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The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.7)

Part Six

God’s Transcendence versus Continuity

It is very important to notice the links between the creation accounts and ethical accounts.  In one way or another all non-biblical systems of belief paint a metaphysical picture of reality that is at once unified and diverse.  The unity is found in the indissoluble connection between heaven and earth, between man and the “higher powers”, or between the human animal and the Cosmos.  The diversity is seen in the various ways this connection is explained.  It may be explained by saying that we are merely the consequence of blind, purposeless matter coming together and developing in a certain way.  This is the secular evolutionary explanation in which man is no more significant than a slug (to cite atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer) because men, slugs and stars are composed of the same stuff arranged in different combinations.  The same feature is found in ancient pagan depictions of reality.  There is a real connection between the gods and the earth.  There are no exceptions, everything is connected; nothing is truly transcendent.

Old Testament scholar John W. Oswalt, defines “continuity” in this way:

Continuity is a philosophical principle that asserts that things are continuous with each other.  Thus I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually.  The tree is me; I am the tree.  The same is true of every other entity in the universe, including deity.  This means that the divine is materially as well as spiritually identical with the psycho-socio-physical universe we know.[1]

The ancient myths reflected an outlook on the world, and they memorialized that outlook.  Thus, “myth depends for its whole rationale on the idea that all things in the cosmos are continuous with each other.  Furthermore, myth exists to actualize that continuity.”[2]

Oswalt demonstrates that this “continuity” or connection between gods and humans and rocks is the key difference between the biblical worldview and its rivals, ancient and modern.  Rituals, however debasing they became, were thought to affect the god for whose benefit they were performed.  Just as the rumbling of thunder was construed as something happening among the pantheon above, so a festival or dance or sacrifice was believed to be noticed by those same gods.  This is the ancient idea of “the Great Chain of Being” which unfortunately got introduced into Christian thought through a misunderstanding of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics.

This “hierarchy of beings” is well described by David Bentley Hart:

God was understood as that supreme reality from which all lesser realities came, but also as in a sense contained within the hierarchy, as the most exalted of its entities.  Such was his magnificence and purity, moreover, high up atop the pyramid of essences, that he literally could not come into direct contact with the imperfect and changeable order here below.  He was in a sense limited by his own transcendence, fixed up “there” in his proper place within the economy of being.[3]

When Hart refers to God being “limited by his own transcendence” he is highlighting the incongruity of putting Him atop any chain of being.  In biblical terms, what we call God’s transcendence is His Lordship over everything He has made and upholds, together with His immanent working in providence.

Although there are things in common that the biblical creation narrative with ancient creation myths, these similarities shouldn’t surprise us once it is understood that these creation myths are partly derived from the original truths passed down from Adam and his descendents, twisted of course and corrupted as man rebelled against God and became polytheistic and superstitious, and lost the framework for true transcendence.

How different all this is from the creation accounts of surrounding nations!  Those all assume the eternity of matter in some guise.  This is why things like transcendental meditation, non-Christian prayer, voodoo, magic, sorcery, etc., are practiced in the belief that one can directly affect the world or the god in some way.  Even many atheists have a mystical side to them which reflects this idea.  Only within biblical spirituality does this continuity of being evaporate.[4]   God is the transcendent Lord over all He creates and He cannot be maneuvered or coerced to do anything which is contrary to His will.

So the doctrine of Creation as found in Genesis 1 and 2 sets up a theological and philosophical platform which ought to produce a way of looking at things which has radical divergences from those which are conceived of by the world.

In verses 28-30 we see that God the Creator makes everything, and then made the creature who was like Him.  Man had a vital role to play and a response to give in the project.  We see, then, an ethical dimension introduced at the start; the role and response were to be worshipful.

—————————————————————————–

[1] John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 43

[2] Ibid, 45

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 203-204.

[4] Of course, where certain Christian formulations may be overly reliant on Greek thought (e.g. some Thomistic reliance upon Aristotle).  This is still a problem in some quarters.

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The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.6)

Part Five

Image and Function in Genesis 1:26-28

Another significant fact related by these verses is our creation in the image and likeness of God.  We cannot here enter into all the debates about the imago Dei, but some few things should be said.

Firstly, God does not say ‘according to My likeness.’  He says ‘Our likeness’.  The “Let us” statement is no plural of majesty, since it appears to be ideational, and is to be understood (I believe) as a statement of plurality in the Speaker.  The question arises then, in what way is God a plurality?  This question is not fully answered until the NT era.  Or, on the other hand, and as much OT scholarship insists, is the plurality meant to convey some sort of heavenly council scene, such as one finds in ANE accounts of the assemblies of gods?

