Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tom McCall on NDEs

On Facebook, Tom McCall, who's a seminary prof. at TEDS, draws some neglected distinctions on assessing NDE claims:

I've never been attracted to these sorts of books (and haven't read this one), and I've never put stock in them. Moreover, it seems to me that something has gone wrong when NDE stories are more exciting than, say, the story of Easter.

But necromancy? Seriously? Seriously?! I don't want to over-react to what appears to me an over-reaction, so maybe someone less ignorant than me (the bar isn't all that high here: if you've read the book you count) can help me out. Does this four-year-old boy go "inquiring?" Is he conducting a seance? And in what sense are "the dead" (of Isaiah 8:19) equivalent to those who are "absent from the body and at home with the Lord?" Is there anything here that *contradicts* those brief and precious insights that Scripture gives us of "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?"

Is there a theological version of "C'mon man!"? Necromancy and seance? "C'mon man!"
John Piper on the book, ‘Heaven Is for Real’: “The Bible forbids séances and necromancy. That is, it forbids communicating with the dead. . . . Isaiah 8:19 says: “And when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God?” In other words, God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. If you go inquiring of the dead about something God hasn’t told you, you dishonor him. Therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of book.” [source: http://dsr.gd/apj-302]
  • 10 people like this.
  • Steve Holmes Mike Higton and I wrote a paper on a theology of ghosts a while back that might help. IJST 4/1 from memory, called 'Meeting Scotus: On Scholasticism and it's Ghosts'
  • Tom McCall I like that article, Steve.
  • Tom McCall Loy Mershimer, in your judgment does this book •contradict• what Scripture teaches? Does Piper have an argument for this (that goes beyond the association and assertion here)? I'm not defending the hermeneutics (which I don't know). I'm merely saying that charging this four year old with necromancy -- ok, or quasi-necromancy -- seems way over the top
  • Tom McCall "Believing," I get. But does he have an argument for such a strong conclusion?
  • Tom McCall "X is necromancy" is a strong conclusion. "X is so close to seancing and necromancy to be evil and/or dangerous" is pretty strong too. At least if one takes necromancy to be a bad thing (as Piper surely does).

    Surely this deserves an argument.
  • Maul Panata A friend, Jason Engwer (non-Calvinist) has put in a serious amount of work studying NDEs. Here (first link) he interacts with some of Piper's claims, and introduces some helpful distinctions.

    In the second link, he collects his various posts on the matter as a case for an Evangelical view of NDEs.

    Of course, there's some fairly serious analytic work being done in this area, most notably Stephen Braude and Michael Sudduth. Piper continues to have these problems because of his lack of philosophical training. This was the same issue that manifested itself in his "debate" with Kevin Corcoran. Even if one agrees with Piper that a physicalist view of persons is false, it's clear that Piper wasn't the one to address the issue. Anyway, here's the links:


    Jason, I think you're absolutely right about how Christians should take NDEs mor... See More
  • Tom McCall Loy Mershimer (and William Brown II), surely there are very different senses of "adding to," right? Consider 
    (AT1) some proposal (P) is 'added to' Scripture if P extends or replaces Scripture (think: extra chapters of 1 Thessalonians or the "real" ending of Revelation);
    (AT2) some proposal is 'added to' Scripture if it is consistent with Scripture and entailed by Scripture (think: "Tom, don't cheat on Jenny" is both consistent with and entailed by "don't commit adultery," but it "adds" something (specificity in application) to Scripture);
    (AT3) some proposal is 'added to' if it is consistent with Scripture though not entailed by Scripture yet we take to be true given our experience and use of reason (think: many decisions in the life of a congregation; e.g., that our decision to support a particular mission work is the right one).

    If the HIFR story is promoting (AT1), then too bad for the story (hopefully it isn't); we can agree that this is messed up. (AT2), on the other hand, seems wholly unobjectionable, right? What about (AT3)? What if the HIFR story is most closely akin to (AT3) -- what would be wrong with that?
  • Tom McCall William Brown II (and Loy Mershimer), I'm trying to understand (seriously, and remember that I haven't really had much interest in these accounts and would honestly like to understand the basic objections) just why someone would conclude that all such NDE stories are "bunk." 

    Are the reasons metaphysical -- such things just *can't* happen, because they are logically impossible we can conclude a priori that the stories just *have* to be false?

    Are the reasons epistemological -- whether or not an NDE *could* occur, you have epistemic access to some data that tells you that *these* stories as a matter of fact *are* false?

    Are the reasons theological (in the Piperian sense) -- such claims involve some (unspecified) level of occult activity and as such are dangerous, or that they (add to" the Bible?

    Are the reasons primarily practical -- you are concerned with how excited people get with all this, you think that people are uncritically receptive, you see people paying more attention to this stuff than to the Bible as well as granting more (functional) authority to these stories than to the Bible, you don't see adequate controls or theologically-informed discussion? 

