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

Part Eight

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

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

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

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

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

A Use of the Slogan Which Gives the Glory to God

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

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

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

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

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7

After a ridiculously long delay, I have started to finish off my series on the Parameters of Meaning beginning with this one on Typology.  I believe these guidelines will help Bible students avoid many pitfalls in interpretation by setting limits on what constitutes legitimate hermeneutics.  For those of you interested here are the previous installments:

Parameters of Meaning – Introduction

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 1

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 2 

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 3

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4a

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4b

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 5

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 6

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7: Never draw theological conclusions that are based upon typology.  Types are too uncertain and debatable for doctrines to be formulated with them.

The Bible is given, in large part for Theology.  2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us all that

All Scripture is God-breathed [out] and is profitable for doctrine (didaskalia), for reproof, the correction, for instruction in righteousness…

The Greek word didaskalia means “teaching” and is often, as in the above example, translated as “doctrine.”  This word, “doctrine”, signifies the body of biblical teaching cast in the form of propositional truths and life principles.  For doctrines, and, therefore, Theology to be really biblical, they must be clearly traceable to the text of Scripture, interpreted within its proper context.  Our doctrinal formulations should be derived from clear statements of the truth which are accessible to all people.

As we have tried to show with the Rules of Affinity, every major doctrine of the Christian Faith can be ascertained either from direct statements taken from Bible passages (this is usual), or from inferences drawn from direct statements which lead to one inevitable conclusion.  Hence, God has given mankind the essentials of Christianity on the surface, as it were, of His Word.  This being so, it is scarcely necessary to dive into the murky waters of symbolism to uncover theological truth in Scripture.

The Tricky Business of Identification

But leaving that aside, we must ask what is needed for a type to even gain credence as a type.  To begin with, nearly all the best writers on the subject say that typology is intra-testamental. This means that the type is in the Old Testament while the antitype, the fulfillment of the type, is in the New Testament.  So too Leonard Goppelt, in his Typos (ch.1), saw it as his task to examine how the use of typology by NT authors and the church guided the interpretation of the OT.

A 1997 article, “Typology: A Summary of Present Evangelical Discussion,” by W. Edward Glenny (JETS 40.4), provides three competing evangelical views, while commending a fourth; that of Richard M. Davidson, as a way forward.  Davidson himself surveys a host of contrasting theories of typology from both mainstream and evangelical sources, and concludes that they all fall short because “a solid semasiological and exegetical foundation for understanding the nature of typology is never laid.” – Typology in Scripture, 73.  (“Semasiological” refers to the actual meaning of a word as it is used).

Recently, men like RWL Moberly have proposed a typology within the OT itself independent of the NT (at least for Jewish readers).  However, Christian use of this approach will not permit fixity of types unless the NT is ushered in through the back door.  In point of fact the soil out of which much typology has been built is the view that the NT reinterprets the OT.


as more revelation was given over time…we discover more of God’s plan and where that plan is going.  It is for this reason that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament becomes definitive in helping us understand the details of the Old Testament…In other words, we must carefully allow the New Testament to show us how the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ. – Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 85-86 

But it does not follow that later revelation will always work in this way.  One thinks of the Creation account for instance, or the Fall.  And before it can be asserted that the NT has definitive interpretative clout over the OT we must ascertain whether or not the NT is addressing the particular subject the OT text is addressing.  But this brings to light the major problem, which is whether our interpretation(s) of the NT are infused with dogma.  We find such a problem in the above quotation where the authors assume without proof that “the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ”, by which they mean, the first coming of Christ.  Such a massive presupposition will inevitable color their understanding of typology, since they will be searching for types of first advent “fulfillment.”  This will unavoidably lead them into collision with the many OT texts which place the fulfillments at the second advent.  In fact, the very existence of the collision calls forth their typology to handle it!

