On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

Weekly App Review: Reformation Study Bible

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The Reformation Study Bible App is an English Standard Version study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul. The app itself is very stable and easy to use. The Bible texts are easy to navigate and the features are simple to use. The app allows the user to reference over 20,000 study notes, which are generally insightful, intelligent and useful in a pinch. The app allows the user to search the text, take notes, and highlight passages. This app is pretty useful for simple and cursory study of texts.

The app also offers a handful of downloadable resources like a Strong’s Analytical Concordance, a Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary, a Bible Dictionary and Sproul’s devotional collection. The user can also download several additional translations. This app is feature heavy and the features are generally useful, though some of them, like the Mathew Henry Commentary or the Strong’s KJV concordance, are not. These two resources are ok, but are not the best of the best available.

The most important thing I can say about this app is that it is stable, fast and useful. The in-text notes are easy to pull up and typically give a good information when its needed. As a teacher, I use this app daily. It has replaced my Chain Reference Study Bible entirely.

I have occasionally found the search feature frustrating simply because it tends to be very unforgiving to variations in words. This is a particular detriment for a guy who had never used the ESV translation before now. Occasionally, the app gets hung up in the text preventing the user from accessing the features. This is generally fixed by simply restarting the app.

The Reformation Study Bible’s main weakness is the lack of depth of resources, but this is certainly excusable considering that it is essentially a Study Bible. For deeper study, I use the Logos Bible App. The Reformed Study Bible is faster and tends to be easier to use in relation to handling the scriptures directly. This is particularly the case when offline, which is no issue for the Reformation Study Bible App, but the Achilles heel of the Logos app.

Another weakness is with the fact that you cannot copy and paste text from the scripture you’re referencing. While not a fatal flaw, this feature would definitely be a useful addition to this app.

The Reformation Study Bible works well on both the iPad and iPhone. It’s a little easier to use on the iPad because of the larger screen. For $9.99, it is certainly one of the more pricey options for Bible apps, but I would argue that it is worth the price, particularly considering that most study Bibles will run you $30 plus.

Repost: 20 Scripture Twisting Techniques

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Up front I will acknowledge that this is a copy and past article I grabbed from the Fightingforthefaith.com website. Fighting for the FAith/Pirate Christian Radio is a podcast that takes the time to compare what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God. Its an excellent podcast, though I suggest that you come at with some pretty thick skin because it tends to be pretty forthright and unapologetic in its pursuit of proclaiming Biblical purity. I have been challenged significantly by this podcast.

That having been said, the text I borrowed is from a PDF linked on their home page right now called: The 20 Scripture Twisting Techniques of the Cults. Its worth knowing because it serves as a tremendous lens through which you can look at the scriptural citations used by anyone claiming to speak with Biblical authority on their side:

In light of the fact that far too many pastors are mangling and twisting God’s word in the exact same ways that the cults do, in order to protect yourself and your loved ones it is a good idea for you to acquaint yourself with James Sire’s book, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible. Here is a summary of Sire’s work.

1. INACCURATE QUOTATION: A biblical text is referred to but is either not quoted in the way the text appears in any standard translation or is wrongly attributed. Example: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says, “Christ said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.'” Whereas this text is found ONLY in Psalms.

2. TWISTED TRANSLATION: The biblical text is retranslated, not in accordance with sound Greek scholarship, to fit a preconceived teaching of a cult. Example: the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 as “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the word was a god.”

3. BIBLICAL HOOK: A text of Scripture is quoted primarily as a device to grasp the attention of readers or listeners and then followed by a teaching which is so nonbiblical that it would appear far more dubious to most people had it not been preceded by a reference to Scripture. Example: Mormon missionaries quote James 1:5 which promises God’s wisdom to those who ask him and, then, follow this by explaining that when Joseph Smith did this he was given a revelation from which he concluded that God the Father has a body.

4. IGNORING THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT: A text of Scripture is quoted but removed from the surrounding verses which form the immediate framework for its meaning. Example: Alan Watts quotes the first half of John 5:39 (“You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life”), claiming that Jesus was challenging His listeners’ over emphasis of the Old Testament, but the remainder of the immediate context reads, “and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (verses 39-40), which shows that Jesus was upholding the value of the Old Testament as a testimony to Himself.

5. COLLAPSING CONTEXTS: Two or more verses which have little or nothing to do with each other are put together as if one were a commentary of the other(s). Example: The

Mormons associate Jeremiah 1:5 with John 1:2,14 and thus imply that both verses talk about the premortal existence of all human beings; Jeremiah 1:5, however, speaks of God’s foreknowledge of Jeremiah (Not his premortal existence) and JOhn 1:2 refers to the pre- existence of God the Son and not to human beings in general.

