Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sam Storms on Fallible Prophecy: Point 2

Second, a related point is found in Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians that they not “quench the Spirit” by “despising prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:19-20). Rather, they are to “test everything,” i.e., they are to weigh, judge, evaluate, or assess what purports to be a prophetic word and then “hold fast what is good” and “abstain from every form of evil” (vv. 21-22). -

“A good part of the meaning of these five imperatives is lost if we do not first understand the relations between them. The first clear distinction is between the two negative commands of verses 19–20 and the positive commands of verse 21–22. In Greek the two groups are separated by an adversative “but” (omitted in many manuscripts, probably accidentally incorporated into the next word). Within each group, Paul moves from the generic to the specific; despising inspired messages is a special case of restraining the Holy Spirit. Keeping what is good and avoiding every kind of evil are the two consequences of putting all things to the test.”[1]

With every text, there is a context. Storms seems to be looking at this text through the lens of the modern Pentecostal phenomenon of prophecy. But the text is a little more specific than Storms wants to acknowledge. The immediate context of these commands must be understood in light of v. 12 where Paul commands the Thessalonians to appreciate those that labor among them and have charge over them. As is typically the case with modern non-cessationists, the classification of prophecy is too narrowly defined. BDAG defines prophecy here as the gift of interpreting divine will or purpose. Storms assumes it is a reference to the very same phenomenon in which modern Charismatics and Pentecostals engage. There is no exegetical basis for this assumption.

Paul wrote the Thessalonian correspondence to (1) encourage the church during persecution; (2) defend the purity of his mission; (3) urge the church to live holy lives characterized by sexual purity; (4) define a Christian work ethic; (5) correct confusion around the coming of Christ; (6) prompt the church to respect its leaders. [Koestenberger, The Cross, The Cradle, and The Crown, 444] There are two basic areas that we must understand if we are to understand Paul’s command to the Thessalonians. The first one is in point (6) above, that the Thessalonians were having issues with respecting their leaders, those most likely to be the ones giving inspired utterances.

The word “despise” means to despise someone or something on the basis that it is worthless or of no value. This command and the challenge around respect for godly leaders must be viewed in light of the decrees of Caesar regarding prophetic utterances.

These decrees are actually used as the basis for the persecution of Paul and Jason in Acts 17:7. “Augustus decreed that the seers were forbidden to prophesy to any person alone or to prophesy regarding death even if others should be present. The emperor Tiberius gave another decree: But as for all the other astrologers and magicians and such as practiced divination in anyway whatsoever, he put to death those who were foreigners and banished all the citizens that were accused of still employing the art at this time after the previous decree [dogma] by which it had been forbidden to engage in any such business in the city.” [Burge, Cohick, & Green, The New Testament in Antiquity, 283] Caesar had issued a decree that forbad prophecy. From Acts 17, we know that the Thessalonians were deeply familiar with and had embraced the decree. That Paul was dealing with an element in the Church that had continued to embrace this ungodly decree must be given very serious consideration.  

Notice that immediately after Paul commands the Church not to quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecy, he immediately contrasts this command by issuing a second command. Rather than immediately despising prophecy itself, not the content of the prophecy, Paul says but examine everything carefully, hold fast to the good and abstain from every form of evil.

In summary then, it seems fairly obvious to me that Paul was not commanding the Thessalonians not to despise godly prophecy, but rather, to purge themselves of the decree of Caesar, which had led to an ungodly attitude toward the gift of prophecy and those that prophesy, namely, the leaders. In addition to purging themselves of this ungodly bias against this gift of God, they were also commanded not to be naïve to the content of prophecy and have the pendulum swing to the other extreme. On the one hand, the Thessalonians were commanded to abandon Caesar’s decree against the practice of prophecy, but to do so while making sure that everyone claiming to speak in the name of God was actually speaking in the name of God. They were to examine these claims by comparing and contrasting them with the divine truth that they had received from Paul and his associates. In light of the background of Paul’s commands to the Thessalonians, we can conclude that Paul was far more specific than Sam Storms has understood him to be.

[1] Paul Ellingworth and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1976), 123.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sam Storms and Fallible Prophecy: A Critical Response

Back in November of 2013 Sam Storms came to the defense of the modern fallible prophecy movement in the charismatic churches. In that defense, he lists ten arguments that he is convinced refutes John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” assessment of the practice and Doug Wilson’s criticism of it as well. I am going to provide some condensed posts in response to what I see as a surplus of fallacies in Storms’ arguments. You should keep in mind, however, that my criticism is not necessarily a defense of MacArthur and Wilson’s view as much as it is of my own, which may or may not be slightly nuanced in comparison to the former men.

Mr. Storms begins with the following statement:

First, this view fails to reckon with what would undoubtedly have been thousands of prophetic words circulating in the first century, none of which are part of canonical Scripture and thus none of which are binding on the conscience of Christians throughout history.

Storms makes this statement in response to the view that such prophecies equal divine revelation and as such are the authoritative word of God and should be included in the canon. Storms takes the curious and fallacious position that there is a distinction in the authority of God’s word included in the canon and that word that never made it into the canon.

My mind travels back to that time when Moses was commanded by God to strike the rock once! This word was not part of the canon, the Torah, and yet Moses suffered the judgment of God for not obeying God’s personal word to Him. I am also reminded of Saul, whom Samuel told to destroy everything from the Amalekites. Saul disobeyed and lost the kingdom. These words were not part of the Torah nor were they given to everyone in Israel. They were given to Saul. God’s word is by nature authoritative. God’s word was just as authoritative prior to canonization as it is now that we have the canon. The canon does nothing to make God’s word more or less authoritative. In addition, putting God’s divine communication in writing does not add to its authority, nor does it diminish it in any way. God’s word is authoritative precisely because it is God’s word, not because it takes a particular form.

Since God’s word is by nature authoritative, it only follows that the recipient of that word is under absolute obligation to obey it. Refusal to obey God’s word, regardless of its form, is a serious sin. God’s word is not more or less authoritative depending on its form or its messenger. Storms makes no effort to demonstrate why anyone should think otherwise. He simply assumes we should take his point to be the gospel truth so to speak.

Finally, Storms makes a serious error in his presumption regarding the number and content of NT prophecies. Storms says, “there would undoubtedly have been thousands of prophetic words circulating in the first century.” This may or may not have been the case. The truth is that we do not know how often this gift was engaged in the ancient church. Nevertheless, even if Storms is right in his speculation on this point, he is likely wrong in his speculation on the latter one. Storms presumes that the content of these numerous prophecies during the ancient church never made its way into the canon. How does he know this? Indeed, how could he possibly know this to be the case? The fact of the matter is that he does not. The truth is that these prophecies could have very well been a combination of Old Testament and New Testament Scripture in prophetic form. The ancient church represents the most interesting transition periods in all of human history. That God would be doing unique work during such a unique period should not surprise us in the least.

