My Sad Farewell to the Pro-Life Movement

some_cannot_join_crowd_pious_eye_davidmhodges_2016As I began to realize a few days ago, when I spoke of the “Baffling Clash: Pro-Life Leaders v Donald J. Trump,” some of us cannot be part of movements.

As someone who believes every person’s inalienable right to life begins at conception, I’m saddened to discover I cannot be part of the pro-life movement. The insistence of this movement’s leaders on lockstep conformity to the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims position, however, has made clear both my ineligibility and the ineligibility of all who think the outlaw of abortion would require legal penalties against both sellers and buyers of the illegal service. I suppose I should thank Donald Trump, whose childlike innocence on the issue caused him to make remarks that brought down on him all the fury of the pro-life establishment (that is, all the professional activists who make their living leading the pro-life movement), and that simultaneously prompted assertions by this establishment’s representatives that “no one who is pro-life believes women should be punished for choosing abortion.” (Now, of course, Trump says the pro-life establishment’s view is his own and he just “misspoke.” If other politicians did this, Trump supporters would rightly accuse them of flip-flopping and pandering. Trump’s agents, however, have taken to the airwaves to convince everyone that all his statements are different ways of saying the same thing: #hypocrisy.)

I guess this means that, as far as the pro-life establishment is concerned, those of us unwilling to absolve women who choose abortion of all moral responsibility, even though we believe that personhood and the right to life begin at conception, don’t qualify as pro-life. I confess I can’t see how thinking that even women in difficult circumstances retain some degree of responsibility for their actions makes one less life-affirming than someone who thinks hard circumstances give women freedom to kill without guilt, provided they do so through third parties. Such, however, is the official view of the pro-life movement’s leadership, even though I can see no rational sense to it:

Now, if one believes that personhood begins at conception, and with it the inalienable right to life that entitles every person to protection under the law, which in turn requires just punishment of all who attempt to violate that right, there is simply no rational way to claim that anyone acting voluntarily and intentionally to bring about the death of an unborn person should be free from all punishment. As well, how this aborting-women-are-blameless stance fits with the pro-life statistic that most abortions currently performed are for “convenience” is worse than unclear.

So, pro-life leaders, please tell me in what possible world (in which you must believe you’re living) is voluntary hiring of a “doctor” to kill one’s unborn child rightly considered a guiltless act that should never be punished? What is the factor common to the life situations of all woman who ever choose abortion that invariably frees them of all moral responsibility? Difficult life circumstances, fear of financial ruin, fear of the need to abandon educational or career pursuits, pressure from family or a boyfriend—some of these might well incline a judge to lessen the sentence for violating a ban on abortion, but what judge or jury would consider acquittal based on any one, or on any combination, of such factors?

The only conclusion I can draw is that the pro-life movement is led by emotion-driven people whose long reliance on emotion in place of reason has made them incapable of seeing that their position is nonsense. Though I don’t doubt that the emotions involved are heart-in-the-right-place motivators to charitable action, and that they are in that sense laudable, they are a very bad guide to just lawmaking. Whatever the cause of these leaders’ stance, I cannot in good conscience support them, much though I share with them a belief in from-conception personhood and inalienable rights. (At least, I assume they share my belief in such personhood and rights. If they did not, that certainly would explain their willingness to absolve certain parties to abortion of all guilt.)

One organization I am disappointed to have to stop supporting is Care Net. This organization does such things as fund homes for unwed mothers and provide abstinence education. Its praiseworthy goal is to make choosing not to abort easier by reducing the circumstantial pressures motivating many decisions to abort. Alas, this organization has chosen to join others in condemning those of us unwilling to endorse the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims viewpoint. Though this organization was my Amazon Smile charity for some time, I’ve chosen a new charity:

I was surprised to discover that this organization had joined the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims chorus because its focus is not political activism but life-affirming charitable services that help reduce abortion frequency in the current legal-abortion order of things. (So long as it stuck to this and did not attempt to address the issue of lawmaking, its being emotion-driven was not a problem.) The article, “Why It’s Illogical for the Pro-Choice Movement to be Upset with Donald Trump’s Statement on Punishment for Illegal Abortions,” by Roland C. Warren and Vincent DiCaro (posted 31 March 2016, accessed 02 April 2016), claims to be addressing just the issue that has troubled me: logical consistency. The authors ask: “are both pro-lifers and pro-choicers being consistent with their own beliefs by suggesting that women who have abortions (if abortions are illegal) should not be punished”? They then promise to show “that pro-choice advocates are being inconsistent with their beliefs and pro-life advocates are being perfectly consistent with their beliefs by criticizing Trump.” Because the title calls pro-choice objections “illogical,” the article clearly means to have logical consistency in view. Since the consistency or inconsistency of those who support “abortion rights” is not my concern, I will pass over Warren and DiCaro’s treatment of that issue. All I will address here is their defense of the idea that post-ban abortion-seeking women should be excluded from legal penalty.

“For decades, even centuries,” they write, “pro-life people have argued that women are victims of abortion. Indeed…when abortion was illegal, the pro-life movement argued….that abortion providers were the perpetrators, women the victims, and therefore, punishment for illegal abortions…should be meted out to the providers alone.” If accurate, this is fascinating history, no doubt about it. Surely Warren and DiCaro know, however, that long endurance of a belief is no assurance of that belief’s logical consistency. The question is not whether people in the past have believed something someone today also believes, but whether the belief itself is rational. The following key question is not answered by this appeal to history: do women who voluntarily contract for the murder of their own children at the hands of abortionists bear no culpability whatsoever? That is what must be true if the pro-life establishment’s aborting-women-are-innocent position is to be deemed rational. But, unless women are subjected to forced abortions (as has happened in history), there seems no rational way to acquit them of all guilt in the murder of their unborn children. No matter how many people have believed them guiltless victims, and no matter how long those people have believed so, the fact that women who choose abortion are not guiltless does not change.

Warren and DiCaro admit that “the only instance in which you would not punish someone for doing something illegal is if that person did not have agency. They did not have real choice or autonomy.” Since they believe that, in a hypothetical future where abortion is illegal, no women who seek abortion should be punished, Warren and DiCaro must then also believe that no women who seek abortion have choice or autonomy. One either has choice, freedom to choose as one wishes, or one does not. How “real choice” differs from just “choice” isn’t clear, so I will simply speak of “choice,” or of “power of choice,” or of “free will.”

Like other leaders of the pro-life movement, Warren and DiCaro speak as though they express the views of all who are pro-life, characterizing pro-life opinion as uniform. They write: “Pro-lifers have always maintained that women [given their stance on non-punishment, Warren and DiCaro must here mean all women who abort] are manipulated by the multi-billion dollar abortion industry [which presumably would not exist were abortion illegal, unless as a black-market cartel] during a challenging, and often desperate, moment in their lives to have an abortion.” So far, I must admit, I’ve not heard how women who choose to seek abortion are deprived of free will and so freed from moral responsibility. Perhaps that is coming. Warren and DiCaro continue: “They are often coerced by the father of the baby or other family members into having abortions.” Here, one must ask: what do Warren and DiCaro mean by “coerced”? Actual physical force—say being etherized and put through the procedure while unconscious, or being forced to undergo the procedure at gunpoint—would mean a loss of choice. Angry shouting, cajoling, threats to withdraw support, and the like would not. In any case, the question of freedom of choice here seems one to be decided on a case-by-case basis in court. Surely there is no basis here for concluding that “all women who seek abortions are innocent and should never be subjected to punishment.”

Warner and DiCaro add: “They are misled or misinformed by pro-abortion advocates about the potential negative physical, emotional, relational and spiritual effects of abortion.” So, allegedly, all women who seek abortions are misled about how having abortions might negatively affect them. How is this relevant to the question of moral responsibility? Is one less culpable for arranging another person’s death because one is misled about how hiring someone to bring about that death might have negative effects on one? “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you should acquit my client as an accomplice in this murder because the professional assassin she hired told her she wouldn’t feel guilty later, would surely never develop an ulcer or headaches from the nagging remorse, would definitely not suffer lasting health problems from her accidental exposure to a small portion of the poison that killed her husband, and would, most importantly, never face conviction in court or condemnation by religious authorities for hiring him.” No doubt the jury would think it a shame that ethics among assassins had so degenerated as to produce such deceptive sales practices, but I doubt the woman accused could expect an acquittal on these grounds.

I’m sorry, Warner and DiCaro and Care Net, you’ve failed to persuade me that “all women who seek abortions are innocent and should never be subjected to punishment” is a rational position to hold. I see only wild, emotion-drive over-generalization, along with a praiseworthy desire to be merciful being carried too far, to the point where it overturns equal justice under the law.

This is, it may be worth emphasizing, a debate about law and proper punishment under the law. Divine and interpersonal forgiveness should not be confused with freedom from legal penalty. God can forgive repentant sinners for whatever sins they’ve committed, even when those sins are such crimes as murder, but God’s ability and willingness to forgive does not grant to human lawmakers an equivalent power and authority. Individuals may likewise forgive sins against themselves, choosing not to seek any sort of “pay back” through personal vengeance or through the more civilized filing of a lawsuit, but this individual freedom does not grant to individuals who make laws freedom to forgive whom they will for crimes against others.

One more thing may be worth noting. If the pro-life establishment is correct in thinking that all women facing unintended pregnancies are helpless and fall easily and completely under others’ control, more than excluding them from punishment for hypothetically illegal abortions must be considered. For instance, people so easily deprived of free will should not be voting in elections, so clearly the suffragettes led us down the wrong path. These delicate flowers with no wills of their own and no moral responsibility for their actions must be protected, not made subject to manipulation by politicians and their PACs.

With that final point, I bid this movement a sad farewell, though I retain my belief in the inalienable right to life of every person from conception, remain wholly opposed to the so-called “pro-choice” viewpoint, and retain my hope that one day the laws of all nations will recognize the from-conception right to life, and that one day the authorities of all nations will defend born and unborn persons’ lives, and will, when that defense fails, justly punish all who choose, acting either directly or through paid agents, to kill the innocent.