If the latter is the case then one will have to go outside of the Bible for added data to interpret the passage.  This indeed is what many scholars in the evangelical community do.  But if we pause for a moment and read the context we quickly see that such an interpretation must be wrong; for the Speaker goes on to say, ‘Let us make man in our own image, according to our own likeness.’  And, in line with the words/actions pattern which we have already noted, it says, ‘So God created man in his own image’, and underscores it right after with, ‘in the image of God he created him.’  That ought to clear up the interpretation.

“Man” (adam) here is plural: ‘male and female’.[1]  Both are made in God’s image.  There is no hint of a conversation between God and the angels (which would not mirror an ANE council of divinities anyway).  Angels are nowhere said to be made in God’s image and likeness.  Plus, creation is a grand prerogative of God.  Why would the Creator discuss His creative proposals with creatures?  Angels have no part in the work of creation (See Isa. 48:11).

The passage also states that man was to be given dominion over ‘all the earth’ not just Eden. This must be kept in mind when we reach chapter 2.  The dominion applies to the function of man and woman as God’s image-bearers.

In the third place, just what constitutes the image of God?  Again, many today would claim that the image includes the function as well as the constitution of man.[2]  Unsurprisingly, resort to ANE records features largely in their arguments.  But the text appears to make the function contingent upon the image.  In other words, man and woman cannot fulfill their function until they are made in God’s image.  This would restrict the image to at least our material and immaterial natures.

But then we must enquire whether the image assumes the material part of human beings along with our immaterial natures.  Here I think we are on safer ground if we define the image and likeness classically along non-physical lines.  If we make the image merely physical we run into the problem of what God looks like.  Our difference from the rest of the created realm is not just physical.  Fish and birds and cattle and creeping things differ physically one from another as much as we do from them, so it is doubtful that we image God merely physically.[3]

On the other hand, can we dismiss the possibility that both the soulish and the physical aspects of man image God?  Authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum point out that,

“the traditional view is inadequate… because it does not come to grips with the fact that “image” normally refers to a physical statue and cannot be exegetically validated as the author’s intended meaning or the first audience’s natural understanding of the text in terms of the ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic setting.”[4]

But this begs a rather crucial question.  Did Moses report the words God actually spoke in Genesis 1:26-27?  Nobody else was around, and certainly God meant what He said in the rest of Genesis 1, as we have seen.  That being so, the matter of whether people of the ANE living in or after Moses’ time (ca. the fifteenth century B.C.) thought “image” meant a physical statue is by the bye, and may even be anachronistic.  The context will have to tell us.  Gentry and Wellum opt for “rulership and sonship” as the image.[5]  But this leaves us with the problem of the spread of little rulers and sons of God upon the earth.  If everyone is a ruler then surely nobody is.  (and if “image” equates to sons, what about daughters?  In OT times – if we’re insisting on “cultural setting” – daughters did not enjoy the same rights as sons).  The biblical text leans toward thinking of the image primarily as non-physical and the body as the vehicle for the expression of the image in the extended world.

Anticipating the Human Form?

Reading the progression in Genesis 1, we follow a logical as well as a chronological order.  Dry ground comes before plants and trees.  The plant kingdom is readied before creatures are made to live off them.  The apex of the creation week is the fashioning of man from the dust of the ground.[6]  Man is God’s image-bearer: a stupendous privilege and responsibility, and he is given dominion over what God has just created.

(more…)

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Law, Gospel and Faith

This is an old article, but the subject is always relevant.  

A prospective student at Telos Institute asked me a good question about my view on Law versus the Gospel.  As part of my reply I sent him the text of a letter I’d written to someone who had criticized a lecture of mine on the Decalogue.  This individual had claimed that Christians were sanctified solely by faith plus nothing else, and that the law did not even provide a normative standard for ethics.  Here is my reply (changed in a few places) to this person’s criticism.

Dear Friend,

I am happy to address your criticism of my lecture, “The Ten Commandments (1)” in my “Christian Ethics” series.  It is vital we protect the Gospel of justification by faith and the correct teaching on sanctification.  If I am indeed guilty of teaching that the Decalogue is, as you put it, “a standard of conduct to gain acceptance before God” (emphasis added), I deserve your reproof.

