Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mars Hill outsourcing

Docent has been invaluable to me. I think I have had them do nearly everything but cut my grass. They have saved me hundreds of hours of work and multiplied my effectiveness. I have recommended them to lots of friends because any ministry that serves leaders who serve God’s people is a great gift. 
Mark Driscoll, Founding and Preaching Pastor
Mars Hill Church, Seattle

Ghostbusters v. ghostwriters

Inside the celebritydrome

One thing I've noticed in the Driscoll "plagiarism" scandal (I put plagiarism in scare quotes because we're dealing with a technical allegation) is the lack of ethical self-awareness on the part of some of his trigger-happy accusers. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, the same moral norms equally apply to the accuser and the accused. Assuming that the accused is guilty of misconduct, that doesn't exempt the accuser from being ethical in how he conducts his allegations. For instance, Carl Trueman has been one of Driscoll's most prominent critics in this current affair. And I've seen his criticisms touted by others. 

Before quoting him, I'd like to make a general observation. By his own admission, Trueman ties the Driscoll affair into a larger pattern. It's part of Trueman's ongoing campaign against The Gospel Coalition, and all that represents. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. If he thinks TGC is fundamentally flawed, he's entitled to make his case.

The problem is when the facts are secondary to the agenda. When you don't think you have to get the details right because your cause is virtuous. So we're treated to Trueman's throwaway disclaimers about how he's not vouching for the particulars, even though he's circulating those allegations to make a cumulative case against TCG or the "celebritydrome of the evangelical subculture."

But he really needs to slow down. If the accused is charged with failing to make proper attributions, then the accuser needs to make proper attributions. 

I commented at the weekend that Janet Mefferd's allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll should be fairly easy to establish on the grounds that we have empirical evidence in the form of texts to compare.  She has posted a link to photographic plates here.  Regardless of whether one is instinctively inclined to like Ms. Mefferd or Mr. Driscoll, text is text and you can judge for yourselves who is in the right.  The second set, from comments on the Petrine epistles, is particularly noteworthy.
Elsewhere, Frank Turk has highlighted a few weird aspects of the whole affair.  Again, I make no comment on his statements as he provides evidence by which one can judge for oneself the plausibility of his interpretation.

Notice how Trueman covers his own tracks by invoking plausible deniability. He isn't personally vouching for the accusations. He's merely referring interested readers to what others have said. You can judge the evidence for yourself. But there are ethical problems with that tactic:

i) It's easy to foster a misimpression by selective presentation of the "evidence." So unless Trueman has independently investigated the evidence, he's in no position to say if that's representative. He's lending credibility to the charge by lending credibility to Mefferd. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But don't try to have it both ways. Either you think Mefferd is a reliable source or not. You give credence to the allegation by giving credence to the reporter. So be honest and upfront about what you're doing.

ii) It's also too much like a Fox News anchor reporting that CNN just reported that the FBI has arrested Richard Jewell as its suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. If it turns out Jewell was falsely accused, the Fox News anchor is supposedly off the hook because he didn't personally allege that Jewell was the suspect. He was merely reporting what another news outlet was reporting. This is something we see every so often, where the reputation of innocent ordinary citizens is ruined or tarnished by word-of-mouth. 

Over at First Thoughts, Collin Garbarino offers some very perceptive comments on the Driscoll plagiarism affair.  He makes the point that such activity receives a failing grade at his university.  I would only add that at Westminster it also involves automatic suspension from the degree program followed by discussion with the powers that be about whether Christian ministry is really an option for the perpetrator.

Several issues:

i) To begin with, universities can have double standards on plagiarism. Harvard has one standard for students, but another for faculty. Laurence Tribe was snagged in a blatant plagiarism scandal, but he didn't lose his job. He wasn't even demoted. 

ii) I'm sure most seminaries define plagiarism in the student handbook. They define plagiarism for students. But do they define plagiarism for pastors? A sermon is not a term paper. How many seminaries are giving students practical guidelines for what does and doesn't constitute plagiarism in the pulpit? 

iii) There's more than one way to cheat. A seminary prof. can cheat his students if he fails to do his job. On the face of it, Trueman doesn't take his day-job very seriously. He was hired to teach church history. Isn't that his real job? Isn't that a full-time job? But he also moonlights as a pastor. Jets around the world on speaking engagements. Does a radio show. Churns out a steady stream of op-ed pieces. And so on and so forth.  