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Baffling Clash: Pro-Life Leaders v Donald J. Trump

Donald_Trump_Signs_The_Pledge_CC4_licenseTrump image by Michael Vadon, used under license (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Today’s “Morning Jolt…with Jim Geraghty” e-mail (free from National Review) contains an interesting passage on the latest Donald Trump controversy. Here it is, as it appears in my response to the sender:

On Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 7:57 AM, Jim Geraghty, National Review wrote:

Most pro-lifers who support banning abortion believe that the doctor performing the abortion is the one committing the crime — after all, he’s the one ending a human life — not the mother.

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias quickly issued a statement:
The National Right to Life Committee unequivocally opposes the killing of innocent unborn children and works unceasingly to have them protected in law. Unborn children and their mothers are victims in an abortion. In adopting statutes prohibiting the performance of abortions, National Right to Life has long opposed the imposition of penalties on the woman on whom an abortion is attempted or performed. Rather, penalties should be imposed against any abortionist who would take the life of an unborn child in defiance of statutes prohibiting abortions. National Right to Life-backed state and federal legislation, such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, is targeted at stopping abortionists.

I have to admit, the dominant view of career pro-life activists on this issue has me baffled. If you hire a hit man and he accepts the contract, both you and he are subject to legal penalty—unless, of course, the hit man is an undercover police office, in which case only you are subject to penalty. If you buy illicit narcotics from a drug dealer, both you and the dealer are subject to conviction—unless, again, the dealer is an undercover police officer. If you hire a prostitute, both you and the prostitute will face punishment—unless, well, you get the picture. In the case of banned abortion alone is it being suggested that only sellers, not buyers, of an illegal service should be deemed guilty of a crime. This making no sense to me, I responded to this “Morning Jolt” as follows:

In this instance, I have to agree with Trump’s initial on-the-spot conclusion that some penalty would have to be imposed. It seems to me that most pro-lifers are letting their desire to be winsome and show they’re sympathetic make them compromise on obvious principles. The idea of punishing only those who provide an illegal service, not those who purchase the service, is nonsense, however emotionally appealing it may be to many.

Laws that carry no penalties when you violate them are not laws at all. The dominant pro-life characterization of women who have abortions as guiltless victims is hard to take seriously given the free availability of information about what various abortion procedures involve. Those whose desperate circumstances drive them to procure this service may be less guilty than those who provide the service, but they rarely can be called wholly guiltless or merely victims. If abortion is ever banned, Trump’s original (now abandoned) position will be the correct one: women who violate the ban to procure abortion services illegally should face some sort of penalty.

As someone who committed long ago to not voting for Trump even if he’s the Republican nominee, it pains me to agree with a position held, however briefly, by the man. But it seems to me that his tendency to say what occurs to him as he thinks about something in the moment—to “speak his mind” and “tell it like it is,” as his supporters put it—led him to the correct insight this time.

Too bad he chose to turn politician in this case and back off from his statement. For once, he was correct.

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Reordering the Trinity: Unconvincing Thesis, but Still Worth Reading

reordering_trinity_cover_section_courtesy_publisherDurst, Rodrick K. Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2005. Paperback, 369 pages. ISBN 978-0-8254-4378-7.

Rodrick K. Durst’s Reordering the Trinity, in spite of an unfortunate lack of clarity in places, is interesting and often edifying, sufficiently informative and practical to merit perusal even by those who, as I have, finish their reading skeptical of the book’s thesis.

That thesis might be summarized as follows: Whenever the three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned together in a New Testament passage, the order in which they are mentioned is a “processional order” specially suited to the context, saying something significant about the focus and meaning of the passage, and depicting a type of God’s activity in creation. If, for instance, a passage mentions the divine Persons in the typically expected Father-Son-Spirit order, the passage’s concern is missional, and the order depicts the nature of the Divine Persons’ missional activity. If, on the other hand, the order of mention is Spirit-Father-Son, the passage’s focus is sanctifying, and that focus is more richly expressed, and the Divine Persons’ sanctifying activity is pictured, by that specific order. Using the critically reconstructed text rather than the Received Text, and so excluding 1 John 5:7-8 (63-4), Durst surveys every passage in the Greek New Testament where he finds “triads,” or mentions of all three Persons. (All his Scripture quotations are in English, but his determination of the order of each triad is based on the Greek, which does not always match the English.) He places those triads into one of six categories for the six possible processional orders (all of which do occur in the New Testament, though not with equal prevalence) and assigning to them letter grades based on how intentional he judges their trinitarianism to be. A triad including all three Persons within a brief passage, for instance, will get a higher intentionality grade than a triad completed over the course of a long passage, because the author seems in the brief passage to be including all three Persons in a certain order on purpose. The survey is summarized in tabular form as Appendix A, “New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences” (309-18), which Durst considers the “best pages” of Reordering the Trinity (25). On the basis of this survey, which shows an interesting correspondence between processional orders and their scriptural contexts, Durst grants to each order rich interpretive value, as well as high importance for our understanding of how the Trinity acts in creation.

One unfortunate thing about Reordering the Trinity is that Durst often uses the same wording to refer to the acting Persons of the Godhead as he uses to refer to the verbal ordering of references to them in the Bible. Consider the following: “This triadic order,” he writes of the Son-Father-Spirit (“christological”) order, “exhorts and empowers discouraged fellowships to reengage as faithful followers of Jesus” (216). This sounds like he’s saying that a faithful reader of a passage where this triadic order occurs will be exhorted and empowered, along with others in his discouraged fellowship, to reengage. Surely, though, Durst must mean something more along the following lines: “When the Persons of the Trinity act in the way depicted [or described] by this triadic order, they exhort and empower discouraged fellowships,” and so on. A “procession,” as Durst defines it in his glossary, “Describes the relational movement from Father to Son to Spirit in inner relations (ad intra) in eternity and in external operations (ad extra) in creation” (323). Reordering the Trinity, being focused “on the external economic Trinity” rather than “the internal…so-called immanent Trinity” (17), has the latter, external, sort of procession in view. The different processional orders, then, are supposed to characterize different manners of Divine activity, different ways in which the three Persons of the Godhead act together in creation. (Durst believes, and his survey of relevant scholarship supports believing, that the economic Trinity has been neglected in recent study, which has focused disproportionately on the immanent Trinity. He also points out a speculative tendency in work on the immanent Trinity.)

Indeed, it would be strange to attribute tangible effects to the mere ordering of words in Scripture, even when the words refer to Persons of the Godhead, but Durst’s wording sometimes seems to do just that. Not only does he believe there is a “significant connection between Trinitarian processional balance and theological health” (77) (even though his survey shows Scripture itself is a bit unbalanced in its use of the various orders), but he often seems to attribute specific effects to the orders in Scripture. In one place he writes this: “I believe that Paul employs the S-F-Sp [Son-Father-Spirit] triad to encourage these believers [the Corinthians] in the life of Christ as the christological order is uniquely and divinely choreographed to do” (210). Because reference is here made to what Paul has written and the reason he’s written it, this statement seems impossible to revise in a way that eliminates the impression that the order of words in Scripture, not the Divine Persons acting as described by those words, is what is “uniquely and divinely choreographed” to exert an effect on readers. Earlier on the same page, Durst writes, “If the Father-Son-Spirit order evokes missional mobilization and suffering, then the Son-Father-Spirit order evokes the immersion in the christological healing comfort which that missional suffering wrought” (210). Here, the processional orders in Scripture, rather than the orders in the Divine Persons’ activities, are clearly in view, since they “evoke” rather than “effect.” It seems, then, that Durst uses “processional order,” or more specific descriptions like “the Father-Son-Spirit order” or “the Father-Son-Spirit processional order,” to refer, not only to the words describing the order in Scripture, but also to the activity of the Divine Persons depicted by that order. This dual usage often reduces the clarity of Reordering the Trinity.

Since the “I believe that Paul employs the S-F-Sp triad” has the words in Scripture rather than the Divine Persons’ activity in view, and since Durst attributes to these words a “uniquely and divinely choreographed” power to encourage, Durst must believe that the original recipients of Paul’s writings knew the significance of each of the processional orders, knew what sort of Divine activity was involved when the Divine Persons acted as depicted by any given order. By choosing a certain order in his writing, then, Paul could remind those to whom he was writing of (could, to borrow the earlier wording, “evoke” for them) a certain sort of God’s activity in their lives. However, there is no support offered in Reordering the Trinity for the idea that the original recipients were aware of the special meaning of these various processional orders. Durst presents no argument to that effect.

Assuming they had such awareness, assuming Durst’s implicit assumption is true, why and how is this knowledge supposed to have disappeared entirely from among God’s people? Previous authors, according to Durst’s own summary, have seen in the variety of orders in which the Divine Persons are mentioned in Scripture only evidence that the Persons of the Trinity must have been equal in the eyes of the New Testament writers, else they surely would have favored one or another order much more strongly than they did. Nor is any evidence presented indicating that, at any time during the two millennia that God by his Spirit has been guiding his people, illuminating true believers, either common believers or Christian elites (such as scholars) have attributed to the various orders the meaning, importance, and characteristic Divine activities that Durst does. Durst might reject this as a “tradition for tradition’s sake” (31) argument, but the Spirit-guided nature of the Body of Christ, I would argue, does give tradition a certain authority, though of course an authority subordinate to Scripture. The proper role of a Christian Theologian is largely, if not by now entirely, to reexpress, elaborate upon, and apply what has long been believed, possibly in original and creative ways. Those who want to show their originality and creativity through actual innovation, through presentation of radical insights new to human minds, might better consider careers in science and technology, or in the creative arts.

Tradition aside, it isn’t clear how well the correspondences between contexts and processional orders (foundational to Durst’s theory) would hold up were one to analyze all of them closely and critically. For instance, in one place he uses the subject of the context to choose among potential triads: “The intensely missional context,” he writes of Romans 1:1-4, “slightly tilts [toward] favoring the Father-Son-Spirit order for this weaker instance of a Trinitarian reference” (171). This calls to mind the use by evolutionary geologists of “index fossils” to date rock strata (or to choose among widely divergent dates indicated by radioisotope dating methods), based on the presupposed truth of evolutionary theory, followed by the use by evolutionary theorists of the same fossils as evidence supporting the truth of evolutionary theory. In at least this instance, Durst is assuming the correctness of his theory, selecting the triad in a certain context based on that assumption, then including the triad thus selected as part of his “cumulative case” for the correctness of this theory. Shouldn’t he have allowed Romans 1:1-4, given that it may show use of the “wrong” triad in a missional context, to serve as evidence against his theory?

