Wayne Grudem

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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the scientific critique offered in the book.

Science

I admit I am by no means an expert in science and so do not feel adequate to fully interact with the scientific chapters in this book. Chapter topics include “Three Good Reasons… to reject Darwin’s Explanation of Life” by Douglas Axe, the problem of information for evolution, the problem(s) of mechanism(s) for evolution, the question of first life and its arising on earth, the problem of having front-end loaded design for evolution, DNA mutations being inadequate to explain evolution, embryology as a challenge to evolution, multiple chapters against universal common descent, arguments for unique human origin, and the way bias can lead investigations in science.

Again, it would not be possible to even give an overview of all of these chapters without several thousand more words, so I’ll just go over a few of the notes I took throughout the chapters.

Douglas Axe’s chapter includes a rather strange claim that is pretty central to his whole proposal. He has argued before about the plainness of design and our ability to detect it. He continues this argument in his chapter arguing for rejecting Darwinism. Yet one of his points is that things like clouds do not point clearly to design. Specifically, he states:

To the theist… nothing happens apart from God. But then, no theist came to that view by looking at clouds or craters [on the moon]. Such things are not at all inconsistent with God’s presence, but neither do they confront us with his presence. (90)

Such a statement is quite strange, because historically it seems pretty clear that such things do, in fact, point to God’s presence for many theists. Most notably, the Bible itself states rather clearly: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It seems obvious from this passage that David, at least, felt that such things as clouds and the skies and the heavens—yes, perhaps even moon craters–declared the glory of God and the works of God’s hands. They are used as paradigms for showing the exact thing that Axe says they are not. But of course to admit that would be to undercut Axe’s whole point. After all, if the mundane things may actually point us to God and indeed confront us with God’s presence, then the whole objection to Darwinism based on it reducing life to “natural” causes itself falls apart.[3] 

Stephen C. Meyer’s chapter that argues having “Front-End Loaded” design makes no difference for theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists has its own problems with grand claims. Meyer states:

Some theistic evolutionists affirm that God actively directs the evolutionary process by… directing seemingly random mutations toward particular biological endpoints… this view contradicts the (scientifically) orthodox neo-Darwinian view of the evoltionary process as a purely purposeless, unguided, and undirected mechanism… (218).

It is odd, though, for Meyer to insist that theistic evolutionists must have their directions of speculation or insight governed by atheistic perspectives (he specifically cites Richard Dawkins in favor of his assertion). Of course, the whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is that God exists and so saying God may be involved in the process is simply an outworking of that theism. To artificially limit theistic evolutionists to the thought process of Richard Dawkins is a bit absurd, and again hints that the way these authors are looking at TE may itself be problematic.

In the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Does it Work?” by Stephen C. Meyer, Ann K. Gauger, and Paul A. Nelson, the authors ask “Why insist on synthesizing Christian theology, or a biblical understanding of creation, with a scientifically failing theory of origins [read : evolution]?” (257). I can’t help but wonder at this total confidence. I continually try to learn more and read magazines like Smithsonian and Scientific American. I read manuscript-length science book when possible. Time and again, I find that there are new and continued confirmations of evolutionary theory in these magazines. Yes, the theory continues to change, but it also continues to find affirmation in discovery after discovery. Yet authors like those of this book continue to rely on the same quotes time and again to support their own assertions.[4] If it is true that evolution is truly a failing theory of origins, why is it that we don’t see the majority of scientists turning away from it? Sure, it is possible there is some massive conspiracy, but is that what we are being asked to believe?

Finally, in a chapter arguing against human evolution by Casey Luskin entitled “Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” I found a number of problems. The first is that Luskin’s chapter often focused on works focused towards lay people in the reporting on fossils, apparently trying to show how sensationalized new discoveries are. But having excitement over new fossil discoveries–and having sometimes inaccurate reporting–does not somehow discredit those same fossil finds. Another difficulty is one I have seen time and again in creationist and ID literature, namely that they argue that because there is not an exact, agreed upon sequence of A-B-C…Z, there must be no sequence. But of course, that doesn’t follow whatsoever. It may be that the sequences is not A-B-C…. but rather A-C-B….Z, but that hardly means there is no sequence with start and endpoints. This is a problem I have observed time and again, and an argument I found pretty compelling for many years until I began to research more and more of the literature. Simply having disagreement about the order of transitional forms does not entail that there are no transitional forms. Yet Luskin makes exactly this kind of argument on pages 444ff. Indeed, he makes it explicit in his conclusion, after quoting a pair of paleontologists to the tune of saying that the sequence of human ancestors is unknown, Luskin confidently asserts “With the fossil evidence for human evolution so weak, why should our theistic evolutionist brothers and sisters insist that the church must adopt their viewpoint?” (473). That is a major non sequitor. Imagine a defense attorney on a murder case arguing that because the prosecution could not precisely put a serial killer’s victims in order of when they were killed, it followed that there were no murders or that there was no sequence. Of course, anyone paying attention would be shocked at this seeming confusion. But that is what Luskin and others are expecting readers to accept as evidence against TE, saying simply that because there is disagreement of sequence, there can be no sequence.

