Saturday, June 16, 2018

What About Violence in the Bible?

Apologetics glossary

The "Johannine Pentecost"

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).

1. Lydia McGrew has been conducting a series on the historicity of John's Gospel:

2. I'd like to focus on one particular issue. Scholars routinely label Jn 20:19-22 the "Johannine Pentecost". The question is how the incident in Jn 20:19-22 relates to the account of Pentecost in Acts 2. Obviously, these two accounts don't bear much resemblance to each other. So the question is whether these are two actual, separate events that happened at different times, or whether the Johannine narrator took historical liberties to craft an incident that never actually happened, but is a theological equivalent to the Lukan Pentecost. 

3. There are two issues: how does this incident relate to the rest of John's Gospel, and how does it relate to Acts 2, if at all?

i) Beginning with the first question, is this an anomalous incident in John's Gospel? Commentators often draw attention to the divine creative/recreative breathing motif in Gen 2:7 (LXX) and Ezk 37:9 (LXX). Assuming that's right, an allusion to Jesus as the Creator God in Jn 20:22 forms an inclusio, which circles back to the Prologue (Jn 1:1-4).

Likewise, an allusion to Ezekiel is consistent with other such allusions. For instance, commentators often think Ezk 36:25-27 supplies the primary background for Jn 3:5–as well as Ezk 34:15-16,23 for Jn 10. Likewise, Jesus as the new temple (Jn 2:19-22) may evoke Ezk 40-48. 

ii) In addition, this incident reconnects with the promise of the Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (Jn 14:16).

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name... (Jn 14:26).

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (Jn 15:26).

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).

The Spirit comes from the Father through the Son. The Son mediates the Spirit, because the Spirit is sent in Jesus name, at the Son's behest. 

So the action in Jn 20:22 is another way of indicating that Jesus is the source of the Spirit (economically speaking). The Spirit cannot be received apart from the Son. One must go through the Son to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is indirectly from the Father, and directly from the Son. The Son will send the Spirit in his place to take his place. 

That the Father sends the Spirit demonstrates the authority of the Father. That the Father defers to the Son demonstrates the authority of the Son.

iii) The difference between the promise in the Upper Room and the post-Resurrection gesture is the difference between saying and showing. In the Upper Room, Jesus says what will happen. After the Resurrection, Jesus illustrates what will happen. 

That's a good communication style. Say something, then give a graphic sign or example of what you mean. Verbal and nonverbal communication reinforce each other.

iv) On this analysis, Jn 20:19-23 is firmly integrated into the overall Johannine narrative. There's no reason to think it didn't happen, as described–unless you regard the genre of John's Gospel as pious fiction. 

v) And how does that relate to Acts 2? I view the action in Jn 20:22 is an enacted parable. A symbolic, proleptic action. I tend to doubt they received the Spirit at that moment. I think there's likely a suspenseful, delayed effect. 

vi) There's some interplay between the few and the many in Acts 2. The Spirit falls upon the Eleven. However, the Eleven are a kind of synecdoche inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit is not confined to the Eleven. Rather, that's common property of converts. That's already clear on the same occasion, in Peter's sermon (Acts 2:16-18,38-39). And that's illustrated throughout the Book of Acts. 

vii) So there's no inconsistency between these two accounts. There's not even a prima facie point of tension. 

You distinguish "gutter humor" by what faculty?

Not unlike Emperor Palpatine, I continue to follow the debate between Dr. David Wood and Dr. James White (and others) with great interest:

  1. I'm afraid I'm still not clear what fundamental criterion (or criteria) Dr. White is using to adjudicate what constitutes unethical or illicit "gutter humor"?

    It does not appear to be the Bible, or at least it has not been satisfactorily established. Dr. White claims he has evaluated the relevant Scriptural passages according to "the fundamental rules of exegesis and hermeneutics", while Dr. Wood claims: "Nonsense. You apply scriptures in ways that the Apostles could never have meant them (unless they were utter hypocrites), all to justify your personal preferences and feelings. Awful exegesis. Requires careful refutation." Likewise, it's been pointed out that the Bible itself does seem to use both gutter humor as well as mockery (e.g. Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a paradigm case to consider in more detail than Dr. White appears to have considered it; my own argument from analogy about watching the Islamicize Me videos and God revealing to biblical prophets dreams and visions arguably containing "crude" content). Both Dr. White and Dr. Wood believe they're behaving consistently with Scripture and argue as much. (It sounds like Dr. Wood may have a more detailed argument from Scripture in the works too.)