While mulling over this issue recently, I happened to hear part of contemporary Christian song that used an order other than Father-Son-Spirit. I didn’t catch the song’s artist or title, but the reason it used the order it did was obvious: that was the only way to make one line rhyme with the line that preceded it. Oddly, Durst doesn’t even consider the stylistic explanation of the variety of orders. To him, each order must mean something (207, e.g.), something more than just that the author found the wording more stylistically appealing or, alternatively, just wanted to make sure he mentioned all three Persons of the Godhead after having already mentioned one or two others. As Durst states in his “sermon starter” for the Father-Spirit-Son (“shaping” or “formational”) order (he includes “sermon starters” at the ends of chapters 2 through 10, intending them to indicate the practical value, and to allow practical application, of the subjects he discusses and of his theory), “The essence of intelligence is the ability to discern patterns or relationships” (259). How could the patterns he has discerned not carry significant meaning?

Durst’s description of “The essence of intelligence” leaves out an important caveat, however: a perpetual danger when applying intelligence, demonstrated over and over again in human history, is that one might discern patterns where they don’t exist, that is, that one might read into reality patterns from one’s own mind, or that one might read into real patterns meanings from one’s own mind. Durst’s assertions about the meaning of each order strike me as potentially one more demonstration of how the human gift for pattern recognition can be overindulged. In fact, reflecting on his thesis and the evidence for it, I get much the same feeling I get when reflecting upon proposals of heretofore unknown “codes” in the words, letters, or arrangement of Scripture. Just because human minds can identify patterns doesn’t mean the patterns are real or carry meaning. Nevertheless, because most of the meaning that Durst proposes drawing out of the triads comports with Scripture, being taught in ways other than through the triads, I’m able, though skeptical of his thesis, to read his unpacking of the meaning and importance of the triads as edifying and creative applications of the passages involved, though not as valid interpretations of them. For the most part, his applications seem sound, that is, they seem to agree with what Scripture teaches, even if, as I’m inclined to believe, Scripture doesn’t teach these things through the processional orders themselves. This allows me, even as I doubt Durst’s thesis, to consider the book, not just interesting and informative, but often edifying and practical.

As noted above, Durst considers the tabular summary of his pattern-recognition exercise the “best pages” of the book, no doubt ranking “second best” his one-chapter-per-order unpacking of what he sees as the scriptural support for his understanding of the theological and practical implications of the six processional orders. I would rank things somewhat differently.

After the Contents, Acknowledgments, and List of Charts and Tables (7-11), Durst provides an introduction, “Introducing the ‘Trinitarian Matrix’” (13-25). As introductions typically do, this one provides readers with some basic background and an overview of the topics covered in the book. Like all later chapters, this introduction ends with “Discussion Questions.” Here and throughout the text, such questions are mostly the sort of well structured open questions that can actually promote discussion. On balance, this introduction is neither more nor less useful than other introductions I’ve read, and I’d rate it neither the “best” nor “worst” pages of Reordering the Trinity.

The remainder of the book comprises three parts totaling eleven chapters, five appendixes, a bibliography (339-62), and two indexes (“Scripture” and “Author and Topic”) (363-9). Part 1, “Considering Four Key Questions,” includes four chapters: (1) “The Status Question: The Search for Trinitarian Significance in Contemporary Theology” (29-61); (2) “The Data Question: The Trinitarian Matrix in the New Testament” (63-82); (3) “The Antecedent Question: Triadic Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures” (83-121); and (4) “The Historical Question: The Karma of Dogma—The Trinity in Tradition” (123-49). Part 1 would be my choice for the “best” pages of the book. This part’s first chapter (“The Status Question”) provides an overview of prior scholarly work on the Trinity, something very helpful for those of us lacking time or inclination to review the burgeoning literature on the subject.

Part 1’s second and third chapters (“The Data Question” and “The Antecedent Question”) provide an overview of biblical data relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity. As anyone who studies biblical doctrines comes to realize, God has built a good deal of redundancy into Scripture’s witness to important doctrines. Durst’s overview shows that, not only does this aspect of God’s nature have abundant, redundant witness in Scripture, but that witness is pervasive in the New Testament, being “the default consciousness out of which the New Testament authors wrote” (81), and is by no means absent from the Old Testament, that Testament showing distinctions without division, “plurality in unity,” in the one God (113). Even evidence-first Christian empiricists (whose empirical bent inclines them, for instance, to require a persuasive empirical case from still-surviving manuscripts for any verse or passage before they will accept it as inspired, and so to join Durst in favoring a critically reconstructed Greek New Testament) will find Scripture’s witness to God’s triune nature so pervasive as to make doubt of the doctrine appear, not only mistaken, but patently ridiculous. Faith-first non-empiricists (whose starting point in faith makes them willing, for instance, to trust God’s guidance of his people in their reception and use of his words, and God’s witness to those words’ truth and divine origin in and through the words themselves, to ensure correctness of the Received Text), though they wouldn’t join Durst in condemning “arguments of tradition for tradition’s sake—or even the fideistic argument: ‘Jesus said it, so that settles it’” (31), will find the copious scriptural evidence here a welcome confirmation, and perhaps elaboration, of their faith.

The third chapter (“The Antecedent Question”) also performs an additional useful service: It suggests to those of us who have been open to less literal translations, to thought-for-thought dynamically equivalent rather than word-for-word formally equivalent translation, that we have erred, not knowing the scriptures. Durst shows, in multiple instances, that word-level features of Scripture, even what seem like blatant grammatical errors that translators might naturally “correct” (as, we learn in the course of Durst’s discussion, the translators of the Septuagint Old Testament did), can be indispensable witnesses to the full intended sense of the God-breathed Book. Trade in your NIV (New International Version) or NLT (New Living Translation) today!

Part 2, “The Contextual Question and the Trinitarian Matrix,” includes six chapters, one for each processional order: (5) “The Sending Triad: Father-Son-Spirit as the Missional Order” (159-82); (6) “The Saving Triad: Son-Spirit-Father as the Regenerative Order” (183-97); (7) “The Indwelling Triad: Son-Father-Spirit as the Christological Witness Order” (199-219); (8) “The Standing Triad: Spirit-Father-Son as the Sanctifying Order” (221-40); (9) “The Shaping Triad: Father-Spirit-Son as the Spiritual Formation Order” (241-63); and (10) “The Uniting Triad: Spirit-Son-Father as the Ecclesial Order” (265-83). Though I wouldn’t rate these chapters as highly as those in Part 1, they are very interesting, full of useful insights, lots of biblical material, and applications to practical life that mostly merit consideration even by those who doubt or reject Durst’s theory. Since these chapters do leave me doubting that theory, and so fail to achieve their primary goal, I’ll rank them “third best” overall. Durst’s defense of Karl Barth’s use of “modes of being” when speaking of the Trinity (“Since the One God exists in Trinity, Barth is not wrong to express that Trinity as ‘modes of being.’” [148]) strikes me as unwise, as does Durst’s own use of the phrase in a few places (69, e.g.), but Durst’s acceptance of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity seems evident from the totality of the book, in spite of his willingness to defend, and even sometimes to use, terminology that seems better avoided.

Part 3, “Everyday Applications and Further Resources,” includes one chapter: (11) “The Application Question: Becoming a Functional Trinitarian for Everyday Worship, Life, and Ministry” (287-305). Fortunately for those who find themselves unconvinced of Durst’s theory, most of the applications proposed here depend only on acceptance of the Trinity and belief that the three Persons thereof are equal in the way suggested by the New Testament writers’ lack of effort to strongly favor one or another order. The “Preach that oneness of essence is not sameness of function” (298-9), “Preach that oneness conveys sameness of essence, but not necessarily sameness of function” (299-300), and “Preach that submission in time is not subordination in eternity” (300-2) sections are particularly helpful, nicely correcting excesses on each extreme of the complementarian-egalitarian debate over proper male and female roles in the family and church. On the strength of these, I deem a “second best” ranking appropriate, though my ranking of Parts 2 and 3 might easily be reversed.

The five appendixes include: (A) “New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences” (309-18); (B) “Glossary of Trinitarian Terms” (319-23); (C) “Spiritual Formation Exercise #1: Trinitarian Prayers” (325-6); (D) “Spiritual Formation Exercise #2: Forty-two Days of Trinitarian Devotion” (327-9); and (E) “Explaining the Trinity to Children and to Adolescents” (331-5). I won’t try to rank these on the same ordinal “best” scale as other parts of the book. Appendix A is a handy summary of the data, including judgment calls, that Durst thinks support his theory. Appendix B would receive my highest rating among the appendixes. Appendixes C and D depend upon acceptance of Durst’s theory. Reflection on the insights elsewhere in the book that ring scripturally true even if Durst’s theory is incorrect might achieve some of the benefits attributed to the theory-dependent exercises here.

As for Appendix E, it includes the following suggested analogy for teaching children about the Trinity: “For instance, think of an apple. An apple has the skin, the ‘meat,’ and the core. Each is the apple, each is unique, but an apple isn’t an apple without all three” (332). Now, I realize that the ability to think abstractly develops later than the ability to think concretely, making concrete illustrations necessary in some cases. This analogy, however, makes it seem that each Person of the Trinity is just part of God, since each is likened to a part of an apple. Perhaps the analogy could be salvaged by adding the following: Got that? Now, imagine that the apple is infinitely large and, what’s more, that its skin permeates everything everywhere (including the “meat” and core), its “meat” permeates everything everywhere (including the skin and core), and its core permeates everything everywhere (including the skin and “meat’). Okay? Now, realize that, because God is not matter but spirit, the Divine Persons don’t actually stretch out anywhere or permeate anything, but are instead fully present in their infinitude at every point in space and time. What do you mean you don’t understand? Don’t they teach you kids anything in elementary school these days?