Isn't he spreading himself pretty thin? Does he really have time to keep abreast of the secondary literature in his own field, much less conduct original research in church history? How many books and articles are published each year in church history? 

Trueman recently wrote a morally pretentious article on "Why is So Much Preaching So Poor?" I say "morally pretentious" because I have to ask how much time does Truemen devote to sermon preparation? Driscoll does 1-2 hours per week while Mark Dever does 35-40 hours per week. Where does Trueman fall along the spectrum? Or what about nurturing one's prayer-life. For instance, Trueman recently said:

My children have to be at school by 7:30, so I rise at about 6:15 to 6:30. I usually wait until I arrive at work, ca. 8 a.m., to have devotions. Westminster offices do not open till 8:30 so this gives me a half hour of peace and quiet. 

Maybe that's one reason why so much preaching is so poor. 

The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals. 

Couldn't the same thing be said for celebrity church historians who shirk their professional duties? Is Trueman part of the solution, or part of the problem?

The ethics of ambush journalism

The Mark Driscoll/Janet Mefferd kerfuffle continues apace. Mefferd has been criticized on a couple of grounds:

i) One criticism is that she was mean to Driscoll. All I can say is that given Driscoll's carefully cultivated he-man image, I don't think his supports do him any favors by suggesting he was bullied by a woman. 

ii) Another criticism is that she's motivated to spike ratings. That's a plausible accusation–but it's also a red herring.

iii) Yet another criticism is that she ambushed him by springing a series of hostile, unexpected questions on him. Indeed, the whole interview was staged as a pretext to put him on the spot. And this does, indeed, raise an issue regarding the ethics of ambush journalism. I don't think there's a uniform answer on whether that's right or wrong.

On the one hand, interviewees naturally prefer softball interviews. If they knew ahead of time that they were going to be peppered with embarrassing or incriminating questions, they'd never submit to the interview in the first place. So it poses a dilemma for a journalist. If an interviewee knows what to expect, he can come forearmed with prepared answers which deflect the questions. Or he can avoid that reporter entirely. Yet some interviewees ought to be exposed. They are used to evading public scrutiny. They are using to playing to sympathetic venues. 

Mike Wallace was the godfather of ambush journalism. I once saw him catch John Connally, a presidential aspirant, in a blatant lie on live, national television. Connally feigned indignation, but the damage was done–and deservedly so. 

On the other hand, ambush journalism is a poor way to elicit information. Indeed, that's not really the point. Ambush journalism can be unfair in the sense that a reporter will ask the guest a question about something he allegedly said or wrote 20 years ago. He probably doesn't remember what he said or wrote 20 years ago. Since he had no lead-time to review the record, he can't explain or defend his alleged statement. 

On the one hand, I've seen interviewees give inaccurate answers to questions. But because the reporter didn't expect the answer, the reporter was in no position to disprove the answer. It's a day later that the reporter says we investigated the answer and it turns out that the answer was false. 

On the other hand, I've seen interviewers falsely attribute a statement to the guest, or quote the statement out of context. But because the guest didn't expect the question, the guest was in no position to disprove the allegation. It's a day later that the guest can set the record straight. But by then it's too late. What viewers remember is the interview, not the correction or retraction. 

If the guest can't anticipate the question, that puts the reporter at a tactical advantage and the guest at a tactical disadvantage. Conversely, if the reporter can't anticipate the answer, that puts the guest at a tactical advantage and the reporter at a tactical disadvantage. 

Driscoll's critics say an honest guest has nothing to hide, nothing to fear from a tough interview. But that's simplistic. An honest guest may not have that detailed information at his fingertips.

Ambush journalism is ethical if the guest is a guilty and the journalist is accurate. Ambush journalism is unethical if the guest is innocent and the reporter is inaccurate. There's nothing wrong with making a bad guy look bad. But bad reporters can make good guys look bad. So it all depends. 

