Thursday, April 20, 2006

Van Til to the rescue

When the "Truly Reformed" took issue with Bishop Wright’s contention that you can be a Christian even if you deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, the monkeys over at BHT predictably came out swinging (pardon the pun) in defense of Wright.

For the most part, they didn’t defend what he said, but merely his right to say it. But to their consternation and acute embarrassment, one of their own team members actually took the side of Marcus Borg.

And the monkeys proved themselves to be wholly incompetent at refuting his arguments, which comes as no surprise.

BHT is all about attitude. The monkeys think they can wing it on attitude alone. Just bluff your way through an argument by acting hip and using colorful language.

But as soon as they found themselves up against a fairly sophisticated critic, the in-your-face posturing and rapper rhetoric was impotent to cope with intellectual challenge.

And this point it’s time to bring in a grown-up and talk to Christopher on his own level.

“Joel, my main problem with that line of reasoning is that it is too Greek. i don’t think Paul liked logic when it came to the Resurrection.”

This cuts against the grain of the text. In 1 Cor 15, Paul is quite explicitly mounting a logical argument for the resurrection of the just.

“i liked Badiou’s basic take (yes, i know that i’m going to hell for that one) on it in Saint Paul:”

Badiou is a French philosopher, not a Bible scholar.

“It doesn’t matter if the Resurrection was an actual historical event. What matters is the individual making that Event real by personally experiencing it. Paul seems vey clear that unless one experiences the Resurrection, one is not “saved.” That makes things less about historical fact (and we should know what Kierkegaard says about that!) and more about belief. i must “die with Christ” in order to live again. That isn’t talking about accepting something as a historical fact (such as accepting that Ceasar captured Vercingetorix to end the Gallic war), that is about experiencing something presently.”

i) Christopher fails to explain how a Christian can experience the Resurrection. A characteristic of historicity is its particularity: every event is strictly unrepeatable. So, if you weren’t on the scene, you cannot experience the event.

ii) However, it is possible to experience the effect of an event, even if you live long after the event.

But you cannot experience the effect of a nonevent. You cannot experience the effect of an event that never occurred.

“As to the Resurrection as a Jewish thing, i’m siding with Brevard Childs, Richard Hays, and Donald Juel (to name a few): the Resurrection is totally not Jewish. Jews at that time did not think of things lie the Resurrection…and they certainly did not equate it with the Messiah. Now, we can continue pulling out names and throwing them into the ring and have ourselves a game to see who has read more and believes it, but that doesn’t make the Resurrection any more real than Socrates’s existence or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It will still come down to belief, and that is something that can neve be proven true through propositional logic.”

The Jews did believe in the resurrection. But what they anticipated was a collective, endtime resurrection (e.g. Job 19:25-27; Isa 26:19; Ezk 37:1-14; Dan 12:2), not the resurrection of an individual before the eschaton.

“The problem with making the Resurrection a historical necessity is that it could be proven false.”

Two problems with this objection:

i) You can’t reasonably reject a position just because you don’t care for the consequences.

ii) The Resurrection could only be proven false if the Resurrection were false.

“Because we are saved from life under death and not simply death, we are given a new life. Being saved from death wouldn’t require a new life, as the first isn’t lost. The gaining of that new life is one’s poersonal experience of the Resurrection. That’s why baptism is important as it is a symbolic (to some, to others it is the real) experience of the Resurrection. Hmm, now we see why some say baptism is required for the remission of sins, as it is participation in the Event and not just a piece of paper. The reusrrection of the dead is primarily a Christian thing, not Jewish and not Greek.”

The salient issue is not one of what is required, but merely what is true. Something can be true regardless of its necessity, or lack thereof.

“Kent, that passage in Matthew makes it apparent that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and that Jesus did believe it. i don’t believe we have any evidence that most Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead prior to Christianity (my sources only mention Pinhas ben Yair in the 2nd century CE).”

