Review – Darwin’s House of Cards

A review of Tom Bethell, Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through The Creation Debates, Seattle: Discovery Press International, 2017, 293 pages, pbk.

The widespread public acceptance of biological evolution in Darwin’s day was probably a product of the simultaneous faith in Progress.  Darwin’s theory was accepted as readily as it was because it shared in the general belief that things were getting better.  It’s not that the organisms themselves were being swept along, but that European and then American intellectuals believed that everything was improving. – 256

This is the way Tom Bethell ends his entertaining book attacking the reigning scientistic consensus of evolution.  Darwin’s House of Cards is a fully up-to-date survey of the mechanics and effects of evolutionary theory; a theory which Karl Popper concluded was “not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (14).

As to the general optimism which provided the conditions for the enthusiastic acceptance of Darwinism in the middle of the nineteenth century, Bethell writes,

[A]s I hope to show in the following chapters, the science of neo-Darwinism was poor all along, and supported by very few facts.  I have become ever more convinced that, although Darwinism has been promoted as science, its unstated role has been to prop up a philosophy – the philosophy of materialism – and atheism along with it. (20).

In the nineteen chapters which follow the author reports on and dismantles numerous evolutionary claims and “evidences”, showing among other things that common descent, natural selection, and random mutations are either pure fiction, tautological, or terribly over-plugged.  He challenges the dogma of the tree of life, noticing along the way biochemist Craig Venter’s denial of it (53-54), and paleontologist Colin Patterson’s frank admission that the nodes in the tree of life diagrams are always empty (55-56).  Why?  Because there is no real evidence for it.

Speaking of Patterson, who was chief paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London until his death in 1998, Bethell interviewed him several times, and chapter 12 reviews those conversations.  Although Patterson remained a thoroughgoing evolutionist, he came to the opinion that it conveyed no scientific information at all.  As Bethell reports it, he said that scientists could do very well without it (149).

In the same chapter we are told about two world-renowned experts in their fields who admit that the funding for their respective fields is minimal compared with digging up fossils.  Nevertheless, both said that “you don’t find out much from fossils”, and that they could find out much more by studying living things (146-148).

This book’s short chapters are so well written that the author is able to cover a great deal of territory in a relatively short space.  This means that along with the usual problematical areas for evolution; natural selection (chapters 5 & 6), the fossil record (chapter 11), homology (chapter 9), DNA and Epigenetics (chapter 15), etc., he also tackles less well documented issues like extinction (chapter 7), and convergence (chapter 10).  There is also a useful chapter about Richard Lenski’s long-term experiments with E-coli (chapter 16).

As to homology, for example, he notes, the propensity of naturalists to invoke design while supposedly trying to explain it away.  Homologists, or those who rely on them, often write of the relative similarities in structures from different organisms without being forthright enough to declare that these similar features often are derived from different sets of genes! (109-112).

To take a few more examples, despite the recent demonizing of humanity and our deleterious influence on nature by many progressives on the left, no one knows why extinctions happen (86-92).  As for “convergence”, the belief that differing species evolve similar traits due to their experiencing the same kinds of environmental and ecological pressures, evolutionists again beg the question.  Evolutionists have tended to substitute their imaginations for proof, and nearly always simplify extremely difficult matters in the process.  So on page 119 Stephen Jay Gould is quoted as saying that in certain flying creatures, “highly adaptive forms that are easy to evolve arise again and again.”  Bethell responds that if flight is so easy to evolve, “Someone should tell Boeing engineers how that was achieved.”