    So I would have to (continue to) agree with Dr. Wood. I don't see how Dr. White has established his argument that the Islamicize Me videos are illicit "gutter humor" from Scripture or, indeed, from anything else save for his personal offense at or distaste for the Islamicize Me videos.

  2. Also, I don't think it's fair to make "gutter humor" and "mockery" equivalent to one another which is what it reasonably seems Dr. White meant when he typed "gutter humor/mockery". It's the very point of dispute whether mockery is tantamount to gutter humor. The fact that gutter humor and mockery are equivalent must first be established; it can't simply be assumed to be the case by Dr. White.
  3. What's more, even if Dr. White can establish mockery is equivalent to gutter humor, and that the Islamicize Me videos' mockery of Islam or Muhammad is equivalent to gutter humor, that still does not get us to the conclusion that therefore "gutter humor/mockery" is biblically unethical or illicit. But this is the very conclusion Dr. White needs to arrive at if he is to justifiably condemn Dr. Wood for the Islamicize Me videos, in light of Dr. White's condemnations of Dr. Wood from Scripture.
  4. All this correspondingly brings to my mind the classic debate between the Catholic philosopher Frederick Copleston (C) and the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (R):

    R: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

    C: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

    R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

    C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

    R: By my feelings.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Got milk?

This is a brief sequel to my earlier post:

This verse is often quoted out of context:

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Heb 13:17).

However, the author who wrote that is the very same author who wrote this:

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:11-14).

i) So the role of elders isn't to keep laymen in a perpetual state of subservience. Rather, their duty is to teach laymen to become teachers. Teachers teaching the next generation of teachers. 

Of course, that doesn't mean every laymen will become an elder. Yet laymen supply the recruiting pool for elders. Elders are supposed to be grooming their successors. Teaching the next generation. Educating "students", some of whom will replace their teachers. 

Presumably, that's the mentoring relationship between the former leadership in v7 and the current leadership in v17. Laymen are supposed to grow in theological understanding and spiritual maturity. Not remain in a state of arrested development. 

The author compares laymen who haven't made the transition to overgrown children who haven't been weaned. That's quite a slap in the face. The image isn't drinking a glass of milk. Rather, in ancient culture, it conjures the image of adult men who are still sucking a wet nurse or their mother! 

Wrapping Up A Few Things

Unless Dr. White gives some kind of response in the future or something unusual pops up in any other context, this is probably going to be my last post on the White v. Wood controversy.  Therefore, I want to just wrap a few things up.

In my first post, an eternity and a half ago, I spent a deal of time discussing how the Bible speaks a great deal via stories.  There’s still didactic teaching all throughout, but I would estimate that more than half the Bible is in story format.  As I’ve been musing things over, I think that this distinction—the distinction between didactic and story-telling—might be driving quite a bit of the confusion from White and those who support him here.

For example, the one episode that White has said he might show others—the only episode he has given any bit of praise toward at all—is the adoption episode, and even then White’s complaint is that it doesn’t go far enough because it relies on “emotion” instead of teaching the Gospel.  You know what other story I think doesn’t go far enough?  The book of Esther.  It doesn’t even mention God anywhere in the text.  Imagine how much better Ester would have been if just once the author had said that Yahweh was behind the events, protecting His people!  Perhaps God should have talked to me before He inspired that one….

This issue bugs me a great deal in part because I love to write my own stories.  And because of that, I’ve had to deal with many of these topics.  If you’re representing a real story, how realistic do you make it?  When an atheist gets out of bed in the middle of the night to go use the bathroom, if he trips over his cat and smacks his face against the coffee table, he’s not going to say, “Drat, that wasn’t very fun.”  But by the same token, do you really want to write down what he would have screamed out?

When you are writing a story, you have to take into account the purpose of the story.  Your story cannot be everything for everyone—it’s literally impossible.  So you have to have your focus, pick your target audience, and go for it.  Part of why so much horrible fiction is out there is because some writers try to be everything to everyone at the same time, and the story suffers because of it.

But then you have Christians who insert themselves into the fictional works of other Christians.  (And it’s amazing how many people are making the mistake with the video series from Wood, in that they don’t even realize that there are fictional characters involved.  The videos are not about David, Jon, and Vocab—they are about Dennis, Jamar, and Giovanni, three fictional characters played by David, Jon, and Vocab.)

