Friday, July 13, 2018

Crossed wires

I'm going to comment on an article by Christian apologist Frank Turek:

I'm going to comment on the article in its own right as well as in relation to something else. Turek is a graduate of SES. In addition, he's an SES faculty member. 

1. SES is where Norm Geisler holds court. Geisler is known for a number of things. In some circles he's known for his antipathy to Calvinism. But his signature issues are probably inerrancy and the Resurrection. Years ago he made a name for himself by attacking Robert Gundry's redaction critical view of the nativity accounts. In addition, he attacked Murray J. Harris on the Resurrection. More recently, he went after Mike Licona. Among other things, he said:

Third, this text lists the same kind of evidence for the resurrection of these saints as is listed elsewhere for Jesus’ resurrection: [1] the tombs were opened; [2] the tombs were empty; [3] the dead were raised; [4] there were physical appearances; [5] many people saw these resurrected saints (cf. Mt.27; 1 Cor. 15).  In brief, if this is not a physical resurrection, then neither was Jesus’ resurrection (that preceded and prompted it) a physical resurrection.  Or, conversely, if Jesus’ resurrection was physical, then so was the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 a physical resurrection. Thus, denying the physical resurrection of these saints undermines belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus.

In addition, Geisler is behind this website:

If you click on "What's the Big Deal?", it says:

Inerrancy is foundational to all other essential Christian doctrines. It is granted that some other doctrines (like the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ) are more essential to salvation. However, all soteriological (salvation-related) doctrines derive their divine authority from the divinely authoritative Word of God. So, epistemologically (in a knowledge-related sense), the doctrine of the divine authority and inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of all the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? Fundamentally nothing! Thus, while one can be saved without believing in inerrancy, the doctrine of salvation has no divine authority apart from the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

For Geisler, inerrancy is the foundation that underlies all the other essential Christian doctrines. And he explicitly links inerrancy to the Resurrection. 

Yet this is completely at odds with the position of Frank Turek. Geisler and Turek are operating with divergent paradigms. These can't both be right. 

2. Now for Turek's article:

Is Christianity true just because the inerrant Bible says it is?  No.  Christianity would still be true even if the Bible was never written.

i) It would? To begin with, you can't have Christianity without Judaism. And you can't have Judaism without the Mosaic covenant, the Prophets, and the Psalter–among other things. Judaism has a documentary foundation. 

ii) In addition, consider all those debates between Jesus and the Jewish establishment centering on appeals and counter-appears to the OT. But if the Bible had never been written, those events in the life of Christ would never occur. Those events instantly become nonevents, like a time-traveler who erases the original timeline. 

iii) The Gospel which the apostles and their coterie preached included appeal to the Resurrection as well as theological interpretation and validation from OT prophecy. But you wouldn't have that if the Bible was never written. 

iv) Moreover, Biblical revelation is an event in its own right. The process of revelation, inspiration, and inscripturation are redemptive events. Furthermore, these are precipitating causes of other events. 

Turek is proposing a radical alternate history. It wouldn't be Christianity, but a different religion with some overlap. 

Let me explain.

It’s a common belief prevalent among some Christians today that what we know about Christianity depends on an inerrant Bible.  Sure, we know that there are several non-Christian writers from the ancient world that make brief references to the first century events and the beliefs of the early Christians, corroborating what we read in the New Testament.  We also know that there is an increasing number of archaeological findings that support characters and events in the Christian storyline.

But some of us erroneously think that Christian beliefs cannot be sustained unless the Bible is without error.  

Turek seems to be changing the subject from 

i) Christianity would still be true even if the Bible was never written


ii) Christianity would still be true even if the Bible was fallible or uninspired

But those are hardly equivalent claims. And (i) is more radical than (ii).

That would mean that the Christian faith is a house of cards ready to collapse if one verse or reference in the New Testament is discovered to be false.

It's not so much inerrancy that (allegedly) makes it a "house of cards" but ostensible events in Bible history, whose occurrence is thrown in doubt if the historical record is fallible or uninspired. 

Is Christianity a house of cards if the Exodus never happened? If Abraham never existed? If God never spoke to and through Isaiah? If God never made a covenant with David? 

Assuming that makes Christianity a house of cards, what's the alternative? A Barthian view where you relocate those events in the unfalsifiable never-never land of suprahistory? 

Although I think are good reasons to believe in an inerrant Bible, inerrancy is an unnecessarily high standard by which to establish the central event in Christianity—the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (which we celebrate this Sunday).  Christianity hinges on that historical event.  If Christ rose from the dead, then, game over, Christianity is true.  

Is the Christian faith so compartmentalized that one event all by itself makes Christianity true? What about the Incarnation or the Second Coming? 

On the other hand, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then, as a first-century eyewitness by the name of Paul admitted, Christianity is false.

No doubt. But the same thing could be said for other pivotal biblical events. 

But you don’t need inerrant sources to establish that the Resurrection actually happened, or any other historical event for that matter.  For example, if you found an error in the stat line of a football game, should you assume that every game, story and stat line in the newspaper was a complete fabrication?  Then why do some people do that with the New Testament?   Why do they assume that unless every word of it is true, then most of it is false?

It's true that fallible sources can establish the occurrence of an event with a high degree of probability. 

They assume that because they are confusing the fact of the Resurrection with the reports of the Resurrection. Conflicting reports of a historical event are evidence that the event actually occurred, not the reverse.  

Actually, conflicting reports are consistent with the occurrence or nonoccurence of an event. It depends on the specifics. 

In other words, to return to our sports analogy, the only reason there is error in the stat line to begin with is because the game was actually played and someone tried to report on that game.  Neither the stat line nor the error would exist unless the game had actually been played.  After all, who reports on a game that didn’t actually take place?

