PsuedoChristian Teachers: The LGBTQ Theology

I should start with an apology, I was told that my last piece was too technical. I really do try to water these articles down, though sometimes that can be difficult without rendering the arguments I’m making incorrect. I will therefore skip one of two more points I wanted to cover, which is also a matter of theological heresy that has been allowed to spread within Evangelicalism. But there is one final point to be addressed, and that is the issue of homosexuality, bisexuality, gender dysphoria, etc. This is an area Christian should be cautious, some have a tendency to forget that Christ died to save sinners, including homosexuals. Nor should we be any more surprised to find some Christians have homosexual temptations anymore than we should be surprised to find some Christians are tempted by other sins, including other sexual sins. We should remember that we are but branches snatched from the burning.

But what has changed today are teachers who seem to feel we should forget the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality, and live by the postmodern standard. Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg, who claims to be a Christian and a practicing homosexual. The problem, of course, is that the Bible, the final authority of faith and practice, including the Christian view of ethics is clear on this matter, though some false teachers are attempting (and in some cases succeeding) in presenting bad exegesis to claim the Bible does not say what it, in fact, says.[1] There is a hidden premise, however, that seems to underlie these approaches, and that is an adoption of an non-Christian view of mankind, and that is a denial of the impact of the fall.[2] As Christians, we believe we are born in sin, our natural desires are tainted by our expressions of the innate depravity of our natures (and this is why Christians should moderate our language when it comes to homosexuality—homosexuality may be an expression of our depravity, so is greed, or the desires underlying substance abuse). One of the striking things about Lady Gaga’s song Born this Way is that she has the insight to see precisely this is the issue at hand (and one should always be surprised when a pop song is actually insightful). The view of God expressed in that song, which describes the gay Christian movement so well, is a view that is at odds with the Christian view, which expresses our profound, ethical brokenness since the fall.

But what is perhaps really interesting is, modern times have confirmed my own understanding of Romans chapter 1. Romans 1 does not seem to describe stages individuals move through. Rather, it seems to be describing the stages of the decay of true religion within societies lacking the oracles of God. Thus, the reference in Romans 1 is not to individuals acting out homosexual fantasies, it is rather about what we would describe as a gay affirming society. Further, it is a society that moves away from the divinely appoint end that God has created for sex and marriage. In Matthew 19:1-12 Jesus sets the pattern we are to accept for marriage and human sexuality, this is passage I’m working with for my dissertation studies, but Jesus here is presenting a theologically developed rule for interpreting the divine intentions for the authorship of a certain old Testament law, and his argument rests the design God has given for man in the garden. This is the great good in family life, a good that the church should not trade for the leeks and melons of this world’s system.

 

[1] While such attempts go back to John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Boswell was a historian, but his arguments from the Bible are inadequate. There are a number of common fallacies or issues of poor technique (or unfamiliarity with the Biblical material that underlie these arguments. Among the most common is the fallacy of special pleading. In discussions of Leviticus 18 and 20 and Romans 1, the person arguing that we simply don’t understand the Bible will attempt to argue that some particular points only towards issues of Roman society of ancient near eastern pagan practice. The problem is, the discussions of homosexuality are parts of larger discussions, in Leviticus, the immediate context involves sexual activity not idolatrous practices, including incestuous relationships (likely forcible incest) and sex with animals. No one argues that bestiality or incest are merely elements of Ancient near eastern idolatry, and no one would argue we should abandon these mandates on these grounds. Similarly, no one argues that the warnings against idolatry are merely elements of Greco-Roman society (despite the fact that elements of these passages describe other nations better than they do the Roman state), nor the earlier references to promiscuity. This is fatal to the arguments being raised.

Paul references homosexuality (at least among males) more directly in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. It is sometimes argued that this should not be understood as an reference to homosexuality, since Paul does not use the standard terminology available in his own day. However, Paul’s list passages show some odd tendencies to avoid standard terminology, possibly because such terms implied some acceptability of the practices. There are two terms at issue, and it is usually implied that Paul only references Prostitution. However, a quick check of basic lexical sources for New Testament Greek show that, at a minimum, the latter of the two terms (αρσενοκοιτης) is a term for a homosexual. We also know that Paul appears to have drawn this term by combining terms used in the Septuagint’s translation of Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 , a 3rd century BC translation of the Old Testament into Greek that was used by Jews and early Christians in Greek speaking areas of the empire.

