Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Boyd on inerrancy

Someone asked me to comment on Gregory Boyd's view of Biblical inerrancy. I've excerpted some relevant statements from his series:

At the outset, I'd note that Boyd's position has several presuppositional layers, so you have to peel back the layers. He derives a conclusion that's premised on an assumption he takes for granted. The conclusion in turn becomes the premise for another conclusion. If, however, you reject one or more of his presuppositions, then the multistoried argument collapses. 

Boyd is, of course, a pioneering open theist. Since the God of open theism is fallible, the Bible can't very well be infallible. According to open theism, humans have libertarian freewill, which renders them unpredictable. In that event, God can only make an educated guess about what we will do next. So in that respect it's only logical that an open theist will deny inerrancy. Indeed, open theism is a more consistent version of freewill theism. Consistent to a fault. 

In fact, it seems to me that the “Christocentric” label is often close to meaningless inasmuch as it doesn’t meaningfully contrast with anything. If a “Christocentric” perspective doesn’t conflict with the portrait of God commanding his people to murder every last woman and child while threatening to punish anyone who shows mercy, then honestly, what does the label even mean? To remedy this, I proposed that we adopt a cross-centered approach, arguing that this sharper focus is justified inasmuch as the cross is the thematic center of everything Jesus was about.
I’d now like to begin unpacking some of the implications of this cross-centered approach to Scripture. And a good place to begin is with the genocidal portrait of God I just mentioned. While some may imagine that a Christocentric view of God doesn’t rule out God commanding the merciless murder of women and infants, I submit that a cruciform portrait of God certainly does. Jesus reveals a God who chose to refrain from using his power to crush enemies and chose instead to give his life for them. And he reveals a God who taught us, and modeled for us, a completely non-violent, loving, servant way of responding to hostile enemies.

i) God didn't command the Israelites to "murder" the Canaanites. That libels God. Does Boyd think killing a human being, regardless of the circumstances, is murder? If so, his position is contrary to Scripture. Moreover, it reflects a lack of basic ethical discrimination on his part.

ii) God didn't command the execution of the Canaanites because they were his enemies, but because they were Israel's enemies. The Canaanites pose no threat to God. He's invulnerable. But the Canaanites were a clear and present danger to Israel. God was protecting the chosen people from their mortal enemies.  

iii) Does Boyd seriously think ancient Israel could unilaterally disarm and still survive? 

iv) Boyd fundamentally misunderstands the cross. The purpose of the cross is not to model nonviolence. Rather, the Incarnate Son underwent crucifixion because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22). 

The reason Christ didn't fight back is because that would thwart the atonement. Christ provoked his arrest, conviction, and crucifixion. He deliberately played into the hands of his enemies. That was part of the plan. That was predicted. Naturally, Christ is not going to scuttle the plan of salvation by resisting arrest. 

v) Blood atonement, penal substitution, and human sacrifice bespeak a far "harsher" view of God than Boyd's pacifist God. And it's quite consistent with the OT view of God. 

But this immediately presents us with a problem. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus expresses absolute confidence in the OT as the Word of God. In fact, a number of scholars have argued that this conviction lies at the heart of Jesus’ self-understanding. While I don’t believe Jesus was omniscient while on earth, I find it impossible to confess him as Lord while correcting his theology, especially about such a foundational matter. He once asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ when you don’t do the things that I say?” I think he could have made a similar point by asking, “Why do you call me ‘Lord” when you don’t believe the things I teach?” And one of the things Jesus taught was that the OT is the Word of God!
So I find myself awkwardly caught between two seemingly contradictory yet equally non-negotiable truths. On the one hand, I feel compelled to confess that God looks like Jesus, choosing to die for enemies and at the hands of enemies rather than use his power to crush them. On the other hand, I feel compelled to confess that all Scripture is God-breathed, including its portraits of God that look antithetical to the God who died on a cross for his enemies.

Unless I missed something, in his subsequent posts I don't see where Boyd solves the problem he posed for himself. 

Evangelicals typically ground the credibility of their faith on the inspiration of the Bible. If they were to become convinced that the Bible was not inspired, their faith would crumble. I think this posture is as unwise as it is unnecessary.

There are nominal Christians who don't believe Christianity is a revealed religion, yet they still go to church, sing hymns, participate in the church calendar. It's play-acting. 

If the reason you believe is anchored in your confidence that Scripture is “God-breathed,” then your faith can’t help but be threatened every time you encounter a discrepancy, an archeological problem, or a persuasive historical-critical argument that a portion of the biblical narrative may not be historically accurate. Your faith may also be threatened every time you encounter material that is hard to accept as “God-breathed” — the genocidal portrait of Yahweh I discussed in my previous blog, for example. 

That only follows if you think there's a standing presumption against the inspiration of Scripture which Scripture must constantly overcome. 

