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March 2018 Archives

March 1, 2018

When minimal is minimizing [Updated]

I recently ran across a discussion on Reasonable Faith from 2015 that represents, I'm sorry to say, some of the most problematic tendencies in presenting a minimal facts argument for the resurrection of Jesus and the truth of Christianity. I have discussed problems with this argument here, and this post will be a companion piece to that one.

The 2015 discussion, by Dr. William Lane Craig, is an answer to a question from a reader. The reader (Joe) suggests, in my opinion quite rightly, that we should argue in an apologetic context for the accuracy and reliability of the gospels rather than their inerrancy and inspiration. If we take "accuracy" and "reliability" in Joe's question/suggestion in a normal sense, this seems like a legitimate suggestion.

But Dr. Craig, in answering, writes as though he is agreeing with Joe but takes his answer in a very strange and (to my mind) incorrect direction.

Continue reading "When minimal is minimizing [Updated]" »

March 5, 2018

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Because of Alessandro’s spectacles, Nicolò was able to see that the moon had mountains and seas. His sudden apprehension of the moon, so close and full, riding over them like a huge airship, endeared it to him forever. For perhaps the first time in his life he was lifted entirely outside himself and separated from his wants. As he contemplated the huge smoldering disc he was easily able to suspend time and the sensation of gravity, and a sort of internal electricity overflowed within him. It came in waves, and grew stronger and stronger as the moon glided from orange and amber to pearl and white. And then, after only a few minutes, the soul that had taken flight returned to a body in which the heart was pounding like the heart of a bird that has just alighted from a long fast flight.

“What happened to me?” he asked, with a convulsive shudder.

“When I was your age,” Alessandro said, “I had already learned to compress what you just experienced into bolts of pure lightning.”

Nicolò didn’t know what to think, so he stared ahead.


“When a great sight comes to sweep you down, fight it. It will take you, for sure, but keep your eyes open, and you can beat it, like molten steel, into beams of light.

“I used to take long walks in the city, and when I was able to immerse myself in a cross-fire of beautiful images I would ignite just as you did. It has many names, and is one of the prime forces of history, and yet it keeps itself hidden, as if it were shy.

“A favorite trick of mine, that I have since abandoned, was to concentrate the overflow upon the horses of the carabinieri to make them rear up on their hind legs and whinny. They’re very sensitive to human feelings, and when they know that you are greatly moved they will often react in sympathetic fashion.”

“How did you do that?”

“It wasn’t hard. I had to be all worked up, but when I was young I was like a perpetual lightning storm. I would concentrate upon the horse as if he were the emblem and paradigm of every horse that ever was or ever will be, and then throw the current across the gap.

“The horse would turn his head to me and draw it back, widening his eyes. Then he’d shudder as if a sudden chill had come over him. At that point I’d open the gates to let the power sweep out all at once, and he’d rear and cry out the way horses do, with a sound that seems able to pierce through all things.

“I’ll never forget the surprise of the carabinieri, the fall of their coats, and the banging of their swords as they stood rigidly in the stirrups so as not to be thrown. They were never angry. After the horses had expressed themselves so completely, they and their riders always seemed to regard each other with awe. More often than not, as I passed I would hear the rider saying to his agitated mount, ‘What got into you? What has moved you?’ You could see them patting the horses’ necks to calm them down.

“I don’t do it anymore. I’m not sure I could.

“But the moon, what a lovely thing. To see it makes me very happy. My wife’s face, especially when she was young, would have been perfect -- in the sense that she could have been a star in films -- had her eyes not been so full of love. When she smiles,” he said, indicating the cool glow that had begun to climb steeply into the sky, “it was as lovely as that.”

“This is how you’ve never left her,” Nicolò said.

Alessandro made a curt bow, closing his eyes for an instant. “In this and in many other ways, but they are not enough. My symbols, my parallels, my discoveries, cannot even begin to do her justice and cannot bring her back. The most I can do is to make the memory of her shine. So I touch lightly, ever so gently, seeking after gentle things, for she was gentle.