I might also discuss a grab bag of minor objections I have, but I’ll spare the reader and only mention one. Explaining the meaning of the term “foreknowledge” in 1 Peter 1:2, Durst writes, “Foreknowledge means He [God] knows and promises events and responses with reliable confidence because He is sovereign” (261). Everything in this statement from “He” to the end is certainly true, but many of us understand “foreknowledge” to mean something different in at least some places, probably here in 1 Peter 1:2, for instance, and almost certainly in Romans 8:29, where God is said to “foreknow” specific people—not facts about people, but the people themselves. As we understand the term, these references to God’s “foreknowledge”have in view, not his advance knowledge of what will happen, but his advance “knowing” (loving) of his people. In contexts where this meaning fits best, Durst’s construal seems unworkable.

In closing, then, I can’t endorse Reordering the Trinity’s thesis, but I can recommend the book (of which I received a free review copy) as worthwhile reading. Once I got past its sometimes unclear wording, I enjoyed and benefited from my own reading of the book, and I expect most thoughtful readers will do the same.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

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(A)sexual: (A) Weird Documentary

Weird_Tales_July_1948_public_domain_croppedI saw a very strange documentary recently: (A)sexual (directed by Angela Tucker, Arts Engine Inc., 2011). The premise of the film, which takes for granted the contemporary belief that people have innate sexual orientations (inclinations to have sex with persons of the opposite, their own, or both sexes: heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, respectively), is that there are people who have an orientation not generally acknowledged: asexuality (an innate lack of inclination to have sex with persons of any sex). There are supposed to exist people who have no interest in having sex and whose lack of interest is not due to physical, mental, or emotional problems, but is something innate to them, just another inborn orientation. These are supposed to be people without sexual desire, not persons choosing, for religious or other reasons, to resist or ignore sexual impulses. The film’s focus is on sharing the personal experiences and opinions of self-identified asexuals, supplemented by the opinions of non-asexuals, not upon showing either a scientific or philosophical justification for belief in the orientation.

Now, the claim that some people are essentially “born with” a “sexual orientation” to never develop an interest in having sex, either in the biblically permitted procreative manner within (true, heterosexual, one-partner-for-life) marriage, or in the various perverted ways suggested by Satan and sin-corrupted imaginations, may not be contrary to Scripture. The Lord himself says that “there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb” (Matthew 19:12). Though one could insist on taking this to mean only persons injured in the womb or suffering deformities qualifying them as “eunuchs,” taking it to include a broader group of people with no interest in sexual involvement strikes many as the more natural reading in context. Scripture, in fact, seems to portray a lack of sexual interest, not as something to be corrected with therapy or medication, but as a special gift from God for certain individuals (1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 32-34, 37). The last verse cited, 1 Corinthians 7:37, I should note, is most applicable to this subject if one reads it as Matthew Henry does: “I think,” he writes, “the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume VI: Acts to Revelation [1706-1721; reprint, following prior undated Christian Classics Ethereal Library reprint, San Francisco: Internet Archive, 2000), available from the Internet Archive, 847 [855 of pdf]).

So, in accord with the subjective experiences of at least some of those sharing their stories in (A)sexual, Scripture indicates that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the premise that some people just aren’t interested in sex and that’s okay; that premise, then, isn’t what makes the documentary weird. What makes it weird (here, the better term might be “queer”) is the attempt by self-appointed leaders of asexuals to turn people with that “orientation” into a special interest group that participates in events like “gay” pride parades. Since the default religion of contemporary America seems to be a cult of sexual indulgence, complete with sacrifices of children (through abortion) to the sex god, it makes some sense that asexuals should feel pressured or ostracized even in our otherwise permissive culture. But why should persons lacking inclination to engage in sex make common cause with those dedicated to indulging perverse impulses to engage in unnatural, God-condemned sex? Turning people who are free from the burden of sexual impulses into functionaries of the LGBT (Lesbian, “Gay,” Bisexual, and Transgender) promoters-of-perversion lobby is almost as perverse as the collected perversions that lobby promotes.

Surely this can only be an example of how lost people become when left to figure out their experiences and themselves without the guidance of God’s written revelation. With Jesus’s words in Matthew 19, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, and all Scripture’s wealth at their disposal, those grounded in God’s Word have resources for understanding and dealing with the impulses they feel—and don’t feel. Those not grounded in Scripture….Well, they produce odd documentaries likening lack of sexual interest to LGBT perversions and calling upon those gifted by God with freedom from sexual impulses to make common cause with those cursed with disordered impulses contrary to both nature and nature’s God.

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Conservative Abortion-Ban-Exception Delusions

mars_canals_and_vampires_piouseye_davidmhodges_2016Believing true what one wants to be true rather than what actually is true may be a less prevalent phenomenon among conservatives than liberals, but it is certainly not unknown among conservatives. For instance, one needn’t watch Fox New, the Fox Business Network, or an economics-related conservative event for long to hear someone who has been successful in the free market argue that his experience is “proof” that all one has to do to be guaranteed success in that market is to “work hard and play by the rules.” One has to watch only a little longer to hear someone who’s achieved some dream he’s obsessively pursued—turning away from other opportunities that, though not his dream, would have ensured a financially secure life—counsel people in general to “pursue their dream at all costs,” whatever the risks. (The extent to which people see their own experiences as authoritative is stunning. “Well, I did such-and-such and this-or-that happened,” to remarkably many, ends debate. Others’ experiences of doing such-and-such without this-or-that happening carry no weight.) These sorts of delusions survive because, of course, people who work hard and play by the rules but get nowhere for it don’t become role models and interview subjects, and no one writes biographies about them; and those who obsessively purse their dreams, accepting no substitutes, and end up with neither those dream nor any of the more realistic alternatives that presented themselves along the way, are likewise no one’s role models or interview subjects, and no one writes biographies about them either. Such delusions can ruin lives, but at least they don’t (usually) kill people.

One delusions that does kill people is the delusion that “emergency contraception” reliably prevents conception rather than causing early abortion. The term “contraception” naturally leads one to expect this, and it is certainly something conservatives, who realize killing unborn children for the sins of their sires is morally indefensible, would like to be true. Soundly pro-life persons (and persons who qualify in the eyes of most as conservative) who’ve let this appealing delusion take hold of them, and have thus promoted such “morning-after pills,” include Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio, as I recently discovered reading Calvin Freiburger’s 01 October 2015 Live Action News article “Reminder to Rubio and GOP candidates: Touting morning-after pill won’t change pro-aborts’ narrative” (accessed 05 February 2016). (The article also seems to indicate that Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee have not succumbed to the delusion, or had not as of 05 February 2015. Santorum’s recent endorsement of Rubio over Cruz might call this into question. It at least calls into question Santorum’s priorities.)

This delusion is perhaps understandable, since medicine and pharmacology are complex, and since deceptive marketers have intentionally given people the impression that such drugs prevent new human life from being created at all rather than, as the drugs often do, destroying human life already created. (The succumbing of medical doctors like Ben Carson and Rand Paul is difficult to explain. But, then, medicine and pharmacology are very specialized.) Less understandable is the widespread delusion that, were such ever really to occur, an abortion performed to prevent a pregnant woman’s otherwise unavoidable or highly likely death, an abortion justified by the proposed “life of the mother” exception to any ban, would be morally equivalent to abortions performed to destroy children created through acts of rape or incest, abortions “justified” by proposed “rape and incest” exceptions. Some professedly pro-life persons (and persons holding to at least some positions generally considered conservative) who appear to have succumbed to this delusion include (but are certainly not limited to) Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Donald Trump, as one learns from the above-cited article and finds further discussed or alluded to in Carole Novielli’s 05 February 2016 “Pro-lifers respond to attacks on pro-life stance of Rubio, Cruz” (Live Action News, accessed 05 February 2016), the 04 February 2016 Susan B. Anthony List open letter referenced in Novielli’s article, Calvin Freiburger’s 12 November 2015 “Bush disavows ‘Rubio is too pro-life’ attack ads” (Live Action News, accessed 05 February 2016), and Joseph Pelletier’s 05 February 2016 “Catholic Chris Christie: Marco Rubio ‘Too Pro-Life’” (Church Militant, accessed 05 February 2016).

One of the preceding articles, by the way, links to a blog post titled “Donald Trump says he is ‘pro-life’ but what does he mean?” (accessed 05 February 2016).There isn’t much to the post in terms analysis or new content, but it does rehearse various past Trump statements on abortion that don’t hang together well and don’t paint a clear picture of someone with pro-life convictions. It also, however, seems to fall into an error pro-lifers commonly fall into. The author writes, “Trump admitted in a 2011 interview on NBC that he thought there was a ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution. This was the basis for the Roe v. Wade court case that led to legalized abortion on demand, which apparently Donald did not know” (emphasis and paragraph break removed). That Trump was ignorant of this aspect of history may be noteworthy, but when pro-lifers make their case against Roe v. Wade by emphasizing how “there is no ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution” or “the Supreme Court invented the ‘right to privacy,’” I think they go badly astray. (It isn’t certain that the creator of the post endorses the “there is no ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution” argument, but the post’s highlighting of the issue suggests that creator might.)

The Constitution’s Bill of Rights, constitutionists should emphasize at every opportunity, neither bestows rights nor provides an exhaustive list of rights.* Were the Supreme Court to propose an innate, God-given right not even implied in the Bill of Rights, the absence of the right from the Constitution would not be an argument against it (just the lack of an in-the-Constitution argument for it); other arguments would have to be adduced, based on the natural rights doctrine embraced by those who gave us the Constitution. (This doctrine would soundly and easily refute claims to rights that impose positive legal obligations and costs on others, such as “the right to affordable housing,” but might be hard pressed to refute a “right to privacy,” which strikes many as well in accord with the God-granted individual sovereignty of natural rights.) Even if the “right to privacy” is implied, though not explicitly stated, in the Constitution, the right is irrelevant to the abortion issue. Surely the Court would not find that one adult may freely have another adult killed simply because he manages to have the murder done in private. “That’s a profoundly personal matter to be decided between the murderer and his chosen killer-for-hire. It’s nobody else’s business” is not an argument likely to win in court. Even the most libertarian among us, if he is to be consistent with his own principles, can only claim “right to privacy” protection for the not-harmful-to-any-third-parties actions of “consenting adults.” (As well, because God-given, individuals’ sovereignty is the sovereignty of stewardship, not ownership, so such ostensibly consensual activities as assisted suicide cannot be defended on “right to privacy” grounds.) Arguments against the “right to privacy” miss the point.

