Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Presuppositional Defense of Scripture - Part 4 of ???

As a reminder, the question we are asking in this series of articles is this: “Is the claim that the Bible is the Word of God, True?” Some say that it is. Others say that it is not. Still others simply say they do not know. There are some who say that some of it is and some of it is not. Finally, there is the skeptic that says we simply cannot know. Traditionally, Christians have attempted to answer this question using empirical and historical evidence along with rational argumentation. In His book, “When Skeptics Ask,” Norman Geisler outlines his argument for the Bible as follows:

God Exists.
The New Testament is a historically reliable document.
Miracles are possible.
Miracles confirm Jesus’ claim to be God.
Whatever God teaches is true.
Jesus, who is God, taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God.

As you can see, one has to prove a lot, in Geisler’s method, if one is to prove that the Bible is in fact the Word of God. The skeptic will have to concede that God exists, that the NT is historically reliable, that miracles are possible, that miracles confirm Jesus’ claim to be God, and that God does not lie, and finally, that Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God. And these are the sorts of things that the skeptic is certainly unwilling to accept. Now, I am not saying these arguments are bad arguments in and of themselves. I believe every one of them. That is not the problem with Dr. Geisler’s method. The problem is that Dr. Geisler makes the mistaken assumption, as do all classical apologists as far as I can tell, that the manner in which the skeptic justifies beliefs is identical to that of the Christian. This is, after all, a rational argument designed to appeal to rationalist justification for accepting beliefs or claims to knowledge. It seems that Dr. Geisler’s argument is constructed in a manner that is precisely designed to meet the unbelieving criteria of the skeptic. The skeptic replies, “prove it” to each one of these propositions. And when the skeptic says, “prove it,” she has some very strict criteria for what qualifies as proof.

                In order to illustrate why this argument is insufficient at the outset, we need to look no further than the claim that miracles are possible. In the mind of the skeptic, miracles are not possible. The argument that miracles are possible most assuredly means that the skeptic is not holding to a skeptical worldview and that would mean she isn’t a skeptic at all. If it is true that we must show that miracles are possible before we can show that the Bible is the Word of God, then we must examine the argument for the possibility of miracles.          
In contradistinction to this way of answering the question, the presuppositional approach would object to the very ground for the skeptics challenge from the start. In order for the skeptic to mount a challenge against the claims of Christian theism, to include her claims about the Bible, she must demonstrate that her skepticism can offer the necessary preconditions to make the human experience intelligible. She must be able to demonstrate that her skepticism offers genuine, true knowledge. But if the Christian can show that her skepticism reduces to absurdity, he has effectively eliminated her challenge to the Christian claim by showing her methods to be foolish and implausible. In this case, we don’t even get to the question before us. The skeptic is eliminated before she can launch her derisible assault against Scripture. For the younger generation familiar with levels in video games, you know very well you must pass level one to advance to level two. The skeptic must pass level one, which is the Christian’s criticism of the skeptics own basic presuppositions. The Christian need not worry, because when this is done correctly, no non-Christian can effectively get pass level one.
                The presuppositional defense of Scripture begins with Christian theism’s understanding of the nature of God’s sovereignty. This is no piece-meal, building block approach where we first demonstrate that God exists and then step by step seek to conclude that Scripture is the Word of God. Van Til comments on Warfield’s view on Sovereignty and Scripture,

For him the classical doctrine of the infallible inspiration of Scripture was involved in the doctrine of divine sovereignty. God could not be sovereign in his disposition of rational human beings if he were not also sovereign in his revelation of himself to them. If God is sovereign in the realm of being, he is surely also sovereign in the realm of knowledge.[1]

Christian theism, without reservation, affirms the doctrine of absolute divine sovereignty. Christian theism affirms that Scripture is God’s special revelation to those whom He has called unto Himself. Who would argue that God could not or would not be sovereignly and intimately involved in His own self-disclosure? Is it reasonable to accept the theory that God was either unable or unwilling to provide an adequately well-defined and sufficient revelation of Himself to humanity in the form of His Word? Such a preposterous scheme would mean the demise of anything remotely resembling Christian theism.
The transcendental argument for God, which shows Christian theism to be true because only it provides the necessary preconditions to make the human experience intelligible, is at the heartbeat of this question. If Christian theism is in fact true, then all that it teaches is true as well. Notice, I did not say all that proponents of Christian theism claim it teaches is true. If Christian theism is true, and Christian theism claims that the Bible is the Word of God, then it must follow that the Bible is the Word of God.
            I will end this post at the place where our answer to the question, “Is The Bible the Word of God?” must begin. Greg Bahnsen liked to structure the argument in the form of a disjunctive. Either A or ~A. Either Christian theism or not Christian theism.

A v ~A
The argument seeks to show that if Christian theism is not the case, then human intelligence is not the case. But human intelligence is the case. Therefore Christian theism is not not the case. In other words, because human intelligence is the case, Christian theism must be the case. Why? Because only Christian theism provides the conditions necessary for human intelligence. There is no other view for the Christian to hold. The necessary precondition for the intelligibility of human experience is the Christian worldview. All other views reduce to absurdity. Hence, the Christian worldview contends that since God is the author of all reality and of all knowledge, His Word serves as the final reference point for what qualifies as true knowledge and what does not! It is impossible to conclude that the Bible is the Word of God unless we begin with the view that Bible as the Word of God. I should say it is impossible if we want to be consistent in how we reason. We will pick up on this theme in my next post, which should conclude this mini-series nicely.

[1] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Articles of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Presuppositional Defense of Scripture - Part 3 of ???

At the most basic level, the nature of human knowledge is such that justification ultimately arrives at its terminus. From the top down, claims to knowledge are accompanied by a requisite justification in order for those claims to rise to the level of knowledge. However, such justification must reach a terminus in order to avoid the problem of requiring justification ad infinitum resulting in the obliteration of all hope for any knowledge at all. It is not difficult to see the necessity of justification for claims to knowledge. But then again, this is in no way to suggest that the criteria of justification are agreed to by all, but only that philosophers recognize that justification is required for most knowledge, but not all. What is not so easy to see is what knowledge looks like when justification reaches its boundaries. At what point do we reach the boundaries of collaborative justification to a self-vindicating justification for claims to knowledge? The Christian has a very distinct starting point for knowledge. This is the place where justification has no jurisdiction, at least not the kind of jurisdiction we have been talking about. In fact, here is where the idea of justification begins in terms of knowledge.The starting point for human knowledge is beyond the jurisdiction of human justification.

“What the Reformers held was that a believer is entirely rational, entirely within his epistemic rights, in starting with belief in God, in accepting it as basic, and in taking it as a premise for argument to other conclusions.”[1] 

At bottom, if knowledge is to remain secure, it must be anchored to something. Knowledge can only be as stable and secure as that to which it is anchored. In other words, knowledge must be anchored to something that does not itself need to be anchored to anything. The presuppositionalist would say that knowledge must be anchored to something that is self-justifying. This explains why knowledge, once it reaches the place of terminus for justification, no longer needs the service of justification, be it rational, empirical, or otherwise. It is nearly impossible to imagine finite knowledge ever being able, on its own terms, by its own nature, to reach the status of being self-justifying. If this is actually the case, and I believe it is, how then does knowledge ever attain the lofty status of being self-justifying?

Only knowledge that is anchored in a non-contingent and absolute being can be self-justifying. This is exactly what one would expect the state of affairs to be given the doctrine of God in Christian theism. In an open universe of pure chance, knowledge could never be fixed, stable, uniform, and secure. It would simply be impossible. Justification demands uniformity. However, uniformity lampoons an open and chance universe. 