In summary then, Storms basic presupposition is that canonical revelation is more authoritative and normative than personal, prophetic revelation. This point of view is completely lacking exegetical warrant. Second, Storms view that there were thousands of prophetic words in the NT is based upon sheer conjecture and speculation. Even if it was true, and it may be, it is entirely irrelevant to the argument. Third, Storms’ contention that these prophecies contained divine revelation that is not contained in the Scripture is without exegetical warrant. Moses and Saul were given direct personal revelations from God, they both disobeyed, and they both suffered grave consequences as a result. The fact that these NT prophecies could have contained OT revelation not previously disclosed to Gentile audiences or NT revelation that would eventually make it into the canon is enough to accuse Storms of fallacious reasoning.

I conclude that Storms then must be wrong about his view that these NT prophecies were on a different authority scale than the NT canon and that the content of these prophecies never made it into the canon. On the former there is exegetical proof that Storms is wrong. On the latter, it is far more congruent with Christian theology to presume that whatever these prophetic revelations were in this transition period, they were based on the very same principles and even content that did make it into the canon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Authentic Fire: A Most Bizarre Movement Indeed

Michael Brown's latest book titled, “Authentic Fire,” claims to defend something genuinely spawned by the Holy Spirit. It claims to defend biblical truth. The book is Brown’s apologetic to John MacArthur’s book, “Strange Fire.” Before you waste your time thinking this is a review of Brown’s book, I want you to know it is not. This post is a criticism of the very notion that there is such a thing as authentic fire in the sense in which Brown and modern Charismatics define it. I limit my method to a review of the practices that fall into the category of authentic fire, and subject them to biblical scrutiny.

Speaking in Tongues

Dancing in the Spirit

Slain in the Spirit

The Mystical Sensation of the Spirit

The Laughing Revival

Kathryn Kuhlman in Being Filled and Controlled By the Spirit

Ladies and gentlemen, if observing these sad, shocking, and perverse videos are not enough to provoke you to anger at how Christian theism is mocked and displayed by these groups, no amount of reason, biblical or otherwise, is capable of convincing you that these groups are in possession of authentic fire (whatever that might be). I applaud Fred Butler and Mennoknight for their labors and excellent research on the subject. The notion that Matthew 3:11-12 has anything to do with bizarre mystical encounters like those experienced in modern day Pentecostal churches is without a shred of exegetical warrant. All on has to do to understand what John the Baptist meant by fire is read v. 12. The Coming One will baptize the repentant with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. But the unrepentant, those who are not receptive to the Coming One, will be baptized with the judgment of eternal fire.[1] The prophecy John references is Joel 2:28-32. This prophecy also contains the promise of reconciliation and of judgment, to be carried in the end under the new covenant. Review the videos in light of Scripture and plain human reason. If they cannot convince you, it is unlikely that anything will.

1. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 25.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


“The basic structure of Christian theology is simple. Its every teaching should be taken from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as being the words of prophets and apostles spoken on the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the Savior of sinners.”[1] Since the discipline of Christian apologetics rightly comes under the rubric of Christian theology, it is only logical to see this disciple as also relying exclusively on Scripture as its sole authority. How could it be otherwise? Contrary to numerous Christian philosophers, Christian apologetics does not belong to the field of philosophy. It belongs to theology and with theology it must remain. The constituents of contemporary apologists, if they demonstrate anything at all, they show us what happens to a thoroughly biblical practice when the philosophers are finished with it. It is the conviction of this writer that we must begin with Scripture, employ Scripture continually, and end with Scripture if our apologetic method has any hope at all of approaching the cadence and model of the apologetics of the ancient church.

The most common Hebrew word translated witness is עֵד. “This word, appearing some sixty-seven times in the ot, is also derived from the root ʿûd meaning “return” or “repeat, do again.” The semantic development apparently is that a witness is one, who by reiteration, emphatically affirms his testimony. The word is at home in the language of the court.”[2] Another Hebrew word that catches our attention is עֵדָה, “used only of things posited to establish permanence and unequivocal facts such as ownership (Gen 21:30), an agreement (Gen 31:52). and a covenant with God (Josh 24:27).[3] One cannot over-emphasize the significance that a witness played in ancient Hebrew culture. The law placed great significance on the qualities of a witness.
Among those not qualified to be witnesses were the near relations of the accuser or the accused, friends and enemies, gamesters, usurers, tax-gatherers, heathen, slaves, women and those not of age (Ṣanhedhrīn 3:3, 4; Rō’sh Ha-shānāh 1:7; Bābhā Ḳammā’ 88a; cf Ant, IV, viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been paid to render this service (Bekhōrōth 4:6). In cases of capital punishment there was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had to be heard separately (Ṣanhedhrīn 5; cf 3:5). If they contradicted one another on important points their witness was invalidated (Ṣanhedhrīn 5).[4]
“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”[5]

In the New Testament, the significance of the witness is not diminished. The Greek word translated witness is μαρτυρία. The work of the witness was to testify on behalf of another. John 1:7 captures the essence of the role of the witness: “He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.”[6] Louw & Nida explain that the word means, “to provide information about a person or an event concerning which the speaker has direct knowledge—‘to witness.”[7] BDAG explains that it is confirmation or attestation on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, testimony. The witness possesses information that the object of his testimony does not. Why would I need someone to testify to me about an event of which I possessed knowledge? The idea behind the witness is that he possesses information that the non-witness does not. Moreover, it is implied that this information is vital to the circumstances surrounding the event. This point cannot be overemphasized.

In summary then, from this information on witnesses and testimony, we can conclude four things about the concept of witness. Frist, the qualities of a witness are vitally important. Second, the role of the witness is to testify about an event of which he possesses intimate knowledge. Third, the content of the testimony is unknown to the recipients of the testimony. Fourth, the content is not only relevant to the case, it is vital to the circumstances surrounding the case otherwise the testimony would be superfluous. 

My aim in this short post is simply to turn your attention to the significance of the witness in Scripture. Once we understand the significant role the witness played Hebrew culture, we can then begin to grasp the nature and role of the Holy Spirit as the witness to the truth of divine revelation. It my hope that that understanding will influence your approach to Christian apologetics.

[1]. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (United States: Presbyterian and Reformed, n.d.), 7.
2. Carl Schultz, “1576 עוּד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 648.
3. Carl Schultz, “1576 עוּד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 649.
4. Paul Levertoff, “Witness,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volumes 1–5 (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 3099.
5. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Dt 17:6–7.
6. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:7.
7. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 417.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Testimonium Spiritus Sancti Internum: The Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit - In Christian Apologetics

In the book, “Five Views On Apologetics,” William Lane Craig makes this statement: “If, by proceeding on the basis of considerations that are common to all parties, such as sense perception, rational self-evidence, and common modes of reasoning, the Christian can show that his own beliefs are true and those of his interlocutor false, then he will have succeeded in showing that the Christian is in a superior epistemic position for discerning the truth about these matters.”[1] In his work, “Christian Apologetics,” Norman Geisler comments, “What is more, an adequate test for truth is a methodological prerequisite to establishing theism.