As we’re on the subject of engineering, chapter 13 is given over to “Intelligent Design and Information Theory.”  At the start of the chapter Bethell mentions the work of Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Douglas Axe (155-161).  He deftly dispatches theistic evolutionist Kenneth Brown’s attempt to oppose Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” findings (155-156), and then states the obvious truth that, contrary to creationism, “Intelligent design theory… does not identify a designer, any more than we can identify the designer of Stonehenge.” (157).  Why then the resistance to ID?  For instance, citing Wikipedia’s slanted presentation:

Numerous attempts have been made to change…derogatory comments, but all such changes are promptly reversed on Wikipedia – sometimes within minutes. (161)

The thought-police are very active.  But of course the reason has already been given.  The reigning view of the intellectuals is naturalistic atheism.  Therefore, the facts will always be made to comport with the theory, however vicious the contortions have to be.  Chapter 14 describes the link between “Darwinism and the Philosophy of Naturalism.”  This chapter includes a good discussion of freewill, or the denial thereof by many of these “Freethinkers”, although the irony of their calling themselves by this term seems to be totally lost on most of them!  Bethell’s responses to this are effectively structured around the work of Michael Egnor and Thomas Nagel.

(more…)

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Lectures on Apologetics & Worldview

I am going to release a series of introductory video lectures on Apologetics and Worldview.  The lectures were given earlier this year to people whose ages ranged from about 15 to 70.  I tried to be quite low-key and to strike a balance between a full-on presuppositional apologetics presentation and Christian worldview course.  That means that I was not focused so much on just one or the other, but a blend of the two.  I think it worked well sometimes and other times it just worked.

I shall post (DV) one video per week at my TELOS channel.

Anyway, I hope these lectures will be used to edify saints and perhaps even evangelize non-believers.  May God be glorified through them.

A Theological Case for Inerrancy (Pt.2)

Part One

Let us consider the full import of Christ’s words in John 17:17:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Jesus is praying to the Father regarding the sanctifying of His disciples. He tells the Father “Your word is truth.” This “word” is the same “word” which will sanctify them. They have kept it (v.6) as it was given them (v.14), but where is this word? I maintain it is Scripture (v.12), and this text associates the word with God’s own holy and truthful character. There is no room for human frailty.

This text also separates Jesus from the Scripture. Jesus is going away, but the word of the Father must now keep His disciples. Thus, it is a mistake to too closely equate Jesus the Word with the Scriptures. There does exist a close connection between the two, but we cannot push the association too far. Indeed, we cannot push it even as far a personification. The Scriptures are the written product of the Divine revelation, but they are a product all the same.

Talking about partially inspired Scripture is like talking about partially dirty bathwater. If Titus 1:2 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, and if Scripture is the Word of God then it is true in the sense that there can be nothing in it that bears false witness. If God says something about the world or about history which is untrue, His word cannot be truth. When we say “Word of God” we ought to mean “Word from God.” By “Word from God” we should mean a written deposit of course, not some voice in the ether.

To summarize, most arguments against inerrancy stress the human element over the Divine in spite of the fact that Scripture emphasizes the exact opposite. This point cannot be over-emphasized and is fundamental for understanding the divide between inerrantists and errantists.

We must deal with what the Bible says and then decide whether we are going to believe it. We must not fool ourselves that the Bible doesn’t say something, or more commonly, doesn’t mean what it says, because we have trouble with it. I’m thinking here specifically of the creation account and the history of Jonah.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean either that errors are not reproduced by the biblical writers as errors, or that painstaking exactitude is being aimed for, or, as a matter of fact, even considered.

Inerrancy is a corollary to inspiration. It may state truth in anthropomorphic, metaphorical, phenomenological, generic, or symbolic language. But it does state inspired truth.

J.I. Packer reminds us of what “inerrant” means:

Inerrancy is from the Latin inerrantia meaning ‘the quality of being free from any error of any kind – factual, moral, or spiritual.’ Protestant usage favors this too; the words may carry slightly different nuances. Infallibility suggesting that Scripture warrants a faith commitment. Inerrancy of Scripture undergirds orthodoxy. But it has been standard evangelical practice for a century now to treat the words as mutual implicates.” – J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 51

Hence, Peter Enns must reject this connectivity between truth and inspiration:

To put it better, the scientific evidence showed us that the worldview of the biblical authors affected what they thought and wrote and so the worldviews of the biblical authors must be taken into consideration in matters of biblical interpretation. – Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 14.

This encroachment of “scientific evidence” from the present and the worldviews of the ancients shows us that Divine superintendence over Scripture is given but a half-share in the end product. Human fallibility has equal rights. The Bible itself does not give him that option.