Sadly, I think you have not understood my teaching and have thus misrepresented me (listen, e.g., to my lecture on “Law and Gospel” at Spirit & Truth).  Still, I am glad of this opportunity to add some clarification.

The thrust of your complaint is seen in these words: “We are not saved by the keeping of the law of Moses nor are we progressively sanctified by the law.  It is all of God by grace!”

To this I can only write, “Amen!”  I agree entirely.  So why the confusion?  After re-listening to the lecture I have concluded that one of the following statements triggered your objection:

  1. I speak of the Ten Commandments as “God’s way of summing up godly conduct.” – But I immediately qualify what I mean by stating emphatically the proviso; “that godly conduct is always expressed in love.”  This harks back to the previous lecture on “The Primary Forms of Love,” where I tried to delineate what that love is by using Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23.  I then refer to the Ten Commandments (minus the Sabbath command) as encapsulating “…aspects of the primary forms of love.”
  2. I go on to say that any course on Christian conduct would be odd if it ignored the Commandments since “they were given to regulate behavior.”  – This was just to say that the Commandments were given for an ethical purpose.  The use of the adjective “regulate” here simply implies “adjustment.”  For example, how do you know that stealing or adultery is wrong?  Simple, you go to Scripture (Exod. 20:14-15 in the OT; Rom. 13:9 in the NT).  Why is it wrong? I answer, because these commandments reflect God’s own character (e.g., He is truthful, just, faithful, etc.), and as such they possess normative moral authority over a Christian.  Thus, if one is to be “conformed to the image of Christ” he will be conformed more and more to the Decalogue.  This is important to notice since the Law cannot regulate behavior as a “rule of faith.”  This is why I stress the internal function of the Law (love) and not the external function.   Thus understood, “the law is a spiritual guide.”

Let us deal quickly with the first part of your charge, which has to do with justification and salvation.  Now, as you say, “The law justifies no one.”  Agreed!  Where, then, do I even remotely infer that it does?  This is a course on Christian Ethics, not non-Christian morality.  Indeed, as I am at pains to repeat throughout the course (including this very lecture!), a right relation to God through the new birth is a pre-requisite to knowing and loving Him.  This is precisely because Christian ethics is an internal as well as an external matter.  The internal aspects mold the external actions.

On, then, to your main accusation: we are not “progressively sanctified by the law.”  Certainly we are not, if what you mean is the futile religious conformity to the law.  But I never say that we are sanctified that way.  In fact, in the lecture on “Law and Gospel” (Lecture 15), I expressly repudiate such a teaching.  The Law as an external standard has absolutely no authority over the Christian (e.g. Gal. 2:16, 19; 3:1-3, 11-12 – You see, I have read Galatians).

Have you not noticed how Paul employs the Commandments (though not the Sabbath) in his Epistles? (more…)

1,2 Chronicles

Merrill’s New Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

A review of Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015, 637 pages, hdbk

Among readers of the Old Testament (you know, those creatures of legend that used to inhabit churches), the Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles would not rank too high on their list of favorites.  Even zealous preachers would, given the choice, prefer to go through 1 & 2 Kings rather than Chronicles.

But these neglected books (one book in the Hebrew Bible) are the only ones which traverse the entire history of Israel, even if they do so by concentrating mainly on the fortunes of the tribe of Judah, particularly the line of David, and the fate of Jewish worship under a succession of kings.  A key underlying theme concerns the self-identity of the Davidic monarchy as related to the Davidic covenant (see the excellent treatment of the Theology of the Book, 57-68).

Eugene Merrill was a wise choice to write the commentary.  Anyone familiar with his Kingdom of Priests will know about his attention to detail, faithfulness to the biblical text, and refusal to swallow the camels of historical criticism.  As the reviewer can personally testify, Dr. Merrill is a churchman, and his book is a fine exposition for the preacher and teacher of the Bible.

As is usual with this impressive series, the comments are deep enough to cover the important items: text, exegesis, explanation and application.  Merrill even includes twelve excurses on topics like “The Angel of YHWH”, two on “Holy War”, “Old Testament Historiography”, issues of chronology in relation to extra-biblical events.

For me the real treasure of this commentary are the chapters handling the “Theology of…” which close out each section.  These expand the fine summary in the Introduction and they deserve careful attention.  As 1 & 2 Chronicles are, first and foremost, theological histories, these chapters are invaluable.

In my opinion this is the best place to go to study these books, and to preach them!

Sad to say, the editing of the Commentary leaves a lot to be desired in the area of proofing of errors.  Also, once again for this series, there are no indexes, and there’s no excuse for that!