But people do report nonevents. People do make stuff up. Do we really need to give examples? 

The same is true with the documents comprising the New Testament and the Resurrection.  Even if one were to find an error or disagreement between the multiple accounts of the Resurrection story, the very fact that there are several eyewitness accounts shows that something dramatic actually happened in history—especially since the folks who wrote it down had everything to lose by proclaiming Jesus rose from the dead.

Yes, that's reasonable–considered in isolation. However, there's more to the Resurrection than establishing the bare event. That's not a freestanding event. The redemptive significance of the Resurrection is contingent on what God intended for the Resurrection to accomplish. What was the purpose of the Resurrection? Unless we have a reliable theological interpretation of the Resurrection, it could mean anything–or nothing. 

That is, all of the New Testament reporters (except Luke) were observant Jews who would pay dearly for proclaiming the Resurrection. 

How does he know that? What's his source of information? The NT!

So Christianity isn’t true just because the Bible says it’s true. Christianity is true because an event occurred.  

i) One event doesn't make Christianity true, in isolation to some other key events. 

ii) Moreover, Christian essentials include the teaching of Christ as well as the Resurrection. But absent inspiration, do we eve have the teaching of Christ? Or do we have a fallible translation of a fallible recollection of speeches and conversations, from one hearing? No doubt Jesus repeated himself, but much of his teaching is contained in unique, one-off events. 

To take a comparison, how well do you remember last Sunday's sermon? What about the sermon two Sundays ago? A month ago? A year ago? 

True, we wouldn’t know much about Christianity if the reports of the Resurrection had never been written, but the Resurrection preceded the reports of it.

As my friend Andy Stanley asks, “Do you realize that there were thousands of Christians before a line of the New Testament was ever written?”  

i) And the OT preexisted Christianity. 

ii) More to the point, we're not in the same epistemic position as 1C Christians, many of whom were eyewitnesses to the public ministry of Christ, or knew eyewitnesses. So the comparison rapidly breaks down. 

Paul was a Christian before he wrote a word of the New Testament.  

I'm sorry, but that's just so dumb. As a prospective Bible writer, Paul embodies Scripture. He's living, walking Scripture. 

So was Matthew, John, James, Peter, etc.  Why?  

How does Stanley know anything about Matthew, John, James, Peter, etc.? 

Because they had witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

How does Stanley know that apart from the NT? 

There's a distinction between metaphysics and epistemology. The Resurrection is ontologically independent of Scripture. However, once living memory expired, the Resurrection ceased to be epistemologically independent of Scripture. 


  1. I yield to none in the high importance I place on the resurrection for the evidential support of Christianity, but I *do wish* that people wouldn't say things like, "If the resurrection happened, game over, Christianity is true."

    Have they never heard of Socinianism?

    The Socinians were big fans of the historical case for "Christianity." They have left us some pretty darned good historical apologetics. As long as you overlook the fact that they thought Jesus was a man, not divine! But they believed that the resurrection happened.

    Considered doctrinally, even "mere Christianity" affirms more doctrines than the resurrection.

    I wish people wouldn't say stuff like that.

  2. It seems to me that, sometimes, the dialectical context between the Christian and the atheist (although this probably is true for the agnostic as well) is important for asserting the conditional statement. It is not important here that the resurrection is the only event that would render Christianity true; it's not. It's also not that the resurrection can only be affirmed by Christians. Greg Bahnsen used to remark that even the atheist could accept the resurrection given one was willing to accept that strange unexplainable things happen in the universe. As a comment about the range of views one could adopt in logical space, he's right. But our conversations with our interlocutors bracket views like that because we don't think of them as the most plausible (or epistemically relevant) competitors. So in the case of the conditional at hand, you can think of the Socinian view being set aside for the purposes of the conversation. (I doubt that everyone who make conditional statement would justify its use like I am doing here.) Personally, I think it is a pretty effective strategy when people want to raise politically hot button topics as objections to Christianity. It is a completely wrongheaded statement to make if trying to convince a Mormon, for example.

  3. I guess as a philosopher I try to avoid overstatements. Since it's an overstatement and incorrect to say, "If the resurrection happened, Christianity is true, period," I try not to make that statement.

    All the moreso as we do have Mormons, "biblical unitarians," and the like still around. It's not like they are all gone hundreds of years ago.

    And then, too, there's the fact that Christianity affirms a lot of historical claims of Judaism--the exodus, giving of the law, etc. So one can't even say that the resurrection is the only really central *historical* claim of Christianity.

    One might be able to say something more qualified: The resurrection is the most evidentially important new historical claim made by Christianity in support of its unique theological claims.

  4. What are your thoughts on this video trying to disprove presuppositional apologetics

  5. Hi Lydia. Just about everything you said is consistent with what I wrote, excpet that you don't take into account (or rather, acknowledge in your comment) the one thing I do: the audience and the context of disagreement. So I have a question for how you incorporate the resurrection in an argument for Christianity. Imagine that I am someone who hasn't given any thought to Christianity being true other than that I am aware of my own ignorance of any evidence for Christianity. I have no knowledge of the differences between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity. I never heard of Socinianism. I am the average American so far as these matters go.

    So from the antecedent being "the resurrection happened", how many disjuncts are you going to tell me (as described above) are supported by that? Are you going to tell me all of the possible views whose confirmation goes up given the resurrection? (R -> (Christianity v Mormonism v Socinianism v .... )? Or would you restrict the number of disjuncts in some way? And if so, how do you go about restricting that without making "overstatements"?