The views of the Sadducees stand in contrast to the views of the Pharisees, who did affirm the Resurrection. And the Pharisees represented the mainstream view.

“i’m not so sure we can claim that Paul argued for the historicity of the Res. He certainly argued for its factuality, but as an Event, it needn’t coincide with historical ‘facts.’”

Christopher has gone into business for himself. He acts like a novelist rather than a historian, where a creative writer can toy with alternative endings.

“As Kierkegaard said in his Postscript: Basing one’s eternal happiness on an approximation (i.e. historical “fact”) is insufficient. There must be subjectivity, or else we’re not having faith.”

Faith in what? What is the object of faith? Faith in the truth, or faith in some approximation of the truth?

“Here’s an anecdote: my grandfather dies two years ago. His body is in one of the mausoleums just off I-10 in New Orleans by the City Park Ave exit. Yet he is still alive in our memories of him and the historical fact that his body has died plays no role in his living.”

“Alive in our memories.” That’s exact;u how an atheist consoles himself over the death of his loved ones.

But memories are a sorry substitute for the real thing. And this anecdote has nothing to do with the record of the Resurrection.

“Maybe it is a misnomer to speak of him at all. Maybe it’s a misnomer to say that Jesus died: sure, the body died, but even in the creeds, we admit that he descended into hell and on the third day rose again. It’s kinda hard to do anything if one’s truly dead, eh? Maybe death is just a nice convention used to denote a particular set of experiences (by George, he’s right!). A resurrection of the dead requires a total death, else it’s just reincarnation. Or maybe language can’t really explain things unexperienced (hey Blanchot!). Or maybe i’m just speculating too much and the meaning is plain-as-day common sense hitting us all in the face.”

Once again, Christopher has gone into business for himself.

i) The NT is operating with a common sense notion of death. 1C Jews and Gentiles had a very intimate and very frequent experience with death.

ii) The Bible is admittedly dualistic. There is such a thing as the immortal soul.

iii) To say that unless we deny survival, a resurrection is just reincarnation is to impose an unscriptural condition on how the Bible is allowed to define the resurrection.

iv) I deny that Christ descended into hell.

“Maybe we have to get away from the Greek dualism that is taken for granted before we can discuss death and resurrection.”

This assumes, without benefit of argument, that dualism is a Greek concept rather than a Jewish concept.

“Yet, it is clear that resurrection isn’t a strictly Jewish idea, nor even a Greek idea. It comes from some mixture of them, which wasn’t possible until after the Maccabeean Revolt. This, i suggest, because during the revolt, Jews were asserting their identity, which emphasised a “return to the golden days” (or at least their interpretation of it) and a rejection of anything Greco-Roman. After the defeat of the Jews, Hellenism came in full force–even more so than before the revolt began.”

Christopher seems to be alluding to the late dating of Daniel. This makes sense if you share the worldview of Porphyry, which is incompatible with Christian faith.

Christopher also ignores all the scholarship in defense of the 6C dating (e.g. Archer, Baldwin, Hasel, Kitchen, Millard, Waltke, Wiseman, Yamauchi, & Young).

“Oh, and with regards to resurrection in the OT:
(1) It seems accepted that interpreted Ezekiel 37 came through Maimonides.”

Christopher should consult the standard commentary on Ezekiel by Daniel Block.

“(2) It appears that Job was asking a rhetorical question.”

i) Even if that were true, doesn’t his rhetorical question anticipate an affirmative answer?

ii) In context, the resurrection of the just is central to Job’s hope of acquittal. If he cannot be acquitted in the life, then an eschatological acquittal on the day of judgment is his only hope.

“YAW, how is claiming that a resurrection first requires the object in question to be absolutely dead an acceptance of German existentialism? i’m saying that either Jesus was totally dead and was resurrected or Jesus only lost his physical body and his “resurrection” was more of a reincarnation than a ‘resurrection.’”

Once again, this is a made-up criterion of what a genuine resurrection requires. It has no basis in the Biblical account of Easter—or the Bible generally.

