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Book Review: “Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists” by David Glass

anc-glassEveryone seems to be talking about atheism. The so-called “New Atheists” are out and proud. Their books are in every bookstore, waiting to perpetuate ideas about religion: that it is evil and causes violence, that its adherents are positively irrational or even delusional, and more. Dressed to impress, atheism is sporting “new clothes,” and David Glass, in his Atheism’s New Clothes, seeks to expose them. Glass explores the primary works of the “New Atheism”: Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

Glass starts Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists by outlining the claims of the new atheism. One problem with this movement is that it rejects theistic belief simply because it is, according to them, simply obvious that theism is false and so they do not bother to interact on a scholarly level with theistic discussions.[1] In particular, the new atheists define faith in a way which is most helpful to their own case and refuse to interact with theologians on the topic. Harris goes so far as to argue that they can ignore what theologians say because they are allegedly irrelevant to the faith of the faithful.[2] However, Harris’ argument is based upon reading Hebrews 11 in “the right way,” which is of course his own reading that is not based upon the Greek or even exegesis of any sort.[3]

Glass counters the contentions of the New Atheists’ by exploring a number of Christian responses to faith throughout history.[4] He notes that the consensus is that “within Christianity it is entirely appropriate to provide arguments and evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity… note that the New Atheists fail to engage with any [view of faith outlined by Glass] or any other well-thought out view on the subject.”[5]

Another prominent aspect of the New Atheism is that science is alleged to undermine belief in God. They rail against a god-of-the-gaps and make it out as though that is the only way religion has interacted with science. Glass, however, notes that “science took root in a monotheistic, and specifically Christian culture, rather than a polytheistic or pantheistic culture… The question here is how such scientists [Christians who were scientists] could really have engaged in their work of science by its very nature removes the need for God as the New Atheists maintain… They thought of their work as expressing how the universe behaves in accordance with the laws God had put in place.”[6] In contrast to the notion that believers propose God to explain what science cannot, Glass stresses that, like Swinburne, it is more a matter of explaining why science explains.[7]

Can miracles occur? The New Atheists immediately appeal to Humean types of arguments, but Glass argues that these fail. In fact, it seems that here it is the atheist being unreasonable, for “it seems that no amount of evidence would be considered adequate to make it reasonable to believe a miracle had occurred.”[8]

Glass then turns to evidence for the existence of God. He outlines over the course of two chapters a cosmological argument—one which argues from the beginning of the universe—an argument from the orderliness of the universe, and an argument from consciousness.[9] The arguments Glass presents are fairly familiar, but by tying them into a discussion of the New Atheists’ responses (or lack thereof), Glass provides a valuable resource for answering the objections of those who use a similar tactic. For example, in response to the fine-tuning argument from the orderliness of the universe, Glass notes that the New Atheists’ “reasoning seems to be that the mere feact that some… scenario might be possible is all that is required to make it preferable to theism as an explanation…”[10] Yet, Glass notes, this leads to some things which the New Atheists would not find palatable, like the notion that “miracles such as the resurrection occur naturally somewhere in the multiverse without God having to bring them about.”[11]

Glass uses a chapter to focus upon Dawkins’ arguments against God specifically. He notes that Dawkins wavers between a Humean argument and a Darwinian argument: on the one hand he seems to argue that miracles are in principle impossible; on the other hand, he argues that Darwinism has undermined belief in miracles. Yet the arguments themselves offset each other. Why argue that Darwinism undermines the miraculous origins of life if miracles are, in principle, impossible?[12] Furthermore, Glass argues that both arguments ultimately fail to challenge belief in God.[13]

The New Atheists all seem to think that they can explain religion by showing how it evolved. By using the concept of a “meme”—an idea which can evolve just as much as any biological organism—they hold that religion has evolved as a useful capacity, but we have outgrown its usefulness.[14] However, Glass points out that even if this could explain how religious belief can arise, it would not explain away religious belief as untrue.[15] In regards to Christianity in particular, the argument would do nothing to explain the historical evidence for the religious practice.[16] More fundamentally, however, the argument could be applied to any area of knowledge, and therefore undermine all belief. It is self-defeating.[17]

