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Good, Right, and Salutary Certainty vs. Brian McLaren, “Bible 3.0″ and Protestant Confessionalism?

What hath Brian D. McLaren in common with Karl Barth - and relatively recent Reformed theology?  Or no?

What hath Brian D. McLaren in common with Karl Barth – and most Reformed theology? Or no?

The issue of certainty – particularly as it regards the certainty of one’s salvation – has always been a monumental issue for Lutherans (read here).  This is one reason why Kierkegaard, for example, discussed in my last post, does not adequately represent the Lutheran tradition.  Kierkegaard wrote a lot to make persons doubt their Christianity, but not much to give them certainty about it….

Hence, I was quite surprised when I read in in the apologetics textbook by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons that as regards evidentialist apologists…:

“It is surely no accident that theological traditions that downplay or deny human certainty about one’s salvation also downplay or deny the possibility of rational certainty in apologetic argument. Arminians and Lutherans believe that Christians should be reasonably confident of their salvation but should not expect to be absolutely certain of it….” (p. 493)

“Good grief, I thought – what kind of impression have confessional Lutherans been giving?” Lumped in with Arminians and those who have no certainty of salvation in an otherwise superior apologetics textbook! (I have run into this issue in the past, but I was not aware of how widespread this misconception is). On the other hand, Boa and Bowman say that “Reformed theology emphasizes personal assurance of salvation based on the certainty of God’s sovereign purpose and his promise in Scripture…” (p. 494)  That might be the case, but there are good reasons for questioning just how assuring this assurance is (see here for a short post summing up my amazement at the positions of Roman Catholic Andrew Preslar and the Reformed apologist Steve Hays).  From our side of the fence, let me be very clear: Lutherans insist that we can be certain – should be certain! – that we are in a “state of grace”, or that we are at peace with God (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).

So the other morning I also came across this interesting bit from that same textbook:

“Fideists may even agree with postmodernists that some contemporary forms of apologetics operate under hidden modernist assumptions. The apologist should take this concern seriously. While we should not abandon our belief in absolute truth and the objectivity in reality, we ought to acknowledge that all human knowledge – even the knowledge that Christians have from reading the Bible – is partial, imperfect, and held from a limited point of view. In Scripture we have absolute truth presented to us, but we do not have absolute knowledge of absolute truth.” (p. 492, Boa and Bowman)

And so now, in the context of this apologetics textbook, we begin talking about certainty regarding one’s theology as well. Today, it is generally held that Christians of all stripes who take the Bible seriously should not be too tenacious in their own commitments. Children of Immanuel Kant all, when we discuss the Bible we are supposed to talk about our “perspectives” on the text.  We are not supposed to say things like “this is what the Bible actually says”, or, “what my church teaches is true” or, perhaps the biggest no-no of all: “by virtue of our doctrine, we are the church”.

Well. I could not help but think about that when I heard about a recent article talking about Brian McClaren’s “Bible 3.0” (talked about by Pastor Jonathan Fisk on Issues ETC the other day)

From the article that talks about this we read

What is different about this era, that is key to Bible 3.0, is the fact that everyone can now be involved in challenging not just what the Bible says, but the way we have traditionally understood what it says. “It’s not just that it’s being challenged and contested, it’s that everybody knows it is being challenged and contested.”….

….The very fact that so many people are now aware of how many different interpretations there are of single passages or entire books of the Bible is helping to move us into the era of Bible 3.0. Under Bible 3.0, he says, it doesn’t matter that the Bible is inerrant, because so many us derive completely different meanings from the same inspired, inerrant texts.

I think it does us well to see how what McClaren says here has some significance – at least as regards certain quarters of Protestant confessionalism.  From what I have come to learn (and feel free to attempt to unlearn me), we do not all view the meaning and significance of our confessional statements in the same way.  Check out this post from the LC-MS President Matthew Harrison quoting the 20th c. Lutheran saint Herman Sasse here.*

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: "A church without patristics turns into a sect."  Has the confessional age for Lutherans also come to an end?

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: “A church without patristics turns into a sect.” Has the confessional age for Lutherans also come to an end?  See here.

And this brings me back to the first quote from Boa and Bowman as I think there is a potential problem with what they say.  While on the one hand we can talk about our knowledge being “partial, imperfect, and held from a limited point of view” we should be more ready to talk about how it can also be sure, certain, and true – even if mystery remains and our knowledge has not been brought to its completion.

As Luther said, the Holy Spirit is no skeptic. This will be challenged of course, but the Lutheran Reformers – and it appears some of the very first Reformed confessors (again see the Harrison post mentioned above) – took this kind of approach for granted. And I suggest that it is precisely because of this stubbornness – faithfulness – that they were able to hold the line and preserve the heart of the Gospel against Rome who would make such certainty null and void.

And further, it is also because of this point of view that we can have good reasons for explaining how it is that Christians exist even in what we have called “heterodox” churches: because wherever the clear words of the Gospel are preached – drawn from the pure well of the Holy Scriptures – persons will be brought to faith in him.

I would suggest that this whole idea of surety and certainty is not a modernist point of view, but an ancient Christian point of view.

To read more about this kind of thing, you can look at a couple posts I did several years ago about the “arrogance of the infant”, making the connection of child-like faith with Lutheran theology (here and here)

FIN

 

Notes

*Also this short post.

McClaren image: thepublicqueue.com

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Coming to grips with Kierkegaard’s apologetic: the tyranny of faith in faith and the comfort of faith in facts

Kierkegaard: right on trust and loyalty?

Kierkegaard: the arguments against Christianity arise out of insubordination, reluctance to obey, mutiny against all authority.

Just the other morning (when I wrote this) my just-turned-two-year old got up early, presumably to hang out with me.  He didn’t talk much (never does) – seemed clear to me that he just wanted to be with me. To be in my presence. Before leaving for work I returned him to his mother in bed, gave him and her a kiss, and said goodbye. He just seemed to be taking it all in.

God designed life to be based on love, trust and character.  Insofar as our modern scientific ideas, methods and “successes” necessarily take us away from these things we are only poorer.

There is a lot of food for thought in the writings of a man like the 19th c. Danish – and Lutheran – philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. I particularly have been struck by this passage every time I read it:

“It is claimed that arguments against Christianity arise out of doubt. This is a total misunderstanding. The arguments against Christianity arise out of insubordination, reluctance to obey, mutiny against all authority. Therefore, until now the battle against objections has been shadow-boxing, because it has been intellectual combat with doubt instead of being ethical combat against mutiny” (JP 778, 1:359, quoted in Boa and Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons, p. 367)

While I think the Great Dane was definitely on to something here, I would question whether or not doubt and insubordination can be so finely distinguished. The early 20th century Lutheran theologian Francis Peiper was always pointing out the sinfulness of doubt, and warning us not to excuse it. Further, Jesus notes that anyone who puts His teaching into practice – note not those who don’t – will find out whether it comes from God.

Again, with this qualified praise, I note that there is much that is not so good. For example:

“Away with all this world history and reasons and proofs for the truth of Christianity: there is only one proof – that of faith. If I actually have a firm conviction (and this, to be sure, is a qualification of intense inwardness oriented to spirit), then to me my firm conviction is higher than reasons: it is actually the conviction which sustains the reasons, not the reasons which sustain the convictions” (JP 3608, 3:663, in Boa and Bowman, 387).

I do think that Kierkegaard’s concern to defend faith’s tenacity is good, but that this goes too far.  While he is in effect encouraging faith in faith, the ultimate “reasons” for faith – given to us in human words – are simply the Spirit’s revelation to us today that God is the friend of sinners in the historical person of Jesus Christ – even you and me.  This, I submit, is what forms the people of conviction Kierkegaard wants – and these are people who continually live from that which comes into them from outside of them.  Eager to counter the thoughts of Enlightenment deists and the like, Kierkegaard was concerned to make clear that Christian faith was not about living a respectable moral life – or even simply asserting as true certain propositions about God and what He had done in history (like the resurrection of Jesus Christ for example) – and then thinking that just because one believes these things (in some sense), one is necessarily “OK with God”.  He, rightly, wanted to emphasize that faith was trusting a Person.  But Kierkegaard overcompensates here, and falls off the other side of the horse.*

As far as I am concerned, Boa and Bowman, in their textbook on apologetics, Faith Has its Reasons, reveal how matters become yet worse:

Pure fideism: Evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch (1928-2010) grounds faith “on evidence that faith itself provides”.

Pure fideism: Evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch (1928-2010) grounds faith “on evidence that faith itself provides”.**

[Kierkegaard says that] “Faith’s conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought… Faith, the man of faith’s conflict with the world, is a battle of character” (JP 1129, 2:14; cf. 1154, 2:25). [He] quotes with approval Pascal’s statement, ‘The reason it is so difficult to believe is that it is so difficult to obey” (JP 3103, 3:418).

Quoting other fideists, Boa and Bowman go on to say:

Bloesch agrees, stating that ‘the basic problem in evangelism is not just lack of knowledge of the gospel – it is a lack of the will to believe.’ Karl Barth also views faith as essentially a response of obedience to the truth. Faith is ‘knowledge of the truth solely in virtue of the fact that the truth is spoken to us to which we respond in pure obedience.” (p. 367)

In this, I submit that what was fought for in the Reformation – the possibility for all those with frightened consciences to know that they are at peace with God – leaves the building. Trust makes love grow, and along with this, trust does indeed become insurmountable loyalty. What theologians like Bloesch, and Barth [and Bonhoeffer] – and it seems Kiekegaard as well – do not understand is that while the Scriptures can talk about faith in terms of obedience, the fundamental ground of faith – something we never get past – is simple child-like trust.  In spite of the sin that persists, little ones cling to their parents when they are with them, when they tell them they love them, and when they forgive them time and again, covering their sins.  So it is to be with us and the Lord.  With seventy-times seven forgiveness, His mercies are new every morning, and we – in spite of the evil we know, fight, and desire to put down forever – may rest in peace in His presence.