Anyway, back to the “rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions” delusion. Since incest without consent would be rape, I can only guess that the separate listing of incest means either (1) to allow abortion of children conceived incestuously even when both parents voluntarily engage in the activity that creates the child; or (2) to appeal to emotions by listing a particularly repulsive form of rape separately. Each of these exceptions proposes killing unborn children who have done nothing wrong because other people have done something for which they should be punished. Except to those who obsessively list these “three” reasons to allow abortion together, it is obvious that a “life of the mother” exception is fundamentally different, an expression of the fundamental right to self-defense.

My own tendency has been to want to keep the sole “life of the mother” exception in place, just in case there ever is a circumstance where abortion is actually required to preserve a mother’s life. As someone lacking medical expertise, this has seemed to me suitably cautious: Who am I to say there can’t possibly be a situation where abortion is the only mother’s-life-saving option? Persons who say they oppose this exception generally do so because they don’t believe such circumstances are possible. (Scott Walker, my original third choice for president in the current race, after Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry, said as much in a Fox News interview after the August 2015 debate.) Their argument, and it is not without merit, is that, in order to save an at-risk mother’s life, one might well need to perform a medical procedure that risks (or even guarantees) death of the unborn child. As medical science advances, such procedures can be completed with less and less risk to the unborn; as well, earlier and earlier deliveries become less and less unlikely to succeed. Eventually, no doubt, artificial wombs will permit delivery shortly after conception, allowing virtually every child conceived (who is free of fatal defects) to mature safely to infancy with no significant risk to any mother. Calling unintended loss of unborn lives due to the current limits of medical science “abortions” sends the wrong message, suggesting that the active killing of the youngest humans sometimes saves lives. (This is my own take on the no-life-of-the-mother-exception position rather than a summary of anything I’ve yet heard directly from someone holding the position. Stated this way, I’m incline to endorse it. Walker, sadly, did not set forth any form of this argument in the interview I mentioned, only expressed his belief that abortion is never necessary to save a mother’s life. For the position as stated by a committed advocate, in the context of defending Walker, see Bryan Fischer’s 07 August 2015 AFA The Stand article “Megyn Kelly Dead Wrong….” The closing “Megyn Kelly should have known better” seems to me to demand of the non-medical-professional and non-verbal-hairsplitting public a level of knowledge and precision of thought that is patently unrealistic and probably unfair, but the article soundly sets forth this not-unpersuasive viewpoint.)

Still, there is a profound difference between exceptions that urge legally sanctioned murder as a remedy for “rape and incest” and an exception that makes the verbal error of calling non-abortions “abortions.” The tendency of people to lump all these proposed exceptions together, as though they were a single rape-incest-life-of-mother exception, is a delusion people on all sides of the debate should strive to escape, which I hope they can do without recourse to antipsychotic medications, these being known to have unpleasant side effects.

* Since the purpose of the Constitution is to place restrictions on government, not to grant rights or privileges to citizens, one should not expect an exhaustive listing of all individual rights in its Bill of Rights. The point of the Bill of Rights was to make doubly sure that, even should government step beyond the bounds of its enumerated powers (as it certainly has), it should find itself explicitly blocked from infringing on certain rights that those framing the Bill of Rights judged, based on their own experience and knowledge of history, most in danger of being infringed upon. Individual rights can be proved by their presence in the Bill of Rights, but they cannot be disproved by their absence.

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Gifted Mind: Engaging, Worthwhile…Unfinished

gifted_mind_cover_courtesy_publisherKinley, Jeff, with Raymond Damadian. Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015. Hard cover. Pp. 240. ISBN 978-0-89051-803-8.

Certain aspects of Jeff Kinley and Raymond Damadian’s Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI suggest incomplete editing. I encountered, for example, dangling modifiers, odd punctuation choices, and subject-verb disagreements. (I almost included another indication of incomplete editing: the dominant use of “impact” when “influence,” or, as appropriate, “affect” or “effect,” would be a superior choice. However, the need to expend mental effort to distinguish between “affect” and “effect,” joined to the greater syllable count of “influence,” has led more and more people, in more and more contexts, to replace these words with forms of the word “impact.” This has happened in spite of the hard, like-a-punch sound of the word, indicative of its original sense. Charles Harrington Elster, on page 47 of his 2010 The Accidents of Style, puts it well: “Once upon a time we expressed the effect or influence of something calmly and clearly by saying that it affected or influenced something else. Now it is hammered into our heads day in and day out with the word impact….The sad thing is that this powerful word, which traditionally connotes considerable force, has lost all its forcefulness through incessant repetition. The only power impact has retained is the ability to cause a headache.” Though I might wish this trend would at least be resisted in edited works put into print, I can’t condemn as “incomplete editing” what might be a conscious decision to go with the trend.) I’m also mystified by Master Books’ decision to put the name of the first-person autobiographical narrator (and the “I” of every creationist-argument passage), Dr. Raymond Damadian, in the secondary author’s “with” slot, giving the primary author’s byline to Jeff Kinley. It is widely acknowledged, or at least suspected, that “with” coauthors often do more of the writing than prominent-name top-byline authors; even if Mr. Kinley did more work on the text than Dr. Damadian, this seems an instance where almost any other publisher would have bylined it “Dr. Raymond Damadian, with Jeff Kinley,” particularly in light of the decision to use the first person singular throughout.

Even with the odd bylining and incomplete editing, though, Gifted Mind proves enjoyable reading, combining an engaging plot with a mostly sound review of the basic arguments of evidentially oriented (as opposed to presuppositionally oriented) scientific (biblical) creationists. Since evidence of incomplete editing only matters to those who notice it (I earn what passes for a living editing, so I can’t help it), I won’t comment further on such, instead focusing on the usual reviewer’s overview of the text, explanation of why I call the book’s review of evidentialist creationist arguments “mostly” (not “wholly”) sound, and some reflection on those arguments from a more prepositionally oriented perspective. (I’ve adopted the time-tested binary categorization of apologetics approaches according to which all non-presuppositionalists are “evidentialists.” It is rare to find a non-presuppositionalist who is satisfied with this approach, since it ignores the variety and nuance of “evidentialist” perspectives, but a more detailed categorization would serve no useful purpose in this review.)

While creationists with a more presuppositionally oriented approach will point to how biblical creationism and evolutionism are both faith-dependent belief systems that attempt to organize and explain present-day data through coherent stories (“models”) about an unrepeatable past, Kinley and Damadian (hereafter, K&D) adopt a different stance: the debate between evolutionists and creationists, they hold, “is in actuality a debate of genuine science [creationism] vs. science fiction [evolutionism]” (4). The “Publisher’s Note” at the end of the text goes further, identifying evolutionism, at least when it holds to “evolution by ‘chance,’” as “not scientific fiction” but “scientific nonsense” (234, emphasis removed), and identifying this as Damadian’s final view on the topic (233). These bookends of the text share a fundamental trust in scientific or empirical methods and, necessarily, in the human rational and perceptual faculties upon which those methods depend. The presuppositionalist concern, that non-Bible-believers have no ultimate justification for such “fundamental trust,” does not arise; the sole issue addressed is who best follows the methods based upon this trust, not whether the trust itself comports with the broader belief system of any group.

The “Dedication” also provides the following comment on 1 Timothy 6:20’s “science falsely so called”: “i.e., evolution.” Because “i.e.” means “that is,” this comment is misleading. Since the verse has in view, not modern scientific knowledge, but knowledge in a much broader and more generic sense (with claims to spiritual knowledge presumably the main focus), “e.g.” or “for example” would have been better wording.

The Introduction (5-6), signed by Kinley, emphasizes Damadian’s status as “an authentic servant of Jesus Christ” and his “genuine humility” (6), and tells readers a bit about Kinley’s interaction with Damadian.

Chapter 1, “The Truth” (7-21), sets forth some of the fundamentals of K&D’s thinking. (Though the chapter reads as Damadian’s thinking, the book’s bylining forces me to attribute the thinking to K&D.) While K&D do see the truths revealed in Scripture as somehow contributing to the burgeoning of scientific discovery in the West (11,14), even going so far as to say that “if we remove Jesus Christ from the thread of scientific discovery, we lose our foundational access to His truth, and along with it, its unbounded power” (15), they draw back from treating belief in the one true God and his special revelation in Scripture as truly foundational. They write: “Of course, one does not have to believe in God in order to discover the things He has made or to apply them to useful or medical purposes. [T]ruth is truth, no matter who discovers it. However,” they add, “the reason it is so important to understand the role of God’s truth in scientific discovery is because without His truth as the foundation of all knowledge, we limit science to a closed system of natural law alone….[where] the physical laws of nature exist without any help from a Divine Being” (15).

This formulation must strike the more prepositionally aware as inadequate. In the absence of faith in the law-giving God, the concept of a law-governed nature, and so of “natural law,” is itself mere wishful thinking, pragmatic given that the alternative is madness, but ultimately groundless. If one rejects the lawful God of Scripture, what basis does one have for believing that the regularities one has seen in (a small portion of) nature over the course of one’s (quite short) lifetime will continue in the future, or that they always characterized the past? If one rejects the truth-valuing, non-deceiver God of Scripture, what basis does one have for trusting one’s perceptual and rational faculties (and memory) to have rightly revealed true regularities in nature? Were God’s truth really “the foundation of all knowledge,” then it would be the foundation of trust in one’s faculties (the justifier of belief in the information provided by those faculties), and those who rejected God’s truth would have to answer both the preceding questions, “No basis at all.” K&D, however, do not consider such questions. Instead, they adopt a perspective that takes the legitimacy of trusting human faculties for granted and that, in principle, allows those who reject God and Scripture to argue, in terms of a common ground of “brute facts,” on equal footing with those who accept God and Scripture. Thus, God is not required to justify trust in human reason and observation; rather, “Human reason requires [in the sense of proves, as indicated by the next sentence] the existence of an uncaused, Intelligent Being who caused man, the universe, and life to come into existence. Both logic and true science give evidence for this reality” (15).

