“Strange Fire” and What’s Wrong—and What’s Right—with Pentecostalism

Last October, influential Reformed Baptist pastor John MacArthur organized the “Strange Fire” conference, dedicated to opposing the errors of Pentecostalism. The title is an allusion to Leviticus 10:1 which describes Aaron’s sons offering unauthorized worship (“strange fire” in the King James translation) to the Lord.

Pentecostalism has had a short but colorful history since emerging at the turn of the Twentieth Century as a movement built around the belief that God is initiating a new movement featuring a renewed ministry of the Holy Spirit: speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, new prophecy. Since the belief of a new movement cannot be drawn from Scripture, Pentecostalism has been troubled by extrabiblical tomfoolery since its inception. Continue reading

Who is the Holy Spirit?

From time to time, a stubborn and longstanding perplexity resolves suddenly into an intelligible pattern. An opacity clarifies, a lacuna is illumined, and one sees for the first time how to begin thinking about it. The ordered relations of a great mass of ideas are revealed as a new node in their net is neatly knit together, and unsuspected connections to other domains of inquiry suggest themselves. Thoughts that had been stymied by confusion pour forth in a generous, refreshing cascade. Things fall into place.

This recently happened to me respecting the Holy Spirit. I had never known quite how to think about him, had never understood quite what he does within the Trinity. He doesn’t get much attention, compared to the other two Persons. When he does, he is usually spoken of as the Love that flows between the Father and the Son, or as the Life of the Trinity. But these characterizations, while true enough, don’t get at the nub of it. The Holy Spirit is a person, and a person is not just his love or his life, but rather their subject.

What is it that the Spirit experiences, then, that is different from what the Son and Father experience of each other? What does he add to what they are, and know, and do? None of the explanations I had read quite hung together; there seemed to be little to hang them on. I had nothing to work with, nothing I felt I could lay hands on, until the other day, when at last pneumatology began to open to me.

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Taggard on Atheism

In the discussion thread to my post “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence,” commenter Taggard offered a lengthy criticism of my position. Since my response to his response is also lengthy, I offer it here.

In this writing, Taggard reiterates what I described as the basic error of the atheist: sticking with an initial negative assumption in the face of positive evidence.

I reproduce here the full text of Taggard’s comment. My responses are in bold:

Taggard, 9:45 am:

I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:

Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. [AR: This is too thin a definition.  The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.] Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. [AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.] Abiogenesis – the origin of life. Continue reading

Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence

I recently listened to a debate between Christian apologist Norman Geisler and Paul Kurtz, one of the heroes of the secular humanist movement.

Several basic points occurred to me while listening. They all have to do with the atheist’s assuming ignorance rather than allowing his mind to go where the evidence (one of his favorite words) points.

The Origin of the Universe

There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally. Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.

Since the cosmos obviously does exist now, it seems obvious that some entity other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence. The only alternative is that sheer nothingness somehow “caused” the cosmos, an obvious impossibility.

The typical atheist responds to all this by asserting that we do not know what caused the cosmos, therefore atheism (or at least agnosticism) is the preferred position.

Here’s the basic problem with that: If someone really doesn’t know what caused the cosmos, then the cause could be anything. That’s what “I don’t know” means. Therefore if the skeptic is serious in his claim, he cannot rule out the possibility of God. If the cause is unknown, it could have been God. After all, the cause would have to exist outside of matter, energy, space and time, and would have be unimaginably powerful if not omnipotent, and either unimaginably lucky or else unimaginably wise.  It would have to have these attributes. And these are some of the primary attributes of the God of the Bible, the one true and living God. Continue reading

Everlasting Life from the Body of Death

Commenting on my post about the Queen of Heaven, Ilíon asked a searching question:

Was the Immaculate Conception indeed unnecessary? All things are possible with God, of course; yet, “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4). Making the clean out of the unclean is one of those logical impossibilities, such as making a four-sided triangle, that even God cannot perform.

