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).

Falling through the Porch: My Reply to A Critique (4)

Part Three

This is the fourth and last installment of my reply to some NCT’s who did a critique of my Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting the OT with the NT. (link, link)  I believe I have probably given their podcast more attention than it deserved; not because it criticizes me (which is fine), but because of the sloppy and frankly facetious way the criticism was done.

At the end of the last post I mentioned their reference to Galatians 6:16.  Here is the verse from the NASB:

And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

Their opinion is that reading the passage as dividing “those who walk by this rule” and “the Israel of God” (as the NASB does), “overthrows Paul’s whole argument”, whereas CT’s and NCT’s, who want to read the kai in the verse as “even” are rightly understanding Paul in equating the two.  As I showed last time, many top-flight biblical scholars insist that the Apostle intentionally separates the two groups with the kai (the primary meaning of which is “and”) and does not conflate them.  If he had wanted to make them one and the same all he had to do was not place a kai in the sentence.

But what about Paul’s argument in Galatians?  In the immediate context in chapter 6 we see that the first six verses concern person-to-person good works.  There follows a section (6:7-10) which warns against evil works and urges again good works.  The next section turns back to the Judaizing influence of those who were insisting that these Christian Gentiles had to be circumcised to be really right with God.  A key verse says,

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. – Gal. 6:12  

As you can see the verse refers to a group of false teachers who have secondary motives for their heresy.  Which group do you think those advocating for circumcision would be?  They would be Jews.  But they would not be godly Jews representing godly Israel (whom Paul calls the Remnant in Rom. 11:1-5).  So what would someone who would go on to convey his “great sorrow and continual grief” for his own people (Rom. 9:2-3) say about those Israelites (see Rom. 9:4) who were people of God?  Might he not call them “the Israel of God”?  And might he not hold out a hope for an eventual national restoration after “the fullness of the Gentiles”? (Rom. 11:25).  Paul continues,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. – Gal. 6:15

As far as the gospel is concerned it is justification by faith plus nothing.  Then we get,

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and (kai) upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

First, which “rule” is he talking about?  Obviously, the rule of care or love he has just been talking about.  So there is good reason to think that Paul was contrasting godly Christians with the ungodly Jewish teachers, but that he, being zealous for the doctrine of the Remnant of Israel, would want to teach his readers that God has not forgotten about restoring the nation of Israel.  Therefore, no, in their “Conversation on the Porch” my three critics’ argument that the traditional separation undoes Paul’s argument is completely bogus. (more…)

Falling Through the Porch: My Reply to a Critique (3)

Part Two

Continuing with the theme of Reason 3 about changing referents (e.g. Israel, land, king, throne, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.), we were redirected to Waldo World.  Meanwhile, the referents themselves were simply ignored.  This way of (not) reading the OT is common among those who believe they are justified in reading the Hebrew Bible through NT lenses (although it is crucial to add that the lenses are actually their interpretation of the NT).  As I have started to show, the verses they run to to prove their approach do not address the interpretation of the OT by the New.  They usually refer to the cross and resurrection and the Gospel of justification.  

Anyway, an hour and eight minutes into the podcast Romans 4:13, Hebrews 11:10 and 12:22 are trotted out to support the idea that the sitters on the Porch are correct in holding that the NT must interpret the OT on the issue of the land promise.  Let us have a closer look at these passages instead of simply utilizing them for our own ends.

Perusing the immediate context in Romans 4 it is apparent that Paul is not concerned with the land promise.  In point of fact he is not concerned with land at all.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  Some of what follows were posted as comments on other threads.  

If I might turn to the Hebrews 11 proof-text first, Genesis 15:13-16 addresses those texts clearly enough. As I say elsewhere,

“God reveals to Abram that he in fact will not himself live to inherit the land, but that he will die after living well into old age. [Also], the covenant expressly joins Abram’s descendants together with the land that Abram has been brought into, but only after they have been absent from it for four hundred years.” – God Chooses One Man (Pt.2)

So Abraham was well aware that to look to possess the land himself was futile, therefore he “looked to a city whose Builder and Maker was God”. This in no way eviscerates the covenant oath God took in Genesis 15.

