Bob Jones University Vs. Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of the most recognizable atheists in the world, has recently stated “mild pedophilia” does not cause lasting harm (http://www.salon.com/2013/09/10/richard_dawkins_defends_mild_pedophilia_says_it_does_not_cause_lasting_harm/). This is not a new idea from Dawkins, he previously state that he felt that the Roman Catholic Church pedophilia scandals were blown out of proportion and stated it to be so, in his best-known work, The God Delusion.

As many Christians are already aware, there have been a number of issues within conservative Protestantism involving sexual abuse as well. Most recently, in the secular media, Bob Jones University is being questioned about its counseling policies involving sexual abuse, including the question of required reporting, and while the report from their ombudsman is not in, a number of allegations have been featured in the press. Sadly, there are a number of voices that have argued that this is somehow an issue that is intrinsic to Christianity, Fundamentalism or Protestant theology.

Yet, Dawkins’ statements remind me of an earlier series, which I addressed on our more technical site: a series entitled “The moral argument from atrocities” (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/category/moral-argument-from-atrocities/), where I compared monstrous acts committed by atheists and by Christians (or alleged Christians) to as the question of were those who committed atrocities logically consistent with their beliefs. I would like to make the same comparison between atheists who commit sexual abuse and those who claim to be Christians committing similar actions. While Dawkins is not being accused of Sexual abuse at this time, his statements are analogous in a sense to the current scandals faced by some Christian counselors.

As noted before, if their professions are genuine, Christians who commit sexual assaults are inconsistent monsters. (https://truthinthetrenches.org/2014/03/04/do-sexual-assaults-by-professed-christians-invalidate-christianity/). That is, their monstrous acts are not consistent with their professions of faith (in short, they are hypocrites); the same would be true for those who fail to report sexual abuse (Romans 12). Sadly, this cannot be said for atheists who commit these kinds of atrocities, or the lack of wisdom in Dawkins words. While it would be a logical fallacy to say that atheism leads to sexual abuse (just as it is when people argue that Christianity leads to sexual abuse), it cannot be suggested that atheists are hypocrites on this point. If there is no ultimate morality, if morality is simply a system established by society to preserve the group, then no sin has been committed.

So, if we compare the questions surrounding Bob Jones University with the statements made by Richard Dawkins, then, if the allegations are ultimately proven to be true, Bob Jones, sadly, has not lived up to the beliefs, which they espouse. Richard Dawkins, however, is living up to his.

A Single Allied Army

One of the great difficulties for the allied nations during World War 1 was the strife between the allies themselves, which prevented them from cooperating in their mutual struggle against the Central Powers. The BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and the French army simply did not get along; the Prime Minister of Britain did not trust his generals, and when the Americans finally entered the war, General Pershing was forced to deal with English and French demands that the Americans not operate as an independent army, but that they simply provide replacements to fallen English and French troops.

Within the Church, we have a similar problem: we fight and debate about music, about Church government, about translations, election vs. freewill, and nearly anything else. Baptist churches have legends about churches splitting over the color of the carpet. Some of these discussions have some importance; it is my personal conviction that God wrote the Bible in a way that requires us to think it through because the process of answering theological questions deepens both our understanding of the faith and our own spiritual health.

Yet, the primary beneficiary of the conflict between the Allied forces was the Germans, their enemies. When we divert our attention so that we solely focus on the internal issues of the Church, the beneficiaries are atheists and the religious Left. I would never suggest that we completely ignore the issues noted above, but it is my thought that perhaps secondary matters should be secondary in the amount of attention we pay them, and we should be preparing more for the next offensive against those who oppose God.

Whether we are Presbyterians or Baptists, whatever our position on Election or music, if we are Evangelicals; if we believe that the Bible is the final authority for faith and practice, that Salvation is gained by Grace through Faith alone, that Jesus is God made man and that He physically, historically was resurrected from the grave, or in short on the historic protestant doctrines of the faith, then we are on the same side. We may organize ourselves differently, and there may be practical reasons why our churches will have different practices, but if we believe that we are saved by Grace through Faith alone, we are allies, under one King; and it is past time that we return to the real War.

It’s time to go over the top for King Jesus.

Apologetics – without debating

The common perception of apologetics is that it largely relates to debating. Some people then object to studying apologetics — on the grounds that the Gospel is apprehended spiritually, and we cannot debate someone into heaven.

While as a younger man I enjoyed debate, I find that I really do not enjoy it any longer. In fact, I personally don’t recommend debating atheists. It is often difficult to keep them on point, unless the point is, in fact, whether you are mentally deficient; whether your parents were related, or if you are just “too emotional”. Proverbs 26:4 tells us not to answer a fool according to his folly; Proverbs 9:7 provides similar warnings when it tells us that he who answers a scoffer invites injury – that is, if you reprove someone who is engaged in mockery, you merely make yourself his next target. While I answer the questions/allegations of atheists when they are not arguing ad hominem, I generally stop pushing the point after the second or third pass, because I question the use of my time.

