Saturday, April 24, 2004

Sowing to the Spirit

"They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, which his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord

This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grown in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," (Westminster Confession of Faith, 13).

Thus we have a classic expression of progressive sanctification. Let us add some comments from A. A. Hodge:
"that the whole body of death is not immediately destroyed in the instant of regeneration is plainly taught in the sixth and seventh chapters of Romans, in the recorded experience of many Biblical characters, and in the universal experience of Christians in modern times," The Confession of Faith (Banner of Truth, 1983), 197.

Notice, in this quote, the appeal to experience. I suppose someone might object that the argument from experience has no place in Protestant theology, where sola Scriptura is our rule of faith.

In Hodge’s defense, however, it may be said that sanctification is, in the nature of the case, a division of practical theology, that different versions of sanctification have predictive consequences, so that experience is one way of testing their truth or falsity. Exegetical objections aside, one reason many of us can’t take perfectionism very seriously is the persistent failure of the perfectionist to live up to his creed!

In addition, Hodge is assuming a continuity of experience between Biblical saints and modern-day saints. And, as a general proposition, this is true, although some uncertainty attaches in individual cases. But God saves the elect the same way under all covenants.

It isn’t clear from his wording whether Hodge includes or excludes Rom 6-7 from the argument from experience. Perhaps he regards them as didactic rather than biographical. Yet these chapters are descriptive of experience, on at least a generic level. Whether Rom 7 is more autobiographical is a well-worn issue. In my opinion, the most consistent explanation of Rom 7 is that Paul is impersonating the experience of a Gentile convert.

Hodge reiterates the appeal to experience: "the biographies and recorded testimonies of all the Scripture saints make it impossible to attribute sinless perfection to any one them," ibid., 200.

Of course, he’s not merely invoking raw experience, but canonical experience, where we can speak with some degree of confidence about the subject’s state of grace. Indeed, one function of Scripture is to furnish us with hortatory and cautionary examples of the faithful and the faithless (e.g. Ps 95:7-11; 1 Cor 10:11; Heb 11).

So far, I agree with everything he says. Now let’s move to his conclusion:
"From a constant supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the gracious element in the believer’s nature, upon the whole, prevails, and he gradually advances in holiness until he is rendered perfect at death. This precious truth follows necessarily from the fact, already shown, that sanctification is a work of God’s free grace in execution of his eternal purposes of salvation," ibid., 200.

Unfortunately, I don’t see how all this follows of necessity from what was already shown. In particular, I don’t see how the progressive element is essentially implicated in this scheme.

In principle, predestination and providence would be consistent with perfectionism or a second blessing scheme. I don’t believe that either of these is Scriptural, but that is for reasons more specific than a general doctrine of predestination and providence. Had he so willed, God could foreordain and effect immediate sanctification, in a manner parallel to immediate regeneration.

In addition, it is striking that Hodge suddenly abandons the argument from experience, and instead resorts to a more abstract principle. But if the argument from experience is a sound standard by which to judge perfectionism, then is it not also a fair judge of progressive sanctification?

And that raises a rather obvious question which, for some reason, Hodge never ventures to ask. Does universal or even general experience, from Bible and church history, confirm the claim that Christians get better as they get older?

I’m not denying that this ever occurs or occurs with some frequency. I don’t have the stats on that. I’m sure that many believers do improve with age. Of course, that’s true of some unbelievers as well. The mellowing effect of age, although not unexceptional, is a commonplace of human experience. We cannot sin as energetically as in our youth! Then again, we also see the opposite happen with some believers. They become hard and bitter and brittle—like Naomi.

There is a lot in Scripture about a believer’s struggle with sin. But I don’t see his life necessarily charting an upward curve. Jacob gets better, but David gets worse, while Abraham and St. Paul seem much the same from beginning to end. Does Baxter’s Directory or the writings of Richard Sibbes suggest that, at a certain point, Christians make it over the hump and level off at a spiritual plateau—from whence they can now coast with gravitational grace pulling them across the finish line? Or is it always an uphill climb?

Indeed, as the Confession also notes, the life of holiness appears to be more polemical than progressive, a constant battle, with ground gained and ground lost—like trench warfare. That is, indeed, a common figure for the spiritual life (Rom 7:13-25; 1 Cor 9:26-27; Gal 5:17; Eph 6:11-13).

One difficulty is that the biographical materials supplied us in Scripture are rather limited. There are only a handful of individuals whose adult life-span receives a fair amount of attention. And, even then, Scripture doesn’t generally read like a psychological novel. We get some of that in the Psalms. Yet even they afford a close-up rather than a long-shot. But that being so, it’s hard to generalize one way or the other.

As to church history, it is axiomatic to observe that those who lay the greatest claims to their advanced state of sanctity are the most spiritually deficient and deluded of all. Of course, fear of spiritual pride can foster false modesty. And maybe the seasoned saint is more and more aware of less and less. But if there’s any appreciable trend, spiritual maturity goes hand in hand with an acute sense of sin. The most holy are the most mindful of their unholiness.

There is, though, another line of evidence which Hodge does not exploit, which are the passages that speak of believers growing in grace and faith (Eph 3:12-16; Col 1:10; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). On a related note are passages describing a process of spiritual renewal (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:22-24).

Regarding the latter, it isn’t clear, in 2 Cor 3:18, whether the transformation has reference to ascending degrees of glory or the origin and outcome of the process, as believers are glorified by their participation in the glory of God.

And on either view, there is the further question of whether the transformation takes the form of a continuous process or distinct phases. On the latter view, the new creation (2 Cor 5:17) would mark the first phase, and the eschaton the final phase (1 Cor 15:49).

Another question is how we coordinate various metaphors, viz., athletic competition, spiritual warfare, biological growth, reflected glory, a new suit of clothes. Strictly speaking, different metaphors are incommensurable because each belongs to a different universe of discourse. Mixing your metaphors is a literary flaw because it triggers a jarring clash of images.

In order to draw a comparison, you must ask what the picture-language is literally intended to depict. And this runs the risk of circularity, for we tend to use the illustration to define and describe the process.

Metaphors come with cultural baggage. In an agrarian economy, figures of botanical growth focus on seedtime and harvest (e.g., Jn 4:35-37; 12:24; 15:1-6; Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:20,36-37,42-44); in a patriarchal society, figures of biological growth focus on the passage from boyhood to manhood (1 Cor 13:11; Gal 4:1-6). The emphasis is not on the continuum, but the contrast between sowing and reaping, minority and majority status. Even when the process is broken down, it is segmented into key developmental junctures, with a view to the crop yield (Mk 4:28), rather than in one undifferentiated flow.

One must guard against pressing the incidental details of a metaphor. But one must also avoid the assumption that we know what a metaphor means without examining the cultural context.

John Frame has drawn attention to another line of evidence:
"let us remember the biblical emphasis on respect for our elders, as in 1 Tim 5:1f. The wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs) presents the scenario of an older man or women instructing a younger one, with the assumption that the elder's experience is cautionary. It is also exemplary; consider the qualifications of elders in the Pastoral Epistles. This seems to assume that those who have lived with God ver a period of years often achieve a level of spiritual growth that others should emulate. This doesn't always happen, but it happens often enough that the young are expected to show a respect for the elderly beyond the mutual respect required of all believers for each other. That's obviously true when one is an adult and the other a child; hence the fifth commandment. But I think it runs all through life. That's why we sense a special kind of tragedy when an older saint, like Solomon, goes far off-base" (Private correspondence [10/6/03]).

This is, in some measure, a normal and natural difference between youth and age. As Dr. Johnson once put it:
"The old man trusts wholly to slow contrivance and gradual progression—the youth expects to force his way by genius, vigor, and precipitance…the old man deifies prudence—the youth commits himself to magnanimity and chance. The young man, who intends no ill, believes that none is intended, and therefore acts with openness and candor; but his father, having suffered the injuries of fraud, is impelled to suspect…Age looks with anger on the temerity of youth, and youth with contempt on the scrupulosity of age," Samuel Johnson (Rinehart, 1971).

Although this is generally true of unbelievers as well as believers, there is a degree to which Scriptural wisdom and spiritual maturity are forms of sanctified common sense. We find the confluence of holy wisdom and prudent holiness in the letter of James and book of Proverbs.

It is also possible for something to get both better and worse at the same time. In athletics, you improve with practice, but so does your opponent, and the competition gets rougher, not easier, with every successive and successful round. And is this not a normal aspect of Christian experience? Consider a couple of observations by two past masters of the spiritual life:
"the truth here is that the God of whom it is said, "he shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs in his arms (Isa 40:11)," is very gentle with very young Christians, just as mothers are with very young babies. Often the start of their Christian career is marked by great emotional joy, striking provinces, remarkable answers to prayer, and immediate fruitfulness in their first acts of witness...But as they grown stronger, and are able to bear more, he exercises them in a tougher school. He exposes them to as much testing by the pressure of opposed and discouraging influences as they are able to bear...There is nothing unnatural, therefore, in an increase of temptations, conflicts, and pressures, as a Christian goes on with God—indeed, something would be wrong if it did not happen," J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1973), 223-24.

This is what we may call the danger of the middle period. It is something which is true not only in the Christian life as such, as it is true of the whole of life. It is the problem of middle life, and, if you like, of middle age. It is something which...we all have to face sooner or later...I am perfectly convinced that the most difficult period of all in life is the middle period. There are compensations in youth and there are compensations in old age which seem to be entirely lacking in the middle period.

"now this is equally true in the religious or spiritual life. This is the stage which follows the initial experience...in which everything was new and surprising and wonderful and clear, the stage in which we were constantly making new discoveries which never seemed to come to an end. But suddenly we are conscious of the fact that they do seem to have come to an end, and now we have become accustomed to the Christian life. No longer are we surprised at things, as we were at the beginning, because we are familiar with them and know about them. So that all that thrill of new discovery which animated us in the early stages suddenly seems to have gone. Nothing seems to be happening, there does not seem to be any change or advance or development...It is something that always tends to happen when we have got over the newness and the thrill and excitement of doing something that we have never done before, and we settle down into our routine, doing the same thing day after day. Then this trial arises, and we are no longer carried over it by that initial momentum which seemed to take us through it all in the early stages at the beginning," M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Eerdmans, 1992), 192-93.

Another question we need to pose is the relation of progressive sanctification to the case of the backslider. Reformed theology has always held that a true believer may backslide, and backslide for a prolonged period, but come around at the end. It is hard to find many clear-cut examples of this in Scripture. Peter and David are textbook examples, although their lapse was short-lived. Manasseh is another case in point. Saul’s state of grace is too ambiguous to supply an example. Samson may be a paradigm-case. Perhaps the case of Solomon is the most persuasive, for his lapse was the most prolonged. The parable of the prodigal, although fictitious, takes this doctrine for granted.

In any event, the doctrine has less basis in specific case-studies than in the confluence of sin and perseverance. The Christian is still a sinner, and may fall into grievous sin, but remains immune to utter apostasy. Sooner or later, the backslider will be restored.

This is, indeed, an aspect of sanctifying grace. Even—or should we say, especially?—in his backslidden state, the Holy Spirit is prodding and chastening his conscience.

But if we must make such allowances, as—indeed—we must, it certainly presents a pretty truncated view of spiritual progress. If Solomon, or a man such as Solomon, could live for so long in such an unholy state, and only come around at the eleventh hour, then he would seem to emerge from the experience a spiritual midget, unless we regard his reclamation is having the effect of growth hormone that made up for lost time. His spiritual figs will be green rather than ripe.

And this brings us to another question. Progressive sanctification is not regarded as passive, automatic process, but a cooperative endeavor in which the Christian must make diligent use of the means of grace. This is not cooperative in the synergistic sense, for it is God who wills and induces our compliance.

Still, this raises an obvious question: suppose a believer neglects the means of grace? And surely this is more than a hypothetical question. Would not such a Christian suffer from stunted growth? Is this not the admonition of Heb 5:11-6:1? What we have here is, indeed, a less extreme case of the backslider, by sins of omission rather than commission.