"He has ravished my heart"

Guilherme AdrianodrP8vlvSl_8.gifJerry Walls
November 27 at 8:01pm ·
  • Jerry, brother, what do you think of this one liner my friends and I just came up with:

  • Hey, Calvinists, if the bride doesn't say "I do", it's rape.

Doesn't that make you yearn to fellowship with Arminians? Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident. "Your God is a rapist!" is part of the Arminian lexicon when responding to Calvinists, along with other gems like "Your God is worse than Hitler," "Your God is worse than Satan," "Your God would torture little kids for the fun of it."

Of course, in the next breath, Arminians assure us that we're brothers. Uh-huh.

What are we to make of this comparison? 

i) Consider how John Wesley describes the grace of God:

"He has ravished my heart." 
"Her soul was so ravished with his love." 
John Wesley's Journal

To my knowledge, "ravish" is literally an archaic synonym for rape. In poetic usage, it plays on the sexually coercive connotations, but acquires the figurative sense of being overwhelmed with passion. It's striking that Wesley, a paradigmatic Arminian, resorts to a refined rape metaphor to describe the Arminian concept of grace. 

Notice, this isn't me, a Calvinist, making that comparison. This is straight from the lips of a leading Arminian. So maybe Arminians need to drop the demagogic rhetoric, lest it boomerang. 

ii) Why is "rape" the first thing some Arminians think of when they hear "irresistible grace." If this were a free association test, that would tell you more about what's on the mind of the Arminian than anything about Calvinism. Unintentionally revealing. 

Although rape is forcible, most force isn't rape. Most force is nonsexual. So why is "rape" what comes to mind? Have they been watching bondage pornography?

iii) Why cast the example in terms of the "bride"? Why not the groom? Maybe because that doesn't have the same rhetorical resonance?

If Arminians insist on sexual metaphors, a more accurate metaphor would be seduction, where one gives into temptation because the seducer or seductress is irresistibly attractive. 

iv) In Calvinism, the "bride" (or groom) does says "yes." 

v) The comparison is confused at yet another level. It fails to distinguish between forcing love onto someone and forcing love out of someone. It's quite possible for love to be forcible.

Take a child who's kidnapped at the age of 2. He is found at the age of 4. By that time, the child has become emotionally attached to his abductor. The child is initially resistant to being separated from his abductor and returned to his parents. But in the long run, it's for the child's good. 

Likewise, some kidnapping victims allegedly suffer from Stockholm syndrome. The captive bonds with the captor. Take the oft-cited case of Patty Hearst. Ironically, the captive resists being freed. 

Other examples include cults, where young, impressionable initiates with the cult-leader. It takes an intervention to pry them away. 

I remember watching a news story years ago about an American woman who foolishly married a Muslim. They had a daughter by each other. Then, as a foreign national, he returned to Saudi Arabia with their daughter. At great risk to herself, the mother went to Saudi Arabia to get her daughter back. She had to seize her daughter off the street. Her daughter was initially resistant. Once back in the U.S., she reverted to a normal American mother/daughter relationship. 

In each case, forcible action is required to restore the balance. Do Arminians think these examples are equivalent to rape? If you rescue someone against their will, is that "rape"? 


Here's an image capture of the Facebook question:

  • Jerry, brother, what do you think of this one liner my friends and I just came up with:

    Hey, Calvinists, if the bride doesn't say "I do", it's rape.

Agreement Between Matthew And Luke About Jesus' Childhood

Critics make much of the differences between the accounts of Jesus' childhood in Matthew and Luke. We're told, for example, that "In chronicling Jesus' infancy, Matthew and Luke agree only on a few basic points….on most other details they completely differ." (Geza Vermes, The Nativity [New York: Doubleday, 2006], 10) Supposedly, we should believe that "the nativity story occurs in just two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke, and that they hardly agree on any of the details". Andrew Lincoln refers to a "paucity of any agreements" between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke (Born Of A Virgin? [London, England: SPCK, 2013], 129).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Background on Mars Hill "plagiarism"

For those who care:

I was blind but now I see

Jason posted about the forthcoming Jesus of Testimony film, which looks quite good. Here is a deleted scene from the video:


Jesus Of Testimony

One of the producers of a film titled Jesus Of Testimony just sent me an email linking a new web site about the film. It features Richard Bauckham, Craig Keener, and some other scholars. The web site has a preview clip you can watch, as well as some other material.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The current controversy engulfing Mark Driscoll as reignited the issue of pastoral plagiarism. But it's hard to have a fair and rational discussion of the issue because many critics' personal animosity towards Driscoll skews the standard of comparison. Because he's already typecast as the villain, any allegation is plausible and any punishment is suitable. 

