Sunday, June 30, 2013

Andrew Perriman and Regenerate Scholarship: Who is Jesus?

The narrative-historical approach to the New Testament attempts to understand how things appeared from the historical perspective of Jesus and his followers. This is an ante-orthodox perspective, not necessarily an anti-orthodox perspective. The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism. This inevitably, I think, brings into the foreground the story of how the Jesus born to Mary and Joseph or the Jesus baptized by John came to be acknowledged as judge and ruler of the nations, to the glory of the God of Israel—a story which is largely eclipsed under later orthodoxy. To the extent that Jesus is secondarily associated with the word or wisdom of God, with the process of creation, perhaps even identified with the creator, this still needs to be understood in the light of Jewish word/wisdom categories and in relation to the Jewish apocalyptic narrative. We do not understand the New Testament better by dressing it up in the clothing of a post-Jewish orthodoxy.

This will be my final interaction with Perriman’s rules, with perhaps a follow-up summary of my observations of the overall approach of narrative-historical hermeneutics.

Perriman makes this interesting claim:
This is an ante-orthodox perspective, not necessarily an anti-orthodox perspective. The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism.
First and foremost, while this claim sounds nice, it really falls flat as soon as one reads it. The truth is that the narrative-historical approach is a response to orthodoxy. It is a reaction against orthodoxy. It contends that orthodoxy is and always has been wrong. If Andrew is right, then error enveloped the Church immediately, eclipsed truth for some 2,000 years, and only now are we in the process of recovering it. The burden of proof remains on Andrew. Rather than argue his case, Perriman seems to simply string a bunch of sentences together in the name of argument. A quick read of his paragraph above makes my point.

For good measure, Andrew tells us that narrative-historical interpretation is not “anti-orthodox.” Yet, on just about every significant orthodox doctrine, his approach falls short. For example, orthodoxy insists on the public confession of the divinity of Christ. Andrew has repeatedly refused to make this confession. The refusal to confess Jesus as God of very God is anti-orthodox. Moreover, if Jesus is not God, the doctrine of the trinity collapses. The doctrine of the trinity is as orthodox a doctrine as one can find. The denial of the triune God is an unorthodox, anti-orthodox, and heretical view. Andrew’s claims in this respect seem more like those that a used car salesman would make to get you to buy the hunk of junk he is selling. I offer no apologies for criticizing unbelieving scholarship that seeks to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. It is unregenerate, unbelieving scholarship at its foundation. One of the greatest, yet most ignored problems in biblical studies is the presence of unbelieving scholarship. It is fascinating to me how so many sound scholars refuse to speak out about the utter folly of placing God’s special revelation into the hands of men who are intellectually hostile to God by their very nature. Pardon this digression, but the idea that regeneration is irrelevant to sound biblical scholarship can only be viewed as high treason against the God of Scripture.

The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism.
We have no disputes with this sentence at face value. It is the speculative and high conjectural conclusions that Perriman makes on the basis of this statement. Andrew repeatedly overstates the unity of theology in second temple Judaism. His optimism is this regard cannot possible be grounded in any historically objective evidence. We know that the level of disagreement and theological division during this era was high. Perriman ignores this fact, in a very misleading way, painting a picture of terrific harmony. Such harmony is a figment of Perriman’s imagination. It simply did not exist.

This inevitably, I think, brings into the foreground the story of how the Jesus born to Mary and Joseph or the Jesus baptized by John came to be acknowledged as judge and ruler of the nations, to the glory of the God of Israel—a story which is largely eclipsed under later orthodoxy.
One must ask, “acknowledged by whom?” Andrew posits that Jesus’ rise to lordship should only be understood through the naturalistic framework offered by the terms and context of second temple Judaism. But wasn’t it these very Jews who antagonistically murdered the Son of God? And aren’t these the same Jews whom God had hid the truths of the gospel from to begin with? Andrew continues to make God out to be the God of Israel, refusing to acknowledge that God is not just the God of Israel, He is the God of humanity. In fact, the term “God of Israel” never appears in the NT. Romans 3:29 abolishes forever the idea that God is the God of the Jews, or the God of Israel. He is also the God of the Gentiles, of the nations.
I am not for a minute postulating that we throw away sound scholarship. What I am suggesting is that we distinguish between good scholarship and the often foolish and misleading conclusions of the unbelievers in back of that scholarship. Biblical scholarship belongs to the Church, not the academy. The path from Christian to Christian scholar runs through the local Church in general and through the local elders in particular. If a man has not come to know Christ, shows little evidence of Christian faith, and refuses to publicly confess with the Church those core values and beliefs that by definition make a Christian a Christian, then there is no place for that person in any field dealing with biblical scholarship. It really is that simple.

To the extent that Jesus is secondarily associated with the word or wisdom of God, with the process of creation, perhaps even identified with the creator, this still needs to be understood in the light of Jewish word/wisdom categories and in relation to the Jewish apocalyptic narrative. We do not understand the New Testament better by dressing it up in the clothing of a post-Jewish orthodoxy.
Perriman continues to insist that John’s perspective of the logos was in lockstep with Philo. But as Carson points out, that Philo’s logos has no distinct personality, and does not itself become incarnate. Logos for Philo can refer to the ideal man, the primal man, from which all empirical human beings derive. [Carson, PNTC, John 115] The Stoics understood logos to be that rational principle by which everything else exists. There is no god but logos. The proper OT connection with the NT logos is the Hebrew word dabar, not hokmah. The lack of wisdom terminology in John’s writings would testify against the idea that John is concerned to present Jesus as the personification of wisdom or wisdom incarnate. To assert that Jesus being presented as God incarnate, or identified as the creator is somehow secondary in the NT smacks of theological bias from the start. A simple reading of the NT shouts to us about the God-Man, the One who has descended into the lower parts of the earth to redeem His people, to save His people from their sins is not a secondary message, but the heartbeat of the NT gospel.

Goldsworthy sums it up well, “The biblical doctrine of interpretation, then, includes the epistemological dimension and the significance of the noetic effects of human sin (Rom. 1:18-32). He goes on to say, Christian theism maintains that what we think of the Word incarnate will affect what we think of the OT prophets. “In other words, the hermeneutical question about the whole Bible correlates with the question, “What do you think of Christ?” [Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics] It is precisely here that Perriman runs off track. Perriman argues we must interpret the Christ event through the lens of second temple Judaism and how they understood the OT prophets. But this is exactly backwards according to Christian theism. We must read the prophets in the extra light of God that shines upon us through the NT Scriptures. Moreover, what Andrew does with Jesus, his refusal to publicly confess his divinity for instance, determines more than anything else what he will do with Scripture. Perriman wants his audience to believe that he has arrived at his understanding of Jesus through an objective, blood, sweat, and tears approach to exegesis. However, the truth is that he has approached the text with a view of Jesus already projected, and from that starting point, he has reshaped the text to suit his own projection.