Back to my point: there are Christians who do not understand how stories work, but who demand that every story be turned into some kind of specific Gospel message that they would approve of.  These people are the reason so few Christian productions make it through Hollywood.  The story itself is sacrificed for the sake of the propaganda.  You don’t like it when non-Christians do it; why do you think they’d watch it when you do it?  On the other hand, when you do a well-written story, you can get people to think about and discuss those Christian themes because the message is attached to something that works as a story first.

Now, you don’t have to do that if your videos are didactic.  Those are teaching videos.  Everyone knows what they are getting into with those types of videos.  But if you’re doing a story, like Wood was doing, then you have to get the story first, to get the plot in sync with the message you are conveying, and not to sacrifice the story for the sake of the message.  (If you’re doing that, just do a didactic video since story is clearly not for you.)  For those who are concerned about the propriety of producing something with a story-emphasis, message-second focus, I would point out once again that God inspired the book of Esther without once having His Name mentioned in the text...

But this does lead me to the next point.  I’ve read some tweets and comments on YouTube where people have said they wouldn’t use the videos to evangelize their Muslim neighbors.  To that I say: “WHAT?!”  It’s a complete fallacy that you should be using any video to evangelize at all.  Telling people, “Go watch this video series” is not evangelism.  Do you really think if you’re standing before the throne of God and He asks, “In what way did you observe the Great Commission?” that you will satisfy Him by saying, “Well, I sent some people to YouTube to watch a James White video”?

Evangelism was designed to be interpersonal and relational.  Yes, sometimes mass appeals work.  Some people actually did become saved at a Billy Graham Crusade, for instance.  But by and large, the primary method of evangelism is when people talk to other people about the Gospel.  You have to do so if you’re going to be able to address where people are.  Just throwing out a cookie-cutter video isn’t going to address the specific questions and issues that specific people have.

Does this mean that I think videos are worthless?  Clearly not, or I would not have spent time to defend Wood’s video.  Rather, videos need to be used intentionally for specific reasons—just like books, and even passages from the Bible itself.  For instance, if someone asks you to show how Jesus was divine, would you tell him to read Judges?  If they were confused about the Trinity, would you have them read about the Tower of Babel?  No, you would address the specific concerns they have and send them to those particular sections.  And in doing so, you are not belittling the rest of Scripture or considering it less important or worthless.

In the same way, videos are just tools that can assist you in evangelism but do not take the place of evangelism.  And if you’re going to use these tools for evangelism, you need to know if it’s the appropriate tool to use at the appropriate time.  Your friendly Muslim neighbor who’s grown up in the West might benefit by watching James White tackle an issue with gentleness and respect, while his seventeen-year-old son who is dabbling in ISIS chatrooms and has heard an imam say the very things that Wood lampoons might completely ignore White but take notice because of Wood’s presentation.  People are not all the same, and when you evangelize you have to know which method will work with each person.

How do you do that?  By listening to the Spirit, ultimately.  There is a time to destroy and a time to build, and if you’re in a genuine relational ministry with your Muslim friends and spending time with God in prayer, in His word, and in His Church, He will lead you to when you destroy the false worldview of your friend and when you build up the truth of Christ.

So you do not need David Wood’s videos to do everything for you, to evangelize on your behalf.   No, you need to evangelize and Wood is just providing a tool that fits the scenario that is needed when you run into the hardened Muslims who need their worldview knocked down a peg or two.  If you don’t need those videos when you’re witnessing to someone, guess what?  You don’t need to send anyone to them!  You use the tools you need at the time you need them, and only a fool would get upset that a circular saw isn’t a cement mixer.

Hmm.  Maybe someone should have told Paul to write a metaphor like that.  But I guess he wouldn’t have had power tools.  Maybe he could have used, I don’t know, body parts or something.

Tom Schreiner on the spiritual gifts

Recently I was reading Tom Schreiner's new book, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter (B&H 2018). His book is an irenic defense of cessationism. I should say I skimmed it, so I may have missed some things. 

I. Let's begin with some positives:

1. Chap. 1 has an evenhanded overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic movement.

2. Commenting on Acts 10:44-48, Schreiner says:

This is not an argument for baptismal regeneration; the point is that baptism with the Spirit and baptism with water are both initiatory events. The fact that Cornelius and his friends were baptized with the Spirit meant they were qualified to be baptized with water! (53).  

3. He uses Acts 16:16-18 to illustrate what Paul may mean by distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor 12:10).

