Author: Paul Henebury


Invitation to Biblical Interpretation – A Review

Review of Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology, by Andreas J. Kostenberger & Richard D. Patterson, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, hdbk, 891 pp 

This large volume has already positioned itself as a premier textbook for hermeneutics for evangelicals. The authors; one an OT commentator, and one a NT commentator, have put a lot of thought into their production.  The publisher has produced an attractive, well planned volume.

But why buy this book over others?  The collaboration of Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2nd ed.), covers all the main introductory issues.  The Kaiser/Silva Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (2nd ed.), intriguingly allows digression between the authors.  Bauer’s Inductive Bible Study updates Traina’s famous manual.  I am partial to Zuck’s Basic Bible Interpretation as a “safe” starter.  And, of course, there are many others.  So what does this book have going for it?

The first thing that struck me was the overall clarity of the writing.  Kostenberger and Patterson have worked hard to really “invite” the reader to study with them.  This translates over to the way they have refrained from putting technical materials in front of the student until later in the volume.  They move through the triad of History, Literature, Theology steadily, imparting help and sustaining interest (in most cases) as they go.  The subject matter is reviewed before and after to aid the memory.  Additionally, short bibliographies at the end of each section are varied enough to cover more than one line of thinking.  I only wish that they were annotated!  That said, the real bibliographical help is in the footnotes, which are very informative.  Whatismore, throughout there is commendable interaction with many of the standard hermeneutics volumes.

Along with readability and general usefulness, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation guides students into the usual areas of genre, structure, forms of speech, etc., and imparts much usable and up-to-date information. I would have liked a little more clarity on the precise role of historical backgrounds (though see Exegetical Fallacy #3, 635-636). And, although expected, still I would have preferred to see some kick-back against the “already/not yet” views of G. E. Ladd (341-342, cf. 187).  I liked the material on the biblical covenants in chapter 3, although I think the book leans too much in favor of interpreting them in terms of ANE covenants, especially land grants.  Related to this, towards the end of the book (in chapter 15), the treatment of Biblical Theology was surprisingly scant.

That said, I thought the discussions of “apocalyptic” were, when push came to shove, quite thin (when are they not?).  In spite of this the authors advise that “a basic acquaintance with the nature and features of apocalyptic genre” is necessary (330).  Yet they don’t include Daniel and Zechariah as truly apocalyptic because they were written earlier than the second century B.C.  Of course (and as their own sources show), the scholarship on “apocalyptic” is headed up by writers who do believe these books, or at least parts of them, originated around that date.  Such presuppositions play vital roles in interpretation.   This quibble is transferable to most hermeneutics texts, and it needs to be said that this volume does offer more help than is often the case for those with evangelical sensibilities.  I thought the chapter on Prophecy, though good at the level of subgenres, needed to be fuller.  For example, if prophets were to be tested by the validity of their predictions (Deut. 18), surely those predictions couldn’t be subject to the requirements of a genre that didn’t even exist when the prophet wrote?

Hermeneutics is not just the art and science of how to interpret, but is also reflection on how we already interpret.  This is tacitly acknowledged on page 65 n.22 where there is a suggestion made to meditate on passages in the Psalms and Isaiah before interpreting.  But they quickly go on to affirm the importance of “the literary and linguistic aspects of the biblical material” (66).  This point is well taken, but it is the employment of these aspects within a theological matrix that is often the problem.  To give another example, despite some rather involved discussions in chapter 11 (on Apocalyptic and the book of Revelation), especially of symbolic literature, this reviewer was not convinced that the views of dispensationalist or progressive dispensationalist scholars were carefully represented.  To give one example, how can the authors justify citing Tim LaHaye on the Book of Revelation and not Robert Thomas?  The writers finally come down in favor of a mainly symbolic interpretation over against a literal one (551), and the result can be seen in how they emerge from an exegesis of Revelation 11:1-4 with the proposal that the “Two Witnesses” are the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia (563).

Contemporary evangelical hermeneutics is somewhat uncomfortably positioned between what has been termed “genre override” on the one hand and theological special pleading on the other.  This means that no one book will supply all that one needs to know; although this one does a fair job.  As pointed out earlier, the writers want us to spend time preparing ourselves for interpretation by reading from the Psalms and Isaiah, but the increasingly sophisticated stances of modern hermeneutics continue to make the divide between reading and interpretation ever wider.

But I don’t want to end the review on a down note.  As modern hermeneutics manuals go, this one gets a lot of things right.  I benefited from its perusal and will return to it again.  A devotee of plain-sense hermeneutics will, like me, have to supplement this work with one arguing for that approach.


Apologetics and Your Kids (8) – Do the Facts Speak for Themselves?

Part Seven

Facing The Evidence

I want to move forward a bit now to the subject of evidence.  Probably many of you have heard the old dictum that scientists “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”  Often scientists themselves promote this idea, and others catch on and parrot it themselves.  It sounds very dignified.  Almost pious.  And, as philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have shown, it is almost totally false.

