Saturday, June 07, 2014

Putting the New Atheists out to pasture

In atheism, everybody is supremely disposable. Every human life is temporary, expendable, replaceable. 

Not surprisingly, this circles back on atheists themselves. Welcome to the generation gap, where atheist heroes have all the longevity of boybands. 

It’s surprising just how much media analysis, both mainstream and progressive, continues to take as given the notion that atheism can be defined and discussed solely by looking at the so-called “New Atheists” who emerged roughly between 2004 and 2007. It’s easy to understand the appeal: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens became prominent representatives of atheism because they were all erudite, entertaining and unafraid to say what they thought. A lot of people, myself included, were drawn to their works because they were forthright and articulated things we had kept locked away, or simply hadn’t found the words for. 
But in 2014, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever. 
James Croft, the research and education fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, says there are already generational differences in how they’re viewed. “Frankly, people like Richard Dawkins and even Sam Harris to some extent, are not viewed positively by young atheists now,” he says. “They actually don’t think that they’re that great. You still find people at the conventions who love them of course, but it does seem like they’re already a bit passé….They kind of pushed a door open, and that represents an opportunity, but the real task is to step through that door with some positive proposal of what life after religion has to look like.”

Exorcising the poltergeist of classical dispensationalism

I've noticed what seems to be a common denominator in the new inerrancy wars. I'm alluding to prominent members of the Geisler faction. 
Perhaps this is just coincidental, but there are so many suggestive connections that it's worth tracing or tracking.  To some extent (although by no means entirely), the current inerrancy debate seems to be haunted by the angry, noisy ghost of classical dispensationalism. 
For starters, I wonder if the Master's Seminary is to Talbot Seminary what Westminster is to Princeton. After Princeton went liberal, Machen founded Westminster. Westminster existed to continue the legacy that Princeton relinquished. 
Talbot used to be a dispensational seminary. Charles Lee Feinberg was the first dean of Talbot. Not only was Feinberg a dispensationalist, but a classic dispensationalist–in contrast to progressive dispensationalism. 
What's more, Feinberg was a teacher and mentor of John MacArthur. In addition, Robert Thomas (another classical dispensationalist) taught at Talbot, before switching to TMS, right after MacArthur started TMS. 
Although Talbot still has a dispensationalist on the faculty, Saucy is a leader of the progressive dispensationalists. So I wonder if this doesn't reflect a split or rivalry between the two competing institutions. 
Back in 1998, Robert Thomas and David Farnell edited The Jesus Crisis. It's a precursor to Defending Inerrancy, by Norm Geisler and William Roach. Farnell is another TMS prof. And The Jesus Crisis had a forward by MacArthur. 
In addition, from what I've read, Geisler is another critic of progressive dispensationalism. 
Darrell Bock is a target of the Geisler faction. And Bock just so happens to be a leader of the progressive dispensationallists. Dan Wallace is yet another target of the Geisler faction. Both Bock and Wallace teach at Dallas Theological Seminary. So I wonder if this doesn't reflect rivalry between DTS and TMS. Competing visions of dispensationalism. 
On another front, why does the Geisler faction continue to pound Robert Gundry? He's retired. He's in his 80s. His notorious commentary on Matthew was published over 30 years ago. Why keep fanning the embers of that old smoldering controversy?
Liberal Bible scholars are a dime a dozen. Why focus so much continued attention on Gundry? Surely there are comparable targets. What not train their guns on Charles Talbert, a liberal SBC survivor who found refuge at Baylor?
Perhaps it's just because Gundry was Geisler's prize trophy. His head is mounted over the mantelpiece of Geisler's living room. 
However, there may be another explanation. Although Gundry is best known in some circles for his commentary on Matthew, he was also an influential critic of pretribulational dispensationalism. When it was published, The Church and the Tribulation was a bombshell in dispensational circles. And Gundry published a sequel: First the Antichrist: Why Christ Won’t Come Before the Antichrist Does.
The Church and the Tribulation came out nine years before his commentary on Matthew. His critique of pretribulational dispensationalism may explain the obsession of the Geisler faction with Gundry. 
George Eldon Ladd is another target of the Geisler faction. A current target. Yet Ladd died over 30 years ago. So why keep him in the crosshairs? 
Yes, he taught at Fuller, the bête noire of evangelical seminaries. But he wasn't especially liberal. If you're going to target dead Fuller faculty, why not go after David Hubbard or William LaSor? From what I can tell, LaSor was more liberal than Ladd, and in some ways a more formidable scholar. 
For that matter, why go after dead Fuller faculty when living Fuller faculty like Daniel Kirk are such inviting targets? 
Maybe because, in his heyday, Ladd was evangelicalism's most influential critic of dispensationalism. Ladd rehabilitated historical premillennialism. 
By the same token, Craig Blomberg is another long-time target of the Geisler faction. And Blomberg is a fellow premil. But he's the wrong kind of premil. He's a classic premil rather than a dispensationalisr. And the wrong kind of premil is more dangerous than an amil, since the more two positions are alike, the more competitive they are. 
Blomberg contributed to a book (A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology) that critiques the pop pretribulational dispensationalism of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and Jerry Jenkins. 
Conversely, LaHaye and Jenkins endorsed MacArthur's Because the Time is Near (on a dustjacket blurb).
Now, I'm not suggesting that all the targets of the Geisler faction are opponents of their brand of dispensationalism. But there seems to be a pattern. They may think consistent inerrancy requires classical dispensational hermeneutics. That's their standard of comparison.
For those of us who defend inerrancy, but don't share their eschatological commitments, it's necessary to exorcise the poltergeist of classical dispensationalism. If we're busy ducking furniture which the angry ghost of classical dispensationalism hurls at us, that distracts us from the real threat. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Not all scientific studies are created equal

Christian priorities

What I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman. His testimony in Misquoting Jesus discussed inerrancy as the prime mover in his studies. But when a glib comment from one of his conservative professors at Princeton was scribbled on a term paper, to the effect that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, Ehrman’s faith began to crumble. One domino crashed into another until eventually he became ‘a fairly happy agnostic.’ I may be wrong about Ehrman’s own spiritual journey, but I have known too many students who have gone in that direction. The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have an effect on the core.