4. A familiar crux is that tongues in Acts clearly seem to be xenoglossy whereas tongues in 1 Corinthians seem to be something else. Schreiner believes that tongues in 1 Corinthians are xenoglossy, too, and has a simple argument for harmonizing the two representations:

First, that those in Acts 2 understood the languages spoken doesn't prove that the gift of tongues is different. They understood the tongues because they knew the languages. The problem in 1 Corinthians is that no one was present who knew the languages spoken. It isn't the gift of tongues that was different; the situation was different (128).

II. In general, Schreiner's book is full of sanctified common sense. His analysis is beneficial and edifying even if you disagree with his primary thesis. That said, I'll turn to some disagreements:

1. Although he's branched out over the years, Schreiner's center of gravity is Pauline theology. He uses his interpretation of 1 Cor 12-14 as the primary frame of reference. He filters other NT data through his Pauline lens. 

His treatment of Acts 2 is cursory. There's no discussion, that I could see, of Jn 14:12. 

The result of his Pauline emphasis is to neglect non-Pauline paradigms of the spiritual gifts as well as imposing a Pauline interpretive grid onto non-Pauline material. But that's hermeneutically defective.

2. For instance, he denies that Spirit-baptism is a postconversion experience. He harmonizes passages in Acts by reference to Pauline pneumatology. As a result, he regards the delay in Acts 8 as anomalous.

I agree with him that as Paul defines it, Spirit-baptism is not a post-conversion experience. However, Schreiner just assumes that Luke and Paul are referring to the same phenomenon. By contrast, I think Luke in Acts 8 is using shorthand for supernatural manifestations of the Spirit–rather than Spirit-baptism in the sense of regeneration or spiritual renewal. 

3. On p22, I don't think he quite gets the point of the plural usage ("gifts of the Spirit"). Fee's argument is that this doesn't refer to a gift of healing. Paul isn't saying there are healers, in the sense of Christians endowed with the ability to heal. Rather, Paul describes each healing as a gift of God. 

On p89, Schreiner seems to appreciate that distinction. Yet that distinction undermines his case for cessationism, for on that interpretation, you didn't originally have healers in the ancient church, followed by the abeyance of that gift. There was never that contrast in the first place. Rather, there are miraculous healings. Same thing with xenoglossy and miracles generally.

4. Schreiner says:

Those with the gift of prophecy declare God's word…When Luke says that both your sons and daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:17-18), it probably means that both men and women will declare God's word, but it doesn't necessitate that they are all prophets, that they all have the spiritual gift of prophecy (95).

i) Acts 2 unpacks the definition of prophecy, not in terms of declaring God's word, but revelatory dreams and visions. But visionary revelation and verbal revelation aren't interchangeable categories. Images aren't words. 

ii) Dreams and visions can include a divine speaker or emissary (e.g. angel) who speaks on God's behalf. But sometimes dreams and visions are just images. 

iii) In addition, revelatory dreams can be literal or allegorical. Literal in the sense of representational (i.e. photographic realism) or allegorical in the sense of analogical symbolism. 

iv) The gift isn't the revelation itself, but the Spirit. The Spirit is given, who, in turn, sometimes grants Christians revelatory dreams and visions. 

v) Not coincidentally, the promise in Acts 2 is illustrated by revelatory dreams and visions in the course of Acts. So that's generally what's meant by "prophecy" in this context. 

5. On pp157-59, Scheiner argues that the Apostolate was temporary. I agree. But that depends in part on how we define our terms and concepts. Consider Keener's nuanced analysis:

Pace Keener, I think it invites confusion and abuse to say there are modern-day prophets, so I'd assiduously avoid that terminology. Still, it's necessary to engage more nuanced positions, like Keener's. 

6. Schreiner says:

Since prophecy is defined here as speaking the infallible word of God and since the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there are no longer prophets today, since the foundation of the church has been laid. The sole and final authority of Scripture is threatened if so-called prophets today give revelations which have the same authority as Scripture.

If one adopts this definition of prophecy, for anyone to claim such a gift of prophecy today would constitute a threat and danger to the church. Such claims would compromise the unique authority of Scripture, and the potential for spiritual abuse and a cultic type of authoritarianism would be great (160-61). 

i) Given how Schreiner defines his terms and frames the issue, I agree with his conclusion. However, the issue can be recast:

ii) Even if we define prophecy as the infallible word of God, which is a reductionistic definition, his conclusion doesn't necessarily follow, since he fails to distinguish between public and private revelation. Consider the following:

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza”...29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” (Acts 8:26,29).