For unless the Christian apologist has a test by which he can show other systems to be false and theism to be true, then there is no way to adjudicate the conflicting claims of various religions and worldviews.”[2] In His work, “Faith Founded on Fact,” John Warwick Montgomery has said, “Christianity does indeed offer the most comprehensive solution to the human dilemma, but apart from the marshaling of brute facts to prove this, the claim is worth no more than that of any other religion or philosophy leading to maximal comprehensiveness or coherence.”[3]

In their respective comments, it is clear that each man is looking to identify a method and standard by which the truth claims of Christian theism can be shown to accurately reflect the state of affairs as they have obtained in the present world order. Craig uses the expression, “rational self-evidence,” while Geisler points to “an adequate test for truth,” and Montgomery, references “the marshaling of brute facts.” Each man is carefully enmeshed in showing Christian theism to be true. In addition, these men have made vast contributions to Christian scholarship over the course of their respective careers and for that I am grateful. In fact, Norman Geisler was my apologetics professor several years ago at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Nevertheless, there is a very basic difference in my perspective and their perspective concerning what Scripture has to say about apologetic method. That difference is located in the relationship between the Testimonium and the Criterion as it attaches to Christian epistemology.

The thesis of this post is that Christian apologetics is a discipline that necessitates both the force of the truth of God in its expression and the work of God’s Spirit in its function if it is to be harmonious with divine revelation. Unless the gospel of God is presented in concert with the work of the Spirit, the discipline of Christian apologetics becomes much more rationalistic, much more natural, much more the product of the human intellect.

The objective of this post is to trace the contours of the witness of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation and vindication of the gospel as it appears to us in the New Testament revelation. The particular aim is to demonstrate the nature of the ancient church’s dependence on that witness in both its proclamation and defense of the Christian gospel. The apologist must look to the revelation of Scripture for both his cadence and his model for apologetic methodology. It is there that he will find safety from error, pride, and the fruitless rationalism that has come to dominate the discipline.

My aim is to call apologists back to a reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit in the field of Christian apologetics. Christian theism is a supernatural religion from top to bottom. From its Head, to its revelation, to its members, to its message, Christian theism has a spiritual and supernatural base. In fact, there is nothing in the Christian religion that is purely naturalistic in character. Beginning with the creation of the physical universe to the divine revelation of the law, to the arrival of God incarnate, to the completion of divine revelation in the New Testament, there is no component of Christian theism that does not transcend human reason. It seems perfectly right then, that the discipline that purports to defend the claims of this supernatural religion would also be fully persuaded that its approach would require reliance on the very supernatural truth claims it seeks to defend. It is only reasonable to think that the Christian apologist would embrace, without hesitation, the supernatural witness of the Holy Spirit in the work of vindicating the Christian worldview.

“The New Testament is primarily concerned with telling the story of Jesus and with drawing the consequences of that story for belief, for worship, and for practical conduct of human life.”[4] Indeed, in his gospel at 20:31, John informs us that he wrote his gospel so that the hearer might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, the hearer might have eternal life. Kostenberger points to Matt. 16:13-20 as Matthew’s central thesis.[5] This section contains Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Mark begins his project by telling us this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He continues in 10:45 by telling us that Jesus, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. And in 15:39 he records the words of the centurion, “truly, this man was the Son of God.” Luke is essentially a treatise of the historical record of Jesus Christ so that Theophilus might know the exact truth about the things, which he had been taught. The task of Christian apologetics is to provide a defense to anyone that 1) asks us to give a reason for the hope that is in us; and 2) to refute those that aspire to challenge and contradict the truth of God we have in His divine communication. This task requires the Christian to employ both the Spirit and the Word in their preparation for and their engagement in the discipline of Christian apologetics.

If one were to survey the material available on the subject of Christian philosophy and apologetics today, they would discover an astounding and embarrassing deficiency of exegesis and theology in those materials. In addition, very little space is dedicated to the phenomenon of the witness and work of the Spirit in the field of Christian apologetics. It is the primary aim of this series of posts to point out the vital role of the Spirit in the work and practice of Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is better served when it is in the hands of the exegete, the theologian, and the elder. The philosopher seems to be continually seduced by the intellectually complex, the obscure, and the sophisticated. But the gospel and its defense is more simple than the philosopher wants it to be.

[1]. William Lane Craig, “Classical Apologetics,” in Five Views on Apologetics, ed. Steven B. Cowan and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 44.
[2]. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, paperback ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976).
[3]. John Warwick Montgomery, preface to Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Newburgh, IN: Trinity Press, 1978), xi.
[4]. Avery Cardinal Dulles, A History of Apologetics, 2nd ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 1.
[5]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 179.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Confronting the Book, "Confronting Calvinism"

This post is part of an interaction I am having with Dr. Anthony Badger, author of "Confronting Calvinism." Hence you will see direct address here and there. Just a heads up on why it is present.

It is not that I misunderstand how Free Grace views faith rather, it is the case that I believe Scripture does not provide an adequate grounding for the Free Grace understanding of faith as passive. With all due respect, you have not made your case. I see that John 6:44, 65 is touched on in the chapter on Total Depravity. I must confess that I find your treatment of it unconvincing. You see then, Jesus talks a great deal about this matter in John 6. There, Jesus says to the Jews that are following Him for all sorts of reasons that they have seen Him and do not believe Him. He contrasts this statement with the statement that “all that the Father gives to me will come to me.” In 39 He tells us that this group that the Father gives to Him, He will certainly raise them up on the last day and not lose a single one. These are the ones that behold the Son and believe in Him. Then in 44 Jesus tells us that no one is able to come to Him unless the Father draws them. And then he says something very interesting, “and I will raise him up on the last day.” In other words, everyone that the Father draws to Him will be raised up on the last day. Logically, we can only conclude that those whom the Father draws are the ones from that group mentioned earlier, the ones that the Father gives to Jesus. I will come back to this momentarily.

Jesus reinforces this concept with a quote from Isa. 54:13/Jer. 31:34, and states quite clearly, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Once again, we can only conclude that everyone who hears and learns from the Father is part of that group that the Father draws to Christ, and these are the same ones that the Father has given to Christ, the ones from whom Christ will not lose a single one but will raise them up on the last day. Now, this describes some of those that are in the crowd no doubt. But what about the other ones who are there for all the wrong reasons? Jesus says in 6:65, “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Now, we ask the question concerning why they don’t believe. Jesus gives us as clear an answer as could be given: “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him from the Father.” This Jesus’ own paraphrase of v. 44. The reason that men do not believe is because it has not been granted to them by the Father. Now, Jesus is saying that men are not able to come to Him οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με, unless it has been δεδομένον αὐτῷ granted/given to him ἐκ τοῦ πατρός from the Father. Faith and coming to Jesus are equivalents in this text. The idea that Jesus thought of believing in Him separately from coming to Him, coming after Him, following Him is, in my estimation, the product of extreme theological prejudice.