My concern is how this distorts the standards we should bring to bear on the question of pastoral plagiarism in general. We need to have consistent, reasonable standards. 

Let's consider some of the propoals. Andreas Köstenberger offers one:

A limitation with Köstenberger's proposal is that it pertains to an academic setting. But is that the right standard for the pulpit? 

Moreover, his statement takes for granted that plagiarism, as he defines it, is wrong. But that begs the question of what constitutes plagiarism and what makes it wrong. 

D. A. Carson has strong views on the subject. Among other things, he says:

Second: Taking over the structure, perhaps the outline in exact wording, and other significant chunks, while filling in the rest of the substance yourself, is not quite so grievous but still reprehensible. The temptation springs from the fact that writing a really good outline is often the most creative and challenging part of sermon preparation. Fair enough: if you "borrow" someone else's outline, simply acknowledge it, and you have not sinned.Third: In the course of diligent preparation, you are likely to come across clever snippets and ways of summarizing or formulating the truth of a passage that are creative and memorable. If you cite them, you should acknowledge that they are not yours, either with an "As so-and-so has said" or an "As someone has said." This discipline keeps you honest and humble.

What he treats as self-evidently sinful, reprehensible, or dishonest in this context doesn't resonate with me. Except for personal anecdotes, I don't expect a pastor to say anything truly original in his sermon. I don't come to church with the presumption that the pastor is going to break new ground in his sermon. 

Let's take a comparison. I've read that George Whitefield was steeped in Matthew Henry's commentary on the Bible. This fed into Whitefield's evangelistic sermons. I don't think Whitefield routinely credited Henry, but that doesn't bother me. Whitefield was so selfless and guileless. He lived to advanced the gospel. I imagine Henry would be pleased to know Whitefield was using his material to win souls. 

i) Both Carson and Köstenberger are academics, so they define plagiarism in fairly academic terms. They publish commentaries, as well as articles in learned journals. In that context, certain well-established conventions apply. But is that feasible for a sermon? And do we have the same expectations for a sermon? 

In addition, Carson is very gifted. He can operate at a higher level than the average pastor. 

ii) Another problem with academic standards of plagiarism is that academics aren't necessarily as high-minded as their official standards suggest. For instance, I have a book by Nicholas Perrin (Lost in Translation) countering Bart Ehrmen. On the dustcover jacket, Perrin is identified as a "former research assistant to N. T. Wright."

Of course, that naturally raises the question, what does a research assistant do? Or perhaps I should rephrase the question: how much does a research assistant do? Does he dig up articles for his boss to read in preparation for a forthcoming book? Articles which the boss will read on his own? Does he draft a MS for the boss? Is he an uncredited coauthor or even ghostwriter? This raises the specter of barring plagiarism at the front door while letting it ride through the backdoor.  

Let's take a third example:

The central problem with plagiarism is twofold: (1) it is stealing; and (2) it bears false witness.

That can certainly be an ethical problem, but I don't see that as the "central" problem in pastoral plagiarism. Let's take a comparison. I believe there are the equivalent of essay mills for pastors. A pastor can pay somebody online else to write his sermon for him. Suppose a pastor utilizes that service. Is the "central" problem with doing so that it's stealing and bears false witness? I don't think so. It's not theft. He's paying for it.

Suppose it was an open secret that someone else writes his sermons for him. In that case, it wouldn't be deceptive. 