6. OVERSPECIFICATION: A more detailed or specific conclusion than is legitimate is drawn from a biblical text. Example: The Mormon missionary manual quotes the parable of the virgins from Matthew 25:1-13 to document the concept that “mortality is a probationary period during which we prepare to meet God.” But the parable of the virgins could, and most probably does, mean something far less specific, for example, that human beings should be prepared at any time to meet God or to witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

7. WORD PLAY: A word or phrase from a biblical translation is examined and interpreted as if the revelation had been given in that language. Example: mary Bake Eddy says the

name Adam consist of two syllables, A DAM, which means an obstruction, in which case, Adam signifies “the obstacle which the serpent, sin, would impose between man and his Creator.”

8. THE FIGURATIVE FALLACY: Either (1) mistaking literal language for figurative language or (2)mistaking figurative language for literal language. Example of (1): Mary Baker

Eddy interprets EVENING as “mistiness of mortal thought; weariness of mortal mind; obscured views; peace and rest.” Example of (2): The Mormon theologian james Talmage interprets the prophesy that “thou shalt be brought down and speak out of the ground” to mean that God’s Word would come to people from the Book of Mormon which was taken out of the ground at the hill of Cumorah.

9. SPECULATIVE READINGS OF PREDICTIVE PROPHESY: A predictive prophesy is too readily explained by the occurance of specific events, despite the fact that equally

committed biblical scholars consider the interpretation highly dubious. Example: The stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph in Ezekiel 37:15- 23 are interpreted by the Mormons to mean the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

10. SAYING BUT NOT CITING: A writer says that the Bible says such and such but does not cite the specific text (which often indicates that there may be no such text at all).

Example: A common phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is not found in the Bible.

11. SELECTIVE CITING: To substantiate a given argument, only a limited number of text is quoted: the total teaching of Scripture on that subject would lead to a conclusion different

from that of the writer. Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses critique the traditional Christian notion of the Trinity without considering the full text which scholars use to substantiate the concept.

12. INADEQUATE EVIDENCE: A hasty generalization is drawn from too little evidence. Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that blood transfusion is nonbiblical, but the

biblical data that they cite fails either to speak directly to the issue or to adequately substantiate their teaching.

13. CONFUSED DEFINITION: A biblical term is misunderstood in such a way that an essential biblical doctrine is distorted or rejected. Example: one of Edgar Cayce’s followers confuses the eastern doctrine of reincarnation with the biblical doctrine of being born again.

14. IGNORING ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS: A specific interpretation given to a biblical text or set of text which could well be, and often have been, interpreted in quite a different fashion, but these alternatives are not considered. Example: Erich von Daniken asks why in Genesis 1:26 God speaks in the plural (“us”), suggesting that this is an oblique reference to God’s being one of many astronauts and failing to consider alternative explanations that either God was speaking as “Heaven’s king accompanied by His heavenly host” or that the plural prefigures the doctrine of the Trinity expressed more explicitly in the New Testament.

15. THE OBVIOUS FALLACY: Words like OBVIOUSLY, UNDOUBTEDLY, CERTAINLY, ALL REASONABLE PEOPLE HOLD THAT and so forth are substituted

for logical reasons. Example: Erich von daniken says, “Undoubtedly the Ark [of the Covenent] was electrically charged!”

16. VIRTUE BY ASSOCIATION: Either (1) a cult writer a ssociates his or her teaching with those of figures accepted as authoritative by traditional Christians; (2) cult writings are likened to the Bible; or (3) cult literature imitates the form of the Bible writing such that it sounds like the Bible. Example of (1): Rick Chapman list 21 gurus, including Jesus Christ, St. Francis and St. Theresa, that “you can’t go wrong with.” Example of (2): Juan Mascaro in his introduction to the Upanishads cites the New Testament, the Gospels, Ecclesiastes and the Psalms, from which he quotes passages supposedly paralleling the Upanishads. Example of (3): The Mormon DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS interweaves phrases from the Gospel of John and maintains a superficial similarity to the Gospel such that it seems to be like the Bible.

17. ESOTERIC INTERPRETATION: Under the assumption that the Bible contains hidden, esoteric, meaning which is open only to those who are initiated into its secrets, the

interpreter declares the significance of biblical passages without giving much, if any, explanation for his or her interpretation. Example: Mary Baker Eddy gives the meaning of the first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven,” as “Our Father- Mother God, all harmonious.”

18. SUPPLEMENTING BIBLICAL AUTHORITY: New revelation from post biblical prophets either replaces or is added to the Bible as authority. Example: The Mormons supplement the Bible with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

19. REJECTING BIBLICAL AUTHORITY: Either the Bible as a whole or texts from the Bible are examined and rejected because they do not square with other authorities – such as

reason or revelation = do not appear to agree with them. Example:Archie Matson holds that the Bible contains contradictions and that Jesus himself rejected the authority of the Old Testament when he contrasted His own views with it on the Sermon on the Mount.

20. WORLD-VIEW CONFUSION: Scriptural statements, stories, commands or symbols which have a particular meaning or set of meanings when taken within the intellectual and broadly cultural framework of the Bible itself are lifted out of that context, placed within the frame of reference of another system and thus given a meaning that markedly differs from their intended meaning. Example: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi interprets “Be still, and know that I am God” as meaning that each person should meditate and come to the realization that he is essentially Godhood itself.