When Dr. Badger uses the word draw, he seems to use it in an anachronistic sense. We think of being drawn to a person, a spouse, something that attracts us when we use this word. However, in order to understand the meaning of “draw” and how Jesus used it, and more importantly, how John’s audience would have understood it, we have to go back to the first-century Mediterranean world. You see, Jesus’ connection between 6:44 and 6:65 should cause us to think more critically about this word. In 6:44 he uses the word ἑλκύσῃ, draw, and in 6:65 He uses the word δεδομένον, granted. In our thinking, grant carries the sense of “actuality” while draw has the sense of “potentiality.”

The Greek word ἑλκύσῃ means to attract powerfully, to haul. This word appears six time in NT usage. In every single case, the object of the attraction is passive. Moreover, in every single place it is used, the idea is to pull or move the passive object to the subject. When we hear the word attract, we think about a psychological sensation, an internal stimulation if you will. That is not at all how this word is used in the New Testament Scripture. Some would point to John 12:32 as proof that Jesus draws in the modern sense of this tugging at the heart, and that He draws all men without exception. But this text is talking about the manner in which Christ will die and the fact that His death will attract from all groups of men on the earth just as God has planned. Surely the text does not mean all men without exception for we know that men die even today without ever having heard of Jesus’ death on the cross. And if you reject this view, then surely you must acknowledge that men have died since the resurrection of Christ, having never heard of the event. In that case, Jesus could not possibly have intended for us to take this text in a naïve and literal manner.

Now I turn to the question of “believing.” Is “believing” an active or passive behavior? Free Grace contends that “believing” is passive behavior. The Greek word πιστεύω appears 241 times in the NA28 GNT. It appears in the passive voice nine out of those 241 times and in the active voice 232 times. This puts its usage as passive at about 4% of the time. The passive usages occur in Rom. 3:2 where the Jews were said to have been entrusted with the oracles of God, in 1 Cor. 9:17 where Paul was entrusted with a stewardship, and then in Ga. 2:7, 1 Thess. 2:4, 1 Ti. 1:11, and Tt. 1:3, all places where Paul is said to have been entrusted with the gospel. In 1 Tim. 3:16, use of the passive occurs in its most common usage as it describes Christ has having been believed on in the world. In 2 Th. 1:10 the reference is to Paul’s testimony that was believed. In eight of the nine passives then, we see that the subject of belief is not the occasion for saving faith. This leaves us with one example out of 241 in the GNT. This brings us to Romans 10:9-10. Paul says in v. 10, “For with the heart a person believes.” Once again, this is the standard use of a passive voice verb. It is simply describing the instrument of belief, namely, the human heart. One has to look no further than v. 9 to see that if a person will believe with their heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, they will be saved.

In Acts 16:30, the Philippian Jailer wanted to know how to be saved. Paul commanded Him to believe in the Lord Jesus and he would be saved. Now, not only is πιστεύω in the active voice here, it is in the imperative mood. This is the mood of command. How can Paul command the Jailer to actively believe in the Lord Jesus if that act is actually passive in nature?

In summary then, the hypothesis that the act of believing has nothing to do with the human will lacks exegetical warrant. The sense of πιστεύω moves from an evaluation to acceptance (knowledge) to belief to trust and understanding. It means to consider something to be true and worthy of one’s trust, to entrust oneself to and entity with complete confidence, to entrust, to be confidence about (BDAG). From this it seems easy to see that Free Grace is wrong to view belief as a passive human behavior. It seems to follow that if belief is passive, then so too is unbelief. After all if belief that Jesus is Lord is passive, then so too is belief that He is not Lord. And if that is the case, I fail to see how God can hold men culpable for their refusal to believe the gospel. You see, even Calvinism does not hold that men are culpable for actions they do not freely will or chose to do. Calvinism argues that men willingly choose not to believe the gospel. Calvinism does not hold that men want to believe the gospel but cannot. It teaches that men love their sin, and that they are not able to believe because they only love their sin and as a result they are unwilling to believe. In addition, Free Grace seems to overlay a modern, emotional sort of definition on the word “draw” in John 6. Once we travel back to the NT world to understand better how that audience viewed the word, we are in a much better place to understand how Jesus could use it interchangeably with God’s granting belief to those whom He has chosen to give to His Son.

Romans 10:9 teaches that if a person will believe the gospel, they will be saved. The ones who will believe are those whom the Father gives to the Son. These are the ones that Jesus said would have eternal life and be raised up on the last day. Only this group can come to the Father because the Father grants it to them to come. That is to say, the Father powerfully attracts these elect to the Son. The reason men do not believe Jesus is because they are not His sheep and are of their father the devil. Only those who are born from above are willing and able to believe the announcement of Jesus Christ! The rest willingly reject the good Word about Him.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Incongruity of Probability Theory in Christian Evangelism and Apologetics

In a recent article published in Philosophia Christi, Richard Swinburne came to the following conclusion: “I conclude that unless my assessment of how probable the evidence of natural theology makes the existence of God is very badly mistaken, it is very probable that Jesus was God incarnate and that he rose from the dead.” Now, isn’t that a forceful, impressive, and eloquent way to speak about what Christianity claims is the single greatest event in all of human history. Before I begin commenting on Mr. Swinburne’s astounding conclusion and the confidence with which he makes it, the reader needs to understand that I come to this subject as a theologian and biblical exegete, not a philosopher. I am an apologist, but only in the sense that I think every believer has a duty to engage in apologetics. However, my education and training are not in philosophy. My education is in theology, systematics, and the biblical languages, in hermeneutics. Therefore, what my scrutiny and criticism will lack in philosophical rigor, it will certainly compensate for in theological and exegetical carefulness.

The fundamental problem with Swinburne’s approach is that it does not appeal to Scripture for its epistemic authority, but rather to human reason. It is obvious that Swinburne appeals to human reason, to argumentation, to historical evidence as his final authority for believing that Jesus was God incarnate and that He rose from the dead. In fact, what Swinburne really believes is that it is reasonable for a person to believe that Jesus is God incarnate because the historical evidence makes it highly probable that He was. Swinburne and other non-reformed philosophers and so-called apologists continually accept the criteria of justification that godless philosophers place on them. The unregenerate rationalists and empiricists insist that all beliefs must meet their criteria in order to qualify as true knowledge. Since these philosophers use inductive logic, which is based on probability, certain knowledge is impossible. If a Christian does not challenge this strategy at the beginning, their conversation will be wrought with insurmountable objections.

