The Election and Our Credibility

In the 1980s, America went through the “satanic panic.” During that time, talk show hosts, such as Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey fostered a widespread belief that there were numerous Satanist cults that were engaged in human sacrifice and ritual abuse of children, and these cults were experts at evading detection by law-enforcement. Belief in these fictional groups was bolstered by lone-wolf killers who were self-proclaimed Satanists, most notable Richard Ramirez. There was never any evidence of these elusive groups, as was eventually noted by the FBI. While the Satanic Panic was not solely a Christian phenomenon, it bolstered the work of sensationalist writers, such as Jack Chick, who can most charitably be described as “nut jobs.” This led to some staunchly held beliefs among a minority of Christians, and among other harms, was involved in the failed pastorate I held for nearly a year in Wisconsin. It also led to a major credibility gap for Christians at large, as people have seemed to have forgotten non-Christians beating the drums to get the whole thing started, such perhaps is life.

                There is, in the United States, a body of evidence to suggest there are systemic issues when it relates to the security of our elections, and that we have a problem with fraud in the system. Unfortunately, our legal structure makes it difficult to know precisely how significant the problem is, though it likely only affects close races. But, evidence of systemic issues with elections is not proof that a presidential election was stolen—particularly since the electoral college makes it far more difficult to effect the presidential outcome than it is the outcome of a closely contested senate, house, or local race. It is not evidence of a conspiracy against a particular presidential candidate. There is also a vast different between stating “we have a body of evidence to suggest there are systemic issues when it relates to the security of our elections” and saying “we have proof that the election was hijacked.” The first one suggests taking action to prevent further problems, and investigating specific cases. The later suggests certainty, and knowledge not only of the existence of fraud, but the extent of that fraud. It would require we not be at the beginning of an investigation, but near its end.

                We live in unusual times, the “Russia Collusion Investigation” ending in the Mueller report should lead us to be very cautious to avoid trusting in the integrity of our Federal government. We ought to be skeptical, but it should also warn us about jumping to conclusions quickly, in using anecdotal evidence or the appearance of impropriety as ironclad proof of something sinister. We also live in a darkening age, intellectually. As a Christian apologist, I’ve debated with enough new atheist “google cowboys,” (as a few friends have dubbed them) to know that many people seem to think watching a few movies or documentaries, or even reading a few online articles and blog posts makes someone the equivalent of those of us who have actually spent time studying a subject. We treat opinion columnists as hard news sources and we tend to read the sensationalistic blogs rather than books by writers with a track records of careful work. We also live in hysterical times—the anti-Trump “resistance” seems to have swallowed their own propaganda too deeply and the result is similar to a moonshiner who begins oversampling his own product; their mental faculties seem to be operating as if they were in a drug or alcohol induced haze, (although too many trips to Colorado might be involved, as well).  Unfortunately, in too many cases, the response to that hysteria has been a similar hysteria on the right—there is indeed evidence of corruption in the probe into Trump’s connections with Russia, but we should be cautious when a story about a laptop connected to Hunter Biden turns up in the press, we don’t want to be fooled by a Republican version of the Steele dossier, remember, Trump allies also tried to imply Senator Ted Cruz’s father as being involved in the Kennedy assassination.  We should instead push to have issues investigated, and temper our responses until after said investigation is complete. Careful work takes time, early headlines are often wrong, or misleading.

                The current enthusiasm for a belief in conspiracies is that it will have no impact on the election. The most Trump supporters could hope to accomplish is to prevent certain state elections from being certified, in which case, the house of representatives would put Biden into the White House instead of the electors from the states. The real impact will be on our credibility, especially for my fellow apologists. Our credibility is important if we are seeking to win hearts rather than merely holding our own in a debate. People often dismiss the gospel on the grounds of popular level beliefs that Christianity is somehow opposed to science, learning or the intellectual life. We know of course that the “conflict thesis” between science and religion has largely been debunked in scholarship, but thanks to the New Atheists, it lives on in much of our populace. Our credibility is crucial to making a case, our epistemic agency is part of what must be evaluated by our readers and hearers.

                I therefore hope my friends and fellow believers in the apologetics community will be careful in how they discuss this issue. We should not be taking strong stands on this issue at this time. We do not want to make a widespread stance on this election into another event like the “Satanic Panic.” It is reasonable to discuss strengthening our election security; even if there is little fraud in the system, it is reasonable to take the steps necessary investigate and prevent it. Banks don’t wait until they are robbed to examine and enhance their security protocols, why would the elections be different? Putting a spotlight on individual instances of problems in the system is therefore a valuable thing for the nation. But we need to be careful not to overstate the case, to claim that voter fraud affects millions of ballots, and to verify a few claims when we can before passing them on. We should be as careful with discussions of the election as we wish New Atheists were in their handling of source material. Whatever else might be said for or against Trump, we should not consider sacrificing our credibility for him.        