Response to a comment on Part 3 of Defending the Faith Series

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Yesterday, while I was at work Random Ntryrgg posted a comment on Part 3 of my Defending the Faith series. After checking out the post, I set out to write a response. However, the initial comment was vague and so a lot of material needed to be covered to respond properly. The longer it got, the more it became clear that I would need to post a blog covering the material. This is good though, because the point of the series is to help believers respond to skeptics. This is a sort of principles in action example. It was also fun to do. So, here is the original comment:

Random Ntrygg posted:

well, the reason that secular thinkers don’t accept the evidence, is because there isn’t anythe bible gospels were not written by the so called witnesses – they were written decades after and are not eye witness accounts.

none of the historians of the day wrote about Jesus – there aren’t Roman records either, which, there would be if he was such an important figure as claimed.

the only accounts of him are the bible texts, which cannot be deemed as their own evidence – they are not corroborated with any records and do not match the actual known historical events.

King Herod was dead before Jesus was born, Nazareth didn’t exist until the 3rd century and it was a Roman village – Jews were never slaves in Egypt – so the bible stories start to fall apart in several places very rapidly.
Egyptians left detailed records of their daily lives at many social levels – the pyramid builders were paid free men, not slaves.

My Response:
Well, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist camp! I don’t know where to start! I will address all of your statements in turn. Though, first I will make the point that you are making broad statements without reference to any sources that support your positions. Its easy to attack when you don’t have to cite sources, just make unfounded claims. Also, this will be kinda long, because I will try to be more specific. Generalities tend to hide a lack of real thought and information.First, scholars do use the bible as a source. Both historians and archeologists frequently use the Biblical accounts as a point of reference because they have proven to be amazingly accurate regarding the details of ancient history, geography and the details of ancient life. By “scholars”, I assume you mean skeptics.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: The pyramids aren’t mentioned in the scriptures at all, much less in connection with the Jews as slaves in Egypt. Further, it has very little to do with the story of Christ. But, for arguments sake let’  s look at the claim. The pyramids were built in the 1600s BC, whereas the timeline for the scriptural account has the Exodus taking place in the 1440s (depending on whether or not you go with the Old theory or New Theory on the Exodus) either way… the whole pyramids thing is a straw man attack. That’s without discussing the Hebrew slave settlements that archeologists have recently uncovered in Egypt dating back to the time of the Exodus. Whoever sold you this bill of goods was pretty ignorant of the texts he was attacking.

I don’t know if you did this on purpose or not, but the Gospel texts do reference Nazareth. They do so before 70 AD (we have texts that reference it from pretty early on). You accuse the writers of the Gospels as having written the texts “decades” after the events. Then you indicate that Nazareth was a Roman town founded in the 300s. Christianity was illegal in the 300s. So, how did the writers come up with a town before it came about? You even acknowledge that it was referenced in text before the town was founded. Then, why did the Romans accommodate the Bible text by forming a town that fixed the backstory of the texts BEFORE Christianity was legal? These guys were still feeding Christians to lions at the time. Your argument falls apart upon further investigation. Let’s look deeper at the claim. This would mean that the authors came up with a town, wrote about it in their texts, and distributed their writings  IN Israel before the town existed. These guys would need to be idiots of the highest order. It’d be like me saying: Hey guys, we are going to Crazy Town! It’s a little town south of Chicago! Let’s go. To which everyone responds: “Where? You made that up!” You can’t lie to people who live directly in a community about the place they live. In addition, why would the Romans name a town with such a clearly Jewish name? They had long since exported the Jews and made the religion illegal in Palestine. Why gave it a Jewish flavored name? Further, can you site a source for this claim? I research a bit when I read your response, but it’s not a common point of knowledge. I’d love to read about it.

The lack of historians mentioning Jesus is a non-starter as well. The next post I will be putting up deals with this matter more directly, but for the sake of conversation let’ s look at the issue here briefly. Josephus is the obvious first guy to mention. Josephus is a historian who is well known, read and quoted. He references Jesus, John the Baptist and James, the author of the book of James. His mention of Jesus includes reference to the arrest and crucifixion. Even if you buy into the dubious claims regarding the texts of Josephus having been edited, very few historians believe that it was entirely added and no manuscripts exist that are completely missing the lines about Jesus. After Josephus, there is Cornelius Tacitus, who mentions Jesus by name and includes details of his execution by Pilate, who he refers to in a familiar manner. Tacitus was not a Christian, mind you, so he had no reason to generate a false report. Seutonius mentions Christ, though his name is Latinized in the text. He specifically references Christ in relation to followers who were banished from Rome during the reign of Claudius. This particular account confirms mention to the same event in the scriptures. Pliney the Younger references Christ in a letter to Emperor Trajan. Not the smallest mention is the Talmud. Now, an ounce of search engine work will produce arguments against the Talmud’s mentions of Jesus. However, I’d suggest you check out Peter Schafer’s book: “Jesus and the Talmud.” Schafer is a professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton and is an expert in Jewish mysticism, ancient Jewish history and Rabbinic Judaism. His book brings forward portions of the Talmud, which had been edited to remove references to Christ. He demonstrates that Jesus was extensively written about in the Talmud and that he was the topic of much discussion amongst the rabbis. Here again we see an external source referencing Jesus and claims regarding his life. The suggestion that there is no external historical reference to Christ is simply not true. This may seem like a lean collection of references, but Israel was a backwater nowhere country. The fact that anyone from the country is mentioned at all is amazing. The fact that Jesus is mentioned several times is fairly impressive considering the fact that he was a peasant whose public life lasted a scant 3-years and that he never left his backwater country to travel to anywhere important.

