Friday, August 23, 2013

Covenantal Bacon

A few years ago a friend was working on writing a book.  Her husband asked at the time that I not mention the topic of the book since it was still in the research phase.  I really didn't know the topic of research so for fun I told him that I was sending out the following information whenever people asked me about the book (which no one ever did).

Title: Covenantal Bacon: Rethinking the Culinary Consequences of the New Covenant

Genre: Cookbook with theological analysis

Publisher's comments: The first book of its kind: a cookbook filled with recipes all revolving around bacon and insightful theological analysis accompanying every recipe.  Sure to spark debate and heat up ovens with the wonders of bacon.  A special appendix entitled "Carnitas in the Eschatological Kingdom" is sure to cause controversy as the author argues: (1) Yes, there will be animals in the eternal state and (2) we will eat them!  Mrs. L-- offers a fresh metaphysical perspective as to how God's people can enjoy animal flesh without causing pain and suffering.  She also offers a few pork-centered recipes she believes will be served in the eternal state so you can get a little "taste of heaven" now!

Backcover endorsements:

On my hit television show "Hell's Kitchen" I come off like a foul talking a--hole.  But after reading L--'s Covenantal Bacon I was almost persuaded to become a Christian!  Her joyous prose dances across the page with happy clarity and her recipes are simply amazing.  Who would have thought that bacon and raspberries could be wrapped in a tortilla and then deep fried.  And then to read the insightful commentary on this recipe and to see L-- discuss the perichoretic implications of such a dish--WOW!  If you only buy one cookbook this year make sure it's one of mine--but if you're able to get one after that be sure to pick up Covenantal Bacon.     
                    --Gordon Ramsey (celebrity chef and star of "Hell's Kitchen")

I'm a theologian and not a cook although I have been accused of "cooking up" some strange exegetical dishes in my writings.  Mrs. L--'s Covenantal Bacon is thoroughly researched and elegantly written.  I especially liked the recipe called "Promised Land Snack"--a sandwich of peanut butter, bacon, and cilantro.  Mrs. L-- did not fail to bring out the typological implications of this morsel in her commentary on this recipe--"Cilantro as a typological representation of Eden"--absolutely brilliant!  I have found all sorts of off-the-wall stuff in Scripture but Mrs. L--'s culinary exegesis "takes the cake" (or should I say, "brings home the bacon?!").  Three cheers for Covenantal Bacon!
                    --James Jordan (author of Pig Out? 25 Reasons Why Christians May Eat Pork)

Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology: A Few Comments on Chapter 21

Millard Erickson recently updated his famous systematic theology.  Christian Theology was first published in 1983 with a second edition in 1998.  August 2013 saw the release of the third edition that is full of updates.  This post is not anywhere near a full analysis but, rather, looks at one chapter.

Chapter 21 concerns “The Origin of Humanity.”  In that the issue of the historicity of Adam is a current hot topic among evangelicals I was eager to read Erickson’s discussion.  I was a bit disappointed with his failure to keep up to date on the discussion that is happening with these issues.  In fact, the most recent bibliography entry in this chapter is from 1971.  Perhaps with other doctrines that would not be as problematic but when seeking to interact with the scientific aspects of this issue then one must keep up with the developing disciplines.  It appears that Erickson hasn’t updated this chapter since it first appeared in 1983.  Here are a few examples:

1.  When discussing what he calls “fiat creationism” he has a footnote on page 444 referencing the work of Walter Lammerts: Why Not Creation? (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970) and Scientific Studies in Special Creation (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1971).  The past forty years have seen a number of new developments in the defense of young earth creationism.  The failure to note any of these works is a big oversight.

2.     Erickson’s next category is “deistic evolution” in which he references the 1844 of Robert Chambers Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

3.     In approaching the view he calls “theistic evolution” the discussion seems especially deficient.  His footnote #11 on page 446 states: “On theistic evolution, see Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1907, 466-467).”  This is a source that is over 100 years old!  Furthermore, the phrase “theistic evolution” is not the preferred term by those who hold this view.  Howard J. Van Till in his essay “The Fully Gifted Creation” argues against using this phrase.[1]  Recently Denis Lamoureux argued on behalf of the phrase “evolutionary creation” in the following manner:

On the surface, the category “evolutionary creation” seems like a contradiction in terms.  However, the substantive noun is “creation.”  Evolutionary creationists first and foremost believe in a Creator and that the world is His creation.  The qualifier is the adjective “evolutionary” and indicates simply God’s creative method.  This view of origins is often referred to as “theistic evolution.”  But I find this category unacceptable because it makes the Creator merely an adjective to a scientific theory.  Over the last ten or so years, the term “evolutionary creation” has become popular among evangelicals who accept evolution.[2]
            Erickson is simply not up to date on his understanding and discussion.