Rule-guided human observation, the collection of formalized empirical methods that make up science, in K&D’s understanding, is not something dependent upon presuppositions, but the objective alternative to presuppositions: the speculation that all life has descended from a single common ancestor (evolutionism), they write, “though widely and unquestionably [i.e., unquestioningly] accepted in the scientific and medical community, is founded, not upon science, but rather upon presupposition, intellectual bias, and the misunderstanding and misapplication of archeology and scientific knowledge.” Specifically, the presupposition that “is the foundation upon which evolution is built” is “that there is no God” (16). This is joined to “a built-in bias (prejudice) against all matters of faith,” even though a “gargantuan among of faith [is] required to convince oneself of evolution” (17). Were evolutionist to forsake bias and simply think objectively, doing good science, they would abandon their theory, for “there is no scientific evidence to sustain” it (18).

In light of all this, K&D’s statement that “we need God….for life….For salvation…for knowledge. We even need Him for science….we cannot achieve profound goals in science without God” (19) seems odd. If “we need God” is taken to mean “we need to believe in God,” a natural if not necessary reading, then the perspective K&D have set forth suggests we only “need God” for salvation. We also need him for the best possible life and if we are to acquire knowledge of the sort only available through Scripture. However, K&D seem to have made clear before this point that scientific knowledge is not something for which we need God, at least not in the sense of needing to believe in him (though, as noted above, belief in the biblical God seems to them to have encouraged and accelerated past scientific advances); in fact, scientific knowledge can, on their account, guide us to God.

And so it is that the chapter closes with a call for us to “do our best to reveal why God’s truth is credible, beneficial, and better than other ideas and speculations” (20), a call that implicitly assumes that humans who have yet to accept God’s truth are qualified to judge independently the credibility, benefits, and relative superiority or inferiority of that truth and its competitors. This presentation of reasons for believing God’s truth (“why we believe”) to others, who will independently assess and respond to those reasons, is, K&D maintain, “the fundamental mission of Christian apologetics” (20). This is definitely evidentialist, not presuppositionalist, creationism, and is to this point an accurate presentation of the perspective. In light of this, one would guess that the point of Gifted Mind is to be to offer Damadian’s story of scientific discovery and invention as an illustration of the positive value of biblical faith to scientific advance, “to reveal why God’s truth is…beneficial,” in other words.

Chapter 2, “The Beginning” (23-40), surveys Damadian’s life from childhood to adulthood, discussing such things as his musical and athletic aptitude (27, 30), “predisposition for excellence” and “competitive spirit” (28), how he was “deeply influenced” in childhood by a Congregational faith that didn’t focus on “the idea of salvation” but on “living a good moral life and abstaining from certain sins” (37, 33), his evangelical conversion at a Billy Graham rally, marriage and family, medical school training, and (temporary) loss of faith. On this loss of faith, K&D, speaking (as throughout the text) as Damadian, write: “Following my graduation from medical school and subsequent military obligation, I joined the faculty at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn….It was during this time that….I gradually became persuaded that science, not God and truth, was the foundation of everything true and reliable” because “virally infected” with “scientific naturalism (and evolution)” (36). Influence in this direction had begun in medical school, where Damadian had been “programmed…to center [his] reasoning on naturalistic science alone,” and finally led to his “reaching the conclusion that there was no God, and thus no longer any practical need for Him in [his] life” (37, 36).

Chapter 3, “Science and the Single Idea” (41-56), begins the engaging story of scientific discovery and invention that has made Damadian a recognized name in scientific circles and should make him much more widely known over time. Since much summary here would risk spoiling the story for those new to it, I will only note that one learns in this chapter that the insights that eventually led to the MRI began earlier than one might expect from the preceding chapter, during Damadian’s medical internship and residency and military service (42-3).

Chapters 4-8, “Grit and Determination” (57-83), “It’s Alive!” (85-106), “The Backlash / Too Soon to Quit” (107-18), “80 Million Reasons to Compromise” (119-32), and “Nobility without the Nobel” (133-62), complete the main narrative. In addition to relaying much interesting scientific information and revealing some of the all-to-human, not-always-honorable competitiveness, not to mention pettiness, that an honorable discoverer and inventor like Damadian can expect to encounter in such work, these chapters might provide useful insights into the mindset and behavior required of successful scientists and inventors. Additionally, those interested in the topic of Christian vocation, the reality that all Christians (not just ministry workers) are called to serve God in some earthly work, may find these chapters a useful depiction of one sort of work to which Christians may be called.

As it happens, it was only late in the voyage of discovery, just as Damadian and his team were working to construct the MRI that would first successfully scan a human, that Damadian returned to the faith he had rejected at SUNY. In order to complete the device, and beat out competitors, Damadian and his underfunded team, in order to make a large enough magnet, would need “30 miles (158,400 ft.) of niobium-titanium (NbTi) superconducting wire” (88). The going rate from their supplier for such wire, however, was a dollar per foot. This would mean they needed $158,400 to complete the project; however, they only had $15,000. Upon calling the supplier, Westinghouse, still not sure from whom (if anyone) he could obtain the needed funds, Damadian learned that Westinghouse was leaving the superconducting magnets business and just happened to have exactly 30 miles of the needed wire available, which they would let him purchase for the bargain-basement rate of 10 cents per foot, or $15,000 (89). It was after this that he learned from his wife’s mother and father that they had been praying for him and his project, and that they considered this turn of events an answer to prayer. K&D, writing as Damadian, state: “I was stunned….There was no other explanation [than God] for this amazing ‘coincidence’”(90). Further: “That experience proved to be a pivotal turning point for me in my relationship with God. I had been away from Him for some time, having embraced a godless theory of origins and even seriously questioned God’s very existence. But though I had forgotten Him, He had not forgotten me” (90). Again: “As far as I knew, they [Westinghouse] possessed the only superconducting wire in existence at the time, and certainly in an amount that large. Why would their entire inventory suddenly be available at the exact instance I needed it? There was only one rational explanation: God” (91).

That Damadian rejected the faith until this point, meaning that most of his groundbreaking insights and experimentation took place in (professing) unbelief, seems to disprove the guess as to Gifted Mind’s point suggested by Chapter 1, that is seeks to illustrate the benefit of biblical faith to scientific work. The guess can perhaps be salvaged by suggesting that the influence of biblical teaching on Damadian’s thought and life from youth (albeit teaching that ignored the Bible’s central salvific focus), joined to an unconscious and ignored (but still real and present) faith present in him since his spiritual rebirth under Billy Graham’s ministry (assuming genuine conversion), gave him insights and motivation he would not have possessed otherwise.

In order to avoid spoilers, all other details of these chapters, including the speculations about why Damadian was unjustly excluded from a Nobel prize awarded to two scientists dependent upon his foundational contribution, I will leave to the reader to discover. (One comment, though. My impression is that Damadian discusses his unjust exclusion from the Nobel at greater length than necessary, seeming repetitive at times. Still, that he has committed no acts of violence in response is a testimony to his character, since the real injustice of the exclusion is beyond question.)

Chapter 9, “The Return to Truth” (163-92), leaves the narrative and provides a summary of evidentialist creationist arguments. I believe the intent is to set forth the arguments most influential on Damadian’s thinking after the “answered prayer” experience that made him reject his prior rejection of faith. Mostly an accurate presentation of key arguments of evidentialist creationists, it also includes some reflection (seemingly originating with Damadian, though the book’s bylining causes doubt), and it does have some shortcomings that merit comment.

Back in the narrative, K&D, speaking as Damadian, offered this remark, not commented upon earlier in the review: “The machine in my mind had been birthed the moment the Lord gave me the idea [the initial insight that made possible his invention of the MRI]…in 1969” (88). Here in Chapter 9, they write the following: “All truth belongs to God, no matter who happens to discover it or proclaim it. From the physical laws of nature and the universe to truth about God in creation to spiritual truth revealed by Scripture, it all originates in an eternal God and Creator of us all. And He has graciously seen fit to share much of His truth with us. But He has also allowed mankind to stumble upon that truth or to systematically uncover it through experimentation and experience. Apart from His willingness to share it, we would know virtually nothing at all” (164). Apparently, as K&D understand matters, God’s sharing of truth includes both placing ideas directly into persons’ minds (such as Damadian’s) and allowing people operating autonomously to uncover truths on their own. That God is said to have “allowed,” not to have “enabled,” humans to discover truths is interesting, as is the idea that God’s being unwilling to share knowledge with us would result, not in our knowing absolutely nothing, but in our knowing “virtually nothing.” These reflections on the origin and nature of human knowledge never get fully developed in Gifted Mind, and I’m not sure how well they hang together. They do suggest that what K&D might have meant back at the beginning of text, when they made God and his truth “foundational,” was that God and what is actually true serve as the foundation of human knowledge and discovery, not by virtue of being acknowledged or assented to, but simply because they are there: We can come to correct knowledge of truth, not because we start by acknowledging essential foundational truths and the God who reveals and justifies our believing them, but simply because real truth exists, which is the case because the biblical God exists. However, this understanding is hard to square with their statement that “if we remove Jesus Christ from the thread of scientific discovery, we lose our foundational access to His truth” (15), which seems unquestionably to make actual belief the source of scientific benefit.

As I noted, as a summary of evidentialist creationist arguments, the chapter has some shortcomings. A couple show up in the following passage: “Darwin’s own ‘evidence’ argues against him! In his classic example using finches with variations of beaks, we now know that this is an example of micro-evolution, or simply variations within the same species (i.e., biblically: within the same kind). There is no evidence of crossing over from one species (kind) to another, or macro-evolution (no ‘transitional links’ or ‘transitional forms[’].)” (170). As I’ve noted in other reviews (which see: 1, 2), the current preference of biblical creationists is to avoid the terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” altogether because of their built-in evolutionary bias. K&D’s use of these terms, however, is at most a minor problem, since the terms are still widely used and do appear in classical creationist texts. Less minor is the unfortunate way the passage seems to equate species and kind. Creationists have spilled a lot of ink trying to overcome the misconception that the uniquely created biblical “kinds” and modern taxonomy’s “species” are the same. The dominant view among today’s creationists (Tim Clarey comes to mind) is that multiple species may fall into a single created kind and, thus, may have common ancestry. Even if K&D didn’t mean to equate species and kind, their wording makes this the natural understanding of the passage, and this is unfortunate.