The suggestion that Herod was dead before Christ was born is based on incorrect assumptions regarding the date of Herod’s death. If we go by Josephus’ reference to an eclipse that took place before the death of Herod and that Passover followed shortly thereafter, we can pin the date of his death to between March 12th and April 11th 4 BC. This date is well within the potential dates for the birth of Christ, particularly based on the census that is referenced in the Gospels. There is record of a census in 6 BC that was organized by Quirinius. If Christ was born during the census, as the texts claim, it was YEARS before the death of Herod. Now, I assume you didn’t come up with this theory based on the idea that the birth of Jesus happened in 0 AD, as this was a date approximated by monks centuries later.

Now for the bigger topic. The texts as eyewitness accounts. I am guessing you didn’t bother to read my post thoroughly, because you really didn’t look at any of the arguments, but let’s start with the obvious stuff. The Bible is a single unit now, but was not assembled in that way until much later. For the purpose of testimony, the New Testament represents 7 separate accounts of varying specificity and strength. It may not be able to self verify, but we can compare the 7 accounts and determine their truthfulness based on consistency in the accounts given. Further, if folks watched Jesus being murdered then saw Him alive again, then their account would specifically mention that they saw him alive. This makes them religious documents by your standard, and therefore, unacceptable sources. So, regardless of whether or not Paul confirms Matthew, they are both religious documents, and therefore, not acceptable. All of the 7 available witness are collected into the New Testament and were collected as such by design because part of the intent of the Bible was to present the best possible case for the life and resurrection of Jesus. However, your standard eliminates the presented evidence because it has been assembled by ancient scholars in an effort to present the best possible case.

Now, you reference the Gospels as unreliable, but the Gospels aren’t the only accounts of the resurrection in the texts. Paul clearly indicates that he saw the risen Christ. All of his books are letters. It’s one thing to manufacture a biographical account, but Paul was generating correspondence to churches he had already planted. Thus, the dating is not particularly important because regardless of 1 year or 10 years worth of time passing between writing and occurrence, he was writing a piece of material that represented a particular interest at the moment. So, Paul is a fairly strong witness. He confirms Luke as his companion, thus offering support for Luke’s work. Luke was not an eyewitness. He clearly states that he is doing the job of a historian by researching and writing based on his research. His research includes interviewing witnesses! Luke isn’t Jewish and he isn’t from Israel. He was later executed for the things he professed to believe based on the eyewitness accounts he collected. Further, Luke was no one in particular. If he were generating a false report, why pick a nobody or indicate that he was interviewing witnesses? If he was lying, it would have made more sense to go with one of the prominent disciples in order to bolster his claims. As for the death of Paul, we have the work of Clement that confirms his execution for claiming that he saw Christ risen.

John was the only disciple to die of natural causes and to live to a ripe old age. He did so in Greece, where he led a church. He wrote his Gospel account in his old age along with several other works. This is a guy who knew Jesus personally. Further, we have the testimony of Ignatius and Polykarp, who both knew him and were his students. They offer strength to the idea that John wrote the Gospel of John as an eyewitness. Here again, the later date of writing doesn’t add much to the argument against John having written the text because outside witnesses confirm it. Within the text, we have John hiding his identity as being present. He doesn’t use his name, but rather refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. If the author of John were fabricating the text, why take on the persona of John, then hide it? That goes against the pattern of pseudoepigraphs from the ancient world. The reason you use a pen name is to give notoriety, not try to hide your identity.

As for Mark, we know it’s not an eyewitness account. Mark wrote what Peter told him. Peter was an eyewitness. We can connect Peter to Mark through Peter’s own writing, again in a letter. Mark is attributed as the author of Mark by Polykarp and the tradition of the early church. Luke’s history indicates that Mark met Peter decades after the resurrection. So, it’s unlikely that Mark could write Peter’s account earlier. This doesn’t negate the writing he did. Again, we have confirmation from outside sources that Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s testimony.

