Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Monsters On Maple Street

Let's spend a little more time on the parallel between MacArthurites and secular debunkers. As I've documented in the past, MacArthurites resort identical arguments. I'll give back-to-back examples at the end of this post. Unfortunately, the MacArthurites are matching the atheists move for move.
Before discussing that, let's back up a step. In my experience, MacArthurites are so transfixed by errors and abuses in the charismatic movement that that fills their view screen. They are oblivious to the danger which they themselves are fostering in their overreaction to the charismatic movement.  
Their attitude reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone episode ("The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street") in which alien invaders successfully deflect attention from the real threat by making neighbors turn on each other in a self-destructive witch hunt. 
Secular debunkers deploy these arguments to discredit miracles in general. MacArthurites ape the same arguments to discredit postapostolic charismatic miracles in particular. The obvious problem is arbitrarily restricting the force of their arguments to all and only postapostolic charismatic miracles. They act as if their arguments, like smart bombs, will only target just those reported miracles which happen to conflict with cessationism, why allowing biblical miracles, and the subset of postapostolic miracles consistent with cessationism, to escape unscathed. 
Unfortunately, MacArthurites are conditioning Christians who've imbibed their brand of cessationism to commit apostasy if they ever encounter atheists who use the very same arguments to discredit biblical miracles. Imagine teenagers who attend Grace Community Church (or students to attend the Master's College or Master's Seminary). Teenagers (or students) who've dutifully mastered the objections to modern charismatic miracles offered by MacArthurites like Fred Butler, Ed Dingess, Lyndon Unger, et al. 
Imagine, when surfing the web, they are suddenly exposed to atheists who use the identical arguments to discredit biblical miracles? Not only have MacArthurites left them defenseless against this line of attack, MacArthurites have predisposed them to lose their faith on contact the moment they encounter direct, parallel arguments against the miracles of Scripture. The proverbial accident waiting to happen. Instant apostates: just add water. 
MacArthurites are giving atheists a huge opening to begin picking off Christians. Of course, that's not their intention. But when they are warned, they angrily denounce the warning. Obviously, MacArthurites aren't equipping Christians on how to field this challenge, for they don't even acknowledge the problem they've nurtured. The MacArthurite is safe so long as he remains in his freeze-dried condition, sealed in a waterproof container. 
Mind you, MacArthurites who turn to someone like Mennoknight for intellectual leadership are going to be pretty impervious to arguments one way or the other. Keener's two-volume monograph on miracles is no match for Unger's muppet show. Who wants to slog through Keener when you can watch Unger don a propeller-cap and make animal balloons. Adult preschool for readers who've been held back 12 grades. 
My concern is for smart young MacArthurites whose one-sided indoctrination leaves them vulnerable. It's a lot easier to protect something from breakage than to wait until it breaks, then try to fix it. That's often too late. The damage is irreparable. If you wait until kids raised on MacArthurite cessation lose their faith when they discover atheistic counterparts, you waited too long. 
Now, perhaps a MacArthurite would respond by saying, "Well, the same arguments don't apply to Biblical miracles because Biblical testimony is special." Indeed, I've read MacArthurites who do respond in that vein. Problem is, that reflects a failure on their part to understand cessationism, even though that's their own position. 
In cessationism, the Bible doesn't start out special. That's the conclusion of a multi-staged argument. In cessationism, the Bible is in the same initial position as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Swedenborg's Arcana Cœlestia, &c. In cessationism, Isaiah starts out in the same position as Oral Roberts. 
At this preliminary stage of the cessationist case, the Bible is simply one of several rival revelatory claimants. Out of the starting gate, it has no lead over the competition
In the cessationist argument, what makes the Bible special is the argument from miracles. Apostles and prophets preform miracles which validate their divine commission. "Sign-gifts."
However, there's a complication. The source of this information comes from the Bible itself. The Bible attributes miracles to OT prophets and NT apostles. But unless the Bible is special, it is viciously circular to cite reported miracles in Scripture to furnish miraculous confirmation for the reporters. At this preliminary stage of the cessationist argument, we have yet to establish that Biblical testimony is special.  
At this preliminary stage, the argument from miracles must, in turn, fall back on the general reliability of testimonial evidence. But unfortunately, the cessationist must impugn the general reliability of testimonial evidence to discredit any and all reported miracles which conflict with cessationism. They have to say testimonial evidence is only trustworthy when it just so happens to coincide with reported miracles consistent with cessationism. Whenever it bears witness to miracles inconsistent with cessationism, it suddenly becomes totally unreliable. MacArthurites need to explain how their procedure isn't an egregious case of special pleading. 
MacArthurites attack charismatics for compromising the sufficiency of Scripture, and some charismatics are guilty, but MacArthurites are so mesmerized by the dangers of the charismatic movement that they can't take their eyes off that long enough to reflect on the internal tensions in their own position. In cessationism, Scripture is insufficient. In cessationism, Scripture does not stand on its own. Rather, Scripture occupies the second floor, which rests on the first floor of miraculous attestation, which rests on the foundation of testimonial evidence. 
i) Now, there are alternative ways of defending Scripture. In principle, you could mount a presuppositional argument for Scripture. However, the presuppositional authority of Scripture is inconsistent with cessationism. Although a presuppositional argument could incorporate some of the same elements (e.g. argument from miracles, testimonial evidence), they will be rearranged. For instance, the argument from miracles lacks the foundational role in presuppositionalism that it occupies in cessationism. 
An argument for the presuppositional authority of Scripture would discuss how biblical creation and providence are necessary to underwrite memory and sense knowledge, as well as the possibility of miracles. It begins with Biblical theism, as a precondition for testimony and miracles. God is the metaphysical starting-point, but at the level of epistemology, one can reason from miracles to God.
a) The order of being: God>miracles
b) The order of knowing: miracles>God 
ii) In principle, you could also appeal to postapostolic Christian miracles to furnish collaborative evidence. But that poses a dilemma for cessationism, since it must reject the general reliability of testimony (see above). 
Let's now sample some parallel arguments by atheists and MacArthurites:

If God existed, there'd be no need to prove it
Something as significant in the universe as God could hardly be overlooked.  The ultimate creator of the universe and a being with infinite knowledge, power, and love would not escape our attention, particularly since humans have devoted such staggering amounts of energy to the question for so many centuries.   Perhaps more importantly, a being such as God, if he chose, could certainly make his existence manifest to us.  Creating a state of affairs where his existence would be obvious, justified, or reasonable to us, or at least more obvious to more of us than it is currently, would be a trivial matter for an all-powerful being. So since our efforts have not yielded what we would expect to find if there were a God, then the most plausible explanation is that there is no God.
If continuationism were true, there'd be no need to prove it
Dan Phillips January 23, 2014 at 10:43 am #Once again: it doesn’t matter how strong Storms’ arguments are. It’s TOO LATE to establish the “continuationist” position by argument. If the position were true, there would be no argument.

Atheists on ETs
These are just some of the reasons why we cannot trust extraordinary reports from that time without excellent evidence, which we do not have in the case of the physical resurrection of Jesus. What about alien bodies recovered from a crashed flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico? Many people sincerely believe that legend today, yet this is the modern age, with ample evidence against it in print that is easily accessible to anyone, and this legend began only thirty years after the event.
In Matthew, the women “suddenly” see Jesus. He says the disciples will see him in Galilee, and it does not sound as if he will be walking. In Luke, he disappears before the eyes of the disciples he met on the road to Emmaus. In John, he appears out of nowhere in a house whose doors have been shut against the Jews.
All of this is suggestive of hallucinations. There is one other point that should be made, which comes from Robert Sheaffer, who has writ- ten many magazine articles and one book on UFO reports. He has also written a book on the origins of Christianity called The Making of the Messiah. It gets off track in relying heavily on anti-Christian polemic from the second century and later (does Sheaffer imagine such works can be treated as contemporary debunkings?), but his comments on the similarity between UFO reports and the resurrection appearances are worth listening to. 
C. Hallquist, UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus, 109.

