Friday, March 22, 2013

Don't be spooked by scarecrows!

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:66-68).

Michael Patton has done a follow-up post:

I’ll comment on his sequel post in combination with his prequel post:

i) Up to a point, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being flexible about our apologetic or evangelistic strategies. Normally we wouldn’t begin with controversial passages of Scripture.

ii) However, a Christian apologist or street evangelist doesn’t always have the luxury of picking his topics. Often the unbeliever will pick the topic for us.

If an unbeliever asks you point blank about a stock objection to the Bible, should you duck the question? You can try, but he can tell if you are being evasive. If you dodge objections, that weakens your position. The message that sends is that Christianity can’t handle the tough questions.

iii) Moreover, why should we be ashamed to repeat what the Bible says? Are we ashamed of God?

iv) We have a duty to be faithful to the revelation that God has entrusted to us. This isn’t an Arab bazaar, where you dicker over the price. Where you lower the price. Where you keep making concessions until you can sell your product to finicky customers. An apologist or evangelist isn’t bargaining with the unbeliever. He isn’t cutting a deal. God is not so desperate for converts that he must bribe sinners to accept his Word. God isn’t a beggar. We are the beggars.

If an unbeliever asks you point blank about some “objectionable” teaching of Scripture, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give him a straight answer. Like it or not, he has a duty to believe whatever God says. He can never be a Christian if he refuses to be a follower.

v) Instead of Scripture as our standard, Michael is making unbelief the standard. Whatever people are prepared to believe (or not) is where you set the bar. But that’s not a tenable position. Do we jettison from the Christian faith whatever unbelievers deem unacceptable? It becomes a striptease where the unbeliever demands one concession after another until the Christian faith is completely denuded.

That’s not how Christians did evangelism in the book of Acts. The Gospel was a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

vi) I don’t object to being flexible about how we interpret Scripture in cases where sound hermeneutics allows us to be flexible. I don’t object to having a fallback interpretation if a particular passage is genuinely ambiguous or fairly uncertain.

But we can’t contrive an artificial fallback. Alternative interpretations have to be principled alternatives. They must respect the grammatico-historical method. The passage itself has to be open to more than one viable interpretation. You can’t special order the interpretation of Scripture to cater to your felt needs. The interpretive process must have integrity. The text has objective meaning.

vii) Michael acts as if the real threat to Christian faith is coming from the Bible. That Christian faith needs buffers to protect itself from the Bible.

It reminds me of Jewish Democrats who don’t know who the real enemy is. They still think Christians are the enemy. They are oblivious to the threat to Jews and Judaism posed by Muslims and “secular progressives.”

We’re living in a very dangerous time. A time where there are no rules. The power elite has rebelled against Biblical values.

At first, that’s exhilarating. Like horror movies about teenagers who go hiking in the woods. They are free! Out of reach of their parents and other authority figures. They can do whatever they please!

That’s fun–at first. But if there are no rules, then there are no rules about what you can do to your fellow hiker. Suppose a hiker sprains his ankle. Should we leave him behind? Suddenly the Nietzschean ethic isn’t so fun anymore.

Having repudiated God’s rules, the power elite is making the rules from scratch. There are no boundaries on what the power elite can do. No external constraints.

The power elite redefines human nature. Redefines social duties. What was human yesterday is inhuman today. What was inhumane yesterday is human today. What’s prohibitory one day is obligatory the next day. What’s obligatory one day is prohibitory the next day.

Take transgender rights. To say humans have no intrinsic gender is one of the most irrational and perverse ideas that’s ever been foisted on society. Yet that’s now the law in many states.

Genesis is not the enemy. The real enemy is the enemy of Genesis. You cease to be what God made you, and become whatever the party in power says you are.

viii) Michael is anxious about a Maginot-Line mentality (as F. F. Bruce put it). Michael wants a margin for error in case the Bible is proven wrong. Michael wants a safe fallback position he can retreat to if the Bible is demonstrably wrong.

Michael is worried about a rigid commitment to Scripture where you have two stark choices: faith or apostasy. No middle ground.

It’s like the web of belief where some commitments are central while others are peripheral. Where you can afford to lose “nonessential” beliefs like inspiration, inerrancy, the historicity of Adam, &c., without losing your faith in a single stroke.

I understand Michael’s concern. However, he suffers from a superficial grasp of the would-be alternatives.

Can the Bible be proven wrong? What’s the frame of reference? Is there a higher standard of comparison?

The alternative is nihilism. And not just moral nihilism. But intellectual nihilism.

Ironically, hardcore atheists like Daniel Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, and the Churchlands are illustrating the fact that there is no bona fide alternative to a Christian worldview. Their position leads to global scepticism. Human reason is the first casualty of naturalistic evolution.

One reason I’m a Christian is because there is nowhere else for me to go. There is no back door. There is no escape route.

The ostensible alternatives are illusory. Apostasy is not a viable option. Atheism doesn’t offer a constructive alternative. Ultimately, atheism is self-refuting. Atheism is the annihilator of any and all normative values. Not just moral values. But intellectual norms. Ironically, Thomas Nagel perceives the issue more clearly than Michael Patton. That’s why the secular establishment has pronounced a fatwa on Nagel.

We have nothing to fear from the Bible. We have everything to fear without it. If you don’t have Christianity, you don’t have anything. There is no back-up system, waiting in the wings, to take up the slack. To take over from Christian faith.

It isn’t just pious Christians like Van Til who say that. We have bold unbelievers who are showing us where the roadmap of atheism leads to: a dead end.

Don’t be spooked by scarecrows.


  1. "If an unbeliever asks you point blank about some “objectionable” teaching of Scripture, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give him a straight answer. Like it or not, he has a duty to believe whatever God says. He can never be a Christian if he refuses to be a follower."

    Unbeliever: "Does your God's Bible teach that same-sex genital behavior is a sin?"

    Believer: "Yes."

    Unbeliever: "I cannot follow your God, your Jesus then."

    Believer: "I'm very sorry to hear that. But I don't have the authority to water down God's Holy Word. In fact, it would be a sin for me to dilute, or otherwise distort the plain teaching of Scripture."

    Unbeliever: "Well, I'm not going to become a Christian because your "Holy" Book says that homosexual behavior is a sin, and that's hateful. Christians like yourselves are haters. And I don't want to be a hater."

  2. Hi Steve,

    Just read CMP's post. Pragmatically speaking, God used him to convincingly share the Gospel with some particularly hard skeptics.

  3. As a total side note, I would've thought someone with the last name "Patton" would be a little less daunted by the naysayers, accommodaters, etc.