This blog is closed

I’m just not very good at all of this, apparently. After 6 years, its time to admit I’ve failed, and others seem to be far better at this, and will be deleted when premium service  runs out

Goodbye all, it was fun while it lasted.

Christianity, Race and Critical Theory

As we are again encountering major discussions of race, one of the things that Christians must keep in mind, if we wish to be rational, is the issue of Critical theory, and the over-arching post-modern culture which guides it, a type of pseudo-intellectualism that infected even the academy. I noted critical theory in my last post, but I want to put some legs to the argument as to why it should be rejected by Christians. To begin, a lay level description (that will not cover every aspect) of critical theory will be required. Starting in the seventies, humanities professors became enchanted with the writings of Foucault, who argued among other things, that literature and historical writings were preserved because of their role as instruments of power rather than because of any intrinsic truth they might contain. He describes the writings themselves as artifacts, and his major work putting for this position is The Archeology of Knowledge. Foucault’s work is significantly influenced by Nietsche, and neo-marxism. This led to what is called the politicization of the humanities, which maintained two separate but fundamentally incoherent elements, first a charged and biting hatred for Western culture and Christianity in particular, second a belief that all things are essentially relative. Critical theory is one stream of this post-modern movement that suggests every aspect of history should be understood in terms of oppression and oppressed. This requires a discussion of racism in terms of structures, referring for example, to whiteness, cultural imperialism or cultural hegemony.

There may be some discussions of “structural racism” that may be useful in sociology, but the question of “structural racism” is a more problematic assertion in discussions of ethics, though even here, there are some valid questions that need to be raised—these include whether it is appropriate to think of sociology as a science[1]—the question of whether it should be used in ethical discussions is far more dubious. Critical theory is not about facts concerning society or history, rather critical theory is a system of interpreting those facts. Similarly, critical theory is ultimately not a matter of “proof” the themes of the critical theorists are rather assumed and then applied to history. One of the central contentions is that the West’s role in the world is because of western technology, which has imposed a set of western values on the world. Within Critical theory, Christianity, with its missional aspect, is either the driving force of imposing things such as Christian sexual norms on native peoples from other traditions or it is a means of oppression by western imperialism. There is a sense, then, in which one can accept critical theory, or one can be a Christian, but one cannot be both without significantly modifying Christianity.

The Self-Refuting nature of Critical theory and Post Modernism

One of the major problems with post-modernism and therefore critical theory, is that it is, in philosophical terms self-refuting which means, if one accepts as true the beliefs of post-modernism and critical theory, one must then reject post-modernism and critical theory as false. For example, I noted earlier that Foucault noted that all writings are artifacts and should be interpreted in terms of the way they are used as a means to power, and draws these ideas from Nietsche. But, Foucault does not treat Nietsche’s writings the way he claims we should treat all literature, nor do post-modernists treat Foucault as an “artifact.”[2] Similarly, if everything comes down to concerns about power, this would imply that critical theory is, itself, simply another means of pursuing power. In fact, critical theorists have made a point in the academy of not hiring Christians or conservatives into their departments, indicating that critical theorists are not, in point of fact, interested in tearing down power structures, but rather they are in favor of building structures for their own benefit. A feminist writing within critical theory could argue that biographers of Washington are merely trying to build their own power base by appealing to patriarchal myths, but feminists have their own myths, and they are attempting to build their own bases of power.[3] When making these types of arguments, the critical theorist is asserting that his own motives should not be judged in the same way he judges the motives of his ideological opponent.

Critical theory and Western History

Critical theorists will often note that some historians have tended to cherry-pick western and American history in constructing meta-narratives that laud the greatness of America or the West. One would think, if this were the cases, critical theorists would be more careful in their readings of history, sadly, this is not the case; in my experience post-modernists are worse about leaving out elements of history that are not conducive to their theories than are traditional historians. For example, the dissertation prospectus I am working deals with Old Testament slave codes, in rebutting a point raised by an author, I started looking for a references in articles on the impact of the Massacre of 1804 on antebellum Southern slave codes. For those who are unaware, after the Haitian revolution ended, there was an attempted genocide of the French on the island, initially it was to include women and children as well as the men, but some of the women who married black men were allowed to live. The event had a major impact on the American South, before the massacre, many Southern thinkers, such as Jefferson and Madison, were strongly pushing for an end to slavery by means of gradualism, in fact, this goal was a part of the state of Virginia’s stated reasons for participating in the American revolution. However, the massacre ended those discussions, unfortunately, because it was feared that if the slaves were freed, similar retaliatory gestures would be taken. While I found a number of recent articles (particularly within scholarship laden with Marxist tropes) of the effect of the Haitian revolution on the American South, the massacre, the most significant event of that revolution on Southern policies, was never mentioned. While the Massacre of 1804 does not justify the increasing harshness of Southern slave codes—at least for a Christian (Matthew 5:23), an atheist making denunciations here has some significant problems in grounding those denunciations—it does tend to indicate the attempt to understand American history solely in terms of lust for power are inadequate, fear may have played a bigger role in the greatest travesty of American history than avarice or will to power. Similarly, as Rodney Stark has noted, the cannibalism and the human sacrifice occurring on a massive scale that early European explorer’s found in the Americas tends to be excised by most modern treatments of the early contact between native Americans and Europeans. While it is true that the Spanish sought to exploit the natural wealth of the Western Hemisphere, there are indications that they were partially moved to act by the human suffering they found. One should be as distrustful of claims made by groups such as the 1619 project as one must be from historians that always put a positive spin on American history, or for that matter any attempt to oversimply history, history is far more complicated than so many seem to realize. One cannot deny that there is significant racism in European and American history, but critical theory is not about affirming that racism exists, it is about affirming that race is fundamental to understanding European and American history.

