Friday, June 24, 2011

The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever

I ran across a particularly curious claim by James McGrath. He observes that,
No one confronts the representatives of another tradition with a contest to see which one’s deity will send fire from heaven as Elijah did. No Christian blogger claims that those who comment negatively will be struck with blindness for doing so, as apostles did. God is depicted in many parts of the Bible as knocking down city walls, parting seas and so on. Yet no Christian dominionists are likely to march around Washington D.C. and see it fall into their hands.

Those who claim they “believe the whole Bible” and “take it literally” are being dishonest. Their pastor may have preached recently on the story of the fall of Jericho, but it was applied to God “making the strongholds of sin in your come life crumbling down”, not to a battle plan to take a city.


The question a Christian needs to ask is whether they have the courage to admit that their view of God is not the same as that of many depicitions in the Bible. Do you have the courage to take the Bible’s actual words completely seriously, even when the result is that you are forced to acknowledge that you do not accept their literal truthfulness?

First, it seems to endorse a very odd doxastic principle, we can call it Mcgrath's Doxastic Humdinger:

[MDH] If someone S claims to believe that an agent S believes in now, t, is the same agent A that existed earlier than t, e-t, then for any ¥ A did e-t, then A must do ¥ at t and all times latter than t, l-t. So, if S believes that agent A1 ¥'s e-t, and if S believes that agent A2 does not ¥ at t or l-t, then S must believe that A1 ≠ A2.

Now, I find [MDH] high implausible and I am skeptical of it—chalk it up to my theism. However, I am willing to be persuaded of [MDH] if McGrath can give a good argument for supposing it true.

Second, on what basis does Mcgrath assume that Christians must believe descriptions of what God did at times in history is normative for how God will act now or in the future? That's not entailed by "believing the whole Bible" or "taking the Bible literally" (putting aside the vague and ambiguous nature of these statements). Does McGrath believe in a God of love? Does McGrath believe in an actual Jesus who died for sinners? Does McGrath travel to Jerusalem every year to see the Messiah crucified? Does this mean he doesn't believe in a saving and loving God? (Yes, I applied [MDH] to McGrath.) So, it is actually this statement by McGrath that is dishonest. Believing that the literal parts of the Bible are supposed to be literal does not entail thinking that they are necessarily normative.

Third, on what basis does Mcgrath conclude that God isn't doing anything like this today? More importantly, most Christians believe that God will come back in an obvious way and judge the wicked and resurrect the righteous unto everlasting life. Why is McGrath so self-cenetered to think that because these things aren't happening in his lifetime, they either never did or will never? It's not like the events McGrath points out were happening on a daily basis back then. Often centuries or millennia would pass without God doing anything miraculous.

Fourth, what does McGrath do if Jesus is the "I am" of the Old Testament (as he claims on a few occasions)? What does he do if Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever?"

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