Supporting Texts

In closing out this foray into the notion of inerrancy from a theological perspective, I call your attention to the support-texts I have given for the two doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Three of the passages used in support of inspiration have been used again to support inerrancy.  I have also run these verses through the “Rules of Affinity” so as to show how sure these proposals are (even though more texts could be mustered to support the propositions). Let us examine the outcomes.

2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 tell us the Scripture comes from God and those who wrote it were superintended, nay, “carried along” by Him in their production of it. They do not deal with the collection of the Canon, since that is a separate (though related) issue. The C1 tag corresponds with the places in the first proposition where phrases from the texts make up the proposition. Matthew 4:4 connects with 2 Tim. 3:16 because of the reference to “the mouth of God” and the connection between “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” and the Scripture as “God-breathed out.” Palpably, Jesus was referring to and quoting from the Scriptures in His Temptation.

John 17:17, as already stated, refers to God’s Word as “Truth.” That “Word” is inscripturated. The link with Matt. 4:4 is in the way a man ought to live. He must live in Truth, not in falsehood. Psalm 119:89f. connects the settled Word “in heaven” with the discipling Word which the psalmist observes. We have that Word.

When we turn to see how the doctrine of inerrancy utilizes these texts we get the following:

2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 are now rated C2 since they provide the support in the first two statements in the proposal upon which inerrancy is based (they do not testify to inerrancy with the same clarity that they do for inspiration). In Psalm 12 I am only interested in the first assertion about the words in verse 6 (“the words of the LORD are pure words, etc.”), not the preservation in verse 7, which I hold to be referring to the people in the context. The purity of the words of God relates there to their ability to “keep” the people safe, and their trustworthiness, not just their moral clarity. I believe a good (C3) inference can be made that the dependability of the words (“refined seven times”), logically applies comprehensively to all they claim. John 17:17 calls the Word of God “Truth.” This truth separates believers from unbelievers in the world. It could hardly do that effectively if it enunciated scientific or historical error, since error in those cases would lessen the force of any ethical assertion made in the Bible, and throw immediate suspicion upon its authorship. But then we are back to the matter of the sustained voice of Scripture that it comes from God, and that it is His Word not mans. (more…)

A Theological Case for Inerrancy (Pt.1)

Here is a slightly revamped two-parter from several years ago  

The battle over the inerrancy of Scripture hasn’t and isn’t going away.  We must decide how we will approach the Bible – what our working assumptions will be.  If “all Scripture is God-breathed” then all Scripture has the insignia of God upon it.  This would be the bare-bones theological deduction from the relationship between the two.  For the human element to be lifted above the Divine element so as to enjoy equal ultimacy over the resultant production of Scripture requires an alteration to Scripture’s own self-witness.  This is the reason why those who reject the idea of inerrancy (and I am far from rejecting all their work on account of their error), often plead in the vacuum of unaided reason.

Taking one prominent broadly evangelical theologian as an example, Donald Bloesch wrote,

While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to men, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is therefore to a degree hidden from the sight and understanding. The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional and in one sense this is true. The Bible is not directly the revelation of God, but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality. – Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology – Volume I, 75-76.

This quotation shows us how the human element can be stressed so as to compete with the Divine element.  To wit, the doctrine of inspiration must be accommodated to include the “human witness.”  This means that the claim to “direct revelation” from God to man is excluded (or, at the very least, camouflaged).  And then we are laid open to the philosophy of God’s free action reaching us through the Bible but only by His choice to employ it as His Word.

What we must say… is that in the case of Scripture just as surely as in preaching, ‘fallible men speak the word of God in fallible human words’ – Trevor Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

Taking this tack immediately places one on the horns of a dilemma.  For the Bible stresses many many times its God-givenness.  If it is produced by the combination of God’s out-breathing and the Spirit’s direction, and if every word of God is true, then unless we are prepared to engage in the futile task of separating God’s words from man’s words we shall have to decide to be those who accept a form of inerrancy, or else those who fail to find God’s prints on the Bible at all.