 

I received the commentary free from the publisher.

 

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The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.3)

The Spirit and Plurality in the Godhead

What is clear from the second verse of the Bible is that the Spirit of God was superintending the process of creation. The word for “was hovering” or “brooded” (merakhepet, 1:2) implies a determination to act.  It strains credulity to think that the Spirit brooded over a glob of matter for billions of years before deciding to do something with it.  There is no logic to starting the work of creation by bringing forth matter and then leaving it all in idle suspension.  The making of the unformed earth was with the intention of forming it!

As we are but two verses into the Genesis account it would be premature to think that the “Spirit (ruah) of God” can be distinguished from “God” in the first verse.  But already the verb “brooded” discloses personality.  The ‘S’ should therefore be capitalized.  This is no inanimate breath.  The same Holy Spirit who would come in to a person and regenerate them, making them “new creatures in Christ”(2 Cor. 5:17), is the power behind the formation of the Cosmos.

Nevertheless, the writer is not here teaching about the Trinity.  That will be done when the Apostle John takes up this passage in his grand prologue.  Yet before this first chapter ends it will start to become a distinct possibility that the reader is being told there is a plurality within the one God.

No evangelical Christian has any problem with a “canonical reading”, which sees the Trinity in the act of creating.  But the text of Genesis does not include the doctrine.  It is revealed progressively.  Going to John or another author for more light on these verses is not wrong, just so long as we understand what it is we are doing.  We are bringing John’s added information into our comprehension of the creation narrative (the only actual creation narrative in Scripture.  Other passages refer to creation but do not describe it), but we are not altering anything in the creation account by so doing.  One later direct statement is throwing complementary light on an earlier one.  Unfortunately, there are common uses of “canonical” interpretation which allow a later passage to effectively overpower and change what seems to be deliberately and carefully declared in an earlier passage.  This is misguided, creating tension where none exists, and promoting eisegesis.

When we arrive at Day six and the making of the man and the woman we are confronted again with the plural pronouns “us” and “our” in verse 26.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”

But this is qualified with the singular pronoun in the next verse:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The most natural way to understand these verses is to see a plurality in God’s unity.  It is not wise to guess at some angelic council which God is addressing.  For one thing angels are never said to be made in God’s image.  That privilege seems to be reserved for those created to have dominion over the earth. The pantheons of ancient civilizations cannot provide a backdrop for the words because the Bible is strictly monotheistic.  If Genesis set forth a teaching about Councils of gods deciding matters in creation week it would be natural to think of the “Let us…our image” language in such terms.  But there are no gods to speak to in Scripture, and angels are servants of God.  They do not comprise some sort of celestial committee to decide weighty matters like the making of man. (more…)

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The Creation Narrative – Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.2)

Part One

The Bible’s Opening Verse

As has often been observed, the opening verse of the Bible does not give an argument for the existence of God.  In line with its claim to be the Word of God it assumes a position of Divine authority immediately.  Scripture has the right to tell us!  It does not pander to our fallen desire for proof.  The proof is in the address.  God will eventually reveal Himself as the “I Am” – the self-existent and self-contained One.  He does not argue His creatures into admitting that designation.  It is assumed at once.  When we open the Bible we are straight away presented with a choice.  The choice is between the claims of God as Creator or the claims of our own autonomy.  This claim to higher authority never desists in the narrative, and in every place where autonomy is portrayed the consequences of getting our authorities mixed up is dire.

“God created.”(Gen. 1:1).  This is a creation ex nihilo (from nothing), not a creation ex materia (from preexisting materials).  The verb bara (“created”) always refers to God as Creator; never to other makers of things.  He is “before all things.”[1]  There is no dualistic character to the universe: God and matter.  Matter is the stuff of the material world, but it is itself brought into being by the living God, who alone is eternal.  This is in distinct opposition to all other creation stories, ancient and modern.

Even the myth of stellar evolution and the Big Bang[2], which can only be fitted into the Creation story with violence, must itself give to dead matter what it needs to construct itself into stars and galaxies, planets and fauna.  Seen this way the Word of God begins as a straight-ahead challenge to the word of man.  Gerald Bray has observed,

almost all of the major church fathers wrote commentaries on the creation narrative in Genesis, because they understood that the Christian doctrine of creation was antithetical to what most ancient philosophers taught about the origin and nature of matter.” [3]       

The “heavens and the earth” form an independent clause, which indicates the likelihood that the first verse is a summary statement of what comes next.[4]  There is more than a hint of a kind of inclusio with 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.”[5]  What was begun in 1:1 is “completed” in 2:1.  But, as we shall shortly see, this completion was not consummation.