4.     Erickson next discusses the “progressive creationism” view.  Here he references the 1948 work of Edward J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics.  This work is 65 years old and the discussion on this viewpoint has significantly been developed over this time. 

5.     On pages 448-451 there is a section entitled “The Age of the Human Race.”  Again, this section betrays a lack of interaction with developments over the past 40 years in that the most recent bibliographic entry is from 1970.

It is always risky for theologians to enter the realm of science and seek to intersect the concerns of theology with the natural sciences.  It’s risky but needs to be done.  The problem for Erickson’s discussions is that he has not kept up with developments in this area and his textbook shows obvious deficiencies in this regard.  Students looking for sound interaction and integration regarding human origins from a scriptural and scientific vantage point are not well served by Erickson’s treatment in his third edition of Christian Theology.

NOTE:  Here is a link to a bibliography on the issue of the historicity of Adam.

[1] In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds (Zondervan, 1999), pp. 161, 172.
[2] “The Bible, Science, and the Historical Adam: An Interview with Denis Lamoureux” Criswell Theological Review (Spring, 2013), p. 58.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Herman Bavinck on the Ethical Battle Against Scripture

This fascinating quotation by Herman Bavinck regarding Scripture was posted by Chris Castaldo at his blog.
Many and very serious objections are raised against this view of the inspiration of Scripture. They derive from the historical criticism that questions the authenticity and credibility of many biblical books. The challenge comes from the mutual contradictions that occur time after time in Scripture; from the manner in which OT texts are cited and interpreted in the NT; and it comes from the secular history with which the narratives of Scripture can often not be harmonized. . ..1 It is vain to ignore these objections and to act as if they don’t exist. Still, we must first of all call attention to the ethical battle, which at all times has been carried on against Scripture. If Scripture is the word of God, that battle is not accidental but necessary and completely understandable. If Scripture is the account of the revelation of God in Christ, it is bound to arouse the same opposition as Christ himself who came into the world for judgment (κρισις) and is “set for the falling and rising of many” [Luke 2:34]. He brings separation between light and darkness and reveals the thoughts of many hearts. . . By itself, therefore, it need not surprise us in the least that Scripture has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition. Christ bore a cross, and the servant [Scripture] is not greater than its master. Scripture is the handmaiden of Christ. It shares in his defamation and arouses the hostility of sinful humanity. . .
The battle against the Bible is, in the first place, a revelation of the hostility of the human heart.2
Bavinck is not arguing that there are errors; rather, he is arguing that there are many apparent difficulties. For further explanation, see Herman Bavinck, Prolegomena, in Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 447-448.
2Ibid., 439-440.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Glory of God and God's Ultimate Goal

I'm preparing to preach on Ezekiel 36 and one of my main points will be the centrality of God's glory in his actions of salvation.  Ezekiel 36.22-23 states:
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.  I will vindicate the holiness of my great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst.  Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord God, "when I prove myself holy among you in their sight."'"
This text, and others like it (i.e., Isaiah 48.9-11), shows that God pursues his glory in the salvation of his people.  This is standard Reformed teaching which has been wonderfully brought into prominence by the ministry and work of John Piper.  This is all well and good.

Recently over at the Gospel Coalition website Christopher Morgan published a short piece entitled Is Glory God's Only Goal?  Morgan's words are well timed and should be widely read.  He is especially concerned about the possibility of misunderstandings and imbalances.  Here are some of Morgan's words:
While there is a healthy resurgence in teaching that glory is God's ultimate end, many inadvertently equate God's ultimate end with God's comprehensive motivation (Edwards and Piper do not make this mistake, but many who read them do). As a result, we rarely hear that God often acts with multiple ends in mind.

Many Reasons

Take the exodus, for instance. Why did God redeem his people from slavery in Egypt? One might quickly reply, "For his glory." Certainly God redeems his people from slavery to glorify himself. But the book of Exodus presents God's reasons for deliverance in a multifaceted way:
  • Concern for his oppressed people (3-4)
  • Faithfulness to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15; 4:5; 6:8; 32:13; 34:6; cf. Deut. 7:6-10)
  • That Israel would serve the Lord (4:23; 6:5; etc.)
  • That you should know I am the LORD (6:7; 10:2; 13:1f)
  • To give the promised land (6:8)
  • That the Egyptians will know I am the LORD (7:5; 14:3-4; 14:15-18)
  • That Pharaoh will know the LORD as incomparable (7:17; 8:10-18)
  • To display his power (9:16)
  • That his name might be proclaimed in all the earth (9:16)
  • To pass down a heritage to the children (10:1-2)
  • That his wonders might be multiplied (11:9)
  • To get glory over Pharaoh and his army (14:3-18)
  • For Israel's sake (18:8)
So God delivered his people for a variety of reasons, not merely one. The incomparable God acts out of love, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, and jealousy. This is critical to notice because if we equate God's ultimate end with God's comprehensive motivation, we end up subsuming his attributes under his glory. But God acts according to who he is. He loves because he is loving. He acts rightly because he is righteousness. Certainly, as he acts, he displays himself; and as he displays himself, he glorifies himself. But we must not say that God acts for his glory without simultaneously stressing that God acts out of his love, goodness, faithfulness—out of who he is.
Note also that God delivers his people for his glory, for their good, for judgment on Egypt, and for the continuance of his covenant people. Recognizing and stressing these multiple ends does not detract from an emphasis on God's glory but actually underlines it. Indeed, in the exodus, God displays his love, covenant faithfulness, jealously, providence, and power through his wonders, salvation, and judgment, in which he manifests himself and thus glorifies himself.
Morgan goes on to speak of why God saves us and ends his piece with these Scripture-saturated words:

Why Does God Save Us?

Or we can consider the doctrine of salvation and ask, "Why does God save us?" One might hastily retort, "For his glory." Again, that is right and critical. But the Bible provides a wide range of reasons. Powerfully and regularly, God himself explains his motive for saving.John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that he gave . . ." (cf. 1 John 4:9-10).Ephesians 1:4-5 extols, "In love" God predestined us (cf. Deut. 7), and Ephesians 2:4 ties our salvation to God's love, mercy, and grace (cf. Titus 3:4-5). John 17 records Jesus' high priestly prayer, interweaving God's glory and the good of his people, praying and acting in part, "for their sake" (17:19). Romans 8:28 also makes it clear that redemptive history is, in large part, for the good of God's people.
So why does God save? For many reasons, but in and through all of them, God displays who he is and thus glorifies himself. God manifests his glory because in saving us he displays his wisdom (Rom. 11:33-361 Cor. 1:18-31Eph. 3:10-11), righteousness, justice (Rom. 3:25-26), love, mercy, kindness, (Eph. 2:4-7Rom. 9:20-23), freedom, wrath, and power (Rom. 9:20-23).

Charismatic Gifts and Church History: Some Comments

Back in 2011 C. Michael Patton and Sam Storms engaged in an informative and cordial dialogue regarding spiritual gifts.  In discussing the historical reality of these gifts Storms argued that at times people may be operating in spiritual giftedness without realizing it.  In other words, someone could be a self-avowed cessationist and yet still operate with a certain gift (or some semblance of that gift).  In the comments section for this dialogue I engaged with a few others on this topic as well as the process of historical research.  Here are those comments:

.                Phil McCheddar says: 
November 15, 2011 at 8:27 am 

Sam . . . thank you for this fascinating history – you make a powerful case.
What I am about to say is not my personal conviction but I am just tossing an idea into the air to see if it will fly.
Just as you point out that some Christians may exercise miraculous gifts without labelling them as such or identifying themselves as ‘charismatics’, some other Christians may do things which look like genuine gifts of the Spirit but are not. They may sincerely believe they are healing, prophesying, casting out demons, praying in a divinely-inspired language etc. but actually it is just wishful thinking and self-delusion. Even though in practice the results don’t measure up to their claims, it doesn’t stop them talking of themselves as exponents of miraculous gifts. How do we know that the many theologians you cited from church history who spoke about miraculous gifts being exercised in their day were not well-meaning but sincerely mistaken, or culpably self-deluded, like some ‘charismatic’ Christians today? Just because they talked about miracles happening as a regular and common feature of the church in their day, doesn’t mean their claims are any more accurate than Benny Hinn’s press secretary.
I find it interesting that the gift of tongues has been understood differently by different groups in different times. Many in the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages believed that the gift of tongues is to enable missionaries to preach the gospel to foreigners without learning the language first. Some Protestant missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century held the same opinion, such as Jonathan Goforth, W.P.Buncombe, C.M.Reade, Alfred G. Garr, and Charles Parham. But I do not know of any modern Christians who believe this. If that definition is true, then modern-day tongues-speakers are not exercising the genuine gift. But if that definition is false, then this is an example of a large number of Christians enthusiastically (and probably sincerely) claiming to use miraculous powers and recording their claims in history books who were simply wrong.
I’m just think aloud.

.                NW says: 
November 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm 

Sam’s argument seems to be that perhaps the Holy Spirit has been bestowing the gifts of 1 Cor 12:7-10 throughout all of Church history (and not just in the 1st century) but that the Church has not recognized it as such due to various factors such as widespread Biblical ignorance. Of course, there’s a lot more in the essay, but I think that’s his main idea.  
Anyway, the problem with this argument is that the manifestation of these gifts in the book of Acts is unmistakable. The idea that the Church would not be able to recognize the Spirit’s work in performing such things through Christian men and women throughout the life of the Church seems preposterous to me.

