1. Lydia McGrew posted a critique of how Michael Licona approaches the issue of Gospel harmonization. I posted a response. She commented on my response.
It challenging to find an entry point into this discussion, because it's so complicated. There's the specific question of Michael Licona's position.
Then there's the question of how inerrantist Bible scholars harmonize the Gospels. I have in mind representative scholars like Poythress, Stein, Block, and Blomberg–although Blomberg is less reliable than he used to be. Of late he's been exploring loopholes.
2. Then there's Lydia's own position regarding what's a permissible or impermissible harmonization. That's illustrated by stock examples, viz. was Jesus crucified on Passover?, the anointing of Jesus, the temple cleansing, the centurion's servant, cursing the fig tree, raising Jairus's daughter.
I have a problem with her set-up. She draws a number of significant conceptual distinctions. She deploys her distinctions to say there's a crucial difference between Matthew doing X with Mark and Matthew doing Y with Mark. X is acceptable but Y is not. Same thing with John doing something to Mark, or Luke doing something to Mark.
But that's too abstract and premature. It attempts to predetermine what they could or couldn't do before we even crack open the pages of Scripture to see what in fact they did. That's the wrong starting-point.
For me, we need to begin by looking at what they actually did. What's the most plausible interpretation?
3. Lydia uses evidentialism as a frame of reference, in contrast to Licona's position. That's an old debate, and there are different ways to block this out.
i) Historically, Aquinas represents a tradition in which you stress the role of proof. Certain beliefs are demonstrable. Knowledge or scientia is grounded in what you can prove.
But for Aquinas, that high standard already begins to break down at the very point where you'd like it to hold. Although the truths of natural revelation are said to be demonstrable, the "mysteries of faith" are strictly indemonstrable.
ii) Writers like Thomas Reid, Bishop Butler, and John Locke represent a different tradition, a different paradigm. They lower the bar. For them, it's not about proving Christianity, but the rationality of Christian faith. Providing reasonable grounds for faith, rather than demonstrative arguments. To recast this in modern terms, what kind of evidence is necessary for justified or warranted belief.
iii) Writers like Calvin and Owen represent yet another tradition or paradigm. For them, it's not primarily about criteria or corroborative evidence, but self-authenticating Scripture and the witness of the Spirit.
4. Another way to block this out is to evoke Chisolm's distinction between methodism and particularism. I think Lydia's evidentialism is clearly in the methodist corner. On this view, you begin with criteria, which you use to sort out true religious claimants from false religious claimants. In one respect, this is a top-down approach. It begins with criteria rather than phenomena or experience.
By contrast, the approach of Calvin, Owen et al. represents particularism, by taking paradigm-cases (Scripture) and paradigm examples of religious experience (the witness of the Spirit) as the starting-point. That's a bottom-up approach in the sense that it begins with particular instances rather than general criteria. But in a different respect, it's a top-down approach by treating the Bible as the criterion. On this view, inspiration is a presupposition rather than a conclusion.
5. This goes to another distinction. Evidentialism tends to treat the Bible as a source of information about supernatural events, whereas writers like Calvin and Owen regard the Bible as a supernatural event in its own right. Are the Scriptures a supernatural product?
6. Let's begin with a crude version of evidentialism. Initially, we should approach the NT documents as primary source materials. Historical sources.
At this stage of the argument, we don't treat them as inspired sources. Rather, we assess them like we'd assess any ostensible historical testimony.
Using criteria which historians typically use, we judge the NT documents, or a subset thereof (e.g. Gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians), to be generally reliable.
On that basis, we conclude that the Resurrection probably happened. If so, that has far-reaching implications. To some degree, that circles back around to retroactively validate other core historical events in the life of Christ.
One objection to this approach is that reported miracles greatly lower the likelihood that the account is true. By definition, miracles are highly improbable events.
The McGrews are aware of this objection. So they supplement evidentialism with a case for miracles.
In addition, although a miracle presumes the existence of God, it doesn't presume belief in God. It isn't necessary to prove God's existence before you can credit the occurrence of a miracle.
Lydia can correct me if that's inaccurate.
7. How should we assess these competing paradigms? Are they contradictory or complementary?
Apologetics, especially offensive apologetics, is undeniably methodist. It uses criteria and rules of evidence to broker religious claims and historical claims. To be persuasive, to avoid begging the question, it seeks common ground in methods and assumptions which Christians and reasonable unbelievers share in common.
This also has some value in defensive apologetics. Believers can benefit from having evidence they can point to, and reasons they can give.
8. However, evidentialism has weaknesses:
i) There's a circular relationship between your criteria and your worldview. What you think is possible or probable is contingent on the kind of world you think we inhabit. Whether a rule of evideence is reasonable or unreasonable is contingent on what you think reality is like. They need to match up.
ii) Most Christians, at most times and places, lack the intellectual aptitude or access to corroborative evidence to make a philosophically solid case for what they believe. But if, in fact, Christianity is true, that means the truth of Christianity must be accessible at a different level.
This doesn't necessarily mean reason and evidence are dispensable. It might still be important say that, at least in principle, the Christian faith is rationally defensible. Moreover, that some Christians have risen to the challenge.
iii) Another problem is that I don't see where inspiration figures in Lydia's position. If the Bible is inerrant (or infallible), that's the result of plenary, verbal inspiration. If the Bible is fallible, that's because it's uninspired, or intermittently inspired.
I don't see where inspiration has a role to play in evidentialism. Where does it come into the argument? Where does it ever merge with the traffic? I don't see a logical place for inspiration to break into the flow of argument.
9. What about the alternative?
i) On the face of it, it might seem like the position of Calvin, Owen et al. is specially pleading. An ad hoc position to preempt appeal to ecclesiastical authority.
Another complication is the relationship between self-authenticating Scripture and the witness of the Spirit. Are these two different principles? How do they interact?
ii) I don't Calvin's appeal is just a makeshift apologetic maneuver. He describes self-authenticating Scripture and the witness of the Spirit in very autobiographical terms, as if that's how he did, in fact, experience Scripture.
iii) We should treat things the way they are. If the Bible is the word of God, then that's how it ought to be treated. It should not be treated as something it is not. Something less or lesser than what it truly is.
iv) I'd say there are affinities between Calvin's epistemology and Newman's illative sense and Polanyi's tacit knowledge. It's not an idiosyncratic position, but reflects a model of knowledge that's more subliminal.
Take voice recognition. For most of us, that's intuitive. We simply recognize the person on the other end of the receiver. It's not something we could prove.
On the other hand, that's not purely subjective. Every voice has a distinctive timbre. That's subject to scientific analysis.
On this view, regeneration restores our native ability to perceive religious truth. It doesn't add new evidence, or add a new faculty. Rather, the repairs a natural faculty.
10. But even if the Bible is self-authenticating, where do we break into that charmed circle? After all, there are rival revelatory claimants.
i) It depends. If you experience the Bible in a certain way, then it's direct. An immediate, veridical experience.
Moreover, this isn't just subjective, for many Christians have the same experience. So you have that intersubjectival confirmation.
Even sensory perception has an ineluctably private dimension. I don't know what's going on in your mind when you see a tree. I can't tap into your experience. I can't tap into your mental state.
We can compare notes. You can tell me what you perceive, and I can tell you what I perceive. Same thing with intellectual apprehension.
ii) However, this doesn't preclude appeal to external evidence. These are not in tension. It can be complemented by theistic proofs, the argument from prophecy, the argument from miracles, answered prayer, historical evidence, &c.