[3] Indeed, the earliest days of theistic evolutionists had advocates making this exact point. George Frederick Wright, for example, argued that just as it is not problematic to acknowledge the movements of the planet are due to natural causes, it would not be problematic to see life’s development as the same. See my post on Wright’s theology.

[4] Multiple sources cited are older than 20 years. Time and again, people familiar with Intelligent Design will find themselves reading the same quotes from the same authors. Of course, if someone is right, the age of what they wrote or the fact that it gets quoted multiple times is hardly a problem. But I am left wondering why we can’t hear about more recent publications showing how disastrous evolution is or more dissenters from evolution. Instead, disagreement about details is often taken to be the same as showing evolution is wrong or that evolution is in crisis.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give 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!)

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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 1- Definition(s)

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

In this first part of the review, I want to focus on the book’s definition of theistic evolution.

Definition(s)

A book of this scope must have a working definition of that with which it interacts. “Theistic evolution,” or as many proponents of this idea now label it, “evolutionary creation” is quite a broad field with people of many different perspectives. For the sake of interacting with this book, I will stick to its nomenclature of “theistic evolution” while sometimes simply shortening it to TE. Appropriately enough, after the front matter, the introduction by longtime proponent of Intelligent Design Stephen C. Meyer has, as its topic, the definition of theistic evolution. After highlighting various definitions of “evolution” itself, such as “change over time,” “common descent,” “creative power of natural selection/random variation,” and more specific details on each level. Then, Meyer notes that there are different concepts of theistic evolution itself even among proponents. However, it is not really until the next section, in Wayne Grudem’s overview chapter, that we discover the editors’ agreed upon definition of theistic evolution:

God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes. (67)

For whatever reason, this agreed-upon definition of theistic evolution doesn’t actually appear in the introduction that is supposed to define theistic evolution, but that’s just a minor problem of strange oversight. Grudem then cites Francis Collins and Karl Giberson in support of this definition. I don’t have access to the work cited, but the quote is not a definition from the two authors but rather a statement that just says their model doesn’t require “intrusions from the outside” for the creative process.

The definition the editors agreed upon for this work, then, has two primary parts: an affirmation and a denial. The affirmation is simple: God created matter.” The question of what is meant by “matter” or what distinctions may be made between life and non-life are ignored in this book, though I imagine that they are of great importance to fully understanding the distinctiveness of various positions of theistic evolution.[1] The second part of the definition is the denial, and it has several components. It essentially boils down to saying that God did not specially intervene in any aspect of the development of life on earth. It is interesting that the majority of this definition is negative–that is, it is almost entirely a definition by denial.

Due to the broad diversity among theistic evolutionists, there will be plenty of disagreement with this definition. It is clear the editors needed a working definition, but it is not clear why they chose to use this rather than draw more explicitly from major TE definitions used by primary thinkers.  Indeed, Biologos, the largest theistic evolutionist organization, provides its own, in depth look at the beliefs that are typical of their position. Among these are:

We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.

We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God[2]

Looking at these affirmations, it becomes clear that the definition offered in in this book will be controversial. After all, more than one author uses the editors’ definition to say that theistic evolutionists deny that God created life on Earth, while the faith statement of Biologos explicitly affirms the very same thing. Of course, the question is one of means, and this is exactly what is at question throughout much of this book and the debate between theistic evolutionists and Christians of other persuasions. But it is important not to simply define out of existence affirmations another group makes. This will be a problem throughout Theistic Evolution.

