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June 2018 Archives

June 3, 2018

Only one Jesus: Part 2 (plus) in a series

If this is part 2, you may ask, where is Part 1? And what in the world does the "plus" mean? I'm glad you asked!

Part 1 is here
, under the title of "Ecce Homo" with the subtitle "Only One Jesus." Take up and read! In it I discuss in more detail an example concerning Jesus and the Sabbath controversies and the wonderful way in which two completely different Sabbath controversies show the same man clearly speaking in John and Luke. I alluded to this example briefly in my recent debate with Craig Evans. And there's more in that entry besides, including Jesus' sarcastic and resigned way of speaking of his enemies.

The "plus" refers to this recent post on positive evidence for John's historicity and the similarity of the portrayal of Jesus in John and the synoptics that I did mention briefly in the debate with Evans. In the post I both list that evidence and draw some of it out in more detail. This includes, among many other things, the point that the author of John is actually scrupulous on several occasions to separate his own commentary from Jesus' words. There's a lot of good stuff there, so please have a look.

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June 6, 2018

The Eeyores are Right on Masterpiece Cake Shop

I must agree with Ben Shapiro and Andrew McCarthy as against (e.g.) David French's more positive take on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

It isn't an incremental step in the direction of anything. Obviously it's better that Sotomayor and Ginsberg didn't win. But the fact that Kagan and Breyer joined in the majority, writing a separate concurrence to make it absolutely explicit why they joined, and that Roberts (besides joining in the weak majority opinion) was MIA, show us where we really are. As McCarthy points out, this should have been a knock-down free speech case, given the massive and highly explicit first amendment jurisprudence on record, including jurisprudence that makes it absolutely clear that words are not required for "speech" in the legal sense. Both the opinions of Thomas/Gorsuch and Gorsuch/Alito make it clear that they would rule in Jack Philips's favor on straightforward first amendment grounds against compelled speech. (I haven't yet read both opinions in enough detail to know why those two opinions couldn't have been joined into one.) But Roberts was silent on that point, and Kennedy's written majority opinion is (to put it at its best) silent as well, noting that different cases may be decided differently, as long as the commission behaves itself more seemly. This raises the very real possibility that Jack Philips himself, if he returns to wedding cake baking tomorrow and refuses to bake wedding cakes to celebrate homosexual ceremonies, may be in hot water again.

David French tries to get something good out of the majority opinion's comments about other cases in which the Commission made different decisions concerning cakes with words opposing homosexuality. But the majority decision focused only on the fact that the commission found those words (which were anti-homosexual "marriage") to be "offensive." In other words, the commission was too blatant in its viewpoint bias. And what if no further such cases arise in the future to help Tomorrow Jack Philips when a new case comes up? How will that later commission be shown to be biased? Or what if that later commission takes its stand solely on the words/no words distinction, without any comments about offensiveness, which (one fears) is a place where Kennedy might be willing to agree with them, as against earlier SCOTUS precedents? And where would Roberts fall in that case?

Jack Philips needs some more good legal advice right about now concerning his future, and that advice should tell him that he isn't out of the woods. If he goes back to baking wedding cakes for the sake of his business's fiscal health, he may be back before a calmer, less rabid, more polished civil rights commission before you can say, "Kennedy."

June 8, 2018

Only one Jesus: The man who loves his friends

JesusMaryMartha.png It is a theological doctrine that God the Father loves all men and that God the Son manifests the love of God by coming to the world to die for our sins (John 3:16). It is a fact of history, visible throughout all four of our historical sources, the gospels, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of strong affections who had special love for particular people.

While Jesus would go off alone to pray (e.g., Mark 1:35), he was not in general a "loner." He was a man who had friends, loved his friends, and wanted to be with them.

In this series, I continue to examine the unity of the personality of Jesus in the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels. In the previous entry I discussed several personality traits of Jesus that are constant across the gospels, including his being an emotional rather than a stoical person. This brings us to the particular way in which Jesus' affections were called out by his love for his friends. Here, too, we see that, pace the commonplaces of critical scholarship, the portrait of Jesus in John is not "very different" from the portrait in the synoptics. Rather, the documents present the same man, giving different instances of the same personality traits.