Theological Pre-commitment 

To illustrate this idea of frontloaded conclusions again, consider this by covenant theologian Mark L. Karlberg:

The dissolution of the temporal, earthly theocracy coincided with the new covenant’s reign of God in the hearts of his people through the Spirit. In the eschatological age of the Spirit the kingdom of God is a spiritual reality unencumbered by the shadowy, earthly forms (types) characteristic of the ancient theocracy. In the period between the advents of Christ the presence of the kingdom is in anticipation of the realization of the land-promise in the consummation. – ‘The Significance of Israel in Biblical Typology’, JETS 31:3 (September 1988), 268

But it ought to be obvious that such a typological approach can only be sanctioned if the NT is given interpretive priority over the New, which is actually only to say that the interpreter’s own theologically determined conclusions about the NT are read back into the OT!  Typology trumps contextual exegesis whenever a theological commitment predisposes the reader to employ it.  The present writer has tried to show that the new covenant insures the literal fulfillment of OT predictions, not hands them over to be “typologized”. (more…)


Contemporary Hermeneutical Theory and Conservative Interpretation (Pt.4)

Part Three

Speech-Act Theory and Biblical Interpretation

On a more positive note overall is the matter of whether language is merely descriptive or whether it can be said to actually do something. This gets us into the subject of language as “speech-acts.” This view has been defined as follows:

Speech-act theory is a set of pragmatically based principles that were developed at the edge of philosophy and linguistics. The major assumption is that language is not so much concerned with saying as with doing. That is, the use of language is in fact a way of accomplishing things.[83]

Speech-act theory was introduced by the British philosopher of language J. L. Austin in his 1955 Harvard lectures, posthumously published as How to do Things with Words. Austin’s insights, being rather puzzling in places, were improved by John Searle.[84] Both scholars divided speech-acts into locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary forms.[85] A locutionary utterance is any act of saying something. Illocutionary acts are what is done in saying something, while perlocutionary acts are what is done by saying something.[86]  An illocutionary speech-act, for example, “It’s time to go” affirms that something is so. So when God makes an illocutionary speech-act, He is affirming the truth (since He cannot lie) about something. Obviously, identifying God’s illocutionary speech-acts helps a person to pay more attention to what God is saying. Thus, illocutions are often considered to be the most important kind of speech-acts.[87]

Although many postmodernists, with their preoccupation with language as a manipulative power tool, will often place more emphasis upon perlocutionary utterances – those expressions which get a person to act or attempt at least to alter the actions of the hearer.

Hill states that propositional sayings ought not to be separated from narratives because “in a sense a narrative just is a set of propositions, albeit about events in time.”[88] But he does say that the Bible contains more than propositions, it “also contains questions, injunctions, and wishes.”[89] While this is true, it does appear that each of these other sayings may be converted into a proposition.[90] The main problem (according to Hill) in biblical hermeneutics is to work out what God is affirming. Speech-act theory’s analysis, particularly of the illocutionary act, is of real help in reaching that goal.

However, there is a word of caution. Briggs points out that since one locution (or simple uttering of words) may entail several illocutions, and some perhaps unintended, in fact, “most locutions are multilayered in some way, and will often admit of unintended illocutions.”[91] For that reason, some interpreters are wary of recommending the theory, at least as a way to get at the message.[92]

Notwithstanding, one must not minimize the obligation to the text as it is understood by the believer.[93] Vanhoozer, in an essay entitled, “From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts” calls attention to the possibility of “an illocutionary act performed on the level of a literary whole.”[94] This is certainly intriguing, especially when Vanhoozer shows the effectiveness of the approach in reading John 21:20-24.[95]

It seems that responsible speech-act analysis is amenable to an attentive form of grammatico-historical interpretation. It involves the reader in the text more because it raises his expectancy.[96]And that is surely a good thing.

Summary in Nine Points

From our survey of some of the major players in modern hermeneutics we can quickly take stock of the main issues:

  1. To define hermeneutics as a set of rules decides the issue beforehand.
  2. Some preliminary understanding (preunderstanding) of a text (both its whole and parts) is unavoidable in every reading.[97]
  3. The ongoing process of a reader’s preunderstanding shaping the text and the text shaping the reader creates a “hermeneutical spiral.”
  4. In this “spiral” the two horizons of text and interpreter “fuse” to some degree, though utter objectivity is never arrived at.
  5. Each individual’s horizon is his or her own. This implies that valid interpretations will differ according to the social, historical and cultural situation of the reader.[98]
  6. This could be taken to mean (and often is) that complete objectivity is an impossible dream, and that, therefore, talk of propositional revelation (wherein truth is situated in the Bible’s propositional teaching) is implausible.
  7. The “hermeneutics of suspicion” further renders propositional truth out of place.
  8. Standard Grammatical-Historical interpretation might be seen as slipping into redundancy, being unable to integrate the findings of modern hermeneutical theories.  However, this is untrue.  But also, it must not be supposed that anything close to the last word has been said about speech-acts.  {Moreover, as Craig Blaising correctly observes: “To postulate a “fulfillment” of…covenant promises by means of a reality shift in the thing promised overlooks the performative nature of the word of promise…” – Craig A. Blaising, “Israel and Hermeneutics”, in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, eds., Darrell L. Bock & Mitch Glaser, 161}
  9. On a positive note, we can explore the promise of responsible speech-act theory to help us to be more attentive as we read Scripture, and thus, compose our theology.


[83] Stanley Porter, in I. Howard Marshall, Beyond The Bible, 112.
[84] Richard S. Briggs, “Speech-Act Theory,” in Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 763.
[85] These are sometimes categorized as utterance, performative, propositional, illocutionary, and perlocutionary. See Tate, 350-351. It is quite usual however to find propositional included in locutionary.“Utterances” in Tate’s taxonomy are just reactive sounds.
[86] Daniel Hill, “Proposition,” in Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 632.
[87] Briggs, 763.
[88] Hill, 632.
[89] Ibid.
[90] I have discussed the matter of propositionalism in chapter 4, “The Revelation of the Triune Creator,” of my dissertation.
[91] Briggs, 764.
[92] Tate, Interpreting the Bible, 351.
[93] This is where Vanhoozer brings in a covenantal obligation.
[94] Vanhoozer, First Theology, 192. He is talking about the Book of Jonah.
[95] Ibid, 257ff.
[96] Briggs, 766.
[97] We include Maier’s opinion of preunderstanding, which we think is very helpful.Although he rightly holds to presuppositions, he sounds a note of sanity amid the cheers for “preunderstanding.”

All these and other considerations do not exactly encourage us to cling to philosophical preunderstandings or to take them as our guideposts in listening to revelation. As already stated, conscious and unconscious philosophical influences will always accompany our hearing. But they are present in order to be divested of their leading role. – Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, 36.

[98] This is where one encounters various special interest groups like Eco-Feminists, Marxists, and Gays interpreting the Bible according to their agendas.Remember, in postmodern interpretation there are no metanarratives, only individual community narratives.Thus, each interpretation is as valid as another (unless it stakes a claim to be a metanarrative).


Contemporary Hermeneutical Theory and Conservative Interpretation (Pt.3)

Part Two


Alongside Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur (d. 2005) stands as the most important philosopher of hermeneutics in the last hundred years. His work is often to be found discussed in evangelical circles today, and for that reason we shall devote a little more space to his work. Ricoeur is concerned with how language is used not with how it is structured.[53] As human existence is communicated through language, the study of the use of language is, therefore, the study of human existence. What is language but existence communicated in symbols or signs? Hence, the study of the way linguistic signs are used (semiotics) becomes a way to study the human being and his significance and self-understanding (semantics). It is hardly surprising to learn that for Ricoeur “man is language.”[54]

He believes that contemporary man has become desensitized to symbol and metaphor, and so he is missing in some measure, the hub of his own significance by his failure to experience life in its fullest terms.[55] Ricoeur is a phenomenologist – stressing the activity of the reader once he is impacted by a text.[56] But he utterly rejects man as the starting point in interpretation, preferring a transcendent beginning.[57]His influence is to be seen in several areas.

First, his overall philosophical outlook was hopeful (in contrast to that of the existentialists like Heidegger and Sartre). This meant that he tended to read texts “optimistically” – as, for example, the story of the Fall, which he said contained nothing like “Augustine’s doctrine of original sin.”[58]
Second, he ironically stressed “the hermeneutics of suspicion” whereby one recognizes that, “preunderstanding does indeed influence every interpretive conclusion drawn with reference to the biblical text. Because the baggage brought by an exegete to the reading of Scripture can potentially hinder the hermeneutical process, one must always question every exegetical perspective.”[59]