For this reason contemporary attempts to rid evangelicalism of inerrancy are doomed.  One such attempt is by A.T.B. McGowan:

Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing.  He did not give us an inerrant autographical text, because he did not intend to do so.  He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors, but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking.  Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these Scriptures to accomplish his purposes.  – A.T.B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture, 124, emphasis added.

What we have here is a pragmatic God at work.  Even the originals of the various books of the Bible were not inerrant, but they accomplished God’s purposes.  There are clear evidences of God’s “speaking” so Scripture has a “Divine authenticity.”  It is, says McGowan, “infallible” but not “inerrant.”  But talking about an “infallible” Bible while denying an “inerrant” Bible, or limiting inerrancy to the conceptual world of the biblical writers is playing with words.  And the one doing the playing is very often the one hiding his tracks.

Finding God’s involvement under such an outlook will, let us be frank, involve weighing every historical and scientific Bible assertion against the pronouncements of “experts” and consigning Scripture to a slow death by degrees.  Not, I should say, because the experts are right – they often are not.  Besides, ones choice of experts usually reflects which “expertise” one wants airing.  But where the voice of men is allowed to judge the voice of Scripture the voice of men is often given preference.

While history, science, and archaeology provide obvious instances where Divine authenticity could be obscured, the prophetic element of Scripture might be appealed to.  Yes, but many evangelicals (McGowan would be one of them) who refuse to interpret the prophecies at face value because it crosses their theological predilections.  No, even allowing for the either/or fallacy, going down McGowan’s road is taking a road to nowhere.

What road is the right one to take?  It is the same one which should be taken in formulating every doctrine – we see how Scripture itself attests to it.

For present purposes, I will take my own basic formulations of inspiration and inerrancy as a starting point.

The Inspiration of Scripture – Proposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit.  That is what makes them Scripture.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91

Inerrancy – Proposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men.  They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True.  This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21.

Both doctrines appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse presents us with the clearest statement about the inspiration of Scripture. But this statement is in direct continuity with very many statements in both Testaments regarding the Bible’s Divine provenance. Scripture itself always stresses its God-givenness far more than it does its human provenance; a fact hardly ever given the attention it deserves. Paul views the Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.

This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonian believers for receiving the spoken Word of God, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13b.

 

In the production of the Scriptures, the roles of God the Holy Spirit and the roles of the human authors bear an asymmetrical character which must never be brought into equal balance. Assuredly, this was not done by Jesus (cf. Matt.4:4 and Jn. 17:17), or the OT prophets, or the Apostolic authors: why then should we be out of step with them?

 

Carl Henry wrote of the doctrine of inspiration:

Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. – Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4.143

 

This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals. B.B. Warfield recognized the same truth.

These acts could be attributed to Scripture only as the result of such a habitual identification in the mind of the writer of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scripture says’ when what was actually intended was ‘God has recorded in Scripture said. – B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-300.

 

Repost: DOES DIATHEKE MEAN “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” IN HEBREWS 9:16-17?

Most of our English Bible versions translate Hebrews 9:16-17 this way (I have provided vv.15 and 18 for context):

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. (NKJV, vv. 16-17 are in italics)

Or the ESV:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (ESV vv.16-17 in italics)

With the translation diatheke as either “testament” or “will” the reader is led to conclude that these verses are not talking about the new covenant. In verse 15 the Greek word diatheke is translated as “covenant.” The same translation (“covenant”) is repeated in v.18.

If I were to give all the occurrences of diatheke in Hebrews you would see that, apart from 9:16 and 17 the word is uniformly translated “covenant.” One doesn’t have to think hard about why this word is rendered as “covenant” in these 16 other instances. The contexts make it very clear that the writer is referring, either to the Mosaic Covenant or Law, or to the New Covenant which replaces it. And one doesn’t have to seek too far for proof of this. Hebrews 9:15 contrasts the “first covenant” with the “new covenant,” as does verse 18. The chapter itself reinforces the contrast and the appropriate translation “covenant.”