There is even an ironic danger that the doctrine of progressive sanctification, as popularly expounded, may actually impede spiritual progress by fostering a false expectation that will often be dashed and leave the believer discouraged. Is there not, for example, a sense in which the Puritan preoccupation with the evidence assurance actually undermined the experience of assurance? For the inward evidence of grace comes concomitantly with the inward evidence of sin.

This is not to deny the duty of spiritual examination. But would it not be sounder, both in principle and practice, to seek evidence in the conflict itself, rather than the bright blossoms of faith and grace—blossoms that come with thorns of iniquity? For those that are dead in sin suffer no inner warfare between the flesh and the Spirit. For them, the battle was won in favor of the flesh.

Perhaps the upshot of all this is that the relation between sin and perseverance is so individually indented that we cannot graph any general trend in the Christian life. We can set certain markers and boundaries (e.g., regeneration, perseverance), and we can plot the final destination (glorification), but must leave the intervening steps to temperament and providence.

Having said all that, we must still aim for the ideal, for the Bible often and earnestly urges the people of God to pursue the path of holiness. John Ryle has well expressed the extremes, both for our encouragement and admonition:
"there are some of the Lord's people who seem "never able to get on" from the time of their conversion. They are born again, but they remain babies all their lives. They are learners in Christ's school, but they never seem to get beyond the ABCs of faith. They have got inside the fold, but there they lie down and go no further. Year after year you see in them the same old besetting sins. You hear from them the same old experience. You observe in them the same want of spiritual appetite,—the same squeamishness about anything but the milk of the Word, and the same dislike of strong meat,—the same childishness,—the same feebleness,—the same littleness of mind,—the same narrowness of heart,—the same want of interest in anything beyond their own little circle, which you observed ten years ago. They are pilgrims indeed, but pilgrims like the Gibeonites of old;—their bread is always dry and moldy,—their shoes always old and clouted, and their garments always rent and torn (Josh 9:4,5).

But then there are others of the Lord's people who seem to be "always getting on." They grow like the grass after rain. They increase like Israel in Egypt. They press on like Gideon,—though sometimes "faint, yet always pursuing" (Judges 8:4)." They are ever adding grace to grace, and faith to faith, and strength to strength. Everytime you meet them their hearts seem larger, and their spiritual stature bigger, taller, and stronger. Every year they appear to see more, and know more, and believe more, and feel more in their religion…They attempt great things, and they do great things. When they fail they try again, and when they fall they are soon up against. And all this time they think themselves poor unprofitable servants, and fancy they do nothing at all!" Practical Religion (Clarke & Co., 1977), 54-55.

Better Said...

Significant quotes with regard to Pat Tillman: hero.

Hero

Hero

Friday, April 23, 2004

The canon of Scripture-2

3. NT Intra-Testamental attestation:

i) Apostolic authorship:

If a book is by an apostle then it automatically merits inclusion in the canon. And this follows from the fact that the Apostles were divinely authorized spokesmen of the gospel. This is not the same as saying that apostolicity is a necessary condition of canonicity, but any surviving apostolic writing is necessarily canonical by virtue of its inspiration.

By traditional reckoning, this would cover Matthew and John, the Pauline, Petrine, and Johannine Epistles, and Revelation. And their apostolicity is attested by various lines of internal evidence.

ii) Common Authorship:

Insofar as various books of the NT share common authorship, they naturally group into cross-attesting blocs. This would include the Lucan corpus (Luke-Acts), the Pauline corpus (Romans—Philemon), the Petrine corpus (1-2 Peter), and the Johannine corpus (John; 1-3 John; Revelation). It would be unnatural in the extreme to evaluate the canonicity of each book on a strictly case-by-case basis. Such an atomistic approach cuts across the mutually supportive testimony presented by their shared authorship. In addition, cross-attestation extends to secondary as well as primary authorship (e.g. the Pauline and Petrine speeches in Acts).

iii) Common theology:

Insofar as certain doctrinal emphases bridge over different books by different authors, they are mutually supportive. Many examples could be cited. The Fourth Gospel’s christological reflections on the presence of God (1:14; 2:19-21; 4:20-24) hooks up with the pilgrim theology of Stephen (Acts 7:44-50), the typology of Hebrews, and a congruence of themes in Revelation (7:15; 21:3,10-11,22-23). Again, the paraenetic materials in James have many points of contact with the Sermon on the Mount. Or again, while all of the Paulines naturally share a core theology, we find a number of specific affinities—both in terms of the choice and treatment of topics—between Romans and Galatians (e.g. Abraham, justification, life in the Spirit, bondage & liberation), while the overlap is even more pronounced in the case of Ephesians and Colossians. Once again, there’s a highly antithetical strain running the length of the Johannine corpus with respect to how the author characterizes the nature of the spiritual conflict: God/Satan; truth/falsehood; children of light/darkness, &c. (which is a further evidence of their common authorship). The larger point is that various books of the NT have strings in each other. You can’t tug at one without jerking another. You can’t pull one thread without unraveling reams of fabric.

iv) Common Associates:

The NT authors share a number of contacts and go-betweens. Mark is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 13:5; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24; 1 Pet 5:13). Timothy is an associate of both Paul and the author of Hebrews (Acts 16-20; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor 1:19; Col 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1; 3:2,6; 2 Thes 1:1; 1-2 Tim; Heb 13:23). Luke is an acquaintance and/or associate of Paul, Mark, Mnason, Philip, and James (Acts 21:8;16,18; Col 4:10,14; 2 Tim 4:11). Barnabas is an associate of both Paul and the Jerusalemite apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27;11-15; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1,9, 13; Col 4:10). Silas/Silvanus is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 15-18; 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:1; 1 Pet 5:12).

This sets up a network of associates who are in a position to crosscheck each other’s work. They are all well-connected in their access to genuine information on the life and teaching of Christ. None of the authors was a rogue writer, making up his theology to suit his own taste or his readership’s. An informal process of peer review was in place.

v) Common sources:

It is generally agreed that the Synoptics presuppose some form of literary interdependence. And literary interdependence is a form of cross-attestation.

2 Pet-Jude are also synoptic, although the direction of dependence is a matter of debate.

vi) Common kinship:

Leadership in the NT church operated along the lines of an extended family. This principle has OT precedent as well, for in some cases, canonical literature would have been preserved in family archives. For example, the "sons of Asaph" constituted a liturgical dynasty that stretches from the Davidic monarchy to the Restoration (1 Chron 25; 2 Chron 20:14; 35:15; Ezra 3:10; Neh 11:17,22; 12:25). It is fair to say that they exercised custody over the Psalms of Asaph (50,73-83). This sort of familial trusteeship is ignored in discussions of the canon.

Such blood-ties are hardly surprising in an organization that began with a small core group (cf. Acts 1:15), and was originally situated in a tribal society. Mary was a relative of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36). Elizabeth belonged to the Aaronic clan (Lk 1:5), which implies that Mary was also of priestly lineage. Based on Mt 20:20, 27:56, Mk 15:40 and Jn 19:25, it appears that Mary and Salome were sisters or sisters-in-law. Salome was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. This would make the Apostle John a cousin of Jesus. Although this identification is not a sure thing, it would explain a couple of otherwise puzzling details. Why did Jesus entrust his mother to John (Jn 19:26-27)? Granted that his half-brothers were not yet converts to the cause (cf. Jn 7:5), but why turn to John? But if Mary is John’s aunt, then all is clear. How is it that John enjoys entrée with the high priest (Jn 18:16)? But if John is also of priestly pedigree—vis-a-vis the Elizabeth-cum-Mary-cum-Salome connection, we have a place to start. James and Jude—authors of the respective letters bearing their names—are brothers, and half-brothers of Jesus. Mark and Barnabas were cousins (Col 4:10). Paul had a sister and nephew in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). We could chart other relatives but this will suffice for present purposes.

By virtue of this familial matrix, the NT authors would have access to inside information. Jesus and John were probably childhood playmates. Given Paul’s former connections, it is not surprising that his sister had some well-placed informants. Luke could have gotten some of his information via Paul or by interviewing his sister. Barnabas, Mark, Mnason and Philip would be excellent sources on the Church of Jerusalem. The dominical family would have been the obvious and even exclusive source of information for the Lucan nativity accounts. Given the affinities between Lk 6:20 and Jas 2:5, or Lk 6:24-25; 12:16-21,33 and Jas 4:13-5:2, it’s not hard to guess which family member he tapped for details. Indeed, we have direct confirmation for a fact that Luke met with James—and other members of the Mother Church—on the occasion of one of Paul’s journeys (Acts 21:18).

vii) Common timeframe:

All of the NT writings are either by first or second generation Christians. The Apostolate had an inbuilt time limit (Acts 1:21-22). This consideration alone knocks all the NT apocryphal out of bounds.

The books of the NT canon enjoy a chain-of-custody extending back from the present day to the 2C or in many cases the late 1C. That is to say, it is possible to document the continuous existence and identity of these books on the basis of patristic usage, the MS tradition, versions, lectionaries, catalogues, &c.

Paul is a partial exception, but an exception that proves the rule, for he is acutely sensitive to his anachronistic status, like the issue of a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:1). Paul is a paradigm of grace, and not Apostleship (1 Tim 1:15-16). As such, this special case sets no precedent for an open canon, and indeed militates against pseudonymity.

The fact that the NT writers were also contemporaries establishes a webwork of accountability relationships. In principle, any author of a NT book would be answerable to his fellow apostles or associates. To be sure, inspiration is not subject to appeal. The point, rather, is how this dynamic would cut against inauthentic writings. A pseudonymous book, or anonymous book by an unqualified spokesman, would never be accepted by churches under Apostolic jurisdiction. It is not without reason that the NT apocrypha all fall outside the lifetime of the Apostles and their associates. When someone tried to palm off a letter under an assumed name, the alias was shot down by the fact that Paul was still on the scene (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17).

viii) Common affiliation:

Many of the NT writers are affiliated with the mother church in Jerusalem, either as members or via members. An outstanding example is Mark. It is generally asserted, without much by way of argument, that Mark was not an eyewitness to the events recorded in his Gospel. But conservatives often lean on the tradition that he wrote his Gospel under the direction of Peter. Whatever stock we place in this tradition, there are firmer clues to his sources and resources. I’m surprised by the lack of systematic attention to Acts 12:12ff. Here we learn several suggestive details regarding the background of Mark. The family home was in Jerusalem, and it was also a house-church. The fact that the topographical indicators intensify in Mark’s gospel as the narrative nears Jerusalem and environs reinforces that identification. It is also the first destination after Peter’s jailbreak, and its members have the ear of James, then head of the Jerusalem Church (v.17).

This opens up a rich vein of possibilities. To begin with, since the family home was in Jerusalem, there is no reason to suppose that Mark either couldn’t or wouldn’t have been an eye-witness to the public ministry of Christ in Jerusalem. Jesus always drew a crowd. He was easily the most interesting religious phenomenon to visit Jerusalem within living memory. As a charismatic and iconoclastic figure he would prove irresistible to a young man like Mark. Even if Mark were not at that time a follower, sheer curiosity would compel him to join the spectators whenever Jesus came to town. So I think it likely that parts of his Gospel were based on personal observation. A highly parochial reference like Mk 15:21 suggests personal knowledge. The fact, moreover, that the family home was also a house-church whose members were on a first name basis with Peter and James suggests that Mark’s family may well have been in on the ground floor of the Christian movement.

In any case, Mark was in a position to interview any or all of the Jerusalemite Apostles. His home was a clearing house of first-hand information, even before he set a foot outside the door. Apart from any literary designs, Mark would naturally pepper them with questions about Jesus at every opportunity. Wouldn’t you if you were on personal terms with Peter, James, John and the whole gang? Remember, too, it’s not just tradition that attributes the composition of this Gospel to Mark. All of our Greek MSS designate the same authors for the same gospels. If these designations were added after the death of the authors, it is unaccountable why there aren’t any variant designees.