“Faith is obedience…..” Again, in some contexts, this kind of talk is acceptable, for Scripture itself speaks this way.  But in other contexts, the first Reformers recognized that such words can be doubt-inducing and faith-destroying.  Eager to counter a nominal Christianity which is moralistically and therapeutically deistic (again, back then “respectability” was often the term of choice to deride such false forms of Christianity) and hastily feigns adherence to creeds, here we see overcompensation again, and a basic failure to rightly distinguish God’s Law and Gospel.

God’s work in history – the benefits which come to us today as He speaks hearty words of Spirit and life – is for each one of us!  His blood is “given and shed” for us. The benefits of the baptism He underwent at the cross become ours as we are baptized – through water and the word! – into His death. His words “your sins are forgiven”, “peace be with you” are applied to us personally through those He has ordained – both informally and formally – to meet us in our time of need, broken in our sin.

Kierkegaard, just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong: “Faith is not a form of knowledge”. “The conclusion of belief is not so much a conclusion as a resolution.”  It is achieved “not by knowledge but by will.”… “certainty and passion do not go together.”  “faith… has in every moment the infinite dialectic of uncertainty present with it.” – quoted in Harold DeWorf, The Religious Revolt Against Reason, pp. 81-82

Kierkegaard, just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong: “Faith is not a form of knowledge”. “The conclusion of belief is not so much a conclusion as a resolution.” “[It is achieved] not by knowledge but by will.”… “certainty and passion do not go together.” “faith… has in every moment the infinite dialectic of uncertainty present with it.” – quoted in Harold DeWorf, The Religious Revolt Against Reason, pp. 81-82, 1949

Again, these facts – these truths – are found in the transforming words of the Holy Spirit testifying to Christ and with Christ: “my words are Spirit and life”…. “man [lives by] every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”… “the word of the Lord stands forever”. If these are not glorious “timeless truths” for us – since God has in fact and does in fact reveal them to us in time – they are certainly truths we know – or should know! – to be permanent and dependable.

Notably, all of the things that we have been talking about above go hand in hand with concerns about apologetics. Here again, Kiekegaard’s words challenge:

“If one were to describe the whole orthodox apologetical effort in one single sentence, but also with categorical precision, one might say that it has the intent to make Christianity plausible. To this one might add that, if this were to succeed, then would this effort have the ironical fate that precisely on the day of its triumph it would have lost everything and entirely quashed Christianity” (Boa and Bowman, 349, emphasis Kierkegaard’s).

Again, he is on to something. I also have been pointing out that is we are going to use arguments based on probability, we need to be very explicit about how these are not the main things we want to talk about (see here).  We want to deal with certainties – not in the sense of Rene Descartes – but in the sense of what Martin Luther highlighted.

I can only wonder though, whether or not Soren Kierkegaard would have embraced strong and certain words like the following from Lutheran pastor John Bombaro:

With his resurrection and ascension Jesus is hailed as the world’s rightful King and vindicated in all he said and did.

"I do not think Kierkegaard would be happy, or would agree, with that which has developed from his thinking... what he wrote gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith." -- Francis Schaeffer, in Boa and Bowman, 450.

“I do not think Kierkegaard would be happy, or would agree, with that which has developed from his thinking… what he wrote gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith.” — Francis Schaeffer, in Boa and Bowman, 450.

He inherits the earthly kingdom from his Father. Jesus rules and reigns, and he does so through the kingdom of God now being manifested on earth through love, mercy, peace and grace. Now the King busies himself with applying the spoils of his great victory over God’s true enemies of sin, guilt, death, and the evil one. He urgently applies his accomplished redemption through very personal, very specific means with haste. There is urgency in the mission of the King: for whereas in former times of ignorance “God overlooked” our treason until sin could be dealt with, “now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has pointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The day of grace and forebearance of Christ’s rule will have an end and all those who abide in treason against the Son will themselves bear the judgment of the Last Day when it will be too late.” (John Bombaro, “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, ed. By Maas and Francisco, p. 134)

All our modern epistemological angst aside, according to the Apostle Paul, this work of God through Christ in history is what God calls assurance, or perhaps better, proof.*** This “apologetic”**** from the Lord’s apostle himself (and I don’t even think any liberal Bible scholar has suggested Paul did not say these words) does not deal with making any historical case for Christ based on probabilities. It seems quite clear to me that this is the kind of “apologetic” we should often be eager to present and let linger.

I can only wonder how many modern Lutheran apologists are willing to suggest the same.  Again, see my three part series taking a critical look at modern Lutheran apologetics, through the person of John Warwick Montgomery (see the introduction and part I, part II and part III)*****

FIN

 

 

*Undoubtedly, knowledge is found in commitment by the knowing subject as he seeks to know. That said, the knowledge found in commitment begins with God’s commitment towards us – and our passive reception of His gifts!  Here, we would want to emphasize that as persons takes good words to heart and reflect on their content, God’s Spirit grants both repentance and faith, transforming them and revealing to them that these words are true for them personally.  The content of the creeds is for you.

**On the other hand, he does quote approvingly P.T. Forsyth, in a quote that seems a bit more reasonable and careful: “We have not two certitudes about these supreme matters produced by authority and experience, but one, produced by authority in experience; not a certitude produced by authority and then corroborated by experience, but one produced by an authority active only in experience, and especially the corporate experience of a Church.” (quote in Boa and Bowman, p. 388).  This reminds me of one of the interesting assertions of the early 18th c. idealist (the first idealist perhaps – Kant’s version of this coming later on is quite different), Bishop George Berkeley (who UC-Berkeley is named after today).  While clearly radical in suggesting that there was not material world which formed the perceptions/ideas in our minds, he did say “of these ideas that we perceive their essence is to be perceived” which rightly takes into account and assumes God’s design of the world and His purposes in the world (as opposed to materialisitc views of the world that do not presume this ; surprisingly Berkeley, who never did say “to exist is to be perceived” was not seen as a rationalist but a kind of empiricist [though a radical one] – see more here).  In any case, here is where Lutherans are keen to emphasize the objectivity of justification (the good kind of “objective justification” – see here), in order to make sure that the comfort found in the fact that “God justifies the wicked” (Rom. 4:5-8) is not denied.  For in the terrors of conscience, we do indeed know ourselves – rightly so! – to be those who violate God’s Law in wickedness.

***In his 1949 work The Religious Revolt Against Reason, Harold DeWorf wrote explaining the “charges against reason” (by Kiekegaard and other fideists): “When a finite human being, subject to all the errors and self-deceits which are the common lot of man, supposes that he can by his own powers arrive at conclusions about God and his own destiny, and that he can by such means know these conclusions with certainty, he must have forgotten what manner of being he is.” (p. 78) Of course prior to the Fall, man, being in fellowship with God, readily received all that the Lord had to give. As John Bombaro points out (see last post), God now comes to us in the incarnation and this has huge implications:

“God has made himself known and knowable through specificity…. [this] pursues us from the tyranny of having to pursue and find this God. He has made himself known and made himself known in spades in deeply meaningful ways…. Particularity and the specificity and indeed the exclusivity of the means – this is good news for humanity because otherwise we would be lost in the morass of religion which we find everywhere as people scramble trying to reach the transcendent one…. But the Transcendent One has come to us….supremely in Jesus of Nazareth. Particularity in Christianity is actually the glory of the Gospel because it has freed us, liberated us, from the madness of trying to find God on our own….” (see here, around 21 and 23 minutes respectively)

If we look at passages like Acts 17:31 in this way, we can then see that Paul’s announcement that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is “proof” can be pure Gospel not only in the sense that the Lord will save us and deliver us from our enemies by judging them, but also by doing what Bombaro says:  liberating us from the madness of trying to find God on our own.

****As I noted earlier:

“The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is usually classified as belonging to the “fideist” school of Christian apologetics, Basically, Kierkegaard says that there is something very suspect about a question like “What is the proper object of faith?”.  He says that to answer such a question is like a lover attempting to reply to the query, “Could you love another woman?”

This is another powerful point, and I think is fatal to some, but not all, forms of evidential apologetics.

*****Paul is not so much giving a defense of the Christian faith as much as he is trying to actively share the Gospel in thought-forms that would resonate with his Greek audience. It makes sense to see this speech as connected with apologetics though, which deals with matters of evidence (I John 1), reasoning (I Peter 3:15-16), persuasion, proof (Acts – to both Jews and Gentiles) etc…. – whether one talks about defense or “offense”.

 

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Kingdom of God and the High Treason of Earthly Kingdoms (or Man’s, not God’s, Problem With Evil)

This [particularity] really is good news. There is no scandal to particularity. The scandal has to do with rebellion. – John Bombaro (listen to more excellent commentary from Pastor Bombaro here)

“This [particularity] really is good news. There is no scandal to particularity. The scandal has to do with rebellion.” – John Bombaro (listen to more excellent commentary from Pastor Bombaro here)

‘Fear you all who rule over the earth.

‘Know you nations and peoples that Christ is our God.

‘For he spoke and they came to being, he commanded and they were created; he put everything under our feet and delivered us from the wish of our enemies….

–recently unveiled 1,500 year old words from a Christian’s “charm” to ward off evil (see here)

.