To be blunt, uniformity is an outright and blatant contradiction of the theory of an open universe. An open universe frankly cannot provide the necessary preconditions to make human experience intelligible. The metaphysical starting point for the non-Christian worldview, namely an open universe brought about by pure chance rules out any possibility for genuine knowledge before the conversation can even begin. Hence, the nature of epistemology is such that it must be constructed upon something other than that which the non-Christian worldview builds it, finite, autonomous human reason.

For the Christian, we must examine how it is we know that the claim of Scripture to be the authoritative Word of God actually rises to the level of true knowledge. There are a number of ways that Christians and scholars have attempted to answer this question over the years. Indeed, it seems there are nearly as many ways sometimes as there are attempts. Moreover, some Christians actually postulate that how we answer this question is inconsequential, so long as we end up with the right answer at the end of the problem. A math teacher would say "show me your work" in an attempt to gauge your understanding of the problem as well as assess your approach to the solution. It isn't any different for the Christian when we are dealing with this problem. It is just as important for us to get to the right answer, the answer Scripture gives, as it is for us to get to that answer the right way, the way that Scripture says. (Hint, hint)

In my next post I will begin to look at some more traditional methods for how Christians have thought about this problem and attempted to answer it. I will criticize those method in the areas where I think they miss the mark and provide argumentation to support my criticisms. Included in those approaches will be the rational and empirical methods for defending Scripture. Finally, I will attempt to show how my epistemological blathering corresponds with how a Christian should think about defending Scripture and why it matters.

[1]Alvin Plantinga, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 72.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Presuppositional Approach to the Defense of Scripture Part 2 of ??

When we talk about defending the Christian claim that the Bible is the Word of God, what we are talking about is defending the idea that this specific "belief" about the Bible is actually justified. Now justification for truth claims can be an extremely thorny philosophical issue. My goal is to keep it as simple as possible. Generally speaking, when we talk about epistemic justification, we usually bring in concepts like a posteriori knowledge versus a priori knowledge, and analytic statements versus synthetic statements. If one is not careful, they can end up falling victim to the folly of attempting to use unregenerate, humanistic philosophy and criteria to justify the claim that the Bible is in fact the Word of God. The problem is that empiricism nor rationalism nor any other philosophical system can produce adequate epistemic justification for the claim that the Bible is the Word of God. To think that such a project is even possible exposes serious flaws in one's theological grid. Only genuine Christian theism presented faithfully and consistently as an entire system has the intellectual power to reach the standards necessary to demonstrate the truthfulness of the claim.

Quite frankly, an appeal to human reason and/or empirical data is inadequate to provide a sufficient defense to sustain the claim that belief in the Bible as the Word of God is actually true. To what then must we appeal if we are to demonstrate that belief in the Bible as the Word of God rises to the level of true knowledge? Is this belief self-justifying or can we offer justification for the belief that is itself self-justifying?

The nature of human knowledge, says the Christian worldview is, strictly speaking, entirely revelational in character. Since the state of affairs is what the Bible says it is, all knowledge must be revelational in nature. Everything that man knows about himself and about the universe, and indeed about God, he knows because God has made it known to him. The revelation of God to man is itself sufficiently clear. How man responds to that revelation however, is another matter altogether.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20) The nature of man is such that unless God revealed something to him, he would know nothing at all about himself, about the universe around him, or about God.

“But revelation, after all, is the correlate of understanding and has as its proximate end just the production of knowledge, though not, of course, knowledge for its own sake, but for the sake of salvation.”[2]

Revelation is the sole key to any and all human knowledge. Calvin wrote,
“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[3]
 Since God is creator of all that is, it necessarily follows that all knowledge is deposited in Him. “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” It follows that human knowledge is entirely dependent on God. Hence, the nature of epistemology, according to the Christian worldview, is revelational. The source for epistemology is God. The mode of epistemology is both natural and supernatural revelation. Human knowledge comes through God’s revelation in nature as well as God’s revelation in Scripture.

Knowledge means that 1) It is actually the case; 2) You believe it is actually the case; 3) You have justification for believing it is actually the case. [Halverson: A Concise Intro to Philosophy] When we apply this to the claim that we know that the Bible is the Word of God it looks like this: The Bible is the Word of God. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We have justification for believing that the Bible is the Word of God. If (1) is not the case, we would say that the claim to knowledge was mistaken. If (2) is not the case, we say that the person ought to know because they have good reason to believe the claim. If (3) is not the case, we would say that the person had a hunch or was lucky to believe a claim that actually turned out to be true, but real knowledge did not exist. True knowledge must meet all three conditions.

The temptation for the Christian in contemporary culture, in evangelism, and in apologetics is to feel some sense of duty or obligation to present the argument supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God in such a way that it satisfies the demands or criteria of the world. For some reason we all feel it. If we are not careful, we fall into the trap of trying to make belief in the Bible as the Word of God rational in terms of how the unregenerate mind defines human reason. We search for historical evidence to satisfy the empirical demands and such evidence must come from external, supposedly neutral sources or it is ipso facto inadmissible. However, the Christian must give a reason for their belief about Scripture that is itself consistent with the Christian worldview. What we cannot do is violate the Christian ethic in our attempt to defend the Christian system of truth. But when we allow unbelievers to place the Bible in dock and judge it with fallible human reason, we are doing just that: we are violating the Christian ethic. We are judging that which we are commanded to believe. We are calling into question that to which we are supposed to wholeheartedly surrender. When we judge the Scripture in this way, it is our intellect, our science, our own wisdom that serves as the final authority in human predication. And this is the one thing we can never do if we are to be good stewards of the Christian gospel. 

Christians reject the idea that innate knowledge is impossible. Christian theism unreservedly claims to know with certainty that human knowledge is not the product of sense experience. Christian theism repudiates the notion that man can know the world as he ought to know the world apart from God. It is upon this presupposition that Christianity begins its defense of the belief that the Bible is the Word of God. The opponent will object with the retort that such an approach amounts to fideism. We will answer that objection in a future post.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 1:20.
[2]B.B. Warfield, Revelation & Inspiration (New York, NY: Baker Book House, 2003), 12.
[3]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, London: Westminster John Know Press, 2006), 1:35.
[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Col 2:3.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Presuppositional Approach to the Defense of Scripture - Part 1 of ??

There are a lot of squabbles written in favor of, as well as in opposition to, the claim that the Bible is the Word of God. Most of these arguments are written predominantly from a traditional or classical apologetics perspective. Typically, we come to this question with criteria for evaluating such claims already in hand. The objective is to answer very basic questions about this specific claim that Christians make concerning the Bible, or to put it another way, the nature of Scripture. The question we are asking is first and foremost, Is the Bible the Word of God? The number of those who deny this claim far outweighs the number that affirms it. Turning to the visible Church and Christian scholarship is of little help in answering this question. The fact most people deny the Christian claim cannot be part of the criteria for judging the truthfulness of the claim. We are not interested in committing the fallacy of appealing to the populace. The truth of a proposition is not determined by the number of people who affirm or deny it.

 A second question that merits attention centers on the type of evidence necessary for making belief in the Bible as the Word of God rational. What kind of evidence is necessary to conclude that belief in the Bible as the Word of God is in fact a rational belief? That is to say, what type of evidence supports the rational justification for the claim that the Bible is the word of God? Some would argue that the question is a religious question and therefore not subject to the laws of science or logic. It is purely a leap of faith. If this is true, then anything goes when it comes to all claims that happen to have a religious nature. However, Christian theism contends that its views are perfectly rational and consistent with sound scientific methods, properly so-called.

 Additionally, what evidence ought to persuade rational human beings to accept the Bible as the Word of God? It is one thing for a Christian to affirm that the Bible is the Word of God. But it is an entirely different matter to claim that there is rational justification for believing that the Bible is the Word of God. If this is true, then every rational person ought to accept the claim that the Bible is the Word of God and respond accordingly. And indeed, this is the message of repentance that is witnessed in and spread by the Christian religion. Men ought to humbly acknowledge God and willingly submit to His authoritative Word, also known as the Bible. Put quite simply, this is the essence of the Christian message.