Luke is also well connected. He knows Mark. He knows Mnason, who was a charter-member of the mother church. Presumably he crossed paths with Silas and Barnabas, both of whom were well-placed members of the Jerusalem Church. Of particular interest is his acquaintance with James, the Lord’s brother and the head of the mother church in Jerusalem. Manaen would be a direct source of information on the Herodian dynasty (Acts 13:1), especially if Luke were a member of the same congregation (Acts 11:28, Western Text).

No doubt our record is only skimming the surface. Luke’s circle of contacts would have included quite a number of first-hand informants he could draw on in writing his history of the Christ and sequel history of the Church. And for some of the episodes in the sequel he was an eyewitness in his own right. The fact that Paul could rattle off the names of 24 members belonging to a church he’d never even visited (Rom 16) affords us some hint of the living data-base that would also have been at Luke’s disposal. The further fact that Luke even had access to official correspondence (Acts 23:25-30), which is not altogether surprising given his high-ranking Roman patron, evidences the caliber of his contacts.

We must keep in mind that publication of a gospel by Mark or Luke presupposes some degree of sponsorship. Unless Mark’s gospel had official backing and a receptive audience, the project would get nowhere. The publication and distribution of NT literature would have been an in-house operation, requiring an elaborate subcultural infrastructure. Through word-of-mouth and informal transcription, copies of copies multiplied and spread abroad. Luke presumably dedicated his two-part history to Theophilus as a way of jump-starting the process.

ix) Independence Contacts:

Besides all this inside information, the record includes some parties who had their own informal channels. Luke’s two-part history is dedicated to Theophilus. "Most excellent" (kratiste) is an honorific title. While it was sometimes used as a polite form of address, in Lucan usage it is reserved for procurators (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). A number of high Roman officials figure in Lucan accounts (e.g. Pilate, Felix, Festus, Gallio), and Theophilus was in a position to double-check the accuracy of Luke’s story, or even supply him with key information. Other officials who were involved with the Christian movement, such as the Asiarchs (Acts 19:31), Erastus the Aedile (Rom 16:23; cf. Acts 19:22; 2 Tim 4:20), Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7,12), the Praetorian Guard (Phil 1:13), and members of the imperial household (Phil 4:16) were well poised to ask around.

x) Intertextuality:

We find a number of incidental correlations in the NT. 1 Tim 5:18 seems to be a verbatim quote from Lk 10:7. Since this Gospel and the Pastorals were both written prior to Acts, the chronology would be feasible. The alternative is to attribute this logion to some free-floating tradition. But a couple of impediments stand in the way of that alternative:
(i) It fails to explain why Paul’s wording follows the Lucan rather than Matthean form (cf. Mt 10:10).
(ii) Paul’s citation formula implies a written source, so that appeal to oral tradition is ruled out.

In his Eucharist formulary, where Paul is expressly drawing on tradition (1 Cor 11:23-25), he often agrees with the Lucan wording against the Matthean and Marcan parallels. Moreover, the eschatological aspect of communion is distinctive to Luke and Paul (Lk 22:16,18; 1 Cor 11:26). Paul’s precis of the Resurrection appearances also follows the order of Luke—first Peter, then the Twelve (1 Cor 15:4b-5; Lk 24:12,34,36), as does his appeal to Scriptural support (1 Cor 15:3-4; Lk 24:45-47). 1 Thes 2:15-17 recalls Lk 11:49ff., while 2 Thes 5:2-7 appears to be patterned after Lk 12:39-40; 21:34-36. Again, we're only grazing the surface.

None of this is intended to limit Paul’s source of knowledge to Luke alone, but merely to document his familiarity, either with the final published edition of the third Gospel—since we don’t know the interval between the composition of Luke and Acts—or a preliminary draft. And it stands to reason that Paul would be partial to Luke, for the "beloved physician" was an especially attentive and tenacious friend (e.g. 2 Tim 4:11). Again, the point is not to suggest that one gospel is more accurate than another, for each of the Evangelists is free to select, arrange, adapt and paraphrase the material without prejudice to its factual content.

The relationship between Mt 5:34-37 and Jas 5:12 affords another quite specific instance of intertextuality. An especially fulsome example is the series of parallels distinctive to Luke and John. There are also striking points of contact between James and 1 Peter (e.g. Jas 1:2-4,10-11,14; 4:6-10; 1 Pet 1:6-7,23-24; 5:5-6), which isn’t surprising given their intimate association.

Based on the above survey, I conclude that the books of the Bible intermesh in multiform ways, like a latticework of interlocking joints. Just as built-in redundancy is a safety feature in critical systems, the intersection of so many books at so many points means that the canon of Scripture is "overbuilt," and stands or falls as a unit rather than an aggregate. It is interwoven with threads of inspired allusion and attestation.

IV. Jude and Pseudepigrapha

Jude's use of pseudepigrapha has raised some eyebrows. The question is hampered by our lack of background materials. What was common knowledge for him and his audience is often lost to us. But a few observations are in order.

i) The fact that a sacred author quotes from an extracanonical source doesn’t commit him to accepting the source at face value. Moses offers a subversive reading of the Song of Heshbon (Num 21:27-30). It was originally an Amorite taunt-song. Now the tables are turned as Israel bests the Amorites and makes them eat their own words! The irony trades on a conspicuous contrast between the original context and its recontextualization.

For his part, Jeremiah (Jer 48:45-46) preserves the original referent (Moab), but time-shifts the terms fulfillment from past to future. So Moses and Jeremiah both disregard original intent as they adapt the material to score points. They make inspired used of uninspired materials. It is precisely because the material is uninspired that they indulge in such literary license. What is normative is not the primary source, but the use made of it in the secondary source.

ii) 1 Enoch is a sectarian document of Essene pedigree. (Cf. R. Beckwith, "The Earliest Enoch Literature and its Calendar," Revue de Qumran 39 [Feb 1981], 365-403.). As such, it would never have found its way into the Temple archive alongside the canonical scrolls—or from there into the synagogal lectionaries (cf. Lk 4:17; Acts 13:15,27; 15:21). (Cf. J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, vol. 1 [Ktav, 1971].) Josephus, a Pharisee who accompanied Vespasian and Titus when they captured Jerusalem and despoiled the Temple, indicates that the Temple was the repository for holy books of Judaism (Life 75; Wars 5.7). That would comport with OT precedent (cf. Exod 25:16; Deut 10:5; 17:18; 31:9,26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Chron 29:30). This official registry presumably set the gold standard for lectionary usage as well.

iii) Likewise, the Assumption of Moses betrays Essene and Pharisaic traits. (Cf. R. Beckwith, "Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming," Revue de Qumran 40 [Dec 1981], 521-542). Based on its studied allusion to the 34 year reign of Herod (6:6; cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.8.1), the Testament of Moses dates at the earliest to the turn of the 1C AD. It is extremely far-fetched to suppose that a mid-1C author like Jude would be appealing to such a novel document—with no representation in the Temple archives or synagogal lectionaries—as canonical writ. Indeed, R. Bauckham has proposed that the Assumption may be itself dependent on Jude, who is—in turn—dependent on the Testament of Moses. (Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church [T&T Clark, 1990], 235ff.)

iv) Nor do we find Jude employing standard scriptural citation formulas (e.g. "it is written," "scripture says"). Hence,, there is no formal reason for supposing that Jude ranked this material with Holy Writ.

v) In judging Jude’s estimate of Jewish pseudepigrapha, we must remember that his brother was a very traditional Jew, as is evident from his letter, his administration of the Jerusalem church (e.g. Acts 15), and his ultraist disciples (Gal 2:12ff.). Given this establishmentarian emphasis, it is unlikely in the extreme that he would have ranked sectarian (=Essene) literature on par with Scripture. Now it is no doubt possible that his kid brother was less conservative, but to assume that Jude was way out of the mainstream isn’t very plausible given the impact and position of his elder brother. This was a society in which primogeniture mattered.

vi) What’s more, the leadership of James over the Jerusalem church, which was the mother church of Christendom, was such that his kid brother could never have functioned in that body unless he enjoyed big brother’s approval. There would have been no receptive constituency for the very letter under review.

The canon of Scripture-1

I. The argument:

The canon is often regarded as the weak link in the Protestant case. External attestation rates at most a probably conclusion. So the Catholic apologetic apologist will say a Protestant has no right to invoke Scriptural authority since he has no authority for his canon of Scripture. In nature of the case, the Bible can’t refer to itself as a completed totality until it’s complete, and once it’s complete it can’t refer back to itself since any such reference would have to be after the fact. So we can only draw the boundaries of the canon from a vantagepoint outside the canon. That being so, our knowledge of the canon depends on the testimony of the Church. But absent a magisterium, this means that Protestants are leaning on a fallible process to yield a reliable result. Or so goes the argument. By way of reply:

II. External attestation.

i) This objection assumes that the only form of attestation is external attestation. Even if that were so, when Trent defines the scope of the canon, it appeals to the testimony of the church fathers. But in that event, the Roman church is reliant on the same basic sources as are the Protestant churches.

ii) If the case for the canon depends on historical evidence, so does the case for Catholicism. How does a Catholic apologist set out to prove the primacy of Rome or apostolic succession without some recourse to historical evidence? Tradition is but another name for history.

iii) Even if the case for the canon were entirely dependent on external attestation, that does not, of itself, introduce an element of uncertainty into the process. Once again, the Church of Rome has a low doctrine of Scripture because she has a low doctrine of providence. But there's nothing haphazard about ordinary providence. In Gen 24, for instance, the reader is expected to discern that God's hidden hand guided Abraham's servant to find the right wife for Isaac.

iv) Access to God's word is not merely a matter of general providence, but special providence, for revelation and redemption are correlative (cf. (e.g. Ps 147:19-20; Jn 4:22; Rom 3:2; 9:4; 10:9-16; Eph 2:12; 4:17-18). A probable providential inference has the practical force of strict inference. A full house may not be a royal flush, but it trumps three of a kind every time. If you knew that God had stacked the deck in such a way that the opposing player never got better than a straight, while dealing you a full house, you’d bet all your chips on that hand just as if it were a royal flush in spades.

III. Internal attestation.

However, the case for the canon is not only or primarily limited to external attestation. There are also multiple lines of internal evidence. You just need to look at how the Bible is put together.

By way of objection, a modern-day Catholic might counter that this appeal rests on a naïve, precritical view of Scripture. We can no longer invoke the witness of Scripture, because higher criticism has overturned the traditional time, place, and authorship of many Biblical books. To this I'd say two things:

i) Even if this were an argument against a Protestant canon, it is hard to see how it also amounts to an argument for a Catholic canon. It is no alternative to a fallible canon of infallible books to offer an infallible canon of fallible books. So this objection looks like the theological equivalent of a homicide/suicide in which a killer first murders his victim, then shoots himself in the head.

If Scripture is inspired, then its self-referential claims are similarly inspired. But if we cannot credit the Bible when it vouches for the circumstances of its own composition, then we cannot trust it in any other matters of consequence. So this objection either proves too much or nothing at all.

ii) This objection assumes that the findings of higher criticism are compelling. But conservatives scholars have written many books and articles in which they offer a point-by-point rebuttal of such sceptical theories.

My appeal to internal attestation will build on that foundation. The relevant literature, in a vast and varied series articles, monographs, commentaries, and Bible introductions, is in the public domain. I need not reinvent the wheel at this juncture.

Much of the internal attestation takes the form of cross-attestation. The density of allusion is so rich that I can only skim the surface for purposes of illustration.