Glass goes on to analyze theism as opposed to materialism in regards to morality. Although materialism may be able to explain how we have moral beliefs, “it does not tell us whether we actually have such an obligation [to be moral].”[18] Religion is very often based upon revelation, the notion that God has revealed truths to humans. Glass argues that the New Atheists’ rejection of revelation is based upon a number of assumptions and faulty arguments.[19] A particular problem is their terse dismissal of revelation based upon conflicting revelations. Glass asks, “Is it really the case that there is no evidence to distinguish [the truth claims of various claimed revelations]?” and argues that there are, in fact, ways to determine the truth of a revelation.[20] Atheists also claim that the Bible in particular has a morally reprehensible code, but Glass notes that much of this is based upon a misunderstanding or naïve reading of the text.[21]

Finally, Glass argues that Christianity in particular is based upon a claim which can be investigated: the resurrection of Christ.[22] He argues from a minimal facts perspective; that is, he argues that there are certain historical facts which must be explained by a hypothesis and that no rival theory to the resurrection succeeds in explaining these facts.[23] As he closes his work, Glass notes that only on theism can life have real meaning, purpose, and rationality.

There have been a number of works written to respond to the New Atheists, and interested readers may wonder where Atheism’s New Clothes stands out. Glass provides perhaps the most in-depth look at the specific arguments of Dennett and Dawkins in particular. Furthermore, the book is presented not just as a response to the New Atheists but as an apologetic primer. It contains a number of arguments for the existence of God and an extended defense of the truth of the Gospels as well as the resurrection of Jesus. These qualities make it essential reading for those looking to respond to atheists who make claims similar to the New Atheists’. The thoughtfulness with which Glass approaches the arguments of the New Atheists and his in depth analyses make it a worthy read for those looking to respond specifically to the authors of the four aforementioned books. Christians should not let this book pass by.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics 315.

[1] David Glass, Atheism’s New Clothes (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2012), 24ff.
[2] Ibid, 39.
[3] 40.
[4] 42ff.
[5] 51.
[6] 69.
[7] 72-73.
[8] 86.
[9] 93ff.
[10] 133, emphasis his.
[11] Ibid.
[12] 151ff, see especially 163 for this apparent problem.
[13] 158ff.
[14] 180ff.
[15] 184ff.
[16] 187-189.
[17] 190-195.
[18] 212.
[19] 238ff.
[20] 243ff.
[21] 249ff.
[22] 265ff.
[23] 286ff.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass– In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call” by Jonathan Hoglund

cbtg-hoglundThe notion of an “effectual call”- the notion that God’s call is itself that which brings about salvation, apart from human action – is theologically controversial and has been at the focus of many intra- and extra-Protestant debates since the Reformation. Jonathan Hoglund in Called by Triune Grace approaches the topic from the notion of divine rhetoric–persuasive communication–and argues that such a perspective helps to make sense of the idea of effectual calling.

Hoglund approaches the issues from a perspective that should be interesting to readers on either side of the debate about effectual call. He spends little time trying to persuade readers that “effectual call” is itself a valid category, instead focusing on the impact of and means for God performing such an effectual call. Ultimately, he settles upon divine rhetoric as this means. Divine rhetoric–not just the Bible itself but in the stories within the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s working–provides the means by which an effectual call may be issued. Issues of language, speech-act theory, and more are raised and discussed, often with intriguing results.

Throughout the text, he appeals to numerous biblical texts to expand on his points, often highlighting aspects that may be overlooked.

Particularly insightful is Hoglund’s appeal to writers outside specifically conservative Calvinist traditions. Along the way, he engages with Luther, Wesley (briefly), Francis Pieper (Lutheran), Barth, N.T. Wright, and more. It is refreshing to see such engagement, particularly in a topic that tends to be seen by many evangelicals as the sole domain of Calvinists. In fact, the Lutheran tradition and some streams of Anglicanism and others have much to say regarding monergism and the effectual call. Seeing such contributions and thoughts acknowledged and engaged with was great.

If there is a downside to the book, it is that because Hoglund focuses so specifically on the notion of divine rhetoric, it seems he may miss out on other aspects of the effectual call. Though he does acknowledge other perspectives, the highly-focused nature of the book leaves little time for engaging other possibilities.