“Now look for the apposition,” he said, drawing himself up from what might have made him falter, “of the moon on the one hand, and the city of Rome on the other.”

March 11, 2018

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--a blog review, Part I

I've recently finished reading Richard Bauckham's fascinating work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. A reader has asked me what I think of the book, and during my webinar on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them, I noticed that a question came up in the sidebar chat box about Bauckham. Namely, where do I think Bauckham falls as far as the "bad habits of NT scholars"?

I decided that it was definitely a work worth reading all the way through, though it's long, and here is my not-terribly-well-organized review.

Continue reading "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--a blog review, Part I" »

March 12, 2018

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--a blog review, Part II

In this follow-up (part I is here), I'll be discussing some "pros" of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Most of the "cons" were in Part I.


--It's good to remember that Richard Bauckham was the man who brought the work of Israeli scholar Tal Ilan to the knowledge of New Testament scholars. He cataloged her lists of names from 1st-century Palestine and compared these with the gospels, showing the extremely good fit between the name frequencies in the gospels and the probable name frequencies in that region at that time. In that region as opposed to other regions with Jewish communities--Alexandria, for example.This information is discussed in chapter 3 of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

While someone like Bart Ehrman will be willfully dense and say that this doesn't mean that the documents are reliable, the relevance should be evident. There was no Google back then, no Wikipedia, not even a hard-cover set of encyclopedia Britannica. If you wanted to write fiction and were not personally familiar with the actual Jewish names used in Palestine during the time of Jesus' ministry, you would have no way of just looking this up. Does that entail that the incidents the gospels relate are true? No, but it certainly does show that they were written by people of the time and the region or by authors whose material came from such people. This certainly confirms, though it does not establish beyond doubt, the idea that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses of the purported events or companions of such eyewitnesses. This is especially striking in light of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and in light of such facts as that the gospel of John was almost certainly written in and disseminated from Asia Minor, not Palestine.

Continue reading "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--a blog review, Part II" »

March 15, 2018

Ken Miller is free!

Ken Miller is finally home! I don't know for sure if he is regarded as on probation for a time, but there is no future prison term hanging over him at the present time.

The "support" button has been taken down off the sidebar of the case. It's interesting to me that he and his friends obviously assume that he will now once more be able to support his (rather large) family again. I'm assuming that this means there is work available there in his supportive community, for which he will be paid. He was previously a pastor. Perhaps he will just seamlessly move back into that role.

There remains the civil case filed by Janet Jenkins against him and many others. It was allowed to proceed almost exactly a year ago. I have seen no action since then. I assume he will have legal expenses in connection with that.

March 17, 2018

St. Patrick and the monkish wealth of nations


Despite its scientific pretensions, political economy amounts to nothing more than the integration of wealth and assets across generations. This wealth and these assets are inexorably subject to decay. They perish, and the effort of integration remains uncertain, tenuous and fraught.

Rather than emulating the complacency of the astronomer, who operates with confidence that Rigel or Polaris, while not strictly speaking eternal, nevertheless may be studied on the postulate of functional eternity, the political economist should swallow his pride and adopt instead something reminiscent of the humility of the gardener. A gardener takes nothing for granted. The caprice of the world rises foremost in his mind. A ill-timed frost carries the potential for ruin. Drought may parch the most fruitful land; flood may inundate and destroy the most careful plantings.

The introduction of hard-science pride into political economy resembles the folly of the gardener who thinks that mobile weather apps will preserve his fruits and shrubs against the elements. Agonzied exclamations — “but my phone said it would stay above freezing!”— will be answered by supreme indifference.

The astute gardener knows, however, that much depends on his enterprise. He is idle no determinist. Observation, attentiveness, well-timed exertion, cooperation, intuition, implementation of prior discoveries: by these ancient contrivances, he may meet with some success.

The astute economist, likewise, knows that the root of all wealth is human enterprise — the application of intelligence and hard work to the natural resources of the planet. Wise stewardship preserves and expands the capital stock, which arises out of the God-given fruitfulness of mankind.