Another possible weakness, though not one unique among evidentialist creationist works, is summarized in another passage just below the one just discussed. K&D write: “Darwin (and all his subsequent devoted disciples) have failed to demonstrate the existence of Intermediate Life Forms….No [Intermediate Life Forms] = no evolution….If there [were] even a shred of truth to evolution, there should be trillions of fossils, fragments, and skeletons everywhere” (170). Darwin, of course, did expect such transitional forms to show up in the fossil record were his theory correct, as K&D emphasize (169-70). Darwin’s endorsement notwithstanding, I’m very skeptical of this argument. One thing I’ve learned from reading creationist literature is that fossil formation is a relatively rare occurrence. It requires special circumstances (rapid burial in the right kind of sediment and so on). As a result, almost everything that dies leave no fossil remains. From what I’ve read so far, my impression is that only belief in the worldwide Flood revealed in Scripture justifies an expectation that the fossil record should contain samples of all the life-forms that have previously existed on earth. Given that fossil formation is something that only happens under special circumstances, is it reasonable to assume that at least one of every life-form that has ever existed, and is capable of being fossilized under the right though rare conditions, should show up in the fossil record? One who rejects the Flood account, it seems to me, might quite reasonably suggest past existence of all sorts of life-forms of which there is no indication at all among extant fossils. (I’m not dogmatic about this. This is just what the information I currently have seems to indicate.) While I don’t doubt K&D’s claim that “there is so much evidence against evolution (biologically, scientifically, and logically) that it’s a wonder that thinking people still accept it as a viable theory” (169), I’m not convinced the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record is an example of such evidence.

A final weakness is the set of probability calculations presented for the “chance” origin of the human eye, ear, and heart (172-8). These calculations find that the probability of any of these organs arising by chance processes is so minute as to make such origin impossible; that the chance origin of all of them is even more remote, and so (still) impossible; and that their chance origin in combination with other essential human organs….Well, that just adds absurdity to impossibility. The “weakness” in this presentation, oddly enough, is that is makes the chance origin of these complex organs look more likely than it is. The base probability used for the calculations is one in 20,000, “the statistical chance of a genetic mutation within the human genome (i.e., within the gene) that exercises control over the structure of interest” (172). They derive this number from the number of genes estimated to be in the human genome (20,000–25,000, choosing the lower number to be most fair to evolutionists). So, this is the probability that any mutation that does occur will happen to take place in one gene rather than any other. This is the probability that any genetic mutation that occurs will affect a specific gene. This is not the probability that exactly the right mutation will affect a specific gene. That probability would be lower, and thus the probability of “exactly right” mutations in combination is even more absurdly impossible (i.e., still impossible, but even less probable) than K&D indicate.

Even with these weaknesses, which are hardly fatal, the chapter should prove interesting and persuasive to those who prefer evidentialist appeals. When I read such statements as, “Science and logic also scream creation” (185), I confess that my presuppositionalist inclination is to ask, “Absent biblical presuppositions, do these things scream, or can they even whisper?” But, then, I am an epistemological oddity. Many Christians prefer not to ask such questions, and they should most enjoy and profit from this chapter.

Chapter 10, “A Bright Horizon” (193-217), updates the earlier narrative with news on more recent scientific work and technological innovation by Damadian and his associates at his company, FONOR Corporation, and looks toward the future.

“Appendix 1: Jesus: The Incarnation and Sanctification of the Truth” (219-25) seems an effort to further work out reflections on the origin and nature of human knowledge that I earlier complained are never fully worked out in Gifted Mind. It also reiterates some earlier points, such as the necessity for evidence demonstrating transition between kinds of life-forms before evolution should even be considered. As for the content, it seem pretty rough. One notable weakness is that K&D here consistently refer to new human knowledge of truths God has always known (having always known all truths) as “new truths.” I’m not sure how much of value this appendix adds to the text, and I think most of it could have been reworked and fit into earlier chapters rather than tacked on at the end in its rough state. Also, this is the book’s only appendix, so why the “1” was included in its title is a mystery.

The final “Publisher’s Note” (227-34), already mentioned near the beginning of this review, likewise adds little to the text, being basically a rehash of earlier content. To the extent its contents clarify earlier material, they should have been worked in earlier where appropriate.

In summary, this isn’t the best or most useful book from this publisher. Still, it is worthwhile and interesting reading. Though I rarely read biography, and only read this one because I was given a free review copy, the central tale of scientific exploration and discovery definitely held my interest. The book has its flaws, as I’ve noted, but none of them prevent me from recommending it to potential readers.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

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Clarey’s Dinosaurs: A Scripture-Consistent Counter-Narrative to Secular “Scientific” Orthodoxy

clarey_dinosaurs_courtesy_publisherClarey, Tim, Ph.D. Dinosaurs: Marvels of God’s Design. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015. Hardcover, 192 pages. ISBN 978-0-89051-904-2.

Bible believers, who accept Scripture’s ultimate authority in all matters on which it speaks, are appropriately inclined to take all that Scripture says in its natural, straightforward sense (that is, in the sense that would be most natural and straightforward to its original recipients), and to let that sense, and all that it implies, guide their thinking on all topics. When the implications of Scripture’s natural sense, such as that the earth is “young” (thousands, not billions or even millions, of years old) and that a great flood once wiped out all land-based life not aboard a divinely-designed ship, radically contradict a narrative taken for granted by the broader culture, such as the anti-biblical “scientific” narrative about molecules-to-humanity evolution and billions-of-years deep time that is tiresomely repeated in everything from school textbooks to science documentaries to popular films, Bible believers, who must always be training themselves to think more biblically, urgently need a Scripture-consistent counter-narrative to draw upon. Sadly, the norm among Christian scholars today is not to provide such a counter-narrative, but to attempt to integrate the Bible’s words with the anti-biblical narrative.

Dr. Tim Clarey’s Dinosaurs: Marvels of God’s Design is a welcome exception to that norm. Though “the text is as accurate, up-to-date, and scientifically sound as any secular book on the market” and “covers the complete spectrum of dinosaur-related topics, from the earliest dinosaurs to debate over why they went extinct,” it does so without compromising the straightforward sense of Scripture. Rather than following the scholarly norm of explaining Scripture in terms of a narrative that currently passes for “scientific,” it offers scientific explanations of extant evidence that comport with the biblical narrative: it “explains dinosaurs in a biblical context” (8). The glossy Time-Life-Books-series style won’t appeal to everyone: the color pictures are great, and the graphic design is appealing, but roughly half the writing is white text on a black background—easy enough to read, but highly annoying to annotators and underliners. The book also has some minor flaws, which I’ll note below, but overall it merits a top rating and high recommendation.

The book comprises a table of contents, preface, fourteen chapters, one appendix, a brief “About the Author” page, endnotes, photo credits, and a brief index. The first four chapters, the scope of which is clear from their titles, cover the more general and foundational topics: Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark”; Chapter 2, “Dinosaur Basics”; Chapter 3, “The True Age of Dinosaurs”; Chapter 4, “Dinosaur Discoveries.” The book’s final chapter, Chapter 14, “The Real Story of the Dinosaurs,” also deals with general and foundational topics, serving as a concise overview of the Scripture-consistent scientific narrative informing the whole book. This last chapter deserves to be read first. Clarey’s use there of his own research into the thickness of megasequences in various areas of North America to explain why dinosaur fossils and footprints are found where they are (and not found where they’re not) is especially interesting. (Megasequences are spans of geologic strata larger than the greater-name-recognition systems. For instance, the Zuni megasequence spans much of the Jurassic, all the Cretaceous, and just a bit of the Tertiary systems. Clarey, in common with other creation geologists, interprets these megasequences, of which there are six, “as catastrophic deposits left behind by six major advances of the Flood waters onto the continents” [175].)

The book’s fifth through thirteenth chapters, as well as the appendix, deal more with details about dinosaurs and, in the cases of Chapter 13, “Digging Dinosaurs,” and the appendix, “Determining the Weight of a Dinosaur Using Scale Models,” how one might go about doing some amateur dinosaur science oneself. I confess to zero interest in the do-it-yourself chapter and appendix, but the more empirically inclined might enjoy them. As in the case of the more general and foundational chapters, the scope of these more detail-oriented chapters can be well discerned from the chapters’ titles. Chapter 5 through 9 focus upon specific types of dinosaurs: Chapter 5, “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design”; Chapter 6, “The Sauropodomorpha: The Large and Lumbering”; Chapter 7, “Suborder Ornithopoda: The Duck-bills”; Chapter 8, “Suborder Marginocephalia: The Domed, Horned, and Frilled”; Chapter 9, “Suborder Thyreophora: Armored and Plated.” People who often exclaim “I love dinosaurs!” at inappropriate times and in public places will probably like these chapters best. Chapters 10 through 12 are somewhat more general than Chapters 5 through 9, though still more focused on scientific details than the first four chapters. Again, scope is evident from titles: Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology / Anatomy”; Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior”; Chapter 12, “Dinosaur Endings and Extinction.” Those who, like myself, can’t recall ever exclaiming “I love dinosaurs!” will probably like these chapters, along with Chapters 1 through 4, more than Chapters 5 through 9.

While different readers will like certain chapters more than others, every chapter is well worth reading; and, given the prevalence of the anti-biblical narrative throughout our culture, even Bible believers with no interest at all in dinosaurs should consider acquiring a copy (or, as suggested on the publication data page [2], requesting their local library purchase one). A couple particularly useful matters covered (beyond what has already been noted) are created “kinds” and how they might relate to current scientific taxonomy (14, 21, 22, 92, 110, etc.) and the discoveries of intact dinosaur soft tissue (48-9), which the anti-biblical narrative cannot reasonably explain, and of carbon-14 where the anti-biblical narrative says there shouldn’t be any (50-1).