Several years ago, a well known, oft published physicist called Robert V. Gentry published a book entitled Creation’s Tiny Mystery, which cataloged his research on Polonium 218 Radiohalos.  The book makes fascinating reading, and it has never been gainsaid.  All the same, Gentry’s researched has been shunted to the side by evolutionists because, well, it provides compelling data for the assertion that the earth is young.

Gentry had a Seventh-Day Adventist upbringing, but was a committed evolutionist and believed in an old earth.  He began his research into Polonium Halos to prove an old earth, believing these radiohalos were formed by secondary radioactivity.  But his experiments proved they were not secondary, but were actually formed rapidly in the earth’s crust without any outside interference or cross-contamination.  This showed that the granite rocks in which these halos were found were extremely young.  The research has been caricatured and even lampooned by old-earthers of all persuasions, but never scientifically refuted.  Instead, Dr Gentry has been ostracized by the scientific establishment.

Gentry’s story is nothing new.  The President of Ball State University, which has actively promoted atheism, has banned her professors from even discussing intelligent design with their students.  There’s nothing like free speech!  Ben Stein’s film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, and the Discovery Institute in Seattle document many other cases of suppression of scientists who demur from the party-line.

Meanwhile, more problems surface.  For example, Evolutionists have found soft tissue in a T-Rex skeleton supposedly 65 million years old.  How can soft tissue survive for so long? can’t.  But there it is.  Does this evidence persuade dinosaur experts that dinosaurs lived in recent times?  That would be where the evidence led, right?  But of course not.  No more than ancient drawings of dinosaurs detailing even the patterns on the skin found all over the world influence them.  Worldviews get in the way!

The Facts and the Interpretations Which Are Attached to Them

Think about it.  Finding rapidly decaying (i.e. in 3 minutes) polonium halos in the foundational granite of the earth, which displays no traces of interference from outside sources, is a challenge to the standard models of geological formation.  If Gentry is right these halos were made at the very time when the granite was formed – very very quickly!  Hence, the age of the earth cannot be dated via any of the usual radiometric methods.  It couldn’t be anyway, since these methods give notoriously varied dates.  Moreover, fresh lava flows which have been subjected to radiometric dating produced results dating them as millions of years old!

What one does with this data depends upon the framework of interpretation permitted by the scientist.  So evolutionary scientists ignore data which points away from their theories.  Likewise with the dinosaur tissue, or the lack of fossil evidence for intermediate forms; or the fact that the early development of cells is ‘locked in’ and is not amenable to mutation.  Should a scientist start with the assumption that T-Rex died out 65 million years ago?  If he does, he will be looking at animal soft tissue though lenses which automatically discount recent dating.  The facts are in front of him, but his interpretation of the facts, which is determined by his worldview paradigm, force the evidence into an old age scenario which is never allowed to be questioned.

“Junk” DNA?

For many years biologists have been saying that there has to be a large amount of DNA which is “junk” DNA.  Because they believe in the Neo-Darwinian model of evolution through natural selection and mutation, that system absolutely requires trial and error in cell formation, and hence a lot of useless DNA.  By contrast, for over a decade, intelligent design theorists, using their information and engineering models, have been saying that since engineers design things from the top down, they build in to their designs only those things they need.  This means that if DNA had a Designer, one would not expect to find junk DNA.  The projection of the I.D. proponents has been shown to be right.  There is no “junk” DNA (although this is still being taught in the classroom).

Saying this does not mean we must buy into everything I. D. theorists are saying.  But they deserve a hearing: a hearing they are struggling to get.

The Facts Are Mute

Yes, we’ve all heard the phrase “the facts speak for themselves.”  But I hope you are beginning to see that it is not so.  Evidence “lays around” waiting for an interpretation to be affixed to it.  Sometimes that interpretation is right, and sometimes it is wrong.  In the Christian worldview the interpretation is right if it matches what God the Creator says about His world.  If God says, for example, that there was a worldwide flood, one would expect vestiges of truth to be handed down through many flood stories.  And indeed, there are well over fifty such flood stories from the ancient world, or from people groups whose history goes back to ancient times.  And the geological evidence for a catastrophic deluge is enormous – though unfortunately hidden from most students!  No, the facts do not speak for themselves.  They require interpretation.  But interpretation can be an awkward thing if the interpreter is wearing the wrong lenses.

Smith PropheticBooks

Review: Interpreting the Prophetic Books – Gary V. Smith

Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, pbk, 214 pages. 

This book by a recognized expert on the Prophetic literature serves as a competent introduction to the topic.  It is well arranged and readable.  The beginning grad student is always kept in mind.  Smith includes useful information even for those familiar with the field.  The first chapter covers style, genre and parallelism, etc. The author’s illustrations of parallelism in the Prophets is well done.  Chapter two provides good brief notes on each book, including major the themes.  Historical setting for each prophet is brought out in chapter three. Conservative dates are adhered to, which is reassuring (Joel is considered pre-exilic; Obadiah as exilic).