Why then engage in apologetics? I think, perhaps, a better question would be: what is the appropriate goal of Christian apologetics? After all, being able to answer those who challenge the faith and our hope is a command of the New Testament. When it comes to evangelism, Christian apologetics is about being available for the Holy Spirit to work through you. Therefore, apologetics’ place in the Christian witness is not to “argue atheists into heaven”. Our goal is to “persuade men” as Paul articulated, and that means that we remove obstacles to the faith. And in point of fact, atheists do come to Christ — because they study the basis of the Christian faith. Lee Strobel and Warren Wallace are two of the prime examples in our own day.

The second goal, I believe, is to strengthen other believers. The faith is under fire. Modern atheism has changed; those atheists who, in the past, would have been considered the lunatic fringe (such as Dawkins) are often the major representatives of the movement today. They are aggressive and often insulting, and this type of rhetorical tactic, unfortunately, can be effective. Providing Christian brethren with answers to these questions, providing them with just information about such simple matters strengthens them in the faith.

Finally, apologetics has theological benefits. Theology develops, in large part, as a response to error. As we answer questions involving the faith, we are forced along the way to deepen our understanding of that faith; we begin to understand it better.

Apologetics is not about debate (even though debates happen). It is instead an integral part of the fabric of Christianity.

Atheists and Inspiration

I am a firm believer in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Christian Scriptures; it’s one of those foundations that the Church needs to maintain her balance. Whenever the Church has failed to fully accept the Bible’s authority in matters of faith and practice chaos has come. Most atheists would immediately say that a Christian who accepts inspiration is proving themselves to be engaging in circular reasoning or to be abandoning reasoning – but on both cases they are wrong. Atheistic arguments about the Christian view of inspiration is based on their poor understanding of faith. Faith is not a leap into the dark hoping God will catch you, faith accepts the evidence one has and trusts God on the basis of the evidence despite our imperfect understandings of God’s truth.
Its important to understand something else that atheists miss – Christians are not Christian’s because they believe the Bible is God’s Word, Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word because they have committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Savior. As important as the doctrine of inspiration is, it is a later step in a believer’s theological development (don’t let the terms “Theological development” scare you either, a believer’s “theological development” is nothing more than the intellectual element of sanctification, or God’s teaching us to think as He would have us to think over a period of time). Therefore, I don’t bring up the discussion of Inspiration with atheists anymore than I would discuss the Trinity, the hypostatic union, or for that matter my devotional life; all of these doctrines make sense after acceptance of Christ, none of them will make sense before that point. Because the central battle of our times is Spiritual (), we cannot start by trying to christianize the atheists thought processes before conversion. Here are a few things we should keep in mind in various debates:

• Inspiration is not something I can prove, but I can intelligently discuss the Gospels in terms of their historical reliability. Educate yourself on the Bible as a historical document – my preferred starting point would be with the works of the Archeologist William Ramsey, but Michael Licona, Warren Wallace, Lee Strobel and others are also useful writers to aquaint yourself with; you can also hear an abbreviated version of my presentation here: https://truthinthetrenches.org/2013/08/19/beginning-at-the-beginning-the-rational-basis-for-christianity/

• Recognize bias for what it is, and that there is no unbiased observer. Atheists will regularly tell you that none of the gospels were written by an eyewitness – but they are taking this on faith, call them on it. John claims to be an eyewitness, was clearly a first century Jew who was familiar with Jerusalem, and in any other historical study, we would consider him to be a credible witness.

What are your thoughts?

Translations: Practical points for the budding apologist

Previously, we began to discuss why English translations change, as background information concerning its influence on apologetics. Last time, we discussed the fact that scholars have an increased amount of information and better means to sift through that information than did scholars in previous generations. Now, however, I want to present a few observations for applying this material to apologetics. What I have listed below are not universal statements, but they are general tendencies that I have observed:

• English translations often focus on revision rather than retranslation. This is partially because of past textual critical controversies (beginning in earnest with the Revised Version of 1881), and partially because we tend to be comfortable and familiar with certain ways of translating a given expression. Evangelical scholars, for example, are used to thinking of the word “hope” as implying an expectation, and so it remains the standard gloss for the word “Elpis,” even if this is no longer the standard meaning for the English word “hope.” This sometimes creates distance between lay-level translations and scholarly opinion.

• This brings up another point: the English language has changed significantly since William Tyndale first translated the English Bible in 1532 (most major translations have largely been revisions of Tyndale’s work often through the King James which preserves approximately 75% of Tyndale’s language and 90% of his syntax in the New Testament); as a consequence, many “translation issues” are actually cases where we are reading “1532” English and applying “2014” meanings.

• When all else appears to be equal, it is my conclusion that American Evangelical seminaries and grammarians are actually superior, in matters of Greek grammar, to non-evangelicals because Evangelicals tend to be better immersed in Koine Greek than is the religious left. As above, I am not suggesting that this is a universal truth, but my observation is that this is a general reality. This is likely due to left of center seminaries relying on Blass and Debrunner as their advanced grammar of choice. My own examination of Blass and Debrunner indicates that it is overly reliant on Classical Greek works, as compared to the standard Evangelical advanced grammars by A. T. Robertson and Nigel Turner (to say nothing of Wallace’s Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, which is an intermediate grammar, but its widespread use is a positive sign of the vitality of Evangelical scholarship).