This argument seems to be increasingly popular among some scholars and apologists (e.g. Dan Wallace, Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, Michael Patton). On this view, a dogmatic commitment to inerrancy is a "slippery slope" or "house of cards." Once you begin to question inerrancy, that has the "domino effect."

To this I'd say a few things:

i) Although we shouldn't make the Christian faith more demanding than God demands, by the same token, we shouldn't make the Christian faith less demanding than God demands. Indeed, we don't have the authority to tell people what biblical teachings they are free to jettison. 

ii) Some professing Christians lose their faith because they had very crude notions of what inerrancy requires. Their false expectations were dashed. But there are nuanced models of inerrancy, viz.

Darrell Bock, “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in the Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels against Each Other,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) 367-381.

iii) As scholars like Warfield have documented, verbal inspiration is the Bible's own doctrine of inspiration. That's not one among several theories of inspiration. That's not a "peripheral" doctrine. That's the "core" of divine communication. 

iv) Finally, suppose, for the sake of argument, that Scripture is not inerrant. Suppose, when I die and go to heaven, I find out that I was wrong about inerrancy. Does that mean I was wrong to defend inerrancy in the here and now?

Although it's best to be right for the right reasons, it's better to be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons. Let's take two examples:

a) Suppose I have a teenage daughter who's diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, it's a cancer with a 20% survival rate. Suppose I don't have her treated, because the odds are against her. Conversely, suppose I have her undergo treatment, but she dies anyway. 

Which was the right thing to do? Well, if I have her undergo treatment, then, in a sense I was wrong, because the treatment was futile. Put another way, if I don't have her undergo treatment, there's a sense in which I was right, because even if she had undergone treatment, she was doomed.

But, of course, even though she only had a 1 out of 5 chance of survival, it was my parental duty to try to save her life. I didn't know ahead of time if therapy would be successful or unsuccessful. But there was so much to gain if it succeeded, and so little to lose if it failed.

If I deny her treatment, I'm factually right, but morally wrong. If I order treatment, I'm factually wrong but morally right. 

We'd be justified in condemning a parent who denied her treatment, even if it might have proven futile.I didn't have the benefit of hindsight.

b) Let's take another example. Suppose I have a bedridden mother who lives with me. I have a nurse's aid visit everyday to change her or bathe her. 

Suppose a category-5 hurricane is making a beeline for our neighborhood. It isn't feasible to evacuate my mother in her frail condition. I can stay behind, but I'd be risking my own life in the process. Or I can leave her behind and come back after the hurricane has passed over. It's possible that the hurricane will weaken or swerve before it makes landfall, but if I wait until the last minute to decide what to do, it will be too late to escape because the evacuation routes will be gridlocked. I'd be overtaken by the hurricane.

Suppose I stay behind. As it turns out, the hurricane swerved. My mother was never in danger. It was unnecessary for me to stay by her side.

Suppose I leave her behind. As it turns out, it was safe to leave her alone, then return a few hours later. 

If I say behind, there's a sense in which I was wrong, since she was never actually threatened by the hurricane. 

But, of course, it's my filial duty to stay behind, even if that means we both die. If I leave her behind, and no harm comes to her, we both got lucky. But that hardly excuses me for deserting her in a crisis. 

If I leave her behind, I'm factually right, but morally wrong. If I stay behind, I'm factually wrong, but morally right.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that some Christians have too much faith in Scripture. Suppose their excessive faith is misplaced. 

Even if (ex hypothesi), they were wrong, they were wrong for the right reason. Their motives were God-honoring.

Even if (ex hypothesi), those who reject inerrancy turn out to be right, they were right for the wrong reason.  Their motives were God-dishonoring. 