When we come to the fourth chapter on”Interpretive Issues…” I think Smith is well balanced.  Overall I was impressed with Smith’s coverage of the crucial matter of “literal” and figurative interpretation (114-120), although I cannot agree with his appeal to limitations within an historical context  (via R. Chisholm) to make Ezekiel’s Temple non-literal (123).  Yet as he progresses on to treat conditionality and near or far future prophecy he again gives a balanced assessment.  But the real (and nice) surprise comes on pages 131-136 in the comments about NT use of the OT, sensus plenior, pesher, and typology.  Although he can only take a few pages to make his points, and can only focus mainly on one OT passage (Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1), he nonetheless makes sound common sense judgments about these disputed topics.  For example, he is wary of double-fulfillment; is suspicious of fuller meanings, and rejects the use of pesher by biblical authors.  In discussing typology he says a a footnote that “There is a widespread abuse of typology that suggests that the Old Testament writers were in some way predicting the future, but there is seldom anything explicitly prophetic in most typology.” (135 n. 22).  Well said.  Although I wish smith had included J. H. Sailhamer’s insight about the Hosea passage (i.e. that the prophet was alluding to Numbers), this chapter is very well done.

The two final chapters do a good job of capping off the survey material with practical instruction on developing and preaching messages from these books.

As with so many discussions of “apocalyptic” this work gives the impression that it is a fully agreed-upon category instead of a rather loose “genre” whose main proponents are liberal scholars with distinctly higher critical understandings of authorship and history.  The distinction (if any) between apocalyptic and prophetic literature is noted though I think Smith might have said more here.  Is Amos’s vision of the plumb-line (Amos 7), or his vision of the baskets of fruit (Amos 8) really that less weird than Daniel’s four beasts (Dan.7)?

The parts where Smith deals with the importance of socio-economic and political context (ch.3) were somewhat hard to swallow.  It is okay to consider this information (or as much of it as we can really know) when reading these men, but to claim that one must know these extra-biblical contexts to safely interpret these books stretches the sufficiency of Scripture to breaking point.  Is this why the list of commentaries and helps at the end of the chapter include no older works?  But that is not a big criticism. At the end of the day I am happy to commend Interpreting the Prophetic Books to anyone interested in studying these Books of the Bible.


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (11)

Part Ten

As I bring this series to a close, I want to provide some summaries of the various rapture positions, along with a few pros and cons.  Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I understand that much more could be said in support of each position.  Still, my main goal has been to come at the doctrine from a slightly different angle and to present the theological issues which arise.


The posttrib position is that the church goes through the Tribulation.  Proponents of this view rightly call attention to what they see as a natural correspondence between the Second Coming of Jesus and the rapture of the Church.  Christ only comes once, they say, and it makes no sense to seek out any other event slotted into God’s calendar seven years before that great event.

Passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and John 14:1-3 do not refer explicitly to the timing of the rapture, and it is understandable that posttribulationists think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to separate the rapture and the Second Coming.  Also, while I hesitate to call Matthew 24:40-41 a rapture passage, I have said that (accepting it as an end trib passage), in light of Revelation 14 it has something going for it.

For me, the strongest verses for postribulationism are those in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.  These words are spoken to the church, and yet they imply that the saints are awaiting the revealing (apokalypsis) of the Lord in terms very reminiscent of advent passages like Isaiah 63 (cf. Rev. 14:19-20), Malachi 3:2 and 4:1. I admit that of all the texts appealed to by posttribulationists, 2 Thessalonians 1 gives me the most trouble.

Using the Rules of Affinity we might display it like this:

Proposition: “The church remains on earth until the Second Coming (viz. post-trib rapture)”

Text: “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” – 2 Thess. 1:7

On the face of it this looks like at least a C2 (an inevitable conclusion).  But the “Rules” only function properly when the context is verified.  And the context does not mention the rapture at all.  This means that the rapture view must still be studied via other pertinent verses.  The “Rules” would have to be brought in there and the conclusions may effect the “inevitability” of the result above.

The way I interpret it is that the comforting of the saints happens before the Second Advent on whichever view is taken, so these verses are not standalone verses which settle the wider argument.  What this means is that, like it or not, posttrib advocates must cast their nets wider to draw in specific rapture texts and fit them into their scenario.  While I am happy to admit that beginning with this passage the preponderance of evidence is with the post-tribulational position, I think it begins to weaken when other texts come fully into view.

Some problems for posttribulationism are, firstly, (and circumstantially) that one might expect the three main verses (1 Thess.4; 1 Cor. 15, and Jn. 14) to make reference to the Tribulation, but none of them do, which seems unusual, especially since this period of time does receive emphasis at various points within Scripture.

Second, as noted in Part 2, the ignorance of the rapture doctrine in 1 Thessalonians 4 compared to the knowledge of the Day of the Lord (1 Thess.5) indicates that they are not the same thing.  All one can say is that the one comes before the other, but more data is needed to try to understand when.