The third thing Ricoeur is known for is calling particular attention to creative language such as metaphor, narrative and parable.[60] Through careful examination and refection on these language forms he has produced some important thoughts on some important issues within philosophy of religion such as the sort of relationship that exists between God and time.[61] He believed that these ways of expression point us to a fuller appreciation of ourselves and our significance. “The manifesto of hermeneutic philosophy is “existence via semantics”: self-understanding via textual interpretation.”[62]

Lastly, Ricoeur is noted for his focus on genre (the world of the text) and the impact of the text upon the reader’s world (the world in front of the text). The interplay of these “worlds” means abandoning what he calls “the first naivete”: the literal sense, in order to make way for “the second naivete”: finding oneself in and through the world of the text.[63] In other words, the reader must go through a sifting of his faith from a position of fear and emotion to a more level-headed critical understanding of the text (and so the world) in order to have a rational faith.[64] The literal sense cannot supply the truth of existence!
Of course, to comprehend signs truly one must move beyond the signs themselves and concentrate on discourse, hence his focus upon semantics as the key to self-understanding.[65]  Ricoeur also finds himself on the “conservative” side in his rejection of the Kantian idealism of liberalism, which forced churchmen into vainly trying either to prove Christianity to be inductively scientific[66], or to show that Christianity’s “inwardness” made the effort to make it scientific an exercise in missing the point.[67]  And he strikes a chord when he insists that the text must always take precedence over the interpreter.[68]
But he does not believe in the possibility of discovering authorial intention. There is and always will be a “distance” between reader and author. Moreover, the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that he learned from Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, always makes interpretation a risky business, with “truth,” in a sense far less than certainty but above doubt, being the final goal.[69]

The Postmodern Critique: Derrida

It would be remiss indeed if in a treatise such as this the subject of postmodernism was not broached along the way. We have chosen to include it here because it is in the realm of interpretation that it is, perhaps, at its most menacing. Postmodernism, in fact, seeks to demolish much of the framework around which this present work is constructed. This includes an aversion to metanarratives, or grand narratives under which other (typically western) narratives and thought-forms are housed.[70] These metanarratives are seen as sustaining forms of oppression within society.[71] (more…)



Part One

The Hermeneutical Landscape

The philosopher of religion Gregory Clark admits that, “[some] sources regularly describe the variety of hermeneutical approaches practiced today as ‘dizzying’.”[22]

In closing his article Clark writes:

“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.”[23]

Reading the “movers and shakers” in evangelical hermeneutics today is a little foreboding. It might be well to start off then by reminding ourselves of a standard definition of hermeneutics:

Hermeneutics…is both a science and an art. As a science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results. As an art, it teaches what application these principles should have, and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in the elucidation of the more difficult Scriptures. The hermeneutical art thus cultivates and establishes a valid exegetical procedure.[24]

It would be helpful to add to this Ramm’s observation that it “stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game.”[25]  In addition, Ramm added that what the interpreter is looking for is the single-meaning of any passage: “But here we must remember the old adage: ‘Interpretation is one; application is many.’ This means that there is only one meaning to a passage of Scripture, which is determined by careful study.”[26]

Contrast Ramm’s words with those of the prominent British Old Testament scholar David J. A. Clines who writes:

I have been impressed in this study [of Esther] by the value of as many strategies as possible for reading a text. As a critic of the text, I should hate to be restricted by a methodological purism. What I have noticed is that different strategies confirm, complement or comment on other strategies, and so help develop an integrated but polychromatic reading.[27]

Or again,

My experience with Psalm 23 was enough to convince me that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are not categories to be applied to interpretations, that, as far as I could see, a text can mean anything at all, and that I myself was (oxymoronically) an absolute indeterminist.[28]

Clines exults that he can explore the text of the Bible with complete methodological abandon. This freedom has not come to him through the mere exercise of the imagination. It is a result of studying the philosophical hermeneutics of people like Roland Barthes and Richard Rorty, both of whom teach that subjectivity is desirable in reading a text.[29]  Objectivity is a mirage, a dream perpetuated by the sort of naiveté demonstrated only by intransigent ultra conservatives.