Called by Triune Grace is a fascinating, deep look at the notion of an effectual call. For those interested in this topic, no matter what their perspective, it comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides significant interaction even with thinkers outside the Reformed positions
+Clearly and concisely argued
+Intriguing topic

The Bad

-Perhaps too narrowly focuses the means of the divine call

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The (Un)Just City- Jo Walton’s “The Just City,” Gender, Gods, and Morality

tjc-waltonJo Walton’s The Just City is unlike anything I’ve read before. She seamlessly combined philosophy, theology, and fantasy into an epic tale that was difficult to put down. The plot is centered around the notion that Apollo and Athene, the Greek gods, decide to go through time and collect people who desired to attempt to build Plato’s Republic. Here, we’ll examine the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Christian Morality Opposed to Justice?

One scene features Maia speaking with Ikaros, a man who had embraced various aspects of the Republic with fervor. Maia believes that Ikaros was a Dominican monk in his former life, but she finds that he is quick to exclude Christianity from the bounds of possibility in the City. The reason is because he doesn’t believe Christianity to be true, or at least any aspect of truth capable of matching their new perspective:

[Ikaros reasons:] “I reconciled Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Platonism, and Zoroastrianism… But don’t you see, we were doing it starting from a belief that Christianity was true. If instead it’s the Greek Gods who are true… then what price salvation? They can mix from the other side, we could say that Plato was really talking about God. But from this side [believing the Greek Gods], well, we can’t see that when Jesus said he’d be in his father’s house that he was really talking about Zeus, now can we?” (88)

Ironically and horribly, after having this conversation about how Christian morality is not Truth and also needlessly complex, Ikaros rapes Maia. He reasons that they are allowed to have eros love without obligations required by Christian morality, and he mocks her adherence to Christianity.

Concentric Circles of Gods

In the world of The Just City, the Greek gods are very real and active. What might this suggest about Christianity and other faiths? We’ve already seen how one character argues that introducing Christian morality would have been unnecessary. But what of Christianity itself?

Apollo is incarnate within the City and only a few know who he actually is. He has a discussion with Sokrates (Socrates) and Simmea regarding souls and gods. We’ll pick up his commentary at “the good part”:

Many circles [of divinities] is right; all human cultures have their own appropriate gods. But the only thing on top is Father. It isn’t a set of concentric rings… [the one Apollo is correcting] thought of it as a hierarchy with divinities subordinated to others. It isn’t like that at all. It’s a set of circles of gods pretty much equal to each other but with different responsibilities, and linked by Father.” (285)

When he is specifically asked about Jesus and Mary, etc., Apollo states:

Christianity is one of those circles… Jesus is just as real and just as much Father’s son as I am… (285-286)

Such a view of course is just as fantastical as the book itself is. The attempt to mash all religions together into one amalgam centered around a divine being not only does injustice to those faiths which have no divine being, but also to those that do. The latter would have to effectively shed all pretext of having truth claims about reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see in the next two books of this trilogy who the “Father” turns out to be and how the attempt to reconcile different faiths plays out, but at this point it is fairly obvious that it will play out in a way that Christians and believers of other faith traditions could not endorse.

Gender

Maia, a woman from the 19th century, finds that the options she has ahead of her in her own time are quite bleak. She loves scholarship, but has no way to pursue it. In the introduction to her character we find that she longs for a God that is not limited by masculine concepts of divinity. We can take this as a challenge to ourselves to not make God into a gendered being (apart from the gender of the man Jesus Christ).

There are several explicit scenes in the book, and these tie into the themes it is exploring with gender. The scenes largely center around the issues of power that come into sex. Thus, the aforementioned rape of Maia by Ikaros. Apollo himself is trying to figure out why Daphne preferred to turn into a tree rather than “mate” with him (aka be raped by him). Apart from the obvious (this book is not for children or even young adults), we find that preconceptions about gender and power are challenged throughout. Women say no, and mean it (shocking, right? [sarcasm]); men begin to discover that the actions they take are often sexist; beliefs that women are incapable of philosophizing are challenged.

Conclusion

The Just City turns out to be as much about injustice as it is about justice. In a way, we may think of this as what would inevitably happen whenever imperfect beings attempt to create true justice on their own: they fail, often miserably. It will be interesting to see what happens with the “circles” of deity that Walton has come up with to try to integrate divergent and differing worldviews into one. Including such discussions of course makes the book stand firmly against Christian orthodoxy; but the context these challenges are set in makes it worthwhile to offer counter-arguments to the sections that are objectionable. It can, in a way, be practice for critically examining one’s own beliefs.