When biblical inspiration is made this important, people are forced to go to extreme and sometimes even silly lengths to explain each and every one of the “encyclopedia” of “difficulties” one finds in Scripture (I’m alluding Gleason Archer’s apologetic book, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties).

i) To begin with, I don't that's fair to Archer. His book is uneven. He was an OT scholar, so he's better on the OT than the NT. And some of his explanations are flat-footed. But there's a lot of good material in his book. It's a useful resource.

ii) There are, moreover, more hermeneutically sophisticated defenders of inerrancy than Archer, viz. Beale, Bock, Blomberg, Carson, Stein.

iii) It isn't necessary to explain every difficulty in Scripture. Given the historical distance between the modern reader and Scripture, we'd expect difficulties to crop up. But that's consistent with the inerrancy of Scripture.  

iv) Finally, denying the inspiration of Scripture leads to superficial exegesis. Every time you run into a problem, you conclude the Bible is wrong, and move on. Your first impression carries the day. You already know it must be a mistake. You've prejudged the interpretation before you even read the text.  

As has happened to so many others, throughout my seminary training this foundation became increasingly shaky and eventually collapsed. I know a number of former-evangelicals who completely lost their faith when they experienced this. One is Bart Ehrman, who I’m sure many of you recognize as one of Christianity’s most well-known contemporary critics. He and I were in the doctoral program at Princeton Seminary at the same time, and we fell through our crumbling Scriptural foundation at roughly the same time and for many of the same reasons.

It's a useful winnowing process. It weeds out nominal Christians. Better to have a tested faith than an untested faith. 

I have a lot of reasons for believing in Christ, but the inspiration of Scripture is not one of them. I don’t deny that there are a handful of fulfilled prophecies about the coming Messiah that are rather compelling (e.g. the suffering servant of Isa. 53 and the pierced Lord of Zech. 12:10). But I also think evangelical apologists are misguided when they try to use this as the rational foundation for the Christian faith. When Gospel authors say Jesus “fulfilled” an OT verse, they don’t mean that the OT verse predicted something that Jesus did or that happened to Jesus. If you check out the OT verses Jesus is said to have “fulfilled,” you’ll find there is absolutely nothing predictive about them. The Gospel authors are rather using a version of an ancient Jewish interpretive strategy called “midrash” to simply communicate that something in the life of Jesus parallels and illustrates a point made in an OT verse.
In any event, if the intellectual credibility of your faith is leveraged on the prophecies that Jesus is said to have “fulfilled,” I’m afraid your faith will be literally incredible.

That's a common allegation. It says a lot about Boyd, and little about Scripture. There are several fine monographs on Bible prophecy. How the OT is fulfilled in the NT. Many good commentaries address these. 

As a conservative evangelical who accepted the “inerrancy” of Scripture, I used to be profoundly disturbed whenever I confronted contradictions in Scripture, or read books that made strong cases that certain aspects of the biblical narrative conflict with archeological findings. Throughout my college and graduate school career, I spent untold hours and no small amount of anxious energy trying to figure out ways to reconcile Scripture’s many contradictions, harmonize problematic narratives with archeological data, and refute a host of other “liberal” views of Scripture (e.g. the documentary hypothesis, the late dating of Daniel, etc.). 

If you begin with the presumption of guilt, a "hermeneutic of suspicions," then your faith will be insecure. If you think the onus is always on Scripture to prove its innocence, then your faith will be insecure. But why think that's where the burden of proof ought to lie? 

At least twice during this period I came dangerously close to abandoning my faith because, despite my best efforts, I could not with intellectual honesty find my way around certain problems.

I'd say he left his faith behind long ago. He just doesn't know what he lost. 

In my previous blog, I expressed one of the reasons why these things do not bother me anymore. The ultimate foundation for my faith is no longer Scripture, but Christ. I feel I have very good historical, philosophical, and personal reasons for believing that the historical Jesus was pretty much as he’s described in the Gospels. I also feel I have very good reasons for accepting the NT’s view that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, the definitive revelation of God, and the Savior of the world. I, of course, can’t be certain of this, but I’m confident enough to make the decision to put my trust in Christ, and live my life as his disciple. I continue to believe in the inspiration of Scripture primarily because Jesus did, and his Church has done so throughout history. But because the intellectual feasibility of my faith no longer hangs in the balance, I simply don’t need to get bent out of shape if I conclude that it contains contradictions, historical inaccuracies, or other human imperfections.

One of the problems with that position is that it fails to appreciate the significance of inspiration. Inspiration is a major instance of God's activity in the world. The God of Scripture is a God who speaks and acts. A God who speaks to and through others. 

When you deny the inspiration of Scripture, that drastically subtracts from God's activity in the world. Put another way, if you deny the inspiration of Scripture, then it's unclear if there is a God who speaks and acts. Is there a God who speaks to and through others? Or is God just a projection of the Bible writer's overwrought religious imagination? 

I find that if you accept that God is real, and accept the possibility of miracles, the arguments for highly skeptical views of Scripture tend to be surprisingly weak. 

He's right about that. 

But the more important point is that I no longer feel I need to end up on the conservative side of things (for on certain matters, such as the dating of the book of Daniel, I actually don’t). I don’t any longer feel that anything of great consequence hangs in the balance on where these debates end up, for my faith is anchored in something much more solid than what either side of these debates can offer.

If Daniel was written after the fact, if it's pious fiction, then God was not in fact active in the lives of the exilic community, as Daniel narrates. On that view, Daniel testifies to the miraculous intercession of a God who, in reality, did not intercede. And why draw the line with Daniel? Boyd's position is the thin edge of a secular wedge. 