A popular teaching in some circles is to see a time gap intervening between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2.  Exegetically speaking there is no warrant for such a thing.[6]  We ought never to allow pressure from the world to force upon us any rash employment of our imaginations, all for the sake of interposing our accommodations to naturalistic science.  The Word of God will often disagree with those who look at things independently.[7]  Any attempt to separate the first two verses by millions and billions of years is based on misunderstandings of a few passages in the Prophets and cannot be countenanced from Scripture.  Moreover, as with any intrusion of unscriptural reason, these overtures to contemporary science end up creating problems down the road.  The same must be said for “analogical” and framework interpretations.  The Bible as it stands supports nothing but a recent creation of the universe.[8]

Disorder but not Distortion

From the second verse onwards the perspective is that of an observer from planet earth, the place of the writer, although it is not the place of the true Author.  Moses[9] is writing here about things no human being witnessed.  His Source is the Creator. (more…)

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The Creation Narrative – Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.1)

Creation and Communication

Without the creation of Adam and Eve the whole sequence of days which preceded them would be a rather futile exercise. If the sequence found in the Bible’s very first chapter is to signify anything as a sequence, it had to be an actual seven day sequence.  Otherwise it is hard to see why ordinal numbers would be used to describe the process.

Also, without observers capable of recognizing and wondering after God’s wonders around them, God’s disclosure, and with it what we call Theology, would be a moot: and so would everything else beyond the Divine Eternity.  God did not have to create to satisfy any longing within Himself.  Although the ideas within the mind of the Creator which led up to Him becoming a Creator are not vouchsafed to us, we must realize that since love is communicative at its core, any creation by the God of love would be language-based.  This is why the creative days lead up to man and God’s speaking to man.  Man is communicative through language for the main purpose of talking back to God in love.  A loving Creator will make a talking creature; someone to converse with and who will talk to Him.  This is what human beings are.  This is our status, our purpose in the world.  Without mankind the world is just a great museum.

To create, the Lord of all things had to impose a purpose upon things. Something for them to do which, though it might reflect His glory in some way, would also make it other than His own majesty. Creation has an integrity all its own. Though it all depends on God moment by moment, yet it has its own God-given value, and is as real as its Maker.

Within this created reality God has placed human beings. Though not hailing from the same conservative viewpoint as myself, Wright and Fuller sum up the Bible’s opening account admirably.

The creation story of Genesis remains unique among the many myths, legends, and scientific explanations provided by the ancient and modern worlds. The opening phrase sets the tone for the whole presentation: ‘In the beginning God…’ God stands at the beginning of all things as their Creator. And this God is not a capricious deity or a blind force; he is not a mere ‘principle of order’; he is a person, who created a good and beautiful world which reveals his glory, his power, and his love. And in the center of this marvelous creation is man, the climax of God’s work, set here as a steward, responsible to his Creator for all he does with the world over which he is given dominion. – G. Ernest Wright & Reginald H. Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God, 49

We “know” God and we image God (Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, “Theology”, the knowledge of God and His works, is the first knowledge available to man. It is the source and context of all other knowledge open to his ken. It does not appear so now because there is something radically wrong with how man thinks.  His source and context has shifted more onto himself than his Maker.  Our plight is, therefore, in a deep sense, hermeneutical. Our interpretation of our environment was intended to be a Divine – human co-operative affair.  All the masses of knowledge which we would acquire would be “wise knowledge” (chokmah), informed by our relationship with our benevolent Lord.  To anticipate the end of the story, this is how it will be after Jesus returns, and in the eternal kingdom.  So the Book of Proverbs reminds us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7), where “knowledge” is a synonym for wisdom (as seen in the companion verse, Prov. 9:10).

God the Creator stands behind all true knowledge (as opposed to ‘knowledge falsely so called’ – 1 Tim. 6:20).  And as Adam and Eve came from the hand of God they appear as knowing, communicating beings, fully able to hear and learn from God. The devastation of the Fall, which warped our environment and our senses, instilled in us an independent path of interpretation. It also had the effect of lessening our cognitive powers. As magnificent as are the achievements of men and women (at least from our own point of view), they would pale in significance when compared to what a civilization of perfectly functioning humans could achieve together under God’s tutelage.