MacArthurites on ETs
Fred Butler @Fred_Butler1hPls explain how the hysterical claims of UFO activity in this video  differ frm those regarding modern miracles. 
I had twittered out a link to a documentary trailer on UFOs in which wide-eyed enthusiasts passionately testify to the overwhelming evidence that extraterrestrial vehicles dominate our skies. How can thousands of eye-witnesses be wrong? Well, of course they can’t be; the evidence is just too powerful. 
I merely noted that the eye-witnesses to UFO activity are just as confident and absolute certain that UFOs exist (because they saw them) as Pentecostal/charismatics are certain modern day miracles happen (because they saw them). Watch that video. Switch the word “UFO” with “miracle” or “healing” and the testimonies are so similar it’s uncanny.
Atheists on amputees
So what should happen if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs? Clearly, if God is real, limbs should regenerate through prayer. In reality, they do not. 
Why not? Because God is imaginary. Notice that there is zero ambiguity in this situation. There is only one way for a limb to regenerate through prayer: God must exist and God must answer prayers. What we find is that whenever we create a unambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never "answers prayers" if there is no possibility of coincidence
MacArthurites on amputees
When people were healed, it was an undeniable, extraordinary work of the Spirit healing an individual (Acts 4:16). Something the “Amazing” Randi could not deny. Think Iraqi war veterans getting their limbs back completely whole or the late Christopher Reeves having his spinal cord injury reversed.
It is nice to hear about a person having her hip pain taken away and his flu-like symptoms disappearing, but those miraculous healings, even if they are occasionally supernatural healings (and I am not saying they aren’t) are no where near the kind of supernatural healings recorded in the Bible. I want to see people with the gift of healing going into burn wards, veteran’s hospitals with soldiers who have lost limbs, and hospitals that specialize with spinal cord injuries.
[ Ed Dingess] Name one that is biblical. To claim that false healings and miracles and gibberish are the works of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous practice. That is MacArthur's point. Produce one person that has been healed of congenial blindness, one amputee who's limb has grown back, one legitimate resurrection...just one. Show me someone who speaks in the tongues Luke describes in Acts 2...just one. 

Atheists on cancer

Also, he [God] could say, "Folks, I'm going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer," where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made -- God's love is "not a merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps -- and we realise that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course, ...)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"

MacArthurites on cancer

All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.
Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.

Atheists on biased sources

We have many of Caesar's enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians' own claims had been widely spread around.

MacArthurites on biased sources

I would even add, verified by unbelievers who knew the person before he or she was healed and now know of the person’s healing.
Atheists on secondhand testimony

[Lessing] Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have the opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another. 
I live in the eighteenth century, in which miracles no longer happen.
The problem is that reports of fulfilled prophecies are not fulfilled prophecies; that reports of miracles are not miracles. 

MacArthurites on secondhand testimony

I too have read many accounts of modern miracles. I find them to be mostly hearsay and apocryphal.
[Ed Dingess] You will reply that you personally don't know of any faith healers to whom we can turn for healing. Have you ever witnessed an indisputable, certified genuine miracle? One for which there were no natural explanations?

Atheists on Third-World testimony

[Hume] It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend received opinions. When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves transported into some new world; where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions, pestilence, famine and death, are never the effect of those natural causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that, though this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.    It is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days.   The advantages are so great, of starting an imposture among an ignorant people, that, even though the delusion should be too gross to impose on the generality of them (which, though seldom, is sometimes the case) it has a much better chance for succeeding in remote countries, than if the first scene had been laid in a city renowned for arts and knowledge. The most ignorant and barbarous of these barbarians carry the report abroad. None of their countrymen have a large correspondence, or sufficient credit and authority to contradict and beat down the delusion. 

MacArthurites on Third-World testimony

Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 21h 
EVERY time someone challenges this, the story starts, "I knew/heard about someone who was in the Philippines/Mexico/Uganda once, and..." 
Fred Butler
Oh sure, some third world kid somewhere dipped in the river and was healed of her cholera, so you can't deny the continuation of the gifts.

Of course, far away examples in distant lands in the backwaters of the jungle are usually provided, but if miracles and healings are prevalent among God's people, then they should happen here where they can be witnessed firsthand…Again, anecdotal stories are provided from Nepal or India…

Hays’ argument is really an argument from silence. What I mean by that is that Hays’ argument appeals to claims of miracles far, far away, in a distant land in order to defend his position.