    Or something else?

    Tom McCall You make some helpful observations, Loy. Most of what you say concerns how people receive these NDE reports. 

  • But I still don't understand either the giddiness or the hostility. If Piper and Platt (who is pretty selective in his appeal to Scripture) have good metaphysical objections (which would be strange for a Christian who is also a mind-body dualist), then they should make them. If they have good epistemological objections, then we should see those. If they can demonstrate that this is all sorcery and necromancy, then they should do so. If they cannot, then they should stop labeling. These are serious allegations for a Christian, and they are connected to serious issues of justice (just ask the thousands if women and children accused of witchcraft in sub-Saharan Africa right now).
  • Loy Mershimer Here's a balanced article on the subject:http://t.co/QzW3SfEpp7
    Heaven is for Real, a movie based upon the same-named book by Todd Burpo, recent... See More
  • Tom McCall Oh my... shouldn't this be "fair and balanced?" Seriously, what do you take to be the operative definition of "Gnosticism" at work here?
  • Tom McCall When terms of historic importance are loaded with conceptual currency from that traditional usage, to use such a term while meaning something different can be really problematic. It can come from ignorance, or it can be nothing more than a term of abuse. It can also simply be bearing false witness.
  • Maul Panata McCall's not a Wittgensteinian, I see. 

    More seriously, though, I just read a scholarly article (by a non-Christian ancient historian), that argued that there never was a "thing" called Gnosticism. There is no "set" of doctrines necessary and sufficient for marking one out as "Gnostic." He argued that is was wrong to ever say things like, "The Gnostic view of X was...".
    13 hours ago · Edited · 1
  • Tom McCall A few observations on Allen's major points:
    -- "The Finality of Death:" (i) well, yeah, there is a finality to death. But aren't these *N*DE's? And isn't there a fair bit of evidence in Scripture of people being raised from the dead? I'm not suggesting that these purported NDEs have the status of biblical examples, but I do find Allen's point overdone.
    -- "Not Man-Centered:" OK, that sounds right. So (assuming that we had some non-question-begging criteria, this would help us sort through these purported NDE claims, right? But it wouldn't rule them all out a priori. Is it "man-centered" to sit on Jesus's lap as a four-year-old? It didn't seem to be beneath the dignity of the incarnate Son (e.g., Mark 9, 10) during his earthly career. Why think that it would be so now?
    -- "Incompatible with Scripture:" yes, this would be a problem. And for any Christian, any such NDE reports should be rejected. But this would only rule out those that indeed *are* truly incompatible. To be truly incompatible, of course, is to *contradict* Scripture... and this needs to be shown, I think, rather than merely asserted.
    -- "Contradictory Testimonies:" Sure. Bivalence and all that. Of course. But this hardly rules out the possibility that *any* claim is true, it only shows that they can't *all* be true. 
    -- "A More Sure Word:" amen to the primacy of normative revelation. But merely "shrugging of shoulders?" Why? I wouldn't if it were my kid. I wouldn't build a theology out of it, and I'd be extremely leery about turning my kid into a kind of celebrity (or, for some people, a freak show) from it (I doubt that this could be good for his spiritual formation). But neither would I shrug off the testimony of my toddler's NDE. I'd probably marvel at it, and I'd be grateful.
  • Bobby Grow Tom, I don't know if you read this article (the link), but I found it interesting in re to this topic: http://www.christianitytoday.com/.../heaven-is-for-real...
    It's not a travel guide. And Colton Burpo isn't the first Christian to have an ecstatic experience.
  • Maul Panata Good thoughts, Tom.

    This part from the article that you touched on was really bad (admittedly, it's the only part I've read!):


    Fourth, one does not have to read many testimonies of those who supposedly went to heaven, received a tour, and returned to earth to find how much these accounts vary. Beyond the typical “saw bright lights, experienced joy, everything was beautiful, etc.” reflections, there often is a stunning degree of contradiction. Heaven is for real, but contradictory testimonies about heaven cannot be."

    I wish he had provided evidence here. That S saw X and that S* did not see X, isn't a *contradiction*. Indeed, neither S nor S* have *eyes* and so didn't actually "see" anything. They're more like mental images. Really, they're more like self-reports. This strikes me as saying no one has dreams of flying are bogus, because Smith says he has to first fall before he can fly and Jones says that's not the case, he can just jump and start flying. I actually don't know how one would claim that there's any *actual* contradiction between NDEs.
  • Tom McCall yep, the issues of religious epistemology here are just fascinating (in another life... or at least different possible world). 

    I think that a lot of the frenzy over this stuff should be troubling to Christians (perhaps especially confessional Protestants who take a 'high' view of biblical authority). I don't want people doing normative theology from these experiences. But nor do I think that we should be ready to reject all such reports as obviously false (because metaphysically impossible, because necessarily occultic, etc).

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