It behooves us then to briefly chart some of what has been going on in the world of mainline hermeneutics so that we might better access what conservative interpreters are being influenced by, not to mention what dispensationalists are increasingly likely to come up against. (more…)


Contemporary Hermeneutical Theory and Conservative Interpretation (Pt.1)

I have divided this older but over-long piece into more digestible bits: 

In this essay I want to examine some of what is happening in the world of philosophical hermeneutics so that we can better understand the influences that are being seen in evangelical textbooks on the subject. Still more, we shall start to understand why evangelicals are jumping ship from grammatico-historical interpretation; a situation that threatens dispensationalism even more.

  1. Definitions: Hermeneutics, Exegesis, Application

In any discussion, but especially in those involving foundational matters, it is crucial to define ones terms. Hermeneutics has been given a few different definitions. Many are covered by Robert Thomas in his book, Evangelical Hermeneutics.[2]For the moment it will suffice to borrow from a standard conservative manual.

As a theological discipline hermeneutics is the science of the correct interpretation of the Bible…It seeks to formulate those particular rules which pertain to the special factors connected with the Bible. It stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game.[3]

The definition above draws a helpful comparison between a book of rules that acts as the control over what is admissible and what is precluded in playing a game. All ought to play by the same rules. If they don’t; if each player thinks they can make up their own rules, the game is spoiled. This has been a good assumption of Bible interpreters, which has yielded excellent sermons, commentaries and theologies in the past. It has also been the operating assumption of those modern scholars whose hermeneutics books advocate a more subjective, reader-response attitude to the text of Scripture. As E. D. Hirsch noted, “Most authors believe in the accessibility of their verbal meaning, for otherwise most of them would not write.”[4] It would seem to be safe policy to define hermeneutics in a reductionistic fashion so as to leave room for clear roles for exegesis and application. Thus, we may begin by agreeing with Thomas’s classification of hermeneutics as “a set of principles” for right interpretation.[5]  In the picture of the bridge across the frozen river (obtained from Servant’s Place) the two banks of the river are connected by the structure.  Hermeneutics is the bridge between the author and the interpreter.  It should be the best way to get from the one to the other.

Once hermeneutics has been so narrowly (and properly) labeled, it is alright to proceed to define exegesis. Exegesis is the implementation of the rules of hermeneutics to the Biblical text. As such, it involves the use of sanctified reason, as well as a certain finesse wrought out of a familiarity with the contents of Scripture. It is the act of investigative interpretation, which comprises adherence to hermeneutical principles along with a certain artistry brought by the subject. One should not speak of art or imagination when one is defining hermeneutics.[6] Hermeneutics does not entail active engagement with a text. That is where exegesis takes over.[7]

To understand how the definition of hermeneutics has become confused, consider these definitions:

Hermeneutics: Theory and principles of interpretation; for writings, correctly understanding the thought of an author and communicating it to others.[8]

Hermeneutics: The “science” of understanding the significance for a new audience of a text originally intended for a different audience[9]

The first definition proceeds from formulation to implementation without batting an eyelid. Indeed, it moves beyond that and incorporates application within the actual process of interpretation, so that whereas application should be associated with the end-product of exegetical-expositional communication, here it is being read into the text.

In the second definition authorial intention is displaced by a preoccupation with present-day significance. Application is king! But by what rules is application guided? We see then that a precise and exclusive delineation of hermeneutics is mandatory for accurate guidance in scriptural comprehension. (more…)


The Frame of Knowledge: A Christian View

Here’s an older piece which I thought worth bringing out for perusal.  It’s fairly long, but I hope some folks will like it:


The Christian must take his or her position upon the words of Scripture. Not after it has been granted that the Bible really is the very Word of God, but it must be the great presupposition, the ultimate commitment of every child of God. We must insist that there is, in fact, no alternative to the Bible when it comes to an infallible and certain source of knowledge available to humanity. It is the “frame” into which all of mans thoughts must fit if man is to know anything for certain. Natural theology can only provide an immanent base upon which to build a theology, which would require that God’s Truth would always have to submit itself to the judgment of men. Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff describes this wrong turn taken by evangelicals in the modern (i.e. Enlightenment) era:

Theology in the modern university is under pressure to cast its argumentative structure into a very different mold. Natural theology can no longer occur as an occasional insertion into the framework of scripturally based sacred theology, as the necessary foundation thereof. Until that foundation is firmly laid in the deliverances of our human nature, there can be no going beyond. And the “going beyond,” from natural theology to scripturally based sacred theology, can occur only if the theologian, appealing solely to the deliverances of our human nature, has succeeded in establishing that the Christian Scriptures are indeed the revelation of God. Natural theology, conducted as a generically human enterprise, is thus to be followed by inquiry into the revelatory status of Scripture, also conducted as a generically human enterprise. If the result of this last inquiry is that Christian Scripture is likely to be (or include) God’s revelation, then one can construct the remainder of one’s theology on the basis of that revelational content – with the proviso that one’s interpretation of the meaning of Scripture is also to be conducted as a generically human enterprise.[1]

If the believer starts by arguing to the reliability, inspiration, and authority of Scripture he will never get to where he can plant both feet solidly on all of its teachings. Our purpose at this point is to examine what is perhaps the most disruptive fallout of an adherence to natural theology, and that is the bifurcation of knowledge into that which can be known by reason alone, and that which can only be known by reason acting in tandem with faith.

A. The “Two Spheres”

In his book about the fortunes of modern atheism in the West, the Oxford scholar Alister McGrath highlights the unfortunate outcome of churchmen in the time of the Enlightenment trying to prove God’s existence from philosophical reasoning alone:

Convinced that the scientific discoveries of their day could be harnessed to serve the needs of the church, Descartes and his colleagues abandoned any appeal to religious experience in their defense of the faith. The secure proofs of religion lay in philosophy and the natural sciences – in the reasoning of this world rather than the intrusion of the next. Philosophy alone could establish the necessity and plausibility of the Christian faith.

With the benefit of hindsight, this was not a particularly wise strategy. The English experience suggested that nobody really doubted the existence of God until theologians tried to prove it. The very modest success of these proofs led many to wonder if God’s existence was quite as self-evident as they had once thought. A well-meaning defense of God ended up persuading people that the case for God was surprisingly uncertain.[2]

As it turned out, the very arguments used by Theists to combat atheism were put into service by Atheists and used as reasons not to believe in God.[3]

The reason why it backfired on these Christians is not too difficult to divine. (more…)


David Bentley Hart’s, ‘The Experience of God’ (Pt.2)

Part One

God is not, in any of the great theistic traditions, merely some rational agent, external to the order of the physical universe, who imposes some kind of design upon an otherwise inert and mindless material order.  He is not some discrete being somewhere out there, floating in the great beyond, who fashions nature in accordance with rational laws upon which he is dependent.

Notice that Hart has in mind the general consensus among theistic religions about God, not just the Christian God.  I’ll comment a little on that below.  Howbeit, the god who temporarily steps in at points in history to fill the void in our understanding of the world (the god of the gaps) is great to throw in the barrel and shoot at, but, then again, such a deity was dead before he/it got into the barrel anyway.  As long as non-theists direct their logic against this immanent god, they miss the mark badly.  As both Thomist and Van Tillian schools would agree, God is the eternally existing Fount of the laws of physics, of thought, and of morality.  To proceed with the quotation:     

Rather, he is himself the logical order of all reality, the ground both of the subjective rationality of mind and the objective rationality of being, the transcendent and indwelling Reason or Wisdom by which mind and matter are both informed and in which they participate. (234-235).

So the term “God” is not used the same way by Theists and non-theists (257).  Many non-theists employ the word ignorantly, investing it with a “meaning” which is foreign from what believers, especially Christians, mean.  At the most banal level this can be seen in Richard Dawkins’s question, “who made God?”  A reductionistic god belongs to a reductionistic world picture, just as much as a vitiated view of consciousness and intentionality results from an outlook which doesn’t care to explain such “directed” mysteries.

The third part of the book is given over to “Bliss”.  The goal-directedness of human consciousness seeks out primordial realities or transcendentals, which lie behind its pursuits.  Hart declares, “What interests me is the simple but crucial insight that our experience of reality does in fact have a transcendental structure.” (243).  Any such structure is teleological and thus at odds with the indeterminism inherent in naturalistic philosophy.  The rationality of mind employs this teleology.