Additionally, we should be distrustful of claims that Western culture is dominate because of its technology. As Rodney Stark has wisely noted, Western technological progress, and the tendency to put innovated technology into practical use is not an explanation of the West’s role in the world, but is, itself, a part of what needs to be explained. That is, what must be asked is why, by the age of exploration, were reading glasses only in widespread use in Europe? If all cultural values and virtues are equally valid, then this would necessarily include intellectual virtues, but the technological development of the West suggests that, in point of fact, western intellectual virtues are objectively superior to those of other surrounding cultures.

Of course, here again, Post-modernism is self-defeating, post modernism itself is dependent on beliefs that are, themselves, drawn from western virtues and traditions, virtues that do not exist always exist in other places. While care should be taken about overstating the case, what is unique about the west is not the existence of slavery—slavery was, until the 19th century, nearly ubiquitous throughout the world, with the exception of much of mainland Europe—what is unusual about European values is that the enslavement of other men was thought to be wrong, that the treatment of slaves in European colonies was not in accord with Christian or Deistic principles concerning the way we ought to treat our fellow man, and the desire to end the practice. In a sense, then, critical theorist is, in his own terms, guilty of a type of western cultural hegemony. After all, why should Europeans tell Arabs that their participation in the slave trade is wrong?


[1] It seems to me to describing sociology as a science would seem to assume a type of mechanistic account of humanity, that is to accept that sociology is a science, one would need to assume a priori that man has no freewill, and therefore no soul. Science, among other things, works from beliefs in natural law, and studies those natural laws, but natural law is what happens when agents do not intervene in the course of events. Of course, if human beings have freewill or souls, then they are agents. Because much of sociology is dependent on Kuhn’s philosophy of science, and Kuhn is controversial, there are additional misgivings of whether to describe the social studies as sciences, or rather empirical studies of another sort.

[2] Some will argue that since Foucault and Nietsche are writing as philosophers, somehow a different standard should be applied, but this does not seem to work either. Without getting too technical, if one takes this kind of approach one will tend to find that these “second order” criteria that are used to justify this type of philosophical approach that are different from other types of literature require a “third order” set of criteria, and then a “fourth order” set of criteria to justify this third order set of criteria, until we have no basic criteria to work from, at all. Second order criteria, to operate well, need to be able to function within the rule sets they create.

 [3] There is, within this discussion, a tendency to legitimize a logical fallacy, argumentium ad hominem, arguments should not be raised against the man, rather against the case he makes. Thus, for example, environmental studies by an oil company are they support should be rejected because they are the product of an oil company. It is true that an oil company has a vested interest in putting forward a study, but while this raises grounds to suggest carefully reviewing the study, it doesn’t prove the study is wrong; that would require that one dig into the facts asserted, verify that they are true, that no cherrypicking has occurred, etc.

Metapologetics 1: Introductory Thoughts

I have not done much writing about the subject of how one “ought” to argue for the truth of Christianity, a topic known as Metapologetics” for Truth in the Trenches, in part, because this blog was originally conceived of as a lay level resource (which does not always match my gifts, but I try). Secondarily, this technical discussion is sadly a topic that often garners more heat than light; discussions of metapologetics have been described as “the metapologetic wars.” Finally, I’ve always been a bit of an eclectic, academically, and I have intentionally tried to expand my horizons beyond my starting point, this is one of the reasons why I started working on a PhD in apologetics. Initially, I viewed differences in apologetic approach as complimentary, and to an extent I still do, but my exposure has changed my position somewhat, for reasons I will explain below.

