Randal Rauser has posted a critique of a post by Dustin:
Dustin can speak for himself (he left a comment at Randal’s blog, although he’s pressed for time), but I’ll venture some comments of my own.
Randal begins by quoting Dustin’s statement that “While atheism is wicked…”
Randal then says:
Yoiks! This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. The problems begin when we simply try to figure out what the claim actually is.
From what I can tell, Randal never gets around to directly addressing the charge of “wickedness.” However, that’s worth remarking on.
There should be nothing controversial about a Christian believing or stating that atheism is wicked. For that reflects the viewpoint of God’s revelation in Scripture.
Offhand, the only reason I think the why Randal might take umbrage at that statement is if Randal regards Christianity as just a hypothesis, more likely than not, but quite possibly wrong. Put another way, Randal may take the position that you can’t really know if God (specifically, the God of the Bible) exists. Hence, denying the existence of God may be a morally and intellectually respectable option, from his standpoint. Since the truth of the matter is unknowable, there is nothing inherently culpable about atheism.
If that is his position, then it reflects a major dividing line in one’s view of infidelity. Some attribute the lack of faith to natural ignorance. We can’t help ourselves. We don’t know any better. Maybe God exists and maybe he doesn’t.
By contrast, the Bible attributes lack of faith to willful rebellion. Not ignorance of the truth, but fear and loathing of the unwelcome truth. To see the light, but love the darkness. To stare goodness in the face, but turn to evil. Sin as primordial apostasy.
Perhaps Randal is hedging his bets. He is genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the atheist because he sees himself in the same boat.
So what are the beliefs one must hold to have the worldview of “biblical Christianity”? Well there are two words here for our consideration: biblical, and Christianity. First off, the only rational worldview according to this author is a biblical one. What is that supposed to mean? It could mean holding the set of beliefs held by one of the authors of the Bible. Or maybe we should also extend it to the beliefs of one of the main characters in the Bible that plays for the home team. (Thus Herod the Great probably doesn’t get included. Neither does Jezebel. Although maybe they did have a biblical worldview and they just didn’t live according to their beliefs. It’s hard to say.)
Is this a sincere question? Is Randal that confused? Or is this facetious?
In general, we might say that Biblical Christianity represents the “narrative” viewpoint of Scripture. I’m using “narrative” somewhat broadly. We can extend the principle to other genres, such as the epistolary viewpoint of a letter writer like Paul. That sort of thing.
Put another way, Scripture has an “editorial” viewpoint. It doesn’t merely record speeches and events. Rather, it records Bible history in a way that reveals the writer’s assessment of what transpires. It directs the reader to identify with the moral and theological perspective of the writer. This can be done through parenthetical asides, but it can also employ more oblique literary techniques to guide the reader’s perception of events. And, of course, there are more explicitly didactic genres, where the writer openly states his position–or sets his own position in contrast to the opposing viewpoint.
A writer can also use certain speakers within the story to echo the editorial voice. Likewise, some (but not all) speakers within the Biblical narrative are inspired speakers in their own right. So they too, convey the evaluative aspect of Scripture.
Underlying this is the dual authorship of Scripture, with the inspired fusion of authorial intent. What Isaiah meant to convey is what God meant for Isaiah to convey (to take one example).
The reference to “Christianity” helps us narrow this down a bit. Perhaps then the only rational biblical worldview for us today is the one that was held by New Testament figures and characters post-Jesus in the fledgling Christian church. This would help us with the diversity problem because it would narrow us to Paul and Timothy and Mary. So the only rational worldview is that held by Paul and other New Testament, early church Christians. And that’s the worldview of biblical Christianity that we should hold as well.
No. The biblical viewpoint is ultimately the canonical viewpoint. The Bible has collective outlook. Each book contributes to a cumulative perspective.
I’m confused. What does this mean for many of the beliefs in our worldview? Science, for instance.
A Biblical worldview is an interpretive framework. Scripture itself points to events outside itself. But extrabiblical information is still evaluated from a Biblical perspective. The viewpoint of Scripture canonizes a God’s-eye viewpoint of reality. And that revelatory perspective is necessary to appreciate our place in the world.
This author apparently believes that there was not significant disagreement among New Testament Christians. But that is very far from obvious. Did Paul and James (brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church) see eye to eye on the role of the law in the church? There certainly is much rational room to doubt this. (And remember, all we need to throw a wrench into the author’s claim is to point out rational grounds for dissent.) But if they didn’t agree, or at least if we have reasonable grounds to think it possible that they didn’t agree, then which one was the biblical Christian?
i) Well, that’s far from self-evident. Acts and Galatians don’t say that Paul and James disagreed. Rather, the direct confrontation involves Paul and some anonymous second parties who presume to speak on behalf of James.
ii) Moreover, there’s no reason to assume that James had firsthand knowledge of what Paul was saying and doing on the mission field. Even if, let us say, James were to condemn a position which second parties attributed to Paul, that’s not the same thing as James condemning Paul, or James attributing a position to Paul.
It would only be on those occasions when Paul and James met face-to-face and talked specifics (or corresponded), that Paul and James would even be in the hypothetical position to disagree with each other’s theology.
iii) There is also a difference between doctrine and tactics. Even if, for the sake of argument, Paul and James differ on the best way to evangelize the Gentiles, that’s not a doctrinal agreement. Rather, that’s a tactical disagreement on missional strategies.
And that might also reflect certain inherent tradeoffs. If James is ministering primarily to Jews while Paul is ministering primarily to Gentiles, then they have different priorities.
What works best for Gentiles may be offensive to Jews, and vice versa. Therefore, one might have to settle for a tactical compromise. Indeed, that’s exactly what took place in Acts 15.
iv) But perhaps Randal is alluding to the fabled conflict between James and Paul on the doctrine of justification. If so, it’s not as if this hasn’t been dealt with in the exegetical literature.
Needless to say there are other possible areas of disagreement as well. For example, would James have agreed with the christology packed into the Gospel of John? Maybe, but possibly not. At the very least, it would surely be naive to deny that there is not development in the New Testament church’s theology. For instance, there is a pretty big gap between the tacit adoptionism of Peter’s preaching in Acts 2:36 (‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’) and the lofty declaration of John 1:1 (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.)
Here Randal’s is simply tipping his hand when it comes to his low view of Scripture. That would take us deep into the inerrancy debate. It also turns on how we interpret his prooftexts.
His next paragraph is a dismissive straw an argument.
Sadly, the author of Triablogue appears to be doing nothing more than providing empty rhetorical bluster to perpetuate the delusion that only he, and those who agree with him, are rational.
Of course, that’s a demagogical falsification of what Dustin actually wrote. If you compare Dustin’s post, where he quotes verbatim from prominent unbelievers to document his claims, with Randal’s parting shot, there’s no resemblance between the two.