There were few greater geniuses of political economy than “the great company of Irish saints” of late antiquity, whose faithful supervision of the resources available to them, in the dying anarchy of the Roman order, preserved against ruin and decay the human wealth of the ancient world. These men, among whose number we include the enigmatic and beloved saint celebrated today, give to a hackneyed modern phrase renewed life and vitality. They were the supreme wealth managers of our ancestry. No one ever applied the gardener’s humble wisdom more piously to the integration of wealth across generations, than the monks of old.

What Whittaker Chambers wrote of St. Benedict, and of his great work in southern Europe, we may also say of the Irish saints of northern Europe:

At the touch of [their] mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages.

What these saints demonstrate for us today is the narrowness of our notions of wealth, prosperity, and economy. The academic discipline which takes for its title the latter word has all but forgotten the foundation of its subject-matter: the fruitfulness of human beings, as they pass their resources, material, intellectual, spiritual, from generation to generation.

The nine-thousand-year lease enjoyed by the Irish brewer whose product many of us will joyfully imbibe today, suggests a sounder horizon for thinking about economic prosperity: not the next paycheck, not the next quarter’s evanescent earnings report, but the true wealth of nations, unto to the next age, and the age after that.

The Celtic Church, though it ultimately submitted to the authority of the Papacy, had its own character and integrity. It had never known the secular, and was largely isolated from the ecclesiastical power of Rome — a fact that became manifest when St. Columbanus came to France and quarreled with the worldly and often decadent Frankish hierarchy. We do not know precisely how these quarrels were settled, but we can reasonably guess that the settlements, which avoided what would have been a disastrous schism, were the fruit of the holiness of Columbanus and Gregory the Great, who then sat on the Chair of St. Peter.

There is a lot of contempt, in modern thought, and in modern unthinking prejudice, for the idea of monasticism. But we often forget about monasticism that it was a powerful an engine of political economy in a world where political and economic stability had vanished. In monasticism Western man found a way to be productive again; and in monasticism we see the early beginnings of that power over material forces, that stewardship of the riches of creation, that made us — the men of the West — masters of the earth. That this power has perhaps been the single most calamitously abused thing in all of the bloody history of mankind does not diminish the astonishing humility and piety at its roots. It was the piety of the simple gardener, carefully assessing the soil, patiently removing the weeds, observing, learning, submitting to forces he never imagined he could control.

And I might be forgiven for the occasional fancy that all our machines and computers and efficiency are but a slow decline from the awesome achievement that the Irish monks made visible in the gardens of the great monasteries.

So on this day when we celebrate the man who drove all the snakes from Ireland, let us also recall his Irish brethren, who so filled the world with their own “mild inspiration,” and made us who we are.

Revised and expanded from older posts.

March 18, 2018

St. Paul’s Romans 13: The Ruler and the Sword

There is a tendency in some circles to want to interpret a biblical passage in a way that is novel, or at least in a way “hidden” from casual view. There is something fine and delightful in noticing a meaning, on your own, that others had not told you already. There is something tempting in being able to report that meaning to others as “your own” discovery, for then you can show yourself to be wise, learned, and to be respected. That temptation leads some to fall, because wanting to be considered wise, learned, and to be respected is sometimes NOT from God, but from the other direction.

In quite the opposite direction, though, reliance on the commentary and explanations of our fathers in the faith, namely, the Apostles and after them the Fathers of the Church, and the successors of the Apostles the bishops, is a high and worthy attitude. Faith comes through hearing, and we hear the teaching of the Bible when we hear the people through whom the Bible, together with its meaning, were transmitted down the centuries, those who identified for us which books were the inspired word of God, and who taught us to reverence them properly as inspired, inerrant, and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Today I brush off for discussion Romans 13:1-7.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

The “reading” of this passage by some modern commentators is that it is “all about taxes”: pay your taxes so you don’t create problems for the Christian community.