Blomberg on pseudonymity

Unfortunately, we have a number of otherwise conservative Bible scholars and Christian apologists who feel the need to hedge their bets. In this post I'm going to comment on some statements by Craig Blomberg on pseudepigrapha, from his Can We Still Believe the Bible? 
In fact, when it comes to postbiblical Jewish apocalypses, every known example is pseudonymous (173).
i) But isn't that observation counterproductive to his thesis? Why were no Intertestamental pseudepigrapha canonized? Did their pseudonymity ipso facto disqualify them from consideration?
To my knowledge, almost no Intertertestamental pseudepigrapha are named after Jews who lived during the Intertestamental Period. Why is that? Does that mean there were no acknowledge prophets during the Intertestmental period? If any Jew from that period presented himself as a prophet, Jewry at large would dismiss his claims out of hand. 
ii) Conversely, canonical writers like Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (to name a few) were known to their contemporaries. Even if a later reader is coming to their works long after the prophet and his original audience lived and died, their works have a chain-of-custody. 
By contrast, if a "prophecy," attributed to some luminary who lived and died centuries before, suddenly emerges out of the blue, that's inherently suspect. If it's authentic, where did it come from? If it originated in the distant past, why is it only coming to light just now? Nothing in the present connects it to the past. It wasn't discovered. 
Plenty of other examples exist in ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman circles for attributing a document to an author whom people would have known was no longer living, doing so as a way of crediting them for being a key resource or inspiration for the ideas contained in the newer work. Far from being deceptive, it was a way of not taking credit for the contents of a book when one's ideas were heavily indebted to others of a previous era (169).
i) That sounds almost admirable. But how does Blomberg know that's what motivated the pseudonymous author? In the nature of the case, the author couldn't maintain his pseudonymity if he named his real source. He'd had to drop the pose to credit the source. Since, therefore, the pseudonymous facade precludes him from naming his sources, what internal evidence is there from the document itself that his intention was not to take credit for the contents?
ii) Moreover, we have examples in Scripture (e.g. 1-2 Chronicles; Gospel of Luke) where the author explicitly names or alludes to sources of information. He doesn't resort to a pseudonymous guise. He's upfront about sources. 
In addition, Blomberg footnotes his claim as follows:
Particularly frequently cited are Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.5 ("that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke's form of the Gospel, men usually ascribed to Paul") and Mishnah, Berakot 5.5 ("a man's representative is himself") (262n102). 
i) But doesn't that undercut rather than underwrite Blomberg's claim? Mark's Gospel isn't pseudonymous. Even if Peter is Mark's primary informant, the Gospel isn't named after Peter. Likewise, Paul is not the named author of Luke's Gospel. 
ii) A problem with the Mishnaic quote is the failure to distinguish between a man's designated spokesman and someone who presumes to speak on behalf of another. Assuming (ex hypothesi) that some NT letters are pseudonymous, that's not because an apostle authorized them to speak for him. 
On the other hand, it is an open question whether ancient Jews or Christians ever deemed the practice of pseudonymity acceptable for canonical Scripture (170). 
i) Which is one of the problems. For instance, Paul signs his letters to authenticate his letters–a practice he began with 2 Thes 3:17. And that was apparently to forestall forgeries (2:2). 
In that case, how could a deutero-Pauline epistle be morally innocent rather than inherently deceptive? 
ii) Likewise, by OT criteria, a hallmark of a false prophet is speaking in God's name when God has not commissioned him and spoken to him. By that yardstick, a pseudonymous prophecy is ipso facto false prophecy. 
iii) By the same token, Paul makes a big deal about his divine commission and direct revelation (Galatians 1-2). That's the basis of his apostolic authority. A deutero-Pauline epistle would lack those key credentials. The same considerations apply to 1-2 Peter.
iv) In addition, the author of 1 John claims to be a member of Christ's inner circle. An eyewitness to the ministry of Christ. (1 Jn 1:1-5). How can a pseudonymous author honestly feign that experience?
v) Why would anyone pay attention to Jude unless it was, in fact, written by one of Christ's stepbrothers? 
vi) If NT pseudonymity was an accepted practice, why is Hebrews anonymous rather than pseudonymous? 
David Aune conveniently summarizes…six different kinds of ancient pseudepigraphy: (1) works that are partly authentic but have been supplemented by later authors, (2) works written largely by later authors but relying on some material from the named authors, (3) works that are more generally influenced by the earlier authors who are named, (4) works from a "school" of writers ideologically descended from the named authors, (5) originally anonymous works later made pseudonymous for one of these previous reasons, and (6) genuine forgeries intended to deceive (172).
Take the case of Jude. Is there any reason to think (1)-(5) are applicable to Jude? 
All the candidates for NT pseudonymity are letters. But that's easier said than done. As Bauckham explains:
All letters, including pseudepigraphal letters, must specify both the sender(s) and the recipient(s). In the case of pseudepigraphal letters the supposed author, named in the parties formula, is not the real author. But it is important to notice also, since the point is sometimes neglected, that the supposed addressee(s), specified in the parties formula, cannot be the real readers for whom the real author is writing. The supposed addressee(s) must (except in some special cases to be considered later) be a contemporary or contemporaries of the supposed author. Not only does the "I" in a pseudepigraphal letter not refer to the real author, but "you" does not refer to the read readers. The readers of a pseudepigraphal letter cannot read it as though they were being directly addressed either by the supposed author or by the real author (except in the special cases to be noted later); they must read it as a letter written to other people, in the past.  
The authentic real letter (type A) is a form of direct address to specific addressee(s). The pseudepigraphal letter, it seems, can only be this fictionally. The real author of a pseudepigraphal letter can only address real readers indirectly, under cover of direct address to other people.  
The problem for the author in this case is that he wants his pseudepigraphal letter to perform for him and his readers something like the function which an authentic real letter from him to his readers would perform. He wants, under cover of his pseudonym, to address his real readers, but his genre allows his letter to be addressed only to supposed addressees contemporary with the supposed author. Thus, he needs to find some way in which material that is ostensibly addressed to supposed addressees in the past can be taken by his real readers as actually or also addressed to them.  
However, in themselves these two expedients (AP6 and BP) only enable the pseudepigraphal writer to address a general readership in general terms. They do not enable him to do what Paul did in his authentic letters, that is, to write material of specific relevance to specific churches in specific situations.  
One way to do this was to address supposed addressees who were ancestors or predecessors of the real readers in a situation supposed not to have changed, in relevant respects, up to the present, so that the real readers are still in the same situation as the supposed addressees once were (type AP3). "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters," The Jewish World Around the New Testament (Baker 2010), 129-31.
An obvious obstacle to that strategy is the brevity of the NT era. Except for the Apostle John (according to tradition), the Apostles and stepbrothers of Christ were dead by the 60s. So how could a pseudonymous letter, directed at the author's contemporaries, be plausibly addressed to their Christian predecessors or ancestors? How many Christian generations does the NT era allow for? 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bones of contention

