Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (2)

Part One

The second argument, that there are covenantal elements in the Creation narratives, is somewhat dependent upon the first for its advocacy.  Nobody denies that there is a repetition of parts of the Creation mandate in Genesis 9.  But such a repetition was necessary seeing that God had just wiped out every living thing from the map.  That necessity doesn’t extend however, to requiring a covenant given to Adam in the Garden.  And we are not justified in drawing an inference that the earlier use of the words were thereby covenantal simply because their repetition to Noah was in a covenantal setting.  One wonders how the Lord was to warn our Adam about taking from the forbidden tree without including some of the language which would later be used in covenants.  Covenants often included prohibitions and warnings.  They were necessarily made by or with human parties.  In that sense, all prohibitions are formulaic and “covenantal”(speaking anachronistically), but that does not turn them into covenants.     Again we sense a lack of control in the understanding of the function of a Divine covenant.

However, this belief in a pre-Noahic covenant just might be supplemented by Hosea 6, even though it must be admitted that the all-important substance of that particular “covenant” remains anyone’s guess.  Attempts to designate Genesis 2:16-18 as the oath are exegetically specious.  All one can properly bring out of the text is what is there: a prohibition and a dire warning.  That is it.  So one is left with a vacuous covenant with no identifiable solemn oath.  Not much to go on for the exegete, but rich pickings for a pious theologically charged imagination!

As for the third argument put forth by defenders of a pre-Noahic covenant; the mention of “Adam” in Hosea 6:7, we are unmoved.  Although studies by Warfield and others lend some superficial credence to the notion, there remain too many problems and unanswered questions to plague it.  The immediate context favors a location (Tell ed-Damiyeh?).[12]  Concerning the identification of it with the person Adam, McKenzie comments:

modern scholars are nearly unanimous in rejecting this understanding.  For one thing, there is no mention anywhere else in the Bible, including Genesis 2-3, of a covenant between God and Adam… Furthermore, the word “there” in the second line of the verse suggests that Adam may be a place name, and this possibility is strengthened by the places mentioned in subsequent verses – Gilead (v.8) and Shechem (v.9).[13]

Duane Garrett thinks there is a deliberate wordplay between the man Adam and the place of transgression, the town of Adam in area of Gilead.[14]  But we must repeat the fact that even if the exegetical case for the person Adam were in the future universally accepted, we would still be none the wiser as to what the covenant actually entailed.  We would certainly not be constrained to embrace a “covenant of works”, a “covenant of grace”, a “Creation covenant” etc., on such flimsy internal evidence.[15].  Plus, we would not be one step further to knowing what the putative covenant said.

While not everyone will agree with my conclusions, and while respect is owed to those whose opinions differ, I believe the arguments for a covenant prior to the Noahic covenant fall short of being convincing and rely upon inferences brought to the text.  More important is the glaring fact that there is just not enough scriptural data to provide content for these pretender covenants.

Personally, I could wish that I could confidently detect a true covenant in Genesis 1, or Genesis 1-2, or Genesis 2–3.  I am, after all, attempting to show that the biblical covenants contain both the telos and the eschatos of the Creation Project as set out in the pages of Scripture.  But I fear that any attempt to ground my scheme upon a covenant without a defining oath would be to make it, in fact, groundless. And so I am content to connect the covenants with Noah, Abraham, David, etc., with the already noted correspondence between God’s speech and His actions and to treat Divine covenants as intensifications of this motif.

I conclude, then, that for all the assertions of a pre-Noahic covenant notwithstanding, there is little or nothing to show for it but the personal judgments of good men who pour their own meanings into an empty vessel.  The biblical record remains unchanged.  The first covenant in the Bible of which we can speak meaningfully is the covenant God made with Noah after “the world that then was perished.”


[12] Ibid, 164-165.  He cites Craig Bartholomew’s note about marriage being an example of a covenant before the Fall.  I shall return to this, but will just say here that marriage is not a Divine-human relationship.  Furthermore, both Proverbs 2:17 and Malachi 2:14 refer to the encroachments of sin within marriages.  It might be argued that the covenantal aspects of marriage became necessary only after the entrance of sin.  We have argued that the essence of a covenant is to insure obedience of one or both of the parties involved.  This would be unnecessary prior to Genesis 3.

