism itself was wrong (it’s important to add that).

In a rather unfortunately display of something I see far too often when churches and their mistakes are being discussed, a fellow came along and suggested that (my paraphrase) this is what happens when churches abandon God’s true church that Jesus founded, the Catholic church, and they don’t follow the papacy, which is the true repository of apostolic teaching.  Then the argument was clearly stated: Without the English Reformation and the Anglican Church, the above incident would not have happened, and hence the Anglican church shouldn’t exist and the Reformation was a mistake.

So I replied to this stranger:

Greg, maybe a course in philosophy would help here, but the fact that A would not exist without B, and A is bad, does not mean that B should not exist. Sex abuse by Catholic priests would not exist if the Catholic Church did not exist. But clearly that does not mean that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist. Your partisanship is clouding your reason. Put down that hobby horse.

Of course the same is true of any church: Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and so on. Churches, just like any organisation, provide a place where people can do the same bad things people would do no matter where they were. But this fellow was Catholic, so the above example was more appropriate.

Now what happened next? Was I offered a reason to re-think the logic of this counter-example? No. I received a message from Mr Matheson telling me that he didn’t “like” my comment, and asked that it be removed. Naturally, I declined. The only reasons to dislike the above statement might be that one sees that it undercuts their argument but can’t think of a good way to respond (as I believe was the case here), or one misunderstands the statement to mean its opposite, namely that sex abuse in the Catholic church does show that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist – although I struggle to see how anyone could honestly believe that this is what was meant.

Imagine my surprise then, when I logged into Facebook today and saw this:

There’s no recourse to this – no way of appealing or objecting to this bizarre decision, so that’s really the end of the matter – not that I mind. It’s just a Facebook conversation with a stranger after all. You can read Facebook’s community standards here, where I think you’ll see that in fact my comment doesn’t get close to violating any of them. As far as I can see this is nothing more than a case of intellectual cowardice in the utmost: Running scared from a rebuttal and then having it hidden from public view so that nobody sees how one’s argument was undermined.

But if this incident highlights anything, it offers advice to my Catholic friends: Don’t argue against Protestantism (or anything else) this way. Yes, the Reformation, like the counter-reformation, like Vatican II, like movements within medieval Catholicism, like movements within Protestantism, the scientific revolution, and indeed like the very existence of the Catholic church itself, may have made some unfortunate things possible. But that never, by itself, shows that something is wrong, that it should not exist, or that it should not have happened. If you do, you may end up with somebody offering a response that you really wish the world couldn’t see.

Glenn Peoples

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