[2]This is the second heresy this series of articles was originally going to include, a heresy known as Pelagianism that argues, while men may sin because of their environment, we are born somewhat morally neutral. Sometimes, this is tied into discussions of Arminianism and Calvinism, but this is faulty. First, because the commonly used phrase total depravity actually originates with Arminians, though some weaker Calvinists, such as myself use this particular phrase. Second, because for some reason, we tie the discussion improperly to freewill, this may actually be Calvin’s fault, at least in part. He attacked the belief in “free will” but makes it plain at the end he is not speaking of freewill in the same sense we usually mean it when discuss the subject of freewill today. Calvin is instead arguing that the will is depraved without regeneration not that our will is at all times coerced.

Pseudochristian Teachers Part 1: Scripture

We live in interesting times, times when Christians cannot ignore Apologetics, but this introduces a danger as well, some apologists along the way to answering objections to the faith, seek to answer those questions by modifying the faith, without realizing that the are producing something that is, in fact, no longer Christianity despite their continued use of Christian terminology and forms. This is not an old question, it was answered, I believe somewhat definitively, by Gresham Machen in his book Christianity and Liberalism, in which he demonstrated that theological liberalism’s departures from orthodox doctrine marked them as a non-Christian movement, and was the guiding principles of the Fundamentalist-modernist debate of the early twentieth century. Theological Liberalism in a sense, maintains elements Christian thought, termology and culture, but their theology substituted German Idealism for Christian doctrine, particularly in doctrines that Kantians and Hegelians would consider embarrassing. That is, theological liberalism attempted to replace components of a Christian worldview with those of German idealism. This was further developed by accommodating Hegelian epistemological assumptions in Biblical Studies, most famously by Bauer in the New Testament and by Wellhausen in the Old.[1]

This same trend has begun in modern American Evangelicalism, and it needs to be uprooted. Care here must be taken, however, I am not calling for a witchunt, and there must be a distinction made between laymen who have been failed by the church to provide an adequate theological education and those who teach and propagate false doctrine as if those doctrines are compatible with Christianity. A former professor I greatly respected once noted that, as a very young believer, he became involved with a supposedly Christian group that was involved in spiritualism and automatic writing; at the time he didn’t know any better. This is stated to point out two truths, first we need to be careful to avoid lumping misled sheep with the wolves. Second, there is a need for better doctrinal education in many of our churches, particularly in matters of the fundamentals, and one that presents to teens in particular the full robustness and the explanatory power Christianity provides for the world. There are, in particular, three trends that Christians should be aware in this regard, only one of which will be covered in this article.

I am suggesting, however, that professors and writers advocating certain viewpoints should be subject to church disciplinary procedures, as well as removal of ordination for views that are, from the standpoint of Christian theology, heretical.

The Standard of Scripture

The first issue is the role of the Bible in Christian thought, or more specifically some writers seem to believe that we can dispense with the traditional view of the Bible within Christian theology. By this I mean we have writers dispensing, both theologically and practically, with both the doctrines of the inerrancy of Scripture and the infallibility of Scripture. These two terms can easily be misunderstood due to the tendency of new heresies to attempt to redefine terms, often for deceptive purposes.[2] The term Infallibility means that the Scriptures contain no errors in doctrine (this would include things like ethics, or the existence of the soul) and therefore the Scriptures are fully authoritative in matters of faith and practice. Inerrancy takes this standard one step further and argues Scripture contains no errors whatsoever.[3] As Warfield demonstrated, inerrancy has been the traditional position held by most Christian thinkers throughout church history, and I am a firm inerrantist. I furthermore believe that denominational bodies with creedal commitments to inerrancy within their documents should rigorously enforce that point in regards to their officers and professors. Nevertheless, I draw the line of orthodoxy at infallibility,[4] there are four reasons for this, first, because the issue is rarely dealt with in a way that is clear,[5] and as often as note, strawman arguments have become so standard, they make comprehending the issue difficult. Second, and related to the first point, there is an issue of worldview that is not often acknowledged in this discussion. Modernism viewed good scholarship as not maintaining predetermined viewpoints, and this I think has led some genuinely good scholars in the 19th and 20th century to be misled on the point; in part through various myths about the enlightenment period that were considered historical facts for several centuries; in point of fact, the enlightenment did not move to the purely rational thought processes, as so many assume. Rather they substituted one set of premises for another; naturalism is not, as so many modernists have claimed it, the default set of assumptions, but rather it is an arbitrary premise that is maintained as inviolable. Third, because it gives time for younger believers to work through these questions without the type of pressures that we sometimes use that are counter-productive, particularly given the spirit of the age.[6] Fourth, and finally, Infallibility answers the question of the Bible’s role in our systematic theology sufficiently to allow some communication with a divergent viewpoint; that is, if one is an infallibilist, then it will not impact systematic theology provided their infallibilism is rigorously maintained (and where the problem really develops is when people claim to be infallibilists, but then do Biblical and Systematic theology as if the Biblical authors made doctrinal or ethical errors).