Why translate diatheke, which has been expressed as “covenant” everywhere else in the Book, as “testament” or “will” in vv.16-17? The answer is because it has been assumed that “the death of the one who made it” refers to a “testator” as per a modern “Last Will and Testament.” For we all know that when a person makes a will it only comes into force when they are dead. Thus, one writer stated,

In the New Testament the diatheke as a ‘last will’ is once brought into connection with the sacrifice of Christ… – Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 13, No.4, [1915], 601.

But is he right? What is it in the context which demands the switch from “covenant” to “testament,” other than this assumption that a will is being referred to simply because of “the death of the one who made it”? It seems to me that the whole case depends upon the supposition that diatheke can only mean “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. There are several reasons for believing this to be a faux pas:

1. The meaning of diatheke in Hebrews 9:15 is “covenant.” This is clear because the writer is referencing the Mosaic “covenant” in the preceding verses (vv.11-13). If the word meant “last will and testament” in v.15 the connection with the Mosaic Covenant in vv.11-13 would be lost and the writer’s whole argument rendered suspect. Such a switch would create an equivocation within the argument. That is, it would have the author mean two things by one word in a confusing way. This problem comes into sharp relief once chapter 8 is considered. The superiority of the “better covenant” (e.g. Heb. 8:6) demands it be contrasted with the Mosaic Covenant, and hence, that it be itself a true covenant and not a last will and testament. This understanding is assured by the contrast in 8:7 which see. Following on from this, Hebrews 8:8-12 gives the longest quotation of the OT by any NT writer. Is this quotation to do with a testament or a covenant? The answer is impossible to ignore. It is to a “covenant” (OT berith), not a testament!

2. But secondly, the meaning “covenant” makes perfect sense. George H. Guthrie, an acknowledged expert on Hebrews, writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Exod.24:3-8). – in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973.

3. When one adds to this the critical observations of P. T. O’Brien this position is weakened yet further. O’Brien’s full discussion can be found on pages 328-332 of his recent The Letter To The Hebrews (in the Pillar series). I shall condense his argument below using several quotes:

O’Brien says,

a. “As we have seen, the context of v.15 seems to demand the sense of ‘covenant’ because only covenants have mediators[underlining mine], while in v.18 mention is made of the ‘first diatheke‘, namely, the Sinai event and hence can only be a covenant.”

b. “What our author says in vv.16-17 does not correspond to any ‘any known form of Hellenistic (or indeed any other) legal practice.’ A Hellenistic will was secure and valid when it was written down, witnessed and deposited, not when the testator died. Further, the distribution of the estate could occur when the testator was still living.”

Indeed, don’t we see this very thing in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son took his inheritance before the father had died?

c. The wider context of Hebrews with our author’s view of inheritance and his emphasis on the cult appears incongruous with the model of the secular Hellenistic testament.

from Peter. T. O’Brien, The Letter To The Hebrews, Pillar (2010), 329-330

I conclude from all this evidence, both internal and external, that there is no good reason for translating diatheke as “testament” in the sense of “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. Thus, we commend the following translation of these verses as given below:

“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only over the dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it [the one who must die] lives.”

 

What Is A Prophet? (Pt.2)

Part One

Prophecies of Far Future Events

The ministries of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 3:9-18), Elijah (2 Ki. 1:3-4), Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:17-20), and Elisha (2 Ki. 3:14-19) included short-term predictions which could be verified.  But there were also prophecies which anticipated things much further off, like Nathan’s oracle,

I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly… – 2 Samuel 7:10 (NASB)

This hope for David’s people has not yet been realized, and the later prophets repeat it.  These later writing prophets often made long-range predictions which could not be confirmed during their lifetimes, but these far off prophecies were established on the assurance of contemporary foretellings which came to pass.  One thinks about Amos’s oracle against Israel (and the interfering priest Amaziah) in Amos 7:14-17, or Jeremiah’s pronouncements concerning the conquering Babylonians in Jeremiah 21:1-10.   Ezekiel was told that there were still Jews in the land who foolishly believed that God would not drive them out of the land.  His prediction to the contrary (Ezek. 33:21-33) ended with the solemn words,