 These questions, in my opinion, are very meaningful and should contribute handsomely to the discussion I am about to conduct. In fact, if one has read the article by Paul Helm "Faith, Evidence, and the Scriptures" in the book "Scripture and Truth," they probably recognize them. Dr. Helm does a magnificent job of framing up the questions for us and a brilliant job of answering them. It is not easy, however, to keep these questions in the forefront of one's mind as they read through the issues that are related to such a weighty topic. And this is especially difficult for a presuppositionalist to do. After all, presuppositionalism fancies itself to situate the foundation of every claim and counterclaim it encounters. It is this way by nature.

 The purpose of this paper is to provide a presuppositional approach for the defense of the Bible as the Word of God. My goal is to deliver an argument that is consistent with Scripture itself, and therefore, one that is consistently presuppositional in nature. Presuppositions by nature demand internal consistency. The difference between the presuppositional approach and the traditional approach is that the traditional approach makes numerous external appeals to autonomous human reason and the so-called brute facts of history in order to support its defense of Scripture as the Word of God. The presuppositional approach, as I shall hope to make clear, is distinguished by its unique place in the transcendental argument for God's existence.

A good analogy for the two approaches is the difference between a portrait and a puzzle. They could both be displaying the same scene. However, the puzzle can be taken apart and put back together piece by piece under the supervision of the person creating it. On the other hand, a portrait is a portrait. It is the finished product of the artist and cannot be deconstructed and reconstructed at the mercy of another. The only option open to the observer of a portrait is that of interpretation. So it is with the methods underlying the arguments in support of or in denial of the claim that the Bible is the Word of God. I hope to show how the claim itself is actually part of the complete portrait of the Christian worldview and that it is therefore invalid and unsound to attempt to argue in a jigsaw puzzle fashion, which is what I think the traditional approach actually does.

It seems to me that there is something very curious about Helm’s three questions concerning the nature of Scripture. No doubt it obtains that we must have some idea, about not only measuring claims, but also that we innately know it is right to measure claims. That is to say that we have some preunderstanding about how claims should be measured prior to the fact. We not only know that we should measure, but we also have some basic idea about how we should go about it. The problem enters when we begin to talk about ultimate reference points for measuring. We must ask the question, what must also be true in order for the idea of judging or measuring to be true. Would such a scenario make sense in a world of chance? If the Bible is the Word of God, as it claims to be and as Christianity affirms it to be, it follows that the argument that advances the affirmative must be bound up in and indelibly linked to the argument for the truth of Christian theism.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is Scripture Still Holy (Part 1) - An Outstanding Review of E.A. Harvey

Is Scripture Still Holy?

What an excellent post in defense of Scripture! Visit Dr. Kruger's blog to keep up with the entire series of reviews he is offering in response to this latest attack against the orthodox view of Scripture.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Indicators of a Counterfeit Church

The premises for this post are twofold: first, that there is such a thing as a false or counterfeit Church and second, that the counterfeit Church emanates particular indicators that help us distinguish it from the authentic Church. I realize that some will dispute my first premise but that this will reflect only a small number of people holding to radical version Christian universalism. On the other hand, I also realize that a much larger number will call into question the criteria I use to help the reader think about what indicators constitute a counterfeit Church. Even though I intend to cover a number of basic indicators, I think it is important to recognize that these indicators are really symptoms of one final characteristic of a counterfeit church: autonomy.

The Lordship of Christ

The very first indication that a church is in fact a counterfeit church is its failure to acknowledge and submit to Christ as Lord. There are a number of ways that this position within a church may come to expression among the members and before the public. What I will attempt to do is show how a church can show that it actually rejects the Lordship of Christ. I will begin with the more obvious and move to the most subtle.

The most obvious indicator that a church rejects the Lordship of Christ is it’s denial of the divinity of Christ. While it has become somewhat fashionable and supposedly more intellectually honest to call into question or even deny the deity of Christ in some circles, even professing evangelical circles, such a move surely places the individual and the church engaging in such behavior within the category of counterfeit. In fact, the situation is so pathetic that many will take extreme offense to the fact that I would even make such a suggestion. However, unless the Church starts calling damnable doctrines damnable doctrines again, I fear that the only damnable doctrine that will survive is the doctrine that there can be no such thing as damnable doctrine.
First, I contend that the phenomena of Jesus-devotion reflected in Paul’s letters are to be addressed collectively, and amount to a constellation of pattern of devotional practice, a programmatic treatment of Jesus as recipient of cultic devotion. [Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 137] The issue from the beginning was not the fact of Jesus’ divinity as much as it was the problem with understanding how such a person as Jesus could have possibly been human. “The problematic issue, in fact was whether a genuinely human Jesus could be accommodated.” [Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 650] A Christian that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ denies their claim to be Christian, and proves to others that they are in fact a counterfeit. As Cornelius Van Til put it, “apostate religion lives antithetically to and in suppression of God’s truth.” [Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, 116] The Christian Church did not merely confess that Jesus was Lord over Caesar but that He was Lord of all that ever was, all that is, and all that ever will be!

Another indicator that a church is counterfeit is its refusal to entirely surrender to Christ as Lord in all walks of life. A false dichotomy exists between Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord. What I mean specifically is that this false teaching is carried out in how one lives their life. This is the person that has been baptized, that has joined the church, and is in fact an active participant in the church. But when it comes time for godly, holy, sanctified living, they give it a wink and a nod. These churches can be identifies by their worldliness. They have little regard for following their confession with a godly lifestyle. In short, these churches and individuals have no regard for the commandments of God. There is no fear of God before their eyes. The works of the flesh mentioned in Gal. 5 are the predominant theme in their lives. And they constantly justify their own sin by pointing to God’s love and grace and viewing sin as a mistake or mere imperfection.

A counterfeit church is a church that refuses the Lordship of Christ in doctrine and in praxis. They deny the deity of Jesus Christ on the one hand and live as if Christianity makes absolutely no difference in ones values on the other. Indeed, there are thousands of counterfeit churches and Christians in our culture.
The Nature of God

Another indicator of a counterfeit church is how it defines God. A counterfeit church pretends to accept, love, and proclaim the God of Scripture when, in reality, it repudiates that God as a monster. For example, a counterfeit church rejects God’s justice by denying that God would ever condemn anyone to eternal damnation. In addition, a counterfeit church denies the absolute sovereignty of God. From this we see the counterfeit church claiming that God changes with the circumstances, that He does not know the future perfectly, and that God is predominantly pure love as they define love of course. A counterfeit church finds the concept of God’s wrath repugnant. One church removed “wretch” from the song Amazing Grace. Another denomination rejected the wonderful hymn, “In Christ Alone,” because it talks about the wrath of God. A counterfeit church feels quite at ease with redefining God as a loving, cheerful, easy-going daddy of sorts that could never direct boiling wrath at any one. Hence, a counterfeit church rejects the God who is holy, just, righteous, judge, wrathful, and one that is sovereign over all creation in preference for a god that is congruent with the hedonistic self-interest of godless men and women who are nothing more than deistic moralists claiming to be Christian. They are one more example of a fraudulent Christianity parading itself as the genuine church in contemporary times.

A Low View of Scripture

Another indicator of a counterfeit church is a low view of Scripture. Such a church denies that Scripture is fully inspired by God and/or that it is inerrant. I realize that this subject is likely to raise a lot of eyebrows, but once again, it seems only right to point out that things that make for a counterfeit church. The Scriptures themselves provide no allowance such low opinions of God’s word. Paul told Timothy, In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following (1 Tim. 4:6) Jesus said of the OT Scripture, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:18).” My point here is not to argue for inspiration or inerrancy, but to state frankly what are the indicators of a counterfeit church.