Yet it would still be wrong for a pastor to resort to an essay mill to write his sermons. Why?

i) A primary duty of a pastor is to teach what the Bible teaches. To do that, he must make a good faith effort to ascertain what the Bible means. He can and should read commentaries and other exegetical literature. But he should evaluate what he reads. If commentaries offer conflicting interpretations, he should sift through the arguments and pick the best interpretation. A pastor should be studious. A lifelong student of Scripture. 

If, however, a pastor simply recites someone else's sermon, then he's making no effort to independently confirm the correct interpretation of the sermon text. It's a coin flip.

ii) In addition, a sermon isn't just a detached intellectual exercise. A pastor ought to be applying the sermon to himself before he applies the sermon to his congregation. The application should arise from his own experience, as he strives to internalize the teaching of Scripture. He needs to be challenged and edified by the Word. He needs a prayer life. That doesn't happen if he makes a habit of reciting someone else's sermon.

iii) In my opinion, the senior pastor of a megachurch has less excuse to "plagiarize" than an overworked pastor who single-handedly shepherds a church of 200 members. Because a megachurch pastor can delegate so many tedious jobs to support staff, that should free up more time to focus on sermon preparation.

Megachurch pastors can easily fall into a vicious cycle. They may originally make their reputation on their homiletical abilities. But once they become famous, they receive a flood of invitations to do speaking engagements. As a result, they have ever less time for sermon preparation. Their preaching made them famous, but their fame erodes their preaching.

Christmas Apologetic Resources

I write a post each year about resources for the Christmas season. Here are links to the posts from previous years:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Size matters

Just a friendly piece of advice before everyone stuffs down all that turkey tonight: remember, remember, the square-cube of November! By which I mean the square-cube law. In case this whole post isn't arbitrary enough.

What is the square-cube law, you may ask?

*cricket sounds*

Well, dear reader (singular, by which I refer to myself)! I shall tell you anyway. It'll be our sciencey factoid of the day. Meh, give or take.

If an object increases in size x, then in proportion its area increases x2 while its volume x3. That's the square-cube law.

Say we have an object with area 1cm2 and volume 1cm3. Now we double the size of the object. This means the object's area will have increased from 1cm2 to 4cm2 (quadrupling) while its volume will have increased from 1cm3 to 8cm3 (octupling). This is an example of the square-cube law.

Basically, the volume increases more than the area for the same increase in size.

Now, strength is dependent on area, while weight is proportional to volume. Thus, an object bigger than its original size will weigh more but it might not have enough strength to support its own weight.

In other words, don't eat too much, or you may find yourself a few sizes too big!

Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

We'd rather eat turkey

Visions of Jesus

Does Jesus ever appear to people in post biblical times? The question is ambiguous. We need to draw a preliminary distinction between different kinds of appearances. In the NT, there seem to be at least two different modes:

i) There's a physical appearance. Jesus is physically compresent with the observer, in his glorified body. He occupies the same time and space as the observer. Is tangible.  

Lk 24 & Jn 20-21 are paradigm-cases. 

ii) There's a visionary appearance. Jesus is psychologically present. A trance state or altered state of consciousness. 

Acts 7:55-56 & Rev 1:12-18 are paradigm-cases. 

The former is a "deathbed" vision. If Stephen sees the Father as well as the Son, that would underscore the psychological nature of the appearance–since the Father is a discarnate spirit. It's possible that the "right hand of God" is an idiomatic expression (cf. Ps 110:1). However, the scene seems to envision the divine throne room (a la Dan 7:9-10). So the "right hand of God" is not an isolated phrase, but part of a unified depiction. 

The latter seems to be a Christophany, given its angelomorphic features–like OT theophanies and angelophanies. Although it's possible for Christ to be literally luminous (e.g. the Transfiguration), the description includes symbolic features which evoke OT antecedents (cf. Isa 11:4; 49:2; Ezk 1:24; 43:2; Dan 7:9-12). These aren't necessarily literary allusions so much as the type of numinous experience which gave rise to the OT texts in the first place.  

(ii) stands in contrast to (i), where observers use their sensory organs (eyes, ears, hands).