In any event, there’s a second and more recently discovered reason why these flaws no longer bother me. I simply no longer see any reason why God’s infallible Word should exclude human flaws. In another blog, I shared why I believe the cross expresses the thematic center of everything Jesus was about. God was most perfectly revealed when, having become a human in Christ, he bore our sin and our curse on the cross. On this basis, I argued that our theology must not only be Christ-centered; it should be, from beginning to end, cross-centered.
If we accept this perspective, it fundamentally changes the way we think about the nature of biblical inspiration (as well as a host of other things). If the ultimate revelation of the perfect God took place by God making our imperfections his own – that is by, in some sense, becoming our sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and our curse (Gal 3:13) – on what grounds could anyone assume that the process by which this perfect God reveals himself in his written Word must exclude all human imperfections? I would think a cross-centered approach to biblical inspiration would lead us to the exact opposite conclusion. Think about it. If the cross reveals what God is truly like, it reveals what God has always been like, in all of his activities.

i) That's arbitrary. The cross does not express "everything" that Jesus is about. The cross doesn't reveal what God is truly like in contrast to the Exodus, Final Judgment. The cross isn't more fundamental than the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension and Session, or return of Christ. 

ii) Moreover, Boyd is trying to create a loose analogy between the weakness of Scripture and the weakness of God on the cross. But that fails on two accounts:

a) Jesus isn't modeling divine weakness on the cross. Rather, he'd practicing vicarious atonement. Of course, in order to be sacrificed, he must permit himself to be sacrificed. But assuming a defenseless posture is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

b) His voluntary weakness is not analogous to errors in Scripture. Indeed, it's not a mistake that Jesus refused to defend himself. That's deliberate. By parity of argument, Scripture is inerrant. 

Does this mean that we must reject biblical infallibility? It all depends on what you mean by “infallible.” “Infallible” means “unfailing,” and for something to “fail” or “not fail” depends on the standard you are measuring it up against. 

That's an idiosyncratic definition of infallibility. "Infallibiity" means without possibility of error. 

So when you confess Scripture is “infallible,” what standard are you presupposing? If your standard is modern science, for example, I’m afraid you’re going to have a very hard time holding onto your confidence in Scripture, because last I heard, scientists were pretty sure the sky wasn’t a dome that was “hard as a molten mirror” (Job 37:18) as it held up water (Gen.1:7) with windows that could be opened so it could rain (Gen. 7:11). 

i) Examples like that no doubt explain why Boyd rejects inspiration. He comes down on the side of the critics. Naturally, if you think Scripture is mistaken, you will reject the inerrancy of Scripture. But that merely shows us how Boyd interprets Scripture. 

ii) It's funny how liberals like Boyd impute selective rationality to Bible writers. On the one hand, this is how they think the ancients reasoned about rain:

Water comes down from the sky. So there must be a source of water up there. Indeed, the sky is blue–like water! But there must be something to restrain it from coming down all at once. So the sky must be solid. But how can water get through a solid barrier? There must be windows in the sky.
But if the sky is solid, how can we see the blue water? It must be made of something transparent or translucent, like crystal. 

So they think the ancients did give serious consideration to the logistics of rain. On the other hand, they don't think the ancients asked elementary questions like: 

If the source of rain is a reservoir above the sky, why do we see rain coming from clouds below the sky? Likewise, why don't we ever see it rain on a clear day? After all, if clouds are not the source of rain, if it's really that cosmic ocean above the firmament, why does it only rain on cloudy days? 

Liberals like Boyd think the ancients were smart enough to draw logical inferences as long as they were constructing a false view of precipitation, but their rationality and powers of observation abandoned them when it came to scrutinizing common sense problems with a false view of precipitation. He also ignores evidence that the ancients were aware of the water cycle (Eccl 1:7). 

Back to Boyd:

So too, if your standard is perfect historical accuracy, or perfect consistency, you’re going to sooner or later run into trouble as well for similar reasons. In fact, I would argue that you’re going to run into problems if your standard is even uniformly perfect theology. For example, we instinctively interpret references to Yahweh riding on clouds and throwing down lightning bolts to be metaphorical (e.g. Ps. 18:14; 68:4; 104:3). But ancient biblical authors, along with everybody else in the Ancient Near East, viewed God and/or the gods as literally doing things like this. They were simply mistaken. 

i) That anthropomorphic image is literally inconsistent with the invisibility of God. Yet OT piety stresses the essential invisibility of God. 

ii) It's a poetic depiction of the Sinai theophany. But the Israelites didn't literally see God riding on a cloud.

iii) In addition, it's polemicizing against Baal, who was a pagan storm god. Baal is vanquished by Yahweh. 

For detailed exegesis, cf. A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: 1-41 (Kregel 2011), 1:466.

Eastern Orthodoxy: Same as all the other Eastern religions

Jacob Aitken relates one key weakness of Eastern Orthodoxy (and of Roman Catholicism as well):

The commenter known as “Anti Gnostic” asks a perceptive question:

What does Orthodoxy offer that other communions don’t?

He gets the standard cliched answer:

“What Orthodoxy offers is the promise of communion with the incarnate God, and theosis, leading to the salvation of the eternal soul…”

He responds,

So does Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. And Wiccanism, if I bothered to check. So tell me, why should I believe Orthodox Christianity over any other belief system?