Another problem is what has been seen as the “yo-yo” effect of the church being caught up and coming right back down.  This looks pointless and appears to flatly contradict John 14:3.  One might get from under this by claiming that the “coming again” (erchomai) of which the Lord speaks is His coming to a saint at death, but I can not accept that as an explanation.

Fourthly, the fact that the church appears to be absent from the chapters in the Book of Revelation which refer to the Tribulation (i.e. Rev. 6-18), which appears to coincide with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (See Parts 4, 5, & 6) throws suspicion upon a posttrib scenario, especially when it is accepted that this period has national Israel squarely in mind.

In the fifth place, this position conflates national Israel with the Church and thus violates OT covenants with Israel, and has to do interpretive gymnastics with several crucial NT texts (e.g. Acts 1:3, 6-7; Rom. 11:24-27).

When we come to the interpretation of Daniel 9:24 things become even more suspect.  The transgression (of Israel in the context) is certainly not finished, and and an end of sins has not occurred.  Everlasting righteousness has not in any way arrived, and “the Holy Place” (not Messiah) has not been anointed.  Even if one spiritualizes the other prophecies in the verse, and ignores the introductory clause, it won’t work.  How could the stoning of Stephen or the armies of Titus be interpreted as a fulfillment of any of the six prophecies in this verse?

Finally, the teaching on Imminency must be faced (Part 8), along with the problem that all alternatives to pretribulationism must deal with, and that is the fact that once in the Tribulation and its troubles, however they are allocated according to mid, prewrath, or posttrib perspectives, people will know the year when Christ is coming back.  That surely goes against Matthew 24:36.  But the Church is instructed to watch for Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:9-10), which would be an exercise in futility if the rapture were not imminent, since signs and events do precede the Second Advent.

Still, posttribulationism does have enough data to pull together a hypothesis which can claim some scriptural support and is thus a C3. (more…)


Apologetics and Your Kids (7) – Touting Absurdity

Part Six

Since the Enlightenment, when unaided human reason was promoted to a place above the authority of the Holy Scriptures, it has been presumed that mankind can, at least in principle, explain himself and his surroundings without recourse to “the God hypothesis.”  Although they couldn’t agree among themselves about how to rely on the human mind, they “knew” at least one thing: God – if He or it existed, would have to pass their examinations and fit within their logical formulations.  The Creator would have to become subject to the creature.  Of course, their examinations were naively inapplicable, and their use of logic off-target.  The god of unbelief is always a straw man.

Unpreparedness Leads to Capitulation

One of the saddest capitulations to this point of view came from Christian scholarship.  Christians themselves swallowed the “dictates of reason” nearly wholesale, and tried to equate faith with this newly emancipated view of reason.  To boil it down, they resorted either to make Christianity “scientific”, or else to accept the separation that had been created.  The theological liberals were prepared to follow the second course (although they also saw no use in believing miracles).  The conservatives who wanted to remain faithful to the Bible and its message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, still felt the need to reconcile this faith with the new minted approach to science, and they tried to accommodate their beliefs to it.

The situation became even more pronounced once Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859.  Darwin provided a mechanism – natural selection – which, it was thought, eliminated the need to postulate a god who designed and made things.  From then on many Christians, following their scholars, embraced a theistic form of evolutionism, wherein God was supposed to have used evolution to “create.”  They did this because they thought at least a nominal kind of Christianity was the norm.  Hence, they were unprepared for the great departure from this “Christian” norm when they were confronted with it.  In short, they had not developed a proper biblical world and life view, and so their apologetics did not function within the biblical framework, but an ill-fitting foreign, and suddenly and antagonistic one.

Hooked on the Absurd

“Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.” – Richard Dawkins

Reading such a stridently sure and absolute assertion one might feel like throwing in the towel and embracing the evolution dogma.  The sheer confidence displayed in it almost protrudes through the page.  But before one gives in let it be noted that this same Richard Dawkins is on film telling people that has no idea how life got started and thinks it feasible that aliens started life off on earth (see the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed).  Recall also what was said about his allegiance to the deterministic forces of nature in the last post.  If Dawkins’ worldview is right, none of us can help thinking exactly what we’re thinking – and so all “reasoning” is illusory.

What do we do about this quote from someone who takes Dawkins’ logic and runs with it:

“Evolution teaches that “we are animals” so that “sex across the species barrier ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” —Peter Singer, “Heavy Petting,” 2001

That sentence, when one steps back and thinks about it, is so patently absurd, one wonders who would ever believe it.  Singer commends “dignity” and bestiality in the same sentence!  This is the same man who thinks new-born babies have no more value (or “dignity”) than slugs.

Of course, Singer is quite correct IF evolution is true and God does not exist.  Well, not only is evolution more in trouble today as a scientific theory than it has ever been (and it has always been in deep trouble as truth), it is really vacuous for Singer to speak about “status and dignity” at all.  Evolution is the creation-myth of atheism, held in place by interested parties with the power and the money.  It holds sway nowadays as science by judicial decree.  This is irregardless of the fact that it is utterly destructive of everything we used to prize in society: justice, peace, and freedom to do the right.