“With statements in the Gospels such as people thinking certain figures (John the Baptist and Jesus specifically) as being other figures (Elijah, etc) would give more creedence to the Jews believing the latter. i am asking about the common definition of “resurrection” and its required “death.” No “good Christian” will say that Jesus just “swooned,” but will assert that Jesus died. Taking that one step further, i suggested that by asserting that Jesus descended into hell implies that Jesus didn’t die but rather lost his physical body. In other words, i’m questioning what is meant by “death” by taking things as literally and seriously as possible.”

The salient question is what death would have meant to the original audience.

“If reality is real, regardless, then how come i can place one hand under cold water and another under hot water, then place them both in a vat of water that is of a uniform temperature, i can experience both “hot” and “cold.” So, there i am experiencing two extremes. According to the view that “reality is real regardless of experience,” at least one of my simultaneous experiences must be true. But, which is it? You see, “hot” and “cold” are arbitrary definitions based on an arbitrary scale that measures the motion of atoms. So, to be “real” about it, the water wasn’t “cold” or “hot.” Likewise, i suggested previously that “dead” and “alive” are also arbitrary distinctions that may not be as “real” as we believe them to be. If “death” is nothing more than physical absence from this “life” after the temporary presence in it, then isn’t even God “dead” in that sense? Again, we’re making arbitrary distinctions. When it comes to “death” and “resurrection”, though, we like to equivocate and make up a “second death” in which one “really dies that time” even though one is already “dead.” And even your assertions such as “The fact is that the Earth was hurtling around the Sun in a rather elliptical fashion, and the other planets were doing the same” are all firmly planted in experience. None of that could have been proven without usage of the senses. So, we’re still in experience. The only problem i have with that is that some people like to think that their arbitrary configuration of their experience is the only right one.”

i) The fact that our metrical systems are arbitrary doesn’t mean that our experience is arbitrary. And the fact that sensations of hot and cold are context-dependent doesn’t render the experience unreal.

ii) Moreover, this is an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where is the supporting argument to show that life and death are actually parallel to hot and cold?

“teh010gy rulez1!, “Event” is capitalized because it is a specific term used in Badiou and Zizek, but with other (such as Deleuze’s “Singularity”) similar phrases in other philosophers. For Badiou, it is the moment in which there is a violent rupture in meaning through which some kind of new perspective previously unknown emerges. With Paul, Badiou claims the Event to be the Resurrection because it is the moment in which one no longer lives under death and begins to live under the Spirit that was previously unknown and totally foreign to the self.”

This sounds like existentialism instead of exegesis.

“Recently, i noticed a simpler parallel: getting glasses. i’m near-sighted and didn’t know it. For me, my perception was normal because it wasn’t too different from 20/20 but enough so that when i looked at a brick wall, it appeared as a single mass. When i got glasses, the world was opened up to me in a totally different, alien way in which i saw the individual bricks.”

To say that perception is observer-relative is no argument for the claim that life and death or resurrection are observer-relative in the same sense. Once again, where’s the supporting argument connecting the two? Christopher likes to use illustrations as a substitute for argument. It begs the question of whether the illustration does, in fact, successfully illustrate the point at issue.

“i never suggested Kierkegaard should be the arbiter of hermeneutics. In fact, i don’t believe anybody should be the final arbiter. We’re all human and we’re all prone to error.”

Christopher has done a fine job of illustrating that liability in his own case.

“With that said though, my acceptance of Kierkegaard’s subjectivity (which is in some ways a misnomer) or your rejection of it doesn’t make either one of us true. But, that does give others hints as to what framework from which one is trying to understand the experienced world.”

How is this the least bit relevant to the exegesis of Lk 24 or Jn 20-21 or 1 Cor 15?

“Lastly, my only distinction between factuality and historicity is that of experience. While someone can disprove the historical Resurrection of Jesus, nobody can disprove my experience of it.”

Effects without causes? So he can experience a nonevent. Hmm.