The Deadliest Catch

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Mt 12:40).
As we approach Easter, it's appropriate to revisit the miracle of Jonah.
i) Some critics classify Jonah as a fictional book because of the miraculous elements, especially his survival inside the fish. From a Christian standpoint that's an illicit reason to reject the historicity of Jonah.
ii) Another approach is to classify Jonah as a fictional satire. That's the tack taken by David Marcus in From Balaam to Jonah: Anti-Prophetic Satire in the Hebrew Bible (Scholars Press 1995). 
In Scripture, although sinners are often targets of prophetic satire, sometimes prophets are on the receiving end of satirical barbs. Balaam is a case in point. 
In his analysis, a text is a satire if (a) it has an object that it attacks, either directly or indirectly, and (b) it contains an overwhelming abundance of satirical features, including "a mixture of unbelievable elements (absurdities, fantastic situations, grotesqueries, distortions), ironies, ridicule, parody, and rhetorical feature. On that view, Jonah is analogous to Gulliver's Travels or Don Quixote
And up to a point, Jonah certainly fills the bill. If there was some overriding reason to conclude that Jonah can't be historical, then this would be a respectable alternative. There's nothing inherently wrong with a canonical book that's satirical fiction. 
iii) That said, this is not a strong argument for classifying Jonah as fictitious. Even if it is satirical, satire is not a fictional genre. Satire is neutral in that respect. A satire can be fiction or nonfiction. Satirists routinely lampoon real people, real events, real institutions, real customs. 
iv) In addition, scholars don't agree on the satirical character of Jonah. According to one Jewish commentator (Uriel Simon, in the JPS series), Jonah reflects "compassionate irony" rather than "satirical irony. This is a pathos-amplifying sort of humor, "one which looks down on the hero and painfully exposes his failures, but it is forgiving: It sets the hero in his proper place without humiliating him and restores him to his dignity without abasing him" (xxii). The fundamental seriousness of the fugitive prophet and his utter fidelity to himself are meant to arouse the reader's sympathy rather than derision: Jonah is a genuinely pathetic figure in his hopeless struggle with his God (xxi); a desperate fugitive, who is at once bold and stubborn, upright and ludicrous, (xxi).  
That's clearly a more sympathetic portrayal. However, these differing approaches aren't necessarily antithetical. Jonah could be a tragic figure in his own mind. Someone who takes himself too seriously. There can be a contrast between his heroic self-image and God making a fool out of Jonah. How he sees himself, and how the reader sees him, from the narrator's viewpoint, can be two very different perspectives. 
v) Moreover, although Jonah has satirical elements, it isn't pervasively satirical.  
vi) Also, a modern reader needs to keep in check what he deems to be unbelievable elements (absurdities, fantastic situations), in contrast to what an ancient Jewish reader would deem to be unbelievable. Jonah wasn't written to or for a secular-minded audience. 
vii) Another problem with classifying the book as fictional is that Scripture views Jonah as a real person, a real prophet (2 Kgs 14:25). Moreover, his ministry in 2 Kings dovetails with the setting of the book of Jonah. There is, of course, such a thing as historical fiction. But we have to be careful not to anachronistically project modern examples of that genre back into the OT.  
viii) Some moderate to conservative scholars defend the miracle on naturalistic grounds, by citing alleged parallels in modern times. I myself find that dubious. I'm no expert, but I doubt a human could naturally survive for more than a few minutes inside the stomach of a marine creature. That's not an oxygen-rich environment. I assume he's quickly asphyxiate. Moreover, soaking in a vat of gastric acid is not conducive to survival.
This is a case where a natural explanation is less credible than a supernatural explanation.
That said, there are marine creatures large enough to swallow a man whole. That much is naturally possible. 
ix) I also think a stronger case can be made for the historical interpretation than conservative interpreters generally do. Both proponents and opponents of the miracle typically make the mistake of isolating the miracle from its larger context. But taken in context, this miracle is embedded in a number of realistic features. By "realistic," I mean theologically and psychologically realistic features. 
Of course, if you suffer from an a priori antipathy to miracles, this argument won't have any traction, but I'm not addressing people who suffer from that attitude. 
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
i) It's realistic that pagan sailors would blame the squall on the displeasure of a god. Pagans ascribe natural forces to the gods. Pagans view natural disasters as punitive events. Indeed, that's not confined to paganism. 
ii) Moreover, this isn't just a primitive outlook. I sometimes catch episodes of The Deadliest Catch, when it airs on TV. Modern captains and their crew can be superstitious. When they have a run of bad luck, they resort to superstitious rituals.
iii) Moreover, the idea that God really sent the squall is consistent with Biblical theism.  
iv) It's realistic that pagan sailors resort to sortilege to finger the culprit. The pagan world was rife with divination. Casting lots was a popular form of pagan divination. 
v) Furthermore, the idea that God providentially loaded the dice is consistent with Biblical theism. 
 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
The sailors are in a bind. On the one hand, they'd normally have no compunction about giving a passenger who endangered them the heave-ho. He's to blame for their woe. By getting Jonah off their backs, they get God off their backs. 
On the other hand, the situation is complicated by the fact that the culprit is a prophet. They already angered his God by giving the fugitive prophet safe passage. Sure, they didn't know the all the details, but in their experience, the gods aren't very discriminating. 
Can they kill a prophet with impunity? Or is he sacrosanct? What if killing the prophet would further enrage his God, thereby sealing their doom? That's their inhibition. 
It's a dilemma. Either way, they are mortally imperiled. 
17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Having thrown him overboard, what's the expected outcome? If nature was allowed to take its course, in all likelihood he'd drown. 
But in that event, Jonah would successfully evade God's command. Indeed, although volunteering to be thrown overboard might seem altruistic, by sacrificing himself to save the sailors, a more cynical interpretation is that this is Jonah's final way of evading God's command. Suicide is his opt-out clause. On that view, this isn't Jonah's confession of guilt and submission to punishment, but another ruse evade God's command. He's provoking the sailors to kill him, because a dead prophet can't preach to the Ninevites.   
Pious commentators impute pious motives to Jonah, but that overlooks the fact that Jonah is on the run from God. He gives new meaning to a reluctant prophet. 
We don't expect God to let Jonah to defeat his plan for Jonah. The next logical step in the course of events is for God to miraculously preserve the life of his wayward prophet, so that Jonah will be forced to continue and complete his appointed mission. 
The miracle of the fish is not an isolated event, but part of a logical sequences of events. The narrative is realistic, both within the Jewish worldview of the narrator as well as the pagan worldview of the sailors.  