Matthew was the first Gospel text written. Some scholars attribute it to a date as early as 40 AD, though some time in the 50s seems more likely. One interesting supporting argument for the position is that Matthew doesn’t reference the destruction of the Temple, but does include prophecies of it happening. An anti-supernatural bias would dictate it’s writing after 70 AD based on the references to the destruction of the temple. However, the same logic would require Isaiah to have been written after Jesus because he displays knowledge of Jesus’ life 700 years before Christ was born. An objective perspective would argue that Matthew’s prophetic references to the destruction of the temple ought to be accompanied by pointing out that the temple had been destroyed! Or that Matthew’s pattern of subjects as presented in the Sermon on the Mount were reflected in the work of Paul and James. Both Paul and James were dead by 65 AD, thus dictating that they referenced Matthew’s work before they actually died, mainly because it’d be a real trick to pull off after being beheaded. Ultimately, your accusation at Matthew was written decades later is weak at best. On the long end, it was a little over a decade later, on the short end it was a couple of years. However, proximity of writing doesn’t equal authorship proof, as I have demonstrated with the previous 3 Gospels. I would argue that every early source points to Matthew as the author of the text, particularly Polykarp (who hung out with John). This is FAR more proof as to the authorship of Matthew than can be offered for an anonymous author. Ultimately, this theory didn’t show up until the uber-liberal German rationalists came along in the 1800’s. They offered NO proof from history to support their claims. All they had was guesses base on leaps of logic from suppositions grounded in speculation resting on a foundation of skepticism.

Now, let’s look at the broader problem with your accusations. How exactly did Christianity get rolling without any eyewitnesses? In particular, this took place where Jesus actually lived and taught. If it was all made up, how did they garner such success in the town where it all began? Wouldn’t the locals simply indicate that it was all made up? I could see if they did it in Greece exclusively, but in the capital of Israel where Jesus was crucified and resurrected!? Also, how did the authors of the 4 Gospels manage to generate accounts consistent on the major details, but spread out all over the world and written by guys with no direct connections to the event? If they colluded, how did they mess up minor details? Further, if Biblical Christianity was an invention of individuals decades after the fact, how did Christianity become so widely spread that by the 60s Nero was able to target a large community of Christians for persecution? Or Claudius a decade before? There had to have been a solid teaching about Jesus to distribute from early on. The most obvious option is Matthew, because of his influence on Paul and James. This requires a very early authorship of his book. It also accounts for the widespread usage of his book and the broad consensus regarding it’s origins. If another book had been the source of information regarding Jesus, it would certainly have survived antiquity.

I would also welcome you to have a look at the proximity of the writing of the scriptures to ANY other ancient account of events. The New Testament accounts were generally written very close to the events they refer to by ancient standards. Further, there are more manuscripts that date closer to the original documents than with any other ancient texts. By your standards most of ancient history is in question.

Also, the councils that assembled the full Bible, did so after extensive research. They set about creating the canon in 140 AD. They then researched the origins of the texts for 200 years. This research had the advantage of being much closer to the events of the scriptures and therefore it had resources we don’t. They were able to go the the churches and ask where they got their manuscripts and were able to prove that some ancient texts were psuedononymous. The assemblers of the canon demonstrated great care and high standards in dealing with the texts to ensure the apostolic authorship of the books and their authenticity. Books were carefully removed based on questionable authorship and inaccuracies to history. But hey, those guys believed what they were doing was a big deal and that doing it wrong put them in danger of hell, so naturally they would have falsified the documents to forward a fake message. Oh wait… that doesn’t seem right. That might work as an incentive to do it legitimately. Heck, they even excommunicated guys they discovered to have generated texts under false pretenses. I assume you discount their research because they believed in stuff.

I welcome responses. Please use sources next time, so it’s not like yer making it up off the top of your head. Thanks for responding as well! This was fun!!

Growing Out of Religion and Other Quests to Candyland

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The Christianity Today website posted a story this week detailing the findings of an Oxford study on the inclination of humans toward religious belief. The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project was aimed at improving the scientific and philosophical rigor with which religion is studied. The study revealed a plethora of information regarding the natural inclination of humans to be religious. Among other findings were the following little gems:

  • There is an innate tendency to believe in the supernatural or attribute supernatural characteristic to people or things among children.
  • People tend to look at the world around them as having a purpose or specific function. This is the case regardless of the persons presence in a scientifically advanced society or not.
  • Children and young adults find it easier to remember religious ideas.

The whole article can be found here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/goodreligion-aug11.html

It is not the primary focus of this post. The interesting thing that is mentioned in this article is the pains that the project directors went through to make the point that the study doesn’t prove the existence of God. Instead the directors indicated that both sides of the “does God exist” question could use the findings to argue their position. I tend to agree that both sides would simply integrate the results into their position. However, my inclination is that the findings show better for the God exists crowd (though I am biased). By this I mean that if the results had proven that people are innately non-believing, it would support the atheist side far more effectively.

The most interesting thing to glean from this discussion comes out when one of the directors argues that famed evolutionary biologist and new atheist guru, Richard Dawkins, would likely say: [that he] “would accept our findings and say we’ve got to grow out of it.” This hypothetical quote from the admitted atheist director of the project does a good job of portraying a bias and exposing a set of philosophical incongruities in the new atheist position.