All metaphysical religions die on this field.

Jacob writes frequently (though not nearly as much as I’d like) on the topic of “chain-of-being” metaphysics. That’s the neo-platonic metaphysics that crept into “the Catholic Church” after Augustine through the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, and were systematized into Roman Catholicism by Thomas Aquinas, in part, because he mistakenly thought that “Pseudo-Dionysius” was genuinely the Dionysius from Acts 17.

This is one reason why Roman Catholicism needs to do more than just “apologize for the sins of the children of the church”. It needs to take stock and ‘fess up to all the erroneous doctrinal nonsense that it has incorporated into its system, erroneously calling it “Christianity”.

But instead, it buckles down, and says, things like “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ”.

In doing so, it bears false witness of God's word.

Neo-platonism is not God’s word. Eastern religions are not God’s word.

Paul's Miracles As Evidence Of Jesus' Resurrection

The quality of evidence we have for Paul's encounter with the risen Christ is often underestimated. Here's a post I wrote a few years ago on the subject. And here's part of what I wrote there:

Paul's experience gave him the power to perform miracles, as we see in the remainder of Acts and in Paul's letters (Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 3:5). It should be noted that Paul sometimes refers to his miracles in contexts in which his authority was being questioned and among people who were skeptical of him for other reasons (the Corinthians and the Galatians). In Romans 15, Paul refers to such miracles as characteristic of his ministry in general. How would a naturalistic vision give Paul the ability to perform miracles of the nature of those described in Acts, miracles credible enough for Paul to appeal to them in contexts of controversy? Any argument that Paul was lying would have to address the evidence we have for his sincerity. Any argument that he was sincerely mistaken would have to address the nature of the miracles reported in Acts and the widespread acceptance of his claim to be a miracle worker, including in contexts in which people were willing to question him on other grounds. (He's criticized for his appearance, his speaking skills, his alleged lack of love, his view of the Jewish law, etc., but not for false miracles. His miracles apparently need no defense.) It's possible that somebody could have a hallucination, then conclude that he should be able to perform miracles as a result of that hallucination, then go on to mistakenly think he was performing miracles many times and in many contexts, having those miracles undisputed and widely accepted. But that's hardly the most likely explanation of the data.

Since I wrote that post in 2009, Craig Keener's Acts commentary has been published. He argues at length for the historicity of Acts, including its accounts of Paul's miracles. Here's a series of posts I wrote about Keener's work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The many dimensions of Calvinism - again

"The many dimensions of Calvinism - again" by Paul Helm.

Ban "bossy"

I'm a little late to the parade, but I'll weigh in:

Sandberg -- the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the best-selling book "Lean In" -- is spearheading the launch of a campaign today to ban the word "bossy," arguing the negative put-down stops girls from pursuing leadership roles.
"We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead," Sandberg said, "and if you ask girls why they don't want to lead, whether it's the school project all the way on to running for office, they don't want to be called bossy, and they don't want to be disliked."
Sandberg said these attitudes begin early and continue into adulthood.

What's funny about this is how feminists like Sandberg unwittingly demean women. She's actually stereotyping girls as weak. Girls need to be protected from boys. Girls need to be protected from put-downs. 

Notice she doesn't thinks boys need special protection. She doesn't think boys need to be protected from girls. She doesn't think boys need to be protected from put-downs. 

Then there's her nonsensical definition of leadership. A mark of a natural leader is to take the initiative. To overcome obstacles. To persevere in the face of opposition.

Imagine George Patton saying "It was my boyhood ambition to be a field commander, but I gave up after girls called me 'bossy' in school." 

Imagine Troy Aikman saying "It was my boyhood ambition to be an NFL quarterback, but I gave up after girls called me 'bossy' in school."

Imagine Vince Lombardi saying "It was my boyhood ambition to be a college football coach, but I gave up after girls called me 'bossy' in school."

Imagine William Clark saying "It was my boyhood ambition to explore America, but I gave up after girls called by 'bossy' in school." 

I expect Maggie Thatcher was called "bossy"  (and worse). Did that stop her? 

A Spotlight on Eastern Orthodox Apologetics

Courtesy of Jacob Aitken:

1. Be loud on your “tradition.” Notice how they will quote the apostles on tradition, but they never demonstrate that what the apostles mean by tradition is what they mean by tradition, especially relating to content? Where did the Apostle Paul say you need to avoid food before Eucharist (contrary to 1 Corinthians 11:34)? If one cannot show that what the apostles mean by tradition is what you mean by tradition, that is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

2. Ignore specific exegesis on Genesis 1-2. This isn’t uniquely an EO problem. All moderns are embarrassed by what the bible says on creation. A friend and I debate an Eastern Catholic who ridiculed creation theology. We then backed the truck up and unloaded dozens of Fathers who affirmed–gasp–six day creation. This is one area where Seraphim Rose cleaned house in debate.

3. Apropos (2): Creation theology teaches a firmament is placed between heaven and earth. Later biblical theology identifies Jesus as the firmament between heaven and earth. If Jesus is the firmament between heaven and earth, how then can saints intercede for those on earth when they are separated by the firmament?