Just prior to the beginning of the Second World War, the Nazis told the German people that they had to invade Poland to defend themselves against the Polish aggressors.  Propagandists have always known that the bigger the lie, the easier it is for the masses to swallow.  This is because people reason it is so silly it has to be true.  And it is often the intellectuals who buy into the lie first; either for reasons of expediency, or because of misguided ideologies.  (As an aside, those who never leave “school” will tend to be more idealistic than those who have to earn a living in the real world).

Christians to whom God has given children should be aware of where the rhetoric of the world leads.  They should take note of what the Bible says about the world and its lusts, and how the wisdom of this world is so contrary to the true wisdom of God in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:20-24).  They should learn from the mistakes of the past and never yield an inch in their allegiance to the clear sense of God’s Word.  The world’s wisdom always terminates in absurdities like the touting of the irrational determinism of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, or the moral perversity of Peter Singer.  Without God their is no logic, no science, no stable ethics, and no love or justice.  When unbelievers use these it is in spite of their worldviews.  God in Christ must be the Source of these aspects of reality, and if we turn our eyes from Him (and all sinners do), we end up partnering with the world in its creation of the absurd.


Apologetics and Your Kids (6) – Avoiding Lazy Thinking

Part Five

Last time I drew attention to some fallacious ideas which circulate on the airwaves and in popular culture.  There are many more.  In fact, even Christians have manufactured some pretty misleading mottoes and aphorisms which they use as watchwords instead of Scripture.  Perhaps I’ll come back to that later, but right now I want to press on with the subject of worldviews.

As we have seen, a worldview is essentially an interpretation and outlook on life and its meaning.  This outlook often lies behind the basic beliefs of people, although it must be added that people very often let their worldviews go unexamined.  Let’s illustrate this with an example:

Many people will go to well known burger franchises and buy a cheeseburger even while knowing the ingredients are less than healthful.  It’s the same with chicken nuggets, which are often made from gizzards and other unmentionables.  If we gave critical thought to what we’re eating perhaps we would go for something else?  In a similar way, if people tried a bit of critical reflection on their underlying beliefs, perhaps many of them would realize that these worldviews fail to provide healthy support for day to day experience, or the societal values they deem important.

Lazy Thinking

But just here we hit upon a common problem.  The majority of people do not want to give much thought to where their worldviews eventually lead.  They don’t wish to consider the consequences of their beliefs.  How many evolutionists are prepared to conclude that their existence is just accidental, with no meaning and no values other than the ones they may choose to adopt?  How many of them will agree with Richard Dawkins that all their thoughts are reducible to their particular brain-chemistry, which lines up with his interpretation of the cosmos:

The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Now surely it follows from this that what we like to call “wicked people” people aren’t actually wicked? (Dawkins says there is no evil or good).  Their neurons just function in a way which make them commit acts against others which wedon’t like?  Dawkins himself (along with Christopher Hitchens and others) have branded Christianity as an evil.  But he has also called it “a virus of the mind.”  In other words, Christians are sick in the head.  Well, if we suffer from some sort of sickness, and there is no evil, how can we be evil?  This interpretation of Dawkins even manages to contradict some of his most cherished dogmas.

Likewise, we get men like Daniel Dennett, who believes “ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”  From such a position other questions naturally arise: Have Dennett’s genes also fobbed off on him the belief that ethics is an illusion?  What is “good and evil” and who is to decide the definition?  If my mind cannot help but think the way it thinks, then surely the same must be said of Dennett’s mind (or Dawkins’ mind)?  And who is to say Dawkins’s brain activity is superior to Hitler’s, or Jeffrey Dahmer’s, or the wildest eccentric out there, or yours and mine?

Nowadays the homosexual agenda has gained so much momentum that to gainsay it is to bring public opprobrium upon oneself.  The received wisdom is that because they are “made” that way, so we cannot say they are in the wrong.  The Christian will say that although homosexual urges are not necessarily evil (if they are thought of as temptations), homosexual fantasies or behavior are wrong.  In this regard they are the same as temptations to steal, or to get angry, or to be promiscuous.  Just because there may be physical manifestations which accompany these temptations does not mean it is alright to pursue them!  If we allow such things then where will we draw the line?  Already pedophiles are using the very same arguments as gay activists to condone their activity.  These are worldview issues, and so they are apologetic issues!

One of the best definitions of apologetics is this one:

Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life. – Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (2nd ed.), 17.

From this definition it is easy to see that we need to train our kids to think critically about Christian belief and non-Christian belief.  Simply “knowing that Jesus died for me” is not enough.  It has never been enough.  In former days this was clearly understood.  But for several generations believers have been lulled into the cozy but perilous reverie that “the gospel” (and sometimes a watered-down version of it) is enough to protect us and our children.  But the Bible contains a great deal more than the plan of salvation!



David Bentley Hart’s, ‘The Experience of God’ (Pt.1)

A review of David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Yale University Press, 2013, 376 pages, paperback. 