From the new atheist position, the basic argument is: “religious tendencies are a product of natural selection that at some point in time furthered the genetic advance of the species.” I am not pulling this idea out of thin air. It is in fact one of the central tenets of the evolutionary ethics. Notions of right, wrong and religion evolved because humans living in society together needed such things to advance society, which helped with safer and more consistent breeding, which fulfilled the cold-hearted evolutionary mandate to reproduce. TA DA! Right, wrong and God are a product of Darwinian evolution. Personally, I don’t buy it.

There are a few problems with the response that we simply need to “grow out of it.” The biggest of these problems is that by deciding we need to grow out of religion specifically is a value judgment. Why religion and not morality? If right and wrong are only products of a biological system, why should we keep them? Nietzsche argued that once a man realizes that right and wrong are merely a matter of instinct, they are no longer bound to those ideas. Certainly the thinking is mirrored in the new atheist position regarding “growing out of religious belief.” However, they do not apply the logic consistently across the board…yet. If we realize that all beliefs are a product of biology and nothing more, then we can pitch them because they are of no real value.

Nietzsche argues that a man who realizes the meaninglessness of the world, and specifically right and wrong, can act in any way he chooses. All others are merely a herd. A man who realizes that he need not act according to herd instinct can do whatever he pleases.

We see this played out in the extreme amongst the Nazis in WWII. They selected the genetically inferior and eliminated them based on the notion that they were merely cleansing the gene pool. Certainly it wasn’t wrong because we are all animals and it was a Darwinian act of fixing the short circuit in “survival of the fittest” mandate caused by notions of traditional morality. Interestingly, this is the reasoning behind the science of eugenics. Cleanse the gene pool of unwanted waste through science. It is a founding set of ideas behind Planned Parenthood, which initially set out to eliminate the poor and minorities through the provision of free birth control. (I only mention it to make the point that it wasn’t just “over there” that is sort of thing took place.)

Admittedly, I am bringing this case to the extreme to make a point. The blind eye that the new atheists turn to their foundational assumptions regarding right and wrong is a significant philosophical inconsistency. It is one that they simply accept because they feel the need to attack and tear down without considering what will take the place of the institutions they are destroying. It will come back to bite us all later if it is victorious in the arena of ideas. The evolutionary biologists, who label ethics a product of biological fluke, are standing on a mountain composed of Western Christian values that they don’t want to lose and really don’t want to acknowledge. This is why religion needs to be tossed, but things like “human life has value” has to stay around. Their assumption that this value has more validity is based on an inconsistent philosophical assumption. In fact, if one goes by Darwinian thought, “life is cheap but persistent” is the rule. Survival of the fittest doesn’t leave room for “do the right thing even when you don’t want to” or “preserve the weak and innocent.” In the end, they have made themselves the arbiters of what out to stay and what needs to go. However, they have no authority for the long haul.

Nietzsche argues that the death of religion will result in a period of time when morals and values will remain, despite being remnants of the old ways. Over time, they will disappear as man realizes that they have no real authority. For a read on the appearance of the world without the basic value assumptions brought about by Christianity, check out the large countries where religion has been outlawed and eradicated by Marxism. As terrible as the atrocities committed by religious people over the centuries has been, they pale in comparison to the great atheists of history: Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed by atheist regimes in the 50 years since they came about. Even moving away from western countries, with their Judeo-Christian foundations, reveal very different attitudes regarding the sanctity of life, rights for women, etc.

Religion is the authority behind right and wrong. We cannot eliminate one and hope to preserve the other. Specifically, Christianity has made the Western world possible, and is the hidden source of the value assumptions of the new atheists who are crying for it to be purged.