Interpreting NDEs

Friday, April 18, 2014

From Luther to Hitler?

Is the Resurrection more important than inerrancy?

Which do you think is more important? The resurrection or inerrancy?
The scholars Geisler has gone after do uphold inerrancy. They just don't agree with his interpretation.
I think Geisler's position will end up creating more Ehrmans.
(For those who don't know, I believe Nick Peters is the son-in-law of Mike Licona.)
That's a good question, but a question that takes off in many different directions.
i) Let's begin with a bit of background. In the past, Norman Geisler went after Robert Gundry for denying the historicity of the nativity accounts in the Gospels, and Murray J. Harris for his view of the glorified body.
In fairness to Geisler, this was during the heyday of redaction criticism. As a new academic fad, redaction criticism was overused. Also, it wasn't just Geisler. John Warwick Montgomery was also an opponent of redaction criticism–or at least the way it was being deployed by scholars like Gundry and Grant Osborne.
ii) That said, redaction criticism can be used to defend the inerrancy of Scripture. For instance, it's useful in harmonizing the Gospels. Craig Blomberg skillfully deploys redaction criticism to defend the inerrancy of the Gospels. So both proponents and opponents can take the issue to mistaken extremes. 
iii) Murray J. Harris may well have had an inadequate view of the glorified body. It's been while since I've read him. However, a number of NT scholars and Christian apologists infer from what Paul says about the "spiritual body" as well as how the Risen Christ appears and disappears in Luke and John, that the glorified body can materialize or dematerialize at will. 
I don't think that's the best explanation, and I think it creates problems for a physical resurrection. However, it's not a liberal denial of the resurrection. It's not that Harris et al. think a physical resurrection is too miraculous or supernatural to be credible. Rather, he's basing his position on what he thinks the NT describes or implies about the nature of the glorified body. 
iv) Is the resurrection more important than inerrancy? Before we can answer that, we have to ask what makes the resurrection important. There are different ways of answering that question:
v) For instance, you might say the resurrection is important because belief in the resurrection is essential to saving faith. And you might say that makes it more important thatninerrancy if belief in inerrancy is inessential to saving faith.
However, that proves too much. For instance, one might say belief in justification is inessential to saving faith. Yet even if that's the case, justification is necessary to salvation. Only the justified will be saved. 
vi) Events are ontologically independent of the historical record, if any. Some incidents are recorded events, but most events go unreported. The occurrence of an event doesn't (causally) depend on a subsequent record of the event. It happened whether or not it's recorded. 
In that sense, the Resurrection is not contingent on an inerrant record of the Resurrection. In principle, it's not contingent on having any record of the Resurrection.
Again, though, that tends to prove too much. God planned the Resurrection with a view to recording that event for the benefit of posterity. In the plan of God, the Resurrection is coordinated with the record of the Resurrection. The Father wouldn't raise Jesus from the dead if he had no intention of publicizing the Resurrection. A Resurrection that no one remembered or knew about wouldn't serve God's purpose for the Resurrection.