Now if we look at Romans 4:13 the reasoning depends upon reading “world” (kosmos) as “planet earth” or “all the lands of the earth.”  But the Apostle does not have the land promise in mind in Romans 4. The context is justification to salvation, not Israel’s land grant. Even John Murray (Romans 141-142) recognizes this. A more recent commentator writes that,

“…in speaking about God’s promise, he [Paul] does not include any reference to the territorial aspect of the promise given to Abraham and to his descendants.” – R. N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, NIGTC, 510.

The Abrahamic covenant contains several promises: 1. that Sarah would give him an heir; 2. the through him his descendants would become numerous; 3. that the land detailed in Gen. 15:18-21 would be given to them; and that through Abraham the peoples of the earth would be blessed. It is this last promise which Paul is referring to in Romans and Galatians. How will they be blessed? Through having the same faith and justification as Abraham, which is why Gen. 15:6 is cited.

Now, what the gents on the Porch have done is to read Romans 4:13 and the word “world” as “physical space”, i.e., a location (planet earth). They do this, not because the Apostle says that is what he means; nor because in the context he is talking about physical space – he is talking about justification – but because they are looking for a proof-text.

The word “world” appears once in Romans 4 so we must look at what Paul is speaking about to determine what he means by it.  As anyone can see from Romans 4:1-5 the Apostle is thinking in terms of justification and righteousness. Faith, not works, is the bridge from one to the other (hence the insertion of Gen. 15:6). Then David is used to illustrate the point at issue (4:6-9). Then we get a question about whether this imputed righteousness is only for the Jews (circumcision – 4:9), which is answered by the fact that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (4:10). This means that his faith-justification to righteousness is not bounded by circumcision, so that those not circumcised may receive justification through faith the same way Abraham did (4:11-12). Those not circumcised would be the rest of the peoples of the world. So far, not a word about the physical land!

Now comes their proof text for land=planet earth, verse 13.

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

Notice that Paul is still on the theme of righteousness, which he will go on to argue for in the rest of the chapter. But here the three NCT’s seize an opportunity to transform the land promises (which is off-subject for Paul) to mean the planet given to saved Gentiles (mainly) and Jews as one homogeneous group.  This is not the argument of Romans 4.

Then, in Hebrews 12:22 the writer is pointing his audience away from the old Mosaic covenant and to the coming New covenant (the eschatological leaning of verses 25-27 should not be ignored).  Although I have my own decided views on what is going on in the context (i.e. a prophetic call Israel to engage Christ – and embrace the New covenant – at His coming), the passage does not transform OT covenantal expectations by making us reinterpret those themes. Hebrews is a powerfully prophetic piece of literature; a fact that has all-but been ignored by evangelical interpreters.       (more…)

Falling Through the Porch: My Reply to a Critique (2)

Part One

Any Old Port in A Storm

We’re still on the ‘Conversations on the Porch’ objection to the first of my Forty Reasons why the OT is not reinterpreted by the NT, since according to my three protagonists, if this first one falls, they all fall.

There are always stock passages that are referred to by proponents of reinterpretation.  For example, 1 Peter 1:10-12 says this:

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

The first thing to take notice of here is what Peter himself tells us he is talking about; and it is decidedly not the use of the OT in the NT.  It is the subject of salvation.  In particular it has to do with Christ’s passion and what it would bring about.   The passage therefore has nothing to say about my 40 Reasons.  It surely does not say anything about my first reason, which concerns whether or not the Apostolic authors give clear instructions for us to reinterpret the meaning of OT passages.

But the first Reason went on to assert that, “No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.”  What about that?  The guys on the Porch have a reply: “The hermeneutical key is the way the NT writers interpret the OT.”  Well, there’s no key in 1 Peter 1. There’s a deduction that Peter is giving permission to reinterpret the OT with the New when he isn’t writing on that issue.