Continue reading "St. Paul’s Romans 13: The Ruler and the Sword " »

March 20, 2018

Hope and sadness: Lessons from Rod Dreher's trip to the Czech Republic

Hie thee and read this article by Rod Dreher, about his recent trip to the Czech Republic. It's long, so you may have to read it in sections, but it is worthwhile. Indeed, it represents many of the things that W4 stands for--being joyful warriors, Christianity, looking with clear, somber eyes at the sad state of the world and of one's own country in particular, hope, legitimate concerns about the rise of Islam. It's also about good food. (Though I admit that I'm probably less interested in cabbage than it sounds like the Czechs are.)

I was very struck by Dreher's saying that the Czechs are too quick to dismiss the danger that their own country could adopt transgender insanity with terrifying swiftness (they assume that their fellow Czechs are too sensible to do this) but that, at the same time, we Americans are too quick to dismiss the danger that we could lose our religious liberty with terrifying swiftness. I would also add that there is a distinct link between the Communism that forcibly de-Christianized Eastern Europe and current transgender ideology. Both, as in the book 1984, show their power by forcing people to "live by lies," blatant, obvious lies, and both glory in their power to do so.

There are so many fascinating points in this travelogue, including the reflection that only the Communists could teach the Czechs to make ugly architecture and bland desserts. Dreher is right: These things are matters of culture. Imagine coming back to a dystopian future Texas in which roadside restaurants don't know how to cook a good steak.

Anyway, go and read it. You will be glad that you did. Lots of food for thought (pun intended).

March 23, 2018

The Woman Caught in Adultery

When you read what people say about the woman caught in adultery, John 8:1-11, you get the following notions as being “what the Gospel says”: (1) only those who have never sinned are allowed to judge, and since everybody sins, there should be no judgment; (2) Jesus is against capital punishment, ever; (3) mercy must always prevail instead of justice; and (4) the old Law is obliterated because it was not just, now we have the “law of love”.

These are wrong. They are completely wrong.

Let’s see the text:

1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”[b] And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Notice that the people who say (2) don’t seem to say “no to punishment at all of any sort”. Because that would be crazy and stupid: parents must punish to train, the law must punish SOME wrongdoing. But if the text where Jesus refuses to punish the woman were to apply universally as a mandate, then universally punishment would be forbidden.

Continue reading "The Woman Caught in Adultery" »

March 25, 2018

New undesigned coincidence: The parable of the wicked tenants

There are some very minor differences in wording among Matthew's, Mark's, and Luke's accounts of Jesus' parable of the wicked tenants during Passion Week. You can read Matthew's here, Luke's here, and Mark's here.

Mark's, as is so often the case, is the shortest. Each of Luke and Matthew contains some material that Mark doesn't have, including some small material that each other do not have.

Continue reading "New undesigned coincidence: The parable of the wicked tenants" »

March 27, 2018

Licona declines exchange in Philosophia Christi

About a month ago, after J.P. Moreland had endorsed my work concerning alleged literary devices in the gospels, I made the suggestion to several people that Mike Licona and I might have a scholarly exchange in the pages of Philosophia Christi about his work. Phil. Christi is an excellent journal and has hosted symposia of this kind before. Over a decade ago, Tim McGrew and I had an exchange on the historical argument for the resurrection with Alvin Plantinga in the pages of Philosophia Christi.

Phil. Christi was open to the idea. If Dr. Licona had been agreeable, the discussion would have come to pass. A third party made contact with him to suggest it. I have just recently been told that he has declined, without citing a reason.

Continue reading "Licona declines exchange in Philosophia Christi" »

March 28, 2018

What if the Gospels Were Bio-Pics?

Cross-posted here. I won't reproduce all the content of that relatively short post here. The main point is this: You may think it would be ethical for the Gospel authors to have written the 1st-century equivalent of bio-pics. But even if you think that, you should admit that such a conclusion would make a big difference to the amount of information we could gather from them. Therefore, you should take the time to find out if there is any good reason to think that they held themselves to have the kind of liberty that fictionalizing movie-makers have. Wouldn't it make them much better historical sources if they didn't? Of course it would. So dig in and examine the argument that the Gospels were like 1st-century bio-pics. If you do so fairly, you will find it wanting.