.                Richard Klaus says: 
November 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm 

Phil,You raise the issue of the epistemology of history–how do we know those claiming miraculous occurrences weren’t just self-deluded. Historians have to sift and weigh the historical evidence. Some historians biased by methodological naturalism will, of course, discount every claim to the miraculous in history. All historians have to weigh the evidence which would include the context of the evidence. For example, in her book “Christian Healing” Evelyn Frost looks at the Ante-Nicene evidence for healing. Chapter five is entitled, “A Consideration of the Value of the Ante-Nicene Evidence”. She writes:“Much of the Ante-Nicece literature is in the form of Apologies on behalf of Christianity to the Emperor, Senate or other high Roman authority; evidence submitted in works of this kind would only be such as could stand the test of critical investigation.”Frost goes on to compare the amount of evidence for the Ante-Nicene miracles and the NT miracles. She writes:“If a comparison between these writings (Ante-Nicene–rjk) and those of the New Testament may be made, it would seem, from this consideration alone, that there is more evidence for authenticity for miracles recorded in the former than in the latter, for whereas those of the New Testament were handed down largely by word of mouth for perhaps a generation and then recorded for the Christian ‘populus’, the Patristic writings were produced as contemporary evidence in legal documents or works that were liable to the same scrutiny as would be required of legal evidence.” (pp. 119-120)
  In a similar vein Ronald Kydd in his book “Healing Through the Centuries” writes of Tertullian’s writings regarding exorcism and healing. Kydd writes:
 “An historical aside is appropriate. Tertullian was writing these works to living Roman officials. He based his appeal for clemency on benefits that were coming through Christians to the many people in society. If this were not happening, Tertullian would have simply looked like a fool claiming that it was, making the Christian faith he was trying to defend into a laughingstock. The strength of his argument lay precisely in the fact that anyone could check to see whether there was evidence to support it. If there was no evidence, he would not have dared make these claims.” (p. 24)
  This, obviously, doesn’t deal with all of church history–not by a long shot. But these quotations do show us how these historians begin to assess historical evidence. In other words, we are not simply left with historical skepticism nor undue credulity.


 A couple of points:1. I think you miss the “main point” of Sam’s essay. The point you highlight was mentioned (it was point #4) by Sam at the beginning and the end but I think the main point was to highlight the amount of historical evidence there is and then to explain why there may not be more.2. You write, “The idea that the Church would not be able to recognize the Spirit’s work in performing such things through Christian men and women throughout the life of the Church seems preposterous to me.” You don’t interact with Sam’s examples (Spurgeon and the Scottish Covenanters). Is it really so hard to believe that people’s theological and philosophical pre-commitments might affect the interpretation and articulation of their experiences? What you find “preposterous” seems quite reasonable to me–especially given specific examples in church history.

.                NW says: 
November 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm 

I would advise that you go back and reread those accounts in the book of Acts that record manifestations of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:7-10 and try to imagine the possibility of such things happening throughout Church history but without the Church being able to recognize them for what they are (i.e. manifestations of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:7-10). I, for one, cannot imagine it.
Here’s Sam’s dilemma: If the gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:7-10 have not been operative throughout the greater part of Church history then why should we pursue them today? On the other hand, if they have been operative throughout Church history then how could the Church have been so ignorant of that fact for so long?

.                Richard Klaus says: 
November 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm 

NW,May I playfully say, your failure to “imagine it” may simply show a failure of imagination! More seriously, you have yet to deal with the specific examples given by Sam that I pointed to in my other post. Also, we have scriptural precedent for philosophical pre-commitments affecting ones interpretation of one’s experiences. For example, consider Matthew 28.17 when Jesus presents himself risen from the dead. The text states: “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some were doubtful.” Someone could possibly say, “I can’t imagine someone seeing the risen Jesus and still being doubtful.” And yet here it is. Theological pre-commitments do affect the way we interpret data. Again, what you “cannot imagine” I find very easy to imagine–especially in light of the specific examples given from church history.
In regards to the dilemma you pose for Sam I think that it, too, is able to be surmounted rather easily. You write: “If the gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:7-10 have not been operative throughout the greater part of Church history then why should we pursue them today?” Two answers to this come to mind. One, it is not the case that the gifts have not been operative in the history of the church. See the bulk of Sam’s post. Second, even if it was true (for the sake of argument) then why would this historical fact entail the conclusion that we today should not seek the gifts? This doesn’t follow logically or biblically. Regarding your second pole of the dilemma: the gifts may have been operative and the church was aware of them but didn’t articulate their understanding of them correctly. And, of course, your dilemma can be split by offering other alternatives such as maybe the gifts haven’t been uniformly operative (for any number of reasons) but this doesn’t entail not seeking them today or being able to find precedents for them in church history. As Sam pointed out, this is the case with other doctrines in the history of the church.