One might immediately ask where is the problem, after all, aren’t some people just advocating infallibility, which I begrudgingly allow as orthodox? The problem is some advocate infallibility in theory, but deny it in practice, or they are openly dispensing with infallibility. Thus, in a recent conversation with a man who has confirmed himself in this heresy a few times, the Bible’s testimony about the existence of the soul is irrelevant because there is no scientific evidence of such a thing.[7] This is immaterial (pun intended), to the question, if one accepts the infallibility of Scripture than Scripture is itself sufficient to establish the doctrine; claims science has disproven it are ultimately faulty.[8] The issue ultimately is that some deny that the Bible is, the “Word of God,” a phrase meaning it is what God has spoken.[9] This is why both Jesus and the apostles treat “Scripture says” as a fully authoritative on any point, and Jesus implies the same of the teachings of the apostles, the apostles recognizing Paul as the equal of Peter. If Jesus rose from the grave, and is, therefore, Who He claims to be, his Imprimatur is sufficient.[10]

The grounds for much of this new heresy comes in battles over origins, as some supposedly Evangelical thinkers have adapted various liberal interpretations of alleged claims about science in the Old Testament, particularly with Genesis 1, or the accounts of the flood which they claim are borrowed from pagan myths. I have addressed part of this problem elsewhere, the basis of the argument they are applying is semantically naïve, and their treatment of the Biblical material is surprisingly ham-handed. There is this odd tendency to speak often of the “Genres of Scripture” by people who in my estimation have very little skill in understanding of the actual genres of Scripture. In the main, however, this is a regurgitation of the various “History of religions approaches” that the theological left explored in the first half of the twentieth century, until they began, at least in New Testament studies, to realize they were engaged in question begging. Yet, the supposed Christian engaged in this type of approach is not understanding the ramifications of which he asserts, if the Bible is merely retelling old myths—to whatever purpose one might claim it to be, if the Bible is (as Barth noted) is merely a record of the impressions God has left on man, or retelling myths with a theological purpose, then it is evidence that Christianity is false, and should be discarded, it is not an argument for modifying our understanding of Scripture.[11] There is a similar discussion here when it comes to discussions claiming God’s behavior is unethical and therefore traditional views of Biblical authority should be discarded.[12] This applies to discussions of supposed “OT cosmology” but it also applies to attempts to assert Paul’s discussions of the role of women in the Church or as I will point out in the next piece, to the question of original sin.

[1] This is one point that is not often explained in discussions of early Fundamentalism. Early Fundamentalists along with earlier reformed writers drew from their epistemology from Scottish Common Sense Realism rather than from continental schools of thought that became popular in America at this time, and this shift itself is one of a change in academic fashion more than a discussion of disproof.

This also becomes one of the great issues in Biblical studies, there are elements of these assumptions that are still maintained by many scholars or which underlie many theories that are widely held, sadly many Evangelical scholars included, as if these partisan Hegelian assumptions constitute some neutral ground in the interpretation of Scripture.

 

[2]In an apologetics group in facebook I see have seen a number of posts in recent years that suggest new definitions of inerrancy. When I have noted they are presenting an already existing distinction between inerrancy and infallibility they tend to be dissatisfied with the answer, in part one or two noted it created a problem because some denominations require inerrancy as a standard in hiring for professors in their schools or as pastors in their churches; they wanted to change that standard so that their views could be propagated at those institutions. This is as much an issue of integrity as it is doctrinal definition.

 [3] See the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.

 [4]That is, if I were a seminary president, I would not accepted water-down approaches to the Bible for faculty members if the seminary articles of faith require a standard of inerrancy. Nevertheless, I might work with a scholar who holds the lower standard of infallibility on a given project, invite them to speak on an issue not impacted by the point, etc.

 [5] For example, The Chicago Statement on inerrancy is viewed by many as containing too many caveats, and that these caveats somehow negate the concept entirely. This is fuzzy thinking in a sense, and misses the history of the document, which seeks to answer the numerous strawman arguments that had previously been raised on the issue by several generations of the theological left, as well as by English Deists.

[6]As an example, a little more than a decade ago, I read The Book of Enoch, an apocryphal book that is quoted by the book of Jude. Reading the book led to a six week period when I questioned its inclusion in the canon—the conservative answer here is sound, but I needed to assimilate the data and apply it for myself.