Every church that has every lost its power did not by first loosening its grip on the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. Without an authoritative revelation from God that was reliable, trustworthy, it was inevitable that the opinions of man would take its place.

“It is the understanding that whatever is given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whatever constitutes Holy Writ, is binding and authoritative. As such, it is the touchstone by which we measure ourselves and test every claim. It is the guide by which we learn to live before God in a way that is pleasing to him. Scripture alone is our authority.” [Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant, 226] Without an authoritative revelation that is reliable, we are left to our own devices. We have no way to knowing what information in Scripture about God is true and what is the product of ancient cultural projections. A radical subjectivism paves the way for agnosticism and skepticism. We simply cannot know anything with any degree of confidence. It is all or nothing; take it or leave it.

A High View of Man

In 1983 James Hunter discovered that of evangelical books published in that year, almost nine out of ten dealt with matters of the self. [Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant, 136] I think about the country song, “I want to talk about ME,” as I write. We live in a highly hedonistic culture. Everything revolves around the individual and that individual’s desires, urges, wants, and demands. The happiness of the individual has become a birthright. What is worse is what it takes to make us happy.

A counterfeit church revolves around the individual, not around God, Christ, or His word. The entire mission of the church is geared to pleasing and entertaining the individual. The music must be entertaining and appealing. The youth program must be hip, cool, and exciting. There must be lots and lots of programs for husbands, wives, couples, singles, young, old, men, women, etc. Sermons must be culturally relevant, speaking to felt needs, self-help psychologically driven pep talks designed to get me going for the upcoming week.

A counterfeit church deplores the doctrine of original sin. Men are not totally depraved, enemies of God by nature. Men are born naturally good and quite capable of understanding reality apart from God. Men learn bad habits along the way and when things get bad enough, well, there is always God, right there to help us out of any jam we mistakenly (not sinfully) get ourselves into. Men are not dead in their trespasses and sins. They are simply uninformed. What they need is better or more information about how to go about fixing themselves.

A counterfeit church holds that doctrine of libertarian freedom out to be one of the most sacred of all Christian doctrines. Man is indeed free to do as he pleases. Christian conversion is nothing more than an act of man’s free will. Man examines the Christian claims, weighs them by his use of autonomous reason, and makes his final decision.

A counterfeit church rejects the absolute Lordship of Christ, preferring to walk in their own wisdom, only submitting to those teachings they deem reasonable. A counterfeit church serves a god of their own construction. He must be loving, non-judgmental, and accepting of everyone they think he should accept. A counterfeit church does as it pleases with Scripture. The Bible is full of errors, contradictions, myths, and outrageous superstitions. The church must identify those elements and teach its community and the public accordingly. And finally, a counterfeit church has very high view of man. Man is autonomous, free, and capable of rationally choosing those components of the Christian message that are worthy to be believed and those aspects that should be dismissed. A counterfeit church either rejects Jesus as divine, calls His divinity into question, and/or pays only lip service to His sacred teachings. They can be seen endorsing sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion on demand, denying the exclusive claims of Christianity, mocking an eternal hell, embracing evolutionary theory, elevating science, and reason over Scripture, and worshipping the idol of the self.

Sadly, most of American culture has only ever witnessed counterfeit Christians, from counterfeit churches, preaching a counterfeit gospel. The mission field on American soil is indeed very rich. We need genuine Christians, from the genuine Church, preaching the genuine gospel and living genuine Christian values, shining the genuine light of the gospel into a very dark and insidious culture steeped in hedonism and idolatry.

A counterfeit church is a most unloving church. She rejects Christ’s commands and therefore cannot love Christ. She repudiates God’s justice and in so doing she lies to condemned men, convincing them they are quite alright when the flames of hell are cast about them. She convinces the homosexual and the fornicator that God approves of their lifestyle, and would never cast them away when the truth is they stand as enemies of a God who is ready to yank them into the depths of hell at any moment. Essentially, the counterfeit truth is devoid of love because she is devoid of truth. Where love is present, God’s truth flourishes. Hence, where God’s truth is suppressed, where it is not, love is a little more than a fleeting construct.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Sufficiency of Scripture in View of Pentecostal Tongues and Prophecy

Each generation of the Church is obliged to immerse itself in, and practice the doctrines of Christianity that have been handed down to her from the inception of the apostolic tradition (Acts 18:5; 1 Tim. 4:15). Neglecting this responsibility has led to catastrophic outcomes across most, if not all branches of Christianity, and most especially, the visible Church in general. In this post, I will attempt provoke my audience of readers to once again rejuvenate their understanding of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and the implications that such a doctrine has on the modern claims of contemporary prophecy and tongues averred by Pentecostals and by non-Pentecostal continuationists.

My fundamental premise is quite simply that both individually, and corporately, we have all that is necessary for faith and practice given to us in the canon of sacred Scripture. We need nothing more than what is contained in the Bible if it our desire to grow spiritually, to honor God in our life, and to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

John Frame gives one definition of the Word of God as God’s free communications with His creatures. [Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God] To the collection of authoritative Hebrew Scripture were eventually added some additional writings in the form of gospels, a historical account, letters, and an apocalypse. [Allison, Historical Theology, 41] These writings were, from the very beginning of their existence, the authoritative Word of God. The primary purpose of Scripture is sanctification. The Word of God comes to us in order to change us. It is the instrument by which God brings His people back into a true knowledge and relationship of and with Himself. It is the instrument by which God restores in our hearts a love for Him, His truth, and all that He commands us to be and to do. It is the final revelation of God, completing the whole disclosure of his unfathomable love to lost sinners, the whole proclamation of his purposes of grace, and the whole exhibition of his gracious provisions for their salvation. [Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration] Scripture is viewed as the very foundation of the Church (Eph.2:20). Where Christian theism is concerned, nothing is more important to this system of truth than the sacred Scriptures, which provide the very foundation of her existence.

When I say that Scripture is itself sufficient for faith and practice, what exactly do I mean? I mean that sacred Scripture gives the Church and the individual all they need in order to carry on a life that is pleasing to God in the highest form. Nothing more is necessary. The Scripture is sufficient to that end. Paul, writing to the Thessalonian Church said this, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thess. 2:13).” Scripture was given to perform a work in us. Louw-Nida defines this word as “to be engaged in some activity or function, with possible focus upon the energy or force involved—‘to function, to work, to be at work, practice.’

The Westminster Confession states it this way, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” [WCF] This point was made in contradistinction to Roman Catholic claims of tradition as well as Anabaptist mysticism. Neither tradition nor mystical experiences are necessary for faith and practice.

Paul tells Timothy explicitly, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). The sacred Scriptures bring salvation to the whole person. Every part of human existence is redeemed, saved, made whole by the teachings of sacred Scripture. What more do we require? What more could we ask for?

Paul continues, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). According to Paul, nothing more is needed outside of Scripture to equip the saints for every good work. The Word of God is sufficient to perform its predetermined work in our lives and in the life of the body of Christ. Here Paul says that the purpose of Scripture is to equip the believer for every good work. There are no good works required of God that Scripture is not sufficient to equip us to perform. “It signifies that without exception (πᾶν, “every,” in the sense of every kind) God has equipped “the person of God” to do what is “good,” i.e., what he has indicated in his scripture should be done, since he himself is the norm of all good.” [Knight, The Pastoral Epistles]

To be sure, even those gifts mentioned in the text of Scripture itself, to include offices and experiences were all given for our own equipping. They were not events that happened to individuals without any relation to the overarching purpose of their record in the sacred writings. Every revelation in Scripture was given, not solely for the benefit of the purpose receiving, but for our benefit as well. In fact, I would argue that every revelation of Scripture was given primarily for us, not the individual having the experience. The latter would always be of secondary concern.

If one accepts the view of Scripture as both necessary and sufficient, the question then arises what are the consequences of this position on the standard Pentecostal/continuationist view of tongues and prophecy. I think we can talk about this briefly to see if the modern claims of tongues and prophecy are coherent with the reformed or conservative view on the sufficiency of Scripture.