1. OT Intratestamental attestation:

The Pentateuch constitutes a bloc of Scripture that is the cornerstone of what follows. And here are internal continuities as well. The Toledoth -formula (i.e., . "these are the generations of..." (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 36:1,9; 37:2]) serves as a structuring device. Joseph’s farewell address (esp. 50:24) supplies the anticipatory rationale for the Exodus (cf. 3:6ff.), while Exod 1:1-5 is a résumé of Gen 46:8-27 (cf. 35:22-26). Exod 1:1 opens with "and," connecting it with the preceding narrative. The latter chapters of Exodus had dealt with the material arrangements of the Tabernacle while Lev 1-17 deals with its staffing and activities. Lev 18-27 is preoccupied with laws that anticipate the conditions of the Conquest and settlement. Numbers takes up the narrative thread where Exodus left off. Deuteronomy is a document of covenant renewal. Chaps 1-3 succinctly recapitulate the prior narrative of Israel’s wilderness wandering. Chap 18:18ff. makes provision for a prophetic order. Chap 28:15ff. makes provision for Israel’s apostasy. Chap 31 hands off the reins of authority to Joshua. Josh 1:1 takes up from where Deut 34 (the obituary of Moses) leaves off. The ending of Joshua is taken up in Judges 1:1; 2:6-9. Ruth is situated in the period of the Judges (1:1) and sets the stage for the Davidic kingship. 1 Kgs 1-2 continues the transition of power from 2 Sam 9-20. Chronicles reviews the history of Samuel-Kings from a post-Exilic perspective, while its genealogies reach back to the very beginning of canonical history (1Chron 1:1f.). 2 Chron 36:22-23 is taken up in Ezra 1:1-4. Ezra and Nehemiah are synoptic. Esther updates the mortal enmity between the Israelites as the Amalekites— represented by Haman (3:1; cf. 1 Sam 15; Exod 17:16). The Pentateuch is also held together by various unifying devices such as narrative/poetry/epilogue sequencing and narrative typology.

The Law supplies the supporting material for the covenant lawsuit (Isaiah-Malachi). Likewise, the historical books provide background information on the social conditions under which the prophets labored (cf. 2 Kgs 19-20; 2 Chron 22-24; 35:25; 36:12,21-22; Ezra 5:1; 6:14).

It would be rather artificial to speak in terms of the canonization of the Psalter. The psalms of David and other inspired contributions (2 Sam 23: 1-2; 1 Chron 25:1,5) were not private compositions that had to win a wider recognition over time. Their composition was an indigenous and official expression of Israel’s devotional life from the get-go. Again, Solomon’s inspired wisdom and royal standing would have ensured immediate reception for his writings (1 Kgs 4:29-34). It is anachronistic to retroject rabbinical debates back into the formative period of the canon. There was, likewise, no process of canonization for the law of Moses (Exod 25:16,21; 40:20; Deut 10:2,5; 17:18; 31:9,24-26).

The intertextuality of the OT can be documented in detail, ranging from broad redemptive-historical surveys (e.g. 1 Sam 12:6-12; 2 Kgs 17; Neh 9; Ps 78; 105-106; 135-136) to specific allusions and applications, e.g. Josh 24:32 (Gen 33:19; 50:25); Judg 11:15-27 (Num 20-21); 1 Kg 2:27 (1 Sam 2:31-33); 1 Kg 16:34 (Josh 6:26); 2 Kg 18:4 (Num 21:4-9); 1 Chron 5:1 (Gen 35:22; 49:4); Ps 2; 89:20ff. (2 Sam 7:14); Ps 8 (Gen 1); Ps 83:9-12 (Judg 4-8); Ps 104; 148 (cf. Gen 1); Ps 114 (cf. Exod 14-15; Josh 3:13-17); Ps 132 (2 Sam 6-7); Eccl 3:20; 7:29; 12:7 (Gen 2-3). Isa 54:9 (Gen 9:11); Jer 26:18 (Mic 3:12); Ezk 14:14,20; 28:3,13ff. (Gen 1-3; 6:9ff; Job 1:1; Dan 6); Ezk 37:1-12 (Gen 1-2; Ps 46:4); Hos 12:3-4,12-13 (Gen 25:26; 27:41-29:30; 32:22-23); Micah 6:4; 7:20 (Gen-Exod); Zech 8:9 (Haggai).

We also have cases of nested intertextuality in which C adapts B, which, in turn, adapts A. For example, 2 Chr 6:41-42 is tertiary to Ps 132:6-10, which is secondary to 2 Sam 6:12-29. This is a higher-order form of cross-attestation.

2. Intertestamental attestation:

Let us now move to some examples of intertestamental attestation. The case for the OT canon is further simplified by the fact that the OT is practically canonized by the NT. This includes collective designations, viz., "the law and the prophets," "the scriptures," "the Psalms" (=Hagiagrapha?), "the oracles of God"; cita-tion formulas, viz., "God says"; quoting an author by name (e.g. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Jonah), sweeping historical references that span the canon—"from Abel to Zechariah" (=Genesis to Chronicles?)—as well as a pervasive subtextual fabric of allusion to the OT.

On the last point, it may be objected that bare allusion does not amount to canonical stature. Taken by itself, that is true enough. But when an allusion supports the express argument or narrative design, it does implicate the normative status of the primary source. The fact, moreover, that an author feels secure in merely alluding to the primary source generally supposes an unspoken recognition of and deference to the authority of that source on the part of his audience. Indeed, it trades on a traditional preunderstanding of the source in application to the question at hand.

If the NT canonizes the OT, there’s a sense in which the OT canonizes the NT OT inasmuch as the OT and NT form a unit: the OT represents promise; the NT, fulfillment. Thus, they are two halves of a whole. Judaism alone is a half-finished bridge.

Space does not permit a survey of all the NT citations and allusions to the OT. I just mention this because it constitutes one major line of evidence. As I said above, independent lines of evidence can converge on the same destination.

I'm glad you asked-7

6. Original Sin

I suppose most folks have an intuitive resistance to original sin. It seems unfair. Yet what, exactly, is it that prompts this instinctive reaction? There is a difference between being blamed for doing some I didn’t do, and being blamed for something I didn’t do. The former is unjust because it is untrue. But the latter is subtler. When men rankle under the dogma of original sin, I doubt that they draw this distinction.

Certainly there are many cases in which I’m blameworthy for something I didn’t do—precisely because it was something I was supposed to have done. And there are cases in which I’m blameworthy, or share the blame, for something done by another. A father is largely responsible for the behavior of a young child.

The reprobate and unregenerate cannot believe the Gospel in much the same way as a bad man cannot stand to be in the same room as a good man. The mere presence of a good man makes him feel unclean. Having you ever noticed, in this regard, how the most indignant men are the most evil men? They fly into a rage at the slightest breath of criticism, whereas a saint is characteristically contrite.

The ubiquitous appeal of art, drama and literature is prized on our capacity for imaginative identification with another. We project ourselves into the situation of the character—even to the point of moral complicity (e.g. voyeurism). Hence, the idea of our vicarious solidarity with Adam, so far from being counterintuitive, is more in the nature of a cultural universal.

It is amusing to see how quickly folks will forfeit their grandiose claims on freewill. A liberal preacher goes to the movies Saturday night. There, in the darkened movie theater, his attention is glued to a patch of dancing light. He sees everything through the lens of the cameraman. His perspective is skewed by the director’s viewpoint. He identifies with a sympathetic character. He relates to his sticky situation. He resonates with the pathos of a powerful actor. His moods mirror the color scheme. His emotions are massaged by the sound track. His feelings synchronize with the moviegoer behind him, beside him, and ahead of him. Having marinated himself in polite mob psychology and vicarious virtual reality for two or three hours, he mounts the pulpit Sunday morning to denounce the dogma of original sin as a tyrannical infringement on our impregnable freedom.

7. Predestination

A lot of folks seem to find the idea of predestination claustrophobic. How do we account for their existential panic? The reasoning seems to be as follows: If I were just a dumb animal, then it wouldn't matter to me; but to be conscious of my own fate feels as though I'm being shadowed by a doppelganger. I peer over my shoulder only to catch myself fulfilling my own fate.

But this dualism is illusory, for there is a wide difference between knowing that my choices are foreordained, and knowing what they are. If I knew in advance, and could do nothing to alter the fact, then that would induce this paranoid feeling of a spectral self trapped in the body of an automaton. But the decree is a hidden decree.

Suppose we compare predestination to a game of seven-card stud. God is the dealer. One of the players is a believer, the other an unbeliever who tries to cheat the believer at every turn. However, God has stacked the deck so that his chosen people will win over the long haul.

Now, God is securing the outcome by securing the deal. Yet he isn’t forcing the hand of a crooked player. Since a crooked player doesn’t know that the dealer is a cardsharp, he bets and bluffs just the same as if the deck were randomly shuffled. He can only play the hand he’s dealt, but that’s true in any poker game, and he enjoys the very same choices he’d have if the cards just happened to play out in that order.

God allows the unbeliever to cheat the believer, but feeds the believer enough winning cards to keep him in the game. God then lets the crooked player become overconfident and bet the whole jackpot on a weak hand, at which point the Christian calls his bluff and rakes in all the chips.

To me, there’s a delicious irony in this arrangement, for a crooked player constantly tries to cheat his fellow player, but all the while he’s being cheated by the dealer. That’s more than bare permission, but less than overt coercion—just as Assyria was a rod of wrath in the hands of the Almighty, levied by providence to crush a hypocritical nation (Isa 10:5-19). Assyria meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Gen 50:20); for God tips the scales here-and-now to right the scales hereafter. (Some readers may feel that it is irreverent to take an illustration from professional gambling; but, in fact, the Bible uses a gaming metaphor to describe God's providence [Prov 16:33].)

Man has more freedom of choice than does a dog. Unlike the merely instinctual or Pavlovian behavior of the animal kingdom, man has been endowed with a capacity for moral and rational deliberation. But God chooses our choices. God is responsible for everything, but blamable for nothing. To say that God is responsible for whatever happens is not to say that God is solely responsible for whatever happens. God is not the only agent in the world. God is the primary agent, but he has made secondary agents as well.

There are many men who, for whatever reason, find predestination deeply unpalatable. And, for them, dislike and disbelief are one and the same thing. Yet there are certain drab advantages to believing unlovely truths over lovely lies. A lunatic is free to believe whatever he pleases, but as that renders him a danger to himself and others, he is confined to a padded cell. Although the truth may crimp our style, a clear-headed man is fundamentally freer than a madman, for he knows what will work and what will not. A medium is both a door and a wall. If you respect the medium, it empowers you; if you disrespect the medium, it overpowers you. A ship on water is liberating; a car on water is a coffin. Jumping off a cliff will get you to the bottom of the hill quicker than keeping close to the trail, but the benefits of speed are off-set by the hard landing. The only free man is a man who lives by the promises and admonitions of the Lord. By respecting reality, he avoids the dangers and enjoys the dividends that only a reverence for the truth can repay.

The popular appeal of freewill stands for a state of arrested adolescence. Now it may be natural and normal for teenagers to be a bit rebellious. But God is not the sort of father we will ever outgrow, so the itch for independence is out of place where our religious relations are concerned. Indeed, one purpose of parenting is to model our dependence on God. Nothing is more laughable than the spectacle of an emancipated five-year-old. His best efforts to run away from home take him no further than the tree-house in his own back yard. And even then he must come down for dinner and a dry place to sleep.

Freewill is the oldest heresy in the book, having a diabolical origin (Gen 3:1-5). It was the temper himself who insinuated that our primal parents were free to defy God and go their own way. But while they were at liberty to disobey the law of God, they were never free of the will of God, for their very downfall was decreed of God (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22).

In a fallen world, freedom is like a jailbreak. Would we really wish to empty the prisons and have marauding bands roaming the streets? If evil is foreordained, then there is hope—for evil is restrained by a higher reason for a higher good; but if evil is freely willed, then there is only despair—for it has no boundaries in time and space.

8. Euthyphro Dilemma

It is often thought that the Euthyphro dilemma cancels out the appeal to God as the ground of morality. I've already addressed this objection in my essay on Bertrand Russell ("Why I am not a Russellite").