Cessationists rule out postbiblical appearances of Christ by appeal to 1 Cor 15:8. However:

i) Scholars differ on what is meant by Paul as the "last." Clearly he's the last in that particular literary or chronological sequence. The last in that grouping. The last up until that point in time. 

ii) The list is not exhaustive. It doesn't include the appearance to Stephen.

iii) Even assuming it excludes postbiblical appearances of Christ, in context, that has reference to physical rather than visionary appearances. 

None of this proves that Christ does, in fact, ever appear to anyone in postbiblical times. 

Naturalizing miracles

Even if we say that it was a miracle, though, that doesn’t at all concede the continuation of miracle-workers. Similarly, if someone gets healed as an answer to prayer, neither does that mean that the gift of healing has continued. That part of my comment got left out of your citation: “MacArthur certainly believes that God can and does heal today. He simply believes that the gift of healing is not given today. So God heals, but not through healers.”

i) One problem is that MacArthurites oscillate between divergent criteria. On the one hand, they frame the issue in terms of the continuation or discontinuation of certain "gifts." On the other hand, they frame the issue in terms of the continuation of direct miracles but discontinuation of indirect miracles. But those are not equivalent propositions. For instance, Phil Johnson says There are two kinds of miracles noted in Scripture. 1. Some are remarkable works of God apart from any human agency, where God unilaterally intervened or where miraculous events happened apart from any human agency. 2. The other kind of miracle involves a human agent, who from the human perspective is the instrument through which the miracle comes.

However, God using a human agent as an instrument through the miracle comes is not equivalent to a "gift" for working miracles. What if God empowers someone to heal someone else just once? That involves human agency. But if that's a one-time event, is that a gift of healing? Why must human agency involve a gift of healing? 

ii) Another problem is the ad hoc, hairsplitting distinction, where you say answered prayer is never miraculous. But what is your justification for that false dichotomy?

By collapsing all answered prayers into providential rather than miraculous answers, you're unable to distinguish between three qualitatively different kinds of answered prayers. Let's take some examples:

a) A teenager is hours late arriving home. His Christian parents are very worried. They pray that nothing bad has happened to him. They pray that God will return him safely home. Turns out his car broke down on a deserted road. So there's nothing miraculous about his belated homecoming. 

Of course, the parents are still thankful to have him back safe and sound. And it's possible that their prayers had a counterfactual effect. Absent their prayers, perhaps he would have been murdered by a serial killer.

b) A woman has advanced macular degeneration. Her ophthalmologist tells her that her condition is medically incurable. She will soon go blind.

She has the prayer chain at her church intercede for her. Next week she returns to the ophthalmologist. Her eyesight has been restored. Her ophthalmologist has no explanation. Her recovery is scientifically inexplicable. 

c) Although this is presented as a true story, it will suffice to treat it as a hypothetical illustration:

Early in my ministry I heard teaching on how to pray specifically while attending a seminar in Southern California. In a few weeks, I was to return to Colorado to start my ministry at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden with Ray Womack, a fellow Campus Crusade worker. Unknown to anyone, I wrote a prayer request in my prayer notebook and began to pray specifically that God would provide for me and Ray a white house with a white picket fence, a grassy front yard, within two or three miles from campus, for no more that $130 per month. I told the Lord that this request was a reasonable one on the grounds that (a) we wanted a place that provided a home atmosphere for students, accessible from campus, that we could afford and (b) I was experimenting with specific prayer and wanted my faith to be strengthened.I returned to the Golden area and looked for three days at several places to live. I found nothing in Golden and, in fact, I only found one apartment for rent for $135/month about twelve miles from Campus. I told the manager I would take it and she informed me that a couple had looked at the place that morning, they had until that afternoon to make a decision, and if they did not want it, I could move in the next day. I called late that afternoon and was informed that the couple took the apartment, the last available one in the complex. I was literally back to ground zero.Now not a single person knew I had been praying for the white house. That evening, Kaylon Carr (a Crusade friend) called me to ask if I still needed a place to stay. When I say yes, she informed me that earlier that day, she had been to Denver Seminary. While there, she saw a bulletin board on which a pastor in Golden was advertising a place to rent, hopefully to seminary students or Christian workers. Kaylon gave me his phone number, so I called and set up an appointment to meet the pastor at his place at nine the next morning. Well, as I drove up, I came to a white house with a white picket fence, a nice grassy front yard, right around two miles from Campus, and he asked for $110 per month rent. Needless to say, I took it, and Ray and I had a home that year in which to minister.This answer to prayer, along with hundreds of others I and my Christian friends have seen, was an event that was (1) contingent and did not have to happened according to natural law; (2) very improbable; and (3) independently specifiable (a number of features of the event were specified in my prayer prior to and independent of the event itself taking place).