The final product is a Jesus who is far reduced from that which Scripture describes. Perriman’s Jesus is not divine, He is not the Creator of all that is, He does not hold all things together by the word of His power. He was a man, nothing more, nothing less, whom God has not made out to be a very special man. It remains to be sin if Perriman thinks Jesus sinned, or had a sin nature. But that is a discussion for another time, perhaps.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Be careful, your answer has eternal consequences.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Supreme Court, Marriage, and the Inescapable Hostility of America to the Gospel

Col. 1 21, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind.” Sylvia C. Keemaat writes, “The challenge that Colossians provides to its imperial context is overwhelmingly rooted in a strong theology of creation.” Man is not in fact the measure of all things. Man, in order to understand his position accurately must understand that first and foremost, he is a creature of God. Man exists for the purpose and pleasure of God and nothing more. God brought man into being as well as all of creation for His own glory, for His own purpose, and for His own good pleasure. I like to say that I was made by God for God. If only I can remember that when faced with the temptation to have it my way, I would avoid much error and even more sin.

Carson & Moo, as well as Guthrie all point to a heresy as Paul’s occasion for addressing the Colossian Church. It is reasonable to understand that Paul’s concern had to do with a sound Christology and the influence of pagan philosophy on Colossian theology. In 1:15-19 Paul provides a hymn of the highest Christology, describing a distinctly Christian metaphysic. He states that Christ is creator of all things, that all things were created by and for Christ, and that in Christ all things are held together. One is led to believe that this distinctly Christian metaphysic had a competitive alternative in the Colossian Church. In Col. 2:8 Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

That there was a competing philosophy in Colossae is indisputable. In addition, that this philosophy had its roots, it's foundation in pagan tradition, and perhaps Greek thought is equally difficult to dispute. The Church was being seduced to think in terms of the elementary principles of the world. Here Paul sets such thinking squarely over against the kind of thinking that Christians are obligated to engage in. This was, after all, the very kind of thinking from which they had been rescued. The pagan philosophies were clearly threatening the Colossian Church from all sides. Their promises of true knowledge and of true meaning were tantalizing much like the philosophies of our day. Paul informs the Colossian Church in 2:3, however, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. I find it interesting that Paul uses the word “hidden.” The Greek word is apokruphos. It means something that is not able to be known and thus secret.

Paul reminds the Colossian Church that they have been redeemed from this state. They are no longer without true knowledge, a true understanding of God like they once were. In 1:21, to return to our text for this situation, Paul says that the unregenerate condition of the Colossian Church was one that involved a ἐχθροὺς τῇ διανοίᾳ, echthrous tei dianoiai. They were enemies in their intellect. Their thought process prior to knowing God was a process that set them apart as enemies of God. This compound word dianoiai means a particular manner or way of thinking, disposition, manner of thought. This description helps us understand that the unregenerate way of reasoning, their approach to rational thought is fundamentally different from how a Christian thinks about things. This is especially true in American culture, or at least it should be.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for the legalization of gay marriage in American culture. There has already been a lot said about the tragedy of this situation. As it relates to this article, I want to focus on how the Church should observe this development and perhaps how she can use it to help equip herself to be better “thinkers” than she has been in the recent past. It is best to acknowledge Paul’s statement to the Colossians as we embark on this brief lesson in meta-thinking.

The American tradition that once offered a casual tip of the hat to Christian values for so long has vanished in rapid fashion. The unregenerate mind is one that rejects God’s values, not to mention a distinctly Christian metaphysics and epistemology. American thought is radically independent. In American culture, man is the measure of all things. And when asked, “which man?” the answer is “this man.”

The U.S. Supreme Court handles things the way the typical American handles things these days. They approach the constitution, not as their sole authority for law and order. Rather, they want the order the document promises, but without the authority that comes with it. They want to turn the document into a tool that delivers the kind of order they want without the kind of authority they don’t want. As a result of this way of thinking, American judges are legislating from the bench more and more and the results range from comical to terrifying.

This very same mentality exists in most American Churches. Man is the measure of all things. The typical American Christian, professing, that is, does the very same thing with Scripture that judges do with the constitution. What is worse is that the American mind is almost entirely unregenerate minds. The unbeliever denies the biblical definition of marriage, love, right, and wrong, knowledge, God, Jesus, authority, and especially Christian. Rather than seek and love God’s truth, they seek to replace it with a truth of their own, apart from God.

Rom. 1:26-27, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

If I understand Paul correctly in this text, He is asserting that homosexuality is the revelation of the wrath of God upon the human race because of its refusal to accept the glory of God, and the truth of God for what it is: God’s truth and glory. Instead, humans have become vain in their speculations and their minds have become darkened. This refusal to honor God as God has resulted in God cursing humanity with same-sex desires. Because humanity was filled with an assortment of wickedness, God has brought about this curse as a way in which to inflict wrath upon the human race.

This does not mean that homosexuals cannot be saved. But it does call into question the view that this sin isn’t any different from any other. A view that until recently I have held. I am now in the process of examining my position. I know of no other place in Scripture where the author affirms that a particular behavior is actually the result of God’s wrath upon other sinful behaviors. But it seems this is exactly what Paul is arguing here. Moo agrees, “Paul follows this genre by making the same connection but differs from it by attributing the connection to the act of God.” [Moo, Romans, 113]

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Denying The Sinful Nature - 1 John 1:8

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. [1 Jn 1:8.]
ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν, ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν.

There are two textual variants in this sentence that deserve attention as one sets out to establish the text. The phrase "of God" is inserted after truth in 1448, 1611, and the Harklensis group. Without getting bogged down in the details, the variant seems to a scribal insertion and expansion. It is never used by John anywhere in his writings. 

The second variant is a transposition of words in the the phrase "οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν." Tischendorf's apparatus lists the transposition in the following order "εν ημιν ουκ εστιν." The NA28 apparatus lists the number order as 3412. There is no sound reason to doubt the reading of NA28 in either place.

John uses a conditional sentence to make a statement that is more than a little profound. It is a statement that is lost on many modern churches across many modern cultures. According to BDAG, this use amounts to a state of being sinful. The idea that emerges is that John has in mind a sinful state of being, a sinner. John is dealing with the practice of denying one's own sinful condition. He sets up a hard antithesis between the denial of the sinful nature over against possessing truth. Two things result from this conditional sentence: if we actually deny our sinful nature, we are engaging in self-deception, and, the truth is not in us. 