vii) Some Biblical events are more intrinsically important than others. If the Exodus never happened, that would falsify Judaism. But if the census of Quirinius never happened, that would not falsify Christianity. In that respect, Bible history has some flexibility. 
viii) The theological significance of an event like the Resurrection may not be evident apart from an authoritative interpretation of the event. NT writers are interpreters as well as reporters. The importance of the Resurrection is bound up with the significance of the Resurrection. And that implicates inerrancy.
ix) Geisler tends to blur the distinction between inerrancy and historicity. But these are often distinct issues. 
x) Yet inerrancy and historicity are sometimes intertwined. It's a hermeneutical issue as well as a factual issue. It depends on your theory of meaning. If authorial intent is an essential component of meaning, then whether or not a Bible narrator intended to report a real-world event is directly germane to the historicity (or not) of the account. To that extent, historicity can't be neatly separated from inerrancy.
xi) Inerrancy is important in part because it goes straight to our source of information. We lack direct knowledge of many things stated in Scripture. Not just past events, but future events, or undetectable events like the afterlife. Absent inerrancy, we don't know which Biblical statements are true or false. 
xii) But there is, if anything, a deeper issue. There's a cause/effect relationship between inspiration and inerrancy. Just as the Resurrection is a divine event, the process of revelation and/or inspiration is a divine event. Just as the Resurrection bears witness to God's activity in the world, so does inspiration or revelation. 
Take prophecy. Prophecy involves three presuppositions: (a) God knows the future; (b) God controls the future; (c) God sometimes discloses the future. 
If, however, you consider prophecies to be fallible, then that reflects back on the nature and existence of God. Likewise, if you think some or all Biblical "prophecies" are really vaticinia ex eventu, then that likewise reflects back on the nature and existence of God. 
Perhaps God is finite in knowledge and power. Perhaps God is the Creator of a closed-system. He doesn't break in.  Perhaps God doesn't exist.
Denying the inspiration of Scripture can have far-reaching theological consequences. 
Inspiration and revelation presuppose the existence of a God who's active in the world. Who communicates to and through humans (as well as angels). If we deny inspiration, then God isn't active in the world in that respect. Is God's silence an indication that he's uninvolved? Is God's silence an indication that there is no God to communicate with us in the first place? So inerrancy can indeed be as important as the Resurrection. 
xiii) Likewise, denying inerrancy nearly erases the distinction between true and false prophecy. Yet Scripture is deeply invested in that distinction. 
xiv) As a Calvinist, I admit that my views on inspiration are influenced by my views on predestination and providence. God is intimately involved in everything that happens. Once again, take prophecy. God is in a position to predict the future because he makes it happen. He has a plan, and he executes his plan. Directly or indirectly, he causes what he predicts. 
xv) Some Christian apologists think we need a back-up plan in case inerrancy fails. A safety-net to break the fall in case a Christian loses faith in the inerrancy of Scripture. We need to stake out a middle ground between inerrancy and apostasy. 
Their contingency plan is to view the Bible as an uninspired historical record. A historical record needn't be inerrant to be informative or reliable. 
For some professing Christians, this is more than just a fallback position. This is their actual position. They approach Scripture simply as historians. They have no doctrine of inspiration or revelation. 
There's a sense in which that might be better than apostasy. At least for them. But even if that's the case, what's better for some individuals isn't necessarily a good policy for the church. At best, it just means that is preferable to the dire alternative of all-out apostasy.
xvi) At the same time, there's a deceptive security in this profession of faith. When you deny inspiration or revelation, and simply approach the Bible as a set of historical documents (some of which are less historical than others), that's a secularizing outlook. At best, Scripture is a historical witness to what God does rather than what God says. A God who is somehow active in (or behind) certain redemptive events, but inactive in communicating to and through certain individuals. But is that dichotomy plausible? 
xvii) I don't think creating more Bart Ehrmans is necessarily a bad thing. Separating light from darkness (Jn 3:19-21) can purify the church. To the extent, however, that inerrancy is a make-or-break issue, we need to make reasonably sure that truth is what is driving some folks away from the faith. I think scholars like Bock, Blomberg, and Poythress are much better models than Geisler when it comes to general harmonistic strategies. 

“Metaphysical Religion” and “Becoming One with God”

In a work that Lane Keister of Green Baggins considers to be “the best book on Roman Catholicism I have read”, Leonardo De Chirico describes what he believes to be the “core” of Roman Catholicism:

This core is a composite one and entails the ways in which the relationship between nature and grace are worked out and the Roman Catholic self-understanding of the Church which is the main subject of the system itself. The Roman Catholic system can be seen as emerging from the range of the nature-grace motifs which are allowed to coexist within it and serve to enrich it, and expressing itself in the paramount role of the church which is basically understood in Christological terms as the prolongation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (p. 24).

That, of course, is an over-simplified version of “what Roman Catholicism is”. At its heart, the Roman Catholic Church, hierarchy and all, considers itself to be “The Mystical Body of Christ”. You can find that idea in all the most recent Catholic literature out there.

Lumen Gentium states it this way:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spiritual Care in a Medical Setting

Defending the Gospels

Taking shortcuts on miracles

I've often documented the way MacArthurites ape the arguments of secular debunkers to discount miracles which conflict with cessationism. Indeed, they are often hostile to miracles which are consistent with cessationism.