Whatever the case, for now we find that the “Just City” is not.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Read through my other posts on popular books here (scroll down for more).

Source

Jo Walton, The Just City (New York: Tor, 2014).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Ontological Argument and an Evil god

800px-Extermination_of_Evil_TenkeiseiI shared a video about the ontological argument that gives the absolute bare-bones of the argument on my Facebook recently. A friend came along and raised a point that that friend said had bothered them for a while. The objection was that could not such an argument be used to argue for the existence of an evil god just as much as for a good God? I typed up a response I would like to also share here.

The first thing I’d point out is that such an objection to the argument assumes that evil is itself ontologically extant rather than a deprivation. That is, it assumes evil is itself a thing, rather than being that which is not-good. Although that is not an implausible position, it would take establishment of evil as a real existing thing in order for the argument to work.

Another difficulty is that it seems intuitively false that maximal greatness could include “maximal evil.” That’s a reason things like the maximally great pizza don’t really work as objections to the argument–maximally great pizzas are not only nonsensical (for greatness of pizza depends upon one’s taste) but they also have nothing intrinsic in them to entail maximal greatness. Such an objection would have to establish not only that evil exist on its own rather than as a deprivation, but also that evil is a kind of “great-making property.” Since it seems clear that evil is not a “great-making property,” the burden of proof is on any who wishes to demonstrate that it is.

A third problem is that the argument must see maximally good and maximally evil as epistemically on par with each other. For the argument to work, evil and good have to be effectively even when it comes to probability. But that is a very complex argument to make.

Finally, if all of these difficulties were overcome, the one making the argument has effectively made an argument for radical skepticism, to the point that we could not really be epistemically sure of anything. I’ve argued for this last point at length. Basically, the point is that if it is true that if A and B are epistemically on par with each other, we have no way of distinguishing between A and B, then it follows that we cannot be sure of anything or making distinctions in everyday life. For it is the case that we can construct for ANY scenario X a scenario Y that is epistemically on par with it (at least in principle) such that Y _may_ be the case instead. And if that’s true, and the point made by the notion of an evil God is true, then we must adhere to radical skepticism. In other words, a reductio ad abusdum defeats the argument.

 

Book Review: “Signposts to God” by Peter Bussey

stg-busseySignposts to God by Peter Bussey is an introductory apologetics book written by a particle physicist. It surveys specifically the fields of physics and astronomy to argue that these fields “point the way to belief.”

The first question–and a fair one–that needs to be asked about this book is this: “Why another introductory apologetics book?” There are so many introductory books on the market at this point that it seems kind of pointless to have another one. But seeing Signposts to God as merely an introductory apologetics book would be to do it injustice. Unlike some of the better known works in this area, Bussey’s work is not merely a series of the most popular arguments for theism with an argument for the resurrection thrown in point to Christianity. Bussey’s approach features a rather robust look at modern physics and astronomy before diving into two primary arguments: the argument from cosmological design (teleological argument) and the argument from first cause (cosmological argument). Thus, Bussey’s book has a narrower focus than many introductory books, which means that it ultimately gives readers a better working knowledge of the lofty topics it contains.

Bussey’s intriguing approach of introducing readers to some basics of astronomy and physics before diving in means that readers will be better able to articulate their own beliefs while also interacting with criticisms more easily. There’s a great difficulty in apologetics-circles, I think, of people thinking that reading one book will be enough to make them an expert and able to answer every argument ever put forward against Christianity. This is definitely not the case, and Bussey’s humble approach speaks volumes to this.

Illustrative of Bussey’s approach is his brief mention of the biological design argument (often referred to as Intelligent Design or something similar). He notes that it can be intuitively clear that a natural path to some feature seems impossible, but that time and again such intuitions seem  to be proven wrong. Thus, he doesn’t outright reject such forms of apologetics, but rather urges a word of caution when trying to use one specific feature of one specific creature to point to a designer. Moreover, he ties this thought back into the argument he does make from the design of the universe as a whole to show that the latter does not face the same possibly mistaken conclusions.