“That would be on the same lines as discounting a blind man’s description of a book because the man does not speak of the book’s color.”

Would it be along the same lines? A color-blind man cannot experience the color of a coloring book, but if there were no coloring book, there’d be nothing at all to experience. A blind man cannot see a coloring book, but he can sense a coloring book. A color-blind man cannot see the colors in a coloring book, but he can still see the book.

“Secondly, i am not promoting gnosticism. i do believe that Jesus’ Resurrection was a bodily one, but i am not basing my belief upon any historical account. i am basing it upon my own experience of it.”

What is his port of entry to this experience? Unlike the disciples, we know the Resurrection by description rather than acquaintance. We were not eyewitnesses to the event.

“YAW, i have given you my definitions. When we speak of “dead,” what do we mean by it? After all, “physical death” is really just one’s absence from this existence if we talk about some other existence coming immediately after it (i.e. “heaven” and “hell”). So, what is meant when the Gospels say that Jesus died? Is it simply leaving this existence? If so, how can that be dead in the more common sense of ‘cease to exist’?”

The common sense according to whom? A modern materialist? Or the original author and his target audience?

“Secondly, as i have stated, temperature is an arbitrary measurement created by us humans. There is nothing a priori about it as it is based on common experiences. And, as to the question i ask, that originated in George Berkeley (which, i assume is what you mean by your ad hom “the typical bunk that Philo 101 students engage in to sound smart”*).”

i) No, a metrical system is not given in experience. But a metrical system is applied to something which is given in experience.

ii) Anyway, how is this germane to the Resurrection?

“You’re right that i’m “playing an artful language game” (i.e. sophistry) because that’s all this is. Language is important because it is the only way to communicate concepts. Furthermore, language is an arbitrary collection of conventional concepts that are actually quite liquid. The problem, though, is that everyone assumes that what someone implies when saying “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” (yes, i just quoted Chomsky) or “Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo” (quoting Steve Pinker there) is also what others will understand when hearing those sound patterns.
The reason why you believe i have an “inability to use language intelligibly” is because of the gap between transmission and reception. There is no guarantee that what i just said will be understood by anybody else the way it is within me. We assume that an artful use of language will get the job done, but that’s not always the case. We see this all the time with jokes when someone “doesn’t get it”: there was some sort of community being defined by the understanding of the joke and those in that community “got it” and laughed. Those that did not enter into that community (either by ignorance or by choice), didn’t ‘get it.’”

i) The fact that communication may break down does nothing to subtract from the incidents of successful communication. Indeed, unless there were such a thing as successful communication, there would be no way of detecting unsuccessful communication. Successful communication supplies the frame of reference.

ii) Christopher is dependent on the transmission process to make his own point.

iii) If the message is garbled in transmission, we will know that because the output will be gibberish.

But if the output is intelligible, then there is no gap, or at least no serious corruption, between the input and the output.

“Also, if we’re to believe that the entire dogma of Christianity rests on the Resurrection, then what about the whole life of Jesus as well?”

The Christian faith rises or falls on many events Scripture.

“It is commonly believed that Jesus must have been born of a virgin and sinless (in the very least).”

He had to be sinless. It isn’t clear that he had to be virgin-born.

He was virgin-born because, in Scripture, some sort of miraculous conception is a divine sign of a major figure in redemptive history (Isaac, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist).

“Yet, Paul completely ignores all of that stuff which later became Christian dogma. It’s not that Paul was against it (or even for it), but Paul seems to have been ambivalent to it.”

Classic argument from silence. Unlike the gospel writers, Paul is not writing as a biographer or historian.

“My point with the Resurrection was that its past factuality is unimportant compared to its present factuality found in my experience of it.”

How is a cause unimportant to the effect?