Interlude: Sola Scriptura

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One of my favorite memories from my adolescent years is of arguing with my dad. Seems odd, right? I became a Christian when I was in Jr. High School and was excited to learn. One of the first Christian books I read was Luther’s Catechism. I read it because I wanted to know everything about God that I could possibly learn. I read and studied and absorbed. My father blessed me tremendously by pushing me to think about what I believed. His challenges to my thinking forced me to read the scriptures as a meter stick for my beliefs. Since then I have tried to practice this discipline in relation to my faith. When I read seminary texts, I try to check the scriptures to determine if the Bible supports the claims being made. When I read books from popular theologians, I read the Bible to determine the veracity of the claims. When I listen to sermons, I work to do the same thing. Measure, test and discern using the scriptures as the source for ultimate truth. Debating Bible with my father gave me this gift. At times, clever philosophies and theologies have come along only to be measured against the Word and judged accordingly. Let there be no doubt, at times I wanted them to be true, while at other times, I wanted to find them false. But my desires must always be subordinate to the will and truth of the God I serve. Paul pointed to the Berean church in Acts 17:10-12, referring to it as particularly noble because they tested everything he taught against the scriptures. Paul was happy that they questioned him and checked his teachings against the scriptures. Paul lived in a time rife with deceivers and false teachers, not unlike what we face today. In the wake of his ministry, Paul constantly battled false teachings, prompting him to say amazingly stern things to the effect of: if anyone teaches any gospel other than the one I taught, let them be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9) What is taught in the church matters. We must measure and test. I don’t have time to write the next installment of my love wins review. I will probably write it next week. However, I wanted to take a moment to comment on my observations of the discourse thus far. After all, the debate ought to be part of how we measure and test. That having been said, I have been reading blogs and articles, listening to podcasts and having conversations. The bluster, incredulity, name calling and condemnation has been more distasteful than anything else. Now, I have read a few great articles and discussions from a variety of sources. I have also read some dump and mindless articles. One of the more discouraging trends that I have encountered time and again is scant discussion of the scriptures and facts. I suspect this is a product of the appalling degree of Biblical and theological illiteracy in the church. We have so much freedom and so many available resources that they have lost all value. In the end, if we are going to discuss the matter, the only thing of importance is the scriptures. Period. Sure, it is difficult to think that people may go to hell. Its a sad possibility, but that isn’t enough to make the scripture supporting the existence of hell null and void. Only God can decide the truth of the existence of eternal punishment or salvation by faith in Christ. God gives us the truth in the scriptures and only they can act as the arbiters of truth. If we are to debate, let us do so with the scriptures. This makes it tough because it’s easy to love Rob Bell. We want to defend Bell because we love him. Others want to attack him because they loathe him. It doesn’t matter either way. We can only look to the scriptures for truth. Love him or hate him, measure the truth of all teachings against the word of God. I rather like Bell, but I will not choose any teaching over the plain message the scriptures. Don’t argue about the other guy’s argumentation style, argue their scriptures. Nothing else matters. The most important lesson I learned from arguing with my dad is that the best way to learn is to study and read in pursuit of the truth. If this debate has caught your attention and gotten your blood boiling… Read the scriptures and study. Then the goal ceases to be defeating the evil heretic or the stiff necked evangelical and becomes about learning who our God is so that we can take a closer walk with him.

Say it ain’t so: Review of Love Wins pt. 3

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I have had a great 12-year stretch working with adolescents. During that time, I have found myself responding time and again to one of the great choruses of the adolescent subculture: “lots of people are saying…” Please note that various covers of this age-old tune have come out. These include: “everybody thinks so,” “everybody knows,” etc. What I have discovered in the last 12 years is that scratching below the surface will invariably result in “everybody” or “lots of people” turning out to be “the three guys I gossip with.” The strength of the argument is that it presents a sense of large and unified opinion backing the spurious statement being made, thus solidifying it as fact. This type of argument is called “argumentum ad populum.” It is a logical fallacy and is not a solid basis for a line of reasoning. We might see this in the statement: “Justin Bieber sells lots of records; therefore, he is the greatest singer EVER!” This statement is clearly wrong and clearly made by a 13 year old girl. Just because lots of people think its true, doesn’t make it any less true that Johnny Cash is actually the greatest singer ever. (Hey! My philosophy degree isn’t quite as useless as all that!) This is the central argument behind the chapter in Love Wins dealing with the tradition of the church regarding universal salvation.

Bell appeals to the early church fathers for support to the idea that universalism has always been around, we just ignore it most of the time because it isn’t orthodox. Please note that this is similar, but not identical to, a more common approach for demonstrating theological truth through appeal to the early church fathers. The proper way to look to the early church fathers as a measure for the validity of theological concepts is to consider their reflection of the teaching of the apostles, and Christ through them. This isn’t the same as appealing to the opinion of the masses, as is the case with the ad populum argument. It is appealing to the teachings of Christ directly. The thinking goes: “If Jesus taught the disciples stuff and they taught it later, then they must be teaching what Jesus taught.” Jesus is authoritative primarily because he was God. There is a collection of books called the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which features the collected writings of all of those guys from before the Nicene Creed was written (that was a basic statement of the beliefs of the church regarding Jesus, the Trinity, etc. Google it! It’s important!). Theologians will frequently look at these guys’ writings to establish things about the early church. This frequently includes the usage of words (check out the long boring part 2 of my Rob Bell Love Wins review), minutia of history that is lost otherwise, some theological ideas, etc. We find Bell referring to this collection of books when he speaks of Clement and Origen in his chapter on how universalism “everyone-goes-to-heavenism-but-it’s-not-universalism-for-some-reason” was a part of Christian thought since the beginning of the church. Clement and Origen are generally credited with coming up with the Universalist theology, which makes it odd to point to them because the stuff they taught has ALWAYS been labeled universalism even though Bell repeatedly denies universalism in his book… but I digress. Now, for this to be a valid argument from authority, it would need to be established that Clement and Origen got their teaching from Jesus or one of the apostles. The problem is that Origen was pretty open about the fact that he had synthesized Platonic philosophy (a Greek pagan guy’s writing) with Christian Theology, which is actual origin (pun) of this doctrine. This negates that apostolic authority that is sought by those appealing to Origen and Clement. Because Origen is open in his indication that the idea of universal salvation came from non-Biblical sources, it is his opinion rather than apostolic authority. Thus appealing to him and those who were taught by/agree with him is an appeal to popular opinion (ad populum). The lack of apostolic teaching is further demonstrated by the fact that this idea didn’t appear until 250 AD. 
This is in the ballpark of 150 years after the last apostle’s death. It simply was not a teaching of the apostles at all.