4. Ignore the 5 fold covenant model. More and more I am impressed with Sutton’s fivefold covenant exegesis. Henceforth I will no longer debate TULIP. If anyone wants to attack Reformed theology, deal with the Covenants. Judicial Calvinism is all over the Old Testament.

5. Does not the vaunted realism actually entail a chain of being ontology? Isn’t this fundamentally the same thing as magic religion? I agree that death is the main problem facing us, but the apostle Paul did not separate death from the judicial consequences of sin?

Justification and Sanctification at T4G (Michael Kruger summary)

I was especially grateful for this topic because it has been a concern of mine for years ... There were a lot of helpful points made in the discussion, but let me highlight a few principles that emerged:

1. Christ is not glorified only in our justification. He is also glorified in our sanctification. Thus, sermons on sanctification can also be “Christ-centered.”

2. Our holiness is not an obstacle to the gospel of grace, but the purpose of it. We are created for good works.

3. There is not just a single motivation for our obedience (such as looking back to our justification). There are multiple motivations that the Bible offers, including gratefulness, the joy and blessing offered in obedience, the promise of rewards, and the threat of discipline.

4. It is not illegitimate to have sermons/messages that are largely focused on the ethics of the Christian life. Examples of this abound throughout Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the book of James, and the book of Proverbs. The indicative is the foundation for the imperative, not contrary to it.

5. The book of 1 John provides a wonderful balance between justification and sanctification by offering two seemingly contradictory declarations: (a) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves ( 1 Jn 1:8); and (b) No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him (1 Jn 3:6). But, these are not contradictory. The former is the foundation for justification, the latter the foundation for sanctification.

6. Balanced Christ-centered preaching means we can (and should) preach Christ in all his offices, prophet, priest and king. If we preach Christ as king, for example, we might naturally call our congregations to follow, submit, and obey his commands. Thus, “Christ-centered” preaching does not mean only preaching Christ in his priestly office.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The real historical Jesus

"How to recognize a false prophet"

I'm going to comment on some claims by Nathan Busenitz:

The Need to Test ProphetsThroughout history, there have been many people who have claimed to be prophets, who have claimed to speak for God. But all Christians—whether charismatics or cessationists—would agree that at least some of these prophets were false prophets.
Agreed. That said, our criteria need to be consistent with Scripture, not undercut Scripture. 
How to Recognize a False ProphetAll of this raises a critical question for believers to ask: “How can we recognize a false prophet? How can we know when a person who claims to be prophesying for God, who claims to have received new revelation from God that he or she is now reporting to others … how can we know when that person is telling the truth?”The Bible articulates three objective criteria for evaluating self-professed prophets. If a so-called prophet fails on any one of these three points, he shows himself to be a false prophet.
Are these in fact Biblical criteria? 
What are these three tests? Let me just state them briefly, and then we will look at them each in more detail:
1. Doctrinal orthodoxy – Because God is a God of truth, those who truly prophesy on His behalf proclaim doctrines that are right and true. Conversely, any self-proclaimed prophet who deceives people by leading them into theological error is a false prophet.
On the face of it, Busenitz overlooks some obvious counterexamples to his hasty generalization:
i) Didn't Caiaphas truly prophesy in Jn 11:50-51? Was Caiaphas doctrinally orthodox? Weren't the high priests at that time Sadducees? Didn't the Sadducees have heretical views on angelology and the afterlife? Likewise, by the standards of 1 John, the Christology of Caiaphas was heretical. He denied that Jesus was the Messiah, much less God's Son Incarnate. 
ii) What about Balaam? In one respect, we might classify Balaam as a paradigmatic false prophet. He was a pagan diviner (Josh 13:22). Yet he prophesied truly under divine inspiration (Num 23:7-10,18-24; 24:3-9,15-24). He's paradoxical in that regard. 
Both Balaam and Caiaphas prophesied truly in spite of themselves. 
iii) Scripture also records pagans who received prophetic dreams (Abimelech; Pharaoh, the Egyptian baker, the Egyptian cupbearer; Nebuchadnezzar, the Magi, Pilate's wife). 
Were all these pagans doctrinally orthodox? 
iv) We need to draw some distinctions which Busenitz fails to draw. 
a) We might distinguish between a true prophet and a true prophecy
b) A prophecy is false if the content of the prophecy is heretical.
c) Even if the content of the prophecy is true, the speaker is a false prophet if he exploits the true prophecy to lead the faithful astray.
2. Moral integrity – God’s true prophets are those who not only proclaim His truth, they also live out His truth. Any self-proclaimed prophet who lives in unrestrained lust and greed shows himself to be a false prophet. So again we see that false prophets can be identified by their lifestyle. As Jesus said, we can know them by their fruits. And when we see the fruit of gross immorality and impurity in someone’s life, we can be confident that he is a false prophet no matter what he might claim.
Well, that's very high-minded, but once again, Busenitz seems to overlook some obvious counterexamples to his hasty generalization:
i) Saul was said to be a prophet (1 Sam 10:6,10-11). Yet Saul later murdered Jewish priests who gave David sanctuary when David was on the run from Saul. And Saul resorted to necromancy.
ii) Wasn't David a prophet? Aren't the Psalms of David inspired? Don't some of them contain Messianic prophecies? 
Yet according to 1 Chron 3, David fathered sons by at least 8 different wives. Then there's the Bathsheba incident, which involves at least three major transgressions:
(a) The adulterous affair itself; (b), the coverup, in which he engineered the death of her husband, (c) and, relatedly betraying a soldier (Uriah) under his command. 
iii) Wasn't Solomon a prophet? On traditional views of authorship, he made significant contributions to the OT canon. Yet his lifestyle wasn't exactly distinguished by frugality or sexual restraint. 
3. Predictive accuracy – Because God knows the end from the beginning, a true prophet declares divine revelation regarding the future with 100% accuracy. Or to put this in the negative, if someone claims to speak prophetic revelation from God about the future (or about secret things), but then those predictions do not come to pass, the Bible declares that person to be a false prophet.
That is, indeed, the classic, and most direct, test of false prophecy. However, the application of that criterion is complicated by the fact that it isn't always easy to discern fulfillment. Scripture itself contains cases of apparent prophetic nonfulfillment. Conservative exegetes spend a lot of time defending these. 
Take one well-known case: on the face of it, Jeremiah's oracle regarding the destruction of Babylon (Jer 50-52) wasn't fulfilled as he envisioned it. There are different ways of finessing that issue. Maybe it remains to be fulfilled. 
As one commentator notes:
The conclusion must be that in some cases the reputation of the prophet established the truthfulness of his words (rather than the truthfulness of his words established his reputation). M. Brown, Jeremiah, REBC (Zondervan 2010), 7:565.
There are, of course, examples, especially in the case of short-term predictions, where a claimant's forecast was clearly wrong. But it's not always that straightforward. 
As is often the case in my experience with MacArthurites, their opposition to the charismatic movement betrays them into using arguments which, if applied consistently, would sabotage the Bible. 
It's striking that men like Busenitz don't even pause to consider obvious Biblical counterexamples to their strictures. What does that say about their insular mindset? 
The problem, of course, is that Scripture isn't their frame of reference. Rather, the charismatic movement is their frame of reference. Rather than Scripture, they begin with what they oppose, then concoct ex post facto tests to discredit continuationism. But the end result is to discredit Scripture in the process. MacArthurites do this routinely. 