This is a theological issue. As a theological issue, it receives very little attention from many, many modern churches in modern cultures, especially Western cultures. If theology is so mundane and unimportant, how could John say that if one gets this theological concept wrong, it is tantamount to not being in the Christian Church. But this is precisely what John has expressed. John has told his audience that anyone denying that human beings have a sin nature, are born with a sin nature, cannot avoid having a sin nature, is actually engaging in self-deception and does not possess the truth. In reformed theology, we call this sin nature the doctrine of total depravity. Some would claim that this definition is an unfair intrusion of reformed theology on the writings of John. The purpose of this blog is to ask the reader to give the doctrine of total depravity another look to make sure they are not doing the very thing that John warned about in this text. The consequences are frightening.

What does it mean to have a sin nature? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 18, there are three particulars under the general head of Sin. 1. The guilt of the first sin. 2. The corruption of nature resulting from the first sin. 3. Actual transgression, or sins of act, which result from corruption of nature. [Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, 169] I know of very few theologians or churches that would deny 1 or 3. We all admit that sin has entered the world. Moreover, who among us would deny that we actually transgress God's law more often than we would care to admit? It isn't point 1 or 3 that bristles the human ego. Rather, it is in 2 that the scandal resides. That all human beings enter the world with a corrupt nature as a result of the first sin seems completely irrational, unjust, and utterly absurd.

Jesus describes the human heart as exceedingly wicked, For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Mt 15:19. This is the gospel according to Jesus, remember Him. He is the one who loves everybody unconditionally! Right? Wrong!

Paul's Anthropology

Men are born suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness. (Rom. 1:18) Men do not honor God as God, but have become futile in their speculations. (Rom. 1:21) Men have perverted the image of God. (Rom. 1:23) All men are and behave unrighteously and none of them seek after God. (Rom. 3:10) All humans have lost their fear of God. (Rom. 3:18) Men are not willing OR able to subject themselves to God or do anything that pleases God. (Rom. 8:7) Men consider something as beautiful as the gospel to be utter nonsense and scandalous. (1 Cor. 1:18) Men are blind and ignorant to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:4) Men are sworn enemies of God. (Rom. 8:6) Men are ignorant in their understanding of the gospel. (Eph. 4:18)

To deny the sin nature is to significantly diminish grace. It is astounding that God would do for us what He has given that we did to Him what we have. Man sinned against a perfectly holy God. Since God is perfectly holy, such an act of treason cannot possibly be fully apprehended. Sin was far more than just a mistake. There isn't an act of law-breaking that provides a fair comparison. God, being perfectly holy, cursed man for his act of ungodly rebellion. This curse was profound. It touched every part of the human person. Man was now infected with sin. Every part of his being was touched by this act. In addition, the curse came from God and only God could lift it. It has never been up to man to remove the curse himself, by an act of his own will or by doing enough good works. Read the paragraph above and check each reference carefully is that is how you think. Man is unders the curse of God because of the fall. Every part of his being has been made the enemy of God top to bottom. His will, his intellect, and his emotion are all infected with sin. That is just how sin is and that is exactly how the Scripture describes it. Man has a sin nature.

But when we say silly things like becoming a Christian is simply an act of the human will, it indicates that we have not seriously considered the impact of sin. Most modern Christians see sin as simply an imperfection. They give it a wink and a nob and proceed to claim to love Jesus and walk about in their sin as if this is an acceptable way for Christians to carry on.

When we hold to views of cheap grace and easy believism, we are denying the essence of what it means to have a sin nature. We are belittling sin. And when we belittle sin, we diminish the holiness of God. And when we belittle sin and diminish the holiness of God, we nullify grace. Grace is no longer a big deal any more. This thinking fails to understand God's revelation of Himself and His attitude toward sin.

An apologetic example will provide a good illustration for what I mean. William Lane Craig has said that if God sentences the American Indian to hell even though that Indian worshipped the Great Spirit and lived according to his internal conscience, that it would make God a monster. I would suggest that the only way Craig could ever make such a claim is by holding to a view of God that is fundamentally different from the one revealed in Scripture. If we are all saved by grace alone, then that ipso facto means that none of us deserve to be saved. This would include the American Indian. It does not matter if he heard the gospel or not. He has certainly sinned against God and such an act demands divine punishment. If the Indian deserves a chance, then it is no longer grace by which we are saved and now God is placed under a moral obligation to at least give us all a chance. Salvation is no longer grace, but a requirement for God. If Craig is correct, the same would have to be true for the Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or "fill in the blank." If a Muslim has never heard the gospel and she is worshipping Allah, and living according to her conscience, God would be a monster to subject her to divine wrath. In other words, according to Craig, idolaters of every stripe are likely to be in heaven even though they worshipped a false god.

You can use whatever illustration you desire for this exercise. Christianity is not a collection of a bunch of people who figured it out intellectually, and made a decision of the will to follow the sayings of Jesus Christ. There are no naturalistic explanations for the phenomenon that is the Christian Church. Mankind fell headlong into sin. As a result he received his just due: the curse of God. This curse separated him from His Creator. It resulted in a corruption of his will, his emotion, and his intellect. Every square inch of man's being became hostile to God. While this hostility and corruption is not at its highest degree, it is nevertheless extensive. Man is now walking in chains, bound to sin, blind, hostile, ignorant, and enemy of God, filled with all sorts of wicked and depraved thoughts. This describes us all. To cap it off, we are completely powerless to change this condition. There is NOTHING we can do and NOTHING we are willing to do to change the state of affairs. Man is not only blind, ignorant and wicked, and incapable of changing these things; man loves his blindness, wickedness, and ignorance. Man is in prison, held captive by sin. And he loves his prison.

The only hope for this desperate condition is the Christ event. To deny this condition flattens the amazing story of redemption we see in Scripture. Man, in his sinful condition cannot help but pretend that it isn't grace that is so amazing, it is himself.

To deny the sinful condition is to deny not only the gospel, it is to deny any need for the gospel. Christ becomes a good moral example and little more. For men who make such assertions, John says the truth is not in them and they are engaging in self-deception.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Andrew Perriman on Genesis 3:15: An Apologetic of the First Gospel Proclamation

Recently I argued that Andrew Perriman’s understanding of the central starting point of the gospel is responsible for much of the error in his system. I argued that the gospel began initially in Gen. 3:15 as good news for the entire human race as opposed to Andrew’s view that it began with a promise to Abraham. Andrew has done some work on Gen. 3:15, no doubt in response to criticism of some of his other conclusions about how wrong orthodoxy has been for the last 2,000 years or so. My goal is to interact with some of the basic components of Andrew’s treatment of Gen. 3:15 in what I will call an apologetic of the first gospel.