.                NW says: 
November 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm 

Whether it’s a failure of imagination on my part or an excess of imagination on yours is a matter opinion. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.  
In either case, I’m the sort of preterist for whom the “perfect” has come and can credibly use 1 Cor 13:8-13 as part of an argument for hard cessationism.

.                Phil McCheddar says: 
November 16, 2011 at 7:49 am 

Hi Richard,
Thanks for your interesting response in post #4. I take note of what you say and can’t refute it . . .
. . . except, some Christians today make staggering claims of performing miracles without any fear of being contradicted in public. A while ago I saw an advert for a local Pentecostal church which audaciously said “Come to our 6:30pm service on Sunday and you will see God heal people miraculously!” I went along expectantly but all I saw was a large group of Christians singing and dancing joyfully.
Suppose in 1000 years time someone wanted to know if God was distributing miraculous gifts to his church in 2011AD. That person could dig out videos of a Benny Hinn meeting and see all sorts of wonderful testimonies of sick people claiming to have been healed. He could find this discussion on the P&P blog and read many people such as yourself asserting the ongoing existence of miraculous gifts. But why are we having this discussion at all if the reality of miraculous gifts in the church today is obvious? Why are so many Christians not convinced? Why aren’t unbelievers flocking to churches in their thousands to gawp at the supernatural? It seems to me that the evidence of people’s attestations in historical records isn’t always self-evident to other people living at the same time & place.
You quoted Kydd writing about Tertullian:“The strength of his argument lay precisely in the fact that anyone could check to see whether there was evidence to support it. If there was no evidence, he would not have dared make these claims.”I could name several contemporary Christian “healers” who have not been able to produce any confirmatory evidence when challenged by sceptics but they still dare to make bold claims.

.                Phil McCheddar says: 
November 16, 2011 at 10:38 am 

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) wrote that gifts of tongues “used to occur but now no longer take place.” (Homily XXIX on Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians)
I wonder if Chrysostom would dared to have written that if all his contemporaries knew it was false, and I wonder if he would have jeopardised his ecclesiastical reputation by inviting his peers to laugh at him for making absurd remarks?
If I looked hard enough I might be able to compile an impressive list of other church fathers and theologians who wrote similar things, but it wouldn’t prove anything except that this issue has always been unproven and controversial in the post-apostolic church (but significantly not in the apostolic church).
“When did the gift of tongues cease? . . . To support their views, both sides turn to the church fathers. In citing patristic literature, they attempt to demonstrate either the cessation or the continuation of the charismatic gifts (depending on their perspective).” Nathan Busenitz ‘The Gift of Tongues: Comparing the Church Fathers with Contemporary Pentecostalism’ in The Master’s Seminary Journal 17/1 (Spring 2006) 61-78.

Phil,I agree with much of what you write. My point is that historians have to weigh the evidence. Your example of a 1000 years from now an historian seeing video of Benny Hinn needs to be counter-balanced by the fact that such future historians would also have access to critical reflections on Hinn. It is not simply a one-to-one correspondence between Tertullian and Hinn. Historians weigh the contextual factors. Let me give an example. Yale historian Ramsay MacMullen has written a fascinating book “Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D. 100-400″. He looks at the explosive growth of the church and examines the various factors that contributed to that growth. He comes to see that the chief factor is precisely what the early church said–namely the power displayed in exorcisms and healings. At one point he discusses Gregory “the wonder-worker.” He writes:
“Clearly some very large part of the population, one region in the province of Pontus, was won over to the church by Gregory the Wonder-worker in specific and identifiable decades–our only surviving account of any such event, however many others there may or must have been just like it. He succeeded perhaps in part through speaking publicly to groups. He is shown speaking like that, but confirming and instructing. No conversions are said to result. Rather, and expressly, conversions result from his supernatural acts; and, by implication and by position in the narrative, they are presented as the cause of the whole grand picture of his success in his campaigns against demonic hosts.
“The logic offered to account for the conversions he produced–that he or the divinity he invoked was of greater authority than the daimones, and that that power could both greatly help and greatly hurt one–fit altogether naturally with the logic described earlier (above, pp. 26ff.). No alternatives equally natural suggests itself, and none is attested.” (p. 61)
Again, I quote an actual historian to show some of the reasoning employed when they interpret the historical data. Not only is there the claim of supernatural activity but there is also the real historical circumstances that need to be explained. In this instance, the widespread conversion to Christianity in the first few centuries of the Roman Empire. Historians weigh all these factors–not just the claims to supernatural activity. My guess is that this is what would happen for any future historian 1000 years from now.
You make a few other comments about why the contemporary church is debating this and why isn’t is more obvious but I’ll have to get to those later (time permitting)–I do think there may be some answers to those questions.