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June 10, 2018

R.I.P. Tom Wolfe [updated]


As a writer, the late Tom Wolfe manifested a truly subversive idea: that humor is fundamentally conservative. It emphasizes -- subtly, implicitly, but nevertheless perceptibly -- the traditional picture of mankind and his place in the world. He is unique in dignity but given to proliferating folly. He takes himself way too seriously. His social nature produces absurdities that he often cannot see. For these and other reasons, he willingly submits to petty tyrannies which in retrospect seem almost inconceivable. The humorist need only (no easy task, of course) expose the absurdities, pierce the self-importance, illuminate the folly, and ridicule the willing submission to humbug and phoniness. Nor should we neglect how frequent a trope in good humor is the jape at flawed authority: the bumbling bureaucrat, the feckless father, the officious colonel, the dreary clergyman. In a sense, humor is conservative because it has proven to be one of the most powerful methods of demonstrating that oldest of all conservative precepts: original sin. The Fall of Man, among many deductions, inevitably renders him an object of mirth.

Tom Wolfe had mirth in superabundance, and he did not fail to delight his readers with it. Wolfe’s riotous send-ups of intellectual, artistic, political, literary, and social fashion, so superbly satirized progressive pomposity, that it actually took a couple decades for progressives to realize it. For instance, many readers (even to this day) appear to have taken The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a kind of celebration or endorsement of that early hippie lifestyle. La Wik will only allow, delicately, that Wolfe was, “in some key ways different from the Pranksters.” You think? Those key ways include, but are not limited to: (a) dressing normal, (b) abjuring narcotics, (c) observing common bourgeois proprieties, and (d) regularly punctuating his descriptions of their antics with rapier thrusts of satirical brilliance. The counterculture took itself quite seriously, on the level of philosophy; Wolfe did not. He only took it seriously on the level of curiosity. What a strange creature is man and his works, that he could produce such a spectacle as this!

In time (certainly by 1975’s The Painted Word, though one marvels that anyone failed to perceive it years earlier), even the dullest Manhattan critic abandoned all hope and conceded that, alas, Tom Wolfe was not one of them.

But by then he had already made a successful career out of gutting them with his lively pen. His position was secure; no amount of denunciation, sneering, sanctimony or churlishness could dislodge him now.

Next he plunged himself into a nearly decade-long study of American masculinity, especially of the military sort. This superlative (and still very funny) literary turn began with the unforgettable fighter-pilot essay, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie”; includes “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” which, even 35 years on, is still reckoned the best short history of Silicon Valley available; and culminates in 1979’s The Right Stuff, which rendered the American test pilot and early space program in heroic and hilarious realism. We might say this period of Wolfe’s career did for middlebrow American writing what Reagan did for American politics: re-established it on a foundation of high-spirited patriotism.

(I will pass over his novels in silence, largely from a lack of sustained engagement with them -- except to advert to this fantastic essay from a few years back which examined a neglected aspect of their brilliance.)

Wolfe’s last book, The Kingdom of Speech -- while emphatically not the equal of his mid-career classics -- nevertheless features some uproarious humor directed at eminently deserving targets. Its core argument also rests on a very solid syllogism:

Evolutionary science cannot explain speech;
man cannot be understood in the absence of an understanding of speech;
therefore evolutionary science cannot fully explain man.

One need only read a few of the prominent reviews of this book to observe that it struck a nerve. Even into his 80s, Wolfe retained a sublime knack for puncturing fashionable pretensions.

Last month, America lost one of her finest chroniclers of that mysterious and wonderful creature called man. Tom Wolfe was a writer who grounded his work on diligent observation, and produced some of the funniest, most delightful and most illuminating books of the past half century. R.I.P.