Andrew points to Calvin’s commentary on this text and says that Calvin “reluctantly” admitted to not seeing a promise of the coming Messiah in Gen. 3:15. Andrew, as he does with Scripture, uses Calvin in a limited fashion to prop up his own project, to support his personal agenda, which seems to be to refute nearly every claim that orthodoxy has ever made. Perhaps that is a bit of hyperbole on my part, but I think Perrman has earned it at this point. What is interesting is that Perriman quotes Calvin and literally stops just prior to a sentence that contains a contrasting conjunction. An oversight perhaps, but it is not at all insignificant. Calvin continues, “But since experience teaches that not all the sons of Adam by far, arise as conquerors of the devil, we must necessarily come to one head, that we may find to whom the victory belongs. So Paul, from the seed of Abraham, leads us to Christ; because many were degenerate sons, and a considerable part adulterous, through infidelity; whence it follows that the unity of the body flows from the head.” [Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 170-171]

Calvin does see a final victory of humanity over Satan, contrary to Andrew’s implication that Calvin thinks this enmity continues into perpetuity, that is, as Andrew would define it. A reading of Calvin’s interpretation of this text informs us that Calvin did think God was not only cursing the animal, but the devil who had used him. “I therefore conclude, that God here chiefly assails Satan under the name of the serpent, and hurls against him the lightening of his judgment.” [Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 169]

In respect to Calvin then, we see that while Calvin may not recognize a direct promise of the Messiah in the text, at least not in his commentary on Genesis, he most certainly sees an indirect promise of such. Andrew spends a great deal of time pointing out passages that obviously indicate that the singular “seed” in the Hebrew does not have to mean a singular person. That is all well and good, but it does not follow that because a word is used this way here and here and there, that it cannot be used differently in other places. If it does, then Andrew or someone needs to demonstrate why this must be the case. Language does not work this way today and I would speculate that it never has, except maybe for our first parents who were at the fountainhead of language. Words change and expand meaning over time. The implication is that if we rewind time, the range of meaning necessarily contracts.

Moving back to Calvin, the question whether Calvin saw Gen. 3:15 as a promise of salvation is answered in the institutes with this comment from Calvin himself, “Accordingly, at the beginning, when the first promise of salvation was given to Adam (Gen. 3:15), only a few slender sparks beamed forth:”[1]

And again here, “And if due weight is given to the testimony of Moses (Gen. 3:15), when he says that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, the dispute is at an end. For the words there used refer not to Christ alone, but to the whole human race. Since the victory was to be obtained for us by Christ, God declares generally, that the posterity of the woman would overcome the devil. From this it follows, that Christ is a descendant of the human race, the purpose of God in thus addressing Eve being to raise her hopes, and prevent her from giving way to despair.”[2] 

Andrew would be better served to really understand an author’s view before selecting one isolated, partial paragraph to represent him. Perriman should have kept reading. At best, this was an incompetent error while at worse, one could accuse Perriman of intentionally misrepresenting a champion of orthodoxy in order to attack orthodoxy. The less informed would simply not know any better and when we couple that to the lack of critical thinking that people practice, the consequences are predictable.

The point is that Andrew pushes Calvin’s position too far. While Calvin does not limit Gen. 3:15 to the promised Messiah, he most certainly thinks it necessarily includes that promise, for this is the means by which the seed of Eve will crush Satan. In addition, Calvin refers to this as the first gospel, contrary to Andrew’s inference. Moreover, Andrew said that Calvin made this admission reluctantly as if Calvin were looking for and even hoping to find support for the first gospel here only to find none. In other words, Andrew paints Calvin’s language as one of disappointment. NOTHING could be further from the truth and Andrew ought to be ashamed of himself for engaging in such blatant dishonesty.

Now, here is fact that Andrew ignores entirely. If God is speaking just as much to Satan as He is to the serpent, then we have to be able to see if there are things that may be “serpent specific” and perhaps distinguish them from what might be “Satan specific.” How could it be otherwise? Is Perriman suggesting that the curse in the garden was limited to the instrument of the Devil, but not the Devil himself? Such a view is nothing short of preposterous. Calvin holds that for the benefit of man, God speaks to the serpent. This makes sense because the serpent is not a rational creature and is unable to communicate expect by programmed biochemical activities in the physical brain. God’s language to the serpent was for man’s benefit. However, God also speaks to Satan. He promises Satan that the woman’s seed will crush Satan, even though Satan will bruise the heel of the woman’s seed. I must say that I am not naïve enough to say that the animal could not have understood God’s language by way of the miraculous. That is a possibility that I shall not entertain here.

Andrew requires a very specific understanding of the Hebrew verb שׁף, which means to crush or bruise. In order for Perriman’s interpretation to hold, the imperfect must be interpreted as iterative. However, anyone familiar with biblical languages and the imperfect in BH knows that to place such tight restraints on their usage is artificial exegesis. Professor Choi lists several uses of the Hebrew imperfect; future, customary, contingent, and preterite. [Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax] The imperfect aspect generally, but not always, denotes an incomplete action. According to Steinmann, “A common use of the imperfect aspect is to denote a future event.” [Steinmann, Intermediate Biblical Hebrew] Hence, future and incomplete seem to be congruent with one another. An act that is future is indeed incomplete even if it has not begun.

I suspect one can make an argument against an iterative interpretation in this case because the action describes an act that has yet to begin. However, I must confess that I need to give the data a much fuller examination before drawing any conclusions. It would seem to me that this would be the place to begin. We simply ask the following question of the text: are there examples of future tense imperfects with iterative aspect, and under what circumstances do they appear? Such a study is beyond the scope and purpose of blog articles.

The idea of seed in Biblical Hebrew is interesting. Of the over 230 occurrences of this word in BHS, it is in the plural only twice. In 1 Sam. 8:15 it refers to non-personal seed and in Dan. 1:12 it refers to vegetables that will be eaten. We simply cannot make anything out of the number of this word in BH. For Andrew to point out the singularity of זֶ֫רַע is more than a little interesting.

I did notice that Andrew failed to acknowledge that Paul in fact did see the promise to Abraham as a promise not to his seeds, plural, but to his seed, that is Christ. Now this interpretation most certainly requires additional revelation because Paul could not have arrived at this understanding any other way. The promise to Abraham was a promise to one, to Christ. If Andrew is going to chide us for reading our theology back into Gen. 3:15, then it seems to me that he should also extend the same courtesy to Paul.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

John MacArthur's Strange Fire Conference Sorely Needed: Discerning Rotting Pastors and Pseudo Ministries

The strange fire conference sponsored by John MacArthur of Grace To You Ministries is a sorely needed project that will hopefully equip those who attend to be much better at discerning true Christianity from the sewage that passes itself off as Christianity these days. I drive by the landfill just about every day on my way to the office here in Charlotte, NC. Usually, you can't tell that there is something filthy, something vile, rotting and decaying just on the other side of those trees, just over the man-made grassy hill. But on occasion, when it is raining and the humidity is up and the air is still, you know that something foul is close by. It is my hope that the Church will once again create just the right atmosphere of discernment, where the air is still and our people can detect that something rotting is close by.