Among the most learned and entertaining, if not sometimes infuriating writers on the theological scene today is David Bentley Hart.  He is the author of such notable books as The Doors of the Sea, The Beauty of the Infinite, and Atheist Delusions.  Alongside this is his impressive portfolio of articles (in particular for First Things).  His ‘Christ or Nothing’, ‘Laughter of the Philosophers’, and ‘Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark’ are classics!

The present work investigates the very real transcendental features of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. These three aspects of the human condition are fundamental to any true exploration and comprehension of reality.  They also represent insurmountable obstacles to the naturalistic paradigm which holds sway in the minds of many within academe.  In this post I shall restrict my comments to Being and Consciousness.

It is Hart’s contention, as it has been the contention of all Theists in the classical Christian tradition, that only the living God can stand behind these facts of our existence.  To fit them within a materialist philosophy is to extinguish them altogether.  But Hart is speaking of “God’, as defined in the classical traditions as the Source and Ground of Being, or as “Pure Actuality” in Aristotelian/Thomistic terms. Not, let it be said, the larger-than-life demiurgic god which the atheists love to rattle their sabres against, but the transcendent Lord and Creator of everything else that is.

Of this god who cannot be God Hart writes,

In purely philosophical terms… it simply does not matter very much if some god named “God” might happen to exist, even if he should prove to be the unsurpassable and unique instantiation of the concept “god,” as that fact casts no real light on the enigma of existence as such.  Even if this demiurge really existed, he would still be just one more being out there whose own existence would be in need of explanation: the ultimate source of being upon which he and the world must both be dependent.  Confronted by so constrained a concept of God, the village atheist would still be well within his rights to protest that, even if the world comes from God, one must still ask where God comes from. (129-130).

Hurling flack at a deity who inhabits the same circle of existence as everyone and everything else is fair game.  But it isn’t significant as regards the God revealed in the Holy Bible (a fact which Jerry Coyne, who professes to have read the book, can’t seem to get straight).  Nor is it significant, says Hart, rather controversially, as a poniard to use against the One God of whom some Muslims and Hindus speak (something I will come back to).  Both non-believers and Christians need to be aware of the difference in speaking about the true God who is the independent Source of all other (contingent) being.  Hence, says the author, “there can be no distinction between what he is and that he is” (133).

From this position the author moves on to defend Divine Simplicity as necessary (134-142).  Simplicity (and impassibility) have suffered somewhat from friendly fire of late, but Hart reasons that these are important and necessary truths about God.  It was good to meet with  such an affirmation in the book.

Also mandatory, although rarely faced up to, is the materialistic aporia channeled to us by the New Atheists and the scientific majority if we take their ontology to heart.  There is no mind and hence no goal behind existence. There are only mechanisms, and any appearance of purpose; any appeal to final causes is illusory. Speaking of the functionality inherent in the structures within and without, Hart observes,

Nothing within the material constituents of those structures has the least innate tendency toward such order, any more than the material elements from a watch is composed have any innate tendency toward horology.  And, if complex rational order is extrinsic to what matter essentially is, how much more so must rationality itself be; for consciousness would appear to be everything that, according to the principles of mechanism… The notion that material causes could yield a result so apparently contradictory to material nature is paradoxical enough that it ought to give even the most convinced of materialists pause. (154).

Consciousness “is a uniquely ‘first person’ phenomenon” (156).  “Electrochemical events are not thoughts.” (159).  Consciousness means individuality means self-hood.  Hart makes short work of “eliminativists” (like the Churchland’s) before moving on to present big problems for naturalistic accounts of consciousness.  These include “qualia” – those subjective responses to things which are our feelings alone.  Then abstract concepts are discussed.  Again, the inability of naturalism to tackle the most fundamental questions about the reality of number and mathematics is exhibited (185-187).  Then reason, and things like “language’s triadic semiotic structure” (189); then transcendental categories, and “Intentionality”, or “the fundamental power of the mind to direct itself toward something” (191), a segment I found especially helpful (191-197).  And finally, the unity of consciousness. He almost gets presuppositional as he suggests materialists ought to think twice about their commitment to their metaphysics (204).

Hart’s wit and skill as a wordsmith are never so much in evidence as when he is creatively stating the obvious.  I particularly loved this “pearler” on the overused analogy between a computer and a mind:

Software no more “thinks” than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word ‘pelican’ knows what a pelican is.” (219).

All computation, with all of its symbols, relies upon consciousness and is a top-down operation (223), just as all engineering is.  Not that the writer is interested in buttressing Intelligent Design (41, 59, 302); although I think he might have represented their case better.

Anyway, from here he becomes more obviously theological; at least for a few pages.  The discussion basically proceeds along scholastic lines, but it is none the worse for all that, and some of the language is (to me at least), spiritually edifying:

To speak of God… as infinite consciousness, which is identical to infinite being, is to say that in him the ecstasy of mind is also the perfect satiety of achieved knowledge, of perfect wisdom. (237). 

The reader may be forced to have that run past him again, but it is deep and wonderful.  It conjures up what we ought to mean when we absent-mindedly say “God is awesome”.