No place to hide

Most liberals rubberstamp whatever the Obama administration does. However, Noam Chomsky, doyen of the far left, is sounding the alarm:

Who's afraid of relativism (director's cut)

The abomination of desolation

A few points about the "abomination of desolation," and related issues:
i) On the traditional view, at the time of writing this was future to Daniel.
ii) Even conservative commentators think the Danielic references include (but are not exclusive to) Antiochus Epiphanes. For instance, they may view Antiochus as a type of the eschatological Antichrist.
iii) What about 2 Thes 2 and the Olivet Discourse? I think it likely that these are both backward-looking and forward-looking. Given the fact that Antiochus was such a notorious figure in Jewish history, I assume the Danielic oracles would by that time carry Antiochean connotations. When Jesus and Paul quote these prophecies, with the Intertestamental Period behind them, I think there'd be unavoidable associations between the Danielic oracles and the Antiochean crisis–in the minds of Paul, Jesus, and a Jewish audience.
iv) In addition, as Gordon Fee points out in his commentary, by the time Paul penned 2 Thessalonians, the Second Temple had already been desecrated on three separate occasions: by Antiochus, Pompey, and Caligula. 
v) On the other hand, Jesus and Paul obviously apply this to a future event. Typology can do justice to both a prospective and retrospective outlook. More than one person or event can exemplify the same repeatable principle.
Even if we accept the preterist identifications in 2 Thes 2 and the Olivet Discourse, that doesn't mean the prophecy is past–anymore than recognizing Antiochus or Pompey stepping into that role precludes future actors from reprising the same part.  

Uncle Sam is reading your mail

Reacting to reactionaries

I'm continuing my interaction with Mike Licona's latest response to the Geisler faction. It's a sequel to my previous analysis:
Unfortunately, there almost seems to be a self-fulling prophecy at work. In the past, Geisler has leveled criticisms of Blomberg and Licona (among others) that are out of all proportion to the offense. Yet in reaction to Geisler, Blomberg and Licona are now making concessions which, to some extent, confirm the original allegation after the fact. It's as if they are moving to the left in reaction to the Geisler faction. Geisler is a reactionary, but there's a danger that some of his targets or opponents will respond by becoming reactionaries in the opposite direction. 
The bottom line appears to be that Geisler and the New Fundamentalists do not like the historical-critical approach I employ and that is employed by the majority of today’s leading evangelical biblical scholars. He and those in his camp do not grasp the different tasks of theologians and biblical historians. Conservative theologians can approach the biblical texts with their presuppositions and conclude that such-and-such events occurred. So, Geisler, who is a philosopher and theologian, can come to the Gospels and say (a) The Bible is God’s Word. (b) The Bible says these events occurred. (c) Therefore, these events occurred. Case closed.
Of course, that's a caricature. A Christian commitment to the veracity of Scripture doesn't mean there is nothing further to be said. Although the fact that Scripture vouches for an event is sufficient reason to believe it occurred, that doesn't preclude corroborative evidence. Likewise, one can furnish supporting arguments for the veracity of Scripture. 
The doctrines of the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Gospels are faith doctrines that cannot be proven. That does not mean they are false. It means they cannot be proven. In order to prove the Gospels are inerrant, one would have to start by proving there are no errors (this means adequately resolving all discrepancies), and then corroborating everything reported in the Gospels as being true. Good luck with that task! But one can still believe the Gospels are divinely inspired and without error just as they can believe Jesus’s death can atone for one’s sins. Neither can be proven and both must be accepted on faith.
i) It isn't clear what Licona is denying. Is he saying there can be no evidence for the inspiration of Scripture? Or is he saying there is only so much we can show by means of argument?