Bergoglio’s Gig: “Pope Francis” Again Deflects Sex Abuse Scandal

“It is a personal weakness on the part of the priests, not a system-wide effort to by Bishops to cover up abuse by priests”:

Pope Francis Again Deflects Sex Abuse Scandal

Pope Francis on Friday made his strongest public apology yet regarding sex abuse in the Catholic church, as he asked for forgiveness for the incidents and promised to strengthen sanctions to help prevent future cases.

"I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children," the pontiff told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau at a meeting at the Vatican.

Why is he “personally asking”? Why is he not, as the head of the organization, taking responsibility?

"The Church is aware of this damage," said the pontiff, according to a Vatican statement. "it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed…we have to be even stronger, because you cannot interfere with children."

But what Bergoglio is doing is saying “Forget that hundreds and hundreds of bishops are implicated. We’ve corporately saved our own hides by obfuscation and shifting the blame to others.”

In fact, for 50+ years priests have been “interfering with children”, and bishops were simply moving them around and covering up for them.

The institution takes no responsibility.


Roman Catholics are fond of saying what a great leader “Pope Francis” is, and how much “the world” loves him. However, they ought not to forget, “the world” thinks more highly of him for doing “un-popelike things” like saying “who am I to judge?” and for taking part in adolescent activities like “selfies”.

They should keep in mind that most people don’t love him because he is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Jesuit (or Archibishop or Cardinal); they love him because he is a celebrity, who essentially won a papal conclave lottery that gives him a ready-made global stage on which to do his “un-popelike” things.

Bergoglio is an old guy, and he won’t be able to keep this up for long. Roman Catholics should keep in mind what changes if a Ratzinger-like conservative is up next. What happens to all the adoring fans? But more menacingly, they should keep in mind what changes if one of those cardinals who are more liberal than Bergoglio is up next.

Weighing The Shroud's 1988 Carbon Dating

The best book I've read on the Shroud of Turin is William Meacham's The Rape Of The Turin Shroud (Lulu, 2005). Meacham is an archeologist who's worked at the University of Hong Kong, and he's one of the scholars the Roman Catholic Church has consulted on issues related to the Shroud in recent decades.

His book is especially good on the subject of carbon dating. Since carbon dating is the primary argument raised against the large amount of evidence we have for the Shroud's authenticity, it's important that we rightly gauge the significance of the carbon dating that was done in 1988. Sometimes, people will object to the Shroud by citing the 1988 carbon dating alone, as if that dating by itself is sufficient reason to dismiss the Shroud. Harry Gove, a scientist who had a prominent role in developing carbon dating technology and bringing about the 1988 dating of the Shroud, suggested that the 1988 tests allow for only about a "one in a thousand trillion" chance that the Shroud dates to the first century (Relic, Icon Or Hoax? [Bristol and Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1996], 303). Gove even jokingly compares the possibility that the carbon dating is wrong to the possibility that "the law of gravity is in error" (305). But Meacham writes:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Raising the dead

One popular cessationist argument is that modern "faith-healers" don't perform the kinds of miracles we see in the NT. If they really had the gift of healing, they could raise the dead. We'd expect them to do so on a regular basis. And they'd become famous for raising the dead. 