The resurrection can only serve as evidence for Christian theism within the world of the regenerate. The problem with Swinburne’s view is that he and other philosophers separate the epistemological significance of the resurrection from its soteriological function. This sort of reasoning fails to adequately account for the ethical problem deeply embedded in unregenerate epistemologies. Natural theology is far too optimistic in its estimation of man’s ethical neutrality where epistemology is concerned. Scripture is clear on this point: “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 Greek word translated “without excuse” is ἀναπολογήτους (anapologetous) and it literally means without an apologetic. There is no philosophical defense for refusing to acknowledge God, according to Romans 1:20. It is amazing to me that with great frequency, Christian philosophers actually pretend there is one. Since Scripture already says that God Himself has furnished all the proof that every unbeliever need in order to acknowledge Him, we need not waste our time trying to provide them with more proofs. Are we silly enough to think that our arguments and proofs are somehow superior to or more effective than the ones God has etched in their conscience and placed in front of their noses?

 I read Swinburne’s quote to my wife this morning and I asked her to tell me what was wrong with it. She immediately said that she did not like the sentence “it is very probable that Jesus was God incarnate and that he rose from the dead.” I asked her to explain to me why she believed the statement was wrong. Her answer was very simple but also quite profound: “because it is not true.” I asked her to elaborate. She quipped, “Jesus actually is God and actually did raise from the dead and so to say that he probably is and did these things is false.” The truth is that my wife is absolutely correct.

A major objection to Swinburne’s statement is that biblical Christianity does not teach that it is highly probable that God exists, that Jesus was probably God incarnate, and that He probably rose from the dead. Hence, Swinburne is essentially defending a belief that is not included within Christian theism. Christian theism teaches forcefully and with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, that He absolutely rose from the dead for our justification, and that all those who place their faith in Him will have eternal life. Additionally, Christian theism certifies without any hint of doubt that those who reject this message of the gospel of God will surely perish and come under eternal wrath, time without end.

Another challenge concerns the reliance on probability as a valid method for arriving at what is likely the truth. What else must absolutely be true in order for probability to be true? The answer is that the validity of uniformity must be true in order for probability to be valid. We must be able to show that there is a relationship between the general and the particular. This is exactly what the unbeliever cannot do. He assumes such a relationship exists but he cannot provide an adequate accounting for it. If the world came to exist on its own, randomly, by accident, without a cause, then there is no way for us to account for any relationship between the general and the particular. Chance and uniformity are not exactly related. As we would say in the south, they’re not even distant cousins. In fact, they are opposites. Why then do Christian philosophers feel compelled to accept basic beliefs about how the world operates when these beliefs are in clear contradiction, not only with Christian theism, but also with the system with which they argue? It makes very little sense as far as I can tell.

Romans one clearly informs Christians that God has made Himself known to all men. θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν is very clear. For God made it very plain to them. The word means to cause something to be fully known by revealing clearly and in some detail—‘to make known, to make plain, to reveal, to bring to the light, to disclose, revelation. This very same word is used in 2 Cor. 5:11, θεῷ δὲ πεφανερώμεθα, we are fully known by God. Jesus used it in John 14:21 where He promised to make Himself known to the one keeping God’s commandments. Therefore, when the unbeliever claims they do not know if God exists or when they claim that God does not exist, they lie. The question for the Christian is will we go along with that lie. Will we grant to them that which Scripture denies?

In short Swinburne’s view does not hold up under scrutiny. The very systems that use probability as a reliable test for knowledge cannot stand up under the scrutiny of their own basic claims. For instance, what happens when probability is turned on itself in a random universe? How probable is it that this world would exist in the first place? It was a one-time event. Probability does not work with one-time events. The Christ event was a one-time event. The resurrection was a one-time event. Supernatural creation of humanity was a one-time event.

In addition, probability would never be the most likely explanation for a miracle of any kind. Deceit, or delusion or exaggeration would always trump supernatural phenomena in terms of probability. It would always be more probable that someone is lying, or suffering a delusion or simply exaggerating than it would that a miracle occurred. Hence, if we concede this point of probability, the entire system of Christian theism collapses.

Christians are called to give an account for the hope that is in them. We are under no obligation to squabble with unbelievers over the existence of God or the truthfulness of the claims of Scripture. We are under an obligation to refute claims that contradict the teachings of Scripture. But that refutation does not take on the philosophical nature of unbelieving presuppositions. The refutation is Scripture. How do we refute error? We do it the same way Jesus did it: with Scripture. We don’t need to argue for why we call upon Scripture as our sole authority, outside of appealing to Scripture itself. The unbeliever cannot possibly defend their ultimate authority of autonomous human reason. They expect us to assume that human reason is completely reliable. But we all know that is not the case.

To argue that God probably exists, and that the Bible is probably God’s word, and that Jesus is probably God incarnate, and that He probably rose from the dead is also to argue that we are all probably saved and that Jesus is only probably returning one day and that divine judgment will probably happen in the future, probably. For God who probably exists probably so loved the world that He probably gave his only begotten Son! Is that the gospel? I can say with absolute certainty that this, ladies and gentlemen is not the Christian gospel. I believe it is time we begin to wrest the gospel from these philosophers that foolishly think that Christ and Aristotle can be friends. I think it could not be clearer that they are mortal enemies.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christians, Culture, and Moral Conduct

There is no New Testament mandate directing the Christian community to shape the moral values of a godless culture apart from the actions of living and preaching the gospel visibly and flagrantly. Modern western Christianity is predominantly a naturalistic, rationalistic, moralistic system utterly oblivious of the supernatural basis that defined ancient biblical Christianity, and for centuries, historic orthodox Christianity. The modern western religion that has come to be known as Christianity is little more than naturalistic, rationalistic deism. The most basic components for how Christians know divine truth, specifically, biblical faith coupled with Spirit illumination, are utterly foreign concepts to most people in modern culture who refer to themselves as Christians. The biblical teaching that our basis for truly knowing God is beyond the veil of human reason sounds strange to most professing Christians in western culture, and I would suppose, to most other cultures as well. This naturalistic, rationalistic orientation of the Christian religion has instinctively led many professing churches to consider the mission of the Christian church from more of a social, moral, and temporal emphasis.

Recently I heard a rant over the new trend to legalize polygamy. Al Mohler rightly pointed out that those gay marriage proponents that called the polygamy argument the product of extremists were dead wrong. That being the case I want to bring you back what I believe is the appropriate attitude regarding ungodly behavior and values in the culture.

First, in his prologue, John is very lucid in his description of how an ungodly culture, living under the curse of God and abiding in His wrath responds to true light: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (Jn. 1:5) It is thought that John is alluding to Isa. 9:2, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.” Similarly, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the forces of light and darkness were engaged in mortal combat, but light was predestined to triumph.[1] 
Light and darkness are no equally matched duality, but in the titanic battle between Jesus and Satan, Jesus, “the light,” emerges as the overwhelming victor.[2] 
There is no question that darkness and light occupy the same culture in many of the world’s cultures. Those in whom Christ dwells, the Christian community, are the children of the light. The unbelievers that reject Christ are referred as children of darkness.