ii) Moreover, Licona's invidious comparison is self-defeating. If "faith-doctrines" are unprovable, so are the reconstructions and conclusions of the critical-historical method–which, at best, only yields probabilities rather than certainties. 
Historians of the Bible do not have such a luxury. Historical investigation does not allow us to presuppose the inerrancy of the Bible in the course of a historical investigation. Otherwise, historians would just use the above argument, close shop and go home.  However, when approaching the Gospels historically and making no theological assumptions pertaining to whether they are divinely inspired or inerrant, historians can apply the tools of historical investigation in order to see if a reported event can be confirmed. History and theology are not contradictory practices. But they are different.
This posits a false dichotomy between history and theology. Yet the Gospels are theological history. The Gospels bear witness to God's intimate involvement in human history. 
How can a historian of the Bible leave God's activity in the world out of account when Biblical narratives report what God has done with, to, or for the human participants?
Of course, an unbeliever can simply deny the reality of that theological representation, but he must take the representation fully into account even to deem it false. 
Perhaps Licona is distinguishing between the nature of the record (inspiration) and the nature of what it records (divine action). If so, that's an artificial distinction. It would be arbitrary to make allowance for divine revelation within the historical narrative (e.g. prophecies, revelatory dreams, angelic apparitions), but disallow divine inspiration or revelation in reference to the production of the record itself. If the Gospels can be a record of divine agency, they can also be a product of divine agency.
Licona's latest statement is especially odd because it seems to mark a regression from the position he took in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.  
We may still ask what it means to say, “The Bible is God’s Word.” Does it mean God must always speak with legal precision and describe events with photographic accuracy rather than within the bounds of the various genres in which the biblical literature is written?
Short answer: no. Vern Poythress has a good discussion of photographic realism in his Inerrancy and the Gospels:
Would it be possible for God to ensure that certain messages He regarded as having great importance were preserved accurately while He allowed the biblical authors freedom to write in their own words and style, even tolerating a lapse of memory on their part, their need to fill in the blanks, or even a deliberate altering of data for theological reasons resulting in a portrayal of events in ways not reflective of what we would have seen had we been there?
i) Licona seems to be proposing a denial of verbal inspiration. Was that his intention?
Verbal inspiration isn't a "New Fundamentalist" distinctive or innovation. That's the classic Protestant doctrine of Scripture. And it reflects the self-witness of Scripture–as Warfield has documented. 
ii) "Tolerating a memory lapse" would clearly be incompatible with the inerrancy of the record. 
I offer a few thoughts: First: CSBI and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy are not the same. CSBI is neither Scripture nor is it the product of a Church council. It is not authoritative. And with the exception of the faculty members at a few seminaries, evangelicals are not bound by it. One can hold to the inerrancy of Scripture without embracing CSBI. In fact, it’s worth observing that it may very well be the case that more evangelicals worldwide define biblical inerrancy as it’s articulated in the Lausanne Covenant than by CSBI. 
It's true that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has no inherent authority. However, unless Licona thinks there's something wrong with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (or the companion document on hermeneutics), why does he bridle at that standard? If he thinks it's a defective formulation, he should explain why.
Perhaps, though, that's implicit in his contrast with Walton's new book:
In their new book The Lost World of Scripture, biblical scholars John Walton and Brent Sandy discuss ancient literary culture, its focus on orality, and biblical authority. Both authors teach at Wheaton College where all faculty members must affirm the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It’s a wonderful book worth reading in its entirety. Consider the following statements made by Walton and Sandy:
Common definitions of inerrancy do not fit scenarios understood in light of orality (though some responsible constructive theological accounts come close). Yet orality was the way God chose, which must mean it was the right way. Evidently, we need to adjust our understanding of inerrancy to the evidence we find in Scripture.[20]
The point of this book is not to deconstruct inerrancy but to put it on surer footing by carefully accounting for the worldview of the biblical world, which is different from the worldview of modern Western culture. If Christians conceive of inerrancy from the vantage point of print culture and expect sacrosanct wording for the transmission of truth, then they may rightly conclude that understanding orality threatens inerrancy. The alternative is to recognize that inerrancy needs to be redefined in light of the literary culture of the Bible. Hopefully, this book is a step in the right direction.[21]
i) By itself, this fails to specify how inerrancy needs to be redefined. What does Licona think is the takeaway lesson from that book, which he recommends?
ii) One problem with Walton's book is neglecting evidence for literacy and textuality in the 1C. It was never just an oral culture. That's grossly simplistic. For instance:
iii) Consider how often in Scripture a prophet is commanded to write down his oracles. 
iv) Walton seems to be assuming that the sayings of Jesus were transmitted by word-of-mouth long before they were committed to writing. Hence, the Gospels reflect a loose recollection of what he said. If that's Walton's contention, it disregards the role of inspiration, as if the record of Christ's sayings was solely dependent on the vicissitudes of unaided memory.
Jesus gave no indication that the [oral] culture was deficient or that his followers should move beyond orality and record his message in written form. Nothing in the Gospels suggests that the oral texts of Jesus' words and deeds would be inadequate for the Christian movement (144).
Walton's claim is self-refuting. The very fact that he appeals to written Gospels as his source of information directly belies his contention to the contrary. 

Literacy in the time of Jesus

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Defining inerrancy

i) As the inerrancy wars reheat, let's revisit our definitions. Let's begin with a few definitions:

Inerrancy will then mean that at no point in what was originally given were the biblical writers allowed to make statements or endorse viewpoints which are not in conformity with objective truth. This applies at any level at which they make pronouncements (Roger Nicole). 
Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences (Paul Feinberg). 
Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy).

ii) These definitions are fine as far as they go. However, they contain an implicit loophole. 

For instance, suppose a commentator on Acts says the Ascension never happened. Does that deny the inerrancy of Scripture? Depends on how he defends his interpretation. 

If he says Luke affirms or teaches the reality of the Ascension, based on his antiquated cosmology, but we now know that couldn't happen, then his interpretation denies the inerrancy of Scripture.

If, however, he says Luke never intended to affirm the reality of the Ascension, that this was never meant to be more than a theological metaphor, then his interpretation is consistent with the definition of inerrancy. He doesn't say what Luke claimed to be the case was mistaken. Rather, he says it was never a truth-claim in the first place.

So this reflects a limitation concerning abstract definitions of inerrancy. There's only so much you can pack into a definition. 

iii) But oftentimes, Christians use "inerrancy" more broadly, as shorthand for the kinds of things critics or unbelievers deny. In this broader sense, when we say Scripture is inerrant, we mean that when Scripture says something has happened (history) or will happen (prophecy), that's a fact. That corresponds to an objective state of affairs. 

Or when Scripture says something is right or wrong, that's true. Or when Scripture quotes someone, he really said it. 

Usually, "inerrancy" is getting at matters of historicity, factuality, or miraculosity. However, that's something you can't really capture in an abstract definition, because it alludes to a large number of specific examples or kinds of things. 

This means inerrancy is not enough. A definition of inerrancy needs to be supplemented by a list of doctrines or events. In other words, you also need a creed or statement of faith to specify some key details. To fill the blanks. Show how the definition plays out at a concrete level.

Finally, even at that level, there's only so much you can put into a statement of faith. It's a summary of doctrine. 

iv) In addition to creeds, members of a Christian community must operate in good faith. This includes an unwritten understanding and acceptance. 

Take the statement of faith at Dallas Theological Seminary. From what I can tell, if a DTS prof. were to say the oracles of Daniel were prophecy ex eventu, that wouldn't violate the statement of faith.