Going forward in the book, there are many times where individual authors rely directly upon the editors’ definition of TE in order to make a point. As such, the definition looms large in the work as a whole–perhaps too large. When so many points rely on a definition of a word that may be contentious in itself, those points seem to lose some weight. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is found in Wayne Grudem’s chapter in which he lists 12 doctrines that, allegedly, all TEs must deny (785). Some of the points he listed as TEs denying are, in my reading, not generally denied by TEs. Certainly, some of them are accurate, but they rely so heavily on paring down the broadness of TE thought that it makes it seem to be nearly a straw man.

 

Conclusion

I’ll draw my comments on this section to a close here, but will be continuing my review of the book in the following weeks.

Notes

[1] See, for example, the brief affirmation about creation made on the Biologos website: “in light of the Christian narrative — in which a rational God intentionally created a universe congenial to life — the fine tuning of the universe makes sense.” Thus, according to this theistic evolutionist organization, the creation of matter included a “fine tuning” of the universe at large, making it “congenial to life,” among other things. Source: https://biologos.org/common-questions/gods-relationship-to-creation/biologos-and-christianity

[2] See the full statement in “What We Believe.”

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give 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!)

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.

 

Really Recommended Parallel 12/16/16- Roe vs. Wade, “Anthropoid,” God the Son, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneHello, dear readers! I hope you live somewhere warmer than I do. Anyway, I’ve collected some reading for you to peruse as you warm up inside, preferably with a cup of hot cocoa or some eggnog. The topics this week include the movie “Anthropoid,” Kevin Giles lecturing on the divinity of God the Son, Governor John Kasich taking action against abortion, and a dinosaur tail.

Governor John Kasich Signs Landmark Bill to Challenge Roe– I have seen too many friends criticizing John Kasich for his vetoing of a “heartbeat” bill to end abortions once heartbeats begin, but the courts have continually overturned such bills, meaning that they save no lives. By contrast, Kasich signed a 20 weeks bill that has a much better chance of standing up in court, according to legal experts. Thus, he’s making a move that saves lives now. This is the kind of thing pro-life people ought to be celebrating, not denigrating.

Lessons about Evil: Reflections on the movie “Anthropoid”– The “Anthropoid” operation was an attempt to assassinate “The Man with the Iron Heart,” Reinhard Heydrich. Here is an analysis of that film from a Christian worldview perspective.

How Have Young Earth Creationists Responded to Feathered Dinosaurs?– One of the most startling discoveries in paleontology that I’ve ever read about has been reported recently: the discovery of a dinosaur tail with feathers on it in a piece of amber. How have Young Earth Creationists responded to this and similar discoveries?

Kevin Giles: The ETS Response to Grudem and Ware– Kevin Giles, an expert on historical theology and the Trinity in particular, gave this stirring presentation at the Evangelical Theological Society conference, in which he takes down theology that eternally subordinates the Son. He argues that such doctrines ultimately undermine the unity of the Trinity, and that we ought to work against such teachings.

Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.

It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*

Economics

The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.

Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.

I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).

Biblical/Moral Issues

Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.

The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:

When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**

Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?

Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.

One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.

Complexities

The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.

Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.

That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.

A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.

Conclusion

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.

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!

Sunday Quote!- A biblical answer to economic woes?– I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.

**All references are to kindle locations.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

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.

Sunday Quote!- A Biblical Answer to Economic Woes?

pov-natEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

A Biblical Answer to Economic Woes?

I’m reading The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist). In it, they propose a solution to solving the world’s national economic problems from both an economic and biblical perspective:

The goal of this book is to provide a sustainable solution to poverty in the poor nations of the world, a solution based on both economic history and the teachings of the Bible.

The introduction sounds great, but I admit that I’m a bit skeptical about its scope. Is it really the case that the Bible may be treated as an economics textbook? Or perhaps the point is, instead, that we are to care for the poor and the rest is all economic theory. Anyway, it raises two primary concerns for me:

1. Does the Bible actually propose any sort of economic policy or am I going to get a bunch of verses pulled out of context to make the Bible into an econ textbook?
2. Is there such a thing as a list of 78 factors (the authors identified this many factors as essential to economic growth and stability) that could be applied to all countries everywhere and somehow solve all economic problems?

Now, I’m not at all far into the book (about 9% based on my Kindle), so it may blow me away. Perhaps the Bible will be used contextually and instead simply note how we are to care for the poor, etc. Perhaps the economic approach will make quite a bit of sense and be very adaptable. That said, I can’t wait to dive in and read more to see whether it may convince me. For now, what are your thoughts? Is there a “Biblical” Answer to Economic woes?

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!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

SDG.

“Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?” A look at four views in Christian Theology

mgt-gundryWhat are we to make of the notion of miraculous gifts today? Have they continued into the modern era, or did they cease after the apostolic age?

I want to preface the following discussion by expressing the fact that I am by no means an expert in this area. I only recently finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, which presents four views on the issue of miraculous gifts in the church now. The book is the only work I have read on the topic, and so my opinion should not be taken as that of an expert or even a moderately person. I am an interested party with virtually no backgruond in this area. I also want to note that I wish to express a desire to learn more and any interested readers should please comment and provide insights/corrections/concerns as they see fit.

Here, I will outline what I understand to be the four views on the topic (as outlined in the book–I am more than willing to concede there are likely more views), along with a few arguments and against each. After that, I will offer a brief analysis. I’m hoping that you, the reader, will help spur the discussion.

Miraculous Gifts?

Before progressing, it is important to know what is meant by miraculous gifts. Essentially, these are the gifts outlined in various passages of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 12 is illustrative. It lists as spiritual gifts the following: speaking in tongues, prophecy, the gift of wisdom, etc.

One must note the issue of the “gift of healing.” What is the “gift of healing” and does it exist today? James 5:14-16 is integral to understanding what is meant by this gift.

Perhaps the most central issue regarding miraculous gifts is this: do they continue into today? A secondary, but still very important question is: if these gifts do continue, in what way?

Cessationism

Cessationism is the view that miraculous gifts essentially ended after the formation of the Apostolic Church. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. defends this view. He clarifies his position by noting that he is not arguing that all gifts of the Spirit have ceased. Rather, the question is “not whether but which spiritual gifts continue today” (41). He notes that God may choose to miraculously heal persons, but expresses doubt over people being granted a specific gift of healing. His greatest difficulty lies with the “word” gifts such as prophecy, speaking in and interpreting tongues, and the like.

The problem with these sorts of gifts, argues Gaffin, lies in the question of the sufficiency and closedness of the canon. Suppose that prophecy does continue today. What level of authority should be ascribed to it? If it is truly the utterances of the prophet guided by God, he reasons, should we not grant such utterances the same authority as the Scriptures (47)? Gaffin notes that those who hold to the continuation of these gifts generally assert that prophecy may be fallible and thus should not be given the same authority as the canon. Gaffin responds by countering that the Bible does not seem to support the notion of fallible prophecy as a possibility (48-52).

Moreover, the gifts of the Spirit were intended for the Apostolic Church as signs of God’s special activity during that period (56-58).

Open but Cautious

The “Open but Cautious” view is championed by Robert Saucy. He expresses the view that the Bible does not make clear whether specific miraculous gifts continue today or not. Thus, he remains open to continuation of these gifts, but cautious in their application and use.

Central to Saucy’s caution is the argument that miraculous gifts are centered around specific times and purposes within salvation history. Thus, according to Saucy, miraculous gifts act as signs of God’s activity within very specific contexts. The Apostolic Era is to be considered unique, and the expression of spiritual gifts during this time should not be read verbatim onto the present era (100-102). Moreover, the Biblical evidence for periods of miraculous activity is “uneven” and “particularly concentrated at certain times,” specifically “that of Moses and the Exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles” (103). Miracles are thus to be understood explicitly as a “sign” with a specific purpose in mind to “give credibility to something” (105). Miracles are used to “authenticate” specific individuals in times of need (108).

Saucy appeals to the history of the church to make his point. He argues that throughout the history of the church, there is little miraculous activity noted. Thus, although we should be open to the possibility that such gifts may manifest themselves, we should remain cautious of claims to that effect. Saucy concludes with a discussion of individual gifts and what the Bible teaches about them. Representative is his discussion of prophecy, which notes several clarifications regarding how it should be used and understood (including that it is to be done in an “orderly fashion” and that the content will be “edifying to the community”) (128).

Third Wave

C. Samuel Storms argues that miraculous gifts do continue today, but that the doctrine of “subsequence” should be rejected. Subsequence is the notion that after conversion, there is a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” which is initially experienced by speaking in tongues and manifests itself in various spiritual gifts (176).

Storms argues that cessationists misrepresent those who argue for continuation, for cessationists often appeal to the “infrequency” of the miraculous in order to argue against the notion of miraculous gifts. They argue that this demonstrates that such events are purely the actions of a sovereign God acting whenever God chooses. In contrast, Storms notes that God’s spontaneous action may indeed empower individuals and indeed that the intermittent nature of the practice of such gifts does not undermine their classification as spiritual gifts.