The second point is that a little later in his gospel, John informs us why ungodly cultures prefer the darkness rather than the light: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.[3] 

The world not only loves the darkness, but they also are fearful that their evil deeds will be exposed if they step into the light. Sinners love their sin. If you thought gay marriage, and polygamy and abortion are human rights issues, you could not be more mistaken. These are all sin issues, issues of a very dark, godless culture that seeks to have things its own way. No amount of social or political activism will change the darkness in our culture to light.

What then is the Christian to do? Are we to wrangle over sinners living sinful lifestyles? Our response should not be one of simple outrage over the attack on the family, or even on the lives of innocent unborn babies. Our shock should be the utter contempt in which God is held. But that shock should be an expected shock if you will pardon the oxymoron. Paul had an emotional response to the idolatry he witnessed in Athens, but it was predictable. What should we do? How should we think about this when we are alone and contemplating the evil around us? What should we do about it? Should we talk about it? Should we vote about it? Should we seek to force the godless culture to live by godly values if at all possible? What exactly is the Christian community to do about the godless cultures in which they find themselves?

Many modern politically active Christians claim that political activism is the equivalent of letting our "light shine" and of being "the salt of the earth." Others believe these good works are the outward behaviors of righteous living. I am convinced by Jesus' reference to the Law that He was alluding to righteous living. Jesus says we are the salt of the earth. Scholars are not sure what Jesus was referring to specifically when He called us the salt of the earth. He could have been alluding to rock formations that contain sodium chloride. These were used to preserve meat. He could have been alluding to the salt collected from the Dead Sea through the process of evaporation. He could have had in mind the salt blocks used by Arab bakers to line the floor of their ovens. “Jesus may be citing a well-known proverbial saying. When rebuffing a trick question, Rabbi Joshua ben Haniniah (c. a.d. 90) apparently alludes to a proverbial saying when he asks, “Can salt lose its flavor?” The context of the saying implies that it is impossible for salt to lose its flavor, because he parallels the saying by asking, “Does the mule (being sterile) bear young?” (b. Bek. 8b). Sterile mules can no more bear young than can salt lose its flavor.”[4]

In other words, one cannot be light and darkness both at the same time and in the same place. This would point to the fact that the disciples of Christ could not possess the qualities of a disciple and not possess the qualities of a disciple at the same time. The fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5 comes to mind.
Peter tells his audience to “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles.” (1 Peter 2:12) Paul emphasizes this sort of conduct in 2Cor. 8:21, “for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”[5] 
In a culture obsessed with shame and honor, Greco-Roman writers were quick to emphasize that leaders and other beneficiaries of the public trust must be open and of irreproachable moral credentials. Judaism also stressed that charity collectors must act irreproachably to prevent even false accusations.[6] 
Outward moral reform was clearly not in view in the gospels, nor is it found anywhere in the writings or rhetoric of the NT sermons. Paul tells us to “prove ourselves blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of an immoral generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:15)

The biblical mandate for the Christian is to live a certain lifestyle before the world, not necessarily to tell a godless culture that it must comply with Christian principles or else. The Christian message is the gospel of repentance. The “or else” has nothing to do with temporal punishment and everything to do with the coming wrath of a Holy God. We will continue to write about the wrong-headed thinking of so many Christians as it relates to how we are to think about and interact with the respective godless cultures in which we find ourselves. The goal of the Christian life is to honor God before men. That means being the light and the salt He has called us to be and unflinchingly proclaiming the gospel of Christ, making disciples everywhere we go!

In summary then, Jesus and His apostles left us with clear instructions to live a life that was above reproach, to let our light shine, to hold to a standard of ethics that was of immeasurable worth. He commanded us to proclaim that gospel without apology. He instructed us to walk in love toward one another and those without, to be at peace with each other, and to walk in unity. He even commanded us, as part of our living in this life, to be continuously making disciples. But not one time did Jesus ever suggest, imply, infer, or even hint that our aim, our goal as a community was to impact the morality of the culture in which we find ourselves. The idea that Christianity has a divine imperative to shape the moral values of a godless and immoral culture in any way other than through godly living and preaching the gospel is a modern impulse derived from a rationalistic and naturalistic view of the Christian religion.

[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn 1:5.
[2] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 7.
[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 3:19.
[4] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 36.
[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 2 Co 8:21.
[6] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 2 Co 8:20–21.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Responsibility of Biblical Interpretation

Few things are more rewarding and few things are more dangerous than interpreting divine Scripture. The Scripture itself informs us that those who misinterpret it do so to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16) Paul commanded Timothy to be diligent to present himself approved to God, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15) The idea is that responsible biblical interpretation begins with an eagerness to present oneself approved to God. Hence, the driving force behind biblical interpretation is an eagerness for and a pursuit of biblical sanctification. Additionally, the single greatest failure in the general ranks of the Church is a lack of interpretive method. The lack of methodology in biblical interpretation leads to a profound lack of discipline and focus and serves as one of the greatest contributors to interpretive failure. This post offers what I believe is an excellent method for how every interpreter should approach the text of Scripture. Much of the content can be found in the book, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation.

The art and science of biblical interpretation is not without challenges. The interpreter brings four realities to the task of interpretation that represent serious peril. The interpreter has a sin nature that at every turn is inclined to rebel against divine truth. Any interpreter would be foolish not to recall the words of Jeremiah the prophet, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9) There is nothing more deceitful than the human heart! My heart is the most deceitful of all deceiving things! I cannot listen to my heart because my heart is not trustworthy. Second, the interpreter must deal with the reality of salvation history. God has revealed himself to humanity in real space and time. Failure to recognize the distinctive characteristics of that revelation tends to lead to illegitimate forms of criticism that impede the work of the Spirit in our hearts through the text itself. In such circumstances, Scripture becomes little more than an intellectual fascination. Additionally, the interpreter must deal with the literary aspects of Scripture. Divine revelation comes to us via the written text. This text contains foreign and ancient languages, genres, and devices with which the interpreted must become familiar. Finally, the interpreter must deal with the theological reality of the revelation that is divine Scripture. God is communicating divine truth with eternal consequences and there is nothing I can think of that is more significant than that. The interpreter, to show themselves approved to God, must responsibly deal with these four realities: sin, history, literature, and theology.

The reality of sin

The psalmist David said, "Your word I have treasured in my heart so that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11) Sin has a profoundly blinding effect on the would be interpreter. It is ever present and the interpreter must maintain the attitude that the possibility of perversion is a constant threat, especially in handling divine truth. A serious threat to responsible interpretation is the interpreter's personal presuppositions. In many ways, sin is responsible for numerous presuppositions. If the interpreter neglects to deal with their heart biblically, and to take sin seriously, the presuppositions they carry to the interpretive process will only make matters worse. The process for biblical change begins with the confrontation of the Spirit and the Word. The Scripture first threatens us, and specifically, threatens the sin we so dearly long to keep. Hence, there is a built-in incentive for the interpreter to interpret irresponsibly. This incentive is inescapably part of the sin nature. In summary then, there is no shortcut in the preparation process for biblical interpretation. The scholar has as much work to do here as the Sunday school teacher. There is no difference. Responsible biblical interpretation begins with the interpreter's process for dealing with their heart, for recognizing the sin that is there, and proceeding with great caution and with great anticipation for what God is speaking in the text.