[13] Even Gentry, when rightly speaking of “the covenant with Noah [creating] a firm stage of history where God can work out his plan for rescuing his fallen world” (Ibid, 175), tacitly agrees that this is indeed the principle purpose of the covenant; namely, no more flood guarantees the uniformity of nature and a linear flow of history.  It does not then appear to be necessary to for God to bind himself to Creation this way before the Flood.

[14] See J. Glen Taylor, ‘Hosea’, ZIBBC, Vol. 5, 28

[15] Steven L. McKenzie, Covenant, 22-23.  Earlier he notes that, “The Assyrians probably had a covenant affirming Israel’s vassalhood, against which they rebelled.” – Ibid, 8.  He gives Hosea 12:1; 10:4, and 6:7 as possible references.

[16] Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, NAC 19A, 162-163

[17] Walter C. Kaiser rightly refers to these as “hypothetical” covenants.  See his The Promise-Plan of God, 26.


Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (1)

More material from the “big book”.

There need not be much dissension from the view that Genesis 6:18 may refer to a previous understanding of covenant on Noah’s part.[1]  It could equally mean that the covenant was “in God’s mind” before the waters came and He chose out Noah.[2]  In either case the interpretation stresses the gracious (hen) movement of God towards Noah (6:8).

But could it, indeed, should it, be construed as a reference to a “Creation covenant,” instituted in Genesis 1?  If the instructions given to Adam and Eve are repeated to Noah, doesn’t this show that, as Jeffrey Niehaus has it, “the Noahic or recreation covenant with the Adamic one” should be seen “as one legal package”?[3]  That is a big question.  It assumes, in fact, that the “Adamic” or “Creation covenant” is unambiguously self-evident like the Noahic covenant.  But that position requires a good deal of reinforcement if it is to withstand scrutiny.

So what evidence is there of an existing covenant in the first three chapters of Genesis?  I have already alluded to the fact that the evidence is “spotty”.  But it would be of some benefit to examine it a little more closely.  Not uncommonly those who see covenants in the opening chapters of the Bible do not take much space proving it.  But some arguments have been put forth deserve attention.

  1. the language of establishing not “cutting” the covenant.
  2. the repetition of parts of the Creation mandate.
  3. the reference in Hosea 6:7 to “Adam” breaking the covenant.

The first argument, and the best in my estimation, concerns the Hebrew expression used in regards to the Noahic covenant.  Merrill concludes that “Genesis 1:26-28 is at least a truncated example of a royal grant document.”[4]  It may be, but where are its specific terms?  Where is the oath which God supposedly made?  It certainly had nothing to do with a global flood.  Yet the flood is at the heart of the covenant oath God made with Noah as His witness.  In other words, without the assurance that God would not again visit the earth with such a deluge, there would be no reason to even mention the covenant!  To move from that position backwards to the first two chapters of the book in order to find a “Creation covenant” (or other), looks like moving far beyond the evidence readily discernible in the oath of the Noahic covenant.

Niehaus says that the elements of covenant (which he says stems from an “idea” in God), are present in the Creation chapters (Gen. 1 & 2).  So, even though the oath is not found there, the presence of a covenant is assured.[5]  Very well, but without knowing what the oath is we have no way of knowing for sure what the covenant was about.  Once more, Gamble, in his impressive book, thinks that “The reordering of the world after the Flood was a covenantal recapitulation.”[6]  But he gives no solid evidence for this assertion.

Perhaps the best defense of this position is found in the work of Gentry and Wellum called Kingdom through Covenant.  Building on the work of Australian scholar William Dumbrell, whose basic ideas he defends[7], Gentry asserts, and I think proves, that the deliberate choice to use heqim berit (“to establish a covenant”), rather than what would become the normal expression, karat berit (“to cut a covenant”), indicates that God was already committed to this covenant prior to Genesis 6.[8]   This does not mean they support the idea that Genesis 6 and 9 refer to covenant renewal.  Rather, the claim seems to be that God’s pre-existing commitment to His creation is now expressed in the initiation of a promised covenant.