The first two chapters of the Bible transport us to a time before the entrance of sin. A time led up to by a meaningful progression of creative work. But as we have said, it was rendered meaningful because God made the man and the woman to understand Him.

Part Two

Harrison

Science Versus Religion: A New Angle

The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, 320 pages.

The battle between Science and Religion has been presented to the wider public as a struggle between reason and superstition.  In the present intellectual climate, where the ghosts of logical positivism have been far from exorcised from the corridors of scientific thinking, any countering of the reigning attitude is most welcome.  The volume under review is an absorbing historical account of the way the words scientia and religio have been used through time, and how they have changed their meanings since about the middle of the 19th century.  The book under review is scholarly yet readable, comprising six chapters, an epilogue, fifty plus pages of notes, and indices.

It may seem that a book-length study on two archaic words would scarcely qualify as a riveting read, still less that it would be of any relevance.  But Peter Harrison, who is a distinguished historian of science at the University of Queensland in Australia, has managed to produce a study which does both things.  The resultant work is a real contribution to the Science versus Religion debate; a debate that has been impacted to a large degree by its wrong understandings of the terminology.

In six well documented chapters the author ranges from ancient and medieval beliefs about the world and about a life well-lived to the changes in point of view ushered in during the 16th century and especially during the Enlightenment and its aftermath.  When we think of “religion”, or even “faith” today, we think about a certain tied-down set of beliefs.  This impression becomes stronger when it is contrasted with “Science” – the ideal of which (often portrayed by scientists themselves) is the dispassionate search for facts via detached experimentation and cool analysis.  But neither view, whether or not it is the correct definition of the words at the present time, should be thought to capture the mindset of most people, scientists included, prior to about 1850.  Harrison shows that before that time, and certainly before the Reformation had caught hold, the Western mind saw both scientia and religio in terms of development in the attainment of inner virtue (e.g. 47-48).  As he puts the matter later on, “Modern religion had its birth in the seventeenth century; modern science in the nineteenth.  Properly speaking, then, this belated appearance of “science” provides the first occasion for a relationship between science and religion.” (147).

From this point of view it becomes obvious that a critical delving into the past is essential to help in clearing away the rhetoric and the false assumptions which have accumulated over the past century or so.  The basic theme of the book is that there has been no “warfare” between science and religion; at least not until relatively recently.  The author’s object is to prove that, contrary to what is usually supposed, the two terms, “Science” and “Religion” have not traditionally described two distinct activities whose definitions have remain unchanged over time (6).  Rather, the two words share a mutuality historically; a shared trajectory which needs to be understood so as to bring balance to the present arena of conflict.

Briefly then, the word “Religio” was seen as part of the improvement of the individual, particularly in the cultivation of the interior live; of piety in other words (7).  The concern of the ancients as well as the Medievalists, was “for moral and spiritual formation” (40), more than to objectify doctrine.  Thus, “early discussions about true and false religion were typically concerned not with belief, but rather with worship…” (8).  Meanwhile “Scientia” was about the accrual of intellectual virtue through the use of good mental habits (11, 13, 15, 69).  This is part of the reason why modern appeals to Greek ideas of science to support the contemporary naturalistic consensus are totally misguided (25f.).  In fact, Harrison claims that these forbears saw theology as being an important part of science (31-33, 52).  The Stoics, for instance, held up theology as “the most elevated branch of physics.” (31).  This also means that attempting to read the Greeks as if they were on the same page as scientific naturalists simply ignores their understanding of natural philosophy (211 n.12 & n.14), and the different ideas of pagans and Christians as to the best means of pursuing spiritual growth (37f.).

Seeing Christianity as a way, even if it is the best way, of improving mind and soul, goes to explain the easy appropriation of pagan philosophers by the likes of Justin, Clement, and Origen (41).  Tertullians’s opposing Jerusalem and Athens might be thought of as a reference more to a “mode of life” than to doctrinal standards – a contention which, it must be said,  appears to be at odds with Tertullian’s argument in the Prescription where he insists that Christian truth “is our palmary [i.e. admirable] faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”  Here I think Harrison overplays his hand, but he makes enough sense to contribute value to topic. (more…)

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The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8

“Rule” 7

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8: Never ground a teaching on disputed, ambiguous or debated texts (e.g. Matt. 10:23).  At best they may serve to support a given position.  Doctrines should come from the strongest possible connections between text and teaching.

When one is setting forth a proposition, the cogency of it and the logical extent to which it may be propounded depends much on the quality of its substantiation.  The gauge of “quality” would include things such as clarity, context, directness, and of course, relevance.