The reality of salvation history

The historical dimension of divine revelation is one that has been over-emphasized by some interpreters while others have managed to hardly give it a wink and a nod. Interpreters that focus all their time on the historical aspects of Scripture to the neglect of its literary or theological aspects often end up with little more than a shell. Modern interpreters, ignoring their sinful presuppositions, focusing on the historical aspects of Scripture and treating it like any other book tend to purge it of its supernatural aspects. This approach diminishes the idea of divine revelation, inspiration, and authority. In addition, it has the regrettable effect of undermining the credibility and trustworthiness of the biblical account.

The literary reality of Scripture

Product DetailsThe literary reality of Scripture is one of its most demanding aspects in terms of intellectual skill. Literary analysis is an art and a skill that requires a high degree of focus and energy. However, literary acumen also presents a threat to the message and purpose of Scripture not to mention its nature. A mere literary approach to Scripture has led many to ignore the historical dimensions of the text, and as such, has resulted in Scripture being treated like any other book. Kevin Vanhoozer labels it "aesthetic theology." This results is more knowledge about the text rather than knowledge of what the text is about. The responsible interpreter seeks both, knowledge about the text, and knowledge of what the text is about. The text is divine communicative action with perlocutionary intent. It is not enough to acquire literary knowledge about the text. One must also know what the text is about. This moves us in the direction of authorial intent. God moved to the author but He also moved the author with the intention of producing change in the audience. An overly literary approach to Scripture has led many to Derrida's deconstructionism and the reader-response approach to interpretation. The goal of finding the author's meaning, divine or human, is replaced with the reader's own subjective idea of what the text means to and for them. Adjudication of theological ideas and interpretive methods dissolves, sinking into a sea of relativism.

The theological reality of Scripture

"Thinking biblically is a matter of reading Scripture along the grain of the text. It is less a matter of "drawing out" discrete theological propositions than of "drawing together" scriptural material from across the canon." [Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 189 quoting Reno, Biblical Theology & Theological Exegesis, 404] Hence, the theological reality of the case is that divine revelation takes place in real space and time, and is captured in real human language. The interpreters failure to account for the historical and literary realities of Scripture is no less damaging to the text than the aforementioned errors. When theology ignores the historical reality of revelation, the resurrection can easily be reduced to myth and regeneration can be "recast as the result of an existential encounter with God occasioned by the reading of Scripture. [Kostenberger/Patterson, Invitation To Biblical Interpretation, 78]

"The rank and importance of Biblical Hermeneutics among the various studies embraced in Theological Encyclopedia and Methodology is apparent from the fundamental relation which it sustains to them all. For the Scripture revelation is itself essentially the centre and substance of all theological science. It contains the clearest and fullest exhibition of the person and character of God, and of the spiritual needs and possibilities of man." [Terry, Milton. Biblical Hermeneutics, 21]

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)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Manual for Creating Atheist: Strict Rejoinder

At the very heart of MCA rests an unspoken assumption. It is an assumption that Boghossian never mentioned throughout the entire project. And yet, it is so excruciatingly obvious that if the project were going to be a success, this assumption could not remain an assumption. Somewhere along the way, Boghossian had the duty to deal with the one very critical issue that he never bothered to address. That critical issue is basically this: Christian faith is never placed beneath or subjected to the authority of human reason. In case you are wondering, this is the philosophical problem of the criterion. It is a legitimate problem that Boghossian prefers to ignore. According to Christian theism, human reason does not set itself up as the magistrate over faith. Since when is Christian epistemology under any obligation to subject itself to rationalism or empiricism? Neither of these systems is willing to submit to a distinctly Christian epistemology, are they? Boghossian assumes that the Biblical faith of Christian theism is subject to the standards of human reason that he wishes to place upon them. He never bothers to show us why his standards are superior or absolute. Rather than show us how Christian theism must pass the test of his version rationalism or empiricism, or a combination of the two, Boghossian assumes that it is so. He could not be more wrong. Christian theism actually argues that human reason must serve as the minister of faith, not her magistrate. Human reason is in service of Biblical faith, not the other way around. I believe so that I may understand, not I must understand in order to believe. This is Biblical Christianity. This is Christian theism. (Think of Leonidas in 300: this is Sparta!)

In “Loc. 452” Boghossian makes this statement: “If a belief is based on insufficient evidence, then any further conclusions drawn from the belief will at best be of questionable value.” Frist, there are some critical questions that this statement must answer. Second, we want to examine what results when we turn this statement on Boghossian’s claims. From a critical perspective, Boghossian has to distinguish in detail, without ambiguity, what he means by sufficient evidence so that we understand what he means by insufficient evidence. He also needs to help us understand what qualifies as evidence. Finally, it would be helpful for him to provide some understanding of how he defines value in terms of argumentation. What happens when we use this single statement to criticize Boghossian’s view of religion? The answer is really quite simply. Since Boghossian rests the success or failure of his entire project on his belief that the accurate characterization of faith is “pretending to know something you do not know” we are in a sound position to be able to assess the quality of his project and determine if it in point of fact adds value to the conversation. This will not be a small criticism that I will level against Boghossian’s argument.

Boghossian’s appeal to human reason to argue for human reason is viciously circular. One would assert that Christian theism does the very same thing with faith. But this statement does not actually represent the facts, as they exist within Christian theism. Christian theism does not appeal to faith as its final authority. Instead, Christian theism appeals to Scripture as its final authority and its criterion for what qualifies as the only consistent worldview, the only valid epistemology. Scripture sets itself up as the authority to which all human predication must submit. The skeptic may claim this too is circular. In response we say it is not viciously circular because as far as Christian theism is concerned, we are speaking of God’s rightful claim of absoluteness in this case. If God does exist as the ultimate source of all knowledge, then what other source could He appeal to but Himself since he is the highest authority to which appeal could be made? In other words, Christian theism is consistent to appeal to their final resting point, namely God, in support of all human predication. To rest the argument on other grounds would be terribly inconsistent even if some Christians actually do so. Should it surprise anyone that opposing systems would appeal to two different authorities for their criterion of belief, and would actually hold to differing epistemological schemes? Boghossian ignores the problem of the criterion and instead pretends that philosophy has it all figured out and that philosophers are in complete agreement on how human knowledge works. Apparently he is unfamiliar with Michael Williams work on “Problems of Knowledge – a critical introduction to epistemology.” Williams says, “The problem of unity poses the question: is there just one way of acquiring knowledge, or are there several depending on the sort of knowledge in question?” [Williams, Problems of Knowledge, 2] Boghossian does not even acknowledge that there are different kinds of knowledge, and hence, different methods for knowing them. 