In summary, based on the expression heqim berit, linguistic usage alone demonstrates that when God says he is confirming or establishing his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment initiated previously at creation to care for and preserve, provide for and rule over all he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he gave to Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.  This can be substantiated and further supported by noting the parallels between Noah and Adam, and between the covenant terms given to Noah and the ordinances given to Adam and his family.[9]

Gentry goes on to detail the parallels he has mentioned, but the existence of parallels, which it must be admitted, are hardly avoidable, do not require the presence of a covenant. (more…)


Apologetics and Your Kids (Pt.10) – Another Slogan

Part Nine

In the last installment of this series we were looking at a motto which is often misused by the Christian community, and which could mislead young people if not carefully explained.  That motto was “All truth is God’s truth.”  This time round I want to take a look at another slogan; a slogan which should not be adopted by Bible believers, even though some prominent and respected authorities use it.  The phrase I have in mind is this: “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.”

On the face of it, this legend might seem non-objectionable.  We are all aware of the fact that the Bible is not, nor does it ever claim to be, a textbook on Science.  It doesn’t inform us about botany or biology or chemistry or physics: science does, so what’s the problem?

To put it simply, the trouble is that it says far too much about the competence of science, and far too little about the scope and authority of Scripture.  It is quite subtle, yet the problem is acute.  As it sits, saying “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven” is like saying “Jesus teaches us how to be nice.”  A Gospel tract can tell you how to get to heaven!  But the Bible is the Word of God.  It is the only “word” from the outside.  That is to say, it is the only word which is not fashioned by the finite and fallen ingenuity of man.  As such the Bible is the final court of appeal on God-made reality.  To confine it within the bounds of a rather thoughtless jingle is to treat it with dishonor.

Yet that is just one part of the problem.  The catchphrase goes on to assert that “science tells us how the heavens go.”  To this we may reply, “Only if that science agrees with the Bible!”  To create an artificial divide between the Bible and science like this is disastrous.  In point of fact, the Word of God tells us how the heavens go (to the extent that they speak of the heavens), and we would be well advised to accept no “scientific” statement which contradicts the Bible’s teaching on this or any bother subject.  If “science” tells us we evolved from cosmic dust, or we came from apes, or that there is no God (or no way to know there is a God), and a thousand other pronouncements besides, then “science” isn’t true knowledge (which is the meaning of the Latin term scientia).  In fact, it isn’t even science.  It is “science (or “knowledge”) falsely so-called” (1 Tim. 6:20).

Do the problems end there?  I wish they did, but there is more to say, because this way of putting things leads to thinking that the Bible only touches upon the thin aspects of living which we call “spiritual”; all the rest of reality is then thought to be open to independent reasoning virtually unrelated to the pronouncements of Scripture.  Once this thought enters the Christian’s mind it acts like a cancer, and very soon what we proudly call “the Christian worldview” becomes a small timid thing, with little relevance for most of the “non-spiritual” spheres of life.  It is not surprising that our youth are leaving the faith in droves if they are being fed such a paltry diet of the biblical viewpoint.

So why do some respected Christian leaders (like Norman Geisler and Bruce Waltke) make use of this slogan?  There is a clear reason, and it highlights the problem of what I might call “intellectual schizophrenia.”  This problem comes about when a person does not have both eyes and ears on the text of Scripture, but has one ear open to another authority – usually if not always the pronouncements of modern science.  Of course, these leaders do not sense any competition between these two authorities. But that is because they have accepted the forced interpretations of the Bible in order to include statements from scientists which would otherwise contradict the clear statements of the Word of God. When defending their embrace of “scientific” opinions seemingly at variance with the Bible these writers are often led into affirming positions which neither the Bible nor secular science agree with.  This is what we will look at next time.


My Materials on Biblical Covenantalism

I have been asked to put my stuff on Biblical Covenantalism in one place.  These are the main posts which, I think, define and expound the concept and indicate where I am going with it.  I hope placing them together helps out.

The Main Articles, the ‘Book’, and the Videos: 

Biblical Covenants and Normative Hermeneutics 1, 2

Explaining why the Biblical Covenants provide a hermeneutics for the Bible.

Dispensationalism & Biblical Covenantalism: What’s in a Name? (link)

A comparison of the perspectives.  This Synopsis was written for the same post.

Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path 1, 2

My ideas about how standard Dispensational theology could be profitably redirected and strengthened by downplaying the importance of Divine economies and conferring primary authority to the Biblical Covenants.  The article builds on an earlier one called What is a “Dispensationalist Theology?” 

Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity & Faith 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  – This six part article was designed to clarify some points made in an earlier piece called On the Biblical Covenants 

The Parameters of Meaning: 4a, 4b

Even though this comes from a series (yet unfinished – I’m working on it) which covers more than the covenants, this one is concerned directly with the boundaries which the covenants set for proper interpretation.



The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism

This is not the “big book” I am working on, but it outlines the centrality of Jesus Christ to the system.  I am trying to edit and revise it in my spare (ha!) time.

Chapter 1a, 1b, 1c;

Chapter 2a, 2b, 2c;

Chapter 3a, 3b;

Chapter 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d;

Chapter 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d;

Chapter 6a, 6b;

Conclusion 7a, 7b



1 & 2 

3 & 4;

5 & 6

These are six video presentations where I present a fairly detailed overview of Biblical Covenantalism as I conceive of it.

Other subjects dealt with along these lines:

The Forgotten Covenant 1, 2, 3, 4

About the covenant with Phinehas.  I realize that some scholars see a covenant with Aaron which is unrelated to that which was made with Phinehas, but I see no reason to multiply covenants needlessly. They amount to the same thing.

What is Progressive Revelation? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 

This article seeks to define progressive revelation sensibly by taking seriously the meanings of “progressive” and “revelation”, and rescue the idea from the abuse it must suffer at the hands of prevaricating theological dogmas.

Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church? (link)

This piece is my attempt to deal with questions pertaining to Acts 2

Does Diatheke Mean “Last Will and Testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17? (link)

I argue that the Greek term often translated as “testament” in this place ought to be rendered “covenant” along with all other uses in Hebrews.

My TELOS Lectures on Biblical Theology, which I have nearly finished uploading under the title “Biblical Covenantalism” will be added to this list soon.

Okay, there it all is.  Have fun!

4271 cvr final CC.indd

A Review of ‘Understanding Prophecy’ by Bandy & Merkle

Review of Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach, by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015, 264 pages, paperback 

N.B. This review is from the perspective of someone who is less than an enthusiastic supporter of symbolical cum typological interpretations of the Bible, so it will be mainly critical.  However, for those in-tune with the approach of the writers, the book can be recommended as a good explication of the redemptive-historical method. 

This new book on prophecy comes from two writers who differ on whether or not the millennium is here already or whether it is still to come.  Alan Bandy is a historic or covenant premillennialist, while Benjamin Merkle is a covenant amillennialist.  The choice to present biblical prophecy from this angle was clever.  However, this should not be interpreted as anything more than a mere novelty.  As the authors themselves write on the first page of the Preface,

First, we discovered that although our millennial views are different, we actually agree with each other most of the time regarding our interpretation of prophetic texts and our way of seeing the big picture of the Bible. (9)

The admission that the authors “agree with each other most of the time” will not come as a surprise to those familiar with the two eschatological positions, particularly as they are repristinated by the “already-not yet” hermeneutics of G. E. Ladd.

The approach represented here then, is “redemptive-historical” (20 n. 5).  This means they promote what has become the usual way of reading the Bible in evangelical seminaries: with theological assumptions applied by use of symbols and types.  On the next page the writings of T. D. Alexander, Greg Beale, and others are endorsed as further examples of the method being advocated.  These authors admit certain crucial presuppositions in their interpretation which determine their idea of the subject.

From this platform we run into the assertion that the fulfillment of most prophecy is to be looked for at Christ’s first coming (e.g. 10).  So,

Christ is the eschatos of prophecy who gives meaning to all that has happened or will yet transpire throughout human history.  Our approach to prophecy must always be viewed through the gospel and what Christ has already accomplished. (27-28)

A gospel-centered hermeneutic filters all prophecy through the lens of the resurrected Christ. (29)