After this we’re taken to Galatians 3 and informed that, “Paul is telling us how this Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled.”  I dealt with this issue in a series of posts, Galatians 3, the Land, and the Abrahamic Covenant, (which I want to update), but what is significant here is that one of these objectors admits that the Apostle quotes only one of the promises within the Abrahamic covenant.  Well, that gives the farm away.  That is exactly what I claim.  Ergo, Galatians 3 does not deal with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant en toto, but only with the provisions for blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3).

Acts 2, Acts 15, and Galatians 4

The podcast mentions Acts 2 and Acts 15 as examples of fulfillment texts which encourage us to view fulfillments in unexpected ways.  I covered some of the Acts 2 issues here.  I will not repeat myself.  Patently, the things described in Joel did not occur in Acts, although they might have done.  But that takes us too far afield.  Even many non-dispensationalists admit that there is more going on theologically in Acts 2 than people like G.K. Beale and my objectors will admit.  And it is passing strange that Beale will insist on being a “literalist” in Acts 2:16 when it permits him to spiritualize the verses surrounding it.  This falls foul of “Rule 9” of my Parameters of Meaning (not that it is a rule for anyone save myself.)  Here it is:

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context. (N.B. I promise I will complete that series)

In Acts 15:14-19 James uses Amos 9 to prove that Gentiles turning to God was always God’s intention.  He does not say that Amos 9 was fulfilled in Acts 15.

The three NCT’s then venture into the allegory in Galatians 4:21-31 to prove, well, that the Apostle is taking the liberty to reinterpret the Scripture!  Closer inspection will reveal that Paul is illustrating the way inclusion into either the Mosaic covenant or the New covenant results in bondage to the one or freedom in the other.  It is an allegory, not a green card into the reinterpretation of the covenants themselves. (more…)

Falling Through The Porch: My Reply to a Critique (1)

A little while back Fred Butler told me that he had passed on my Forty Reasons article to a group of brethren connected with a network called Bible Thumping Wingnut.  These men are proponents of New Covenant Theology and host a podcast called ‘Conversations on the Porch.’  They decided to spend some time on a critique of my article.   This series of posts is my belated rejoinder to what they had to say.

First off, I have to admit that it is not easy to argue well with people who don’t put much effort into understanding your position.  This was evidenced any number of ways, including the pain-inducing way at least one of the three presenters read from my article, which showed a lack of attention to what I wrote.

What was perhaps most frustrating to me was how, despite these brothers claiming to deal with some of the “reasons”, they paid little attention to the words of the article and “rebutted” points which I did not raise.  And even though their podcast was entitled “40 Reasons Paul Henebury is Wrong…” they only dealt with ten of my points, chosen at random.  For this reason I will not go through each of their ten responses since they just keep repeating the same set of stock answers.

“Distinctive Number Two”

Early on in the two hour recording the presenters agreed that the premise that the NT has to interpret the OT is “a huge distinctive for NCT”.  They call it “distinctive number two” of New Covenant Theology.  Their attempts to show this were pretty shallow.  It basically resolved itself into citing a NT precedent, often without a context, and treating it as a fait accompli.  This leaves me with next to nothing to respond to, since I might simply point out that, for instance, the introduction to the Book of Hebrews does not give carte blanche to people who want to treat OT details as symbolical foreshadowings.  But here goes.