So, it’s logically impossible for God to bring forth the sinless Jesus from the sinful Mary, but it’s not logically impossible for God to bring forth the sinless Mary from the sinful Anne?

I responded:

An excellent question. It raises a far deeper, more difficult and important question: if Job is right that it is logically impossible to bring impurity out of impurity, how can we be saved, even by God?

I’ll deal with the second question first.

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From the perspective of naturalism into which most moderns – including Christians – have been from birth inculcated, the Resurrection can make no sense. It’s not just that the naturalist thinks the notion is false, he cannot but think it incoherent with the principles of reality as they are plainly manifest to him, as plainly as the nose on his face. From his perspective, the Resurrection, and for that matter the whole religious impulse and rigmarole, arise from a grotesque misprision that is “not even wrong.” The whole thing looks to him like a willfully insane mistake.

Once begin however to take seriously the fact that Nature Cannot Explain Itself, and the Resurrection becomes just as plausible as chickens. Because Nature is insufficient to itself, some Supernature or other is required, upon whose order the regularities of Nature supervene. That Supernatural Order – or Logos, as it has long been called in Greek – is not governed by the order of this world, but vice versa.

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Good Friday

What can it mean to say that God the Son of God died this afternoon?

Non-being is strictly incoherent. We can indicate it, but only as we might indicate a square triangle. When we refer to non-being, there’s nothing actually there to which we might be referring. There is nothing we can say about non-being, except that there is absolutely nothing we can say about it; for there is nothing to it, about which we could say anything. It’s not quite correct to say that it has no properties or characteristics, because it isn’t an item in the first place. It has no ontic hooks upon which properties or characteristics might be hung.

So it isn’t conceivable. It cannot be brought to mind. And this is not a limitation only of our finite creaturely intellects, but of logic: for there is nothing in non-being that any conceivable intellect could bring to mind. Not even God can imagine what non-being is like. Certainly, then, non-being is not possible.

Since non-being is impossible, it is necessary that something exist. Thus in the state of affairs prior to the existence of any and all contingent things, there necessarily exists a necessary being. [When I began to write this post, I didn’t set out intending to stumble upon an argument for the existence of God; but one thing I have learned about metaphysical reasoning is that it almost always ends up entailing the existence of God].

And once a being exists, it cannot somehow un-exist. It can stop becoming, stop recurring, so that it no longer perdures. But it cannot go on from being to achieve non-being. Facts are everlasting, and immutable. And as we have just seen, you can’t get a state of affairs in which there is no God. So God is an immutable fact.

God can’t die, properly speaking. What, then, again, can it mean to say that God the Son of God died on Calvary?

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Maundy Thursday

God could have eliminated the stain of Original Sin from our world altogether. He could speak a single Word of power and wipe it out. Why didn’t he? Why instead did he become a man and suffer death? Why did he then put us through the perils of this life?

It’s simple: the only way he could have wiped out sin is to unmake the world as we now find it.

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Queen of Heaven: a Working Hypothesis

God willing, I shall be confirmed a Catholic at the Vigil of Easter. In preparation since September, I have (among other things) read and studied the Catechism. It’s been edifying to have the Faith completely spelled out, at least in outline. I’ve learned that as a traditional Anglican, the orthodox theology to which I have long adhered is thoroughly Catholic – at least with respect to those doctrines of the Faith that I had yet tried to understand.

One domain of doctrine I had not ever much thought about or understood concerns Mary. Anglicans venerate Mary, of course, but are not as fascinated with her as Catholics. So I’ve been studying up a bit on Mary. I’ve not been concerned so much with this or that controversial Marian dogma, as with far more general questions of how we ought to think about her – e.g., what is her function in the plan of salvation, what is her status in the economy of Heaven (including this little cosmos), and so forth. I figured that if I understood that, then the rest of Mariology would fall into place without too much fuss.

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