So after having avoided this topic for several years, why address it now? There are three good reasons. First, eventually Truth in the Trenches will have a relaunch, and when it does, I intend to have some documents ready to explain the role, purpose and goals of this ministry and answers to questions of metapologetics are a necessary part of that discussion. Second, for those first starting out in apologetics, it can be helpful to understand something about the different approaches different writers take, particularly when they engage in metapologetic discussions. Finally, because I am working on my comprehensive exams right now, and I have been going through a time of examining the work I have done over the past few years, and developing my thought along the way, it’s a good time to discuss the matter. I always find I learn something better when I have an opportunity to bounce ideas off of other thinkers.

But I think, before discussing the different ways of answering questions and evaluating them, we need to consider how we are to evaluate them.

Two Types of Cases

There are more than two types of approaches to apologetics, but there are ultimately two types of cases an apologist will make, and these are related to the two types of questions that apologists try to answer. I bring this up now, because I believe these two types of cases are useful in evaluating different approaches to apologetics.

The first type of case can be summarized by saying “Christianity is true (or probably true) because of X” with X filling in for the type of case being made (for example, “Christianity is probably true because the evidence suggests that Jesus rose from the dead”). This type of case is often called “Positive apologetics” but I prefer the term affirmative, because if we thought of this as a formal debate, the Christian would be arguing the affirmative position within that debate. In affirmative apologetics the Christian, like the prosecuting attorney has the burden of proof.

The second type of case can be summarized by saying “Christianity is not false because of Y” with Y standing in for whatever argument an apologists partners in dialogue might bring up. Here, we are answering objections to issues such as the problem of evil, evolutionary theory, etc. This is usually called negative apologetics, and I like that term for the same reason I like the term affirmative; the negative is the second party in a formal debate. In this case, under most circumstances, the Christian has the burden of rejoinder rather than the burden of proof, this gives us a bit more freedom in maintaining our premises in giving an answer to a given question.

Two Types of Activities

Besides the two types of cases, I believe apologists are engaged in two intertwined activities, though we usually think of apologetics as a singular activity. The first aspect of apologetics is practical and persuasive, the great literary apologists are examples, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Leigh Strobel and Josh McDowell are examples of writers who have had a tremendous impact in bringing people to Christ. Here, I will submit, issues of metapologetics are somewhat pointless, and should not be debated at all. C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity has influenced more lives for Christ than perhaps any other work in the 20th century, are we really going to question his technique? The second activity, and it is probably the area where I find my own strengths (though I strive to improve at the first), is the formal foundation of the faith, that is, it provides justification for our theological beliefs and our Biblical-interpretational techniques, and here someone who engages in apologetics must eventually come to a position on the types of arguments that are compelling. But, perhaps paradoxically, both elements of persuasion and formal foundational concerns are shaped by the culture, philosophy and issues of the apologists society. For example, early Christian apologists often made use of the philosophy associated with Plato. Similarly, modern apologists are affected, sometimes unconsciously, by the intellectual worlds that different apologists inhabit and different schools of apologetics have been influenced by different intellectual mantras and models. For example, Presuppositional Apologists borrow very heavily from philosophers in Kant’s tradition and its popularity is in part a result of a generation of Evangelical scholars receiving their training in Germany where departments of Biblical studies were heavily influenced by German idealism. Evidentialist Apologists, work from a standpoint heavily influenced by English and Scottish thinkers. Classical Apologists are heavily influenced by older rationalist philosophers, they are popular again through a resurgence of interest in the work of Thomas Aquinas through writers such as Norman Geisler.


                The best book I’m aware of on metapologetics is Bowman and Boa’s Faith has its Reasons, dividing apologetics into Classical, Evidential, Reformed and Fideist schools of thought. I’m not comfortable in treating Fideism as a school of apologetics and I tend to view some of the figures they list as reformed thought as representing approaches that are too dissimilar to be adequately combined. I will therefore address three traditions in modern Apologetics, Classical, Evidential and Presuppositional; within these three I am an evidentialist. Rather than trying and failing to write a “neutral” treatise on the three (where I would certainly not succeed) or continuing the metapologetic war (which is pointless and tends to undercut the virtues the faith espouses), I will instead present an outline of why I am an evidentialist, in my description of evidentialism. I will then analyze the classical and presuppositional schools of thought to demonstrate what I think is valuable and useful in those approaches, you might say I am willing to borrow evidence and categories from these two approaches, without treating them as an organizing principle for my thoughts. After that, however, I want to address some types of evidence or thinkers that might be left on the table. Alvin Plantinga, the most important thinker in philosophy of religion today deserves a column, there are existential and personal evidences that I think are valuable to consider, but are often neglected in formal apologetics, and I want to take a column on the great literary apologists, particular Schaeffer and Lewis, from whom I have learned a great deal, and who had a wonderful gift as communicators that I seek (and fail) to emulate.



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.”


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.