The man problem with the book, I think, is that there are no charts or graphics to speak of. While certainly not a requirement, they would have been helpful in explaining some of the concepts Bussey is trying to introduce. Of course, I suspect not having so many graphics was a conscious choice on the part of the author to prevent readers from being distracted or misled by such illustrations. Nonetheless, I thought it was worth mentioning.

It’s hard not to say that Signposts to God feels in some ways like just another introductory apologetics book. However, the distinctives that have been noted above help to set it apart from the pack as a fresh take on some of the questions that have been asked many times. Readers looking for a fairly scientific approach to apologetics by an expert in a relevant field ought to immediately grab it.

The Good

+Separates from a crowded field through a narrow focus
+Written by expert in relevant fields
+Provides ways forward for exploration

The Bad

-Could use some charts/graphics to help break it up

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Message of Spiritual Warfare” by Keith Ferdinando

msw-ferdinandoThe Message of Spiritual Warfare by Keith Ferdinando is an exploration of spiritual warfare throughout the Bible. The topic immediately conjures sensational images to mind of demons vying with pitchforks against a frightened mob. Searching the book’s title brings up all sorts of strange books on the topic promising to teach Christians the exact method for fighting their inner and outer demons. In other words, Ferdinando has plunged into a topic that, if he were me, he would have stayed away from. So much disinformation and sensationalism is out there that the task of sorting through it all seems monumental. Ferdinando, however, does this in seemingly the exact right way: by taking readers back to Scripture.

Ferdinando’s work is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. Rather than attempting to deal with the endless iterations of views on demon possession, spiritual warfare, cosmic warfare, and the like, Ferdinando points directly towards what the Bible tells us about this volatile topic. In doing so, he avoids the difficulty of making an overly-bloated work filled with attempts to discredit other positions while also avoiding jumping into the controversy. The book surveys a huge number of passages in no small amount of depth, and its format is such that readers could easily use it either as a reference (looking at individual passages as they come to them in their own reading) or as a work to read through time and again.

Ferdinando’s balanced approach is like a breath of fresh air, particularly as one who has read little on the topic but has still encountered some very strange and unbiblical perspectives. Ferdinando doesn’t do much to urge readers away from sensationalism, rather he expounds on Scripture to show that many prominent views of spiritual warfare are simply mistaken. In one example, he highlights the fact that demon possession in the New Testament is not confronted by violence, by trying to force the demon to speak its name, or by some other ritual; rather, demons are confronted by Jesus’ name and the use of prayer. Full stop. By showing this from the Bible itself, Ferdinando effectively puts to rest the debate. Another instance can be found on page 87 when he writes of demon possession and that it is treated in the New Testament not as a sin to be confessed but rather as something from which people are delivered. These and many other helpful points effectively serve notice to those views of demon possession and spiritual warfare which prey upon people’s fears.

I would note that Ferdinando does allow himself to get sidetracked at times by somewhat unrelated points. For example, at one point he offers a few paragraphs on the nature and extent of eternal punishment, taking as his example the fate of Satan in Revelation. Though this is an interesting topic, it wasn’t terribly related to the theses in his book. This does’t happen often, but when it does it seems to take away from the thrust of the book.

The Message of Spiritual Warfare is an even, thoughtful look at a too-often sensationalized topic. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Even-tempered tone
+Thoroughly grounded in Scripture

The Bad

-Occasionally gets sidetracked by other issues

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Origen Answered It: An Incomplete List of Skeptical Arguments Answered 1800 years ago by Origen, Contra Celsum Book I

I have already discussed the fact that Origen* responded to a number of “modern” arguments long before our modern times.

For the skeptical arguments I have tried to include links or at least names. Sometimes they may be common enough that I think anyone could just do a Google search to discover the skeptical argument is made to this day. Also, some of the skeptical arguments are put forth by Celsus as coming from Jews attacking converts to Christianity. Several of these arguments will be covered here as well.

Origen’s answers I provide here are, and I must emphasize this, summaries of what he said, not his answer in its entirety. Interested readers should track down the original reference to see what he said. It should also be noted that Contra Celsum is written in a kind of challenge/response format that does not necessitate or entail lengthy discussions. Other thinkers–either modern or historic–provide longer answers than Origen did to pretty much every argument noted here.