Storms further asserts that although miracles have indeed been used as signs, this fact does not allow one to reduce the miraculous gifts to being only signs and nothing else (188-189). Storms analyzes a number of major arguments for cessationism and finds them all wanting. In particular, Storms presses the notion that the Bible nowhere declares that the gifts found in the Apostolic period would have some cutoff time period.

Pentecostal

Douglas Oss argues that defining Pentecostalism as a “second blessing” theology must clarify what they mean by “second blessing.” He notes that Pentecostals do believe that believers receive the Holy Spirit post-conversion as an empowerment for charismatic gifts. However, this filling is not part of salvation nor is it required for salvation. Instead it is part of sanctification: it is empowerment by the Spirit. Moreover, Oss notes that there may be several empowerments or “refillings” of the Holy Spirit, for there is diversity in the “manifestations” of the Spirit (242-243).

Oss traces the Biblical data and concludes that the Old Testament shows that there is both the “inner-transforming” work of the Holy Spirit and the “empowering” work located therein. In the New Testament, Oss notes that the Holy Spirit works to empower the believers with various manifestations of miraculous gifts.

The gifting of the Holy Spirit is initially observable through speaking in tongues, but again this is not required for salvation. It is merely the pattern of God’s gifting. First tongues, later other gifts, though this is not always the case or even a requirement (260-263). Oss appeals to Joel 2:28-32 to note that the last days will not conclude until Christ’s second coming and so we should expect giftings of the Spirit throughout the present era (266ff).

Analysis

It seems to me that there is little warrant for arguing negatively that the miraculous gifts do not continue today. Gaffin provided no textual basis that I could discern for holding that when the NT authors speak of these gifts within the church, they intended to limit the gifting in their own era. Moreover, I think that Joel 2:28ff does speak of the current age, though some of it seems to be yet future. The future fulfillment left for some of the passage does not seem to imply that it should all be taken is “not yet,” however.

That said, Gaffin’s concerns regarding the authority and inspiration of prophecy should be rightly noted. The issue of the nature and authority of prophecy in the modern period is one which the other offers attempted to address, but it seemed to me they came up short in virtually every case. Moreover, some of the Pentecostal position seemed to be a bit off to me. Why even  argue that speaking in tongues comes first, but then qualify that by saying that it doesn’t need to or that it may not always be the case? Would that not suggest that the pattern isn’t much of a pattern after all?

Storms in particular did an excellent job of showing the error of arguing that miracles in the Bible centered only around certain periods of time in which “signs” were needed. Although it seems clear that the Bible is a selection of time periods and parts of history, God’s miraculous activity is observable throughout much of the Bible. To argue otherwise, and to then build a framework for interpreting miraculous gifts for today (as both Saucy and Gaffin did to an extent) seems to be an overreach given the data.

Thus, I would say my position seems to be closest to a synthesis of  Storms and Saucy. I think Saucy does not go far enough in his allowing for gifts of the spirit, but I think that Storms struggles with the notion of the authority of such continuing prophecy.

So what do you think of this issue? What is your position? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Source

Stanley Gundry and Wayne Grudem, editors, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? with Richard Gaffin, Robert Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, and Douglas Oss (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996). (Image credit to this work as well.)

SDG.

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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.

Women, Complementarianism, and the Trinity- How getting subordination wrong has undermined the Trinity

[Please see note at end of this post for some qualifications added 2/1/15.]

Even though [God the Son] is in all ways equal to the Father and in no way inferior to the Father, he is nevertheless utterly subordinate to the Father… Christ’s relation as Son to his Father is therefore characterized by his subordination to the headship of the Father. (John Kleinig, 222-223 cited below)

In opposition to the above:

The subordination of Jesus Christ is this: it is his freely chosen submission ‘for us and for our salvation.’ The person of the Son is truly subordinate only for ‘economic’ reasons, and only insofar as these reasons entail being subordinate (and even thus far only contingently)–even while his full divinity, equality, and communion with the Father and Holy Spirit continues unabated, world without end. (Thomas McCall and Keith Yandell, 358, cited below)

The doctrine of the Trinity is a subject of enormous theological debate. One of the major debates of our time is social trinitarianism as opposed to substance views of the Trinity or other classical positions. However, another important area to explore is the nature of Christ’s submission to the Father. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:28 “When he [God the Father] has done this [put all things under Christ’s feet], then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” Some have argued that this means that Jesus Christ is eternally into the future, and even from eternity past, subordinate to God the Father (see Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware for two examples of scholars who hold to this view–in fairness to John Kleinig, cited above, I do not include him as one of those who assert these positions because his view of the Trinity was not fully developed in the material from him to which I have access). We shall refer to this position as “necessary role subordination,” following McCall and Yandell.