That's verbal revelation. So it seems to meet Schreiner's definition. An audible voice representing God. Speaking in sentences. 

But that's not a revelation for the church. It's not a revelation for humanity in general.

Rather, it's a highly topical, time-sensitive form of divine guidance. It's to and for Philip, for one calendar date. It was defunct a day later. 

iii) In addition, as I already noted, visionary revelation isn't synonymous with verbal revelation. If a Christian tells me they had a premonitory dream, that's not "the infallible word of God". Even assuming they indeed had a premonitory dream, that's not propositional revelation. Rather, it's nonverbal communication that requires interpretation to articulate what they saw. The dreamer must supply the verbal description. He must put into words what he saw in his dream. 

iv) And even if there was a speaker in his dream, unless the dreamer has verbatim recall, he will summarize or paraphrase what he heard. So there's a difference between what he was told in the dream and what he tells you.

v) Then there's the question of verification. Suppose a charismatic comes to me and says: "God told me to tell you to marry Jennifer". 

But since God didn't tell me that, there's no obligation for me to act on that secondhand claim. I didn't have the experience he purports to have. I'm not privy to his purported experience. Even if he knows what God told him, I don't know that God spoke to him. 

vi) Now, there can be veridical dreams and visions. Take synchronized dreams, where two different people have the same dream. 

Or dreams that come true. If the dreamer shares his dream with other people, before it comes to pass. 

vii) In addition, God is not the only supernatural agent. Sometimes a miracle is a test of faith. Sometimes you're suppose to disregard the miracle or revelation (e.g. Deut  13:1-5; Mt 24:24; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13-15).

7. Schreiner says:

How should we think about miracles and healings?…If a person has a gift of healing, it seems there would be a pattern of healing. And the healings should be on the same level that we see in the NT: healing of the blind, of those who are unable to walk, of those who are deaf, and of those who are near death. Claims to healing are often quite subjective: colds, the flu, stomach and back ailments, sports injuries, &c…The issue is that it is often difficult to verify that a miracle has truly taken place. It isn't clear to me that particular people have a gift of healing or miracles (164).

i) One problem is that Schreiner has bundled two or three distinct issues into one: Are there healers (do some Christians have the gift of healing)? Are these the same kinds of miraculous healing we find in Scripture? Are these verifiable?

ii) As I pointed out before, what if there never were healers? What if there wasn't a gift of healing in the first place? Then that's not a point of contrast between the NT church and the subapostolic era. 

iii) You could deny the ongoing existence of healers but affirm the ongoing occurrence of miraculous healing. Those are separable claims.

iv) What if God occasionally works through a particular individual, but that individual can't heal at will? Perhaps he can only heal when God tells him to lay hands on someone and pray over them. 

v) It's unclear what case-studies Schreiner has consulted. The standard collection is Craig Keener's Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

He's updated that in "The Historicity of the Nature Miracles" in G. Twelftree, The Nature Miracles of Jesus.

In addition, Robert Larmer has two books on miracles which contain case-studies in the appendices: The Legitimacy of Miracle; Dialogues on Miracle.

There are other collections, but that's a place to start. 

8. Schreiner says:

Yes, God works miracles, but they are relatively rare (165).

i) Perhaps, but that depends on the frame of reference. Given tens of billions of human beings over the centuries, even if only a fraction experience miracles, that's still a lot of miracles.

ii) Moreover, some miracles may be invisible. Take a Christian who prays to God to prevent something. If it doesn't happen, was that a miracle? There's no evidence for a nonevent, but what if that nonevent is an answer to prayer?  

9. Schreiner says:

Perhaps God is pleased in cutting-edge missionary situations to grant the same signs and wonders we see in the NT era (165).

Now that the church has the authoritative guidance for faith and practice in the Scriptures, the gifts and miracles which were needed to build up the early church are no longer needed, and they are not common. This is not to say, however, that God never does miracles today (167).

But these two claims are tugging in opposite direction. If a new missionary situation is in some measure a repetition of establishing the church in the 1C Roman Empire, then by Schreiner's own argument, we might expect similar phenomena.

10. Schreiner says:

Last, I think it is significant that the great teachers whom God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation were cessationists…They would have loved to see signs and wonders and miracles like there were in the apostolic age (167).

What about prophecies attributed to John Knox? What about reported miracles among the Covenanters and the Huguenots?