9. Crimes of Christianity

One of the most popular objections to the faith is the charge that various atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ, viz., Inquisition, Crusades, pogroms, witch-hunting, wars of religion, &c.

i) One of the revealing things about this charge is the way it betrays the lack of a self-critical sense on the part of unbelievers. For even if the charge were altogether true, isn’t the time past due for the secular humanist to account for all the atrocities committed on his watch, viz., Baathism, Maoism, Nazism, Stalinism?

ii) Although various sins are inconsistent with Christian ethics, then are not inconsistent with Christian theology for the obvious reason that Christian theology includes a theology of sin. Sin does not disprove the Gospel, for the gospel is predicated on sin. Unbelievers were hardly the first to find hypocrites inside the church (Mt 23). But what about all the hypocrites outside the church?

iii) Freedom of dissent is a modern idea. The Medieval Church was intolerant of dissent because the Medieval Church was an autocratic institution. But the same could be said of the Medieval State, or the pre-Christian state, or the post-Christian state—with its speech codes and the like. To single out the Church for special censure is anachronistic and blinkered.

iv) At the same time, freedom dissent has its logical corollary in freedom of assembly. The Church, like any voluntary association, has the right to lay down the terms of membership—just like political parties and professional associations.

v) There is a rote way in which unbelievers tick off the crimes of Christianity. They always cite the same, shopworn examples, viz., the Crusades, the Inquisition, &c. To this a couple of things need to be said. To begin with, since I am not Roman Catholic, I’m no more blamable for Catholic church history than Jews are blamable for the Nazis. After all, the Spanish Inquisition targeted Evangelicals—among other victims, and the pogroms slaughtered Armenian believers as well as Jews.

However, we need to make some allowance the situation facing the Latin Church. Islam was the mortal enemy of the Church. And it still is. The Crusades were a counteroffensive to push back a rising Jihad. Just read Urban’s speech to the Council of Constance. And the Spanish Inquisition was a mopping up operation to round up collaborators after the Moors were driven from of the Iberian Peninsula. Both the Inquisition and the Crusades got out of hand, but it is easy for us to jeer from the cheap seats, and I’m prepared to cut the Catholic Church a little slack on this matter.

Witch-hunting peaked, not during the Middle Ages, but the Enlightenment. Likewise, the wars of religion took place during the Enlightenment. Guilt-by-association has a long reach, and infidels may find themselves mired in the same tar pit if they resort to such tactics.

I’d add that the wars of religion did not a represent a popular movement, but were instigated and prosecuted by European monarchs. The Christian conscript is not to blame for following orders at gunpoint. And the Irish problem is owing to the legacy of English colonialism.

Let us also recall that it was theologians like Augustine and Aquinas who tried to lay down the rules of war in order to minimize atrocities. Just war doctrine is a Christian creation. Before then it was a free-for-all.

10. Christian Chauvinism

Many people take great offense, or at least feign offense, at the exclusive claims of the Christian faith. What are we to make of this?

i) It is a commonplace of human experience that people disagree with one another. If I disagree with you, I must think that I’m right and you’re wrong. So unless the critics of Christian chauvinism are going to resign the right to ever disagree with anyone about anything, it is unclear why they reserve one standard for themselves, and a contrary standard for the Christian.

ii) The alternative to believing that only one religion is right and every opposing faith is false is believing that every faith is false bar none. So it is hard to see how this is more tolerant than Christian chauvinism.

iii) Christian chauvinism would only be morally wrong if it were factually wrong. The pluralist assumes that Christian chauvinism is false. And he is only tolerant in the demeaning sense that if all religious creeds are false, then one creed is no better or worse than another, and it matters not which one you believe in as long as your equally insincere.

iv) However, the objection may take a more moderate form. The issue is not that all religions are wholly false, but that no one religion is wholly true; hence, the propert attitude is to revere the glimmers of truth in each religious tradition.

But even if this were so, the question is how a pluralist happens to privy to knowing where the truth lies in each religious tradition. What is his benchmark? Under the guise of tolerant magnanimity, isn’t he assuming a God’s eye view? For how can he say that this or that faith is relatively true or false unless he is gazing down from his Olympian throne?

v) Many of those opposing Christian mission are supporting sociopolitical activism. They feel that some political beliefs are right, but others wrong. They deem it terribly important to convert people from the wrong political party to the right political party. They deem it terribly important for educational institutions to indoctrinate the young in liberal values. They write books and articles to convince us of their superior views. They even support coercive legislation to penalize dissent.

But why the double standard? Why is religious persuasion immoral, but political persuasion is a moral imperative? Why religious relativism, but sociopolitical absolutism?

vi) However, some would say that the problem is not with believing that I am right, but in failing to make allowance for the possibility that I may be wrong. By way of reply,
(a) The abstract possibility that I may be wrong about something is no reason to question my convictions. It may be that if I get out of bed, I’ll be run over by a car, but that is not sensible reason to stay in bed all day.
(b) Why is the pluralist more worried about being wrong than being right? To be sure, there are dangers in being wrong when you supposed you were right. But there are equal dangers of moral paralysis, of refusing to act on what you deem to be right for fear of being wrong.
(c) A Christian is quite willing to admit that he may be wrong about almost anything—excepting, that is, his Christian faith ; what he is unwilling to admit is that God may ever be wrong. The Christian does not lean on his own fallible wisdom, but on the infallible wisdom of God.
(d) It may be objected that (c) only pushes the problem back a step. At issue is the question of whether the Christian may be wrong about God. But if that is, indeed, a serious question, then the answer cannot be short-circuited by preemptive finger-waging about the arrogance of religious intolerance.

vii) It is sometimes said that oriental religions are more tolerant than occidental religions. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that that is true, they have more reason to be tolerant, for eastern religions are not prized on the principle of divine revelation. And so they have no theoretical basis for religious certainty.

But to fault occidental religions for being less tolerant that oriental religions ignores their varying truth-conditions. A revealed religion has different truth-conditions, and for that same reason, a claim to religious certainty. The primary question is the authenticity of its revelatory status.

But are oriental religions more tolerant? They have vicious fights over succession within a given school or sect, and vicious fights between hostile schools and sects. They are fanatically inflexible over fine points of ritual. They persecute Christian missionaries and converts. The tolerant image of oriental religions seems to be the image exported for Western consumption, and not an impression formed by those who have had to live in the orient.

viii) Critics of Christian chauvinism are fond of tossing around the charge of intellectual arrogance. But what, exactly, is intellectual arrogance? Is it merely the conviction that I am right and you are wrong?

I define intellectual arrogance as anti-intellectual arrogance. I am guilty of intellectual arrogance if and when I do not hold myself accountable for my beliefs—when I insist that I am right, and you are wrong, but I refuse to offer a rational defense of my convictions, when I have no intellectual standards. To be intellectually arrogant is to be both dogmatic and irresponsible inasmuch as I don’t have the arguments to back up my dogmatism. On the one hand I assume an air of intellectual superiority while, at the same time, withdrawing into a shell an unreasoning obstinacy when my vaunted beliefs come under fire. But the Christian faith has always had a strong apologetic component. We make a reasoned case for what we believe.

I'm glad you asked-6

IV. Ethics

Although I will address some tradition objections, this is less an issue of ethics than of meta-ethics. How we judge any given case is dependent on our system of ethics. Beyond the stock examples, contemporary critics also convict the Bible of "racism," "sexism," speciesism," "homophobia" and "hate-speech." But how you adjudicate these issues ultimately goes back to the nature of God and man; men, women and children; the animal kingdom and the ecosystem. The critics usually beg the question by simply assuming, without benefit of argument, that their standards are right, and ours are wrong. They resort to slurs and slogans and speech-codes to shame us and bully us into meek submission.

Yet the critic is in no position to put a Christian on the defensive unless the critic is prepared to defend his own position. A Christian can only rebut an argument. So it would be premature for the believer to mount a counter-offensive before the unbeliever has bothered to make a reasoned case for the opposing position.

1. Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is easily stated. If God is both omnipotent and benevolent, why is there evil in the world? It would seem that he is either unable to prevent it, in which case he is not omnipotent; or else he is unwilling, in which case he is not benevolent.

Now, in principle, this dilemma, even if stringent, is not a disproof of the Deity, but only the existence of a rather robust conception of God. Yet it would seem, from the standpoint of the atheist, that the traditional view of God is the only kind of God worth disbelieving! So both the conservative Christian and the atheist think that the only God worthy of the name is a full-strength God.

The most popular theodicy is the freewill defense. But aside from the question of whether the FWD is even Scriptural, it suffers from some internal difficulties. Why should freewill be defined in terms of the freedom to do otherwise? After all, even on a libertarian account we can only make one choice at a time, and one choice cancels out another. So why should God not limit the freedom of opportunity to one or another natural goods?

If, as some liberals would have it, God cannot know which way we'll choose, then that concedes the dilemma and relieves it by sacrificing the sovereignty of God. Speaking for myself, I'd just say that I'm more than happy to waive all claims to every little godling in the liberal pantheon as long as I'm allowed to keep the only and only God of the Bible.

And if you insist that a free agent must have unfettered freedom, then this means that Jim can use his freedom to gain power over John and thereby limit or deprive John of his freedom. Indeed, this happens all the time. How much significant freedom does John enjoy as a political prisoner in his 5x5 cell or before the firing squad? (Another criticism is that self-determination is a viciously circular notion. The classic attack comes from Edwards in his Freedom of the Will.)

The Bible takes a different tack. History is theodicy. Knowing God is the highest good, for God is the highest good. God foreordained the Fall of Adam (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22) so that his chosen people should glory in the wisdom of his ever just and most merciful designs (Jn 9-12; 1 Jn 4:9-10; Rom 9:17,22-23; Eph 3:9-10). Although God’s greatness shone forth in the primavernal glory of Eden, it burns more brightly in the autumnal glory of the cross.

The common good and the greater good are incompatible. There is no greatest good for the greatest number. Rather, there is a lesser good for a greater number, or a greater good for a lesser number. A world without sin is the best possible world for the common good. But it is not the best possible world for the greatest good. An unfallen world is a lesser good for every creature; but redemption is a greater good for the elect.

In the nature of the case, a theodicy pivots on a theological value-system. An unbeliever will find a theodicy that takes the knowledge of God as a second-order good to be unpersuasive, for he is unpersuaded of God’s very existence, much less in his role as the exemplar of good and chief end of man. At this level, there is no common ground.

For their own part, many believers try to put an extra layer of latex between God and the fallen world order. Now there are no doubt models of divine and human agency that would have the effect of inculpating God in evil. The "gods" of Canaan were guilty of sin.

But the danger doesn't only issue from too much involvement. Too little detachment may also be blameworthy, as in the case of an absentee landlord who fails to maintain the sewer system, so that his tenants die of cholera. What I respect about the God of Calvinism, who, by the way, bears an uncanny resemblance to the God of the Bible, is that he doesn't relate to the world through a pair of latex gloves. The God of the Exodus, the God of Job, the God of Isaiah, is not an absentee landlord.

Rather, it's like the relation between an officer and a foot soldier. A foot soldier doesn't resent having to follow orders, even if the orders induce personal pain and hardship, as long as he respects his commanding officer and thinks that this is all for a good cause. He even takes a filial pride in being treated like a grown man who can be trusted to tough it out under duress. He only becomes resentful if, after having carried out his orders and suffered for the cause, he finds his commanding officer beginning to put distance between himself and the mission.

Now our God is the Lord of hosts and Captain of the host. And the Lord God of Sabaoth never says he's sorry for the mission or the orders—or denies that he was the one issuing the orders. He keeps his word and keeps his own counsel.

To speak of evil as "the problem of evil" assumes that evil is nothing but a problem. Yet that is rather shortsighted. Although it is only natural to think of goodness as a check on evil, we also need to appreciate the ways in which evil can serve as a check on evil—for one evildoer will often block the malicious designs of another evildoer. Ambition counters ambition, incompetence gums up the totalitarian apparatus, and petty corruption impedes more heinous schemes. "Tyrants could do much more harm in the world if all their servants were flawlessly efficient, untiringly industrious, and financially incorruptible," P. Geach, Truth & Hope (Notre Dame, 2001), 37. So even vice, in moderation, has its fringe benefits. Remember that the next time you must deal with a blundering bureaucrat and pencil pusher. His plodding ineptitude is every bit as galling to the ruthless depot as it is to the man in line.

