Monday, January 13, 2014

The sharks are circling

I'm going to comment on this exchange:
  • Bud Jenness I'm glad you didn't discuss this stuff when I was one of your students back in the 90's, getting my M.Div. My brain would have exploded or I would have run out of the classroom crying like the dude who got all upset and had a breakdown over you asking us to consider the ramifications of a claim that the bones and DNA of Jesus had been uncovered indisputably. Do you remember that? He ran out crying "THIS IS BLASPHEMY! THIS IS BLASPHEMY!" and we all looked at each other with shock, and then resignation, and did as you instructed. You, however, had a hilarious and quizzical expression on your face, shrugged your shoulders, and let us talk amongst ourselves for a few minutes. 
  • Jerry Walls The irony is that I was making a totally conservative, orthodox point, that without a real bodily resurrection, the Christian faith falls apart.

    Matt Douglass
    I use your "bones of Jesus" scenario in my Bible Survey class. Interestingly, the kids (mostly freshman) would require a lot of counter-evidence to doubt the resurrection, but the great majority of them would abandon the faith if they were convinced that Jesus was still dead. In contrast, I remember a rather large group at Asbury who would stick with it no matter what, whereupon you shouted, "Liberals! Liberals!" at them. One of my fondest memories of seminary.

i) Obviously, this isn't a realistic scenario. There are, however, many examples of professing Christians who lose their faith because they come across evidence which they imagine falsifies the Bible.

ii) Apropos (i), it's vitally important that we frame the issue correctly. Walls framework is misleading and potentially damaging.

iii) Why is it "liberal" to deny the physical resurrection of Christ? For two related reasons:

a) The Bible teaches the physical resurrection of Christ. For instance, Luke and John go out of their way to accentuate the physicality of the Resurrection. Hence, it's liberal to dismiss the explicit teaching of Scripture.

b) Liberals deny the Resurrection in particular because they deny miracles in general. They operate with a secular outlook. They deny that God is active in the world. Basically, they are churchgoing atheists. 

iii) However, within the terms of Walls' hypothetical, is it still liberal or heretical to deny the physical resurrection of Christ? Walls is posing a hypothetical dilemma which artificially restricts the options. The  respondent is left with two inferior alternatives to choose from. Within the confines of his dilemma, there is no good answer. 

In terms of how he cast the alternatives, you could either conclude that the Bible is wrong to teach the physical resurrection of Christ, or else conclude that you misinterpreted Scripture. It seems to teach the physical resurrection, but given incontrovertible evidence to the contrary (i.e. the tomb wasn't empty after all), you were mistaken–the evident teaching of Scripture notwithstanding.

His dilemma stipulates at the outset that "that the bones and DNA of Jesus had been uncovered indisputably." If that's a given, then how is it liberal or heretical to deny the physical resurrection of Christ? It's his dilemma which denies the physical resurrection of Christ. The question then is: how should Christians respond? Should they abandon their faith, or redefine the Resurrection?

iv) The dilemma seems to be a wedge tactic, where Walls is forcing the Christian respondent to be prepared to abandon the faith in the face of an indisputable defeater. Perhaps hovering in the background is 1 Cor 15:14,17. But, of course, Paul uses that as a contrary-to-fact scenario force Christians to accept the physical resurrection of Christ! 

v) Perhaps Walls is trying to make a point about intellectual and theological integrity. You can't fudge the Resurrection. 

There are probably liberal students at Asbury who labor under the illusion that Christianity doesn't require a physical Resurrection. So his dilemma may be directed at them. And that's fine as far as it goes.

vi) However, his dilemma is somewhat confused. Given the terms of the dilemma, you'd be justified in committing apostasy. Indeed, that would be an intellectual imperative.  

vii) A deeper problem with his dilemma is the implicit assumption that we have a fallback position in case the evidence turns against the Christian faith. If the Christian faith takes on water, there's a waiting lifeboat to take you to safety. Abandon ship! 

But there is no coherent alternative to fall back on. Even if you imagine that the Christian ship is sinking, don't delude yourself into thinking there's a lifeboat to save you. You will be swallowed whole in the whirlpool of naturalism. 

viii) How would we respond to his dilemma?

a) To begin with, we could refuse to respond. It's really a trick question. I'm under no obligation to play with your loaded dice. The game is rigged. 

b) Or we could reply that even if there seemed to be incontrovertible evidence to disprove the Resurrection, Biblical evidence is superior to empirical evidence. The alternative to Biblical faith is nihilism. It's the atheist who commits intellectual suicide. Dive into a shark-filled sea. 

1 comment:

  1. William Craig's argument may be relevant to some of this discussion--especially your viii.