[7] Atheists claim the soul has been disproven. The problem is they misstate the case that has been made, they have demonstrated significant (though I do not believe fatal) problems for Cartesian Dualism. The problem is, Cartesian Dualism is not a restatement of the traditional position that preceded Descartes. Descartes’s take on the absolute split between soul and body is probably drawn from Plato, and differs from earlier Christian views of the relationship between the soul and the body, where the body/soul were treated as intertwined rather than dichotomous. While I do not consider it a perfect answer to the question, I consider the relationship between the soul and the brain to be similar to the distinctions in a computer between the hardware and the software.

 [8]It has been suggested that physicalism and freewill have been disproven through EEG and other brain scanning technologies. In the case of freewill, there are assumptions about what it means to possess freewill in the assessments that are problematic. Freewill is not necessarily an absolute, and it is not incompatible to automation. That is, we can, of our own freewill, form principles that guide our decision making without significant thought at the time. Second, the assumptions on the soul are based on a Cartesian dualism which is what the study claim to disprove, but Christianity is not necessarily Cartesian. This is no insult to Descartes, but his conception of the soul as completely distinct from the body (something that he might have borrowed from Platonic philosophy) is asomewhat original claim, but early generations of theologians did not make the divide so complete. My own working model on the mind/body problem is as an analogy to the hardware/software divide on the computer. Both exist, both are necessary for the function of the machine, but they cannot be divided in practice. I do not imply the soul is merely data, but rather than the soul performs a similar role in guiding our actions.

[9] The New Testament borrows this from the Old Testament prophetic writings who conveyed the Word of Yahweh as something spoken or given to them. Paul describes the Scriptures as “God breathed” that is, words that come from God’s mouth.

 [10] At some later date, this will be addressed as it influences apologetics from the standpoint of Christianity as a worldview. Some seem to think we need some external support of every Christian idea and doctrine within an apologetics framework. But, this is the borrowing of a foreign set of epistemological principles. Some will object to discussions of epistemology within a discussion of worldview, on the misunderstanding that such a concept is relativistic. Relativism is not a necessary component in worldview studies, arguing that worldview impacts epistemology does not imply all discussions of epistemology are merely examples of a worldview. The very fact that people alter and change their worldviews, and with it their epistemological principles demonstrates that worldview does not go all the way down to the epistemological bottom, there is an underlying epistemological process that allows for the adoption, shifting and wholehearted rejection of a worldview. Rather, our worldview embodies our metaphysical and axiological premises, along with some of the rules we use to develop those premises.

 

[11] By this I include heretical writers such as John Walton, Denis Lamoureux, et. Al.

 

[12] This view is taken in Eric A Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God.

Reading the Bible Like a Paperback

I’ve always been a reader, not only in my work as an apologist and in the classroom, but also in my free time. Outside of New Testament, theological studies, philosophy and history, I’ve widely read economic works, true crime, literature, as well as Science fiction and fantasy. In the latter category, this has included paperback novels (particularly those related to the Star Wars’ Expanded Universe, which are now marketed under the “Star Wars Legends moniker, due to changes in the chronology when Disney acquired the property) as well as more serious works, such as those of H G Wells, Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stoker’s Dracula.

I’ve noticed that I read different types of work differently. That is, I don’t read Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn Trilogy with the same attention and connection to other fields as when I read to Shakespeare or the New Testament. This is not to insult Zahn, I have read his works and enjoyed them, but I enjoy them in a different way, and the seriousness of the literature demands a different type of engagement.

New Atheists

Often you will see Christian apologists who have commented that “new Atheist” writers have not even consulted rudimentary sources in the debate between Christians and atheists. Another way of explaining this problem is to suggest they have treated the Bible in the same way one would treat a paperback novel, but they seem to think that their expertise rivals that of those who have actually spent decades studying the material as one might study Shakespeare or Milton.

Here is a trick I’ve used in a few cases in facebook discussions when one of the passages atheists regularly rely on is cited, (I rarely use this move because it tends to end discussions rather than facilitate them). I simply ask, “what commentary or theological literature have you read on that particular passage.” Usually the answer is none.[1] Other times I have made the point, perhaps less politely, with the photo of a mug stating, “Your google search is not a substitute for my theology degree.”