It’s not just those in charge of the California University system (yes, the new mandate applies to all organizations, but can anyone doubt Christianity is mainly in their sights?). We are, as Cornelius Plantiga Jr. put it years ago “Natural Born Sinners”. Better put yet: high treason is in the blood of us all.

Who puts it this way?  John Bombaro, an LC-MS Lutheran pastor and lecturer in the theology and religious studies department at the U. of San Diego, has done so in a powerful essay present called “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections (ed. By Maas and Francisco).  I will admit I am eager to talk about the chapter because I see it dovetailing nicely with the emphases in my recent series where I attempted to strengthen John Warwick Montgomery’s case (see the introduction and part I, part II and part III)

Bombaro frames his essay by talking about the default “metanarrative”, or “story that governs all other stories” that holds true in our world: the Enlightenment “fairness doctrine”. According to Bombaro,

“The idea of fairness plays no small role in the current debate regarding Christian particularism. The fairness doctrine permits that the ‘good news of God’ can be embraced (or at least tolerated), so long as it does not come with corresponding bad news from God, or anyone else for that matter.” (p. 118)

Here, of course, Bombaro is noting the “scandal of particularity”, where only those who are “in Christ” will be saved. He notes that persons ask how God could “be the cause of such unjust and unreasonable condemnation”, and that for many, this question dovetails with the “problem” of theodicy (p. 118, see last post, “The ‘Problem’ of Evil”, for more on this).

Instead of addressing the question of theodicy, Bombaro gets to the heart of the issue: this is ultimately about something we need more than anything, truth (my note: we all know that a placebo might “work” only to a degree). The story told in the Bible is not make-believe but “objective” – this is “something that happened” and is not about “feelings or opinions”. “The historical events, locations, and persons that facilitate biblical episodes of divine self-disclosure are not accidental or incidental.” Christians are to present the Bible’s total story as being entrenched in the real, just as St. Paul said: ‘I am speaking true and rational words… for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:25-26) (pp. 123-124) “This is why the disciplines of biblical historiography, biblical arthropology, and biblical archeology are not pseudo-sciences.” (p. 122)

Bombaro turns the objection on its head by pointing out that Christ’s exclusivity is necessary to account for his inclusivity (He is for all, He desires to save all):

“A particular people, during particular times, in particular locations, enduring and witnessing particular events have yielded a particular message (in keeping with the storyline that preceded it), so that who this God is and what he is doing is clear and simple. Christian particularism and exclusivism is all about keeping the contents of Christianity in the sphere of the real, where we come to know the truth… Understood within the light of the total story of the Bible, the scandal of particularity as exclusivity undergoes clarification as God’s personal presence and specified performance in pursuit of the lost. God was not leaving his actions and their meaning to chance, relativism, or subjectivity. The Lord’s pointed action in a particular person was not for precluding people groups but keeping the story consistent so that all might know and share in the truth, both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 3:1-11)”…. God’s particularized events and means reveal salvific specificity, not bigoted exclusivity. It turns out that the specified means of grace committed to a specified people (Christians) make finding God easier but also make who he is and what he is doing more readily identifiable and understandable. (p. 125, emphasis his)*

But why is this necessary?  Just what is the problem?  What do we need to be saved from anyways?  Before we address such modern questions, it is important to set the frame. Bombaro further grounds his above claims in the story the Scriptures tell about the very beginning. God created man and entered into a special relationship with him. In this relationship, God is the sovereign King and the crown of His creation, man, is His steward, vice-regent, viceroy, representative… meant to image the Creator Himself.  In this, they were to grow in His love, even as they were to be aware of an enemy: “The King intimates that here is an enemy when he commands the man to ‘keep’ or, better, ‘protect’ the earthly kingdom (Genesis 2:15)” (p. 127)

As regards the King aspect, Bombaro is keen to drive home a particular point that “brings our worldviews, whatever they may be, into conformity with God’s arrangement of the world”:

“the metaphor of ‘Kingdom’ is the governing paradigm for conceiving and interpreting Scripture’s metanarrative…. It fundamentally governs the reading horizon of the Bible by limiting the scope of interpretation due to the fact that the meanings of the Bible had their original context in a prior historical understanding of reality as hierarchical, authoritative, and regal. It is, simply, the lens through which the Bible is to be read… the Christian does not bear witness to my Lord, subjectively, but the Lord, objectively.” (p. 126, emphasis his)

Of course, Christians know what happened: the fall.

“The covenanted servant turns on the King. And now the earthly kingdom has a new lord and the viceroy has willfully fallen captive to the dominion of the King’s enemy. Divested of the King’s Spirit-presence, the scene of “Genesis 3 is the record of man’s fall from grace and high treason… the issue of sin and judgment [must be] understood under the auspices of the kingdom metaphor, not the fairness doctrine” (pp. 127, 129)

Treason.  Here a Bombaro soundbite on treason here.

Treason. Hear a Bombaro soundbite on treason here.

The penalty for treason, of course, is death: “dying you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). (p. 127) These are not, “our pokey little ‘sins’”, a “personal peccadillo” or a facile understanding of “missing the mark” that we are being condemned for. Treason means “cooperating in the usurping… the sovereign’s rule”, or “consciously and purposely acting to aid and abet” his enemies. (p. 129)  Further, “humanity has a specific problem, not just sins – the treacherous things we think, say, and do – but a treacherous disposition, a nature given to rebellion. No one is exempt. In this humanity is unified. It is this nature and the fruit of our nature that leaves us condemned for treason before the great King.” (p. 130)

Where to look? This particular man, Jesus Christ:

“Jesus’ representation of Israel consists of his fulfilling covenant obligations of obedience but also bearing the penalty for disobedience. Because the Kind has committed no treason, that is he is without sin in his fulfilling the will of the Father, only he can say on behalf of Israel (the people who represent the peoples of the world) “I always do the things that are pleasing to [the Father]” (John 8:29). And so the Father makes this public declaration about Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This was not said of anyone before Jesus, not of Adam, not of Moses, not of Israel, not even of David; only Jesus. No other person in any other religion can make such a claim and substantiate it by tethering it to a historical event – the resurrection – in order to vindicate this amazing claim. Only Jesus therefore is holy and righteous, not just for himself, but for those he represents – his people Israel. And even Israel, now that the covenant is fulfilled, may be reconstituted, which is what Jesus does by engrafting the Gentiles (whom he represented in the covenant made with humankind in Adam by coming as the last Adam; see I Corinthians 15:45). Only Jesus could represent all humanity in covenant with God. Only Jesus is qualified and capable to redeem humanity as our representative King.” (pp. 132-133, emphasis his).

Kind but not tame.

Kind but not tame.

In a move that resonates strongly with me, Bombaro looks to Acts 17:30-31 to drive the point home:

With his resurrection and ascension Jesus is hailed as the world’s rightful King and vindicated in all he said and did. He inherits the earthly kingdom from his Father. Jesus rules and reigns, and he does so through the kingdom of God now being manifested on earth through love, mercy, peace and grace. Now the King busies himself with applying the spoils of his great victory over God’s true enemies of sin, guilt, death, and the evil one. He urgently applies his accomplished redemption through very personal, very specific means with haste. There is urgency in the mission of the King: for whereas in former times of ignorance “God overlooked” our treason until sin could be dealt with, “now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has pointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The day of grace and forebearance of Christ’s rule will have an end and all those who abide in treason against the Son will themselves bear the judgment of the Last Day when it will be too late.” (John Bombaro, “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, ed. By Maas and Francisco, p. 134)**

As Bombero notes, Richard Dawkins asks: “If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment”? (p. 119)

According to the Scriptures, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. The weight of sin is too great, and it must be borne and extinguished in the corpse of the dead Messiah. Dawkins simply does not understand the power, the effect, and the cost that sin brings. Of course, none of us who are Christians have fully understood the import of human rebellion and evil either – the high treason that is in all of our blood – and what our actions have wrought on the creation.

But – thanks be to God! – for we have a solution to that infection: the cross of Christ. And in His Word and Sacraments, he delivers to we who believe the benefits of Christ’s work, providing us the daily medicine that we need to fight that infection. We come back to the Egyptian charm quoted above, and its final words about the “medicine of immortality”:

“Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord’s immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins.”

Peace that passes all understanding.  For even you!

FIN

 

Notes:

*Also a significant paragraph: “The events of Scripture that invite investigation are further objectified when identified with a particular people group – the Hebrews. The Hebrews are important to making the case because of their reputation as a candid, self-critical, and truthful people. In ancient Semitic culture a person was as their word. If you lied, you were a liar, the son of a liar, the grandson of a liar; your children were liars. Your word was your reputation and your reputation had implications for the collective lives of your family members for generations since there was no such thing as an individual in the modern sense. It is important that his kind of people, reliable and brutally honest, be the field correspondents reporting the news of God’s redemptive words and actions.” (p. 124)

**He handles the incoming objections without flinching:

“But because of their circumstances not all people have heard the good news. Shouldn’t their circumstantial unbelief be excused since the means of God have not reached them? Actually, culpability falls back on humanity. All bear the guilt of high treason by participating in and perpetuating self-contrived rule (be it through religious beliefs or not). So highly prized is self-rule, by whatever form it appears, that the truth about the world’s rightful sovereign is willfully exchanged for a lie, and thus God’s judgment is just (Romans 1:18-32); yet all the while he labors to bring the Gospel of divine pardon to them. What is more, one must be circumspect about what God has already done in his urgency to bring the Gospel to the entire world….” (p. 136).

In sum:

“Humanity is to be faulted for humanity’s plight. The Lord brings the solution. We set up obstacles.”

Those are words for believers – the church – as well.