While these sentiments contain a forceful and persuasive piety, I think they make biblical interpretation more involved than it needs to be.  They also appear to beg the question.  In the first instance both quotations assume that the great stress of the prophetic teaching of the Bible is on the first advent.  But this seems to be palpably untrue.  There are scores of covenanted promises in both Testaments which point to the second advent and events before and (especially) after it.  That is, unless one’s hermeneutics are fashioned in such a way that the prophecies come to be seen as pertaining to the first coming.  As for viewing all prophecy through the gospel and Christ’s accomplishment, the cross and resurrection can be given all the recognition they certainly require without bending the prophetic corpus into the historic past.  For all the world a plain reading of Scripture places an even greater stress upon the coming of the Lord in glory to establish real righteousness and shalom on His earth.  Far better then to let the Bible say what it says without making some of its earlier parts pass through a theological “filter” of the interpreter’s making.

To explain their program the writers call upon “progressive revelation” (31-33), although like most evangelicals today they employ language which sounds like double-speak.  Later revelation can “add to or modify” earlier revelation, but it does not “necessarily supplant or abrogate” previous scripture. This reader begs to differ.  One can nullify earlier statements by declaring they mean something other than their words appear to mean.  Citing Beale, the OT texts “undergo an organic expansion or development of meaning.”  But when one steps back and looks at the result the meaning of the OT passages have not only “expanded”, they have morphed into something else!  As is contended later, “we believe that the text will be literally fulfilled but not necessarily according to the precise wording of the prophecy” (110 n.5).  According to the online Oxford Dictionary, “literally” means,

In a literal manner or sense; exactly:
the driver took it literally when asked to go straight across the traffic circle 

Notice that the driver in the example above did “fulfill” the direction he was given “according to the precise wording”.  So with all the arguments in the book against plain-sense interpretation one will not be surprised to read that,

If John the Baptist was unsure about the fulfillment of prophecies, what assurance do we have regarding predictions related to Christ’s second coming?  That unfulfilled prophecy will be fulfilled is certain, but precisely how they will be fulfilled is uncertain. (209).

The thesis of the book could not be stated better.  Prophecy as information we can understand is practically mute until God declares it fulfilled.  It is revelation that doesn’t reveal.  I have taken issue with this depiction of God in another place.

The position is then shored up by poking fun at populist dispensational writers like Tim LaHaye and the wacky fringe who do newspaper exegesis while purporting to read the Book of Revelation literally (58).  To show how dispensationalists are mistaken about their understanding of OT prophecy the authors employ Amos 9:11-15 as an example (109ff. This text or Joel 2 is the passage of choice for such discussions).  It needs to be noted that when James uses the passage in Acts 15 he does not say the prophecy is fulfilled. The authors’ case would have been more impressive had they tackled Jeremiah 33:14-26, but who does?

Strangely, when it comes to giving guidance on the Return of Christ the texts are simply quoted with the apparent assumption that they are to be taken, well, literally (179-181).

As said above, if you are taken with this school of interpretation the book has much to commend it.  If, like me, you are not, it could serve as a helpful introduction to what I might call “first coming hermeneutics.”

The book was supplied to me by the publisher.

Descending to Demonism: From Cain to the Sons of God

The scenes from the story of Cain and Abel, up until the “sons of God”, and the global Flood cover a period of perhaps two thousand years.  Genesis 4 properly belongs with the previous three chapters.  It begins and ends with namings; the naming of Cain (“acquired”, or “brought forth”), and the naming of Seth (“granted [substitute]”), and then Seth’s naming of Enosh (“frailty”).  In the beginning of this chapter we find two brothers, Cain and Abel, who are worshipping God (Yahweh).  Their offerings come from the different spheres of their activity.  Cain is a farmer and so he brings the produce of the ground.  Abel is a shepherd, and so he brings a choice lamb from his flock.

The narrative is not detailed, but the Lord’s opinion of Cain’s offering was one of disapproval.  The problem was not external; it was not with the offering.  Those who teach that because the earth is cursed the gift of Cain was inappropriate forget that Abel’s lamb ate from the produce of the cursed ground.  No, Cain’s problem was in his approach to God.  In his lack of faith (implied in Heb. 11:4), his offering was not truly an offering.  Cain refused to rectify his worship and he became the first murderer.  He does not murder a stranger for riches.  He slays his own brother, Abel.  Why did he do this?  Because Abel’s offering had been accepted by the Lord and Cain had been “burning” (charah) toward his brother.  He was filled with religious envy.  The first murder was religiously motivated.  He is then depicted as admitting (not really confessing) his guilt (but not before lying about it), and he ends up going out “east of Eden” and building a city which he names after his son Enoch.  It is of interest that in the Bible only one city is viewed in a positive light: Jerusalem – and that not always!  Secondly, the Bible appears to approve of history moving from East to West, and to disapprove of movement from West to East.  Adam and Eve travel East (3:24), as does Cain (4:16), and the people who came to Shinar and built a tower (11:2), and Lot chose the goodlands to the East when he and Abram separated (13:11).