Ex-Evangelicals

It should seem reasonable to assume that unbelievers will not know the Christian Scriptures well, and provided someone is not claiming expertise they do not possess, (by say, writing a book on the matter), I’m not going to quibble, it is my responsibility to make my case, not theirs to accept it a priori. But the objection that gets raised to this issue are ex-evangelicals, and sadly even a few ex-pastors who raise the same passages from the Christian Scriptures, without comment. And yet, in my interactions with ex-evangelicals, the same general ignorance still applies, this seems strange, or perhaps, we might say, it is sad. I believe in part it is because Americans exist in a pseudo-intellectual culture (that is, the average American claims to value knowledge, but only when that knowledge comes easily through documentaries and hip websites, not when there is a need for intellectual ardor and hard work; we wish to be thought well read more than we wish to be well read), but much of the Evangelical culture does not value the mind. (This is perhaps one of the reasons why Reformed churches are growing currently, because the Protestant intellectual tradition largely grows out of Calvin’s Geneva).[2] We speak of reading the Bible, but we do so seeking something spiritual as if the mind is some disconnected, amorphous blob that has nothing to do with the rest of the Christian life. Our theological programs seem built on the predicate that the life of the mind for the believer is only for the pastor, or the seminary professor. If atheists read the Bible like so many cheap paperbacks, perhaps this is because this is precisely how so many believers read the Bible.

We need a balance. Not every Christian is called to be a scholar, not everyone will memorize the Kalam cosmological argument, or the full history of the Christological conflicts of the fourth and fifth centuries, but we also need to again have education programs in our churches that both has some apologetic value, but also some theological and Biblical substance. Doctrine and Biblical studies are not the guarded and isolated domain of the clergy, hoarded to answers questions as needed, but rather the property of the Body as a whole. This is a particular problem in Baptist churches, and I speak as a committed Baptists by conviction on most points.[3] Baptists should be the least hidebound of all the denominations, our view of soul liberty (and the right of every believer to study the Bible for themselves) implies a responsibility to study the Bible. But, sadly, such responsibilities fail to attain the status we might accord so many other duties or pleasures. Perhaps we have so many ex-evangelicals with a college level understanding of naturalism and its premises and a 2nd grade level understanding of the Christian faith, because we have settled for the belief that this is enough. Right now, it isn’t.

[1] In a few cases, the retort that has been made is that Evangelical resources are biased. True, but so are the resources coming from every other direction. Bias is an inevitable product of intellectual activity and it cannot be dispensed with completely, but it is possible to be objective with a bias. Thus, the question remains, if the Evangelical resources are wrong, without simply asserting premises that are themselves a source of bias (such as David Hume’s Argument Against Miracles), where specifically do they go wrong. Usually there is no answer on this, but that also tells me I am dealing with a mind too closed to have a productive conversation and it is time to walk away. As I said, this technique tends to be a debate stopper.

 

[2] Many might object to this statement, but I did not say only Calvinists have an intellectual tradition. It is not that theological education is somehow especially the province of Calvinism, nor is there something intrinsically of greater worth in a Calvinists mind or heart. Rather, the point is historical, the forging of the protestant tradition, including those who dissent from the narrower Calvin, were forged in Geneva. For example, while there is an intellectually vigorous Arminianism in the Anglican tradition, this tradition itself is an outgrowth of the Calvinist roots of an earlier age. Arminius himself was nurtured and fed by the ravens and brooks of Geneva.

 

But I also assumes that Calvinism is a broader tradition. Back in the 90s, it was fashionable to consider oneself neither a Calvinist, nor an Arminian. This was my own way of describing myself at the time. I believe Calvin was right about election, a position I took initially with a certain degree of trepidation, but one which the logic of Scripture would not allow me to avoid. But I have never agreed with Calvin about reprobation. But, as I have aged, I have come to realize election itself is the dividing line between the two positions, and as such, any type of centrist position is a type of Calvinism. Arminianism is by definition one of the extremes on the spectrum of divine sovereignty and human freewill. The opposite of an Arminian is not the Calvinist, but the theological determinist, a subset of a subset of the Calvinism. In particular, there are distinctions between the Scottish school of Calvinist thought (a much broader tradition in practice) and the Dutch Reformed model, and I think the Scottish model is more adaptable, and a better fit for intellectual enquiry. This is why I call myself a Calvinist, but I do not describe myself as reformed, as I am a dispensationalist, and most reformed confessions of faith repudiate sublapsarianism.

[3] Many differences between denominations comes down to relatively unimportant matters, one of these is “church government.” I personally have come to the conclusion that the reason there are so many various interpretations on this issue of the Biblical data is because the Biblical data is not intended to answer those questions, rather we have a certain flexibility here that is implied. The church’s order has altered throughout history in part to adapt to circumstances and cultural views on leadership. Other than an agnosticism on the issue of government I am a fairly unremarkable Baptist in my conclusions.