Now, it may well be the case that many or most faith-healers are frauds. But this objection cuts both ways. 

Problem with this argument is that it undercuts apostolic miracles. In the NT, there's only one clear-cut example of an apostle raising the dead (the case of Peter raising Dorcus). Paul reviving Euthychus might be another instance, although that's more ambiguous.

There's no record of most of the apostles raising the dead. And even in the case of Peter, he only did that once. 

Now, a cessationist might counter that the NT record is selective. But in this context, that's a problematic defense. For one thing, we'd expect a selective account to selectively include the most impressive miracles. If you're going to be selective, that's what you select for.  

Moreover, if we postulate that all the apostles regularly raised the dead, even though that went unreported, a continuationist could invoke the same defense where church history is silent. You could do it, but not be famous for it. 

Perhaps a cessationist would contend that the apostles were able, but unwilling, to raise the dead on a regular basis. But is that plausible?

To begin with, if the apostles could raise the dead at will, there'd be a tremendous demand for that service. Why would they be willing heal the sick, but be unwilling to raise the dead?

Indeed, the death of Christians precipitated a theological crisis (1 Thes 4:13ff.; cf. 1 Cor 15:6). That could be solved by raising the dead. 

If, moreover, few decedents were revived because the apostles were able, but unwilling, to restore them to life, then a faith-healer could resort to the same excuse.  

Partly cloudy

According to the three-story model of the universe, the sun, moon, and stars were below the firmament. But if that's what Bible writers and ancient Near Easterners believed, why do clouds always pass in front of the sun and moon, never behind them? If clouds, sun or moon are both lower than the firmament, why are clouds always lower than the sun or moon? Why do clouds invariably pass over the face of the sun and moon? Why do they never lie in the background, with the sun and moon in the foreground? Why aren't clouds sometimes higher than the sun or moon? Likewise, if the sun literally rose and and set, would it not begin or end below the clouds? 

The triple-decker model can't account for that.  

Did ancient observers never wonder about that? We know that ancient astronomers did find celestial motion puzzling, so it's not as if no one ever paid attention. 

Losing faith in Santa

Atheists routinely compare faith in God to childish faith in Santa Claus. According to one study I read about, conducted by two Cornell professors, children generally outgrow belief in Santa Claus around the age of 7-8. 

It's striking that kids that young already have the cognitive development to become skeptical of Santa Claus. This is something they generally figure out on their own.

Let's compare that to another claim. Atheists, as well as "progressive Christians," think Bible writers espouse a three-story universe. So, for instance, Bible writers allegedly thought the dead descended to the Netherworld. 

The origin for that belief supposedly goes back to burial customs. If the dead are buried, then it's natural to associate the place of the dead with the underworld. It must be underground. 

There are, however, obvious problems with that inference. To begin with, it's not as if the average grave had backdoor or trapdoor that tunneled down to the Netherworld. You dig a shallow grave for the corpse, and that's that. And, of course, the skeleton remained. 

Another problem is traditions of the dead going up rather than down. The soul ascending to heaven. 

But here's the larger issue. On the one hand, many children around the age of 7-8 lose faith in Santa Claus. They begin to ask common sense questions about the feasibility of that scenario. They do this without any prompting from adults.  

On the other hand, atheists assure us that adults in the ANE were incapable of posing logistical questions about the feasibility of a three-story universe. 

Mt. Olympus

In evangelical circles, John Walton has done a lot to popularize the notion that Bible writers rely on an antiquated three-story cosmography. Of course, he's hardly alone in this. He's merely the most influential. It's a case of reintroducing an old idea to a new generation under the auspices of an "evangelical" scholar.  

One of the striking things about this is academic fad is the overemphasis on this particular cosmographical model. There's so much written on the three-story cosmography. On how Bible writers, as well as ancient Near Easterners generally, viewed the world in these terms.

According to this depiction, God, or the gods, live in the sky. There's a celestial palace above the "firmament" where he or they reside. 

When the gods visit men, then come down from the sky. Indeed, Daniel Dennett calls them sky-gods (how original!). 

What's striking about this claim is how it neglects and conflicts with another ancient cosmographical depiction. And that's the notion of a cosmic sacred mountain where the pantheon dwells. 

Mt. Olympus is a familiar example. Many of us are acquainted with that depiction from Greek mythology, or Hollywood movies based on the same. 

But that's not an isolated case. It has ANE counterparts. In Canaanite mythology, Mt. Zaphon (i.e. Mt Casios in northern Syria) was Baal's dwelling place. 

Moreover, in an instance of polemical theology, Ps 42:2 betrays a critical awareness of this tradition. Mt. Zion supplants Mt. Zaphon.  Indeed, Mt. Zion theology is generally thought to trade on the cosmic mountain motif in ANE culture. 

However, that doesn't mesh with the tripledecker universe. For on this alternate depiction, the dwelling place of God or gods is terrestrial rather than celestial. Not above, but below, the firmament. A mountaintop is earthly, not heavenly. God or gods are descending from a mountain rather than the sky.

It reflects the hidebound character of Biblical scholarship that so much attention is given to the three-story cosmography, while basically ignoring, or failing to relate that depiction to a conceptual rival. 