One thing which Cain forfeited by his murderous deed was the right (if we may so speak of it at this venture) of the firstborn.  T. D. Alexander observes that, “For killing his brother Abel, Cain, the first-born, is passed over in favour of Seth, the third-born.”[1]

Cain’s lineage is given up until verses 23-24, which records Lamech’s bragging about the murder of a young man.  Thus, although there are accomplishments: city building (if such can be said to be an accomplishment), animal breeding, music, and metallurgy, the genealogy begins and ends with two murderers.  In Cain’s line Lamech occupies the seventh position; a position of honor[2].  The Adamic genealogy in the next chapter places the godly Enoch in that position.  So what we are given is a picture of expansion in various spheres.  But along with this growth of creativity there is a greater opportunity for independence to be reinforced, and for sin to produce death.

The fifth chapter is a death chapter.  The names in Adam’s genealogy are of men who lived, by our standards, an immense amount of years.  But they all died (save Enoch, who was taken – Gen. 5:22).  If you are like me you would like to know why Enoch was taken and why we are told that he was.  Some might tell us that there is a typological teaching hidden in there.[3]  They may be right, but I find I cannot get any help from the Bible (Heb. 11:5 merely repeats the fact).  But he is the only person other than (possibly) Elijah who did not see death.[4]  Even the Son of God had to die!

But even in a chapter where the refrain “and he died” is constant there is hope.  Genesis 5:1b-3 declares,

In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

As well as telling us that this is Seth’s line, these verses use the same words about Seth that were used of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-27, although in reverse.  Seth is in Adam’s likeness (demuth) and image (selem), and is therefore in God’s likeness and image.  This means that even fallen mankind has intrinsic worth above what his deeds testify to.  It is well to recall this fact when pondering God’s actions in the flood.  This is why God’s promise of a victorious Seed in Genesis 3:15 carries with it a hope for man.

Since chapter 5 concerns Seth’s line and not that of Cain, it is scarcely credible to associate what comes next with the Sethites.  Explanations of the sons of God in the first part of chapter 6 which resort to making them into sons of Cain, while at the same time turning “the daughters of men” into daughters of Seth, are making the text say something it is clearly at pains not to say.  It used to be that one was hard pressed to find an evangelical who was prepared to identify the “sons of God” with fallen angels.  It was easy enough to find liberals who had little trouble with the identification (they simply had trouble believing it!).  Thankfully the situation has changed[5].  Now we find evangelical scholars who are more comfortable with the designation.[6]  This is important, if only because it is in places like this where we feel pressured to come up with an alternative interpretation of what the text appears to be saying.  Such a maneuver, especially when made by those who elsewhere plead for grammatical-historical interpretation, hardly helps the case for plain-sense hermeneutics.  As enigmatic as the passage may be, all the scriptural evidence points to the bene ha elohim[7] being either demonic angels or demonized humans.[8]   (more…)


‘The Making of an Atheist’ – A Short Review

Review of James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010, 141 pages 

James Spiegel’s books are usually worth a gander because he writes about important but often neglected subjects.  Witness his books on Hypocrisy and Providence.  This book makes a helpful contribution to the usual run of apologetics resources by looking at some intriguing facts surrounding how atheists are made.

Some atheists, of course, make the claim that atheism is the neutral baseline position of humanity; all evidence to the contrary.  But most atheists would, I think, agree that they came to a non-belief in God through one way or another.