Christianity as Faith without Evidence?

One of the central claims by Sam Harris and many internet atheists is the claim that there is no evidence to support religious beliefs, or that religious beliefs are unjustified. In some senses, this should be easily dismissed, like Dawkins and Hitchens, Harris has not adequately done his homework.[1] For example, in his arguments he claims Pascal’s wager advocates belief without evidence,[2] but this does discredit to Pascal. Pascal’s wager is predicated on his statements that the evidence for Christian theism and against it were evenly matched, Harris does not mention this rather critical assumption to the wager, or Pascal’s development of the point. Similarly, of the three places where he footnotes a statement from Augustine, in 2 places his statement is from a secondary source. Additionally, he assumes a definition of religious belief drawn from Kierkegaard’s view of belief as a “Leap in the dark” and Hebrews 11:1, which he treats as a definition of faith. The later point is an example of poor exegesis, however, as that section of text should not be treated as a definition. Nor should Kierkegaard be treated as a universal explanation of Christian theism.

But what is most astonishing is, in my days of arguing on facebook, whenever one begins to produce evidence for the resurrection, the atheists invariable counter is dismissal of the evidence, usually with poor examinations, or by claiming something about the gospels that is believed by “most New Testament scholars,” without noting, or perhaps even understanding, that scholars are as divided on these points as are anyone else.[3] Mention Ramsey’s work with Acts (my usual starting point), references from Tacitus of the Talmud, and the responses are never one of inquiry they are rather closeminded refusals to investigate the matter further, sometimes with the type of haughty ridicule that personifies “New Atheism.”

The key thing to understanding the claim that Christians have faith, but no evidence, is that it is predicated on the naturalistic assumption that evidence for miracles should be treated prejudicially as false, that is, when evidence is cited, it must be dismissed because miracles don’t happen.[4] That is, their worldview begins with a close mind, not an enquiring one. There is a lot more here than can be quickly unpacked, but it is useful to know that the charge itself is false, it isn’t that Christians believe without evidence, it is that Christians believe on the basis of evidence that atheists do not seem to wish to examine.

[1]This is treating him kindly, it is either this, or he is deliberately misrepresenting positions raised by others.

[2] Please note, adequate care should always be used with Pascal’s work on the subject since it was a project he did not complete before his death.

[3] Much of modern theological scholarship was deeply impacted by German Idealism, particularly by Hegel. Biblical scholarship is divided, unsurprisingly along theological lines. Some view the theological left as neutral, but their epistemology is impacted by continental philosophers and Hume, they are therefore as partisan and biased in their analysis as they claim evangelical scholars to be.

 

Interestingly, much of the debate concerning the gospels comes down to the writings of the very early church fathers. The theological liberal, argues they are unreliable, and usually makes this claim with inadequate evidence and reasoning. The fathers were men, therefore not infallible, and they were men who held to the scientific theories of their times, but there are good reasons for not dismissing the fathers so hastily, or to paint with two broad a brush and argue that some error in one father discredits all who follow. First, they had more information than the 19th century German critics did, they had access to documents and sources we do not. Second, their claims for the gospels are unanimous, but we would not expect unanimity in the second century fathers of the gospel writers were actually unknown. Third, we would expect the gospels would be attributed to the leading lights among the apostles, not Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark is a minor character, best known for his failings in the New Testament era, though early tradition places him as working with Peter. Matthew is an apostle, but hardly prominent. Luke was merely a companion of Paul’s, and not an apostle in his own right. There is also a certain likelihood of the identifications that fits modern historiography, but was likely less impressive to ancient thinkers. There are regularly raised questions asserting Galilean fishermen could not have written the gospels. This I think is a faulty question, sociological data of history is too imprecise for the claim to either be considered proven, or refuted. I dislike the sheer number of assumptions needed to make that case, either way. But, it is ultimately irrelevant. Matthew was a tax collector, meaning he was literate. Mark is associated with Peter in early tradition, and was also from an apparently wealthy Levitical family (and thus was likely educated). Luke, who wrote as a historian, was also a learned man. John probably came from a somewhat well off family (his father owned two boats and had hired workers) and so he might have had some advantages in education other fisherman did not have. Additionally, his gospel is later than the synoptics, and therefore, he had ample time during his ministry to learn the necessary skills before writing the gospel.