Skeptical Argument: Faith is belief without evidence/pretending to know something you don’t know. [See Peter Boghossian]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 10- All systems of thought require some element of belief without evidence, including skepticism, Platonism, and the like.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus learned how to do tricks in Egypt/Jesus’ birth accounts made up to glorify him
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 28ff- Jesus’ birth account highlights the humility to which he is born rather than serving as a way to embellish or glorify his birth.

Skeptical Argument: Mary was not a virgin but had adultery with or was raped by a Roman soldier (named Panthera as argued by Celsus), as opposed to being a virgin[Suggested by a BBC documentary, among other modern and ancient sources]
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXII Had Christians wanted to make up something about Jesus’ birth, they could have just as easily said that Joseph was Jesus’ legitimate father rather than inviting speculation about rape or adultery

Skeptical Argument: The prophecy alluded to by Matthew in Isaiah does not refer to a virgin birth/Matthew and Luke themselves may not intend the reference to be to a virgin birth [See Bart Ehrman, for example]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXIV and XXXV- the Hebrew actually does seem to favor the notion of it referring to a virgin, moreover the prophecy doesn’t make sense were it but a young woman having a child, which would not have been remarkable enough to be a sign

Skeptical Argument: The suffering servant prophesies found in Isaiah 53 refers to the nation of Israel rather than Jesus.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LV- the passage in question is full of things which don’t make sense when applied broadly to a whole nation rather than single person. Moreover, the prophecy does not line up with Israel as well as it does to Jesus.

Skeptical Argument: The star of Bethlehem is an unexplained phenomenon made up to lend credence to the importance of Jesus’ birth in the narratives.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LVIII- The Star of Bethlehem was actually a comet and may have been reported by other ancients. See here for a book that has much more on this topic.
Objection: Comets are bad omens and so the Star wouldn’t have been a sign of the birth of the Messiah.
Origen’s Response: Comets are bad omens for those regimes which may be overthrown, but good signs for those whose regime may be rising.

Skeptical Argument: Certain portions of the Gospels show difficulties with Christian beliefs.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII- Skeptics like Celsus utilize the Gospels as historical where convenient, then reject whatever parts might answer their objections.

Skeptical Argument: Christianity allows for the worst sorts of people to get off free in the grand scheme of things. The worst people are simply forgiven.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII and following- The conversion of wrongdoers is not to be mocked or scorned but rather shows the power of Christianity to convince the wicked to reform.

Skeptical Argument: How could God die?
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVI- God took on human flesh in the person of the Son.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels can be mimicked or repeated by charlatans.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVIII- Such allegations fail due to the context in which the miracles occur as well as the reasons behind the miracles/wonders.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus uses his voice and eats food–things gods need not do.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXX- Jesus was God clothed in human flesh and used his voice to convince others.

*It is worth noting that Origen was heterodox on a number of topics, including having a deficient view of the Trinity, specifically regarding the Father and the Son. However, Origen also pre-dated much of the debates over orthodox Christian theology. It is beneficial to read Origen to see the range of Christian thought in his own time period, as well as to see what kind of responses were being offered to non-Christians related to key issues.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen Contra Boghossian (and others)– I delve deeper into one of the arguments Origen makes, while noting that it answers one of the modern skeptical attacks on Christianity.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against the Idolatry of the State – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

dietrich_bonhoefferThere is virtually nothing so nefarious as putting our trust in the state or in patriotic hope that our nation will be our savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man executed by the Nazis for his religious opposition to their totalitarian regime, spoke frequently on the great danger of putting our hope in nations or organizations. One of the nefarious ways that patriotism or statism can become idolatry is when people put their hope in individual leaders:

If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. (DBW 12, II/9 cited in Schlingensiepen, 117)

We have a way of rushing to put our hopes or trust in individuals. Bonhoeffer recognized this and even acknowledged that the leader-as-idol is not necessarily something the leader does unilaterally; often it is something that we people want ourselves. We want to be led–we want our leaders to be perfect. Such devotion can lead to our leaders mis-leading by taking up the praise we offer and becoming our idols. Woe to a church that is afraid to call out leaders for wrongdoing.