This small work is about the undercurrents which turn people into atheists.  In the main, these have to do with morality.  After quoting from several atheists, Spiegel observes,

These comments by Nagel, as well as those …by Harris and Dawkins, reveal strong emotions.  Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with the will than with reason?…That is precisely the aim of this book.  Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts.  Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root cause – moral rebellion.  For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. (11. Author’s italics )

That is a strong claim.  But it has been made before.  Cornelius Van Til’s works are filled with this theme of moral antagonism to God.  As he once stated it; man’s unbelief is informed by his ethical hostility toward God.  This is certainly a biblical position.  Psalm 14:1 locates the rejection of the concept of God in the corruption of men.  Romans 1 does the same thing.  Motivations to anti-theism are just that, motivations.

Turning from the Introduction to the first chapter, Spiegel turns his attention to the problem of evil.  He admits that this issue “does pack some punch”, but “it could never count as grounds for atheism” (26). The logic of atheistic naturalism does not empty out into anything but leaky vessels.  Even trying to call upon Occam’s Razor (the principle of adopting the least premises to account for something) to make God a superfluous postulate backfires when it is seen that atheism just doesn’t have the tools needed to explain our experience (28-30).  to make the point clearer the author presents a well-honed scaled down version of Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (58-59), the gist of which is, “if naturalism is true, then we have no reason to believe it is true.”

In the third chapter the book looks at the causes of atheism.  To start off the examples of actress Jodie Foster and comedian George Carlin are given to show that “desires often drive a person’s beliefs” (63). Spiegel then turns to the work of Paul Vitz to show how absentee fathers is linked with atheism (He might also have referred to John Koster’s telling study, The Atheist Syndrome).  The works of Paul Johnson and E. Michael Jones which have documented the immoral lifestyles of prominent atheists are then surveyed.

Chapter 4 deals with the atheist mindset; how the mind can be trained in non-belief.  Thomas Kuhn’s study of scientific paradigms and Michael Polanyi’s theory of personal (tacit) knowledge support the writer’s thesis that if one is set in a certain way of thinking, “we can expect our most cogent arguments to fall on deaf ears.” (101).  In short, there is “a will to disbelieve.”

In the last chapter the benefits of Christian Theism for mental and even physical well-being are covered. All in all this is a very good and easy read; a good book to put into the hands of high school grads or for adult study groups.  Atheists, of course, will hate it.  But it does not pretend to diagnose every case of unbelief.  what it does do is make a solid case for “How immorality leads to unbelief.”  Recommended.


Question: Amillennialism and the Land Promise

This question came to me via Spirit & Truth, a website I am privileged to have a part in.


Thanks very much for your TELOS series of Biblical Covenantalism. I stumbled upon this at just the time I needed it – and therefore believe God led me to your sight.

The minister of our church is staunchly amillenialist, and I am involved in discussions with him. The question he will get me on, unless you can provide me with a biblically based answer is this:
If the land promise to Abraham and his descendants is a literal piece of real estate, and it has been given as an EVERLASTING possession, what happens to the EVERLASTING nature of that covenant promise in the New Heavens and the New Earth?

My Answer:

Thanks for your question.
In the first place your pastor’s position is unreasonable, putting the burden of proof where it doesn’t belong. Since he clearly knows that the text(s) say the land was given to Israel by God, by challenging it with such a question he is demanding of the Bible that it answers his queries before he will believe it. This is a symptom of the all-too-common problem of making unaided reason an authority over the clear wording of Scripture.

If you want an idea of why he is being unreasonable, ask him to explain how Christ can be both 100% God and 100% man at one and the same time. Ask him to explain it (don’t let him fob you off with the Chalcedonian Creed). My point is that certain Christian truths (like the dual natures of Christ) are difficult because Scripture does not pander to our wish to have all our questions answered. It expects faith in what is said (which is enough for us).

As far as a biblically-based answer; well, what is to prevent Israel having a designated piece of real estate on the new earth? We know there are nations and kings there (Rev. 21:24, 26).

I want you not to make an issue of this with your pastor. He will not change if he does not see. And he will not see if he has certain presuppositions: lenses through which he interprets the Bible.


Apologetics and Your Kids (Pt. 9) – Is “All Truth God’s Truth”?