• While it is true that not every apologist will have direct access to the Greek Text of the New Testament (since many do not learn Greek), good use of modern Evangelical commentaries is a help to all believers, although, of course, it is wise to cite your source on these points.

This is my general take on Greek grammar as it relates to apologetics; I hope the background is helpful. Do you have any thoughts on this topic, or on Evangelical scholarship, in general?

Errors in Translation: Background

A few months ago, we published an article and a sermon, concerning the subject of “How Atheists get Christmas wrong,” discussing, among other things, a translational error that appears in most English translations of the Bible. In discussing Luke 2, I have discovered a theme in a few answers given by atheists: the “You’re an evangelical, so you don’t know what you are talking about,” rebuttal. My first response was to inquire where they had studied Koine Greek grammar, or what source they were working from, but answering ad hominem arguments in kind, while entertaining, is pointless. It occurred to me, however, that most Christians (much less atheists), know very little about the advances that have been made in the study of New Testament Greek grammar. While it is not the intent of this site to discuss secondary issues, from time to time, translational considerations are a part of the way in which we answer questions about the faith, so I want to address the question of the reason that translations are corrected from time to time. Therefore, I am now presenting a few facts that will help you when a Christian apologist, or other Christian teacher, discusses a translational issue, to be followed by an article on its practical implications:
• Before the 1890’s, New Testament Greek grammar held many mysteries to most Greek students. The grammar (as well as the vocabulary) did not always behave as Attic Greek did (the prevailing dialect that was known in New Testament times). A few writers thought that the Greek of the New Testament was somehow an inspired form of Greek grammar. Others postulated that most of the variations were drawn from Semitic languages (though the New Testament and Koine Greek certainly do have some Semitic influences), since some of these tendencies were similar to those in the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Old Testament in common use during New Testament times).

• In the late 19th century, archeologists uncovered the “non-literary papyri”. The dates of these documents overlapped the New Testament, and were written with some of the same peculiarities. This type of Greek was dubbed “Koine Greek,” (“koine” means common) because it was the common Greek of the day, as opposed to Attic Greek, which was used for more literary productions. This produced considerable data for scholars dealing with Greek vocabulary and Greek grammar.

• More recently still, computers have enhanced the study of grammar and vocabulary, through that which was originally known as “Gramcord”, although a number of computer programs now offer this information. Previously, concordances (if complete) could be used to trace out vocabulary to determine and isolate meanings, but induction from grammatical constructions was more difficult. Gramcord allowed scholars to search for specific forms and combinations to use as a data source, completing in minutes and hours, those searches that might take weeks and months, in previous eras.
Next time I want to discuss some practical ramifications of this information, any thoughts so far?

The Answers are Out There

I have previously noted that a number of common arguments raised by atheists and the Theological Left are recycled. That is, these are old arguments that are given new life by a recent author or by an article representing an old argument. One ramification of this is the answers for these questions are already established. In most cases, the only thing this demonstrates is that those republishing these arguments have failed to perform sufficient research. In fact, most of those who are critical of the Bible in the press have a tendency to ignore Evangelical scholars. (F.F. Bruce, Gleason Archer, and Nigel Turner are only some of the most important scholars in their field. Since they are Evangelicals, critics seem to have the attitude: “What could they possibly know?”). That being the case, what does this mean for the Christian today?

It means that the answers are already out there. While the critics of the Bible are certainly aggressive, and at times downright pugnacious, their smug certainty should be regarded either as a child who assumes more knowledge than he possesses or as someone who is using excessive energy to distract from the weakness of his case. This being said, how should the layman deal with assaults on the faith? Here are a few options:

• Ask your pastor. It is true not all pastors are seminary trained, but most men in the ministry should have a background with Biblical literature. Of course, different men will have different strengths and weaknesses. It is possible that apologetics may not be your pastor’s strength, but if nothing else, he should either know where to find an answer, or he should know someone who can direct him or you in the correct direction.

• Check a recent commentary by a contemporary Evangelical commentator concerning the passage being attacked. The older I become, the more impressed I am with current Evangelical scholarship; we have certainly been affected by periods of weakness, but the scholars are there. (Perhaps the true predicament is that Evangelical scholarship is ignored almost as much by Evangelicals as they are by atheists). Because we accept the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice, we have a distinct incentive to study the Bible carefully. It is simple arrogance by many to assume that an attack on the faith has actually taken all Christian thinkers by surprise.

• Check the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer. I have mixed feelings concerning the various works on alleged discrepancies. Many of the works that are used on the lay-level are older, and were written during a time period when Evangelical scholarship was less developed than it is today. They do not always contain information that is up to date. Archer’s works are aging, since the author has gone on to glory, but Archer was a scholar of the first rank and his literature provides a good starting point.

So what resources might I have missed here?