Enter Bishop I.V. Hilliard of New Light Christian Center in Houston, TX. Apparently the bishops helicopter is in need of some new blades. In fact, it would save the church $50,000 if the bird was given some new wings. The good bishop sent out a newsletter to his "Friends in Jesus." He has asked them to sow $52 each to cover the costs of the blades. He tells them God will give them a breakthrough within 52 days or 52 weeks if they will only help spread the good news.

Hilliard called the need an "urgent transportation need." He informed his friends that Scripture teaches when you give to a Kingdom, God will raise up someone to use their power and their influence to help you." He goes on to say that as he pondered and looked at the situation, he heard that still small voice of the Holy Spirit say 'tell your special partners who have special transportation needs and their obedience will release favor for their needs and desires.

Another prominent televangelist has told views to obey God, and send him $273.00 recovery seed donation. Todd Coontz, the founder of RockWealth International Ministries has promised that God will reward donors with a supernatural change in 90 days. I guess God is really busy these days since it is down to giving Himself a 90 day deadline. If you give to these causes, you are not aiding the cause of Christ, but rather the cause of Satan. These charlatans are not children of the kingdom. They are children of hell.

Remember these guys. I must confess that I am convinced that most people sending money to ungodly decadent charlatans like are themselves greedy people guilty of filthy lucre. There is nothing remotely godly about these men. They subvert the gospel and exploit the poor for their own gain. Whoever said this man needs a helicopter to begin with. These men are full of themselves, thinking themselves to be of some significance because they are able to draw crowds of such large numbers to their cult and do so with such ease. They are ravenous wolves, snakes, wicked men who pervert the gospel of Christ for personal gain.

How about this guy? Remember him? Wise up!

And this man? Remember? More recent than the others. They all have a common ancestor:

That's right! See them for what they really are.
Prisoner behind bars - stock photo
Yep, you are absolutely correct if you think I am

But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 1 Cor. 2:15

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
12. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. 1 Cor. 5:11-13

So, Dr. MacArthur, preach on sir, and don't ever stop!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference

My favorite pastor, whose church I am not a member of, John MacArthur, is hold a conference in October on a subject that deals with Pentecostal theology. (My favorite pastor is my pastor, Rob Tartaglia) The name of the conference is rightly called, “Strange Fire.” I wish my I could be there to hear all the wonderful teaching that will take place. Alas, I must wait for the Shepherd’s Conference in March. At any rate, it seems this conference may have, and I underline may have, provoked a sermon or two by Mark Driscoll, the young and restless, new Calvinist (so-called) pastor over in Seattle.

In this sermon, Driscoll intends to answer three very direct questions about the “gift of tongues.”
"Can every Christian have the gift of tongues? Does Mars Hill Church believe that the gift of tongues is for today? And what happens when the private use of tongues goes public?"
Read more at 

Driscoll then does the right thing: he sets the criterion by which we can know if we are right or wrong on the subject. This is always important and often neglected in conversations like this. The Christian Post reports,

Before diving into his responses, Driscoll insisted that the only way to know who may be "right" or "wrong" about speaking in tongues was by studying the Scriptures — and "not by taking our experience and making it normative."
Read more at 

The very first question concerns the criterion itself. Is this argument like other theological arguments where truth is actually confined to the realm of the abstract? I have dealt with many charismatics who would love to keep this argument in just that location. But this question is not limited to abstract theological points of view. This argument necessarily involves human experience. It involves claims that may be tested empirically as well as theologically and that seems to be one of the components that is always missing from the discussion and it seems to be absent in Driscoll’s argument as well.

Driscoll argues that 1 Cor. 13:8-10 refers to the second coming of Christ, and not the completion of the canon. Now, whether the traditional cessationist argument holds here, is, in my opinion completely irrelevant to the discussion. The reasoning is faulty and inconsistent. The first point Paul is making is that godly love, not spiritual gifts, is the sine qua non of the Christian experience. Secondly, the gifts have a temporal purpose and are subordinate to the Christian ethic. The Corinthian focus was misplaced and it was Paul’s goal to help them regain a godly perspective and to mature and grow in the faith. Presumably, a godly focus is not one that emphasizes spiritual gifts, but rather, godly living, godly fruit!

The gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Corinthians should not be viewed as a package deal. This is the first error that non-cessationists make. The assumption is that all these spiritual gifts will end “en toto” at some point in time. I believe that argument is fallaciously based on the assumption that the gifts should be viewed as a complete package. There is no reason to draw such an inference or make such a conclusion exegetically speaking. The gifts could theoretically pass off the scene at different points in time, even some future time in relation to Paul and the Corinthian believers.

Secondly, Paul is not suggesting that these gifts will exist when Christ returns, even if that interpretation holds to begin with. He is merely saying that if these gifts exist at the arrival of the perfect, they will be done away with. The point is not about how long the gifts will operate in the Church. If that is what one thinks 1 Cor. 13 is about, they have sorely missed Paul’s point. The Greek εἴτε is a conditional. This is not insignificant, but I rarely see commentators take it seriously.

Notice verse 8 deals with the hypothetical conditional that if there is prophecy, and if there are languages, and if there is knowledge, they will all be done away with. Then in verse 9 he makes a very clear statement: our prophecy is imperfect and our knowledge is imperfect, but soon enough that will not be the case. It seems that Paul’s point is that we should emphasize those things that are eternal that will last, as opposed to those things that will not, things that are clearly temporal. When the perfect comes, the partial will cease to exist. And if prophecy exists when the perfect comes, because it is partial, it will cease as well. But that statement does not infer that prophecy will exist when the partial arrives. That is an unnecessary assumption that has no exegetical or even logical support as far as it goes.

A quick illustration that serves to support my argument is the ministry gifts placed within the church. Pentecostals argue that apostles are still active in the Church as well as prophets. This specious argument is based on Eph. 4:11. As it goes, God put apostles and prophets in the church and the church is still here, so then it follows that so too must these offices be. But many non-Pentecostal continuationists would strongly disagree with this reasoning. However, they fall into the exact same line of reasoning in their argument for the continuation of the gifts. There is no single biblical passage that says that the office of the apostle is no longer operating. That does not mean that we must conclude that it is. If it is reasonable to argue that apostles and prophets no longer operate within the church even though Scripture has not explicitly stated they do not, then why must we accept that sort of argument in order to reject the continuation of certain gifts? I fail to see why the one and not the other. Clearly, this way of arguing is logically inconsistent.