Problems with My Intro

Although they failed to represent my intro properly, they did stop for a few criticisms. They straight away appealed to Hebrews 1:1-2.  Those verses say that God has spoken through His Son.  This is all that is needed for us to be told “the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ”.  But what does that mean?  If it means that Jesus’ first advent ministry of three years plus constituted the highest expression of God’s word to those who saw and heard Him, who will not agree?  What it does not and cannot mean is that Jesus’ words were more inspired and authoritative than the words of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the presenters then informed us that “there is progressive revelation”, as if that just settles it.  But progressive revelation is a very different animal from their perspective than from mine.  You see, as used by CT’s and NCT’s it is neither really progressive, nor is it very revelatory.  It does not mean that God’s revelation is traceable in verbal continuity backwards and forwards through the Testaments, but means only, “this is what all that stuff in the OT really meant” revelation.  I have previously written on this.  One observation I made was this:

It would be absurd for a person who professed to come across a bear to claim that the bear made the leopard tracks he was following.  Even so, a person is acting this way who looks back from Christ’s first coming and declares that the covenants which promised land and Davidic throne and prosperity to national Israel are “transformed” or “expanded” so that they are fulfilled spiritually or typologically by the Church.  Discontinuity in the meaning of words often features large in such approaches.  In reality, this is a non-progressive approach, wherein any supposed connections between the building blocks of revelation (i.e. the progressions) are not self-evident, but merely dogmatically asserted to be such.  What is on view here is not really progressive revelation, it is “supercessive” or “substitutive”, “transformative”, or at least “revised” revelation, wherein one entity is switched out for another or morphed into something else.

It can easily be demonstrated that there is an inspired intertextual usage of earlier OT texts by later OT writers: earlier covenants are cited unchanged in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).

For instance, when we come to “land” in Genesis 13 and 15, we find it to be interpreted as the very same “land” hundreds of years later in Psalm 105:6-11

When you follow footprints in the snow you have definite expectations of who or what made them.  Progress and expectation are connected.  By contrast, CT and NCT practices are rather like having those expectations completely overturned (no “progress”).  What progressive revelation boils down to in this approach is their interpretations of the NT.  In my intro I stated:

the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

The Pivotal First Reason…and the Deathblow

Let me reproduce the first of my forty reasons why the NT doesn’t reinterpret (sorry, “interpret”) the OT.

Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

The three antagonists agreed that if this first reason fails then the other 39 also fail.  I myself cannot see the logical connection; not even between Reason 1 and Reason 2.  Although there is some development in my list, there is also a fair amount of diversity in the arguments I raise.  Toppling one does not unduly effect all the rest.   I understand that these brethren would claim that the NT does give explicit permission to them to (re)interpret the OT with the NT.  Fine, but how do they prove it?  Do they deliver the “deathblow” they speak about?  Nein!  The only way one would think that is by sheer partisanship.

The presenters give Heb. 10:1 and Col. 2:16-17 as justification for viewing the prophecies and covenants in the OT as foreshadowings.  Now Hebrews 10:1 refers to the Law having a shadow of things in its sacrifices.  Which things and what sacrifices?  In answer to the first question, it is the sacrifices, especially at the Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:3), that are shadows of Christ’s final work.  The verse does not say that the prophetic covenants of the OT are shadows.  And Col. 2:16-17 refers to the ceremonial observations of the Law which are eclipsed by Christ, who is the substance of what these regulations portended. How so?  Well in Paul’s argument in Colossians it has to do with Christ’s sufficiency and finality for acceptance with God.  The Gospel is not Christ-plus, but Christ alone.

So there are foreshadowings in the OT, but how does this address my concerns in the 40 Reasons?  How does this prove the Apostles employed ‘transformational’ hermeneutics?   (more…)

Book Review: Douglas Axe’s ‘Undeniable’

A review of Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, New York: HarperOne, 2016, 304 pages, hdbk.

Readers of Stephen Meyer’s two important books, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, will know the name of Douglas Axe.  Axe’s work on probability theory and gene folding feature quite prominently in those works.  This book is a compliment to Meyer, but it is also a companion to William Dembski’s books like The Design Inference and No Free Lunch.  I suppose the nearest thing to it is Dembski’s book Intelligent Design.

But Undeniable is not simply a repetition of the type of arguments one will find in those books.  In the first place, Axe’s main concern is to provide Joe Public with an assuring and accessible guide on his own ability to detect invention no matter what the Science pundits tell them.