Most scholars readily admit that NT tongues were actual languages. I am not going to argue with the counterclaim to this because it is entirely without merit, reason, and especially sound exegesis. In addition, modern studies reveal that modern tongues practiced in Pentecostal theology are not actual languages. Therefore, if one is going to claim that this modern phenomenon is linked to the NT Church, they will have to find another way. The way to approach this difficulty, according to some, is to view modern tongues as this private prayer language mentioned in 1 Cor. 14:2. However, the context of this chapter would not support the view that this phenomenon is the same as that witnessed in Pentecostal circles today. This is because the tongues mentioned in 1 Cor. 14 can be interpreted. We see this in verse 13 where Paul says that the one who uses this language must also pray that he can interpret it. Only real languages can be interpreted. Some argue that this a code-like language similar to a computer code. Others confess that the modern phenomenon is not the same as NT tongues, but that does matter because the experience is similar. Suffice it to say, there is not one shred of biblical support for such subjective and nonsensical arguments. From this we conclude that NT tongues were always either understood by those who spoke that language, or they were capable of being interpreted into the language of the community. This means that NT tongues were in fact always an actual language.

In light of this, while NT tongues, properly interpreted, and prophecy may have been valuable while God was in the process of giving what has come to be known as His final revelation in Scripture, it is difficult to understand, in the light of the sufficiency of Scripture, how these gifts would hold value once that revelation had been finalized.

If a person prophesies, we are told, that that prophecy is tested with Scripture. This raises the question as to why I need prophecy today if I already have a sure word from God. If I already have a Word from God about which I AM certain, why would I need a word from God about which I might not be certain? And if that prophecy simply tells me something that Scripture already tells me, why do I need it at all? I already have it in the form of Scripture. Is it possible that it is the perceived supernatural experience that excites me more than the Word from God? That is a good question. If tongues with its interpretation and prophecy are merely telling me something that Scripture already tells me, they are completely superfluous and unnecessary. I have a fixed word from God that is sufficient. I don’t need someone to tell me the same thing under some supposed ecstatic spell if you will.

On the other hand, if tongues and its interpretation along with prophecy are actually telling me something new, then we must presume we need whatever it is God is telling us. And if we need this new word from God, then Scripture is fact not sufficient. This is a serious problem for anyone arguing for continuationism while also trying to maintain the reformed position on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is as I have argued before, the revelational speaking gifts are either superfluous or they are destructive of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

What Steve Hays and others should consider is that the prophecies and tongues along with their proper interpretation that we are discussing, were actually used to give the Church the word of God that they had not yet heard (or maybe they had heard some of it) but would come to be inscripturated in God’s time. In other words, NT Scripture and perhaps OT Scripture being unavailable at the time to most of the Church, were being given by God through prophets, through prophecy, and through tongues and its interpretation until the Church was given the most fixed Word from heaven. Part of the problem is that we so often presume that ancient NT prophecy and the speaking gifts were what we see in modern Pentecostalism. There is no reason to think this to be the case and every reason to think, as I have argued, given the transition period of the NT Church, that the situation was much more reasonable and much closer to the situation I describe. It is also quite reasonable to think that some prophets were endowed with the ability to remember what they had heard from an apostle elsewhere and they in turn spoke those words under the movement of the Holy Spirit as a prophet was inclined to do. There are enough reasonable possibilities and probabilities at our fingertips that it seems hardly necessary to invent positions that result in a real threat to the authority, necessity, and sufficiency of Scripture.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Zealot: A Brief Presuppositional Response

So the Christian community is observing yet one more hypothesis about Jesus Christ written from a patently non-Christian vantage point. How is the Christian supposed to respond to these allegations? Literally, there could be as many claims about Jesus Christ as there are unbelievers! Are we supposed to trouble ourselves with countering each and every new hypothesis the unbelieving mind can invent? I don’t think Scripture places the Christian under such a weighty encumbrance. However, that does not mean that we have no duty at all to give these hypotheses their just due. Balance is crucial to remaining engaged in these disputes without having them exhaust your every waking minute. With this opinion in mind, I have prepared a very brief presuppositional response to Reza Aslan’s “Zealot.”

The central thesis of Aslan seems to be that

“Jesus, like other messianic figures of his day, called for the violent expulsion of Rome from Israel. Driven by religious zeal, Jesus believed that God would empower him to become the king of Israel and overturn the hierarchical social order. Jesus believed that God would honor the zeal of his lightly armed disciples and give them victory. Instead, Jesus was crucified as a revolutionary.” [Manning, Jr. A Response to Zealot]

Notice the preliminary allegation is that Jesus summoned the violent expulsion of Rome from Israel. Of course there is nothing in the gospels to indicate that this was actually the case. Moreover, the gospels after all, are our primary historical source for the life and times of Jesus the Messiah. In fact, when Jesus was arrested, Peter attempted a violent defense only to be rebuked by Jesus, informing him that He would drink of the cup that God had prepared for Him. Of course Aslan’s conspiracy theory allows him to turn the text into putty by theorizing that the Church changed this incident from the original in order to rescue Jesus from His unfortunate end. Using this technique, Aslan is completely free to mangle whatever he pleases under the guide that his conspiracy theory is credible.

Jesus did believe that God would empower Him to become King over Israel, not only Israel, but over all the earth. He also believed that He would overturn the hierarchical social order. “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lu. 21:27). Aslan is right. But let us not think that our timing and God’s timing is exactly the same. “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14). Aslan is right again. Jesus did believe that God would honor the zeal of his disciples and given them victory. The problem is that Aslan misunderstands the two-fold nature and timing of this victory. And this is for good reason. God has hid these things from the might, the wise, the debater, and has revealed them unto His elect. Essentially we have spiritual blind and biblically ignorant man attempting to tell us who Jesus really was. Only disaster can result from such an endeavor and the Christian should expect nothing less. Moreover, the Christian should not shrink back from calling ignorance out for the ignorance that it is.

Early Christians changed the story of Jesus to make him into a peaceful shepherd. They did this for two reasons: because Jesus’ actual prediction had failed, and because the Roman destruction of rebellious Jerusalem in AD 70 made Jesus’ real teachings both dangerous and unpopular. Paul radically changed the identity of Jesus from human rebel to divine Son of God, against the wishes of other leaders like Peter and James.

Aslan charges the ancient Christians with engaging in a great cover-up. Here we go again. Another unbeliever has concocted another conspiracy theory. Why do they do this? Is it because the historical evidence is so delicate, so slight, that Christianity stands impeached before the court of human reason? Of course not! Rather, it is because men are natural born enemies of God and of Christ. Consequently, they will resort to whatever strategy best defends they’re unbelief in order to reject the truth of Christian theism. The cost of such behavior seems almost out of sight for some unbelievers.

Now, Aslan’s approach is less than noble. You see, if you begin with the view that the NT documents were the product of a conspiracy theory, then no amount of counter evidence can be offered in defense of the biblical Jesus. For example, when Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world, Aslan can say, Ah-ha, you see, they changed this in order to rescue Jesus from His embarrassing defeat and crucifixion. Does this mean there is nothing left to critique of Aslan’s theory? No it does not. Rather than point out the numerous historical facts he has wrong, I prefer to follow the psychology of his theory in order to point out just how preposterous his claim really is.

The disciples of Jesus followed Him everywhere He went. They believed He was the Messiah. According to Aslan, they were convinced He was going to violently overthrow Rome and they were going to be given a significant role in the new kingdom. They forsook everything they knew and devoted themselves entirely to this project. In the end, when it came time to act, to engage, to overthrow Rome, the defeat of Jesus came easily, without hardly any effort at all. It would have been about as demoralizing a defeat as any defeat could be. The disciples should have been devastated if Aslan’s conjecture were true.

