JAMES F. MCGRATH SAID:
Thanks for taking the time to interact with my post on Beale's book. I will let you read about my own conversion experience on my blog if you are interested; the authors that have come to be among my favorites did not achieve that status without a fight against them on my part. And I think this too tells against the "conspiracy theory" and "peer pressure" hypotheses.
i) The “conspiracy theory” is not Beale’s theory. Rather, that’s a polemical caricature of Beale’s position–which you impute to him.
ii) Peer pressure was not the only explanation I gave. But it’s undoubtedly a factor in some situations.
iii) There are liberal seminaries, liberal colleges, liberal divinity schools where the veracity of Scripture comes under direct attack. For the ill-prepared student, that can take a toll.
I attended Evangelical Bible colleges, and it was already in those contexts that I found the Bible itself raising the questions, and at times leading to the answers, that I resisted from "liberals". And you are surely aware that both Robinson and Bultmann can only be generalized as "liberal" if one defines that term to mean "anyone who doesn't adhere consistently to conservative Evangelical conclusions".
To the contrary, it ranges along a continuum. For example, Bruce Metzger was to the left of Gregory Beale, but to the right of Rudolf Bultmann. I’m quite capable of distinguishing between conservatives, moderates, and liberals–with many intervening shades.
Bultmann challenged classic Liberalism's assumption that one can merely remove the cultural shell of the first century and take a timeless core of Christianity out from within it.
Which simply means that Bultmann was to the left of classic Liberalism. He was a more thoroughgoing liberal.
And his existentialist emphasis on personal decision became a key element of modern Evangelicalism.
The existentialist emphasis antedates Bultmann. For example, the Puritans place an enormous emphasis on spiritual introspection and experimental religion.
Robinson's conclusions on the date of New Testament writings are more conservative than those of many conservatives.
You didn’t reference his book on redating the NT. Rather, you cited his book on Honest to God. That title was riding the crest of 1960s countercultural. A radical chic expression of secular theology. There were a slew of books in that vein, attempting to cash in on the theological fad du jour, viz. Cox, Altizer, van Buren.
This is one reason why terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are unhelpful: they suggest that there are two opposing views rather than a wide range of partially-overlapping possible positions, as well as the possibility of being more or less conservative on some issues and different on others.
If you dislike the “liberal” label to characterize Bultmann or Robinson, I’d be happy to substitute a more exacting designation: how about atheist or secularist?
I don’t know what sort of God, if any, they still believed in. Certainly not the God of the Bible. They didn’t believe in a God who actively involves himself in mundane affairs–be it creation, providence, or miracle.
But if God never does anything, then there’s precious little evidence that God even exists. Such a God is virtually indistinguishable from a nonexistent God. At best, the “theology” of Bultmann and Robinson is functionally equivalent to atheism.
If that’s their position, then why try to keep up appearances? Why continue to intone Biblical or liturgical language when there’s no extratextual referent?
On methodological naturalism, I don't see how historical study can adopt any other approach, any more than criminology can. It will always be theoretically possible that a crime victim died simply because God wanted him dead, but the appropriate response of detectives is to leave the case open. In the same way, it will always be possible that a virgin conceived, but it will never be more likely than that the stories claiming this developed, like comparable stories about other ancient figures, as a way of highlighting the individual's significance. And since historical study deals with probabilities and evidence, to claim that a miracle is "historically likely" misunderstands the method in question.
I am a New Testament scholar rather than purely a historian, but it is my understanding (which historians I know have confirmed) that historical study works on the basis of probability, evaluating available evidence and drawing conclusions much as a jury might in a court of law. And I don't see how anyone could conclude “beyond reasonable doubt" that it is more probable that a miracle occurred than that a story about a miracle came into existence for some other reason. That doesn't mean that miracles did not occur. It just means that historical study can't "prove" that they did.
I think a distinction must be made. I cannot affirm a miracle as having happened in the distant past based on accounts in texts that have come down to us, because that's the way historical study works. When it comes to modern miracles, that's a question that relates to not only philosophical worldviews but also theology, experience and perhaps much else.
Several problems with your historiography:
i) History is supposed to be a descriptive discipline. A description of past events. It involves an element of discovery. The historian doesn’t know, in advance of his investigations, what has happened. He must learn about the past. Learn about the past on the basis of testimonial evidence or archeological evidence. (An exception would be a historian who is recording autobiographical anecdotes.)
ii) By contrast, methodological naturalism is a prescriptive principle. Applied to history, it prejudges what the historian is allowed to regard as possible or actual. It superimposes a filter on the historical evidence, screening out any evidence which is at variance with methodological naturalism.
Methodological naturalism dictates a foregone conclusion. Before the historian ever looks out the window, methodological naturalism tells the historian what he’s permitted to see. Methodological naturalism prescribes, in advance of the evidence, what can or cannot count as evidence.