Part Eight

Last time I asked whether the facts speak for themselves.  My answer was that they do not, they are freighted with interpretations, whether right or wrong.  In Part Seven I called attention to the temptation of attaching ourselves to slogans and ideas from the world.  Before proceeding along the lines I started with in the last post, I want first to take two common but deadly slogans which Christians use and look at them, for though they sound alright, they have been the cause of much confusion among Christians.  The phrase I have in mind today is “All Truth is God’s Truth.”

Misusing a Slogan to Place Man’s Authority above God’s Word.

We have come as far as seeing the importance of embracing the Truth, not for our sake primarily, but for its own sake – because it is an attribute of God.  An accurate view of Truth is essential to a correct Christian Worldview, and a correct Christian Worldview is necessary for the defense of Christianity.  Thus, a clear idea of the character of Truth is of the utmost importance for our children to understand, and this motto, “All Truth is God’s Truth” requires careful handling.

For some people – and that number sadly includes some Christian apologists, the slogan could be paraphrased as, “All that the experts call truth is God’s truth.”

In such a scenario it ought to be clear that it is not what God says that is of first importance, but human estimations and perceptions of what is true that matters.  We think it’s true so we lumber God with it.  Then it is easy to pronounce the Big Bang as God’s truth, or Theistic Evolution (which is rearing its ugly head again!), or the most recent “findings” of archaeologists or Semitic experts, whether they believe the Bible or not.  What this approach asserts is that we decide what is true and then piously say that God did it.  This will not do.

A Use of the Slogan Which Gives the Glory to God

So is there another view?  There is.  It interprets “All Truth is God’s Truth” within the strict parameters of the Bible.  A paraphrase of this position would be, “All that really is true according to Scripture comes from the God of Truth.”

This way of looking at it comports well with the authority we are all supposed to be under: the authority of Scripture.  It automatically has no truck with human assessments of truth, which are always changing anyway.  What is true and what is not true is not ours to decide about.  Our opinion, or the opinions of those we esteem and listen to are irrelevant if they cross what God says about it in the Bible.

What I am saying is that if the phrase “All Truth is God’s Truth” is to be of any acceptable use to us it has to bear a meaning which we can take to God as in agreement with His Word.  We must not let our kids leave our homes with the slippery notion that we can decide what is true and then expect the Lord to place His Divine imprimatur on our assessment.

In the next piece I want to examine another oft-used but dangerous saying which I have encountered in Christian literature.  It is the slogan, “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.”

Part Ten



This (re)post is a “stand-alone.” But I think it is rather important in its own way.  I apologize for the formatting.

“When the Christian sets forth his outlook he will stress the kind of God to whom he is committed, the nature of the world in relation to God, and the nature of man as God’s creature. The Christian God is totally self-sufficient, and in Him there is an equal ultimacy of unity and diversity (being Triune). Everything outside of Him derives its existence, character, meaning, and purpose in light of Him and His sovereign counsel.” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, 16.

Logic/Reason…..precondition ……. God who is immaterial perfect rationality

Morality…………..precondition ……..God who is righteous

Truth……………….precondition ……..God who is unchanging Truth

Uniformity……….precondition ……..God who upholds regularity (providence)

Order………………..precondition ……..God who imprints His order on creation

Subject-Object….precondition ……..God creates us (body/soul), the world for us

Love………………….precondition ……..God who is Love and demonstrates it

Beauty………………precondition ……..God who is artistic & gives us aesthetic abilities

Language…………..precondition ……..God who speaks

Good………………….precondition ……..God who is perfectly Good

Evil…………………….precondition ……..God who permits declension from Himself

False Beliefs………..precondition ……..God who (for now) allows rebellion

Personality………….precondition ……..God who is Personal

Relationship………..precondition ……..God who is social

One & Many…………precondition ……..God who is both One and Many (Trinitarian)

Science………………..precondition ……..God who gives skills & conditions for analysis

History………………..precondition ……..God who created & guides with a telos in view

Number……………….precondition ……..God who is Triune and infinite

Ecology………………..precondition ……..God who gives us oversight of His creation

Salvation………………precondition ……..God who reconciles humanity in His Son

Worship………………..precondition ……..God who evokes praise in the saints

Hope……………………..precondition ……..God who raises Christ from the dead

Meaning………………..precondition ……..God who made us in His image

I would love to see a non-Christian chart of all this!

Glory to God alone!