Phil,I came across this on Chrysostom–you might find it interesting.
“But if you attack our [beliefs], O Jew,[*] what will you say in defense of the Old [Testament]? If someone were to say to you, “Why are the things of Moses true?” What would you say? “Because we believe them.” Certainly this is not any better than us, for we also believe, and you are but one nation, but we are of the whole world! You are convinced by the things of Moses, just as we are convinced by Christ, and what you make the end, we make the foundation. Do you believe because of the prophecies? But we have many more! So if you do away with ours, you overshadow your own as well. Do you believe because of miracles? But you have none to show except the signs of Moses, and these have come and gone. **But we have the miracles of Christ, which are varied and abundant, and which happen even to the present day, and we have prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun!** Do you believe because of the laws? But our philosophy is superior to these. Why then? Because he led you away from the bondage of the Egyptians? But this is not equal at all to the hostile world, which the Egyptians by themselves do not surpass.”
John Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 109 (LXX), from Patrologia Graeca 55.266-267, my (Alex Poulos) own translation.
This came from Alex Poulos at his website
Alex adds:
“I bolded (I added ** to mark this off–rjk) the part that jumped out at me. John’s line of reasoning is pretty interesting here. He doesn’t simply cite the miracles of Christ recorded in the gospels, but he cites the miracles that “happen even to the present day,” which is a much bolder claim. This also makes me wonder if the “prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun” might include more than the prophecies of Christ in the OT. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in mind. He may even have Christian prophets in mind as well, though that would be difficult to argue from this passage alone. The “but we have many more” would lead me to think he’s referring to prophecies that the Jews wouldn’t accept, which would include anything in the NT, but also extra-canonical Christian prophecy.”

.       Phil McCheddar says:
Thank you for your gentleness in picking my argument apart! I accept your point about historians interpreting all the evidence in a balanced way. You said that future historians would have access to [negatively] critical reflections on Hinn. Agreed. But do historians today have access to the responses of the Roman officials to whom Tertullian wrote? Would those Roman officials have bothered to reply to Tertullian’s appeal for clemency by rebutting his claims about miracles even if they thought Tertullian’s claims were rubbish? And even if they did, would they have published their rebuttal in a medium that would have been preserved as carefully as Tertullian’s own writings? Isn’t it more likely that in their arrogance the Roman officials would have felt no need to respond to Tertullian and may simply have ignored him as a crackpot, especially since (unlike Benny Hinn) there was no internet, blogosphere, MSM, Twitter, etc. where the merits of Tertullian’s arguments could be analysed and appluaded/rebutted by the general public? It will be interesting to see if CMP produces a list of quotations from the primitive church similar to the list Sam compiled but pointing in the opposite direction, as I’m not sure whether Sam garnered his list by cherry-picking or by making a comprehensive survey of all the historical evidence and distilling a balanced overview from it.
I am fascinated to find out more about Gregory the wonder-worker. I will google him later. Contrary to Ramsay MacMullen’s analysis, I don’t see the need to posit a rationale (such as miracles) for the copious conversions in Pontus. Can’t God’s Spirit convict and convert masses of people with or without secondary causes?
I cannot find any reference in the church fathers or in any Christian writing before the early 20th century that regarded the gift of tongues as a private intimate prayer language. It seems to have always been described as speaking a real human language that the speaker hadn’t learnt the hard way, and was primarily for the purpose of communicating to other people rather than God. Such a view of tongues seems to be extinct these days. Does that mean the gift of tongues has not been used as God intended for 1900 years?
.       Richard Klaus says:
First, thanks for the interchange of ideas. It is helping me formulate my thoughts. As I’ve read your comments on other threads here at P&P I have found them to be consistently helpful and charitable.
Again, there is much that we agree on. We are probably not that far apart theoretically (maybe even practically!) on these issues.
Regarding the discussion regarding Tertullian: I agree that historians may not have access to the Roman responses to Tertullian. My point was (and is) that historians weigh the contextual evidence for the claims. Does is make sense for Tertullian to appeal to alleged exorcisms and the public help rendered by them if they didn’t happen? Remember that he is appealing to a Roman magistrate—someone who has the power to persecute the church. In his letter to Scapula, who was the Proconsul of Carthage, Tertullian writes to him to avert persecution. He writes:
“All this [that is, evidence of Roman authorities not following up the case against Christians to persecute them-rjk] might officially be brought under your notice, and by the very advocates who are themselves also under obligations to us, although in court they give their voice as it suits them. For the clerk of one of them who was liable to be thrown upon the ground by an evil spirit, was set free from his affliction; as was also the relative of another, and the little boy of a third. And how many men of rank (to say nothing of common people) have been delivered from devils, and healed of diseases! Even Severus himself, the father of Antonine, was graciously mindful of the Christians. For he sought out the Christian Proculus, surnamed Torpacion, the steward of Eubrodias, and in gratitude for his once having cured him by anointing, he kept him in his palace till the day of his death.” (“Ad Scapula” iv)
Tertullian is not only claiming miraculous events but seeking to provide documentation suitable to his time and context in naming names of even ranking Roman officials that verify what he is saying. Of course, all this can be doubted and other explanations can be offered if one is seeking to dismiss Tertullian. Nevertheless, this is the kind of historical record that some historians find very compelling. I fear that sometimes people want the kind of evidence of which we do not have and so what is available is never good enough. I’m not saying you do this but historical questions can always be doubted since the discipline is not a science of certainty.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Rhetoric of "Fear-driven" Theology