Since, however, DTS is the flagship of dispensational seminaries, since DTS was founded by prophecy teachers, treating the oracles of Daniel as prophecy ex eventu would clearly be out-of-bounds. That violates the unwritten understanding of the DTS community. A DTS prof could only get away with that if, at some point, DTS liberalizes. Abandons its original vision. 

Wright on Adam

OK, Genesis one, two, and three is wonderful picture language, but I do think there was a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids, that’s the way I read that. 
The way I see it is that there were many hominids or similar creatures, part of the long slow process of God’s good creation. And at a particular time God called a particular pair for a particular task: to look after his creation and make it flourish in a whole new way.

There's an obvious problem with that position. That's not something you find from studying the Bible, and that's not something you find from studying evolutionary biology. On the one hand, Genesis doesn't have "a world of emerging hominids, part of the long slow process of God’s good creation." On the other hand, evolutionary biology doesn't have Adam and Eve. It's a makeshift combination that's unsupportable from either source. It arbitrarily splices together two independent, divergent narratives. 

Accidentally on purpose

Here's a longish article about how an investigative reporter, who died in a car accident last year, was the target of an FBI investigation:
Not surprisingly, some commenters don't think the accident was really accidental. 
Now, the point of my post is not to make that allegation. But I'd like to make a related point. 
In the not-to-distant future, autonomous cars may replace drivers. If you combine that fact with NSA backdoors, I assume that if the gov't wanted to, it could gain remote access to a self-driving car and stage a fatal "accident." It wouldn't even need to hack into the system. 
Thus far, this is the stuff of conspiratorial SF movies. But, increasingly, the gov't has the technological means to become a very efficient police state.

Does the NT quote the OT out of context?

Is inerrancy, at best, a secondary doctrine?

I'm going to comment on a recent statement by Mike Licona:
Third, the truth of Christianity is grounded in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection rather than the inerrancy of the Bible. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity would still be true even if it were the case that some things in the Bible are not. In fact, because Jesus rose, Christianity was true in the period before any of the New Testament literature was written. So, how could an error in the Gospels nullify the truth of Christianity? This is not to say the Bible contains errors. It is to say that, since the truth of the Christian gospel does not hang on every word in the Bible being correct, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is, at the very most, a secondary doctrine. 
This position is only an echo of that articulated in 1893 by B. B. Warfield, regarded as the father of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy:
Let it not be said that thus we found the whole Christian system upon the doctrine of plenary inspiration. We found the whole Christian system on the doctrine of plenary inspiration as little as we found it upon the doctrine of angelic existences. Were there no such thing as inspiration, Christianity would be true, and all its essential doctrines would be credibly witnessed to us in the generally trustworthy reports of the teaching of our Lord and of His authoritative agents in founding the Church, preserved in the writings of the apostles and their first followers, and in the historical witness of the living Church. Inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines, nor even the first thing we prove about the Scriptures. It is the last and crowning fact as to the Scriptures. These we first prove authentic, historically credible, generally trustworthy, before we prove them inspired. And the proof of their authenticity, credibility, general trustworthiness would give us a firm basis for Christianity prior to any knowledge on our part of their inspiration, and apart indeed from the existence of inspiration. Warfield, "The Real Problem of Inspiration."
i) I disagree with Warfield's methodology, for reasons I'll come to momentarily. But I'd also note that Warfield is using a different argument than Licona. Warfield didn't say: 
Even though the Bible claims to be plenarily inspired, if the self-witness of Scripture were proven false, Christianity would still be true.
Warfield is speaking hypothetically. This is even clearer from a similar statement he made:
We may say that without a Bible we might have had Christ and all that he stands for to our souls. Let us not say that this might not have been possible. But neither let us for- get that, in point of fact, it is to the Bible that we owe it that we know Christ and are found in him.  ‘‘The Inspiration of the Bible,’’ in Revelation and Inspiration, 72.

So Warfield is discussing a counterfactual scenario in which the Bible doesn't claim to be plenarily inspired in the first place. A counterfactual scenario in which there is no Bible. A possible world where Christianity is not a revealed religion. Where the knowledge of Christianity solely depends on collective memory. 

That wouldn't be the same religion. It would be significantly similar to Christianity inasmuch as many of the key events would be the same, but it would be significantly dissimilar as well. 

That is very different from Licona's argument that if, in the real world, Scripture was found to be errant in spite of Scripture's self-witness to the contrary, Christianity would still be true. Even if Licona's argument is a good argument, it's not the same argument as Warfield's. It's not the same position. 

ii) It's true that inspiration and the Resurrection are two causally independent events. In that sense, the truth of the Resurrection is not contingent on the truth or falsity of inspiration. Hypothetically speaking, you could have many of the same redemptive events with or without an inspired record.

That, however, doesn't mean Christianity would still be true. Rather, that would mean Christianity is partially true. 

For instance, imagine OT Judaism without the prophets. Imagine Judaism without Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, &c. You could still have many of the same events. The calling of Abraham could still be true. The Exodus could still be true. And so on and so forth. However, OT Judaism without the prophets would not be the same religion. 

iii) In addition, Licona is erecting a false dichotomy between divine words and divine works. But when God raised up prophets, that's a divine event. Sending prophets to Israel is something God does as well as something God says. So we can't neatly separate the works of God from the words of God. 

iv) To take another example: in Isa 40-48, one factor distinguishing the true God from false gods is that Yahweh says he's going to do something, then does it. Predictive prophecy is a fundamental element of OT theism. God does what he says he will do. God says what he will do before he does it. 