The problem of evil takes for granted a distinction between good and evil. But when deployed against the existence of God, this distinction is deeply problematic. For, from a secular standpoint, what is the source and standard of right and wrong? Evil assumes a deviation from an ideal. But if we inhabit an accidental universe, if intelligent life is a fortuitous turn of events, then nothing was supposed to be one way or another. And if, when I die, it’s as though I never lived; and if nice guys and mean men suffer a common fate, then what does it matter how you and I conduct our affairs?

Theodical writers often experience difficulty with natural evil. Even if they succeed, to their own satisfaction, in accounting for moral evil, they find it hard to integrate natural evil into a theodicy cast in light of moral evil.

But if they only had a better ear for the voice of Scripture, they'd perceive a quite logical, internal relation. In Scripture, the sensible world is a moral metaphor. That is why Scripture so often repairs to natural metaphors to depict spiritual truths. And not only does it move on the plane of favorable figures—such as life, light, health and, abundance, to name a few—but at the level of unfavorable figures to illustrate the character and consequences of sin—such as death, dirt, disease, and decay; of famine and fire, flooding and drought; of aging, impotence, lameness, blindness, and deafness; of a weed patch, thornbush, or savage animal; of storms and deserts and earthquakes,

2. Hell

How can a loving Lord send anyone to hell? A common question. Let’s pose another question. How can a loving husband divorce one of his wives? Now some readers might find that question peculiar. How can a truly loving husband have more than one wife?

Ah, but that’s the point! There is a difference between marital love and alley cat affection. The intensity of a man’s love for a woman is in inverse relation to the extent of his love for other women. And, in Scripture, the love of God is akin to marital love (Isa 54:5; Eph 5:25,32; Rev 19:6-10; 21:2). God is not a Tomcat. The Lord loves the elect, not the reprobate. He tethers the reprobate for the sake of the sheep. Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares? Because they share a common field, God sends sun and rain on the tares in order to warm and water the wheat (Mt 5:45; 13:29). Remember the remnant of grace? God fells the terebinth and tithes on the stump for the sake of the holy seed within (Isa 6:13). "I gave Egypt as a ransom, for you were precious in my sight" (Isa 43:3-4)!

How can you believe in a God who presides over a perpetual torture chamber? Another common question. But this picture owes more to Dante than Scripture. I see hell as less a torture chamber than fantasy island, but with a twist. If you strip away the figurative imagery of fire and outer darkness, what you’re left with is that hell is Arminian heaven, for there is where sinners have utter license to sin, to sin to their heart’s content, to sin without inhibition or intermission. So God punishes sin with sin by adding iniquity end-to-end without end—which strikes me not as a miscarriage of justice, but justice perfected.

What I find offensive is not the belief in everlasting damnation, but the breezy way in which a universalist presumes to speak for everyone, the victim included, and takes it upon himself to extend forgiveness on the victim's behalf without the victim's consent.

3. Holy War

Many men, both inside and outside the church, have a problem with OT holy war. Now this is not a case in which a Christian apologist has to try and supply a rationale for a Biblical doctrine or practice, for the Bible already gives us a reason for holy war (Deut 9:4; 20:18). So the problem is not so much that critics don't know the reason, but that they don't like the reason. (The same considerations apply to other cases of judgment, such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah. In each case, reasons are given [Gen 6:5-6,11-13; 18:20], but the unbeliever does not share the same scale of values.)

So, at a certain level, we may be faced with incommensurable standards. OT morality is prized on a theological value-system. If you don't subscribe to the theology of Scripture, then you don't share its moral priorities. As long as that is the case, further debate will not change many minds.

Many men and women are especially disturbed by the wholesale slaughter of children. This is understandable and even commendable up to a point. The love of children is ordinarily a natural and theological virtue. Much of human mercy is based on fellow feeling. Because we are men of like-passions, we have a sympathetic capacity for the plight of our fellow man.

But we need to guard against an anthropomorphic model of God. God has no fellow feeling. Divine mercy is not grounded in literal empathy or the bowels of compassion, viz. "There is only one living and true God, infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions" (WCF 2:1).

And our visceral revulsion to this aspect of holy war may be so strong that critics will have no patience with patient explanations. But I'd point out that if you lack intellectual patience, then you forfeit the right to raise intellectual objections. And I'd also add that unreasoning moral outrage is immoral. Unless indignation has a basis in truth, it doesn't deserve a respectful hearing.

In a fallen world, you have three options: (a) you can side with evil. You can do wrong; (b) you can oppose evil and make the best of a bad situation, choosing the lesser of two evils; (c) you can passively acquiesce to the status quo, not taking sides, and letting others make the tough choices and do the dirty work on your behalf.

If you go with ©, then that will save you a lot of wear-and-tear on your delicate conscience, but contracting out the hard questions to second parties and mercenaries does not absolve you complicity for their actions. It may make you feel better and sleep better, but it doesn't make you a better person. And it disqualifies you from waxing indignant over the choices which, by your moral abdication, you have delegated to second parties.

If you are a morally serious individual, you will go with (b). One of the things that makes evil so evil is that it forces good men to do hateful and horrendous things they'd ordinarily avoid. A physician may have to inflict terrible pain and suffering on a patient in order to save him, but he is hardly in the wrong to do so.

With regard to children, several things need to be said:

i) It isn't possible in this life to be just and merciful to everyone alike. Everyone is related to someone. You cannot punish a parent without causing the child to suffer. Does that mean that we should never punish a parent? Is that just or merciful to the victims of the parent? If a soldier or policeman shoots a father, he leaves his wife a widow and single mom. If he shoots the father and mother, he leaves the child an orphan. So there is sometimes no way of exacting justice or defending the innocent without hurting some other innocents.

ii) Moreover, we need to consider the qualify of life of a boy or girl or woman raised in pure paganism, what with infanticide, child sacrifice, cult prostitution, sodomy, bestiality and the like. The whole culture is an assembly line of inhuman depravity. Sometimes you must burn down the factory and start from the ground up.

iii) Furthermore, that sweet, cherubic little boy may grow up to be Pharaoh or Ashurbanipal or a soldier in the armies of Pharaoh or Ashurbanipal— who will one day be responsible for the mass murder of cherubic little Jewish boys and the gang rape of their godly mothers and grandmothers. I don't know, but God knows. The tares would choke out the wheat unless God engaged in a periodic program of weeding. (It is sometimes said that OT holy war was racist. But God was just as unsparing with Jewish apostates [e.g., Exod 32; Num 16; 25; Deut 28:15-68].) And he saved the nation of Israel to save the Savior of Israel and the nations—for Israel was the medium of the Messianic line. Whatever children are saved, are saved in Christ. So holy war was a redemptive instrument.

4. Slavery

OT slaves fell into two classes: POWs and indentured servants. If an Israelite fell into a debt he could not repay, he made restitution by becoming an indentured servant for upwards of six years. And a freeman was entitled to severance pay (Deut 15:13-14). Israel was a tribal society in which the major property holdings were kept in common by the clan, not the individual. Hence, property could not pass out of the clan. There was also a form of voluntary indentureship (Lev 25:39-43)—as well as a slave trade (vv44-46), which did not involve the enslavement of freemen, but a transference of ownership.

It isn't clear to me why any reasonable person would object to financial restitution for a property crime (e.g., Exod 22:3). This involves a logical relation between crime and punishment—unlike our modern prison system in which the victim must subsidize the criminal rather than receive restitution for his losses.

Regarding POWs, the question was what to do with war captives. Because warriors were men, war widowed their wives and orphaned their kids. So what should become of them? A common practice in the ANE was to put whole cities to the sword. But I don't suppose that many critics of slavery would favor that alternative.

In a man's world, where survival depended on brute force, women and children were defenseless. Hence, the enslavement of POWs was a severe mercy. In addition, slaves had a number of legal rights under the Mosaic code (cf. Exod 20:10; 21:1-32; Deut 21:10-14; 23:15-16). They were far from chattel. Their life was valued no lower than the master's.

OT slavery reflects a tough-minded realism. It was a just and merciful institution in hard times. And it is not to be confounded with the race-based institution of the old South, which was driven by economic expediency.

5. Imprecatory Psalms

Many people, both inside and outside the church, are bothered by the so-called Imprecatory Psalms (e.g., Pss 35, 69, 109). Many readers take particular offense at the ending to Ps 137. Over the years, various suggestions have been offered to take the sting out of these imprecations. The most popular suggestion is that OT ethics operated at a lower standard than NT ethics. But there are problems with that suggestion. The principle of progressive revelation doesn't mean progress from error into truth. And the imprecatory sentiment is on display in NT ethics as well (e.g., Mt 23; Rev 18-19). In addition, the Imprecatory Psalms are often cited in the NT (e.g., Lk 19:44).

Another suggestion is that the Psalmist was not indulging in a private vendetta, but consigning his enemies to the justice of God. But while there is some truth to this, it is a bit antiseptic. There is a vindictive tone to the Psalmist that cannot be explained away by such an impersonal gloss. In addition, it sidesteps the question of whether the Psalmist ought to wish ill of his enemies, regardless of whether he or the Lord is the avenging agent.

By way of a better answer, I'd say the following:

i) In is not uncommon for Bible values to become generalized and secularized. Then this version, taken out of context, is read back into the context of Scripture.

ii) One aspect of common grace is that God often exercises a measure of mercy towards the reprobate. Although they deserve immediate retribution, God withholds judgment lest the elect suffer a common fate (e.g. Gen 18-19; Mt 13:24-30; 1 Pet 3:9).

iii) This does not mean, however, that there is something intrinsically wrong with wishing that God exact justice on evildoers. That is what a just God is supposed to do.

iv) There is a difference between the way in which, on the one hand, Christians parry personal slights and petty injuries, and the way in which, on the other, we deal with a powerful enemy of the faith. When Paul was opposed by Elymas, he struck him blind (Acts 13:11). And Peter had some choice words for Simon Magus (Acts 8:23).

v) David was the anointed king of a theocratic state. Hence, an attack on David was an attack on the OT church.

vi) David was also a type of Christ, and the enemies of David typify the enemies of Christ. (Of course, [v-vi] only apply to the royal or Davidic Psalms.)

vii) If David was a type of Christ, Babylon was a type of the Antichrist—or kingdom thereof (Rev 17-18).

viii) We must make some allowance for hyperbole (e.g., Ps 141:6; Jer 20:14-18; 51:25).

x) As to Ps 137:9, since Babylon was an alluvial land with no major rock formations, the imagery is more than likely a hyperbolic figuration of the lex talionis (cf. Ps 141:6; Jer 51:25). Some people need a dose of their own medicine. The bitter taste makes them more compassionate. In addition, inspired hyperbole is no less inspired for being hyperbolic, and no less hyperbolic for being inspired.

x) Maledictions were a fixture of covenant theology, and are at least as applicable to the covenant community and covenant children (cf. Exod 20:5; Deut 27-28) as they are to the enemies of Israel. David is quite even-handed in his maledictions, being prepared to call down curses upon his own head as well as his enemies (cf. Ps 7:4-5).

I'm glad you asked-5

III. Science

Before we can properly review the scientific evidence, we need to review our philosophy of science, and that, in turn, goes back to our underlying epistemology. Does my perception of the world resemble the world?

A dog or cat is a consummate realist. Fido believes that furry face staring back at him in the mirror is the real deal. But I don’t regard canine or feline epistemology as the best available theory of knowledge—unless you’re planning to catch rats or hunt chipmunks.

Like man’s best friend, many people treat the percipient as though he were a camera obscura—with a pair of holes bored into the front-end of the box to admit images, another pair drilled on either side to admit sounds, and so on. On this view, there is no filtering process. The light that passes through the opening and casts a shadow on the backside is a scaled down replica of the image that bounced off the sensible object. So there is a close, family resemblance between the input and readout.