And when this comes to pass– surely it will come– then they will know that a prophet has been among them. – Ezekiel 33:33

The permanence of the prophetic word is necessary so that the word of God can be substantiated.  This is one reason why the prophet had to speak exactly what he was told to speak.  God said to Moses, “You shall speak all that I command you” (Exod. 7:2).  And in what I might call “the code of the prophet” Micaiah declared before king and court, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1Ki. 22:14. Cf. Jer. 23:28).  As one writer affirms, “By inspiration, God speaks to the nabi, who has to transmit exactly what he receives.”[1]

This literal consistency between God’s words and the prophet’s utterance accordingly became a guarantee that it was Yahweh who was the real Speaker.[2]  The crucial predictive test of the true prophet of God was then an extension of the “God’s words equal God’s actions” motif.  I have tried to show and will show again that often this important motif is reinforced by God’s covenant oaths.  That is why the prophet’s predictive function should never be eclipsed by his other roles.  To cite another recent scholar, Charles Scobie,

It has long been fashionable among modern historical scholars to declare that the prophets “were not foretellers, but forthtellers.”  This may have been a helpful corrective if prophecy was thought of purely in terms of prediction; the prophets were indeed deeply concerned with the contemporary social, political, economic, and religious life of Israel.  But prediction remains a major element in the OT prophets…In the prophetic books future prophecies play a major role.  Such prophecies can be broadly classified as oracles of judgment and oracles of salvation…Conditional prophecies are found that say, in effect, if you mend your ways, then you will be spared (e.g., Jer. 7:5-7).  But when it became clear that the people would not repent, prophetic oracles simply proclaimed future judgment.  Such prophecies, however, are balanced by oracles of salvation; the prophets saw “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of a coming new age.[3]

(more…)

What is a Prophet? (Pt.1)

An draft excerpt from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’ (forthcoming DV)

It is commonly asserted within biblical scholarship that the main focus of the prophet was on proclamation; that only incidentally was he (or she) concerned with prediction.  In many studies of the role of the prophet the emphasis is put upon the prophet’s function as a moral exhorter to his time and place.  Here is a recent example:

The prophet’s role was to speak the word of God to the king, nation, or people to reveal his will for their lives and how they should act.  Prophecy sometimes included predictions, but always with a view to revealing something of God’s plan, nature, or personality so that the hearers would respond appropriately in worshipful obedience.[1]

This description is given no verification, and on closer inspection will not stand up to scrutiny.  It can, for instance, be demonstrated that in numerous cases the prophetic prediction did not have in mind the transformation of the hearers, but was instead a kind of indictment on their hard heartedness or else a simple warning.  Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 4:26-28, Hosea’s pronouncement in Hosea 3:4, and the ministry of Agabus in Acts 11:28 and 21:10-11 are enough to disprove the prophet-as-moral-exhorter portrait.  Spiritual reproof was part of his role, but it did not make him a prophet.

As I begin I want to remind the reader of something I said before: that our understanding of what a prophet is will be dependent to a large extent on our view of biblical prophecy.  As I have said, while declaiming sins was an important part of what a prophet of God was to do, it was not at all his defining role.  His job was to foretell what God would do.  This has been well pointed out by a recent writer in speaking about the writing prophets:

Every literary prophet makes specific observations about the future…that can be tested as to their veracity as events unfold… It is crucial to underscore this aspect of prophecy, for there has been in the past century an unfortunate emphasis upon the prophet as primarily a “forthteller” (i.e. a preacher) with a concomitant minimizing of the prophet as “foreteller” (i.e., one who makes predictions about the future)…Many might like to see the prophets as social reformers, but the simple fact is that they were not.[2]

The Hebrew Bible uses three main terms for a prophet: nabi, roeh, and hozeh.  Of the three the word nabi (“one who testifies or proclaims”) is the most instructive.[3]  The first mention of a nabi concerns Abraham in Genesis 20:7.  This is when God tells Abimelech in a dream not to touch Sarah, who unbeknownst to him is Abraham’s wife.  God calls Abraham His prophet.  There is no explanation in the chapter of what the term a nabi actually means.  Unlike those who came after him Abraham does not at all seem to be a preacher or forthteller for God.  He does have the distinction of receiving the covenant which will determine the nature and destiny of Israel and the nations through him.  Therefore, it is the predictive element which provides the background to the term as used here.