“Whoah, Nelly! First off, i never said that “resurrection” doesn’t mean “resurrection.” As i said in that post, as well as the two before it, i want to know what is meant when the Gospels say that Jesus died. What does that imply? With that in mind, then, what is resurrection? We’re tossing these words out and assuming that everyone knows exactly what we mean by them…and i have a suspicion that not only is that wrong, but that even with both “meanings” in place, they’re contradictory. When it comes to the Eastern religions, their concept of reincarnation is not the same as the Western resurrection. Let’s talk Hindu for a moment: everything we experience is maya (that is, illusion). The reality of everything including the pantheon of gods) is that of Brahma the ineffible. What is termed “death” is just what i asked: absence from this world of experience (which is an illusion, btw). It isn’t the implication of “ceases to exist absolutely” which does seem implied in the Western notion of the word ‘death.’”

“Ceases to exist absolutely” is not the “Western” notion of death. It is merely the view espoused by a physicalist.

And it’s not the Jewish conception of death, either in the OT or the NT or Second Temple Judaism. The mortalism of the Sadducees was exceptional, which is why it stands out.

“Phillip, when i was saying that Jesus “only lost his physical body,” i was referring to the notion that death involves the death of the body and not of the self (or as you put it, “his core of existence”). But, given that, then “reality” isn’t what we typically experience, is it? If our existence is something beyond this bodily world of experience, then reality is something removed from the possibility of our perception. In which case, we still have to ascertain what is “reality” then. It’s nice to say that God sees “reality” in which we grasp at whatever without ever “getting it,” but that doesn’t mean that we have any access to that “reality.” For us, as mankind, reality is largely our perception. The sky is blue (or the equivalent of that color in whatever language) because the majority of people experience the sky as the hue we call “blue.” There’s nothing in “reality” that makes the sky blue, it’s just an arbitrary measurement to make life more convenient and communtable to other humans.”

Two more problems:

i) Color perception is not purely subjective, like a dream. There is something in the external stimulus which, in conjunction with our sensory processing system, registers a particular color.

If the stimulus were different, the color would differ.

ii) More to the point, if God “sees” reality, then we can have access to God’s take on reality via divine revelation.

It’s fascinating how Christopher can totally overlook the role of revelation.

“Reality, at least for us humans, is all about perception and inter-subjective agreement. There’s nothing (that we can tell) that makes things as they are. That’s just how we perceive them. For instance, if everything were only one color, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish distance because that is based on the observation of variations in color and contrast between different colors. There’s nothing inherent to a fly that makes it 5 centimeters (or however long) long. That’s just how we perceive it and measure it according to our made-up measurements. We believe a mile to be 1280 yards because we have agreed on those measurements (either by “force” in schooling or by “choice”). There’s nothing in “reality” that states ‘1 mile must equal exactly 1280 yards, or else God will smite it down.’”

i) Reality is “all about perception” only if you’re a radical empiricist or an idealist.

ii) For theological purposes, it is perfectly adequate to define the death of Christ according to the phenomenology of death in human experience. We enjoy a direct experience of an embodied existence, while we also observe the phenomenon of death.

And we experience a mental life as well.

iii) The Bible also distinguishes between body and soul. In teaches the survival of the soul.

iv) The Bible was written to be understood. It means whatever the writers meant it to mean, according to how they expected the average reader of their own day and place would take it to mean.

That is how you fix the meaning of the “death” of Christ.

From this one can derive an abstract concept which does not depend on an incidental resemblance or correspondence between appearance and reality.

To take his own example, whether the sky is really green even if it seems to be blue is irrelevant to the existence of the sky itself. We can still make truth-valued statements about the sky regardless of its true color.

“Jim, those were two separate arguments. Sorry that they were taken as one big conglomeration. i’m asking these things because we throw about the word “dead” as if it has only one connotation and it has been used since the dawn of time in the language we currently speak from the culture in which we live.”

The semantic standard is not our own culture, but the cultural preunderstanding of the original author and audience.

“Phillip, it seems you accept Scottish Common Sense (or maybe good ole American Pragmatism), but i don’t. For me “reality” isn’t that obvious without assuming a crapload of things i’m not sure of (nor can i be).