Because a MacArthurite is precommitted to a cessationist explanation, he must arbitrarily consign each case to "providence." He can't allow himself to draw any qualitative distinction between these three very different types of answered prayer. 

In my judgment, that kind of statement is light-years away from the kind of deistic/naturalistic rationalism that you seem to want to pin on cessationists. 

i) When MacArthurites exhibit the same dismissive attitude towards testimony evidence for modern healers, miracle-workers, or "prophecies," then that replicates the reflexive disbelief of secular debunkers. 

ii) When, moreover, MacArthurities always opt for a naturalistic explanation over a miraculous explanation in the case of modern charismatic miracles, that replicates the presumptive naturalism of secular debunkers.  

iii) Another problem is that you're taking God's existence for granted. However, the cessationist paradigm argues for God's existence from miracles. In the argument from miracles, God's existence is a conclusion rather than a given. 

If, however, you explain away many "extraordinary" events as the result of natural processes or natural forces, and if you fail to distinguish between providence and coincidence miracles, then you reject a direct and primary evidence for God's existence. 

Saying that the mysterious absence of cancer might simply be owing to an extraordinary working of God’s meticulous providence isn’t a concession to naturalism. 

You're using words ("extraordinary working of God's meticulous providence") without defining your terms or unpacking the key concepts. How do you define providence in contrast to a miracle? For instance, the Westminster Confession explicates the concept of providence by reference to second causes (WCF 5.2). 

On that definition, to say that someone with stage-4 pancreatic cancer was providentially healed in answer to prayer means the cancer disappeared through second causes.  It followed a natural chain of cause and effect. No skips or jumps. No outside intervention. There was no interruption in the causal continuum–in contrast to a miracle, which is discontinuous with the chain of second causes. 

My question is, why should we believe that's how it happens? Do you know a natural mechanism by which stage-4 pancreatic cancer is reversible? Can you identify a continuous natural process by which that occurs? Can you describe the incremental steps by which a dying cancer patient undergoes sudden and complete remission? 

(Perhaps some day medical science will discover a natural explanation for spontaneous remission. In that event, I'd reclassify this as a coincidence miracle.)

And, of course, I don’t at all deny any of the miraculous works that God has done that are recorded for us in Scripture. Jesus’ miraculous healings, the resurrection, even the divine inspiration of Scripture are all things we believe firmly. I hope you would acknowledge that that separates us from the rationalists and naturalists who would seek to explain away even the biblical miracles because they truly cannot abide supernaturalism. Even us “MacArthurite cessationists” are supernaturalists!

i) A basic problem is that MacArthurites define a miracle, not by reviewing biblical events, then classifying different types of biblical events, but by starting with the opposing position (continuationism), then coming up with an armchar definition which will excludes whatever continuationism maintains. It's a reactionary, makeshift definition. Take Phil Johnson's definition: In a Biblical sense “a miracle is an extraordinary work of God that involves His immediate and unmistakable intervention in the physical realm in a way that contravenes natural processes.”

ii) Apropos (ii), given their reactionary, defensive definition, MacArthurites shorten the list of Biblical miracles. Do all of Christ's miracles fit the definition? The draught of fish? Cursing the fig tree? Performing exorcisms? Dispelling fever? The coin in the fish's mouth? Curing internal bleeding? What about other Biblical miracles like the earthquake which freed Paul and Silas? What about natural disasters: the flood (Gen 7), destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), plague of boils (Exod 9), plague of hail (Exod 9), and plague of locusts (Exod 10), or other divine judgments involving natural mechanisms: the fate of Korah and his cohorts (Num 16:31-33); God sends a deadly plague (e.g. Num 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-50; 25:8-9; 1 Sam 5:6ff.; 24:15). 