What does such a position entail about the Trinity? First, if the functional subordination of the Son (and, very often, the Spirit is also said to be subordinate) is indeed necessary, then “it is necessarily true that the Father is authoritative over the Son, and the Son subordinate to the Father” (McCall and Yandell, 354). Why? Because the modal implications of this necessary subordination entails that the Father has, as an essential property, “being authoritative over the Son” (Ibid). Now, this in turn entails that the Father has an essential property the Son (and perhaps the Spirit) do not have. Then, by simple evaluation of the law of identity, the Father has different being than the Son and Spirit. Indeed, the Son would then be “heteroousios rather than homoousios.”

The error can be understood by viewing the Trinity within the substance based metaphysics from which the doctrine has been classically analyzed. As William Alston notes in his study of substance metaphysics and the Trinity, the formulation of the Trinity has been placed squarely within a substance metaphysics, and this provides a grounds for viewing the Trinity as three persons in one being (Alston, 183ff, cited below). Tying this into the laws of identity, one finds that in order for the Trinity of persons to be one being, none of them can lack essential properties of the others. But, as noted, once one asserts that the Son (and/or the Spirit) are necessarily subordinate to the Father, one has separated their essential properties and therefore confounded the Triune nature of God.

The Biblical arguments for such a position are fairly weak. For example, Ware and Grudem (and Kleinig, who does make this argument) argue that 1 Cor. 15:25ff entails the eternal subordination of the Son. But these verses explicitly state that “God may be in all in all.” It does not state “God the Father alone may be all in all” (I owe this point to McCall and Yandell, 342-344).

It may be that these theologians are not drawing this necessary role subordination from Scripture so much as allowing their other theological dispositions to color their trinitarianism. Grudem, Ware, and Kleinig are all explicit complementarians–that is, they restrict women from the ministry. Now please understand I absolutely do not think that complementarianism entails this position on the Trinity. However, I am asserting that complementarianism can color one’s perception of the doctrine of God.

Why think that the correlation between those who hold to necessary role subordination and complementarianism is interesting? First, because necessary role subordination, if true, would give some philosophical bolster to complementarianism; second, because at least one complementarian makes the connection himself.

Regarding the first point, complementarianism has been struggling with a major philosophical challenge presented by Rebecca Groothuis (among others). Namely, the problem of how to ground the subordination of women. Groothuis argues, essentially, as follows: If the permanent, comprehensive, and ontologically grounded subordination of women is justified, then women are inferior persons; Women are not inferior persons; Therefore, women’s subordination is not justified (Groothuis, cited below, 317). Now I’ve defended this argument elsewhere, and I think that some complementarians actually agree with the general argument. Instead of rejecting complementarianism, however, they choose to model their doctrine of the Trinity in order to try to preserve their position. How? By grounding subordination analogously in the submission of God the Son to God the Father. Here, Kleinig is an explicit example of this position. Following the quote at the beginning of this post, he writes, “Those who serve in [the pastoral ministry] pass on what they have received from God the Father through Christ… The exercise of the public ministry depends on this pattern of subordination within the church…” (Kleinig, 223). Now, the subordination of Christ, it is claimed, “has nothing to do with the dominance and power of the Father. It involves and expresses the harmony of the Son with the Father and his love for the Father” (Ibid). Thus, according to Kleinig, the model for women and men in the church is grounded in the Trinity, and because, according to him, the Son is subordinate to the Father yet remains equal, so too should women be subordinate to men and yet remain equal.

Does this complementarian view entail necessary role subordination? It seems so. For what is woman’s role subordinate upon? It seems it must be because of her being (for an argument to that end, see my post linked above and here). Yet her being is, of course, her essential nature. It is necessarily the case, therefore, that she is subordinate.