Yet, despite this embarrassment, and despite the devastation of such a public defeat, the disciples, rather than return to their occupations, instead, knowingly place themselves in harms-way by revising Jesus’ mission and identity, and continued with what they knew was a delusion. Moreover, they placed themselves at great pearl for this false Messiah, even to the point of death. I must confess that from a psychological standpoint, this scenario is far more difficult to believe than the biblical story itself. If nothing else, this kind of sheer nonsense serves as a perfect demonstration of the measures to which unbelieving men will go in their efforts to deny the truth claims of Christian theism and the identity of Jesus Christ.

What is interesting about Aslan’s approach is that he accepts texts of Scripture that may be interpreted as supporting his view, such as when Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword. But then he is very selective about those texts that serve to contradict his position. Those texts, according to Aslan, must have been revised by the conspirators. Yes, in case you were wondering, Aslan gets to have it both ways. He has his cake and eats it too.

How does the Christian respond to such flimsy conjecture? The Christian begins with the presupposition that the Bible is the word of God, and that this Word is self-authenticating, sufficient, and the Christians final authority for all truth. As such, Scripture is completely trustworthy in all that it says. This leaves no room whatever for testing the historicity of God’s word. God’s word needs no extra biblical support. Its own evidence is superior to any external evidence that could be offered in support of its truth claims. There are only two starting points in terms of one’s presupposition concerning Scripture. Either Scripture is the ultimate authority for knowledge or autonomous human reason is the ultimate authority for knowledge.

“At some point, the message claiming to be from God would have to be its own authority, and there is no reason, then, why that should not be at the first point. Thus, only God is adequate to bear witness to Himself or to authorize His own words.” [Bahnsen, Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, 199] This is the dilemma for traditional defenses of Christian theism. Such methods begin by extending to Aslan the generous notion of neutrality, as if Aslan is a sincere man searching only for the real truth of the matter. Secondly, they yank the Word of Christ down from it’s lofty place and where it once was, human reason now resides. From these two basic presuppositions, the neutrality of Aslan and the reason of Aslan, they attempt to defend Christianity against his ungodly conjectures. What they do not realize is that they have lost the argument before their defense can even begin. They have pretended that Aslan is something he is not: neutral when it comes to Christ. Jesus said he that is not with me is against me. There is no third category of neutrality. There is no middle ground. In addition, they have bought into the lie that defending the Bible with the Bible is begging the question and hence, guilty of vicious circular reasoning. What they fail to consider is that using human reason to argue for the supremacy of human reason is really the culprit that is begging the question. It is an appeal to the finite to defend the finite. That is vicious circularity in its finest expression. Defending the transcendent, on the other hand, will always begin and end with the transcendent because there is no other way to defend it. The finite is inadequate to defend that which transcends it. And since there is nothing above God, and since God is the source of all that is, how could we ever defend the idea of God without beginning and ending with God? If there is such a way to legitimately pull this off, no one has yet discovered it.

Our duty to respond to projects like “Zealot” is clearly spelled out in Scripture. However, how we carry out that duty is vitally important to the Christian witness. We are to do so with passion, and with excellence, but also with gentleness and respect. There is no place for crude name-calling in this discussions. We are not trying to win an argument. We are doing our best to defend the Christian worldview and to proclaim the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Our goal is more than the dismantling of intellectual speculation set over against Christ. In the process of destroying such speculations, we hope to be the light God has called us to be so that some might believe.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Daniel Wong's Testimony: A Biblical Perspective of Providence and Inner Promptings

Perhaps this will help others recognize what it is "MacArthurites" really think about God's providence and immanence in the world and in the lives of His people and one small way he accomplishes His purpose in the earth.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Distinctions in Prophets or Prophecy and Revelation: Discussions with Hays

The saga continues with Steve Hays over at Triablogue on the subject of Pentecostal theology, revelations, and our ramblings on other matters. It is clear that Steve and I do not agree on these issues. In a recent blog, Steve introduced some new points that I think most people are likely to have a couple of questions on.
To support his claim that there is a distinction in the nature of prophecies, Hays refers us to Numbers 12:6-9. Hays explicitly tells us that this text was written to instruct us on the differences in Prophetic revelation and utterances. He says there is a broad distinction between verbal and visionary revelation. Hays further breaks down the visionary revelations into representational and allegorical visions. In addition, says Hays, “Allegorical visions employ figurative imagery. That makes them somewhat enigmatic.” It appears that Hays is telling us that God’s revelation to His prophets can be ambiguous, unclear.

The context of Numbers 12 is extremely important if we are to rightly understand what is taking place there. The whole point in Numbers 12 is one of sole authority. Moses had married a Cushite woman and his siblings, Aaron and Miriam did not approve. They both spoke against God’s prophet and God Himself convened a special conference between the three of them. The purpose of this conference was to point out the distinct calling, role, and relationship God had in Moses. The purpose of the meeting had nothing to do with different modes of revelation. It was all about the difference between Moses and all the rest of the prophets. Note that the rest of the prophets, except for Christ the prophet like unto Moses, are in the same category. Hays lifts this text out of its proper context in order to prop up a position that Scripture really does not prop up itself. This shows that if there is a distinction between OT prophets and NT prophets, Hays must look elsewhere to establish it. I wonder if Hays considers John the Baptist an OT prophet. Surely he was one.

Hays then asserts that judging prophecies in the NT was quite different from judging them in the OT. This is no doubt true. However, I am not sure that Deut. 18:15-22 is the best text to compare with 1 Cor. 14:29 given its Messianic nature. Nevertheless, we expect there to be differences between the consequences of false prophecies given the fact that they were under two different covenants. The concept of judging any prophetic utterances is present in both texts. Secondly, we cannot ignore the fact that prophetic utterances in the NT were not always predictive in nature. Hence, judging such prophecies would take on a different standard. Nevertheless, if a NT prophecy happened to be predictive, why would we expect judging the integrity of such a prophecy to be any different from one in the OT? Hays does not provide any exegetical or rational justification for his position.

Hays then accuses me of being egalitarian by attempting to connect Philip’s prophesying daughters with apostolic authority. Apparently, because I believe that God’s word is binding and authoritative regardless of who said it, that means that I somehow collapse the biblical principle of male leadership. I confess that this point is difficult to take seriously. It doesn’t matter if the Devil himself passed on a word that was actually God’s word, it would absolutely be no less authoritative and binding. The authority of Scripture or revelation does not rest in the apostolic office. It rests in God Himself. That Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied is very interesting, but we know very little about the details of this situation. God deliberately made the decision not to give us more facts around this piece of history. Nevertheless, Hays statement that I am egalitarian because of my views regarding OT and NT prophets being without any material difference is just that, a statement. It is not an argument and it does not contain an argument. The fact remains that when anyone brings us the Word of the Lord, that Word is authoritative not because of the one bringing it, but because of what it is by nature, the Word of the Lord.

Finally, Hays points us back to Agabus, arguing that several scholars “defend the veracity of Agabus.” I have responded to Hays’s reference to Agabus already. Apparently he has refused to consider my view. Perhaps he will hear Polhill’s comments, “This was not so much a warning on Agabus’s part as a prediction. Unlike the Christians of Tyre, he did not urge Paul not to go. Rather, he told him what was in store for him. This was all the more certain when one considers the nature of such prophetic acts in the Old Testament. The act itself set into motion the event it foretold. It established the reality of the event, the certainty that it would occur. Agabus’s act prepared Paul for the events to come and assured him of God’s presence in those events.” [Polhill, NAC, Acts] There is no reason to think that Agabus was counseling or advising Paul against going to Jerusalem. That is an unjustified imposition on the text.

In summary, Hays’s categories for prophecy, while interesting and intellectually stimulating fail to find support in the text. Numbers 12 has been wrenched out of context and used to support an argument it was clearly not intended to support. The subject was the distinct nature of God’s relationship and use of His servant Moses.