 

But here is where it gets interesting, some of the issues within NT scholarship come from treating something called the Two-Source theory as being very certain, and this is used as grounds to claim the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. This reasoning, is backwards. That is, if there is a problem between the two source version and the patristic data, the patristic data has far better credibility than imagining sources on the basis of Hegel’s approach to dialectic.

[4]This is the sum effect of David Hume’s argument against miracles. The argument has two parts, an “in principle” section is a circular argument, and would seem to make it impossible to believe in new discoveries, if followed with any rigor. Second, his “in fact” set of four statements that are really examples of argumentium ad hominem implying ancients were too ignorant and uneducated to understand the in principle argument, with a claim that religious miracles cancel each other out, this later part is a non-sequitar, since as CS Lewis noted, what is present are not actually contradictory. Additionally, Hume’s arguments are couched in his own brand of radical skepticism, and one wonders if the argument can be grounded without that skepticism, a skepticism that his modern proponents do not share.

Progressivism: Salvation through Politics

A few weeks ago, after my recent pieces on mass shootings my mother noted she was concerned that several political posts on truth in the trenches that I was moving away from my central mandate; I certainly can understand this point, the gospel and the Christian faith is my bedrock and center. I also have another blog that I am looking at using for non-apologetic pieces on issues that have philosophical and theological elements to them, and unfortunately too many of these are political for my tastes.

This raises the question, why deal with politics on an apologetics blog at all? This is a valid question, but my answer is going to be a bit different from past thoughts. My reasons are that I think progressivism (as well as the predominate form of libertarianism, such as is found in the writings of Ayn Rand) should be treated as a religion, not merely as a political philosophy. As such, I am ultimately demonstrating the unreliability of a religious sect, rather than defending a political opinion. I will not expound on the entirety of my case at this time (four earlier versions of this article have been deleted, because trying to make that case quickly started turning into blog posts that are both too complex and too long—even for me). Rather I will note two points of a larger case that will come together later, Lord willing in a journal article. First, from the standpoint of philosophy of religion, new atheism, communism Nazism and other movements have been described with terms such as “pseudo-religions,” because when criteria for defining a religion are laid down, these movements are inevitably similar. Second, historically, I believe the 21st century, like the age of exploration, is demonstrating that the traditional taxonomy of religious beliefs is inadequate, and the distinction between religion and worldview even less adequate. I’ve seen some commentators refer to progressives as “fundamentalists,”[1] in describing the way progressives seek to use social and economic force to destroy those they deem enemies, my suggestion is that they are doing so because they are enacting on their religious beliefs.

But why treat progressivism as a religion rather than deal with the philosophies associated with progressivism? The answer is that much of what we think of as post-modernism changes the structure of western philosophy through ideas that were made popular by Michael Foucault in the academy, which in turn were derived from Nietsche and Marx. In most of western philosophy, ethics, the answer to questions related to “How then shall we live,” are rooted in metaphysics and epistemology. But Foucault instead argued that it all really come down to power, not truth.[2] For modern progressive, political power and identity take on the role that drives the rest of the philosophical and religious agenda.

But not only does political theory become the basis for their worldview, it becomes the means of salvation, as well, an eschatological hope founded by remolding society through the removal of all privilege, both those considered unjust (a justice that lacks any sense of merit other than holding progressive ideals) but also those inherent in giftedness. Progressive views are incommensurable with the classical liberalism that is typically called conservatism in the United States.

The problem with seeking heaven on earth, (besides other problems that are subjects of other columns) is that such a thing requires a view of human nature that is untenable. Such ideals and dreams have turned into the nightmares of the Soviet Union or Jonestown, precisely because the one undeniable truth of Christianity (by anyone who has done a half-way competent reading of history) is that the core problem in human civilization is that human beings are universally bad, and cannot be trusted with universal power. The problem with building a perfect civilization is that it will instantly cease to be perfect the moment a human being is included. Scripture warns, that a man who trusts in flesh, is cursed, history would seem to affirm Scripture’s judgment. The reason why so many projects like that of progressivism leads to totalitarianism is because it seeks perfect society without perfecting the human heart. Removing power from one person and giving it to another only leads to something better if the person gaining power is more virtuous than the person losing power, but the history of revolutions would tend to indicate that the bitterness and anger which lead to revolution only multiply sufferings, they do not alleviate them. It is only Christianity that offers a hope for a more just society by offering a more virtuous ruler in a future eschatological kingdom, a ruler for whose virtue is so great that He is able to communicate that virtue into his supplicants.

 

 

[1] This shows a general ignorance of the Christian fundamentalism but, again, that is a topic for another day.