Gospel? Bombaro again:

“The Lord saw that our bondage and blindness was so great that unless he, in his great love, came born of a woman, born under the law, we would be lost… Christ has got the victory. Sin and death and judgment and the devil have been swallowed up…[in Christ]” (pp. 137-138).

For even you.

 

Addendum: Todd Wilken wrote a very good article on the “scandal of particularity” as it pertains to our proclamation.  I summed it up here.

Images: Wikipedia, Bombaro – http://theopenlife.blogspot.com/2010/05/hoagies-and-stogies-men-who-appreciate.htm

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The “Problem” of Evil

"This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony." -- Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony.” — Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

Why the quotes? Because the phrase “the problem of evil” is often expressed to mean that it is a problem for those who believe in God. It’s not. It is a problem for those who don’t. Not in that they can’t logically explain it from their premises (their question should be “Why is there any good in the world?”), but that they do not see that they – we all – are the cause of the problem.  God is not, as C.S. Lewis put it, “in the dock”.

Please note that what follows deals with evil apart from the realities of concrete situations. In such cases, words explaining evil often fail – as the book of Job shows in spades (also see this* from current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison after the 2004 Tsunami when he served as the Director of LC-MS World Relief).

In their book Faith Has its Reasons, Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman Jr. share points made by Christian apologist John Hare:

“…there is no one explanation for each instance of evil. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons: to develop and refine a person’s faith and character, to bring about a revelation of God’s glory, to experience suffering vicariously in someone else’s place, to punish people for their own acts of evil, to alert people to physical dangers (biologically useful pain), to learn the consequences of evil, or to alert people to their need for salvation.” (p. 190)

These answers are not bad, but there is still something important that is missing. That something is also missing when Boa and Bowman talk about how Hare notes that “the likelihood of God’s existence will depend largely on whether, apart from the reality of evil, one sees good evidence for God’s existence” (p. 189). Along with the earlier quote from above, Boa and Bowman call Christian apologist Robin Collins to the stand to mount his defense. According to them, he argues that while there is “good, objective data” from which to derive a positive argument for God’s existence (i.e. the “anthropic principle”), this is not the case with “the evidential argument from evil”: “we have no way to quantify the relative amounts of good and evil that have been and will be produced in the universe….we know only a small fraction of the good and evil that have occurred and will occur in the universe….” (p. 190).

So, what is that thing that is missing? A serious acknowledgement of the amount of sin in the world – even if we cannot “quantify” it. And without this serious discussion of sin, we do not have a serious discussion about man’s culpability (which I focused on quite a bit in my recent series endeavoring to strengthen John Warwick Montgomery’s apologetic: see part II, and part III in particular).

Enter Lutheran philosopher of science and apologist Angus Menuge. In the recently released book Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, Menuge has an essay titled “Gratuitous Evil and a God of Love”, and he is in top form.

In discussing what he calls the “creaturely conviction soul-making theory” Menuge says:

“On this view, even if we cannot know it, we may as well agree with [William] Rowe that there is morally gratuitous evil. Such evil is not especially “deserved” by its victims (John 9:3): in the sense in which it is deserved, we all deserve it (Luke 13:1-5). Nor is it allowed or inflicted in order to achieve a greater moral good, as if God’s will would not have been done without it. We can admit that people in concentration camps and the five year old girl [who is sexually abused and then murdered] in Rowe’s example suffered hideous evils which, for all we can tell, did not make the world a better place and would not be “morally justified” if they had. What good came of these horrors depended entirely on the gracious providential gifts of God. In admitting this, we can avoid the triumphalist theodicy which, as [D.Z.] Phillips says, betrays people’s suffering by misrepresenting it: ‘Betrayal occurs every time explanations and justifications of evil are offered which are simplistic, insensitive, incredible, or obscene.’ But in a world of such evil, all but the most willfully self-deceived can see that God’s creatures and the whole creation are dependent on God.” (pp. 160-161, the bold are Menuge’s original italics – in following quotes as well).

Menuge notes that this theory is promising but incomplete. In order to “understand the worst evils – horrendous, unjustified evils – we must focus more closely on the work of Christ”**.

Menuge begins:

“As Jeffrey Mallinson has argued, Lutheran theology affirms not only a theology of the cross, but an epistemology of the cross (a theory of knowledge which says we know God through Christ’s work on the cross). Unlike philosophical theism, which attempts to understand the divine by abstract reason, the epistemology of the cross insists that God is most clearly revealed in the persons and work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and especially in his suffering on our behalf. Theodicies and defenses are developed within a framework of a thin philosophical theism which provides little insight into who God is, how we have rebelled against him, and what he has done for us in loving response. For this kind of insight, we need a history of God’s interaction with humanity, within which we can hope to find a narration of evil.” (pp. 161-162).

Note the focus here on history and the incarnation (see part I of the Montgomery series). Here, in what I think is a relevant side note, I quote Boa and Bowman again:

“The evidentialist [apologist] is not closed to using theistic arguments to make belief in God more plausible or acceptable. Unlike the classical apologist though, he does not think such arguments are necessary. According to evidentialism, the historical evidence for God’s intervention in space and time is sufficient of itself to establish God’s existence” (p. 194).

Back to Menuge:

“Philosophical theism adopts an epistemology of glory, which begins with the greatness of God and sees evil as a difficulty to be rationalized. By contrast, the epistemology of the cross ‘does not explain away or try to show how particular instances of evil produce some greater good. [Mallinson, 32]” Rather it starts with the evil and suffering found on the cross. On the cross we see the refutation of many glib theodicies and defenses, because Christ suffers wholly undeserved, unjustified, gratuitous, and horrendous evil, and he does not do so primarily because he wants to make this world a better place, or merely to set us a moral example.

The cross embodies both Law and Gospel in the most powerful ways. On the Law side, we have an accurate description of the horrific load of sin which infects us all, and of the just punishment which it deserves. When we complain about the problem of evil, we would prefer to make it an external theoretical or political discussion, rather than an internal, personal problem that blinds us to reality. Like a street urchin recruited into a terrorist militia, we are conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5) and our complicity with evil prevents us from seeing it clearly. For that, we must be confronted with the counter-perspective of a sinless outsider. In this bright light, evil cannot be contained in the tidy, coherent categories of a theodicy. This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony.

Yet, on the Gospel side, we see that Christ is not here not [sic] to punish us but to affirm his solidarity with fallen mankind (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15), bearing our sin, suffering every evil and taking the full measure of wrath which we deserve (Isaiah 53). As Ed Martin notes, ‘There is an unquantifiable kinship of spirit that happens between those who have suffered in like manner.’ This includes the most horrendous and gratuitous suffering that Rowe emphasizes, because it is only the one who has suffered evil who understands it. Ravi Zacharias concurs:

‘It is the woman who has been raped who understands what rape is, not the rapist… It is  only the One who died for our sins who can explain what evil is.’

God does not answer the problem of evil by providing intellectually satisfying formulas. That would be appropriate if evil were a problem from which we were detached – like a problem in theoretical physics. Since evil is an immersive, existential condition, God answers by actions of love. His goal is not moral improvement, but to show us our true condition, our inability to save ourselves from that condition, and hence our absolute dependence on Christ for salvation. As Paul writes, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans 7:24-25)

Christ is God’s answer to the problem of evil. Therefore, any apologetic for the problem of evil should not waste time in philosophical theisms which paint blurry pictures of who God is, who we are, and how we can be saved. It should be a defense focused on the historical case for Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In this context, we see more clearly what evil is, what God has done about it, and what he will do. The resurrection of Christ’s glorified, imperishable body also points to a final answer to evil, a new heaven and a new earth in which evil will have no dominion.” (pp. 162-163)

Menuge’s whole article is an excellent and thoughtful tour of current Christian approaches to theodicy. I highly recommend this book, if not for this essay alone. You can listen to an interview with him about the essay here.

FIN

 

Notes:

*“What does [the fact that Jesus Christ forever remains the ‘”crucified one” (I Cor. 1)] mean for a tsunami? I don’t finally know the mind of God. But I do know from the cross that God works His most profound deeds in suffering. And so I plunge my feeble mind into the suffering of Christ and know that amidst trials and crosses and disaster upon disaster, God loves us in Christ. And there, only there, I find consolation amidst the devastation. In faith, I know that resurrection follows Good Friday. The women stood at a distance and watched Him die. Hopeless. The end. “God hates this Jesus … and us,” they may well have thought. Or perhaps even, “There is no God, or certainly no God who cares about us.” Yet right there, on Good Friday, God the Father was doing what He had prepared to do from all eternity for the salvation of the world. The most loving act of God in history was veiled and hidden by a bloody, wretched cross. Where was God in this tsunami? Where He always is— in Christ, in suffering, in the cross.” (read the whole article here)

**Menuge distinguishes here between the logical problem of evil and the “evidential problem evil” which involves our trying to come with grips with evils that seems like they could have no purpose. It is interesting to note that regarding the logical problem of evil, C.S. Lewis said, concerning the nature of love:

“In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”

It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser points out some very real problems with this argument.  That is why I propose the following instead:

“Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”

I know it is audacious to correct Lewis, but take a look at Pastor Fraiser’s article.


Menuge pic: issuesetc.org.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

New post up elsewhere

Note:  I posted something new at Just and Sinner and Reformation 500 called “The ‘Problem’ of Evil”.  I’ll post it here on Monday as well, but just wanted to get something up in those places this week (where this week here I’ve already posted a bunch of stuff).