Second, the Word of God is not infused with authority by the apostles. It is exactly the opposite. My use of Scripture no more entitles me to apostolic or eldership authority any more than it would have Philip’s daughters. Hays’s egalitarian charge is reduced to absurdity.

Last, Hays’s interpretation of Agabus is far wide of the mark. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Agabus was issuing advice, counsel or even a warning. Luke records this event and the words of Agabus as a straightforward prophecy in a very similar fashion to OT prophecies. Any attempt to say that Paul played fast and loose with Agabus prophetic utterance is a gross misunderstanding and misreading of a text that is fairly easy to interpret as far as I can tell.

The back and forth of this discussion is not necessarily a bad thing. Healthy, respectful dialogue on subjects like this in the Spirit of Christian charity and out of a concern for Christian truth and within the confines of the Christian ethic can be extremely productive. I am a bit uneasy about the tone of these discussions. I especially worry about my tone. I know my passion for truth can sometimes come across as proud and arrogant. And no doubt, I am guilty of those dispositions at times. In our passion for Christian truth, we sometimes forget that our first aim is to serve our Christian brothers and sisters. Our goal, after all, is to convince others of the truth that we are convinced us because we think it is in their best interest to embrace it and because it honors our Lord. We do little to advance the Christian message when our desire to win an argument eclipses our sincere love for each other and for God’s truth. Not only is the Christian community looking on to see how we treat one another, so too is the world. 

Pentecostal Claims, Biblical Discernment, and the Nature of Evidence: Another Response to Steve Hays

i) Notice how Ed's knee-jerk skepticism about testimonial evidence repristinates the position of Hume and his followers. Yet the Bible places great stock in the value of eyewitness testimony.

ii) Ed acts as though you can only assume one of two attitudes towards testimonial evidence: blind credulity or reflexive incredulity. He acts as though every witness is equally trustworthy or equally untrustworthy. But there are standard criteria for sifting testimonial evidence. 

This is one of the basic problems besetting some members of the MacArthur circle. Their cessationism commits them to radical skepticism regarding the possibility of historical knowledge. They're like the minimalist school in Biblical archeology (e.g. Hector Avalos). That's what happens when you adopt a purely reactionary posture. 

Steve raises a legitimate question on the nature of evidence. After all, evidence is an important component of any claim to true knowledge. Does it follow that a call for rigorous examination of testimonial evidence for modern signs and wonders is parallel to Humean skepticism? Is Hays right to conclude that the Bible would place great stock in the value of these sorts of testimonies coming from the Charismatic/Pentecostal camps? Let’s answer this first charge before moving on to the others.

David Hume was an empiricist and a skeptic. Hume’s non-Christian worldview coupled with his philosophical empiricism led him to skepticism. The basic problem with empiricism is it’s self-referential incoherence. When I say that all knowledge comes through the senses, I am required in the first place to be omniscient and in the second place to show how this specific knowledge came through my senses. Hume’s empiricism is one more worldview that cannot establish the preconditions necessary for the intelligibility of human experience. Chance plus empiricism equals skepticism and irrationalism in every case. Is this the kind of skepticism we display when we insist that empirical claims of signs and wonders must be tested empirically as well as exegetically? I do not think any objective reader of these Ping-Pong blogs would agree. In the first place, my skepticism is not a knee-jerk reaction. Hays is forgetting that I spent years in this stuff and was a blind advocate of these phenomena for some time. My position is anything but a knee-jerk. The old saying, “been there, done that” applies in my situation. That rules out the possibility of any knee-jerk reaction on my part.

Second, does the Bible place as much stock in eyewitness testimony as Hays implies? Numbers 35:30 points out that one witness of a murder is considered insufficient for capital punishment. This is again reaffirmed in Deut. 19:15. A single witness is simply not enough to bring a man to judgment for his iniquity. Scripture is replete with the need for multiple witnesses. Even Jesus Himself said, If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true (Jn. 5:31) It seems clear then that a single eyewitness testimony was always viewed as insufficient where Scripture is concerned. In addition, eyewitness testimony is only as reliable as the witness giving it, is credible. What we are saying is that we have had enough false reports by faith healers and miracle workers and we have, to my knowledge, no verifiable credible reports from them that we cannot help but begin on skeptical ground, so far as empirical testing is concerned. Given enough of Benny Hinn’s failed prophecies and it only seems reasonable that one would probably be wise to pay little attention to that man as soon as his lips begin moving. How many professed faith healers and miracles workers do we have to show to be frauds before we establish the view that when a man comes along making the same claims that dozens of frauds before him have made, that he is likely one of these fellows given that he has so much in common with them. That Hays would buy into the manufactured nonsense that modern prophets are different that ancient prophets and that false prophecy today is viewed by God differently than it was in ancient times is most outrageous and egregious. Such foolishness destroys any rational and biblical standard for discernment. While Satan is very pleased to create a framework where discernment is impossible, such a state of affairs is contrary to Christian theism at its most basic levels.

In addition, and for the record, cessationists do not assert that healings or miracles are beyond the pale of possibility. We admit that they can and sometimes they do occur. We glorify God for his marvelous grace and mercy when He heals the sick and injured. What we assert is that there is no credible or reliable evidence to suggest that genuine “faith healers” and “miracle workers” are walking among us in contemporary times. Not only does the empirical evidence support our conclusion, but biblical exegesis shows this to be the case as well.

I agree with Hays that there are criteria for sifting the evidence to support empirical claims of signs and wonders. We need credible eyewitnesses, and we need more than one. That would be helpful. The report needs to contain the details of the miracle that took place. These details need to disclose the person’s name and the ability of some credible investigator to examine the case. The person must have been certified to have this condition by a doctor or multiple credible witnesses familiar with the person. We must be able to rule out natural explanations for the cure. The condition must be demonstrable. A physician must certify that the person no longer has the condition. In order for this kind of testimony to support that there is in fact a “faith healer” among us, we require a number of stories just like this one and that such stories surround this person’s ministry and life as a matter of routine. If we could get to this point, we could at least make some progress. But like a plane with far too great a payload, she flies down the runway but never leaves the ground. So it is with these arguments and claims for modern faith healers and miracles workers. Claim upon claim is accompanied by one obscure story after another, lacking just those components necessary for reliability and credibility. Craig Keener writes a book, but in the process fails to seal the deal by leaving out precisely those things we desperately to need to put a punctuation mark at the end of the story!

Does this process for verifying miraculous claims in the name of Jesus Christ really place those who make it in the position of radical skepticism when it comes to historical knowledge? I think that such a statement is more than a little extreme. Is it true that I must accept the claims of every Charismatic faith healer I see on TV if I am to avoid radical skepticism? Is it true that my method for examining the evidence for these claims must be the same as my method for examining the phenomena of history? The credibility of the witness plays a very large role in second-hand testimony be it current affairs or the facts of history. The gospel of Thomas is a perfect example. According to this witness, Jesus made live birds from His clay ones. In another case, He smote a child with death. In another case, Jesus strikes critics of his parents with blindness. How are we to think about these claims? Are we even open to the possibility that they could be correct? When we first encounter them on the page, are we not repulsed and do we not find them repugnant? And we do so even without bothering to examine the evidence. How can we do this? We can do this because we already have enough evidence before us that has proven itself reliable and therefore we know that any counterevidence must be false.

Empirical evidence for an empirical truth-claim is after all something that any rational human being would expect. It seems reasonable enough to me. We are not, like Hume, ruling out the possibility of the miraculous based on some presupposition. We are Christian theists, after all, presupposing the truth of God. Hence, we not only argue for the possibility of the miraculous, we argue for its actuality. Hays’s attempt to associate our view with Hume is clearly an ad hominem. Hays would claim that we are ruling out miracles based on our theological bias. But that would not quite be true either. It would be closer to say that we rule out “faith healers” and “miracle workers” based on theological bias. But one would have to ask if that is really true. Let’s say that genuine faith healers and miracle workers continued in unbroken fashion down to present day. Would Hays presume that cessationists would hold to their view despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary? The Bible is true. To deny such irrefutable evidence would be irrational and incongruent with Scripture. It would make Scripture out to be a lie. 