Here's another parallel. Instead of evaluating miracles case-by-case, Hume tried to short-cut the discussion by impugning the credibility of anyone reporting a miracle. He uses a circular argument: miracles are reported by unreliable witnesses. And what's the evidence that they are unreliable? Why, because they report miracles!

In my experience, MacArthurites resort to the same tactic. Instead of sifting the evidence that Keener (and others) has amassed, they search for a few examples which, in their estimation, show that Keener lacks discernment. Having established to their own satisfaction that he's undiscerning, that somehow absolves them of the need to address the totality of the evidence.

Frank Turk uses a similar short-cut: 

My opinion is that because Keener is advocating for some iteration of the AoG view of miracles today, he is going to have to wear that jersey until he explicitly does something to separate himself from the pack.[sarcastic] Keener is has nothing to do with the AoG and therefore is not trying to let their Statement of Faith ride on the coat-tails of his small sample of documented miracles.
Notice that Frank is concocting a narrative of what really motivates Keener. Supposedly, Keener is retroactively proving the AoG Statement of Faith. 
Having imputed this hidden agenda to Keener, that somehow relieves Frank of responsibility to consider the specific, detailed, concrete evidence that Keener has assembled. 
But even if, for the sake of argument, you think Keener lacks discernment, or that Keener is blinded by his ulterior motives, how does that discredit the various witnesses he cites to reported miracles? How does that discredit medical verification?
This is a typical exercise in misdirection on the part of MacArthurites who loudly proclaim the absence of credible evidence for certain kinds of modern miracles, but resort to shortcuts to duck the actual state of the evidence. A policy of avoidance to dodge what they can't disprove. 

Shilling for radical feminism

Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 2hRT @triablogue: Steve Hays defends the guy who props up the cranks who gave us Todd Bentley. 
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 11hIt truly is a tragedy to see Triablogue become shills for the likes of Sid Roth & Heidi Baker,

What's ironic about this guilt-by-association smear is how easily it could be turned against John MacArthur and his acolytes.

Phil Johnson talks MacArthur into using the NIV2011 as the text for his study Bible. Of course, the NIV2011 is a trojan horse for feminism in the church. Therefore, that makes Phil Johnson a shill for Katharine Schori and Rachel Held Evans.

Just follow the bread crumbs. Phil Johnson defends John MacArthur, who props up the crank NIV translators (e.g. Gordon Fee, Jeannine Brown, Ken Barker, Bruce Waltke, Mark Strauss, Instone-Brewer) who gave us the unisex NIV2011. 

Secular Self-Deception About the Value of Life

Theism and scientific antirealism

Life in the compound

Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 2hRT @triablogue: Steve Hays defends the guy who props up the cranks who gave us Todd Bentley. 
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 11hIt truly is a tragedy to see Triablogue become shills for the likes of Sid Roth & Heidi Baker,
Frank Turk ‏@Frank_Turk 1h@Fred_Butler @BibChr What do you think has happened there, Freddy?
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 1h@Frank_Turk @BibChr It's mystifying. I have no idea. Maybe Steve was pulled up into heaven recently.

Within the paranoid compound of MacArthurville, Craig Keener is the enemy. 

Imagine that. Keener has become the premier apologist for the historical Jesus, NT miracles, and the historicity of the gospels. But from the paranoid viewpoint of MacArthurville, he's the real enemy. He's dangerous. They must impeach his credibility at all cost. 

Hence, anyone who offers even a partial defense of Keener against ankle-biters like Lyndon Unger is the enemy, too. 

If Michael Kruger writes a positive review of Keener's defense of miracles, that makes him a shill for Todd Bentley. If Craig Blomberg writes a positive review of Keener's defense of miracles, that makes him a shill for Sid Roth. If Richard Bauckham or Craig A. Evans endorse Keener's defense of miracles, that makes them shills for all the worst charlatans. 

This is how the world looks when you peer out the shuttered windows of the MacArthurville compound.  

Now, a reasonable person would be more judicious and discriminating. For instance, a reasonable person reading Keener's defense of miracles might say: "Keener has marshaled a tremendous amount of evidence. Some of his examples are stronger than others. Overall, he makes a credible case."

However, because MacArthurites are doctrinaire cessationists, they must find some way to destroy Keener's defense of miracles. Even if they're theoretically open to some kinds of modern miracles, they can't allow for that in practice because that would also allow the wrong kinds of miracles to slip through the sieve. Even if Keener frequently defends the right kinds of miracles, that's inadmissible because it leaves the door ajar for the wrong kinds of miracles to creep in. 