If, however, God simply did things without announcing his intentions in advance, you'd only have half the religion. There's far more to Biblical theism than what God does. God is a God who foretells his actions, then fulfills what he foretells. Among other things, inspiration points to a God who knows and controls the future. God gives a word (to or through a prophet), then acts on his word. That's an essential component of Biblical theism. A God who makes promises, then makes good on his promises. 

v) What about Warfield's argument? In addition to what Licona quoted, Warfield deploys variations on this same argument. For instance:

Inspiration, in its more exact sense, cannot come into the discussion until theism, the reality of revelation, the divine origin and character of the religion which they present, and the general trustworthiness of their presentation of it, have been already established. It is the crowing attribute of these sacred books, and is inconceivable and would not be affirmed if they were not previously believed to be the trustworthy records of a divinely given religion. Selected Shorter Writings, 2:632. 
But certainly, before we draw it from the Scriptures, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the Scriptures. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the world. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man. And before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know. Thus, we inevitably work back to first principles. Selected Shorter Writings, 2:98. 

In other words, Warfield is proposing a stepwise proof, in which one thing presupposes another, like a logical syllogism. But even if we grant his methodology, it doesn't follow from this that the order in which you prove something parallels the order of importance. 

Suppose we said, the resurrection of Christ presupposes the death of Christ, and the death of Christ presupposes the birth of Christ. Therefore, the Resurrection "is, at the very most, a secondary doctrine."

Likewise, the NT presupposes the OT. Does it follow that the NT is, at best, of secondary importance to the Christian faith? 

Even if you use a linear proof, the order in which you prove something is not a ranking system. It's not an argument in descending order of importance, where what is prior is more essential or fundamental than what is posterior in the logical or causal sequence. 

vi) Moreover, is Warfield's argument the only proper way to arrive at the conclusion? Must we always begin with first principles? 

Take a comparison: when I observe seagulls, I know a large body of water is nearby. Suppose I'm driving to the coast, but I'm lost. If, however, I begin to notice seagulls in the direction I'm driving, whereas there were no seagulls for miles behind, I can reasonable infer than I'm approaching the coast. I'm getting close to the ocean.

But suppose I'm Warfield. Suppose I say: 

In proving my proximity to the beach, seagulls are not the first thing I appeal to. For seagulls can't exist unless seagulls come from eggs. And seagulls can't make coastal waters their habitant unless there's an ocean in the first place. Therefore, I must first prove the existence of the sea, then prove that seagulls come from eggs, before I can appeal to sightings of seagulls as evidence for the nearby ocean.

That's clearly backwards. And that's because the order of knowing reverses the order of being. 

You don't have to begin with first principles. You don't have to begin with causes. You can begin with effects. The Bible is the effect of divine agency: revelation, inspiration, and historical causation. So it's not illicit to reason back from Scripture, as a starting-point, to its ultimate cause. 

vii) How did most Jews and Christians come to believe in the scriptures? Not through Warfield's argument. For Jewish and Christian believers who were raised in the faith, in many cases they can't remember a time when they didn't believe in the God of prophets. Their religious experience is a package. 

If, moreover, the God of Scripture exists, then these aren't separable elements in reality, even if they are logically separable. So why demand that we must take it apart and rearrange it in Warfield's schematic fashion? 

In fact, Warfield falls back on intuition when he's writing for a popular audience. He knows his methodology won't work for the average layman. Take his essay on the deity of Christ (from The Fundamentals):

A man recognizes on sight the face of his friend, or his own handwriting. Ask him how he knows this face to be that of his friend, or his handwriting to be his own, and he may be dumb [i.e. speechless], or, seeking to reply, may babble nonsense. Yet his recognition rests on solid grounds, though he lacks analytical skill to isolate and state these grounds. We believe in God and freedom and immortality on good grounds, though we may not be able to satisfactorily analyze these grounds. No true conviction exists without adequate rational grounding in evidence. So, if we are solidly assured of the deity of Christ, it will be on adequate grounds, appealing to the reason. But it may well be on grounds not analyzed, perhaps not analyzable, by us, so as to exhibit themselves in the forms of formal logic. 
We do not need to wait to analyze the grounds of our convictions before they operate to produce convictions, any more than we need to wait to analyze our food before it nourishes us. The Christian's conviction of the deity of his Lord does not depend for its soundness on the Christian's ability convincingly to state the grounds of his conviction. The evidence he offers for it may be wholly inadequate, while the evidence on which it rests may be absolutely compelling. 

Gagnon on Fuller Seminary

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Geisler on the warpath

The battle over inerrancy is heating up within evangelicalism (broadly defined). 

On one side are Norman Geisler, Robert Thomas, David Farnell, Joseph Holden, Thomas Howe, William Roach, William Nix, Paige Patterson, Albert Mohler, Richard Land, John MacArthur, &c. 

On the other side, their targets and/or opponents include Robert Gundry, Craig Blomberg, Moisés Silva, Grant Osborne, Darrell Bock, Robert Yarbrough, Michael Licona, Dan Wallace, William Lane Craig, Craig Keener, Craig A. Evans, Donald Hagner, Rob Bowman, Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Kevin Vanhoozer, Stanley Grenz, Brian McLaren, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Michael Bird, Gary Habermas, Murray J. Harris, D. A. Carson, &c. 

However, that bifurcation makes it pretty impossible to take sides. Although the Geisler faction represents a fairly unified position, their targets and/or opponents reflect such a diversity of views that you can't meaningfully generalize about the opposing side. 

Put another way, although the Geisler faction may lump them together, there isn't one opposing side. Their targets and/or opponents don't reflect a consistent trend. They range along a wide spectrum. They have differing views on Biblical authority, Biblical inerrancy, and Biblical historicity. 