This book tries to get behind the sane intuition all of us have that incredibly complex functionality is not and can never be a result of any kind of unguided randomization.  It never is in our day to day experience of living.  Only in the imaginings of those who cannot see the difference between a scientific pronouncement and a metaphysical one does the idea gain currency and the power to veto competing ideas.  But this so characterizes the furtiveness of the spokespeople who try to shove evolutionist just-so stories down the throats of the populace, without facing the arguments brought against them.  The author thinks evolution is wrong; that it “can’t possibly be defended as clearly and convincingly as it can be refuted.” (59).  I’m on board.  I’m also totally fine believing that “Atheists have a pronounced leaning toward scientism” (7), which explains why they slide so easily from science-talk into bad philosophizing.

Axe engages the reader with what he calls “common science”.  Common science is the sort of enterprise we all do to get along in life.  And we do it by following a “design intuition”, and by inventing stuff.  The author believes that “everyone validates their design intuition through firsthand experience”, and he thinks this validation is of a scientific nature (60).  He sounds like Thomas Kuhn when drawing attention to pressures among the scientific class to conform to an institutionalized agenda (54); like Michael Polanyi when he says that prior understanding is essential for deeper knowledge (61), and gets a little Aristotelian (in the right way) when he quips that little actions are meaningful when “they produce a significant end”, one that clearly looks intended (67).

Axe is good at giving analogies to help his reader grasp his thesis.  He speaks about the discovery of “a revolutionary new soup” (16).  This “oracle soup” when cooled reveals instructions for constructing a helpful new gadget, and it does it every time it cools down!  Skeptical?, the author asks, that’s because this fabled soup goes right against our design intuition.  We will just not accept that physical laws plus chance as explanations for the miraculous qualities of oracle soup (18).  Common science stops us from settling for clearly obvious nonsensical answers – if we heed it. But just here problems arise.  What if nonsense is what you need in order for the world to be the way you would like it?

We should by all means trust the scientific community to tell us how many moons orbit Neptune or how many protons are packed into the nucleus of a cobalt atom.  Why would anyone distort facts of that kind? Matters where everyone wants to see things a certain way, however, are a completely different story. With those we should always apply a healthy dose of skepticism. (38)

In chapter 6, “Life is Good”, the writer refers to what he calls “Busy Wholes” and “Whole Projects”.  Whole Projects are the result of bringing many smaller things together in just the right way.  “Busy wholes” are the things which, when properly combined, make up a “whole project.” (69).  “Busy wholes tackle their projects by breaking them down into smaller projects in an organized way.” (70).  This means that we intuit complex wholes as “projects”, and such things “ought to be so” (76).  He gives the example of the pandas thumb, a favorite target of evolutionists of dysteleology, or bad design.  But Axe observes simply that,

I find myself evaluating the people rather than the panda.  None of these people, however earnest they may be, have any deep grasp of the principles of design and development underlying sesamond bones or thumbs, to say nothing of pandas. (78).

Because they eschew teleology, and are often not skilled engineers, those who complain about the pandas thumb are not saying anything of value.  (This same attitude holds true when it comes to information theory).  To sum up,

When we see working things that came about only by bringing many parts together in the right way, we find it impossible not to ascribe these inventions to purposeful action, and this pits our intuition against the evolutionary account. (87)

He poses a central question: “whether evolutionary theory is more in touch with our observations than our design intuition is” (88).  The book argues strongly that the answer is No.  The evidence is stacking up in favor of an agreement between the evidence and our design intuitions. (more…)

Wm. Paul Young’s Problems with the Truth about God (Pt.2)

Part One

Universal Salvation

When I speak of Young’s universalism I am not referring to the belief that Jesus Christ provided an atonement for every sinner; a position which I hold.  I am instead talking about the liberal theological teaching that God will save everybody, whether or not they have placed their trust in His Son.