Finally, it is interesting to note that even were the egalitarian to grant to Ware, Grudem, and Kleinig their points about the Son’s subordination to the Father, it would not follow that the Trinity is an adequate model for women in the church. Why not? Kleinig essentially says it himself, “Now this call to subordination in the divinely instituted order of the church is based on the willing subordination of the Son to the Father” (Kleinig 223, emphasis mine). Well that’s exactly the point egalitarians make! Egalitarians argue that the roles of subordination in the church are taken willingly by those who serve at various levels. The laity has not been called to the ministry, and therefore willingly cede the authority of the office of the ministry to their ministers. It is a bit stunning to see Kleinig make this remark, for it also undermines his own case. Women, unlike Christ, are not [all] willingly subordinate. Rather, some very much would like to be ordained. Thus, if Christ’s subordination is grounded in his “willing subordination” then it seems that Kleinig’s case has completely evaporated. So too, of course, has the case of other complementarians who make this argument.

Do I think that those who make these arguments are heterodox? I wanted to explicate that I think that Ware, Kleinig, and Grudem are more likely victims of misuse of philosophical theology and their own presuppositions than they are actually trying to claim that the Trinity is not of one being. Certainly, I think, were they to examine their position on the subject, they would distance themselves from such a claim. Instead, as I’ve pressed, I think they’ve allowed their presuppositions–that women cannot be pastors and that they must ground this in the Trinity–to cause philosophical confusion on the topic.  Kleinig, for example, almost so much as admits this point when he favorably cites Willliam Oddie, making the claim “that the ordination of women would involve a radical changing in the teaching of the church about the fatherhood of God” (224). It seems that it is not so much egalitarians who are guilty of misconstruing the Trinity, but rather over-eager complementarians who are shaping the Trinity to match their own preconceived notions of subordination and roles. Perhaps it should serve as a warning to take more care when doing philosophical theology and systematics. In any case, I sincerely hope these Christian brothers do not reject the doctrine of the Trinity as one being.

The theological implications of this discussion can now be brought to light. Some complementarians, in their eagerness to support their philosophically vacuous position, have read eternal subordination into the doctrine of the Trinity. I agree that complementarians are correct to worry about the implications of women’s ordination for the doctrine of the Trinity, but I disagree with their conclusions. In their zeal to exclude women from the ministry, they have undermined the doctrine of God. By confusing the willing, economic, salvific role of Christ submitting to the Father in a contingent manner with the eternal, ontological “subordination” of women, complementarians have mounted an attack on the Godhead. Indeed, as has been shown above, their position entails the that the Trinity is not “of one being.” Thus, it is a position that must be rejected. Again, I do not think that all or even most complementarians hold this position in relation to the Trinity, but those who do must consider the theological implications of their position: it entails that God the Son lacks at least one essential property of God the Father and therefore is of a different being; it fails to adequately account for the Scripture related to the Trinity; and finally, it doesn’t even make their case because the subordination is grounded in Christ’s willingness to do so.

In light of these major problems, it seems complementarianism, when tied to necessary role subordination, must be rejected. Should it be rejected outright, even with such ties severed? I certainly think so. Complementarianism is philosophically tenuous and can’t account for all the Scriptural evidence (see Philip Payne’s book, reviewed here). It is time to stop allowing preconceptions to shape all doctrine. Rather than reforming God in the image of complementarianism, we should allow God to shape our image of humanity. God is coequal, with no essential properties split among His being. Similarly, human kind is equal, sharing the image of God. Man and woman: one in Christ.

[It has come to my attention that there is a newer edition of Kleinig’s essay which was published in the 2009 version of the book from which I quoted. A message sent to me on the topic informed me that Kleinig’s essay is substantially different–to the extent that the first four quotes I present from him are not present in the newer edition, which is also a page shorter. I am pleased to note that perhaps this means Kleinig has dropped his original view, which seemed to entail necessary role subordination. Regardless, my points would still stand for any who do hold such a position.]

[NOTE: I complementarians do not necessarily have to hold to eternal subordination; nor do those who argue for eternal subordination have to be complementarian. One can be an egalitarian with gender roles but argue for the Son’s subordination and vice versa.]

Sources

William Alston, “Substance and the Trinity” in The Trinity ed. Stephen Davis et al. (New York, NY: 1999), 179-201.

Rebecca Groothuis, “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination” in Discovering Biblical Equalityed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 301-333 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005).

John Kleinig, “The Ordination of Women and the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity” in Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2008), p. 217-225.

Thomas McCall and Keith Yandell, “On Trinitarian Subordinationism”Philosophia Christi 11-2, 2009, p. 339-358.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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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