The descriptions “disputed”, “ambiguous”, and “debated” are somewhat interchangeable, and I do not want to set anything in stone, but for my purposes I have distinguished between them.  Whether you choose to follow me is of little importance to the overall point that I am trying to make.

By a “disputed” text I have in mind the disciplines of textual criticism and Bible translation.  (I want to make clear here that what is considered as spurious by liberal scholars with all of their historical critical biases will be considered authentic by an evangelical Bible believer.  Disagreements with non-biblical forms of scholarship does not concern this subject).  But, for instance, repairing to Mark 16:18 to get biblical permission to handle poisonous snakes in a worship service is wrong-headed in at least two ways.  First, there is nothing in the context about church meetings.  But second, the passage itself is considered a variant reading.  Since the middle of the 19th century the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel have been doubted by many good Christians as being a part of the original text of this Book.  Whether you think they ought to be retained or not (and personally I do), it would be unwise to try to settle a doctrine with a passage that many scholars and commentators are decidedly convinced shouldn’t be there.

In a related manner it would be imprudent to develop a (false) doctrine of a kenotic emptying of Christ’s divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence from the translation of Philippians 2:7 as “He emptied Himself” rather than the less literal but more advisable rendering, “He made Himself of no reputation” (see B.B. Warfield’s masterful article on the passage).

To the degree that there is some ambiguity in a selected passage it is wise to take such a text as a possible supporter of another clearer text.  So, for example, 1 John 1:1 speaks of “the Word of life”.  But is it referring to Jesus Christ or is it referring to the Gospel or the Scriptures?  The majority say that the phrase is speaking of Christ, and it may well be.  But the point here is that if one begins their doctrine of Christ with the verse, or even bases an assertion on the verse, that assertion is only as good as the argument for Christ as the subject of the verse.  Better to go elsewhere.

We are all familiar with the slogan about deriving “the right doctrine from the wrong texts”, and a more serious error still occurs when we get the wrong doctrine from any texts.  One should not start his teaching of any doctrine with a text which is disagreed upon among different Bible interpreters. Whenever setting forth what the Bible teaches (which is always loaded with the claim that this is what God says), one ought in every case to reach for the very clearest and least disputed passages.

If we wish to teach on the deity of Christ or the Trinity we should avoid the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7).  Similarly, we should not be going to 2 Corinthians 3:14 to assert that the OT Canon was closed at the time Paul wrote his epistle, since it is very likely that the Apostle had in mind the Mosaic covenant, which he contrasts with the new covenant of which he is a minister (2 Cor. 3:6).  The issue cannot be decided by such proof-texting.

This Rule also deals with what I have called “debated texts”.  A debated text here is a scripture about which there may be disagreements about who exactly is being addressed.  The text mentioned in Rule 8 says this:

When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Matt. 10:23)

Once we allow the idea that Jesus is speaking about His disciples in this verse, then the coming of the Son of Man in the context has to be spiritualized as a figurative coming in judgment in A.D. 70.  (This will lead to a violation of Rule 9).

In Mark 11:23-24 Jesus makes a statement that has us all running for the hills:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

What on earth is going on here?  The Mount of Olives is still in the same place it was when Jesus made this announcement.  Furthermore, we do not see flying mountains (or houses or people for that matter) unless we taking powerful substances which we should stop taking.  So using the verse to teach on the limitless possibilities of confident prayer rather than using it to underscore the power behind confident prayer in line with the purposes of God would be a violation of this “rule.”

The next Rule picks up where this one leaves off.

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Scientism and Naturalism

A follow up to Scientism isn’t Science

Naturalism is defined by Stewart Goetz & Charles Taliaferro in this way:

Naturalism – very roughly – may be defined as the philosophy that everything that exists is a part of nature and that there is no reality beyond or outside of nature. – Naturalism, 6

Something being “a part of nature” is here meant to exclude the supernatural.  Naturalism then is opposed to supernaturalism.  It is seeing all things as natural and nothing as being supernatural.  It is this view of the world which informs scientism, and it is this same view which informs modern scientific procedure.  Although it is important to say that the procedure does not lead every scientist to embrace scientism (the belief that all questions about reality can be scientifically determined), scientism certainly needs the procedure.  This procedure is what is called “methodological naturalism” (MN).

Make no mistake about it, the definition of naturalism accepted by most scientists is freighted into their understanding of MN.  This is to say the word “naturalism” in methodological naturalism bears the same metaphysical meaning as it does in secularist philosophical naturalism of the sort promoted by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne and the rest.  And this ought to surprise nobody.  For the method which leads to naturalism must be logically set on its course by naturalism.