So they cast about for any way to discredit his monograph in toto. Their philosophy is: better to discard a 1000 genuine miracles than to admit a single miracle, however well-attested, that's incompatible with cessationism. 

Their tactic is to hunt for what they deem to be Keener's weakest examples. They then use the weakest examples (in their estimation) to discredit the strongest examples. 

2 hrs · Twitter ·
Retweeted Fred Butler (@Fred_Butler):It truly is a tragedy to see Triablogue become shills for the likes of Sid Roth & Heidi Baker,
Triablogue: Fragging Craig KeenerMary Elizabeth Palshan I actually thought Triablogue was sound at one time. Then I see an article endorsing the book Heaven Is For Real. What's up with that?

Presumably, she's alluding to this post:

Did I endorse the book? Just the opposite: I was very critical of the book. 

But MacArthurites see the world through their tinted glasses, so a critique of Heaven is For Real becomes an endorsement. 

Dan Phillips It was sound at one time. It was dedicated to opposing enemies of the Christian faith. Now it's something different.

I've been consistent in my defense of miracles. What I've noticed is that MacArthurites recycle the same objections used by the atheists I've debated over the years.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

God's not Dead

Is Easter pagan?

Fossil remains

Coming to faith in Christ

Fragging Craig Keener

Fred Butler attempts to mount a first strike:
The review is long and exhausting, but it is worth reading every word, because Lyndon, in my mind, totally lays to waste the idea that Keener is some sort of trustworthy expert on the charismatic movement and modern day miracles.
Nicely illustrating Fred's confirmation bias. 
It has always baffled me why otherwise sound-thinking people would latch onto Keener as the go-to “scholar” just because he wrote a 2 volume work on miracles.
Jason Engwer and I have both quoted many different sources on miracles. We were doing that before Keener published his monograph. And we continue to quote various sources in addition to Keener.
But if someone wants a recommendation for a single work that collates a great deal of material, along with trenchant analysis, Keener's monograph is a great place to start.
The first volume has some positive things to say against anti-supernaturalism, but as I have argued, and as Lyndon also argues in his latest review of Keener’s appendix, cessationists are not anti-supernatural. Never have been. Just because cessationists aren’t convinced some guy with a sore neck was healed at a tent revival doesn’t mean they are anti-supernatural.I realize a number of folks Steve Hays will complain that Keener’s research involves much more than recounting anecdotal stories about people, their sore knees, and getting healed at a tent revival, but honestly, that is exactly what Keener does. It’s a joke, really, and a waste of 40 bucks if you purchase the 2 volumes thinking he has documented some awe-inducing scholarly evidence proving modern day faith healers walk among us.
Notice the inability to even make an honest attempt at seriously characterizing the evidence presented in the book.
As Lyndon demonstrates in his review, the fact that Keener is willing to give a pass to the most outrageous and ridiculous charismatic nonsense is worrisome. His dismissal of the profound problems with African prosperity gospel charismaticism as being non-existent is also troubling, if not demonstrable of his naive, Pollyannish view of Pentecostalism in third world countries.
Does Keener dismiss the problem as "nonexistent"? Once again, notice the inability to even make an honest characterization.
Yet even more disturbing is how apologetic ministries like STR and even Triablogue, with whom I have gone a few rounds regarding charismaticism (and will more than likely respond to this very post), are so supportive of the guy as if he is unanswerable with rock solid argumentation.
i) Fred initially posted a few responses, before retreating into silence (except for sniping comments on Twitter) when the argument didn't go his way.
ii) Unlike MacArthurites, for whom cessationism is the all-important litmus test, I don't have to agree with everything a scholar says to find him useful. Unlike MacArthurites, I can be evenhanded.
iii) William Lane Craig has the reputation for being the premier Christian apologist of his generation, and up to a point, he's earned that distinction. Yet he's also been chided, not without some justification, for subordinating Scripture to philosophy.
By contrast, Keener is defending the Bible in a way that Craig does not. He's written mammoth commentaries on Matthew, John, and Acts, which uphold their historicity with great erudition. He's written a massive, erudite book defending the historical Jesus (The Historical Jesus of the Gospels). And his monograph on miracles (Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts) is a well-documented defense of NT miracles in the face of the methodological naturalism that infects broad swaths of Biblical scholarship. That's in addition to scholarly articles on the same topics. That's a tremendous service to the church. 
Just as Muslims love to cite Bart Ehrman on the NT, it's a pity to see Fred Butler and Lyndon Unger become hired guns for militant atheists.