There is a remarkable difference between being good discerners, being good critical thinkers, and being radical skeptics. Hays loves to muddy the water with such techniques and tactics when he argues. Perhaps this is why one writer says arguing with him is like arguing with a 4-year old. I would not go that far, but I would say that these discussions should always be in a spirit of Charity and mutual respect. That does not mean we should avoid pointing out the nature of the error and its consequences. But it does mean that we should not resort to name-calling, to straw men, or to comparing God-fearing men to radical God-hating skeptics like David Hume. I am certain that such behavior between Christians, even on a blog is a clear violation of Christian principles. And if you can’t defend Christian truth and your own position without violating such simple Christian principles, perhaps you shouldn't be trying to defend them at all.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Final Word on Steve Hays's Defense of Pentecostal Theology

At this point, it seems to me that Steve Hays over at Triablogue is determined to defend his non-cessationist view regardless of the lack of evidence, exegetical or otherwise, he has to offer for it. Hays has posted a few more points which I wish to address before moving on.

First, Hays says that I chose to make tongues the centerpiece of my argument. I did nothing of the sort. I used tongues as an example because it is the most visible and from what I can tell, the most talked about gift in PT. Hays then accuses me of committing the word-concept fallacy, and this is also patently false. I clearly state that “While it does not always mean languages that is its predominant sense.” The word is not only used to describe languages. Contrary to Hays’s hopes, I am not guilty of such an elementary, exegetical blunder as committing the word-concept fallacy.

I point out that if PT is correct then a lot of us are not filled with the Spirit, to include Hays. He retorts that this point is “just a dare.” That is an interesting response. It could mean that Hays does not understand the very system he is defending. But Hays has done this before, for example, his defense of AHA, yet another subject he admittedly knew little about. Apparently, being informed on a subject is not a prerequisite to provide an adequate defense of it in Hays’s thinking. The fact is that PT teaches that you MUST speak in tongues if you are to be filled with the Spirit. I point you to the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God website or the world’s oldest Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God.
Hays then says that it is pejorative on my part to characterize tongues as gibberish. Merriam-Webster defines gibberish as unintelligible or meaningless language. Modern tongues is unintelligible and meaningless language, empty of rational significance. If you do not believe me, click on any of my links to hear people “speaking in tongues.” Hays could not be more wrong. Moreover, to compare a sunset or music with throwing together a bunch of broken syllables in a heightened state of self-induced emotions is utterly ridiculous. For example, compare these human experiences below and tell me that they all provide for equivalent or similar edification.

You can judge for yourself. From my perspective, there is absolutely no comparison between how these experiences do and do not edify. Perhaps we could also claim that hallucinations induced by illicit drug use edifies the drug addict. The comparison, with all due respect to Steve Hays, is ridiculous.  

Hays alludes to some sort of evidence in Church history that the gifts never ceased, but he is strangely silent on providing that evidence. Perhaps he knows that the evidence is flimsy and has been debated ad nausea for years now, with no success on the part of those who want to maintain his position.

Hays implies that Acts 10 and 19 may not have been actual languages. After all, Luke does not use certain words in those texts that he does use in Acts 2. First of all, Luke’s writing is directed to one individual with a very specific purpose. Are we to think that he wrote about the same phenomenon in four different places but that he did not mean for Theophilus to identify it as such? If that were the case, wouldn’t we be right to expect Luke to explain that this (Acts 2) is not that (Acts 10, 19, and 8)? Moreover, Acts 10 is identical to Acts 2 and we know this without question. First of all, in 10:45, the Jews that were with Peter were amazed! Why? They saw the same thing taking place with the Gentiles that took place with them. If Cornelius’s household had not been given the same sign, the significance of that would have been devastating. The Jews would have said it was phony. Or at best, it was not what we got because our tongues are genuine languages and yours are gibberish. You are still inferior to us! But some of these Jews understood the languages because Luke tells us they heard them exalting God in those languages. Finally, Peter reasons that no one can forbid baptism because the Gentiles received the very same sign we did. Hence, there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile. We both have the same gift of the same Holy Spirit. And that is Luke's point! And it is the point that Joel was making in his prophecy.

Hays says that Paul confines tongues to Church services. This is one of the most baffling things Hays has said. Paul forbids tongues in the Church services UNLESS the speaker provides an interpretation of what he said. To use this gift as a way of bragging and showing off your gifts is not spiritual. It is not edifying. This seems to be the point. In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians in v. 10 that there are a lot of languages in the world, and none without meaning. This is in the middle of his correction of the Corinthian abuses of this gift. Hays would disagree apparently, arguing that the tongues Paul is talking about could quite possibly be meaningless, unbroken syllables that somehow God uses to edify the speaker. I confess this position is nothing short of stunning. In addition, in v. 18 Paul clearly says that I speaks in tongues more than all of them, but in Church, he would rather speak five words in the congregation’s language than 10,000 in an unknown language.
Again, Paul tells us that tongues are a sign for unbelievers. How is speaking in gibberish a sign? Paul already denied that tongues are universally unknown back in v. 10. Paul issues the command that tongues spoken in the Church service must always be interpreted. Otherwise, the gifted one should not employ their gift.

Hays then misrepresents my position when he implies that I think all New Testament Christians spoke in tongues. I have not made any assertions like that. What I have observed is that every instance of Spirit baptism in Acts is accompanied by the sign of tongues, even the Samaritan event where tongues are not specifically mentioned. In addition, I have said that PT in fact teaches that everyone who is filled with the Spirit speaks in tongues.

Hays tells us there are “credible” reported cases of modern tongues. Yes, I have heard about these reported cases. I think most of us have. What is fascinating is that while we have all heard about them, I can’t find anyone who has actually, directly witnessed it for themselves. Keener’s work has been vetted and criticized enough for us to know that this work, while filled with lots and lots of stories, is lacking in detailed support and verifiable sources.

In short, NT evidence for tongues leaves us no reason whatever to think that this phenomenon was not actual languages. If we were to remove modern Pentecostal experiences and claims from the equation, we would have no exegetical reason for concluding that the tongues in the NT were not actual languages. This is a case of anachronistic interpretation. Hays and the Pentecostals are reading modern phenomenon back into NT phenomenon. This is the only way to keep the debate alive. If one reduces the discussion to a purely exegetical reading of the text, we have no reason to conclude that the Corinthian Church was not speaking in actual languages. The only reason we introduce empirical testing is to see if what moderns are doing is what the ancients were doing.

My concern is for Christ, for the truth, for the gospel, for the Christian Church. When PT tells us that what they do is exactly what the Church did in the first century, they are teaching error. That sign was a significant event in the Christian Church. The error of PT is serious. When PT teaches that you must speak in modern tongues in order to be filled with the Spirit, they are teaching lies. When PT teaches us that healing was provided for in the atonement and that we all have a right to be healed, they are teaching cruel lies. When PT tells us that God is giving prophets new revelations of inspired utterances, they are guilty of speaking presumptuously in the name of the Lord. These are not small errors. When we add to this the idea of the prosperity gospel, a denial of eternal security, and the complete destruction of male leadership in the Church, you end up with something far different from the ancient Church.

I am not saying that Pentecostal Theology is ipso facto heretical. I am saying that both the number of errors and the degree of error are serious. Anyone that takes up the task to defend this system of theology should be intimately informed about all the teachings subscribed to in that system. A defense of error is an endorsement of error. All of us who endorse error will be held accountable as if we taught the error ourselves.