UPDATE: below the fold is a video clip from the late 90s on The Late Show with David Letterman which nicely captures the spirit of Wolfe. No less than Donald Trump himself emerges as a topic of discussion.
Image credit: Hoover Institute/YouTube

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June 14, 2018

Does John "narrate theologically"? On the perils of theological theory in history

I have noted in other posts the unjustified rhetoric that is often leveled at the Gospel of John to the effect that he is less historical than the synoptic Gospels. (See also Craig Evans's extensive comments to this effect here.) John is the red-headed step-child of historical Jesus studies. He is always assumed to be a problem, frequently assumed to be historically dubious on the flimsiest grounds. When something (like the fact that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus' cross) is found in the synoptic Gospels but not in John, the question is: What's historically wrong with John? When something (like the "I am" sayings) is found in John but not in the synoptic Gospels, the question is: What's historically wrong with John? Double standard duly noted.

In this post I want to examine some passages from the commentaries of eminent and learned New Testament scholar Craig Keener that illustrate the unwarranted bias against John and that also illustrate the negative effects of an undue mingling of theological interpretation with the attempt to answer the simple question, "Did this really happen?"

It goes without saying that my criticisms of Dr. Keener's ideas in these commentaries are in no way, shape, or form a personal attack but rather a part of our mutual search for truth concerning God's word.

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June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day

June 18, 2018

“I was the king of standing alone” -- Rateliff and the Night Sweats

by Nolan Cella and Paul Cella

If it sounds strange to talk of Rocky Mountain Soul, that’s because, until very recently, that sub-genre of music did not really exist; and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that a single band called it into existence.

The band we speak of, which made it fair to talk that way, only came to national prominence in 2015. Before that, the band’s frontman was reachable “for a curbside interview on any given day on South Broadway,” according to his hometown paper. I mean Nathaniel Rateliff (pronounced RATE-lif) and the Night Sweats, the R&B act out of the greatest city on the front range of the mighty Rocky Mountains.

The Queen City of the Rockies, the Mile High City: D-town stands unique. Sports-crazy, decadent, hard-Left on some things, she yet retains a distinct edge of the old granite don’t-tread-on-me attitude: the pioneer and mountain-man. For instance, marijuana decriminalization would have been impossible absent that strong strain: a lot of perfectly sober and respectable Republicans thought, “who the hell cares what those hippies waste their time on?”

By some measures one of the most secular cities in the country, Denver nevertheless boasts a vibrant Catholic diocese (the distinguished Charles Chaput, now Ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia, made a name for himself nationwide at his first archbishopric -- in Denver) and many strong biblical churches.

So the native of D-town, casting his gaze over the wide pastures of American Rhythm & Blues, and the supreme excellencies issuing forth therefrom, can only delight in the swelling pride which attends the news that Denver has its own R&B/soul genre.

“Go tell it on the mountains” holds musical as well as theological substance in Denver. Go tell it that Jesus Christ is born. Supreme king over all.

But also:

Go tell on the mountains that these dudes can play.

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June 26, 2018

Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Some quotations

At the repeated suggestion of reader "Joe Lightfoot," and upon being assured by Esteemed Husband that he owned a copy of the book and could locate it in his huge personal library, I began reading Leon Morris's Studies in the Fourth Gospel, Eerdmans, 1969.

I've found it especially refreshing to read an author who, writing as relatively recently as 1969, evokes the style of the authors of the 19th century. Morris writes without jargon or equivocation. It's always possible to tell what he is saying. And he does not take with undue seriousness highly complex theories of factual alteration. He is occasionally more concerned about something than I think he needs to be, but he has a balanced enough mind to recognize that there are always going to be things we don't know. For example, he seems (to my mind) unduly puzzled by Jesus' open statement to the Samaritan woman that he is the Messiah in John 4:26 in contrast with the alleged "messianic secret." But Morris, though not as satisfied by it as perhaps he should be, is open to the theory (which to my mind is correct) that the contrast between this clear statement and Jesus' attempted secrecy elsewhere (e.g., Matthew 16:20) is explicable in terms of attempting to keep his Messianic claims from raising the wrong idea in the minds of those likely to take them in a revolutionary direction.

I need to make more notes from Morris's book, as there is much useful information there, some of which was new to me. For this entry, I want to give my readers some beautiful quotations.

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