But on a more scientific analysis, the observer or observable world is more like an enigma machine. Light bouncing off the sensible object encodes the secondary properties in the form of electromagnetic information, and when that strikes the eye, the data stream is reencoded as electrochemical information. What reaches consciousness is not a miniature image of the sensible object, but a cryptogram. It bears no more resemblance to the original than a music score is a facsimile of sound. Incidentally, cryptography goes back to Bible times. Check out the code names in Jer 25:25-26; 51:1,41.

But even our scientific analysis is more than a little illusory. When we try to break down the various steps involved sensory processing, we are having to describe the input in terms of the readout, as if we could retrace the process. We talk about the tree, and the light from the tree, and the eye, and the optic nerve, and neural pathways and synapses and so on. And this is described as if we were on the outside, seeing the info feed in, when—in fact—our mind is on the receiving end, and the readout is more like a little film projector. Our perception of the external world is an optical illusion, like the silver screen.

That doesn’t mean that the external world is an illusion. But it lies at several removes from immediate awareness. At an ontological level, there is a public world; but at an epistemic level, there is only a private world of my mind and your mind.

At this point, someone might ask, then how do you know that there even is an external world? Maybe it’s just that projector running in your head! And, at a philosophical level, there is no knock down argument against this objection.

But, at a theological level, there is. For the Creator of the world enjoys an intersubjectival knowledge of the world. And by virtue of revelation, we may tap into a God’s-eye view of the world. For propositions, as abstract information, are identical at either end of the transmission process—unless they come out as gibberish (garbage in/garbage out). If you understand what you read, then it was not garbled in transmission. It still must be encoded in a sensible medium, but the readout is the same as the input. Otherwise, it would be unintelligible.

At the level of basic epistemology, science can never disprove the Bible because divine revelation is our only clear window onto the world. Otherwise, we perceive the world through the stained-glass solipsism of our inescapable subjectivity.

I will go on to discuss some scientific objections to the Bible, but always with this caveat in my back pocket. For even if we were unable to field specific objections, the world of the naked eye, of the microscope and telescope and other such like, is a hall of mirrors, and left to our own devices, may as well be a trick mirror.

1. Creation

For some professing believers, there is no conflict between science and Scripture because they constantly revise their reading of Scripture with a view to the latest scientific theory. For a couple of reasons, I won’t go that route. To begin with, if the Bible is divine revelation, then it enjoys an independent and superior source of information. That being so, why would we try to square it with another and lesser source of information? Isn’t the Creator of the world the world authority on how the world was made? Isn’t that the natural point of departure?

Of course, there are even people in the church who deny the inspiration of Scripture on factual matters. But in that event, there is nothing to harmonize—for, on their view, Darwin was right and Moses was wrong, period.

As to my second reason, when we interpret a document from the past, we need to turn back the clock and clear our minds of all modern assumptions. The very last thing we want is to be up-to-date. Rather, the objective is to be out-of-date—to assume the viewpoint of the original writer and his implied audience—to see how the world would look through his eyes. No one reads Dante with the Commedia in one hand and a textbook on modern astronomy in the other.

Incidentally, this brings us back to an earlier point. When professing believers partition the Bible into inspired and uninspired portions, this does not reflect the viewpoint of the Bible, but is an insulating strategy on the part of modern readers with divided commitments. The creation account is of a piece with the Fall, the flood, the patriarchal narratives, the Exodus, and so forth. To set up a buffer zone between the parts of the Bible we accept and the parts we reject is a self-defensive and self-deceptive exercise that betrays modern anxieties of which the original was innocent.

To take another example, we’re often told that the Copernican revolution either falsifies the Bible or falsifies a literal reading of Scripture. But the danger here is to import extraneous debates into our reading of Scripture. Joshua never read Ptolemy, so why assume that Joshua was operating within a Ptolemaic framework? Both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems assume an extra-terrestrial viewpoint.

When Bible writers talk about the earth, the "earth" in view is not a stationary globe in relation to the other planets, but the surface of the earth. The "earth" is the land—-seen at eye-level. An observation is not a theory of the solar system. The Bible lacks the theoretical interest of Greek astronomy.

The Galileo affair is often introduced as a bluff. We dare you to take sides. If, on the one hand, you say that Galileo was wrong, then you preserve a consistent position, but only at the cost of consigning yourself to the dustbin of lost causes. If, on the other hand, you say that Galileo was right, then you either admit that the Bible was wrong, or admit that exegesis is silly putty; if we can reinterpret the geocentric verses, why not Gen 1?

To this I’d say two things. A Christian must leave himself open to whatever the Bible teaches. If the Bible were committed to geocentrism, then that would, in turn, commit the Christian to geocentrism. Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4)! If Galileo finds himself on the wrong side of Scripture, then Galileo be damned! Sure, we would pay a price for this. But that’s the cost of discipleship. You take your lumps like a man. (Geocentrism is subject to a number of obvious objections. However, the obvious objections can be parried with surprising ease. Cf. M. Selbrede, "Rebuttal of North & Nieto," http://www.geocentricity.com/rebuttal.htm.) I myself am non-committal on the subject.

However, I think the bluff tries to bully us into an artificial dilemma. For it casts the debate in extra-Scriptural categories. Exegesis need not choose between either frame of reference, for both fall outside the purview of Scripture.

When I read Genesis, I should put myself in the sandals of an ancient Israelite, emancipated from Egypt, living in the Sinai, and listening to Moses read aloud the law. When, for example, the first man and woman are told that the stars serve a calendrical function, does this imply the ordinary rate of propagation? Did Adam and Eve have to wait millions and billions of years before beams of starlight struck the earth? Is that how our Israelite would have construed the account? And if I’m not prepared to assume that historical horizon and make it my own—not merely as a matter of critical sympathy, but as an act of faith—then I should admit to myself that the game is up and stopping kidding myself with sophistries and half-measures.

However, such anachronisms are not limited to nominal believers. A quite common and unconscious misstep made by scientific critics of the creation and flood accounts is first to build in extra-Biblical assumptions, and then convict the narrative of inconsistency because it conflicts with the various consequences of these extraneous assumptions.

What is lost sight of is that a critic is supposed to exercise critical sympathy. In other words, a reviewer or philosopher or historian is supposed to exercise enough detachment that he can separate his own views from the viewpoint of the text, in order to grasp what is meant, make sense of it on its own terms, and see how well it hangs together given the assumptions of the author. Even if you’re reading a writer in order to attack him, you need to be a good listener. The difference between believer and unbeliever is that the latter will put a temporary distance between his views and the author’s, whereas a believer will detach his views in order to make room for the inspired viewpoint of Scripture.

As an example of this confusion, we're told that, when measured in light-years, the scale of the universe entails its multi-billion year age. But this inference rests on a number of assumptions, viz., the initial size of the universe, the speed of light as a cosmic constant, the relative rate of expansion, the ordinary emission and transmission of starlight from its point of origin to the earth, and so on.

Now, it should be clear that the creation account is silent on most of these assumptions. That doesn't mean that it necessary negates them. But it is, at best, neutral on such assumptions. To point out, then, that Biblical cosmology is at odds with modern cosmology only goes to show that the Biblical account is inconsistent with certain extra-Biblical assumptions. So what? An inconsistency can be relieved in either of two directions, so the unbeliever hasn’t gone any distance in proving his view to be true and the view of Scripture to be false. Running in place may create the illusion of progress, but the motion is circular.

What the unbeliever needs to do is to ask how the world would look assuming, if only for the sake of argument, the editorial viewpoint of the narrative. Suppose that the world was made at an accelerated pace—say, in six straight days. Would it look old or new? Would it appear different than if it happened in the normal amount of time it takes to run through the life-cycle of a star or galaxy or mountain chain?

Unbelievers often dismiss this approach as sleight-of-hand. Yet it is no different than trying to read Dante through Medieval eyes. In fact, it is the unbeliever who is dealing off the bottom of the deck. On the one hand, he wants us to interpret the Bible as literally as possible because that puts the Bible on a collision course with science. On the other hand, when the believer begins to ask what sort of world a literal interpretation predicts for, what a literal reading logically entails, then the unbeliever cries foul!

Others dismiss this explanation as implicating God in a web of deception. But such an objection is so hidebound as to be unintentionally comic. They think it’s perfectly okay to say that a star is older than it looks, due to time lag, but to say that it’s younger than it looks is downright deceptive!

Yet the objection also commits the naturalistic fallacy. The universe is not a cosmic clock with a pair of hands sweeping out the hours and minutes. The fact that we coopt a natural process to clock absolute time is a secondary, man-made application of a process that serves another purpose altogether. I can also uncap beer bottles with my teeth, but if I split a molar in the process, that is hardly a design flaw. The fact is that things don’t look any particular age. That’s a comparative judgment based on experience, and past experience is hardly germane to creation ex nihilo. The proper subject-matter of science is ordinary providence, not extraordinary providence (creation and miracle). If I’d never see a Redwood before, I’d never guess it’s age from its appearance. Yes, I could count the rings, but that presupposes the prior existence of seed-bearing trees. (I also assume that tree-rings are affected by climatic variation, or the absence thereof.)

It is amusing to see how unbelievers smuggle unnatural assumptions into their naturalism. They defend evolution by telling us that natural selection favors adaptations that confer a survival advantage (e.g., camouflage). But it takes a witting observer to discern the value of a survival advantage. So the Darwinist must step outside the blinkered view of a blind watchmaker and instead assume the prescient view of a sighted watchmaker.

2. Flood

Another objection is that even if we grant the implications of creation ex nihilo, that would only explain the cyclical appearance of nature, but not the appearance of a linear progression from simple to complex—such as we find in the fossil record.

To begin with, permit me to question the premise. I may be wrong about this, but it isn’t clear to me that the fossil record presents such a pattern. What I’m treated to is a bait-and-switch scam. I’m told that the fossil record presents such a pattern, but I’m never shown such a pattern as given in the fossil record. Rather, I’m shown artistic diagrams and computer animations that reconstruct an evolutionary trajectory. These are pasted together from scattered remains gleaned from different digs. What the Darwinist does is to cobble together fossil remains from a variety of sites, and then line them up according to an assumed phylogeny. But is that evidence of evolution, or is the theory arranging the evidence?

Now this is shrewd salesmanship. Ray Bradbury once attributed his success as a SF writer to his picturesque prose. As he explained, you can make people believe in anything as long as you reach them through their senses.

In fact, in my reading of evolutionary literature, there seems to be tremendous flexibility built into the way the theory is positioned in relation to the evidence. Different Darwinian writers make allowance for graduated, punctuated or even quantum evolution; for convergent or divergent evolution; for progressive or regressive evolution, or coevolution or sequential evolution; for biotic or organic adaptation, preadaptation, coadaptiation, nonadaptive traits and spandrels; for specialization and despecialization; for analogies, homologies and homoplasies; for ancestral or derived homologies; for primitive or acquired traits; for diversification or downsizing, &c. Yet a theory consistent with everything is a theory of nothing.

Land animals are supposed to chart an evolutionary trend, but if some land animals revert to water (e.g., whales), then that also supports evolution. Increased cranial capacity is supposed to chart an evolutionary trend, but deencephalization (e.g., the downsizing from Cro-Magnon to modern man) also supports evolution. Pedal locomotion is supposed to chart an evolutionary trend, but if some quadrupeds lose their limbs (e.g., snakes), then that also supports evolution. The cone of diversity is supposed to chart an evolutionary tend, but upending the cone ((e.g., the Burgess Shale) also supports evolution. This either looks like a disguised description masquerading as a scientific theory, or else a theory that has been armored against falsification by being made so pliant and compliant with every opposing line of evidence.