Why don't Enns, Walton, Seeley et al. champion the cosmic mountain as the paradigm of ANE cosmography? It's not as if Walton, for one, is unaware of this. It's something he briefly discusses in his monograph on Ancient Near Eastern Though and the Old Testament. But it doesn't seem to occur to him that this presents opposing locations for the divine dwelling place. The two are not naturally integrated. 

In addition, while a celestial palace is empirically unfalsifiable, a terrestrial place is empirically falsifiable. It would be a simply matter to confirm or disconfirm whether God or gods reside on mountaintops. Indeed, on a clear day, you could see whether there was a palace up there. Not to mention hiking to the summit.

So did they really think that's where their gods resided? Maybe some did, but what about the locals? 

On a related note, we can see how OT writers embellish Mt. Zion in ways which are clearly symbolic. Although an omnipotent God could raise Mt. Zion to an elevation higher than Everest, the expanded base of the mountain would destroy Jerusalem. That would necessitate relocating Jerusalem. LIkewise, if the river of paradise flows from Mt. Zion, that's nowhere near the original river of paradise. 

OT writers are simply manipulating imagery. It was never intended to be a realistic description.

Another example is the cosmic tree motif (e.g. Dan 4; Ezk 31). It's not as if Bible writers actually saw a tree that tall, in real life. It's patently symbolic.    

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Christ & Buddha

Unlike Christ, our sources for Buddha are centuries after the fact. As a result, there's a wide, unbridgeable gap between the historical Buddha and the literary Buddha. We don't know what he really said and did. All we have are legendary or fictional traditions. 

Also, because humans have an innate need to believe in something greater and better than themselves, Buddhists have essentially deified Buddha. He becomes a larger-than-life figure. A surrogate God. 

However, lack of solid historical information about Buddha is inessential to Buddhism. Christianity is inseparable from the person and work of Christ. Even if Christ taught nothing distinctive, his uniquely redemptive death and unique person (as the Incarnate Son) make the medium inseparable from the message. Christ isn't just a roadmap, but the destination. 

By contrast, what's significant about Buddhism is a set of ideas. It doesn't matter who said it. With Buddha, unlike Christ, you can detach the message from the messenger. 

According to tradition, Buddha had a certain insight into the problem of evil, based on two related ideas. Life is fleeting. Everything changes. Nothing lasts.

Hence, if you become emotionally invested in something transitory, you leave yourself open to grief when it passes out of your life. 

So the way to spare yourself that kind of suffering is to practice detachment. If you don't care about having it, you don't care about losing it.

Thus, Buddha offers both a simple diagnosis and simple solution to the problem. 

There's an undeniable truth to his analysis, as far as it goes. It's a truism that the more you love something, you more you stand to lose if you lose it. And it's also true that given the evanescent nature of so much human experience, we are quite vulnerable to this type of suffering.

There are, however, some fundamental problems with his insight:

i) It's one-sided. Although impermanence can be a source of suffering, a static existence would be interminable. Humans need variety as well as continuity to be happy. 

ii) Notice that on this view, the problem of evil is essentially metaphysical rather than moral. It's grounded in the impermanence of a timebound existence. An amoral analysis of the problem of evil. 

As a result, a Samurai warrior can be pious Buddhist. Butcher innocent men, women, and children on the orders of the Shogun. 

Although there's such a thing as Buddhist ethics, that's arbitrary. For the problem of evil isn't moral evil, but impermanence. And since humans are temporary organisms, why treat them with any particular deference?  

iii) It's a this-worldly solution to a this-worldly problem. Because Buddha isn't God, he can't change the situation. He has to take the situation as a given. The best he can do is to propose a palliative. Given the situation, here's a bromide to make it feel a bit better.

The Buddhist worldview is essentially pessimistic and fatalistic. Defeatist. There's nothing you can do about your condition. That's beyond your control. At most, you can adjust your attitude. Come to terms with the situation. Make the best of a bad deal.

Given its bleak outlook on life, there's an ineluctable undertone of sadness to Buddhism. Our condition is unutterably hopeless. The best we can do is to numb the pain. 

Buddha was just a man. A creature. A mortal. A passenger in the same sinking ship. He is impotent to change the condition that gives rise to suffering in the first place. If all is flux, then even if gods are powerless to change the fabric of reality. 

This is completely unlike Christianity, where the ultimate source of suffering is due to sin rather than nature. And where the Savior has the divine power to change the situation. 

iv) At best, Buddhism avoids one type of sadness by exchanging that for another type of sadness. There's a kind of sadness that comes from losing the good you had. But there's another kind of sadness that comes from missing the good you never had. 

Both are deprivations. In Buddhism, you deny yourself a good to avoid grief when you lose it. But you still lose out in a different way. That good is still absent from your life. A felt absence.

What's worse: the absence of what you never had, or the absence of what you used to have? You can miss what you never had as acutely as what you lost. 

v) The solution is unrealistic. Suppressing our emotional needs doesn't make them go away. Indeed, suppression tends to intensify the yearning. 

And even if you could successfully suppress your innate emotional needs, that would be inhuman. That would make you less virtuous. Almost sociopathic. 

Buddhism tries to skirt a knife-edge between happiness and unhappiness. But, again, that's unrealistic.