The next use of the term is when Moses and Aaron are to go before Pharaoh in Exodus 7.  Aaron is the mouthpiece of Yahweh for Moses (Exod. 7:2).  In this circumstance the first statement about letting Israel go is not even recorded.  Rather the emphasis falls upon the contest between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt, which involves the predictions of the plagues in turn.  The same thing is found later when Elijah faces the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:17-39.  But in both of these situations the prophet does not just make authoritative statements about the present.  Moses will predict the ruination of Egypt by degrees, while Elijah’s challenge to King Ahab and the idolaters is within the context of the prophet’s predictions about prolonged drought and then about the coming rain.

The God of the Bible shows Himself as He who knows what will be (Isa. 42:9; 46:10; Dan. 2:29).   Between them the short-term and long-term OT predictive oracles about individuals or nations are simply too many to number.  That a prophet preached a theological interpretation of history is true.  But history has come from somewhere and is going somewhere.  Hence the interpretation of the present is given in terms of how Israel got to where it was (moral declension leading to societal woes), and what God is going to do about it, both in terms of judgment against sin and the salvation of those whom He will everlastingly restore (cf. Zeph. 3:10-17).

The Tests of a True Prophet

To speak to the moment without reference to the future is unlike God.  We see this in the tests of a prophet given to Moses in Deuteronomy 18.  As I have already mentioned in the “Introduction” to this book, this chapter is especially important in shaping our conception of a prophet of God.  The relevant section concerns the One whom Moses calls “a prophet like me” (Deut. 18:15, 18).  Peter identifies this prophet as Jesus in Acts 3:22-23.  But there is a collective meaning too, which is why the means are given whereby a true prophet may be distinguished from a false one in 18:21-22. (more…)

John Owen on Inspiration and Preservation

Alright, I’m on vacation and I wanted to give this article another twirl.  Hope you like it.

Introduction

The greatest British theologian of the 17th Century was, in the opinion of many, John Owen.  Owen made distinctive contributions in a number of theological loci.  His book on the mutual relationship within the Trinity and our communion with each of the Divine Persons is still the best work on the subject.[1] Likewise, his manifesto for congregational-independency[2] offers some of the best arguments for Pastor-led congregational form of church government, and his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ[3] is considered the book on the Reformed view of particular redemption.  Owen’s teaching on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible is also most instructive, especially in view of what has been and is being taught in some evangelical seminaries and books.

The Importance of Divine Inspiration

 

Owen’s views on the crucial matter of the relationship of the Bible as we have it and the autographs are worth pondering.  He, like all solid evangelicals, rests the authority of the Bibles we have, not upon some inner impression of its validity, but upon its original theopneustic character.  In his, The Divine Original of the Scripture he asserted, “That the whole authority of the scripture in itself depends solely on its divine original, is confessed by all who acknowledge its authority.”[4] Thus the autographs were from God and delivered to men.  We possess “the words of truth from God Himself.”[5]

Inspiration he defined as “an indwelling and organizing power in the chosen penmen.” [6] Thus, “they invented not words themselves…but only expressed the words they received.”[7] Indeed, “the word that came unto them was a book which they took in and gave out without any alteration of one tittle or syllable (Ezek. ii 8-10, iii 3; Rev. x 9-11).”[8] As Owen writes in his great work on the Holy Spirit:

He did not speak in them or by them, and leave it unto their natural faculties, their minds, or memories, to understand and remember the things spoken by him, and so declare them to others; but he himself acted their faculties, making use of them to express his words, not their own conceptions.[9]

It is because of its divine provenance that the Scripture gains “the power and to require obedience, in the name of God.”[10] The Scriptures “being what they are, they declare whose they are.”[11] Even so, being as the Bible is the Word of God, every man is bound to believe it.[12] (more…)

A Brief Summary of Presuppositional Apologetics

This was first posted in 2010.