In addition, Bell appeals to their teaching as a demonstration that there has always been an element of universalism “everyone-goes-to-heavenism-but-it’s-not-universalism-for-some-reason” in the church, without actually revealing what it was that they taught. This is problematic. Clement was not overt in his teaching of Universalism. Origen, his student, taught that all things would be restored to God, which Bell resonates with as a central point in his “everybody says so argument.” For Origen, this included the devil and the fallen angels, who would repent and go to heaven. Further, Origen argued that our freedom to reject God through sin results in repeated casting to hell and restoration to heaven for ALL people throughout eternity. Now, Bell isn’t pointing to these arguments as true, but he is pointing to the guy who said this stuff as an authority of some sort. This is somewhat akin to saying “the crazy cat woman down the street thinks so.” (Please note that I am being a little tongue in cheek. Origen did make some useful contributions to church history.)

Now, Clement and Origen did have a school in Alexandria that taught this universalism “everyone-goes-to-heavenism-but-it’s-not-universalism-for-some-reason.” By all accounts it remained prominent for quite a while. This leads to the second half of the argument regarding the presence of universalism “everyone-goes-to-heavenism-but-it’s-not-universalism-for-some-reason” in church history. Bell points to Clement and Origen as holding the belief. He then goes on to list several well-known names that acknowledge the presence of universalism “everyone-goes-to-heavenism-but-it’s-not-universalism-for-some-reason” in the church. These names include: Jerome, Augustine, Eusebius, Gregory, Basil, etc. Now, it’s key to note that around 250 AD Origen was teaching heavily. Augustine and Jerome wrote in the early 400s AD. Eusebius wrote in the late 300s AD. Basil and Gregory wrote in the mid 300s AD.  This puts the full breadth of the witnesses supporting/mentioning the doctrine to a 50-150 year stretch, with a heavy emphasis on 50. Now, it is also important to note that this rash of sightings of Universalists during this era is easily accounted for. There was a school teaching it. I drive by the Humvee factory on the way to work every day. I frequently see Humvees on the road on their way to the train yards for shipping. Therefore, lots of people drive Humvees because I see them every day. Lots of people has always driven Humvees because I see them every day. Henry Ford taught about the importance of Humvee maintenance… He must have because I see so many people driving them. Everybody thinks so. See the problem? Bell makes a moment in history seem like an eternity. The total argument is not based on apostolic authority, but an appeal to ad populum for authority. Worse still, its ad populum that simply doesn’t exist beyond a short stretch in the history of the early church.

The only other name mentioned is Luther. Martin Luther is cited in a letter, responding to a friend’s inquiry about God forgiving those in Hell. His response essentially was: “God can do anything He wants.” This is far from a point of doctrinal support, particularly in light of the fact that Luther wrote about Hell quite a bit. Luther’s larger writings on the subject are neglected, probably because it doesn’t support the premise.

There you have it. That is the full breadth of the “lots of people in the Christian tradition held this view” support that is pointed to in the book. It’s just not true. In my research, I have found the suggestion from historians (I’d have to look it up and I need to cook lunch for my wife so I won’t. E-mail me if you want names) that this particular theology came about as a result of Platonism’s infusion with the church and died out again quickly because of the lack of scriptural support. This does happen with various doctrines. Popular culture and philosophy makes in-roads into the church and ultimately the influence dies.

Now, we CAN learn from the early church fathers regarding the doctrine of hell. Polycarp was a student of John the Beloved Disciple. This was the guy who leaned on the breast of Christ at the last supper. He was one of the infamous “sons of thunder.” He wrote 5 New Testament books. Irenaeus was Polycarp’s student and wrote about his life. In Irenaeus’ writing there is a clear acknowledgement of eternal hell. This is a real point of apostolic ascendancy. The teaching has a clear line from the apostles to these guys. They don’t acknowledge Plato or any philosophers as sources for ideas. In addition, their teachings appear in the second century. Earlier than the third century when universalism popped up. This is not an example of “everybody says so.” This is an appeal to authority to establish fact. It is also neglected in the explanation of the vast stream of Christian tradition referred to vaguely in Love Wins.

What is the point? Simple, Bell’s argument that the church has always held these beliefs is spurious. Even if there is a history of the doctrine, it runs contrary to the teachings of the disciples and is demonstrably the result of synthesizing philosophy and Christianity.

I will take this moment to reiterate something. I am not taking joy in this effort. I am (was) (maybe am still I am unsure) a Rob Bell fan. I am not certain what to do with any of this. I will point out falsehood, though with a heavy heart. I am not trying to play gotcha at all. This is about the basic facts of the discussion that are glossed over in Bell’s book. Basic facts that most people lack the resources to research. Instead, they look to shepherds and teachers for guidance and education. It is appalling to me that they are taught shoddily. The mantle of ‘teacher of God’s people’ is one that should be taken up with fear and trembling. The whole thing saddens me.