The better response for those who argue for the continuation of the first-second century spiritual gifts is located in a right understanding of those gifts from the beginning. From there, we move to ask the question, the empirical question that asks, is what we see today the same thing they experienced then. I do not argue from a solely exegetical perspective. I combine clear exegesis with empirical proof that no one seems to be really speaking in biblical tongues or on a genuine healing campaign or routinely working miracles as part of their ministry. What we see today is not the tongues of Scripture. What we see in these healing, and miracle crusades are not at all what they claim to be and we have proven it repeatedly. This is not a debate that is confined to abstract theological concepts. This is one where we can join theology and experience together and test the truth of the claims from what we see in Scripture with what we see in modern this phenomena.
Modern tongues, made popular beginning in the Methodist revivals of the Appalachian Mountains in the late 19th century and exploding at Asuza Street in Los Angeles in 1906 are not the miraculous languages witnessed in the ancient church. I was converted in a Church of God in those very same Appalachian Mountains that are my home even though I left years ago. I speak not purely from the standpoint of someone trained in theology, but from an abiding intimate experience as well. The tongues spoken in these circles are not languages. They are unbroken syllables thrown together rapidly in belief that the person is being moved by the Spirit. The entire experience has no miraculous elements whatever. It is based on some mystical experience that serves to prove nothing and only serves to reinforce the self-deception nature of the human mind.

The same is true with regard to healings and miracles. I do not debate Pentecostals on this subject. I simply require they get in my car, we go to the hospital, and they can do their debating there, healing the sick, opening blind eyes, and yes, raising the dead. It is an interesting phenomenon that over the course of the years, even though I have had several conversations with men and even women who argue this way, and have extended this offer, not one of them has actually taken me up on it. In fact, I can’t remember any occasion where my opponent did not become extremely frustrated and angry that I insisted we settle this the old-fashioned way, on the streets, where the rubber meets the road. If their understanding the Scripture is right, and they are being honest in their argument, then they should be able to demonstrate healing and miracles powers as well as real genuine miraculous tongues that are actually languages. If they cannot do so, my unapologetic response is put up or shut up. They are, after all, the ones making all these boasts about the power of God operating in their lives, their churches, their ministries. The response is simple: show me!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Gospel Coalition Gets the Gospel from Back to Front: Responding to Andrew Perriman’s Gospel

First of all, this is a very brief, and hopefully pointed response to Andrew Perriman’s criticism of Gospel Coalition’s reaction to certain elements of emergent theology that appear to misunderstand the gospel according to Jesus, expounded by Paul in his letters. Andrew Perriman states it clearly:

They appear to be reacting against theological developments which have driven a wedge between the Reformed emphasis on personal salvation, supposedly as Paul understood it, and the “emerging” idea—though it’s not stated as such—that Jesus preached kingdom and that kingdom means social transformation. - See more at:

Perriman immediately gives us the real crux of the problem with the narrative-historical approach: “Did Paul preach Jesus’ gospel?” Perriman criticizes Piper for admitting to reading the gospels backwards. What Piper means is that he begins with the cross and works through the story again to enrich his understanding of what Jesus was doing. In other words, the crucifixion was the whole point of the narrative and it is always good to go back now and see the events that lead up to the climax of the story. Perriman seems to endorse the idea that such a practice impedes understanding when just the opposite is the case. Understanding the crucifixion can only offer us a much better understanding of much of what Jesus had to say leading up to that event. Perrmian’s criticism seems preposterous from this perspective.

Perriman gives us a flow chart as an example of why reformed thought fails to understand the gospel.

In the first place, Perriman’s tactic is terribly misleading. It assumes that Reformed theology has no historical basis for the theology to which it holds. He assumes it is a modern, or later invention that is forced back onto the text. Perriman does very little demonstrate why we should take his argument seriously. Perhaps Andrew wants to take the next 15-20 years and have us all re-debate the issues the church debated beginning at the Jerusalem conference, all over again. Perhaps that is what every generation of the Church should do. This way, all we would ever accomplish is debate after debate after debate. Is that really what the Church should do? Does Perriman and the other emergent really think this is the right course of action? The Christian group has a set of values and a confession that everyone who claims to be part of that group is obligated to keep. It is irrational to think that we must cover the same ground with every passing generation. The structure of elders teaching the younger generation is designed to safeguard against this very thing.

The basic problem with Perriman’s chart is that not only is the previous one an ad hominem against reformed theology, his alternative is terribly inadequate. The gospel does not begin with the story of Israel. It begins in Gen. 3:15. The gospel begins with God’s promise to our parents, the head of the human race. “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is the initial promise of the redeemer who would be born of a woman, who would crush the head of Satan by bruising His own heel. The location of this promise in history makes it universal. Israel is nowhere to be seen in this place or at this time. Andrew’s argument depends on his starting within the right historical framework. I argue that Scripture clearly contradicts Andrew’s choice. I also think it is clear that Andrew’s choice of where to begin is based on extreme theological bias. He reads his own understanding back into the text as much or more than the reformed tradition.

What Paul will later do with Jesus’ gospel has been hinted at already. Simeon prophesies that the historical salvation of Israel will be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles”—that is, it will open the eyes of the Gentiles to the power of Israel’s God to intervene in history and save his people from their enemies - See more at:

Andrew takes great pleasure in referring to God as Israel’s God. But is He Israel’s God alone? Is God not our God? Does God’s election of Israel as a nation mean that He is not our God as well? Are we forever on the outside looking in? Again, this language is not based on Scriptural teaching as a whole, but rather on Andrew’s theological bias. God’s promise was redemption for all the nations, for those whom he would call, for His own. And that includes much more than the nation of Israel.

Paul’s role as a minister “of the gospel of Christ” is to ensure that the response of the Gentiles to what God has done for his people through his servant Jesus is acceptable. - See more at:

Is this how Paul viewed his role? Does Paul ever burden himself with responsible of making sure that Gentiles are responding appropriately to the message of the gospel? Surely Andrew reads much more into the text than Paul intended. Paul’s role as a minister of the gospel was to preach the gospel to those who had never heard the gospel. Paul’s role is to do what he can to make sure the Gentiles hear the gospel, not to take responsibility for their response to the gospel.

But it seems to me that by beginning with the reductionist modern-Reformed premise that “gospel” is all about the justification of the individual and working backwards from there they have seriously misconstrued—or at least, misrepresented—the New Testament narrative. - See more at:

Is Perriman on to something here? Does orthodoxy reduce the gospel to individual justification? Is it the case that reformed theology begins at the wrong place? Does orthodoxy have no anchor in ancient biblical exegesis? Are the confessions of Christendom the product of later pagan influence and hence responsible for hiding the gospel for nearly 1900 years or more? Is it possible that for 19-20 centuries, the true gospel of Christ has been hidden and that all that the Church ever was was a product of pagan philosophy and Greek influence as a result of twisting the sayings and teachings of Jesus? That proposition is not only very difficult to imagine, it is one of the most absurd propositions I have read.

The doctrine of justification is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. It has been from the beginning. Where one stands on this subject determines whether or not they stand or outside the Christian group. I realize this kind of language is frowned upon by modern scholarship. I fully recognize this sort of language offends the sensibilities of many, if not most in that community. However, I am far more concerned with truth that I am with offending the sensibilities of men.