Did Jesus mispredict the future?

This is a follow-up to a post by Jason Engwer:
I'm going to comment on an answer which William Lane Craig gave to a questioner:
I have been a Christian all my life...However my faith has come under tremendous attack due to my exposure to atheistic arguments that attack my faith. For the most part I have been able to resist many of the arguments atheists have presented to me with...I am trying really hard to hang on to my faith...I am desperate to believe in Jesus but how can I continue to trust in and have faith in Him if he got a the future wrong.Please help me Dr. Craig I am really struggling to deal with this objection to my faith. What do most scholars say on the subject, and did Jesus make a false prophecy?

i) I confess I find it hard to be sympathetic with Jessie. Where are all these atheists coming from? Why is he exposing himself to all these atheists, especially if his faith is so fragile? Is someone forcing him to read or listen to atheists? 

ii) Also, there's tons of Christian apologetic material available on the Internet. This isn't a one-sided debate.

iii) In addition, even if one doesn't own good commentaries (which more laymen ought to invest in), one can often use the "search inside this book" feature at to find the exegesis on a particular verse of a newer commentary. 

My proposal is more modest. I appeal to the well-known fact that we often do not have the original context in which Jesus’ sayings were spoken, much less their precise wording. When we remember that the Gospels do not give us a tape recording of Jesus’ words, that the Gospels are written in Greek, whereas Jesus probably spoke most of the time in Aramaic, that the Gospel writers didn’t even have the device of quotation marks to distinguish direct and indirect speech, we can already see that we don’t have a verbatim transcript of what Jesus said. Jesus’ speeches would often be paraphrased or summarized. The Evangelists sometimes arrange these sayings in different ways. So we shouldn’t think that we always have the words of Jesus exactly as they were spoken or in their original context.

i) Sometimes we don't have the original context. Sometimes an Evangelist relocates a saying. But oftentimes the Evangelist does preserve the original context. The only people who deny that are scholars who regard the Gospels as historical fiction which retrojects the viewpoint and timeframe of the narrator into the past.

ii) Also, the fact that the Gospels rearrange some sayings or events doesn't mean that can't preserve the original context within a given pericope, or preserve the historical chronology over several chapters at a time. Even if they sometimes move a scene around, what is said and done within that scene preserves the original setting or context. 

iii) Gospel sayings are usually contextualized. Craig is denying the accuracy of the narrative contextualization, as if that misrepresents the reference or meaning of the saying. Certainly there are scholars who take that position, but that's inimical to inerrancy.

Indeed, the eminent historical Jesus scholar John Meier doesn’t think that this saying of Jesus is even authentic, that is to say, actually uttered by the historical Jesus. Meier insists that he is in no way trying to avoid the conclusion that Jesus gave a false prophecy—Meier is ruthlessly objective—rather he argues that the evidence shows that this saying is probably not authentic.

i) Why would Craig even float that explanation? It's a really dumb thing to tell a professing believer who says he's going through a crisis of faith.

ii) But it's a dumb position even apart from that. As I've pointed out before (most recently in response to Michael Patton), this is a problem with the whole quest for the historical Jesus. Although that can sometimes be of some apologetic value, as a bridge, Christian faith must be grounded in the Gospels as given, not a critical scholar's redaction of the Gospels. 

iii) Also, Craig's concern with the original context is ironic. After all, AD 70 isn't part of the original context. At best, that's a modern reader's addition. That's a retrospective context (or recontextualization) which we bring to the Olivet Discourse. 

The Discourse was spoken decades before that date. We come to the table after that event, based on historical accounts of the Jewish wars. We read the Olivet Discourse in light of that event. But that's the reader's contribution. And not the original audience, either (not, least, if we date the Synoptics to pre-70 AD). 

The very fact that modern readers often use the Jewish wars of AD 67-70 as their benchmark for interpreting the Olivet Discourse is an unconscious retrojection. That's a reader's identification of the intended fulfillment. It's not as if the text itself singles out that incident.  Why assume the Olivet Discourse must be referring to just one event? 

It does seem as if lately Craig has shifted somewhat to the left. He's made a number of statements that seem to reflect a shift.