This is not a small problem in his project. It is one of the first questions a good Christian thinker will ask if you attempt to engage him/her on the question of Christian theism. The problem of the criterion is a most thorny problem. You see, in order to create a criterion by which beliefs may be justified, you must already have some idea about it before you create it. This is a problem. What you are searching for is something that transcends, a standard that comes from out there somewhere. You are looking for a reliable and dependable judge. But if you create the judge, how objective is that? This is the problem of the criterion that Boghossian ignores entirely. The atheist needs to understand that the Christian thinker will not ignore that problem. The minute you ask us to justify our beliefs, we are going to ask you to justify your idea of justification without appealing to your own idea of justification. But don’t let this dissuade you from engaging Christians. I hope you engage lots of Christians, real ones, the type that actually know how to think well about Christian theism.

The second problem with Boghossian’s project is his insistence on giving faith a philosophical or rational definition as opposed to allowing the faith community to define their own terms. “If facts alone are at stake, on overdose of emotionally tinged language can only be a hindrance and should be regarded with suspicion. Even eloquence should be shunned where information is the sole purpose. For facts are most effectively conveyed when they are stated in a plain and objective manner.” [Engel, With Good Reason, 71] When defining faith Boghossian should have just stuck with the plain facts of how Christian theism defines faith rather than not only assigning to it a wrong definition but an emotionally charged one at that. The common Hebrew words for faith are ‘aman, the act of believing or trusting, batah, the idea of being secure, trust in, hasah, seek or take refuge, shelter, and hesedh, faithfulness, loyalty. [McManis, Biblical Apolgetics, 381-383] There are others but you get the idea. The NT encapsulates the idea of faith in the word, pistis. In Christian theism, faith means laying hold on the promises of God in Christ, relying entirely on the finished work of Christ for salvation, and on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God for daily strength. Faith implies complete reliance on God and full obedience to God. [Morris, Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 498] Given that Boghossian’s aim is to refute faith, and given that his entire definition of faith is categorically false, I could end my review here and conclude with any rational person that Boghossian’s project is an embarrassing failure. But I have a few more things to say.

The third challenge with Boghossian’s project is that it is far too broad. It is an illegitimate practice to lump all the religions of the world into the same category just as much as it is to lump all philosophies and philosophers into the same category. I suppose this move would make the task at hand much easier, but it simply does not work. For example, to compare Mohamed with Christ and radical Islam with Christianity is an ad hominem attempt to polarize the conversation. If a person is familiar with radical Islam and unfamiliar with Christian theism, they would be tempted to think that Christians are also strapping bombs to their chest in certain parts of the world and murdering innocent people all under the guise of religion. This tactic is despicable and reflects the desperation and weakness in Boghossian’s arguments. My experience has been that only the weakest arguments resort to ad hominem. Anyone that knows anything about world religions knows that they tend to be radically different from each other in very basic ways.

Another serious problem with Boghossian’s skepticism is that it contains far too much certainty. He speaks as if philosophy has attained absolutely epistemic certainty when in reality the state of affairs is just the opposite. The consensus necessary to arrive at some of the absolute statements that Boghossian makes simply does not exist. The truth is that rationalists and empiricists do not agree even among themselves on the exact nature, definition, limits, and even value of human knowledge. How is it, then, that Boghossian can lead his readers to believe that philosophy has arrived at uncontroversial views in epistemology and metaphysics?

In addition, Boghossian’s insistence on referring to faith as a virus or mental condition to be cured is one of the most bizarre and extreme ad hominem arguments I have encountered. There is no question that this view of faith represents only a small portion of skeptics and the rest would do well to avoid it and him. Every noetic structure, be they primarily rational, empirical, or something else, at the end of their chain beliefs, arrives at faith. Because we are not omniscient, this reality is impossible to avoid and it is one we cannot afford to ignore. As Boghossian himself boasts, there are a lot of things we simply do not know or understand. Christian theism affirms that God created the world from the beginning. At the same time, Christian theism confesses that it does not know how God could do such a thing. We just don’t know. We also do not know how God could bring us the Scriptures as a product of both man and God Himself. We know He did it, but we do not know how that worked. Quite frankly, it is borderline insane to refer to faith as a virus or mental illness. In addition, for a state employee to encourage professors to punish kids with faith, as part of his strategy to purge faith from society, suggests a totalitarianism that should frighten not only the Christian. It should frighten everyone. What is the next item on Boghossian’s list? What else does he not like about society that makes it less than the perfect society according to his ideas? Seems to me that there was a monster in Europe not that long ago who also thought there were elements in society that made it less than desirable.

The final challenge I wish to point out is the lack of coherence in Boghossian’s philosophy, or noetic structure. His system is self-referentially incoherent and I now wish to list the reasons why this is the case. In the first place, Boghossian promotes the idea of creating skeptics. But his own system displays a level of certainty about things that no skeptic could hold. Boghossian pretends that human reason is neutral, that it is simply there. It is as if there is nothing upon which human reason rests, no ground. But this cannot be the case. Even human reason requires a ground. And that ground cannot be its own self. A thing that rests upon its own self is at once absolute and self-sufficient. Human reason has been wrong far too often and admits to far too many limitations for it to be absolute and self-sufficient. “A complete demonstration of each of our beliefs by means of other independent beliefs cannot be given.” [Bahnsen, Always Ready, 198] In order for Boghossian’s system to work, he must supply a set of standards to which all humanity can appeal as absolute and self-sufficient. But this he cannot do, and he does not attempt to do. Perhaps he realizes how irrational such an attempt might be. Boghossian requires neutrality on the subject of God and faith before he can get his project going. However, neutrality on such matters is impossible. Boghossian has an ax to grind and it emerges at the very inception of his project. In fact, it is the catalyst for his project. Boghossian requires the very thing he denies in order to make his project meaningfully intelligible: a certain standard. He criticizes faith for lacking evidence, but cannot provide any evidence for the very logic he uses to make his criticism. He defines faith incorrectly as pretending to know what you do not know and then proceeds himself to do just that! 

Boghossian pretends to know that faith cannot possibly be accompanied with good reason. But when asked to provide justification for his view on justifiability, he is silent. In order for Boghossian’s system to work, it needs to justify itself apart from the nauseating “that’s just the way it is” non-answer answer we hear so often. If you ever hear someone say, that’s just the way it is, you should know that is not a statement of reason, but rather, a statement of faith. It is not biblical faith mind you, but it is the sort of philosophical or rational definition of faith that is often confused for biblical faith. Boghossian’s view is self-referentially incoherent because he insists that faith has no foundation and that this is good reason to rid it of society when his own system also rests ground that also is without a foundation. By the way, faith is actually grounded in God. “The non-Christian rejects the Christian view out of hand as being contradictory. Then when he is asked to furnish a foundation for the law of contradiction, he can offer nothing but the idea of contingency.” [Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 204-5]