It isn't hard to have a general position on the inerrancy of Scripture. Taking sides on the inerrancy of Scripture is pretty straightforward–although that calls for careful definitions and distinctions.  Likewise, you can assess the positions of various individuals on a case-by-case basis. But that takes a lot of sorting and sifting. 

You can discriminate between individual positions. In addition, you can discriminate within individual positions. The same scholar may be very strong in some respects, but weaker in other respects. Some scholars are consistently good. Some scholars are usually good. Some scholars have nothing to offer.

If the Geisler faction thinks Darrell Bock is too liberal, that's a reductio ad absurdum of their position. Bock is one of our ablest defenders of high Christology, the historical Jesus, the historicity of the Synoptics Gospels, and the inerrancy of Scripture. He's done far more in that regard than the Geisler faction.

Off-hand, I don't recall that Keener has ever impugned the inerrancy of Scripture. His defense of the historical Jesus and Christian supernaturalism is far more impressive than anything the Geisler faction has produced. 

Craig A. Evans rejects inerrancy. That's a grave mistake. At the same time, Evans has done more to defend the historical Jesus than the Geisler faction.

Murray J. Harris has penned a standard monograph defending the deity of Christ, as well as the standard commentary on the Greek text of 2 Corinthians. 

I think Blomberg's most recent book (Can We Still Believe the Bible?) is a mixed bag. That said, he's produced an excellent conservative NT introduction. A fine monograph defending the historicity of John's Gospel. And an outstanding monograph on Gospel harmonization.  And he's defended the miracles of Christ throughout his career. In general, the Geisler faction has produced nothing that comes close in quality scholarship or sophistication. 

Ironically, Blomberg has accused Geisler of flouting ICBI criteria when it collides with his agenda.  

I don't object to Geisler criticizing Licona's treatment of Mt 27:51-54. However, you'd scarcely know from Geisler's obsession with this lapse that Licona had written a philosophically astute defense of the Resurrection, which challenged secular historiography, and refuted many liberal critics along the way. 

Unfortunately, the current infighting is generating a vicious cycle in which reactionaries (e.g. Geisler, Thomas) provoke an overreaction (e.g. Blomberg, Patton). Both sides create new fodder for the other side. 

Biology is destiny

Who's Afraid of Relativism?

Sarfati on animal mortality

Jonathan Sarfati recently graced the combox at Tblog:

I'm flattered that he'd take notice:

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.6/01/2014 1:14 PM 
Hairsplitting distinctives? Not when the Bible makes those distinctions. There is no indication that insects count as nephesh chayyah
i) In Gen 1, the basic distinction is between fauna and flora. Within fauna, Gen 1 draws further distinctions based on habitat (aquatic/marine animals, land animals, aerial animals). And it distinguishes between wild animals and livestock. 
ii) If these categories cover the origin of all the basic kinds of fauna and flora, then insects belong to one of those categories. What reason is there to think Gen 1 classifies insects as plants rather than animals? What reason is there to think Gen 1 classifies a lizard or tadpole as "breath of life" (nephesh chayyah), but classifies a scorpion or camel spider as a type of plant? 
iii) Likewise, in Lev 11, insects are grouped with other animals–rather than plants. Same with with Deut 14:1-21. 
See for example The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe: Hugh Ross’s blunders on plant death in the Bible
Let's consider that:
Romans 5:12–19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 clearly teach that human death came because of the Fall. 
Correct. Human morality. Not animal mortality.
God gave Adam dominion over creation, so when he fell, the whole creation suffered—see The (second) greatest catastrophe of all time. This is taught in Romans 8:18–25, where the ‘whole creation’ is said to be groaning in pain, because it was ‘subjected to futility’.
That passage doesn't ascribe animal mortality or predation to the Fall. And it's conspicuous that the commentators Sarfati quotes in support of his position don't construe the passage that way. 
But fossils are the remains of dead creatures—therefore, millions of years entails that death predates sin, which in turn entails that death is not the result of sin. This makes God the author of gratuitous death and suffering instead of the righteous Judge who justly enacted punishment for sin.
i) This assumes that predation is gratuitous. Yet the predator/prey cycle clearly contributes to the natural balance. So it serves a purpose.
ii) Ironically, Sarfati is making the same mistake that atheists (e.g. William Rowe, Andrea Weisberger) and evolutionary animal-rights activists (e.g. Peter Singer) commit, by failing to draw a categorical distinction between humans and animals. But Gen 1-2 accentuates the difference between humans and animals. Man is made in God's image. 
And more recently, Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey gave a good account of the biblical teaching of the origin of death and suffering in their book How Now Shall We Live?
God is good, and the original creation was good [Genesis 1:31 actually says ‘very good’]. God is not the author of evil.

That simply begs the question of whether predation is "evil" as Gen 1 defines "good." 

Yet the Bible clearly teaches that animals were not always being destroyed by cataclysms, and were not always tearing each other to pieces.
It does? To the contrary, I'd say Gen 2-3 differentiates conditions inside the garden from conditions outside the garden. 
Why there are different models for the origin of carnivory is very simple: the Bible doesn't say why. But it does unambiguously teach a vegetarian diet for both humans and animals before the Fall. Also, regardless of one's view of end times, commentators on Isaiah such as Alec Motyer agree that he was alluding to Edenic conditions in chs 11 and 65, as documented in The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals.
That fails to draw a Biblical distinction between the quality of life inside the garden and the quality of life outside the garden. Even before the Fall, the whole world wasn't Edenic. The Garden of Eden was a special place. God prepared that separately and specially for Adam and Eve. And part of what makes the banishment from Eden punitive is the contrast between life inside the garden and outside the garden.