The question is what does the gospel have to do with justification? And is Andrew right to draw such a sharp distinction between gospel and justification? To answer that question, we turn to Paul’s earliest letter, the letter to Galatians. Martin Luther refers to this letter as the queen of the epistles. The early church fathers wrote more commentaries on Galatians than any other NT book. The location of the churches of Galatia in NT hierarchy only adds to the significance and prominence of this relatively short epistle. “It remains true today to say that how one understands the issues and teachings of Galatians determines in large measure what kind of theology is espoused, what kind of message is proclaimed, and what kind of lifestyle is practiced.” [Longenecker – WBC on Galatians]

However one understands Galatians, one thing is clear: Paul was dealing with a different gospel, and that gospel was related to an understanding of Justification that was different from the one these Churches had previously received from him. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In fact, this gospel and its view of justification was cause for Paul to accuse some of the Galatian churches of abandoning the faith. Whatever Perriman and the emergent enlightened ones have to say on this issue, they had better watch their Ps and Qs. As far as that goes, we all had better watch our Ps and Qs. This is no small matter. It is in fact an eternal matter.
“But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” Paul refers to these men with a different perspective of the gospel and justification as “false brethren.”

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” Clearly justification is more than a mere afterthought in terms of the content of the gospel. As Paul seems to argue, a misunderstanding of justification equals a different gospel. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Once more, Paul’s polemic infers that such a view destroys grace and makes the death of Christ meaningless. It seems there is much more to Christ’s death than the just the suffering servant.
“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” Andrew’s preference for Israel’s God also seems quite an overstatement given Paul’s argument that from the very beginning God had the justification of people from all nations in mind even when He made His promise to Abraham.

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Paul here proves that we understand the purpose of the Law only if we rightly understand Christ and NT revelation. Andrew has it just the opposite. It is only in Christ that we can see the true purpose of the Law. Without that light, we cannot see the real meaning of OT revelation. Andrew seeks to throw away the light we have been given in hopes of rediscovering it in the darkness of an intentionally veiled message.
It seems nearly impossible to read Galatians honestly, to borrow one of Andrew’s terms, and to walk away thinking that justification and gospel can be separated. If I am not mistaken, someone in the visible Church tried that once before and, well, we know how that turned out.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Andrew Perriman and Hell: Another Expedition Beyond Orthodoxy

Rule #5 Historical narratives have (mostly) historical horizons

The narrative-historical approach identifies and works within the plausible historical horizons of the texts, on the assumption that Jesus and his followers spoke and wrote about what evidently and urgently mattered to them as (mostly) Jews engaged with the overarching story of Israel. I think that nearly everything that Jesus said and did had in view the horizon of the war against Rome, and that nearly everything that Paul and others said and did had in view a second horizon of the conversion of the empire. So, for example, I argue that when Jesus speaks of the judgment of Gehenna, he means not a post mortem “hell” but the terrible judgment that would come upon Jerusalem within a generation. That is what the language points to, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was clearly of paramount concern for him.
 It really is quite fascinating to observe these new trailblazers arise within evangelical circles, portend to somehow have gained amazing new insights into the world of the text of Scripture so much so that they can, within a few short years turn the most basic, fundamental doctrines of orthodoxy on their head. We mistake the market for such phenomena as validity and this quickly translates into credibility somehow. That there are a number of false Christians even within evangelical churches is nothing new. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that new ideas which seek to fundamentally renovate even the most basic Christian dogma are met by these young, restless, Christians so-called, with great enthusiasm and acceptance. They are, after all, eager to replace historic Christianity with a modern version that meets their own desires for what they want God and Jesus to be like. I suspect that this element within visible Christianity is the element that finds Perriman's new ideas (which are not really that new) so very attractive. To be fair, this fact alone does nothing to disprove Perriman's theology. For that, we must turn to Scripture to see if in fact his hypotheses stand the test of biblical norms.

When Jesus speaks about Gehenna (γέεννα), is He in fact referring to Titus' sacking of the city in 70? Lets ask Jesus and see if this is the case. In Matt. 5:22 Jesus said that anyone who called his brother a fool is guilty enough to enter "the fiery hell." In verses 29-30 of that same chapter, Jesus said that is better for us to enter heaven maimed than for our whole body to be cast into hell. Is there any way we could look at these verses and understand Jesus to be referring to the coming fiery judgment of Jerusalem in 70? These are general statements about a universal judgment that will address individual behavior, not behavior as a nation. It seems nearly impossible to this theologian that Jesus was thinking of the fall of Jerusalem in these verses. Such an interpretation seems to be unnatural and hoisted upon the text.

In Matt. 10:28, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear men who can destroy the body, but fear God who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Once more, there is no hint in this pericope of the impending judgment of the nation of Israel. The only way one could draw such a conclusion would be due to a previous theological commitment. And this is something that Andrew supposedly loathes and claims to avoid. However, as I have pointed out repeatedly, not only does Andrew fail here, such a task is impossible. Andrew's theological commitments appear from the inception of this program and are easily recognized throughout his entire project.

The truth is that there is not a single place in Scripture where Jesus linked Gehenna to the coming fall of Jerusalem. The Greek term γέεννα is derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ a ravine running along the south side of Jerusalem and a place where the rubbish from the city was constantly being burned. According to late Jewish popular belief, the last judgment was to take place in this valley, and hence the figurative extension of meaning from ‘Valley of Hinnom’ to ‘hell.’ In most languages γέεννα is rendered as ‘place of punishment’ or ‘place where the dead suffer’ or ‘place where the dead suffer because of their sins.’ [Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 5.]

The Talmud unequivocally states: “He who maintains that resurrection [of the dead] is not a biblical doctrine [i.e., intimated in the Torah]” (Sanh. 90a) has no portion in the world to come. Indeed, the concepts of an afterlife and eventual divine justice became pillars of the Pharisees and their rabbinic descendants and one of the chief points of difference between them and the Sadducees, who asserted that the soul died together with the body. To paraphrase the Talmud, if those who never lived before can live, then why cannot God make those who have already lived live again (Sanh. 91a)? [Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 117-18.]