That isn’t a way of doing history. That isn’t a way of learning about the past. Rather, that’s a way of insulating yourself from any sort of evidence which would challenge your precommitment to naturalism. It systematically begs all the factual questions.
iii) Moreover, methodological naturalism doesn’t distinguish between past miracles and present miracles, first-hand evidence and second-hand evidence. If you stake out the a priori position that any explanation is more likely than a miraculous explanation, then you could be an eyewitness to a modern miracle, or a series of modern miracles, yet you would be forced, in every single case, to seek an alternative explanation.
iv) You have adopted a principle which immunizes our position from all possible falsification. If you insist that every historical interpretation must be naturalistic, then your historical interpretations are unfalsifiable. How did you ever maneuver yourself into the position that historical study commits you to unfalsifiable interpretations of the past?
v) When you insist that every historical interpretation must be naturalistic, then the historical evidence ceases to control the historical interpretation. Instead, your naturalistic filter is controlling the historical interpretation.
vi) You talk about historical probabilities, but the assessment of what is probable depends on a background knowledge of what is actual or possible. However, methodological naturalism isn’t based on historical probabilities. How could you know, apart from observation, what is actual or possible?
You can’t automatically discount testimony evidence to the occurrence of miracles based on what is likely, for your knowledge of what is likely is, itself, contingent on testimonial evidence.
vii) Methodological naturalism would only be the default position in historiography (or science) if a naturalistic methodology were underwritten by the stronger thesis of metaphysical naturalism. Absent metaphysical naturalism, there is no antecedent presumption in favor of methodological naturalism.
viii) You fail to explain what would make a miracle unlikely. Let’s take the paradigm-case of the Resurrection. Considered on its own terms, what makes the Resurrection likely or unlikely is whether it’s likely or unlikely that God willed to resurrect Jesus. Did God have a reason to resurrect Jesus? Did it serve his purpose?
At a metaphysical level, it comes down to a teleological question, involving personal agency. In this case, divine agency, divine intent.
ix) I’d add that, at an epistemic level, the answer to this question doesn’t depend on prior belief in God. Unless metaphysical naturalism is true, it is not antecedently improbable that God willed the resurrection of Jesus. And, in that event, evidence for the Resurrection would also be evidence for the existence of God as well as the will of God.
My time as a Pentecostal has not persuaded me that regrowing limbs or anything utterly inexplicable of that sort happens today, and so I'm not sure why I should believe it did in the past.
But if you subscribe to methodological naturalism, then even if you did witness the regeneration of limbs in answer to prayer, you would have to discount the miraculous explanation as the least likely explanation.
So are you now admitting that methodological naturalism is an unsound principle? Are you admitting that first-hand evidence for a miracle would be sufficient to attest the occurrence of a miracle? If so, can you drive a wedge between first-hand evidence and second-hand evidence?
That's nothing to do with Hume, it's just a belief in divine consistency, i.e. that God did not do miracles in the past and then stop at some point.
i) I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Consistent in relation to what? Consistent in relation to a divine promise? Did God promise to heal amputees? If not, then what is the basis of your expectation?
ii) Why do you think divine consistency entails that if God performed miracles in the past, he’d perform miracles in the present? Do you think miracles should be a regular phenomenon–like Old Faithful? Something we set our clocks to?
Do you think God should perform the random miracle now and then? What is your theology of miracles?
ii) How can you demand evidence for modern miracles given your axiomatic commitment to methodological naturalism? Your naturalistic methodology would preempt any evidence for modern miracles.
iii) There is, in fact, an extensive literature on miracles throughout church history, up to and including the present day.
Let me not make this comment any longer, but I will say that when inerrancy is nuanced and qualified as in the Chicago Statement, it is not clear what is in fact being affirmed.
I don’t know why that’s unclear to you. The Chicago Statement spells out in some detail what its view of inerrancy affirms and disaffirms.
The Bible can be approximate and imprecise, and contains different genres - that is certainly true. But why then prejudge which texts represent which genres, and why continue to use "inerrancy" when that gives an impression to laypeople that is different from what adherents to the Chicago Statement mean by it?
i) Where does the Chicago Statement prejudge the literary classification of various texts?
ii) What makes you think the impression of a layman should be identical with the impression of scholars? Theology has a number of technical terms. Technical terms have specialized meanings.
iii) Having said that, I don’t know why you think the Chicago Statement defines inerrancy in a way a layman would not. Take round numbers. The average layman doesn’t talk like Lt. Commander Data. The average layman doesn’t give measurements down to the very last decimal point. The use of round number is a convention of ordinary language. Why would a layman think that Scripture cannot or ought to employ the conventions of ordinary language?
I think it is to create a sibboleth (sorry, I have trouble pronouncing that word) that will allow seminaries and theological schools to continue to be funded by conservative congregations and individuals, rather than educating them, since education inevitably involves having our assumptions challenged.
Now you yourself are peddling a conspiracy theory. You act as if all pastors or professors are closet liberals, but keep it to themselves for reasons of job security. Now, some pastors are leading a double life. But many conservative seminaries expose their students to the liberal view of Scripture. They discuss liberal objections to the Bible. Faculty members write whole books on the subject. Many seminarians have read both sides of the argument, and come down on the conservative side of the argument. They have nothing to hide from their congregations. This isn’t a trade secret.