Many people have maybe heard of what is called presuppositional apologetics but have little idea what it actually is.  This situation is made worse because some defenders of the Faith are labeled presuppositional but, in fact, aren’t.  So how should I describe it?

The first thing I would say is that although I personally have few problems with it, “presuppositionalism” is not perhaps the best name for the approach.  A more preferable title would be something like “theological apologetics.”   Nevertheless, we are stuck with the name so we better understand what we mean by it.  In this approach a “presupposition” is not just a prior assumption which one brings to a problem.  It is not, e.g., supposing that the Bible is God’s Word and seeing where that gets you.  This only makes your presupposition a “hypothetical,” not a necessary stance.  But a “presupposition” here means an “ultimate heart commitment” to some interpretation and explanation of reality.

Cornelius Van Til, the father of this kind of apologetics, was very clear about this: he constantly stressed that, in opposition to the world, Biblical Christianity offered the only foundation upon which man could truly engage any question at all.  Thus, for Van Til, God’s revelation in Scripture tells us how things really are.  Things are the way God has made them and operates them, even though the world is fallen and cursed.  Things are how God’s Word depicts them.

When we operate in accordance with this revelation, whether in doing science or in communicating to one another, or, indeed, in any of our thinking, we encounter Truth, whose Source is God .  To the degree that we diverge from the Biblical Worldview we fall into “untruth.”

To provide a concrete example: the atheist Christopher Hitchens often cited the beauty of the Parthenon to show how the pagan Greeks before Christ didn’t need Christianity to construct such marvels.  How would a presuppositionalist respond?  He could respond any number of ways.  He could simply say that accepting Hitchens’ claim does not affect the argument about the truth of Christianity one way or another.  This would be to offer a true yet superficial response.  If he wanted to dull the rhetorical impact of the statement, the presuppositionalist might point out that Biblical Christianity is the only worldview position which,

1. Explains why the Greeks had the latent abilities to build the Parthenon (i.e. their mathematical, engineering and artistic skill).

2. Explains why we find the Parthenon so beautiful (because humans have been given an aesthetic sense not found in animals).

3. Explains why the Greeks built the Parthenon to a false deity (because of the Fall).

Thus, the apologist might say, “If Christianity were not true there could be no explanation for the Parthenon!”

Naturally the unbeliever would want to object to this statement strongly.  But the presuppositionalist has now got him on his ground.  When challenged to give a rational account of man’s scientific, artistic, or moral attainments on the basis of their ultimate commitment (or “presupposition”) to a mindless purposeless amoral universe, the best Hitchens and his ilk will do is to say,  “I don’t have to account for it.  It’s there isn’t it?”  To which the apologist could reply.  “Yes, it’s there because that’s how God created us.  Those Greeks were made in God’s rational image and were given minds which could calculate and reason and appreciate beauty and then reproduce their non-physical plans in the physical world.  Only the Bible provides a worldview by which to account for this – as well as accounting for why they built it and put an idol inside it.”  And further, the presuppositionalist could press Hitchens by challenging him to explain how his worldview produces logic, numbers, art, science, morality, and every other concept he uses to attack Christian Truth.  He won’t be able to!  Why?  Because his unbelieving interpretation of the world (which, of course, is also explained in Scripture) does not accord with the way reality actually is!

The Christian apologist would then outline the Biblical Worldview to show the unbeliever how it accounts for all the concepts he has been misusing to rebel against his Creator.  From there it is a short step to the Cross!  Christ died not only to save us from our sins, but to save our intellects from dreaming up unsatisfactory and idolatrous interpretations of ourselves and our world.

There is more to say, but this should suffice to explain the rudiments of presuppositional apologetics.  By it the Christian can “bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), without yielding one inch to the presuppositions of the ungodly who stand justly under the wrath of the God (Rom. 1:18) whom deep-down they know in their heart of hearts (Rom. 1:19-22; Jn. 3:19-21; Psa. 14:1).