March 30, 2018



These, then, are the truths at the heart of atonement. First, that something has gone terribly wrong. We find ourselves in a distant country far from home. Second, whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible. Then third, that something must be done about it. Things must be set right. We cannot go on this way. False gospels of positive thinking or stoic exhortations to make the best of it are worse than useless. They are obscene. They are invitations to make our peace with a corruption at the core of everything. Better that Job and all the Jobs on the long mourning bench of history should curse God and die than that they should make their peace with the evil that they know. Such a peace is the peace of the dead, of those who are already spiritually and morally dead. The religious marketplace is crowded with the peddlers of peace of mind and peace of soul. But the narcotic of denial or pretense is too high a price to pay. Better to rage against the night.

Something must be done about what has gone wrong. Things must be set right. And this brings us to the fourth great truth of atonement: whatever it is that needs to be done, we cannot do it. Each of us individually, the entirety of the human race collectively—what can we do to make up for one innocent child tortured and killed? Never mind making up for Auschwitz, or the killing fields of Cambodia, or the coffin ships of traffickers in human slavery, or the slaughter beyond numbering of innocents in the womb. We chatter on about modernity and progress while King Herod reigns secure. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, for they were no more.”

Rightly does Rachel refuse to be comforted. Something must be done. It started long before Rachel and her children. From far back in the mists of our beginnings, the blood of Abel has been crying from the ground; and along the way we have allowed ourselves to be comforted by the counsel of Cain, advising us to get over it, to get on with our lives, for, after all, are we our brother’s keeper? But we know we are. We don’t know what to do about it, but we know that if we lose our hold on that impossible truth, we have lost everything. Something must be done. Justice must be done. Things must be set right.

But what can we do? We cannot even put our own lives in order, never mind setting right a radically disordered world. The Apostle Paul declares, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do . . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” There is an answer to that question, but do not rush to the answer. Stay with the question for a time if you would understand why the derelict hangs there on the cross.

If things are to be set right, if justice is to be done, somebody else will have to do it. It cannot be done by just anybody, as though one more death could somehow “make up for” innocent deaths beyond numbering. That way lies the seeking out of scapegoats, the vain effort to heap our collective guilt on another, on the “other.” People have been doing that from the foundation of the world. History is filled with scapegoats sacrificed to appease outraged justice.

And the Lord commanded Moses that Aaron should bring the goat before the Lord, “and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, and all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land.” The goat goes off to a distant country. God Himself trained ancient Israel in the ritual by which justice was satisfied, but only for a time. It is a training for what was to come, and for what was to surpass it.

Through the myths of millennia, blind and stumbling humanity acts upon the unquenchable intuition that something must be done. From Canaanite altars to Aztec temples, countless thousands have been offered in blood sacrifice. In the cruel twists of mythic imagination, the scapegoat is not expelled but destroyed. In our own enlightened century a nation sought to purify itself and the world by the extermination of the Jews. Even today we witness mobs outside prison walls cheering the execution taking place inside. It is a long, terrible history of bloodlust and vengeance, all in the name of justice, all driven by the insistence—the correct insistence—that something must be done.

Continue reading "Atonement" »

March 31, 2018

Easter 2018: If He Rose At All, It Was As His Body


Dale Allison is a New Testament scholar regarded by some as an orthodox Christian, despite some rather odd aspects of his scholarship. For example, William Lane Craig says of Allison’s book Resurrecting Jesus, “I have never seen a more persuasive case for scepticism about the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection than Allison’s presentation of the arguments.” (From an exchange between Allison and several Christian philosophers in Philosophia Christi, vol. 10, no. 2, 2008, p. 293.) Craig takes it that Allison does conclude that the resurrection occurred despite Allison’s skepticism, and Craig takes this to be a testimony to the strength of the case (p. 294), but others are free to disagree with this characterization. For one thing, Allison has very strong doubts about the concept of bodily resurrection and hence refuses to commit himself to a belief that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead (exchange, pp. 316-319). The most he will say is that, in some appearances or other, which he does not think we are justified in claiming were much like those recounted in the Gospels, “[T]he disciples saw Jesus and...he saw them.” (Exchange, p. 334).

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