The next part of the review should be up in about a fortnight. 

Part Two


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (10)

Part Nine

This installment may be thought of as a digression, but I think it belongs to the overall argument.

Imagine a world where the removal of the saints from Planet Earth happened but no one had the foggiest idea of when that might be.  If the NT alluded to such a thing there would still be some hope that we just may be the ones to get called up.  The doctrine of the rapture would still be a “sure thing”, it just wouldn’t be very concrete in our minds. Well, as a matter of fact, as a starting place for considering the rapture this isn’t that bad; there are far worse ones.  A “worse” one would be the dogmatic insistence that the catching away of the Church as pretribulational is a dead-cert.  Another would be the blithe notion that the rapture occurs when Jesus returns to earth and any theories to the contrary are speculative fancies.

What we want when faced with studying the rapture is a method which casts its procedural net over all the relevant scriptures and tries to incorporate its results within the boundaries of more readily identifiable doctrines.  Taking fundamental and necessary (C1 & C2) biblical truths as a baseline, the various snippets of prophetic teaching which intersect what can be known about the rapture must be weighed and set within the most comfortable theological context: a context from which many objections can be answered, and the number of those that can’t are at least reduced.  This comes down to ones best choice among competing explanations (a C3).

In these posts I have put quite a bit of weight on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9.  A full exegesis of that passage (9:24-27) is beyond the scope of this series, and what persuades me may not persuade others.  One reason for this is the amount of work I have put into studying the biblical covenants and how they connect with the Return of Christ and His kingdom.  This is an important theme of Daniel 2, 7, 9 and 12, and it connects with many other elements in the Prophets.  (Chapters 2, 7 and 12 all concern events just before or at the final culminative kingdom of Christ (on earth!), so it is more than likely that chapter 9 does too).

Before bringing this series to an end with two summary posts I ask the reader’s forbearance once more as I again make an argument from this future time period. I have also tried to show that there exists a correspondence between the 70th week, especially from its halfway (3 1/2 year) point, and what is known as the Great Tribulation.  An obvious point of contact is the “time, times and half a time” formula found in both Daniel and Revelation.  In Matthew 24:8 our Lord speaks about “the beginning of sorrows”; an expression even prewrathers like Marvin Rosenthal believe refers to the first part of the Seventieth Week, even if he does not associate it with the “Tribulation” as such (nor the “wrath of God” for that matter), which he thinks comes after.  So it is pretty much agreed upon by all except those who try to squeeze it into the first century that the 70th week lies ahead of us.  However, a major difference surfaces between the pretrib position and mid, post and prewrath views concerning what I would see as an incongruity with God dealing with Israel and the Church in the 70th week.  As I have said before, in my reading of Scripture this period is determined on Israel (with whom God is not explicitly dealing right now), not the Church.  Moreover, it centers on Jerusalem and the temple.

The “Temple” and “Abomination” in the Seventieth Week

Daniel 9:26 stipulates that Messiah will be “cut off” after 69 of the 70 weeks.  The next verse says that “He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering”.  Some hold that this refers to the finality of the cross-work of Christ, which effectively made the sacrificial system redundant.  But this “positive spin” on the text has some problems.  For one thing the context (v.26) refers to “the people of the prince who shall come” destroying the city (Jerusalem), and the sanctuary (the Temple), which is hard to think of positively.  These two connected entities – Jerusalem and the temple – are featured heavily in the chapter (9:12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27).  In the book Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry tries to vindicate the “positive” interpretation, although he admits to difficulties.  I have the bad manners to quote myself in my review of that work:

To put it in a nutshell, the authors believe that the six items listed in Daniel 9:24 were all fulfilled in Christ at the first advent (541, 553-554 – though they admit “anoint the most holy person” is abnormal, typology again steps in to help).  “Messiah the Prince” or “Leader” of 9:25 is equated with “the prince [or leader] who shall come” of verse 26 even though it appears that he comes after “Messiah is cut off.”  From chapter 7:8, 23-25 the antichrist arises from the fourth kingdom (the Roman empire), seemingly just prior to the second coming (7:13-14 with 7:21-22).  This prepares the reader for “the people of the prince who is to come” who “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26).  Two questions loom before us if we follow Gentry’s and Wellum’s interpretation.  The first concerns the fact that the “he” of verse 26b causes the sacrifice and offering to cease “in the middle of the [seventieth] week.”  If this refers to Jesus then it also refers to His crucifixion.  That would leave three and a half years of the seventieth week left to fulfill.  This is generally where those who don’t like a second coming context will jump thirty-five or so years into the future and see fulfillment in Titus’s armies in A.D. 70.  Gentry admits the “people” who destroy city and sanctuary do “appear to be enemy armies” (560), so he has to read two peoples into the context: the Jews who “destroyed” the city metaphorically circa A.D. 30, and the Romans who adopted a more literal method in A.D. 70!  (more…)


Apologetics and Your Kids (5) – God, Man and the World

Part Four

Last time we looked at the importance of commending a Biblical Worldview to our children.  If we can communicate that, then we have given them a solid frame of reference from which they can comprehend the world about them and make decisions about which directions to take in it.  That is a valuable gift; and it is one that will be increasingly needed in the years ahead.