This rational capacity to think and to act in obedience to absolute or transcendental values constitutes a dependency of consciousness upon a dimension of reality found nowhere within the physical order. (245) 

“Bliss” is what consciousness moves toward.  It is the third angle, as it were, of the triad of experience.   Our “transcendental aspirations” (251) point towards absolutes.  Hart picks out two in particular: ethics and beauty.  He spends some time with each. (more…)


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (12)

Part Eleven

This is the final part of this exploratory series on the rapture of the Church.  It’s main purpose has been to show that none of the competing positions on the “taking out” of the saints merits more than an “inference to the best explanation.”  Within the Rules of Affinity this would be a C3.  I have looked at posttribulationism and midtribulationism in the last post; here I shall look at the prewrath and pretribulational views.


This view is of very recent vintage, but for all that it has articulated its position well and has won many advocates.  In my opinion this position mounts some serious challenges for the other approaches.  It deserves to be taken seriously.

The arguments in favor of prewrath rapturism are quite impressive taken as a whole.  Examined individually less so.  PreWrathers, as Postmils, have the psychological advantage of having the rapture and the Second Coming coincide.  But the edge might seem to be lost by having the Lord zip back off to glory for the wrath to get meted out on the Earth.  Although they explain the logic of the wrath (from the first trumpet, through the bowls of wrath and the Battle of Armageddon) coming on the earth-dwellers after the Second Coming/Rapture, the posttribulational option looks less complicated.

I do think they have an argument for claiming that the wrath of God is restricted to the end of the seven year period.  Many pre-trib replies to this are not always satisfying.  But it suffices me at least to read that the “horsemen” released in the first four seals come forth only after Christ opens each one.  In Revelation 6:1-8 (the first four seals), the sequence is, the Lamb breaks the seal, then a living creature invites John to witness the result.  We also see what appears to be Divine empowerment and permission in, for example, Revelation 6:2 (“a crown was given to him”), 6:4 (“it was granted to [him] to take peace from the earth,…and there was given to him a great sword”), and 6:6 where a voice (from the throne?) issues directions to the rider on the black horse.  Even though the word “wrath” isn’t used until the end of the chapter (the sixth seal), certainly all this calamity wrought by the riders stems directly, not from the Antichrist, but from God Himself.  Is that not God’s wrath?  Yes, I know the wrath of 6:16-17 is connected with Christ specifically, but 14:19 with 19:15 with Isaiah 63:1-6 persuade me that the sixth seal is about the Second Advent.

Another attraction of PreWrath is the use of Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and Luke 21 alongside of 1 Thessalonians 4. Hart’s pretrib exegesis manages this, but the PreWrath view is more natural.  Still, I can’t get over the fact that the Olivet Discourse is so Israel-directed (Pt.8).  And if that is so then I think it is hard not to have both the Church and Israel raptured at the same time.  PreWrath advocates may be just fine with that, but this underlines even more the conflation of Israel and the Church within the Tribulation.  (Are they two distinct entities, or one – the Church?)  I see Israel there clearly enough (Pt.9), but not the Church (Pt.10).  Plus, as I pointed out, if Christians are in the Tribulation under Antichrist, then they will be tempted to take the mark and even worship the beast to save their lives (as Christian’s compromised during Diocletian’s persecution).  That raises the specter of Christians losing their salvation according to Revelation 14:9-11.

It would be wrong to accuse the PreWrath position of merging Israel with the Church, since many would stop short of doing this.  But mixing the two programs of God together in the Tribulation makes it hard to avoid making the two into one body of believers.

Their interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 seems plausible (Pt.7).  But this demands a more static and technical sense be given to the “Day of the Lord”; values which I have shown to run contrary to the biblical data on the varied usage of the phrase (Pts 6 & 7).  In Part 6 we also saw that Armageddon and the final days of the Seventieth Week just prior to Christ’s return appear to be what is indicated by the “Day of the Lord” as used in Joel 3:14-16 (cf. Rev. 19:15).

Further, Daniel 12:1 with 12:6-7 measures the “Great Tribulation” coming upon Israel as “a time, times, and half a time”, or three and a half years.  Since this period starts at the mid-point in the Seventieth Week (Pt. 5), and is terminated by the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:20-25), there is just no room for the PreWrath teaching.

For these and other reasons I think the PreWrath view is finally implausible, although it deserves a C3 as a solid attempt at the rapture question. (more…)


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.