Andrew continues to infer that our understanding of the NT Scripture and the teachings of Jesus must be understood in light of second-temple Judaism. He claims that his approach is atheological. He makes radical statements, even within what he calls rules, and fails to provide anything more than additional statements to make his case. In other words, Perriman confuses statements for arguments. The truth is that Perriman makes very few arguments to support his not-so-new ideas. The sources I have referred are only two from many that refute Andrew's claim about Jesus' intended meaning of Gehenna. On the one hand, no link is ever made between Gehenna and the fall of Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is clear that there was no Jewish consensus regarding the afterlife and judgment. The truth is that Andrew would need a LOT more evidence for his rule in this case to even qualify as flimsy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Andrew Perriman, Metalepsis, and A Philosophy of History

Rule #4 Metalepsis rules, OK

If it is the narrative of Israel’s troubled historical existence that controls meaning in the biblical texts, we take it that the New Testament quotes from or alludes to the Jewish scriptures not so much to provide authoritative scriptural support for New Testament teachings (i.e. as proof texts) as to bring the larger narratives and arguments into play. This works essentially because in the first century Israel was facing a crisis analogous to previous crises such as the Babylonian invasion or the assault of Antiochus IV against Jewish religion. Richard Hays introduced the term metalepsis for the practice of hearing the intertextual echoes generated by allusion:
When a literary echo links the text in which it occurs to an earlier text, the figurative effect of the echo can lie in the unstated or suppressed… points of resonance between the two texts.
I don't want to spend much more time on Perriman's rules for narrative-historical interpretation. I think most readers get the picture that the technique serves as another way by which orthodox Christianity can be deconstructed and ideas and theologies imported into Christianity that were there from the start.

Here we see another monstrous and unproven assumption in Andrew's rules. "If it is the narrative of Israel's troubled historical existence that controls the meaning of the biblical texts, we take it that New Testament quotes from or alludes to the Jewish scriptures not so much to provide authoritative scriptural support for New Testament teachings (i.e. as proof texts) as to bring the larger narratives and arguments into play." Perriman continues to emphasize his thesis that the NT text is really obsessed with the Jewish struggles as a nation. He fails to recognize that most of the New Testament was not directed at primarily Jewish audiences. Moreover, one has to wonder why, if the NT writers were not concerned to appeal to the OT text as the authority by which Christian theism is established and by which we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, they appealed to it to make these very points in the manner in which they did and as often as they did.

In addition, if one understands metalepsis, then one realizes that there are numerous passages in the NT that turn the idea on its head. That is not to say that it is never useful to examine the OT text that is being employed by the NT writer. On the contrary, that is just good exegesis. However, the guiding rule for understanding how an OT text is being employed is not necessarily the OT as it stands by itself. The best way to understand how a writer is using an OT and why is the present mindset of that writer. Since we know that NT use of OT passages is a very complex and challenging area, that we could formulate hard and fast rules, such as metalepsis is untenable. In other words, the number of times that the technique just doesn't work out so well are so numerous that we risk introducing exegetical arbitrariness into our process. The theme of Jewish focus continues to create massive misunderstandings for Perriman's theology. If one were to accept his theories at face value, we would have no choice but to conclude that Jesus has in fact NOT protected His Church from serious error for the entire Church has been wrong for two-thousand years now.

Once more, while metalepsis can be quite useful in many places to help us understand a number of texts, adding much to the exegetical objective, over-reliance on the technique tends to cloud meaning and create confusion. From my point of view, there seems to be a continual theme of over-emphasis emerging in Andrew's narrative-historical method. This habit is responsible for introducing theological conclusions that are not just wrong, but egregious in numerous places.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Begging the Question: The Self-Vindicating Nature of Ultimate Authority

Christian apologetics can be a highly complex field. In fact, if you read some apologists you might be tempted to think that the only way you can become a good apologist is to know the most infinitesimal details of every secular philosophy known to man. Or worse, you should be intimately acquainted with every religion that man has been able to conjure up. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The command to provide a reasonable answer to anyone who asks you to do so has been given to all believers. Hence, all believers are capable of obeying it; even those of us with the busiest of work schedules.

Now, while one may not need to know all the various nuances of philosophy, theology, and logic in order to engage in apologetics, that does not mean it is prudent to ignore these subjects. To strike the balance and, to avoid the sin of intellectual idolatry as well as that of intellectual sloth, is indeed a very difficult task to accomplish. But to strive for that very thing is, in my opinion, a respectable and worthy attempt to honor God. One way we can honor God in our lives is in sound thinking. Modern American/Western peoples, and perhaps it is more widespread than that, have become inept in the art and skill of critical thinking. Yet, God made humans rational creatures. While we must resist the urge to make logic an idol, becoming rationalists, we must also avoid the opposite extreme of dispensing with the mind altogether or placing such low importance on it that we become less critical than the typical baboon down at the zoo. Sad, though it may be, I fear many humans would be over-matched in a game of wits with these beasts.

The purpose of this post is to respond to the objection that Christians engage in the fallacy of "begging the question" when they appeal to God to demonstrate that God exists. I intend to demonstrate how such an assertion, while at face value seems reasonable enough, actually misses the mark by making a category error in its application of this particular fallacy.

"The fallacy of begging the question, a.k.a. Petitio Principii, is committed when, instead of offering proof for its conclusion, an argument simply reasserts that conclusion." In other words, this fallacy assumes the truth of what it must prove. Do Christians, and does presuppositional apologetics in particular, commit the fallacy of begging the question?

To begin with, this is an appeal to final authority. All appeals to final authority are circular in nature, otherwise, they would not be appeals to final authority. The Christian begins with God and reasons to God interpreting the evidence and facts as God requires. This evidence, the natural revelation without and within, along with special revelation in Scripture leads one to God. One does end up where one began. On the flip side, the unbeliever reasons that knowledge can be true based on autonomous reason or scientific evidence. He proceeds to interpret reality in accordance with the rules of logic and science and concludes that human reason is the ultimate source of knowledge. Hi argument ends where it began, with unaided human reason.

Second, presuppositional apologetics does not really beg the question, at least not in the way that many think. Presuppositional apologetics utilizes TAG to demonstrate the truth of Christian theism. TAG stands for the transcendental argument for God. This method argues that if God did not exist, rational thought would not be possible. But rational thought is possible. Therefore, God exists. In other words, presuppositional apologetics argues from the impossibility of the contrary. God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of science, logic, and ethics. Apart from God, the uniformity of nature, the laws of logic, and human morality would be unintelligible. Only the Christian worldview can account for and make sense of science, logic, and morality. That is hardly begging the question.

When science is asked to justify its criteria for genuine knowledge, the collapse is noticeable. Empiricism contends that all knowledge comes through the senses. We should begin with skepticism, evaluate the claims, test them in the lab and only accept those propositions that meet the criteria for justified true belief: knowledge. However, when empiricism is subjected to its own criteria, it fails to pass the test because the statement, "All knowledge comes through the senses" is a proposition that makes a claim to knowledge and that does not itself come through the senses. Induction, at the end of the day, cannot account for uniformity. It has no predictive power. Hume's critique of this method was devastating. In addition, one ends up with trying to provide proof ad infinitum. This method can be applied to any worldview or comprehensive perspective about the world that is non-Christian in nature. Upon reflection, there are only two worldviews: Christian and Non-Christian. Every iteration of unbelieving perspectives comes under the overarching category of Non-Christian worldview. And each one of them fails to provide for an intelligible account of science, logic, and morality. They reduce to absurdity.

For those who think that beginning with God to show that God exists is guilty of begging the question, there is an alternative: intellectual absurdity.