As you can note from the title, it also has to do with apologetics, a theme I am sticking with a lot lately.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Strengthening Montgomery’s Case?: Beyond the Evidentialism-Presuppositionalism-Fideism Debate Towards a Stronger Christian Apologetics (part III of III)

Bones discovered? WWF[aith]D?  How about: We are confident there are good reasons to doubt this claim and there most likely will be may more good reasons coming.

Christ’s bones discovered? WWF[aith]D? How about: “We are confident there are good reasons to doubt this claim and there most likely will be many more good reasons coming.”

Part I

Part II

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” — II Tim 2:2

“Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” — I Thes. 2:4

“And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” — Exodus 15:31

Picking up from part II…of course, it is not that the question about “establishing” the truth of God’s word has no relation to the matter of the sinful character Montgomery mentions. Again, in Montgomery’s and C.S. Lewis’ own stories of conversion they are essentially talking about being convicted by the Holy Spirit through the evidence provided in God’s word – unbelievers being cast down and slain… “taken apart” through the Spirit’s testimony.

But, one might ask, isn’t Montgomery talking about how it was positive apologetics arguments from well-informed Christian apologists that were instrumental in his conversion – and not just the Holy Spirit working through the reliable eyewitness testimony passed down in the the church (in harmony with that same message present in the Holy Scriptures)? My guess would be that these two things went hand in hand, but even assuming that it was something like an argument for the probability of the truth of the Gospels that the Holy Spirit used to  “break the camel’s back”, does this mean that we should necessarily make it our highest priority to put forth such positive apologetical arguments?

Speaking of an atheist he knew talking about he good evidence for the resurrection: "If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — 'safe,' where could I turn? Was there then no escape?... God closed in on me." [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website]

Speaking of an atheist he knew talking about he good evidence for the resurrection: “If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — ‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there then no escape?… God closed in on me.” [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website]

I suggest not.  Instead, should we not simply see them as useful devices that may, on occasion, “improve the acoustics” – so thatGod’s proof” (see last post and Acts 17:31) can do its work in leading someone to conviction of sin and faith in Jesus Christ?*  After all, has not Dr. Montgomery himself pointed out on many an occasion that “doubting Thomas” did not have insufficient evidence before Jesus showed up? In fact, he had heard Jesus’ prophecies and He had the eyewitness testimony of men he knew to be reliableCertainly, for his unbelief, the text leaves little doubt that he was culpable.

Does it not seem that what Thomas graciously received from the Lord was a concession for his hardened heart – i.e. here the Lord shattered His hardened heart so that He would be believe in Christ again? (assuming he had previously trusted in Christ but lost faith – some will dispute this but it does not affect my point)  And of course if this is true, here is some more very good news: we, and those God has given us to love, might also receive such a hard-heart-breaking condescension from our Lord!** (perhaps in the form of a well-informed and kind apologist who strategically, creatively and patiently shares evidential apologetics… also note literary apologetics, which I want to acknowledge as having some great value as well)

“Examine the evidence so you can get to God – that is evidential apologetics… we give evidence to the unbeliever so that they can use their own reason to get to God… that is just what Scripture tells us not to do.” -- Sye Ten Bruggencate (see here) Is that necessarily so?

“Examine the evidence so you can get to God – that is evidential apologetics… we give evidence to the unbeliever so that they can use their own reason to get to God… that is just what Scripture tells us not to do.” — Sye Ten Bruggencate (see here) Is that necessarily so?  I argue not.

Now, If you have been reading this series with a fine tooth comb, you will have noticed that I have largely been focusing about the oral word, which is certainly in harmony with the Scriptures passed down from reliable man to reliable man.  Is this an effort to de-emphasize the importance of the Scriptures on my part? (in fact, we recognize these as inspired, infallible, and wholly reliable not only because of Jesus’ acceptance of the O.T. and His promise of the N.T, but for deeper reasons yet, which I will address in my next series dealing in part with “TSSI” – see below). May it never be!***

My concern is rather that we – and by “we” I am especially thinking of some of my Lutheran brethren here – be aware of this: we should know that not all historical claims that really are true will be able to be “proven” by the methodologies of the modern historian (and this ties in directly with the concerns talked about in part I: skeptical modern theologies, of course, bow to the modern methodologies of the scientist and historian).  Even given that Christian apologists can make a good case that the Gospel message can be proven on the basis of probabilities, that does not mean we should make this concession without taking care to always explicitly acknowledge God’s gracious condescension… His patience and forebearance with us who are so slow to believe! (again, see the last footnote [****] in part II for more).  Note Jesus’ exasperation at our slowness in the New Testament in general and Luke 24 in particular.

Patience, forebearance, blessed condescension.

Patience, forebearance, blessed condescension.

Again, why is this so critical?  It is true, as Montgomery and other Lutherans apologists like to point out, that we do in fact make some decisions in our lives based on the probability – or likelihood – that this or that thing, situation, or person is and will be a secure anchor point. That said, this is not how we make many of our decisions nor is it, in the case of interpersonal relationships, how we make our most important decisions.**** Here, firm trust and character are essential, and probabilities do not enter our mind – or it they do, we pray for better in ourselves and others.

As best I can tell, there are aspects of Montgomery’s approach seem to be implicitly statingor at the very least readily invite this understanding that it is not responsible for human beings to depend on the historical testimony (that takes into account both facts that transpired on the ground and their true meaning – based on the fact of their verbal explanation on the ground) of reliable men – starting with eyewitnesses and being passed down – apart from the kind of proof (their testimony itself – which can be attacked but never refuted – is proof!) that meets ours or other’s methodological criteria.

Amen Mr. Parton!: “All apologetics does is remove and eliminate obstacles between the unbeliever and the cross so those obstacles are seen for what they are – illegitimate excuses to keep a person from facing Jesus Christ and his claims upon that person’s life that they are in need of the salvation he offers.” (Craig Parton, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, Issues Etc., Audio cassette, 23 April, 2000).

Amen Mr. Parton!: “All apologetics does is remove and eliminate obstacles between the unbeliever and the cross so those obstacles are seen for what they are – illegitimate excuses to keep a person from facing Jesus Christ and his claims upon that person’s life that they are in need of the salvation he offers.” (Craig Parton, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, Issues Etc., Audio cassette, 23 April, 2000).

Montgomery is a lawyer, and by all accounts a very good one.***** That said, just because the law must operate in this way, it does not mean that Christian apologetics needs to follow suit. I submit that approaches like those of Montgomery, unless carefully qualified (i.e., the “for the sake of argument…” is made explicit) will on the ground and in our hearts tend to bring with them an underlying epistemology – an approach towards knowledge as a whole (how do we know what we know) – that we do not want, or should not want, to be uncritical of.  Consider that if this account of what constitutes knowledge increasingly were to become more of an all-encompassing account, we would have difficulty saying, for example, that a person’s knowledge of their family history (of some import and life-shaping to them at least, with the potential to become this to others as well – to see this explored more in conversation with Montgomery’s book Where is History Going? see this footnote below: ******) can really be knowledge apart from proof that will be sufficient for the lawyer, trial jury, judge, historian, etc.

On the contrary, we can have every good reason, in certain circumstances, for trusting the witness and memory of other human beings – much less Almighty God himself who chooses to utilize reliable messengers for His purposes (I wrote more on the importance of trust in men – yes indeed! – for the Christian faith here). Yes, persons coming to faith in this historically-based message is a miracle from God alone, but in general, this process goes hand in hand with the presence of reliable men with a message from God (for a possible objection to this viewpoint that I have put forth here see ******* below).

“There is but one way to prepare the worldly-wise (the “wise men after the flesh”, I Cor. 1:26) for conversion, and that is that the terrors conscientiae break down their conceited trust in their own wisdom and utterly destroy “the conception of the universe as held by modern man.” -- Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper

“There is but one way to prepare the worldly-wise (the “wise men after the flesh”, I Cor. 1:26) for conversion, and that is that the terrors conscientiae break down their conceited trust in their own wisdom and utterly destroy “the conception of the universe as held by modern man.” — Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper

It seems to me that the kind of approach or framework that I have begun to lay out at the beginning of this post (also see part II) will allow for most any kind of statement of fact that an evidentialist apologist might think that he can and perhaps even should make. I think that what is different about the view I am talking about is that it sees apologetics primarily in the simple message that there is reliable eyewitness testimony (which God has also preserved for us in Scriptures that actually fit very well with what even secular historians say) and that this message is at the very least a “handmaid of the law” – in fact carrying out many of the same functions as God’s law (again, see the first footnote below discussing Acts 17:31).  Within this framework both a vigorous defense against arguments vs. the faith and positive arguments “making the case” can have a place********

It seems to me that this is basically looking at Mueller’s and Peiper’s position in the best light – “putting the best construction on it” so to speak. Speaking of construction, I want to be constructive in my criticism – building further on what I admit are some pretty bare bones here. It’s a start, and there will be more to come.

In fact, I plan to start doing this in a very short time in another series titled “*How* will we know the truth that sets us free? What is TSSI and is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings?”  This is one that I have been working on for a very long while and hope you might consider checking it out as well.

In the meantime, please feel free to offer any criticism that you might have up to this point – I am eager to hear what you think.

FIN

 

Notes:

*I am talking about making a logical and not chronological distinction here. For example, it is theoretically possible that at a given moment a statement that is meant to counter a person’s false argument and sin (for example, “….but God raised Christ from the dead that you would pay attention not to those teachers but Him!”) may, in fact, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be correctly perceived as having its origins in Gospel-centered love.  In other words, such a person has previously heard the particular Gospel message which creates faith – i.e. Christ’s death and resurrection saves us from sin, death and the power of the devil, giving us forgiveness, life and salvation – and this message now becomes efficacious through the Holy Spirit in the hearing of the more law-oriented or apologetical message.  The person is brought to faith by something that would only accuse another.  This might be why the former Issues ETC host, Don Matzat, made the following statement: “The goal of apologetics is evangelism.  The hope of the apologist is to convince the unbeliever of the truth of Christianity so the unbeliever will become a believer.”  Elsewhere in the same article Matzat less controversially states: “While presenting evidence for the historic truth of the Christian message will not bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ, it will at least cause that person to take another look at Christianity.” (“Apologetics in a Postmodern Age”, Issues ETC. Journal 2.5 (1997): 1.