Because of the author’s encounters with hurt and pain it is understandable that he has searched for a god who is safe and accepting.  In his striving to push past the debilitating burden that bitterness carries with it, perhaps he has embraced a god that characterizes his wish to move on and forgive – everyone?  One can’t be sure.  But Young wants to remove what he sees as the hard edges off of the traditional concept of God:

Every human being you meet, interact with, react and respond to, treat rudely or with kindness and mercy: every one is a child of God.  If we considered that we are all together members of one family, might we care for one another with more consideration and kind intention?  Every human being is my brother, my sister, my mother, my father… a child of God (206)

Naturally, he has just appealed to Paul’s statement before the Areopagus in Acts 17:28-29 (though he also grabs at Ephesians 4:5-6, which is aimed at Christians, for help).  Once more his inability to read the Bible coherently is troubling. When Paul quotes the pagan poet Aratus in Acts 17:29 he is not using him to teach that we are all adopted into God’s family, no matter what we believe.  If that were the case he certainly wouldn’t have spoken of future judgment and demanded repentance (Acts 17:30-31)!

What the quotation above demonstrates is that Young conceives of humanity as a set that is properly related to its Creator.  we’re all one big family, but we don’t treat each other like we should.  Of course, this is a logical result of his thinking about sin in Pelagian terms as ignorance and bad habit.

Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. (119) 

If we take Jesus seriously, then we are not dealing with outsiders and insiders; we are dealing with those who are seeing and those who are not seeing, trusting and not trusting. (55)

Since we are “all on a journey”, a continuum, it is wrong, says Young, to think in terms of believers and unbelievers (57).  In actual fact, he assures us that since we are created in the image of God, “the truth of your being looks like God” (229).  Our violence, insensitivity, arrogance, and selfishness are a result of our lack of understanding of the central truth of our being in and like God.

If you think this is starting to sound slightly panentheistic, or at least that Young’s god is just a big kiss (to borrow Joseph Parker’s term), I think you are hearing right.  This is the way Young’s theology is tending, and I expect him to veer in that direction in the years to come.  You’re okay even if you didn’t cut it in this life.  Young opines,

I don’t think God would ever say that once you die, that your fate is sealed and there is nothing that God can do for you. (182)

Well that’s nice.  But we ought to make sure that we are taking Jesus seriously like the author tells us to. The Lord Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), which included an intentional betrayal (Jn. 13:11).  He said that the world, that is, the ungodly rebellious people whose thinking is not subordinated to God’s revelation, hated Him (Jn. 15:18).  He excoriated the religious leaders with language which was unmistakably non-inclusivist.  He called some of them children of the devil (Jn. 8:44), and the Apostle John broadens the category considerably (1 Jn. 3:10).  It takes no real effort to discover that the Lord’s attitude to “insiders and outsiders” is at variance with Wm. P. Young.

He that is of God hears God’s words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God – John 8:47   

A person who refuses God’s words is a person who is “not of God”.  To this the rest of the New Testament clearly agrees (e.g. Mk. 4:11; Eph. 2:12; Jam. 4:4; Jude 4, 18).  How, for instance, can you wring a positive message out of this?

Serpents, brood of vipers!  how can you escape the condemnation of hell (gehenna)? – Matthew 23:33     

Young’s idea of taking Jesus seriously is to ignore what Jesus says wherever His words cross Young’s idea of what Jesus should be like.  It’s all of a piece, the view of sin, the universalism, including postmortem redemption, the transformation of hell into love’s fiery embrace; these are all the family of products which Young’s concerted lack of attention to God’s words yields.  It is undiluted liberalism. Promising people that they are adopted into God’s eternal family just on the basis of their humanity is as big a lie as could be told.  The god that sustains his doctrines is not the true God of the Bible. (more…)

Wm. Paul Young’s Problems with the Truth About God (Pt.1)

A Review of Wm. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, Simon & Schuster, 258 pages, pbk 

Wm. Paul Young is best known as the author of the astoundingly successful book The Shack.  He has also written two other works.  All his books deal with pain and suffering and seek to offer hope.