“Back to experience, though. How do you know we experience Reality? Is there a way to sneak outside of human existence, check it out, then return and report back, especially if we “don’t perceive it well.” How do we know that we don’t perceive it well? Who exited experience and gave us some significant discourse on Reality? We have no idea what we are perceiving: the only thing we do know is that we are perceiving. Nobody can prove that the sensations i am currently getting imply any kind of corporeal body. It is simply a convention we use and assume as true so that we can live in “common sense.” Yet, as Berkeley indicates, there is very little reason to believe that reality is anything more than series of sensations on a noncorporeal brain without assuming something prior.”

Christopher overstates his case.

i) It is not simply a social convention that we believe in the external world.

One reason we believe in the external world is because that is how we experience the world. There appears to be an extramental world with which we interact.

Of course, that could be an illusion, but the appearance is given in experience itself. It is not a social convention, like a metrical system.

ii) Moreover, it is quite reasonable to assume that I seem to perceive an extramental object because there is an extramental object causing my sensation. The object is the source of the sensory stimulus.

Sure, it’s easy to come up with counterexamples like dreams and hallucinations and phantom limbs.

However, these would only count as counterexamples under the assumption that it is possible to distinguish between a dream or hallucination and the real thing.

iii) But even though Christopher overplays his hand, he still has a point. You and I cannot slip out of our skin in order to compare appearance and reality.

Evidentialism is defenseless against this objection.

And that's where it takes a transcendental argument to do the job.

Despite the discrepancy between appearance and reality, we are able to function in the world.

Despite the fact that we frequently misunderstand one another, successful communication occurs on a regular basis.

So what we should ask is, how is this possible? What must be true, what must be in place, for us to communicate and to manipulate the world around us?

Can a secular worldview bridge the gap? Or does this correlation, short of correspondence, depend on some sort of preestablished harmony?


  1. I was checking your license on the term "monkeys" in reference to BHT, and it seems to have expired. As the license-holder, I want to remind you that money walks, baby.

    I know: the check is in the mail ...

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  3. Berny:

    Christ's substitutionary work was complete on the cross: "It is finished." Therefore, the notion that Christ descended into hell as a means of torture or punishment is purely heretical.

    Yet, Christ descended into "hades" or "the grave," to release the captives. This is, for instance, what the Apostle's Creed alludes to when it affirms that he "descended into hell [the grave]".

  4. Berny,

    Wayne Grudem discusses this in his Systematic Theology (586-94) as well as:

    "He did not descend into hell," JETS 34/1 (March 1991), 103-13.

    You can also consult the standard commentaries on Acts 2:27 (e.g. Bruce, Witherington),

    Eph 4:8-9 (e.g. Hoehner, O'Brien),

    and 1 Pet 3:18-20 (e.g. Charles, Davids, Marshall, Schreiner),

  5. Christopher isn't defending Borg. He's never mentioned Borg. We don't know what he is talking about, but the whole bar is diagreeing with him. Sheesh. One guy posts and everyone else says he's wrong and you print the exact opposite. What is the deal with you?

    The BHT isn't dedending Wright. Exactly ONE person from the BHT- me- has been anywhere near the discussion.

    Is this lying excused in your religion because I'm worse than a Muslim?

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  7. Berny,

    I'm not Steve, of course, but I deny that Christ descended into hell/Hades for any reason—whether to suffer punishment, to fight with Satan, to release the Old Testament saints, to proclaim the Gospel, etc. I regard the doctrine as spoken of in the creed to be based on a faulty understanding of the afterlife before the Resurrection in combination with a few misread scriptural texts. The souls of the Old Testament saints, like believers post-Resurrection, went to heaven upon death.

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  10. berny,

    The most we can say is that Paul had access to textual traditions which are no longer extant, or which, at least, remain undiscovered.

    He certainly knew his way around the Hebrew OT. And he knew whatever text, or variants, which were in circulation within his Palestinian rabbinical circles.

    But much has been lost to the ravages of time.