Further, regarding the content of Acts 17:31, in a footnote in the last post, I wrote this:

“The fact that God has given all men proof of Jesus’ right to judge by raising Him from the dead would seem to serve something like a Law and Gospel purpose – provoking rejoicing in one and fear in another.

Law and Gospel are not just associated with what we are to do and what Jesus has done, but judgment and promise.  The Law works wrath and the solid word from God about this being His proof will be heard as by some as being about judgment (of them) and by others as “good news” promises of deliverance and the good new creation.  Of course this is all about the first commandment, and the surety that God gives us – in the flesh of Jesus Christ – regarding His judgment of man’s high treason.”

**And yes… as even some skeptics have discovered, it does not appear too difficult to make the case – using modern historical methodologies and legal argumentation – that Christ’s resurrection is the best (most probable, explanation) of the data all persons potentially have available to them. As many a Christian apologist’s experience has shown, this can definitely be “acoustic-improving” information. That said, see the last footnote [****] in part II.

***While Nathan Shannon, in his article about Cornelius Van Til, makes his point in a different context, it is certainly true that, “When we say ‘evidence’ we do not always mean a fingerprint or a phone record. A person can give evidence by testifying to what she has witnessed” (Shannon, WTJ 74 (2012): 348), Of course, here is where I emphasize that when it comes to testimony we do not always mean written testimony either!  Again, one can see from the last footnote [****] in part II that I am hardly de-emphasizing the Scripture. If one nevertheless thinks that I am in danger of downplaying these, they might well ask the 16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz whether or not he was doing the same thing. Paul Strawn summarizes Chemnitz’s “eight kinds of traditions” of which the Scriptures are one: “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: 8) traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14. (bold mine)

Ideas of infallibility particularly come into play here when we talk about “putting it into writing” but there is more to the concept of course (but when have you heard even confessional Lutherans today talk much about this?)  Robert Preus, explicating John Gerhard, talks about how this idea of infallibility in the Church can go beyond the Scriptures as well: “in a sense it is true that the Church is infallible and the judge in spiritual matters, inasmuch as its faith is and must be grounded in Christ, but it is quite another thing to claim that a Church council or a Roman bishop cannot error”. (122, Preus, Inspiration of Scripture)
That said, here I think about something I heard on Issues ETC maybe some 16 years ago.  Norman Nagel was asking rhetorically about what the book of Romans said we were saved by: faith or the blood. He said both, but when we talk about the blood, faith has nothing else to talk about.  I think its like that with authority in the church.  It is both, but when we talk about the Scriptures the Church has nothing else to talk about…. (for more on this matter of interpretation, see my post, John 16:8-11 and ministerial vs. magisterial interpretation.
.

****For example, given that one man’s saintly wife is and has, both intentionally and unintentionally, shown herself to be (her presence is strong evidence for Christ’s presence among him), he sees and feels absolutely no need to entertain the possibility that she will enact “plan b” as regards their marriage. Here, what he knows if what he has yet to be shown is false – distrust and mistrust has not been earned.  Now, it is true that evidence may be presented which seems – on the face of it – to contradict such confidence, and from this point this challenge will need to be admitted, with decisions made (and each case being unique in its own way). None of this negates the main point however about how utter trust in this or that situation is not just reasonable but more than reasonable – and of course, even if this cannot be said of all married couples….

*****Again, this is not surprising.  Montgomery’s friend, fellow lawyer and Lutheran evidentialist apologist Craig Parton, says: “…nothing short of the sheer objectivity of Christian truth claims and the factual character of those claims makes Christian faith so appealing to the legally trained advocate.”– Craig Parton, The Defense Never Rests. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003, p. 71.  Quoted in a recent article at 1517 the Legacy Project.

****** Why is this so important? A Christian should be able to uphold this kind of knowledge in general. And how much more should this be true of the Christian’s knowledge, which has been obtained not just by reliable men, but by God’s own Holy Spirit working through reliable men.

More answers to possible objections follow, based on a close reading of John Warwick Montgomery’s book, Where is History Going?

In his essay “Gordon Clark’s Historical Philosophy” in his book Where is History Going?, Montgomery asserts “The conviction that historical facts do carry their interpretation (i.e., that the facts in themselves provide adequate criteria for choosing among various interpretations of them) is essential both to Christian and general historiography.” (p. 164). I suggest that this is indeed often the case, but there may be some cases where this is not the case, or, at the very least, there is more than meets the eye. It seems to me that one thing that we need to keep in mind here is that Montgomery is talking about doing historiography – and not simply history (which can be understood in informal or more formal ways). I will explain more in the rest of this footnote.

Elsewhere in the essay Montgomery states: “the reason for [secular philosophy’s] failure [to produce an adequate account of history] does not have to be located (and must not be located) in the inability of historical facts to speak clearly apart from philosophical commitments. The difficulty is rather, as I have noted elsewhere, that ‘such a welter of historical data exists that we do not know how to relate all the facts to each other. Our lifetime is too short and our perspective is too limited.” (pp. 165 and 166). I would agree with this but simply argue that, in many cases, this has more to do with not knowing or being familiar with the appropriate living eyewitness testimony – including the Eyewitness Testimony Incarnate (that provides the proper factual testimony attributing the proper meaning to certain events, for example the resurrection) – than it does sifting through whatever facts that are available to us through written documents (and to some degree archaeology) per se.

When Montgomery goes on to say “the trouble with secular philosophy of history is not that it has looked into history instead of aprioristic first principles in endeavoring to understand the past; it is that the secularists have been deflected by their extra-historical commitments from looking at history objectively – and particularly from looking at the Christ of history objectively”, I appreciate what he says, but not because I think that it itself is an objective statement, but because I think it may sometimes be appropriate to challenge a particular unbeliever – one with a great appreciation for what is able to be accomplished when persons attempt to recognize and fight their biases – with this kind of a statement in order to get them to listen concerning Jesus Christ. I say this because I myself am certainly not objective, but motivated not by aprioristic first principles but a First Love.  Montgomery is another such living witness.

When Montgomery goes on to assert: “When the historical facts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection are allowed to speak for themselves, they lead to belief in His deity and to acceptance of His account of the total historical process”, I want to emphasize that a) they never do “speak for themselves” but have been spoken for by messengers (or in the Apostle Paul’s case, The Messenger), b) they do not always lead to belief in His deity but may only result in “historical faith” (I believe the good Dr. would concur) – see this post, particularly the end, for more and c) speaking about us knowing history as opposed to the scientific discipline of historiography, while the truth of the Christian faith – the Christian story – may well be thought about in terms of probabilities (Montgomery: “historical truth is synthetic and not analytic, i.e…. it is arrived at by the empirical examination of documents and therefore never attains the level of one hundred percent certainty”, p. 168), and I think there is a time and place for talking about it in this way (“for the sake of our argument…”), ideally, it is better that it is not thought of in this way, but rather in the sense that that good and reliable men – whose accounts are also bolstered by other reliable men – are simply to be trusted to be telling the truth. Trust in reliable persons is something too valuable to undermine through contrary ideas, exemplified in oxymoronic phrases like “trust but verify”. We may have confident knowledge of many things – intimate or not – that we may never be able to prove to another person apart from trust, which is in large part dependent on character (see footnotes here about how the first historicist, Vico, indirectly undermined character and trust). And when it comes to Christian faith, we are talking about God making Himself known in this process, and not apart from it.  Again, we can say this even if we are talking about a person who only has “historical faith” that the Christian story is true (rather than having true Christian faith, where there is a saving connection with God – where these things are believed to be true “for me” as well). The faith that the devils have is not based on probabilities!

Montgomery is right to say that “If one is incapable of discovering the meaning of historical events from the events, then one is incapable of finding the divine Christ in history, and history will most certainly reduce to ‘a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”, but the key here is that we do not experience directly all events occurring in space and time ourselves, and do in fact depend on the testimony not so much of idiots (though now and then, we all do idiotic things and are blind to what we should see) but, fortuitously, reliable men entrusted to teach others…. (who can – or should be able to! – give us good reasons why Jesus Christ should be given priority attention over other religious leaders).

There is much in this chapter from Montgomery that I agree with – particularly many of his critiques vs. Clark’s presuppositionalism and preuppositionalism in general. I especially appreciate the first paragraph on p. 170 where he states “[Clark] does not see that causation, like the historical and scientific explanations that incorporate causal thinking, is no more than an empirical, synthetic construct which is employed ad hoc to deal with historical facts. Causal explanations are grounded in, and tested against, the facts for which they endeavor to account”. That said, here is where I simply state that unlike historiography, history really can, at bottom, be a non-theoretical exercise – just like understanding a person is a non-theoretical enterprise.  We understand someone not because we have a better theory (causation), but because we know a p/Person (hat tip to the philosopher Ray Monk). Our Christian faith, fundamentally, is not a hypothesis. In short, I agree with Montgomery when he says that we cannot “’begin with God’ (the Christian God) without benefit of objectively discoverable historical facts”, but I simply assert that testimony from reliable men is enough to qualify for this. For more reflection on these matters, see part III of my recent series on historicism, and this post where I note that, as regards trust in the Christian testimony, all empirical investigation and reasonable interpretation of the same has yet to suggest that distrust in the Christian messsage has been earned.