Unfortunately, Young’s brand of hope, although it presents itself as Christian, and indeed has been understood as such by many, is not anchored in the biblical portrait of God at all.   This book, Lies We Believe About God lays bare Young’s understanding of some of the central tenets of Christianity for all to see.  Those of us who were unhappy with the portrayal of God in The Shack have had our suspicions vindicated.  Young’s conception of God is very unbiblical.

Where He is Right

Saying that this book contains a false view of God is not the same as saying that it is entirely false.  He has some strong words for the word-faith people (86-87).  He correctly states that for God to change this world into a monument of His grace “speaks volumes” about His character (39).  He is also spot on when he says that we are all individuals and God will relate to us as such (158), and in his insistence that we have intrinsic worth (32).  There are a few things in the book where the author makes a good point or two.  He can get you to agree with him.

More than once the honest reader will acknowledge that Young has described an issue well.  Not in-depth to be sure, but he has sounded the right note.  His aim is clearly to try to make God less like a cruel schoolmaster or an ever wakeful pedant, just waiting for us to trip up so we can be sorted out, or at least reasonably ignored.  God is approachable.

The School of Pain

It does not take long to gain a genuine pity for Young.  He has suffered.  Moreover, a lot of his suffering has come, directly or indirectly, from the hands of those who should have known better.  His father was emotionally abusive (29-32, 209-212)  His parents were missionaries to West Papua, New Guinea, where Young grew up and from where he was wrenched to go back to his parents’ homeland in Canada (165-166).  From watching an interview with Young I discovered that he had been physically abused by the natives in West Papua within a stone’s throw of his neglectful parents.  At a young age he was packed off to boarding school where he was similarly mistreated.  There are some poignant lessons for missionaries and mission boards in Young’s stories, not least of which is that one can hardly claim to be doing God’s work when your children are mistreated, neglected, and even being exposed to danger and trauma while you are “building the kingdom.”

You can see that I have sympathy for the author, and any reader would.  It is not that his parents were “bad people” (although his father comes across as quite odious).  But they do appear to have been pretty clueless and even heartless in several crucial areas.  Young has had to try to manage his distress more or less on his own while still believing that God is good.  But I must return to that point presently.

Stories

The book has lots of stories.  That won’t surprise anyone who knows anything about modern Christian publishing.  Many of them are affecting.  For example, there is a great story about his mother’s rescue of a “not viable” baby, and how he was given back to his parents grew, eventually becoming a pastor (chapter 7).

The real stories are mixed with the made-up ones from Young’s books, and together they create the emotional undercurrent the book relies on to “support” the author’s views.  Indeed, it became clear to me that the 28 “Lies” he presents us with find most of their traction from these anecdotes; not from the Bible.

All that said, then, it’s time to examine the many theological problems with this book.

The Theological Errors in the Book

The heresies in Lies We Believe About God come thick and fast.  They are embedded in the sympathy- rousing narratives of the book.  As he puts it,

Each chapter refers to a statement I once believed and from which I have transitioned. (18)

I have no intention of going through all of the “lies”.  From hereon in I shall concentrate on what I think are his most destructive ideas.

  1. Pelagianism

I’ll start off with the claim that the real trouble with us is not that we are born sinners.  No, “we have become blind in the deceit-darkness we believe.” (36).   “Pride is a sin because it is a denial of being human” (227).  Here is an even more definitive assertion:

Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of ungoodness.  We are true and right, but often ignorant and stupid, acting out of the pain of our wrongheadedness, hurting ourselves, others, and even all creation.  Blind, not depraved, is our condition. (34-35)

Then comes an attempt at scriptural logic:

Remember, God cannot become anything that is evil or inherently bad … and God became human. (35)

Of course, this is rank Pelagianism pure and unalloyed.  The belief that we are all inherently good deep down, and that our “sins” come about because of ignorance or our environment or whatever is the common currency of every religion and worldview but one: Biblical Christianity.   (more…)