The Wisdom of the World Versus True Wisdom (1 Cor. 3:19)

I said last time that we would begin to see how the right worldview helps us do this.  Let me start by listing again those pat catch-phrases which are frequently met with in the world:

“Listen to your heart” – leaves out God and promotes utter selfishness and folly

“You have your truth and I have mine.” – An absolute statement which denies absolutes

“People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted” – Mere name-calling by someone who thinks they are right

“We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.” – Blind faith which contradicts known laws of nature, all the evidence of the rocks, and leads to the destruction of ethical principles and meaningfulness

“We decide our own fate.” – Usually said by those who would change their circumstances if they could.

I shall quickly address each saying using the Biblical Worldview.  Another way of seeing this is to ask ourselves, “how would the Lord Jesus answer this?”

1. “Listen to your heart”

The Bible: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool…” (Pro. 28:26).  This is because of the state of our hearts. They are deceitful and corrupt (Jer. 17:9), and spout forth all manner of evil (Mk. 7:21-23).  The second half of Proverbs 28:26 tells us, “but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.”  We should infer from this that we are not to listen to our hearts, but instead we are to listen to words which will make us wise.  In the verse right before it we are told, “he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.”  God made the ear primarily so we would hear Him!  The Biblical Worldview informs us about our propensity to lie to ourselves about ourselves (and others), and to ignore God’s wisdom.

2. “You have your truth and I have mine.”

The Bible: “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Jn. 18:37).  To the religious leaders Jesus stated,  “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.  But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” (Jn. 8:15-16).  So according to this, seeking our own personal “truth” aside from Jesus is judging according to the flesh.  Jesus contrasts this obviously false approach with His own.  Jesus is in agreement with God the Father who sent Him.

3. “People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted”

The Bible: “… you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say,`I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” (Jn.8:55).  Jesus claims that the religious leaders of the day, who were seen as great and godly, actually made fallacious claims when they said they knew God.  The Scriptures put people either in the realm of darkness or light (Jn.3:19-21; Eph. 5:8), depending on where they stand in relationship to God.  The pat saying above betrays itself as an example of the acme of bigotry, because it brands as intolerant those who disagree with its patently false claim.  If someone tells me that Jesus never existed, or that the Bible has been changed so that we don’t know what it originally said, then they are just plain wrong, and it is no sort of bigotry to gently tell them so.  What they feel about it, and whether they would like things to be different, might prompt them to slander me, but that has nothing to do with whether I’m right.

5. “We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.”

The Bible: “But from the beginning of the creation, God`made them male and female.’” (Mk. 10:6).  If anything is clear in the Bible it is that human beings (and all things else) were created; they did not evolve from some other creature over aeons of time! (Exod. 20:11; Psa. 94:9; 139:13).  Viewing oneself (and others!) as accidents leads to a very depressing and hopeless outlook.  Any search for meaning and worth is rendered futile.  In fact, “Futility” becomes the great codeword for existence.  This world was designed and made productive and beautiful with us in mind, by a God who will redeem it even though it is now cursed (Rom. 8:18-21).

6. “We decide our own fate.”

The Bible: “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Psa 33:10-11).  We cannot even know how long we shall be alive on this planet (Lk. 12:25), let alone contend with God (Job 40:2).  We don’t know what is around the next corner (Eccles. 8:7).  It is God who has put us on earth at this point in history: “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” (Acts 17:26).

Our Existence: A Triad

I have a friend who teaches police officers interviewing and interrogation skills.  He is himself an experienced ex L.A. cop who frankly admits that he holds up his former self as the poster boy of how not to do it!  But he has learned the art of reading people and he believes that if an interview with a suspect or witness fails, it is the fault of the interviewer.  He has boiled his observations down to three main categories: God, the self, and others.  He claims that if one can understand how a person relates to each of these realities, one will have a good grasp of the person and what they value (which can be used to draw the truth out of them).

God, self, and others is a triad.  A triad is a kind of three-in-one.  Each member of the triad is connected to the other two.  This triad deals with relationships, but I told my friend that his “God, self and others” triad was pretty close to my own theological triad: God, Man, and the World.  These three things are also inseparably linked.  You cannot think about the world without thinking about yourself and vice versa.  And even atheists cannot comprehend these two without facing the question of God; even if they always try to push Him away.

Hence, we as parents should make sure our kids know what Scripture says about these three: God, Man and the World.  And they must be told what the world says about these, and guided gently through the maze of folly which always comprises unbiblical thinking.

More to come…


Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 5 & 6

Parts Three and Four

Here are the fifth and sixth videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the pivotal role of the Lord Jesus Christ in “the Creation Project” set out in God’s Word; especially in His Covenants:



I hope that these six presentations elucidate my approach more clearly for some visitors to this blog.