I hope it is clear that I am not entirely dismissive of Dr. Montgomery’s project. Far from it! In spite of all that I say above in this footnote, I also agree with him when he states: “the epistemological route by which one arrives at biblical truth does not determine the value of what one arrives at – any more than the use of a less than perfect map requires one to reach a city having corresponding inadequacies”. (p. 180) Again, my focus here is that when it comes to things like Christ’s life, death and resurrection, it is the map of reliable human testimony to this – and not the one produced by Christian historiographers – that we should be emphasizing (even as we do have in our back pocket the positive, “for the sake of argument”, “case for Christianity” based on probabilities – produced by Christian historiographers to utilize as we think is appropriate).  For it is not only their words, but His life-giving, history-describing-and-making words as well.  Here is where we will find our solid ground (if this sounds suspect I have written a post on the importance of trust in the church as well where this matter can be further explored) and we praise God that this reliable testimony, used by the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin (Acts 17:31 and John 16:8-11) is also preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures in a way that may be assailed but never defeated.  See the upcoming series on “TSSI” for more on this.

*******“But” – comes the objection – “will not this kind of un-scientific attitude dissuade Christians from digging into their faith – so as to have the ‘raw material’ so to speak, that others may use it to counter unbelief? If you point out that ‘trust but verify’ is actually an oxymoronic statement, are you not indirectly going to undermine the whole enterprise of evidential work that has been done?”

I don’t think so. We note that such evidence and the arguments that Christians might make concerning that evidence need not be born from any doubt or skepticism, but out of simple curiosity. In any case, I gladly acknowledge that those who do feel themselves asking these questions – whether for reasons of doubt or faith – will often find themselves better equipped to shut the mouths that might object to Christian faith. It still does not mean that we should indirectly encourage doubt with “trust but verify” approaches (note I do think that challenging non-Christians about their foundations is very appropriate).

********And while apologetics might reveal to sinners why we ask the doubting questions we do, it may also may simply help us see that our questions are fine – they are something any curious believer eager to learn more about their faith might ask – even as our reasons for asking them also might have the potential to be out of line (yes, I realize that we are sinner-saints and that our motivations can never be totally pure, but I do not think that discounts the distinction I am making here).

 Images: Parton: www.lhm.org ; Peiper: www.lutheranhistory.org ; Bruggencate: veritasdomain.wordpress.com

 

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Strengthening Montgomery’s Case?: Beyond the Evidentialism-Presuppositionalism-Fideism Debate Towards a Stronger Christian Apologetics (part II of III)

"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." -- Acts 17:30

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” — Acts 17:30

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” — Psalm 14:1

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…they are without excuse. For although they knew God... — Romans 1

He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. — Acts 17:31

Part I

Yesterday, we saw how John Warwick Montgomery stated that “the apologetic stance of [20th century Lutheran theologians Gustav Aulen and J. Theodore Mueller] is virtually indistinguishable” and that both men essentially say that “any attempt to offer an apologetic to establish [Christian revelation’s] validity is to misunderstand the nature of the Christian Gospel”.  (see part I)

I note in particular that in the statement Montgomery quoted from Mueller we read:

“….Christian apologetics has therefore only one function: it is to show the unreasonableness of unbelief.  Never can it demonstrate the truth with ‘enticing words of man’s wisdom….”

I want to suggest that Mueller, like many other serious Lutherans today who have seen some real value to apologetics but not fully endorsed Montgomery’s views (this would be myself), not only embraced defensive apologetics (the word itself means defense) – where claims attacking Christianity are countered – but would also have likely seen a valuable – albeit more limited role (than Montgomery) – for positive apologetics, that is, “making a [positive] case for Christianity”.  I will try to explain more in what follows.

Making a positive case for Christian faith – or for exploring the Christian faith – can, as Paul Maier puts it, “improve the acoustics” for hearing God’s life-transforming word.

Making a positive case for Christian faith – or for exploring the Christian faith – can, as Paul Maier puts it, “improve the acoustics” for hearing God’s life-transforming word.

Certainly, there is something to be said about giving an answer to real objections persons have about Christianity – defending the faith from attacks.  Not only this, but “on the ground” many of Christian apologists have found that it may, on occasion, make very good sense to tactfully go on the offensive with the goal to, as the Lutheran historian Paul Maier says, “improve the acoustics”:

  • What are some good reasons this or that objection to the Christian faith not only fails, but that Christians can provide an even better answer?
  • How could one think it is reasonable to assert that it is more likely than not that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead?
  • Perhaps most importantly: If a person is going to more seriously explore questions of faith and religion, why should they start with, or give special attention to Christianity?

Such arguments need not necessarily depend on philosophical, scientific or rationalistic systems – nor are they meant to convert per se – but rather to gain attention and curiosity – so that persons might at least be open to listening to a message that brings with it the seeds of spiritual transformation.* 

Perhaps a man like Mueller would have thought some of these questions above were more potentially acceptable than others (perhaps given the attitude of the particular person asking them?). In part III we will talk more about the proper place of these offensive apologetics (again, as in not just defensive) which are meant to bolster and “make a case for” God’s word and Christianity.  In any case, even if Mueller would never have thought to make points like this, surely we can agree that what he is talking about is no blind fideism.  In other words, Christian faith is not, to use Montgomery’s description (not in talking about Mueller but rather Rudolph Bultmann), a “naked leap” that cannot be “aided by objective evidence or factual demonstration” (see p. 8, “The Apologetic Thrust of Lutheran theology”, Theologia et Apologia: essays in Reformation theology and its defense presented to Rod Rosenbladt, edited by Francisco, Maas, and Mueller).

After all, simply based on what Montgomery has quoted from Mueller, it seems to me there is no good reason to think he would have disagree with Lutheran thinker Gene Veith, when he states in the forward to the new book by LC-MS apologists Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections:

“The word apologetics comes from the Greek word for “defense.”  Christian apologetics is not necessarily about trying to argue someone into the faith, if that were possible.  At its heart, apologetics is about defending Christianity from those who attack it.  Today Christianity is being attacked from so many different sides, tarnished with so many false charges, and obscured with so many misconceptions that the apologetics enterprise – that is, defending the faith – is critically important.  The attacks need to be fended off, the charges answered, and the misconceptions cleared up so that Christianity can at least gain a hearing, which is all the Word of God needs to create faith (Romans 10:17).” (vii, Making the Case for Christianity: responding to modern objections, ed. By Maas and Francisco)

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

In fact, I suggest that if Mueller is saying what I believe the great Lutheran theologian Francis Peiper was saying**, given the Holy Spirit’s wielding of the eyewitness testimony that has been passed down to us*** (notably, simultaneously attested to in writings given through God’s own inspiration… His own mouth – “it is written”!****) – supported by His prophecy-fulfilling miracles in particular – faith in this message is the only possible and reasonable answer – even for those with no previous exposure to the Christian faith.  More specifically, the Holy Spirit, using the evidence of this reliable testimony – reveals to the sinner that unbelief in Jesus Christ is unreasonable (see John 16:8-11) when and where it pleases Him to do so.  And most specifically, the crown of God’s “many infallible proofs” is this Apostolic testamentum: the man Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead that all may know it is He who will judge all men (Acts 17:31, see Romans 1:4).  Of course, none of this implies that men are not also guilty before God prior to hearing this message (Rom 1-3).

Quickly note this about Acts 17:31 (see here where I look at this passage more closely):

  • One need not believe the book of Acts is infallible to have confidence that the Apostle Paul said this or that what he said might be worth listening to or asking serious questions about [note also Luke's reputation for being a good historian here as well - i.e. being verifiable in many respects*****]
  • While an invitation into what all would call “evidentially-based considerations”, this statement is nevertheless more of an assertion about how God has made Himself known in history – and what He calls proof and defines as proof.

To go along with such a strong message, I recently wrote the following about Romans 3: 19-20******

I submit that passages like Romans 3:19-20 in particular help us to remember that the validation of God’s word is never subject to our evaluation of its truthfulness to any degree whatsoever.  Nor is the establishment of God’s word in any degree based on our critical evaluation of itNor is this the time for us to be emphasizing how we are inevitably interpreters of the words of others (perhaps even testing them against other things we know are confident are true) – in hearing these words it is we who are interpreted, for we are hearing the active words of the living Spirit of Christ (see more about an interesting battle that took place over issues related to this in the 16th century between Matthias Flacius and Caspar Schwenckfeld). It is only men veering towards or playing with death who dare to call these words “dead”. (see more here)

Montgomery, however, in his essay we have been discussing, writes these words:

Granted that for Luther God’s word was objectively true; does it follow that its truth can be established and defended in the marketplace of ideas, or is the sinful character of the human situation an absolute barrier to such an operation?  This is the question before us….” (p. 9)

“We are not honest and open-minded explorers of reality; we are alienated from reality because we have made ourselves the center of the universe” (p. 104)

“We are not honest and open-minded explorers of reality; we are alienated from reality because we have made ourselves the center of the universe” (p. 104).  For my critique of this book, see here.

I look at this a bit differently – even if we presume to do this just for the “marketplace of ideas” – and not within the church – I think we should always be very hesitant and cautious to talk about “establishing” the truth of God’s word.  Let us take the matter of resurrection in particular.  Has God not raised the man Jesus Christ from the dead in history, given us reliable men to share that fact and its meaning, and even safeguarded this testimony by putting it into writing (again, see Acts 17:31) – even apart from the question of the matter of a man’s sinful character which is determined to fight against God’s word?