We may wish to distinguish philosophical naturalism from methodological naturalism because we think they are separate things.  We may want to assert that the “naturalism” of methodological naturalism is different than the “naturalism” of philosophical naturalism (PN).  But that minority position is a weak one for the reason that it involves an equivocation.  If, for the minority, the “naturalism” of MN is not the same as the “naturalism” of PN then perhaps it would be better all round for these equivocalists not to use the term methodological naturalism at all.  From my point of view, I think this would be advisable so as to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding, especially for Christian supernaturalists who believe that the laws of nature do not hang in the deterministic ether, but are reliant every moment upon the powerful word of God.  They should not and need not be in denial of this central fact when pursuing science, but they may have to rename their method to better reflect a biblical position.  Perhaps something like “reasoned” or “critical empiricism”?

Is it all to no Purpose?

The ingredient which is supposed to be absent from MN is teleology.

If strict naturalism is true, then there is no ultimate and irreducible teleological explanation of any event, let alone our actions, in terms of a purpose. – Naturalism, 13.

It can be admitted that science could not proceed much if “God did it” was the answer to every question. But that is a trivialization of the biblical worldview.  The question which leads to science and encourages its pursuit is “How did God do it?”  That leaves the scientist free to analyze the natural world without pretending that it is everything that exists.  God’s purpose would not then interfere with the accumulation of data and theorizing.

Yet teleology is not only essential to understanding basic truths (e.g. the heart is for pumping blood; a stick of chalk is for a chalkboard; a lab coat is for wearing in a laboratory), it is basic to many enterprises which are covered by the word “scientific.”  Detecting purpose is at the very center of archaeology, forensics, and other pursuits in historical science.

Michael Polanyi wrote,

Our vision of the general nature of things is our guide for the interpretation of all future experience.  Such guidance is indispensable.  Theories of the scientific method which try to explain the establishment of scientific truth by any purely objective formal procedure are doomed to failure.  Any process of enquiry unguided by intellectual passions would inevitably spread out into a desert of trivialities.  Our vision of reality, to which our sense of scientific beauty responds, must suggest to us the kind of questions that it should be reasonable and interesting to explore. – Personal Knowledge, 135.  

Every notion of guidance suggests a goal or purpose.  There are no guides on the road to nowhere.  And although we may not know where the road leads we surely wouldn’t travel down it if we didn’t expect it to bring us out in a fruitful eventuality.  Pretending to ignore teleology brings on scientific reductionism – a reductionism which will threaten to strangle the parent which gave birth to it.  Polanyi’s insistence in the inescapability of tacit or personal knowledge; what today is usually called “first-person” knowledge, is antithetical to the naturalist agenda.  Hence, MN is usually circumscribed within a false objectified disinterested or detached third-person paradigm: one which, as Polanyi and others show, is simply impossible.

What naturalists need for their metaphysical project (shall I say “goal”!) is a closed system of causation. As Goetz and Taliaferro explain, “A study of the literature about strict naturalism…leads one to believe that in the end strict naturalists appeal to one central argument in support of their view ‘the argument from causal closure.'” – Naturalism, 26.  Unsurprisingly, as we have already said, philosophical naturalists take firm hold of MN as the way to prove their philosophy.  Thus,

The philosopher Jaegwon Kim argues that a neuroscientist (indeed, any scientist) has a methodological commitment to the causal closure of the physical world. – Naturalism, 28 

And Kim himself is quoted as saying that,

Most physicalists… accept the causal closure of the physical not only as a fundamental metaphysical doctrine but as an indispensable methodological presupposition of the physical sciences. Ibid, 29   

Consciousness is not a physical thing.  But if one is a naturalistic materialist it has to be a physical thing. If physicalists cannot explain consciousness and intentionality they can at least kick the can down the street and tell us the explanations are on their way.  They can do this because in their world methodological naturalism resists, always and everywhere, non-natural and purposive explanations.

In the worldview of the Bible, the scientist should not invoke supernatural causes of natural phenomena, but for a very important reason: although God’s power and wisdom is understood to be the cause of the matter under investigation, the Creation mandate only requires – indeed dictates – that the natural world be examined to see what God did and to comprehend the mechanisms, physical and mental, which He uses to create and sustain a thing.  In this outlook the first person and the third person perspectives coexist in coming to knowledge.