[2] There are other essential ingredients and interpretational issues, but these are not listed to maintain some semblance of simplicity will be discussed later, perhaps. The can be understood by noting the role of power as the central concern in political theory.

Mass Shootings

So the news of the day involves the recent shootings in El Paso Texas, and Dayton Ohio, one by a racist who is being connected to Trump, one in Dayton Ohio to someone who, according to several news outlets, was a leftist who apparently supported Elizabeth Warren (this has not been covered as heavily as the political connections to the El Paso Shooting), and who also apparently had connections to the incel community. Naturally we have the debate in headlines that focused on politics. Yesterday, Joe Biden claimed Trump bears responsibility for “fanning the flames of White Supremacy” but noticeably, Joe, other Democrats and left wing outlets have been unwilling to give suggest outspoken democratic party members for speech for the 2017 congressional shooting, nor does the left discuss the Southern Poverty Law Center responsibility in the same terms for the mass shooting at the Family Research Council in 2012.

These issues always bring up discussions of gun control. It has been a few years, but the last I checked, gun bans in other countries do lead to fewer gun related homicides, but the overall homicide rates tend to dip only temporarily as other methods of murder become more prominent, and other crimes, including violent offenses such as sexual assaults or other crimes against women tend to go up. The goal of this site is not to discuss politics, nor gun control, but the gun control debate does illustrate something, gun control doesn’t solve this problem because it targets means, but what is needed isn’t a discussion of means it is the root cause (Republicans can in turn be very good at distinguishing the means from the causes, but while they make the distinction, they are never seem to actually get around to discussing the causes themselves). Mass shootings are a relatively new phenomenon, at least in the current incarnation. Yes, there have been shootings with innocent bystanders for years, stemming from mob wars, where “civilians” are in the field of fire between combatants, this happened at the St. Valentine’s day massacre, or during the late 80s war between different factions of the Columbo crime family, for example. Other actions of terrorism were about maintaining political power, such as the Klan, for example, always had goals that related to political power; such as the suppression of African Americans from voting. The closest thing to mass shootings in an earlier epoch would be bombings by Vietnam War protestors, but they were (ineffectively) taking actions they thought would undermine a war or to start a Marxist revolution of the proletariat. Even the Manson family had a political motive, albeit one based in a strange, drug induced interpretation of the Beatles’ White Album.

Modern mass shootings differ in terms of motives from other types of murders; they are not about profit or power, but become instead the ultimate means of expressing anger, hatred, frustration, and depression; they are often murder/suicides, the goal being to die and take out someone in the class of people the perpetrator believes is harming him. The earliest example I am aware of concerning this modern phenomenon of mass shootings was the Texas University Sniper in the 1966, but the phenomenon started in earnest during the Columbine shootings in the 90s. The phenomenon of mass shootings is frightening, usually happening in gun free zones, but given the ease with which information can be found on the internet, if guns were outlawed, and the statistics hold true, why should we think mass shootings would not be replaced by planting bombs in public places, such as happened at the Boston Marathon?

It seems, the one thing we don’t want to consider is that cultural changes, including the abandonment of Christianity. Mass shootings are a symptom of the ways our cultural values have become defective. No one wants to phrase it this way, we would, for example, rather discuss bullying in connection with school shootings. Personally, I was the victim of extensive bullying when I was in high school, and there were times I had to deal with a great deal of anger and resentment over that bullying. But I never considered taking something like a mass shooting, which I could have accessed, and shooting my tormenters. Nor did the countless potential army of victims generated from bullying that goes back generations. But that was before we abandoned the idea that man is made in the image of God, and before the widespread impacts of moral relativism, existentialism and post-modernism. This appears to be an especially attractive offering for the post modern that finds the dream is elusive, and unreal. Incels (involuntary celibates, a term a group of men who feel despair of ever finding connections with women) are perhaps the best example of this tendency. These millennial men are finding that the post-modern dream is a nightmare for anyone who is socially awkward and not what society considers attractive, many are turning to post-modernism’s ideological cousin, nihilism, as an outlet, and the results have been devastating not only to the incel community, but to a number of women who have been injured by this community.

 

I’m sure the politicians will use these tragedies to their advantage; I’m sure over the weeks and months we will find further grounds for political polarization in internet echo chambers, or in political speeches; extremism always being a problem only in the other party, as the political cycle whirls in a race to the bottom. But until America begins to recognize that this is a problem built in the background of our changing cultural mores, that mass shootings and other types of political violence are not issues of party (as both parties have their rhetorical bomb throwers), then we will continue to merely look at issues of means, rather than the root problem. We should be looking in a mirror, rather than looking at a political party.