Yes.

Again, I am not denying that we really do need to connect with unbelievers by answering their real questions and objections and even, from time to time, putting forth arguments that will help us gain a hearing (please see* again).  I am simply saying that God’s word is “established” not just in marketplaces, but wherever a message like the one Paul proclaimed is proclaimed – and – importantly – regardless of whether or not our own apologetical arguments used to bolster or even “prove” the Biblical message are provided.  Again, what I think is critical here is what God calls proof through the messengers he uses to share that proof.  And what does this look like – just what is happening here?  The unbeliever, dead in sin towards God, is not so much persuaded by the truth – in that, properly informed, he then makes a decision by his free will to accept God’s word – but is rather hurled down and slain by this word – when and where the Holy Spirit is pleased to do so.

If I read them rightly, something like this seems to have happened with both C.S. Lewis and John Warwick Montgomery. 

We will conclude this series in the next post tomorrow, tying all of these thoughts together in a more complete and systematic way (at least as much as I am capable of doing so), and addressing what are sure to be common questions and concerns.

FIN

 

Notes:

*Note that if an unbeliever is willing to listen to a “case for Christ” it is not because he is, in his spirit, seeking the one true God.  He is simply willing to listen for his own reasons – never godly ones.  Examples: basic curiosity, the desire to win an argument, wanting to connect with the person who makes the argument(s), wanting to serve “a god” but not God as He is, etc.  Of course ungodly listening is far better than no listening at all.

In a brief essay (read it here) titled “A Proposal on the Occasion and the Method of Presenting Evidence within a Van Tillian framework” (RPM, Volume 12, Number 9, February 28 to March 6 2010), Jimmy Li provides some interesting information about Cornelius Van Til’s approach to evidence:

“Van Til acknowledged the validity of presenting evidence outside of Scripture when he stated, “I would therefore engage in historical apologetics,” and confessed that “I do not personally do a great deal of this because my colleagues in the other departments of the Seminary in which I teach are doing it better than I could do it.” Perhaps part of the reasoning of those who believe Van Til is against evidence is the absence of Van Til’s actual discussion of the extra- biblical evidences vindicating Christianity. If this is so, this would be rather sloppy reasoning on the part of Van Til’s critics in their commitment of the logical fallacy of arguing from silence.

While Van Til was not against Christian evidences, he was particular in that evidences should not be given in any fashion that would appease the autonomy (self-rule) of the unbeliever. Christian evidences must be presented in a Christ- honoring fashion.”

One piece of advice from the essay:

“Practically, to find out whether or not it is appropriate to present evidence to the nonbeliever, it is important to get nonbelievers to divulge their philosophy of facts and other important epistemological presuppositions before any evidence is presented. Towards this purpose, good questions to ask nonbelievers are, “What would make you believe in X?”, or “What do you believe must be true in order for you to believe in X?” Press them to list their criteria of evidences as concretely as possible, instead of just using slogans like “I believe if it’s reasonable.” Rather, find out what are the actual criteria that the individual has that make the unbeliever think that a claim is reasonable. Whether or not the occasion warrants a presentation of evidence is dependent upon the content of the nonbeliever’s criteria of evidence. If the criteria has already precluded Christianity, no evidence shall be presented, but rather the discussion should center on the problem of the nonbeliever’s philosophy of facts, and epistemological arguments should be brought up to demonstrate that their philosophy of facts are self-refuting, incoherent or arbitrary. Nonbelievers are not religiously neutral, and as sinners they tend to suppress the truth. Therefore it should not surprise Christians that often they will spend the bulk of their time in the critique of presuppositions rather than presenting evidence.”

This strikes me as a potential strategy for some occasions but not all occasions.  Why not, more often than not, try to focus on what God’s “criteria of evidences” are?  What He calls “proof”?  The fact that God has given all men proof of Jesus’ right to judge by raising Him from the dead would seem to serve something like a Law and Gospel purpose – provoking rejoicing in one and fear in another.

Law and Gospel are not just associated with what we are to do and what Jesus has done, but judgement and promise.  The Law works wrath and the solid word from God about this being His proof will be heard as by some as being about judgment (of them) and by others as “good news” promises of deliverance and the good new creation.  Of course this is all about the first commandment, and the surety that God gives us – in the flesh of Jesus Christ – regarding His judgment of man’s high treason.
.
**One of Peiper’s better quotes from the Christian dogmatics: “There is but one way to prepare the worldly-wise (the “wise men after the flesh”, I Cor. 1:26) for conversion, and that is that the terrors conscientiae break down their conceited trust in their own wisdom and utterly destroy “the conception of the universe as held by modern man.”  Ludwig Hofacker somewhere said bluntly and to the point: “The camels must one and all pass through the eye of the needle” (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 2, p. 479).

Also, shortly after the quote from Mueller that Montgomery offered, Mueller goes on to say:

“…it may also be stated that there are no scientific reasons against the Christian faith.  Wherever the Christian faith is opposed, the opposition has its source not in true science, but in vicious infidelity.  The rejection of divine truth can in no case be justified on reasonable grounds; it is the perverted reason of man only that disavows the truth which is in Christ Jesus.” (Christian Dogmatics, p. 72, 1955)

***”That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.We write this to make our joy complete.” — 1 John 1

**** The New Testament Scriptures record for us in writing the Holy Spirit-inspired reliable eyewitness accounts. Undoubtedly, by Divine design, this written account “just so happens” to impressively back up these eyewitness claims passed down to us!  As J.A.O. Preus reminds us “the written words of the Scripture are merely the written statement of what God has previously uttered orally” (p. 51, It is Written), and

As to the relationship between the spoken and written words of the apostles, the Christian of the New Testament is to put both on the same level… the only difference lies in the permanence of the written Word. The Word spoken by the eyewitnesses of the apostolic circle would have been distorted or destroyed had it not been written down under the inspiration and influence of the Spirit. The difference is one of form, but not of essence. All in all, the disciples were very conscious of the fact that in their preaching and teaching they were bringing people the Word of God.” (p. 49, It is Written)

Specifically discussing God’s word in its written form, Christian apologist Craig Parton says that “[this message is] intentionally vulnerable to factual investigation”.  While I think Parton is right to say this, he also, in making his positive case for Christianity says “the burden of proof for establishing the claims of Christianity in general and the resurrection in particular are on the Christian, since he is the one asserting an affirmative case, namely, that the resurrection occurred as described in the primary source documents.” While it is true that Parton right before this says “We…. look at the case for the resurrection as would be done in a trial court” (and he notes we can do this because of “the vast number of trial lawyers who have investigated and substantiated the case for the resurrection”… [they have] “put the resurrection on trial and found its defense unassailable”), does his statement about the burden of proof for the resurrection needing to be established by the Christian perhaps need to be more carefully qualified?  In other words, should he not rather say something like, “if we are, for the sake of ‘improving the acoustics’, going to try and make an affirmative case for the resurrection such that would have the potential to succeed, for example, in a court of law, we would need to….”?  (quotes from Parton: p. 72 and 73, Making the Case for Christianity, eds. Maas and Francisco)

After all, Parton has elsewhere said that “All apologetics does is remove and eliminate obstacles between the unbeliever and the cross so those obstacles are seen for what they are – illegitimate excuses to keep a person from facing Jesus Christ and his claims upon that person’s life that they are in need of the salvation he offers.” (Craig Parton, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, Issues Etc., Audio cassette, 23 April, 2000).

One might wonder: even for fallen creatures, why should the oral word preached by the prophets and Apostles, not have been “more than enough”?  Why should it have been further necessary for God to safeguard His word through the written word?  “Guilty as sin” before God, have we not, in fact, consistently received one condescension after another?

It is true that we are always “without excuse” before God.  That said, it does us well to remember that we are without excuse even more when we demand more than this eyewitness testimony – which, like the law, both kills and makes alive – passed down through history from reliable man to reliable man, entrusted to teach us. In like fashion, was not Thomas without excuse when he doubted the contemporaneous eyewitnesses of his day?  Can we not even say that this oral testimony handed down is the relentless evidence, proof even, that hunts us down and kills us, silencing old Adam and the curse he brought and still brings?

And it seems to me that unless we are constantly reminding ourselves that our positive apologetics only “improve the acoustics” so that God’s own words about these matters of proof might be heard we might be tempted to think of ourselves as being less culpable that we really are.  To emphasize: man is without excuse – culpable – even in spite of this specific witness to the prophecy fulfilling resurrection – and other prophecy-fulfilling miracles – of the Messiah, the Son of God. And man is guilty even in spite of the many other miracles that Christ, His apostles, His prophets, and others have enacted in His Name, accompanying His death and life-giving message (such that Tyre and Sidon would have repented). Finally, man is guilty in that He has worshipped the creation instead of the Creator he – to a very real extent – knows, and has suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1).  As Paul insists two chapters later in Romans 3, even in spite of their not having heard any Gospel proclamation (or, for that matter, something like the Kalam Cosmological Argument), there is no one who is righteous, no not one (save the One). Such is the fruit of the first sin of Adam and Eve – that great act of curse-enacting high treason against our King.

Of course persons will examine the facts surrounding the key foundations of Christianity for different reasons.  Some Christians, for example, might simply be curious about what else we might know from history outside of the biblical sources – and really not be given over to much doubt, if any at all. These are to be commended, for insofar as we have a new man, a new nature, we always delight to hear the blessed story again and again – and in even more detail if possible!

*****Even modern, more secular historians can, should and have acknowledged Luke’s reliability regarding significant historical details.

******”Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Maier picture: http://www.pfo.org/2010tape.htm

 
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Cranach

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Weedon's Blog

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First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

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