I don't often engage in extended debates on blogs but I've been carrying on a conversation over at Emerging Scholars Blog with David Williams.  Williams has begun a series entitled "Why You Must Be Dying to Be a Christian Scholar" (part two is here and this is where my thoughts are contained in the comments section).

David is seeking to be a pastor to scholars.  Here are his own words:
The short answer is that I am doing what I can to help Christian scholars to integrate their faith with their scholarship. I am anInterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries staff person serving the students and faculty of New York University. So while I may not be a scholar per se, I am a pastor for scholars — for graduate students, faculty, and others engaged in post-graduate education. My calling is to help scholars and aspiring scholars to live out their callings by inviting and encouraging them to allow their faith to enrich their scholarship and to allow their scholarship to inform their faith.
David begins in part of one of his series speaking about his time at Westminster Theological Seminary when the controversy regarding Peter Enns was in full swing.  His main goal is to speak to the issue of how fear can motivate theological students and even theologians.  This fear can cause one to refuse to look at evidence in an open manner.  Along the way he makes some comments that I took issue with in regards to those who practice apologetics.  In particular he spoke of a division on the Westminster staff between those who practice biblical studies and those on the theological/apologetic faculty.  His presentation left no illusions as to who, in his mind, were the open minded ones.  He then went on to state:
So much of apologetics is just fear-driven theology. Too many apologetics are no more than just so stories that we tell ourselves to feel more secure.
Here are my comments and David's responses in italics.


1. Your comments regarding apologetics seem like an excessive psychologizing of one’s opponents–especially these comments: “So much of apologetics is just fear-driven theology. Too many apologetics are no more than just so stories that we tell ourselves to feel more secure.” This is not argument but borders on name-calling.

2. You speak of the resurrection of Jesus as being seemingly an irreducible minimum of Christian orthodoxy (“Would it logically entail that Jesus is not risen?”). What of different conceptions of the resurrection of Jesus? John Dominic Crossan has argued that the body of Jesus may have been eaten by dogs and the resurrection is a metaphor. John Shelby Spong argues the resurrection is something that happens inside of Peter and the other the disciples and not an event in history. Are these acceptable conceptions of the resurrection of Jesus? If not, are those who would argue against them motivated by fear and “just so” stories? 

Richard, thank you so much for commenting.
1. Let me clarify, I did not say, “All apologetics is just fear-driven theology.” I have a great deal of appreciation for apologetics when it is done well–when it is done without overreaching, special pleading and so on. In fact, I think that it is an integral part of the Christian scholar’s vocation to engage in apologetics where necessary. And I am more than happy to point to contemporary scholars who have taken up the task of Christian apologetics in very constructive ways: N.T. Wright, Alvin Plantinga, David Bentley Hart, Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, to name a few.

Nor did I necessarily mean those comments as a cheap dismissal of those with whom I disagree. What I am trying to do is speak to a pastoral concern, a spiritual condition–namely, fear that someone is going to take my faith or my assurance of salvation away from me–that keeps many people from engaging difficult data honestly. I think fear is a major road-block to a faithful integration of Christian faith and serious scholarship. I don’t know how many times I have seen people enabled to move forward in studying tough stuff by taking the time to step back and deal with their anxieties. I know I was only enabled to move out of a sort of knee-jerk defensiveness because I know I was only enabled to move out of a sort of knee-jerk defensiveness because I had teachers who showed me with their lives that Christian courage and intellectual honesty must go hand-in-hand.
2. That’s a really, really good question. Personally, I’m with N.T. Wright, Richard Hays and others in thinking that Crossan, Spong, & co. have not made their case for early Christians having taken resurrection as either a metaphor or a purely subjective experience. And I clearly do not think Spong or Crossan’s view of the resurrection is reconcilable with historic, mere Christianity.
As for people’s motives for arguing the case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, fear may be part of it. Of course. We are complex creatures. “And,” as Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile….” If I’m honest, Crossan and Spong’s views give me the heebie-jeebies. I’ve staked an awful lot of my life on the empty tomb. So, clearly, I don’t approach this question without some admixture of motives.
Nevertheless, I’m trying to be as balanced as I can in dealing with the evidence. While Wright’s case has a few chinks in it (e.g., there were, it seems to me, probably some ancient Jews who did not conceive of ‘anastasis’ as being bodily), I still think that his argument and conclusion is far more compelling than Crossan, Spong, et al. But, of course, I have a vested interest in Wright being right on this point and I need to own that fact.
Does that help any?