Individuals are not the only way we make idols of our nations. We can put our hope in nations rather than just in individual leaders. We may begin to speak of the righteousness of the nation, the honor of a people, or the holiness of the state. We may not use these words, but when we dismiss wrongdoing of our own nation, or when we argue that one nation is to be put above all others, we have effectively done just these things. Responding to the question asked in 1932 of why the church is afraid, Bonhoeffer said these convicting words:

Because it [the church] knows there is a commandment to peace, and yet with the clear vision that is given to the church, sees the reality that is full of hate, enmity, violence. It is as if all the powers on earth had conspired together against peace, as if money, the economy, the drive to power, even the love of one’s fatherland have been dragged into the service of hate…

How could it be anything but blasphemous mindlessness, if we were to declare ‘No more war!’ and think with that, and a new organization–even a Christian one–we could exorcise the devil? Such organizations are nothing…

Christ must be present among us in preaching and sacrament, the Crucified One who made peace between God and humankind. The Crucified One is our peace. (DBW 11, 354-355, cited in Schlingensiepen, cited below)

The message is clear: putting hope in any institution is itself idolatry and blasphemous. That institution may be a para-church group, a church, or even a nation-state. The only true hope–the only possibility of hope–is found in Christ alone. Whenever we cease to acknowledge that–whenever we put our hope in anything else–we have committed blasphemy and are called to repent.

Source

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: Continuum, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Becoming a Pastor Theologian” edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand

bpt-wilson-hiestandBecoming a Pastor Theologian edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand is a collection of essays centered around the idea that the minister ought also to be engaged with theology. The essays included cover topics centered around “The Identities of the Pastor Theologian,” “The Pastor Theologian in Historical Perspective,” and “The Pastor Theologian and the Bible.”

Highlights include for part 1 Peter Leithart’s essay on integrating theology into the church; for part 2 an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for part 3 essays on apologetics and “The Female Ecclesial Theologian.” Each of these (and most of the others) has many directly applicable insights. That is the strength of the book: whether an essay is about a specific person (eg. Bonhoeffer) or a broader topic (eg. exegesis), the focus is on putting tools in the reader’s hands as far as applying insights into the job of a pastor theologian.

The text is about 200 pages, and there are 15 essays and an introduction squeezed in, meaning each chapter averages about 12.5 pages. Though this is a decent length for a journal article, it leaves each essay feeling a bit abrupt, particularly given the constant commitment to the central theme. Itself not a bad thing–indeed, commitment to the central theme of “pastor theologian” is a good thing–this means that each author spends at least some time outlining what is meant by pastor theologian, which becomes unnecessary after the introduction. Moreover, a few of the essays do have very little applicable ideas found therein.

Another difficulty is that there is a limited scope as far as ecclesiology is concerned. Indeed, the only mention of “megachurch” is found in a rather stereotypical contrast between a megachurch and the “small local church” as if one is inherently better than the other. Yet it is difficult, biblically, to see how such a potshot could be justified. It’s a minor thing, but I think worth mentioning. Moreover, the chapter on exegesis suffers from a frankly naive view of Scripture. The author asserts that the historical critical approach to the Bible entails “the loss of connection between the doctrines of the church and the text of Scripture, primarily because Scripture is expected… to be grounded historically in its ancient context. This excludes… eternal theological truths” (143, emphasis added). Not only is this demonstrably false, for one could very easily understand a text in an ancient historical context while still saying that it could have an eternal theological truth, but it also shows an astonishing lack of concern for understanding what the text actually means. Though this view is perhaps moderated a bit later in the same essay, the assertion that grounding the meaning of the Bible in its historical context somehow necessitates undermining theology is alarming.

The essay on “The Female Ecclesial Theologian” was good, though I think it could have gone even farther in noting the contributions can make and have made in this field. However, I appreciated the argument that by excluding women’s voices, we have been losing out on the richness and fullness of Christian theology. The author, Laurie L. Norris closes by stating, “May we worthily bear God’s image together in service to the church.” Amen.

Overall, Becoming a Pastor Theologian has a number of valuable insights, but the quality of the essays is uneven. It’s worth the read for those interested in the topic, but it must be done with a critical eye.

The Good

+Diversity of topics
+Strong adherence to central theme
+Much to apply

The Bad

-Uneven quality of essays
-Small space to each topic
-Surprisingly limited scope of ecclesiology

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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