However, I’d be the first to admit that I’m only a layman, so I’ll waive these reservations and move on to the next point. The creation account should not be read in isolation from the flood account. It is not merely a question of how the world would look as it left its Maker's hand, but how such a world would look after having been run through the blender of the Flood. Given that a global deluge would lay down a lot of fossils, it is rather perverse to hold the fossil record against the record of Scripture when it is the very record of Scripture that presents a mechanism for the mass production of fossils.

What, exactly, would count as evidence for or against a global flood? Are unbelievers expecting to find a uniform diluvium throughout the world?

But, presumably, any residual diluvium would vary according to variable erosion rates depending on regional topographical and climatic conditions.

Another imponderable is that you cannot reproduce a global flood under laboratory conditions. So it is difficult, at best, to say what the effects would be. We don’t even know what variables to plug in for purposes of computer modeling.

However, a critic would object that this appeal props up one incredible event by invoking yet another incredible event. Where did all the water come from and where did it all go? Where did all the animals come from, and where did they all go?

Now it is only natural to pose these logistical questions. But, as before, they often betray extra-Biblical assumptions, and then convict the Bible of inconsistency. For example, questions about how animals could cross mountains and oceans, fit into the ark, eat the same food, how fresh water fish could survive in brackish water, and so on, all make gratuitous assumptions about the identity of pre- and post diluvian conditions regarding biogeography and biodiversity before and after the flood, the relative salinity of prediluvian seas, the gene pool, dietary restrictions and climatic adaptation, ecological zones, distribution of land masses and natural barriers, and so on. But I don’t own a map of the prediluvian earth. Since the Bible says next to nothing about these issues, it amounts to a massive straw man argument to make the text of Scripture sink under the dead weight of so many extrinsic assumptions. Nothing has been proven one way or the other. Indeed, the argument hasn't budged an inch.

If we confine ourselves to the narrative assumptions, Genesis says that the earth began in a submerged state, and rose out of the primeval deep (1:2-10); so in order to flood the earth I imagine that God merely reversed the creative process (7:11; 8:2)—as Isaiah says: every valley shall uplifted and every mountain and hill laid low (40:4). This is no great feat for a God who measures the seas in the hollow of his hand and numbers the mountains as fine dust in the balance (40:12). So the way to inundate or drain the earth would be to raise or lower the natural barriers to coastal flooding. That supplies both a flood mechanism and a drainage mechanism all-in-one.

As to how the animals migrated to the far corners of the earth, and what they ate, one can only speculate. But the narrative invites a number of suggestions. The flood would leave an abundance of carrion and vegetable matter for animals to feed on. Because the descendents of Noah tarried in Mesopotamia until the confusion of tongues, many animals had a head-start, which may be why we find some animal remains buried beneath human remains. The descendants of Noah knew about shipbuilding, and where sailors go, animals go—as livestock, vermin and game. Transporting live animals by ship is attested elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., 1 Kg 10:22). Ancient circumnaviation has been documented by Charles Hapgood in Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (Adventures Unlimited Press 1996) as well as Hugh Moran & David Kelley in The Alphabet and the Ancient Calendar Signs (Daily Press 1969).

The flood account has other realistic details. The proportions of the ark are eminently seaworthy. And as one scholar has observed, "the use of birds which could be released for determining the presence and direction of land (Gen 8:6-12) is not a folkloristic invention, but reflects actual navigational practice...A cage full of homing pigeons is not a bad method of direction finding. If it sounds quaint, it is only because we have devised methods more to our liking, but not necessarily better in all circumstances even today," C. Gordon, Before Columbus (Crown Publishers 1971), 77.

But when Bible-believers reply to their critics, their critics then do an about-face and accuse them of indulging in unbridled speculation and profligate appeal to miracles. Well, what can you say? When they pose questions the text was not designed to answer, they thereby invite conjecture.

3. Physicalism

Many unbelievers argue that mind is reducible to matter. If so, then this undermines belief in the soul, and other discarnate minds, whether God, angels or demons.

Popular prejudice notwithstanding, idealism enjoys a prima facie advantage over materialism inasmuch as we know our mind better than our body or the external world, for whatever we know about our body or the outside world is filtered through the mind. I don't say this to negate either the body or the outside world, but merely to make the point that the burden of proof sits squarely on the shoulders of the materialist. And it is unclear to me how he can ever dislodge that burden. It is like a room with a one-way door.

There is a presumption in favor of the immaterial mind. As Dr. Johnson puts it in popular terms,
Matter can differ from matter only in form, density, bulk, motion, and direction of motion: to which of these, however, varied or combined, can consciousness be annexed. To be round or square, to be solid or fluid, to be great or little, to be moved slowly or swiftly one way or another, are modes of material existence, all equally alien to the nature of cogitation...Consider your own conceptions...You will find substance without extension...What space does the idea of a pyramid occupy?" Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose (Rinehart, 1971), 706-07.

Simply stated, a sensation of blue is not a blue sensation. Now a materialist may say that these mental properties, although apparently immaterial, are an emergent or supervenient or epiphenomenal property of matter, like the sound coming out of a radio. But there are several impediments to this claim:

i) Experience presents us with a seeming or real dualism. Unless we have some overriding reason to deny dualism, why should we question this primitive datum? Why insist on a reductive analysis? If we already knew that dualism was illusory, then there would be reason to do so, but it looks as if materialism begins with a baseless assumption—all the subsequent argumentation is trucked in to fill in the hole of that otherwise unfounded assumption.

ii) If a materialist could indeed map mental properties back onto material properties in the same way we can draw a one-to-one correspondence between the sound coming out of the speaker and the circuit board, then he would at least have a working model of the relation between mental and material properties; but, to my knowledge, neuroscience, after decades of research, has yet to advance beyond rosy promises and picturesque metaphors. Designing a machine (e.g., robot, computer) that can simulate certain aspects of human behavior doesn’t go any distance towards reducing the human mind to a physical system. To begin with, we already know that a machine is a material device; therefore, to treat this as properly parallel to the mind assumes what needs to be proven. Moreover, a parallel phenomenon doesn’t explain the original phenomenon, any more than I can explain how sound comes out of a speaker by turning on another radio. It may explain a robot or computer, but it doesn’t explain the brain and map mental events back onto brain events. Unless a materialist can chart a causal, one-to-one correspondence, then words like "emergent" or "supervenient" or "epiphenomenal" are checks drawn on an empty bank account.

iii) And even if we could set up a one-to-one correspondence, what would that prove? Savages hear weird voices issuing from a ham radio. They infer that there must be little people inside the box. They test their hypothesis by impaling the box with a spear. And the voices stop. Yet the explorer tries to explain that the signal does not originate from the box, but comes from spooky radio waves broadcast by a remote radio station. The savages seem more scientific, and the explorer more superstitious.

iv) Not only does experience present us with a seeming or real dualism, but it subordinates one to the other. We must begin with the mind—with our own thoughts, concepts, images, ideas and intentions. Everything we receive from the outside world must take the form of pure thought to be thought of at all. The object of thought is thought. At this level, subject and object are one and the same thing. This is not to deny that many or most of our ideas have their ultimate origin outside the mind, but in the order of knowing, mental properties are prior to material properties, and material properties are only accessible via mental properties; that being so, why assume, and how would you prove, that the order of being is in the reverse?

It is as though I were locked inside a room with closed-circuit TV. I can receive information from the outside world, information about the outside world. But from within my studio I cannot retrace the process of transmission. What is presented to consciousness is encrypted information and virtual imagery—like a closed-circuit TV. I cannot retrieve the plaintext from the ciphertext and reconstruct the real constitution and configuration of the outside world.

v) Our perception of the material world is indirect, whereas we enjoy immediate access to our own mental states. Therefore, the notion of an immaterial substance is a primary and primitive datum, whereas the external world lies at the end of an inference. So the materialist has inverted the standard of comparison.

Much of our mental life is spent in a dream state. Dreams are immaterial, although they simulate sensory awareness. Far from being a vague philosophical abstraction, the notion of an immaterial substance is a universal of human experience.

vi) If computers have already reproduced certain feats of human cognition (e.g. speech/ pattern recognition; game-playing; problem-solving), and if they have pulled off that feat without benefit of consciousness, then consciousness or spooky mind-stuff is not a defining property of reason, human or otherwise. Computers are smart without having recourse to beliefs, intentions, and so on. Already, computers vastly surpass our capacity to store information and perform numerical calculations—not to mention chess.
While many people in AI research seem to find this line of reasoning persuasive, it is fallacious:
(a) Computers process electronic signals. There is no understanding involved. The signals have a symbolic meaning for the computer programmer or user, but not for the machine.
(b) A clock tells time better than I can in my head. Does that mean that a clock is smarter than I am? Although the purpose of a clock is to keep track of time, and it can tick off the seconds, minutes, and hours more accurately than I can, this is not a purposeful action from the viewpoint of the clock, since the clock doesn’t have a viewpoint.
(c) That brings us to a related point. Automation tempts us to personify objects. No one would attribute intelligence to a sundial. Why then for a digital timepiece? Again, a library can store more data more accurately than I can re-member. No one would attribute intelligence to a library. How does computer "memory" differ in principle? Somehow computers acquire this specious mystique.
(d) The fact that certain tasks can be broken down into algorithmic steps doesn’t imply that our reasoning process is algorithmic. A recipe is an algorithm, but that doesn’t mean that the order in which the ingredients are added mirrors the process of reason. Are we hard-wired to add the ingredients in just that order? No, it’s a matter of culinary chemistry rather than brain chemistry.
(e) The fact that machines can simulate aspects of human reason and even perform those tasks more efficiently may foster the illusion of artificial intelligence, but the analogous fact that very primitive devices can simulate this effect (e.g. abacus; sundial) shows that the inference is fallacious. Again, we noted that breaking a task down into a stepwise order doesn’t parallel our thought process, but is simply a practical adaptation to the physical constraints of the task.

vii) Another argument for materialism is that head trauma results in mental impairment. And this implies the identity between mind and brain, or so goes the argument. The effect of mood- and mind-altering drugs confirms that identity.
(a) It should go without saying that this isn’t a scientific observation. People have known for millennia that a bump on the head or puff of weed can impair or alter mental function. That isn’t an argument against monism, but opponents of dualism often act as if neuroscience has introduced a new line of evidence which forces us to reexamine old assumptions.
(b) If you damage a telephone, that will impair or destroy its capacity to send and receive signals. Yet it’s the person at the end of the receiver who initiates the signal. The telephone is just a medium. It’s easy to propose more sophisticated examples. I would say the same thing about the brain. It coordinates body functions and sets up an interface between the mind and the external world, processing sensory input.

To claim that the human mind is analogous to a computer ignores the introspective deliverance of consciousness. Our thought process is not formalizable. Much of our knowledge is tacit. Even at the conscious level our reasoning is largely non-propositional. That is to say, consciousness rarely engages in an extended interior dialogue or visualizes its operations. Sentence fragments and scattered images from memory punctuate our self-awareness. Even if an observer could tap into our consciousness, what he saw and heard would be unintelligible to him since its significance is private and privileged. Our mental contents aren’t filed like a library; rather, their organization is more fluid and fleeting— patchy impressions, intense memories, free associations. It’s more akin to the oblique logic of a dream. What lies on the surface is already a broken syntax—while the semantics of thought—the meaning, moods, and tenses—are hidden from inspection and must be supplied. It’s a code language of analogy and allusion, context-dependent on the uniquely individual response of the original subject.

The stock objection to dualism is the difficulty of envisioning how two different substances (mind and matter) can interact. By way of reply:

i) As Hume pointed out a long time ago, causation is invisible. Causation is something we infer, not something we observe. So if this is a problem for the dualist, it is not less a problem for the materialist.
ii) In the past, Newtonian physicists believed in action-at-a-distance, while, at present, most quantum theorists believe in non-locality. Why hold dualism to a higher standard--especially when interactionism seems to be an immediate deliverance of our daily experience?
iii) Sooner or late, any model of causality must fall back on direct causation. To posit a causal nexus only pushes the cause-and-effect relation back a step.