Thanks for your quick reply. Your comments are somewhat helpful but in others ways they miss the mark (at least for me!).

1. I don’t mean to be tedious but I did not say you said that “All apologetics is just fear-driven theology.” I very specifically quoted your original statement: “So much of apologetics is just fear-driven theology. Too many apologetics are no more than just so stories that we tell ourselves to feel more secure.” You, of course, did not use the word “all” but you did tend to dismiss “so much” of apologetics. You mention a number of names you find to be responsible apologists and none of them are in the Westminster tradition which you seemingly dismissed in your first post. Am I to assume that you believe the Westminster theological and apologetics faculty is pushing “fear-driven theology?”
2. You wrote: “Nor did I necessarily mean those comments as a cheap dismissal of those with whom I disagree.” I wonder how much latitude is laden in the word “necessarily?” The way I read your statement makes me wonder if you meaning to engage in a “cheap dismissal” of some of those you disagree with but not necessarily “all.” This would seem to fit the tone of your posts–at least to me.
3. Are you conflating your graduate school experiences at Westminster with those who are at the level of scholarship? I’m sure many who are entering their graduate level theological training face various levels of fear. But you seem to be claiming more. You structured the division at Westminster between Biblical studies professors and those from the theological/apologetics faculty. You seem to be arguing that the theological/apologetic side was motivated by fear rather than studied, reasoned arguments. Now, of course, you didn’t mention names but since you are speaking of theological/apologetic faculty at Westminster it’s not too hard to figure out who you are referring to with your pschologizing of fear as the (primary?) motive behind their concerns with Peter Enns. Does it further the cause of Christian scholarship to accuse those who disagree with you and your preferred teachers as motivated by fear? Shall we write off the arguments of someone like Greg Beale–someone who has examined the argumentation of Enns and yet argues that Enns’ views are deficient– as so much fear-mongering?
I began my initial post with a disclaimer and it seems I should add another: Not only am I neither a scholar nor the son of a scholar, neither am I a psychologist. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” As I already said, we’re all complex creatures, and I really have no interest in teasing out the motives underlying the actions and arguments of Westminster’s Apologetics and Theology faculty. That’s between them and God.
My interest is much more in the present and in enabling Christian scholars to do their work with integrity. In my experience, one cannot honestly engage with data if one is afraid to look at it or if one is more inclined to explain it away than to explain it. Fear prevents Christians from dealing with data. Fear makes us rely on shoddy slippery-slope arguments. If that’s not your problem, then good for you. But a lot of people can relate to fearful defensiveness as being the motive behind their “ready defense.”
The point of my posts is not to reopen the Westminster controversy, but rather to cast a vision for the Christian scholar’s vocation. The Westminster controversy played a significant role in shaping that vision (and me!) and that’s why I bring it up. There may be a place to get into the details of that debate, but this comment thread is probably not it.
Thanks for the continued interaction. I still think we may be missing each other a bit. I recognize your main point about fear and your desire to help scholars and would-be scholars engage in the pursuit of truth with openness and without fear. I’m not looking to reopen the Westminster controversy or go over its details. You brought up the division at Westminster between those who pursued biblical studies and those who were part of theological/apologetic faculty. You then later state that, “So much of apologetics is just fear-driven theology. Too many apologetics are no more than just so stories that we tell ourselves to feel more secure.” Now you mention you “have no interest in teasing out the motives underlying the actions and arguments of Westminster’s Apologetics and Theology faculty.” That’s fine. My question is how do you justify your assertion that “so much of apologetics is just fear-driven theology”? More specifically, is this a result of the conclusions drawn by those who seek to defend certain theological items? Is the accusation of “fear-driven” theology merely the result of someone holding different theological conclusions than you do? Since you wisely refuse to speculate on the internal states of certain Westminster faculty how is it that you justify your assertion of “fear-driven” theology? If I, for example, come to conclusions regarding the historicity of Adam that (1) are in conflict with Peter Enns and the Biologos crowd and (2) are more in line with a traditional viewpoint does this render my desire to defend this item a result of “fear-driven” theology? Again, the issue is how do you justify your assertion? How does one know when they are confronting “fear-driven” theology? If it’s not the conclusions that warrant the charge perhaps it is the method of reasoning involved. You mention “shoddy slippery-slope arguments.” Is this the element that is indicative of “fear-driven” theology? Can you help me with this? It still appears to me that some of your comments border on psychologizing name-calling.

My chief concern in this interchange is how some resort to name-calling to argue against more conservative theological positions.  It is too easy to resort to tossing around the charge of being "fear-driven" without actually engaging in rational theological debate.

*NOTE: Part two of this post is HERE which gives one more exchange.