One of Dinosaurs’ minor flaws is that Clarey occasionally resorts to ad hoc and speculative suggestions to “solve” problems raised by the Scripture-consistent narrative he’s presenting. Since advocates of the anti-biblical narrative also employ ad hoc and speculative suggestions freely (with considerably more freedom, it could be argued), I am tempted to consider this a feature rather than a bug, at least where no unstated or undefended assumptions are involved. Such an unstated assumption does seem to be involved in at least one case, however. In the “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark” chapter, Clarey writes the following: “In order to fulfill this command [God’s command to repopulate the earth], the so-called meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) probably ate only plants after the Flood, at least for a time, before returning to their meat-eating ways” (14). In compliance with the natural sense of Scripture, Clarey affirms that all animal kinds, even the kind that includes the vicious T. rex, were vegetarian prior to humanity’s Fall and the resultant Curse (145). This is clever and, when first read, sounds plausible. Upon reflection, however, one perceives an unstated assumption. In proposing that theropods reverted to vegetarianism for a time after the Flood, Clarey clearly assumes that the basic anatomy and physiology that allowed the various meat-eater kinds to survive and thrive as vegetarians before the Fall remained sufficiently unchanged by the Curse to allow their post-Flood reversion to vegetarianism. This assumption is unstated in the context of this speculation, so I’ve tagged it as a flaw. I’ve tagged it as only a minor flaw because, though Clarey leaves the assumption unstated and so undefended here, he does come very close to stating and defending it later. In “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design” chapter, he writes this: “Exactly what type of vegetation T. rex [better, the created kind of which T. rex is a representative] ate with those massive teeth remains a mystery, but animals with similarly sharp teeth have remained exclusively vegetarian, like the fruit bat and panda. A recent study of modern crocodilians,” he adds, “has shown that nearly three-fourths of them consume plants, including fruits, nuts, and grains to supplement their diet, leaving secular science baffled for an explanation” (79). Would Clarey go so far as to maintain that all created kinds, including humans, today retain the ability to survive and thrive on entirely vegetarian diets? Clarey’s failure to answer this question is not a flaw, but I am curious.

The last passage quoted from in the preceding paragraph (and the bracketed modification I’ve made in the portion quoted) points to another minor flaw. Clarey, oddly enough, fails to employ his own thoughts on created “kinds” in some of his discussion. For instance, just before the words quoted near the end of the preceding paragraph, Clarey writes, “In God’s original creation, even the mighty T. rex was a vegetarian, as were all animals. It wasn’t until after the sin of man and the resulting Curse that T. rex became a meat-eater” (79). T. rex, however, is a species (genus Tyrannosaurus, species rex), and Clarey is quite consistent in pointing out his belief that a created kind is probably close to a taxonomic family, the next level up from genus. Though the presence of T. rexes in Flood sediments means that the species had been produced by the created kind’s build-in potential for variation by the time of the Flood, it doesn’t follow from this that God necessarily created any actual T. rexes when he created their parent kind. Since created kinds are not species, we can’t assume that any specific species were among what God originally created. The same rapid speciation proposed to have repopulated the earth (from as few as one species per created kind) with a vast array of species after the Flood, might be expected to have produced (from an original creation that included only some species of every kind), at least some of the species extant at the time of the Flood. This, at least, is something one might easily think. If Clarey has biblical or scientific grounds for maintaining that every species existing at the time of the Flood had been created as a separate species when God first created each kind, he should set forth those grounds in the book.

Another of the book’s minor flaws is the lack of rigor and detail in its use of concepts drawn from presuppositionalism. Like many capable advocates of biblical creationism, Clarey is an empirical scientist by training, so detailed and wholly consistent treatment of foundational philosophical matters can hardly be expected. Still, Clarey’s use of such presuppositionalist concepts as “worldview” merits comment.

Opening Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark,” Clarey notes that, in addition to being “a science book about dinosaurs,” this text is “a story of discovery,” then adds the following: “However, each discovery is judged on presuppositions, or a particular starting worldview….How factual data, like dinosaur fossils and rocks[,] are interpreted, depends on which presuppositions you start with.” One such set of presuppositions is “the uniformitarian worldview,” adherents of which “believe the earth has had the same processes, unchanged for eons of time” and “believe life somehow began from nonlife without help of a Creator”—“the dominant worldview in science today.” The other set of presuppositions is “the worldview that God’s Word is true,” which “holds that God made everything in six days and that there was a Flood that destroyed the original world just thousands of years ago. This,” he adds, “is the presupposition used throughout this book.” He adds further that “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence” (11).

In saying this, what does Clarey mean exactly? The most natural reading seems to be that, in Clarey’s opinion, worldviews are subject to testing by how they fit (or fail to fit) with uninterpreted, worldview-independent (“brute”) facts. This understanding, however, is inconsistent with the presuppositionalism from which such terms as “presupposition” and “worldview” are drawn. (The terms exist in the broader language, but the apologetic use of them should be credited to presuppositionalism.) The idea that worldviews are subject to worldview-neutral empirical testing is, at least, inconsistent with the most rigorous and self-consistent form of presuppositionalism, that advocated by such thinkers and Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, what adherents call “true presuppositionalism.” Even use of such terms as “factual evidence,” “facts,” “evidence,” and “data” without qualification, as though adherents of all presuppositional frameworks necessarily understand the terms the same way, is open to criticism in terms of “true presuppositionalism.” Such presuppositionalism recognizes that worldviews don’t just guide how one interprets evidence, but guide what one identifies as evidence. In place of Clarey’s “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence,” such presuppositionalism might suggest such phrasing as “this worldview permits one to explain, in a self-consistent manner, all that it identifies as data or evidence needing explanation, and to explain, when necessary, why what advocates of other worldviews identify as data needing explanation is not such in terms of this worldview.” Because secular science in the West has borrowed its understanding of the natural world, and so its understanding of data or evidence, from the West’s Christian heritage, it is easy and natural to assume that evidence is held in common by adherents of both biblical and anti-biblical worldviews, but increasing numbers of persons on the anti-biblical side of things are recognizing that a consistent (“postmodern”) outworking of their worldview allows very different views of evidence, perhaps even rejection of the concept of “evidence” altogether. A presuppositional purist would likely not speak of a “uniformitarian worldview” either, since uniformitarian scientism is merely one outworking of the anti-biblical worldview (which, like all outworkings of that worldview, proves inconsistent and self-refuting when analyzed closely enough).

To be fair, Carey’s usage is only a flaw to those of us trying to perfect our presuppositionalism, to make it as self-consistent and rigorous as possible, to ensure that nothing “neutral” sneaks in. No higher authority has declared that “presuppositions,” “presuppositional frameworks,” “worldviews,” and related terms must be used only in the “true presuppositionalist” manner purists prefer. Whatever its potential flaws, Carey’s usage does not prevent valid insights. For example, in Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology/Anatomy,” when discussing the debate over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded (Clarey believes they were cold-blooded), Clarey says of this “metabolism debate” that “It is actually a war of worldviews. Mainstream, secular science is trying to make dinosaurs into warm-blooded animals because they [adherents of mainstream, secular science] are trying to make them [dinosaurs] the evolutionary ancestors of birds” and “Birds are warm-blooded, or most are nearly so” (124). Later in the same chapter, Clarey observes that, “Because of the nagging lack of transitional fossils, Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed a modification of Darwin’s…theory that tried to explain away missing links, called punctuated equilibrium. Their hypothesis didn’t…provide…rock and fossil evidence; rather, it was merely an acknowledgement that the fossil record shows repetitive episodes of no change (stasis) followed by periods of sudden change. This,” he adds, “is precisely what creationists have pointed to as conclusive evidence of a catastrophic Flood, with sudden fossil changes occurring in rapid succession as sediments accumulated. It all depends on your starting assumptions, your worldview, to explain the same results” (129). The facts (“results”) themselves are not at issue in these “worldview” conflicts, only interpretation of the facts. While this usage of terms, like that in Chapter 1, doesn’t mesh with “true presuppositionalism,” it does, like discussion in Chapter 1, offer a valid and helpful observation: commitment to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint determines how one interprets evidence more than evidence determines whether one commits to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint.

This “valid and helpful observation” is stated in terms I think Clarey could accept. Introducing Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior,” which suggests what “can be gleaned about behavior from the study of footprints, egg nests, and even computer models,” Clarey writes, “Once again, all conclusions are a consequence of worldview. If you think dinosaurs are millions of years old, you will most likely interpret this data much differently from those of us that hold a biblical worldview. The data set is the same, however, and scientists are always making new discoveries” (141). Here, Clarey interestingly suggests that someone whose presuppositional framework includes the evolution-and-deep-time narrative will only “most likely” interpret the data in a manner consistent with that framework. The presuppositional purist must wonder whether Clarey really believes that “all conclusions are a consequence of worldview,” since surely one draws a conclusion whenever one decides that something one observes is or is not part of the set of relevant information (“data set”). Non-purists, on the other hand, may join Clarey in hoping that, as the data set expands to include new discoveries, those with the uniformitarian worldview might, faced with offering ever more complicated interpretations of the data to make it fit with their worldview, grow more willing to consider the biblical perspective.

An additional minor flaw, the most minor of all, is scattered instances of editing mistakes that I think one more round of editing would have caught. Mostly minor stuff that typical readers won’t notice (and won’t care about if they do notice it), such as misplaced or missing commas, these mistakes do include at least one that stands out enough to make one wonder how a publisher’s multiple rounds of editing and final proofreading could have missed it: “An adult, 5-metric-ton T. rex, if endothermic or warm-blooded, would have had to eaten the equivalent of an adult hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) each week to supply its hunger needs” (145). That should be “would have had to have eaten” or “would have had to eat” or “would have to have eaten.” Like all other mere mortals, I of course make such errors myself all the time (more than likely, there are some in this review), but I’m not a publishing company with, one hopes, multiple sets of editors’ eyes reviewing documents.

In summary, Dinosaurs’ strong points are numerous and significant, and its weak points are few and minor, making it easy to recommend and rate highly.

By the way, one of those intrusive bureaucratic agencies we all know and loathe “recommends” that those who receive free copies of books in exchange for unbiased reviews state so in those reviews. Though the presuppositional purist in me scoffs at the idea of “unbiased” anything, I note that I am such a free-review-copy recipient.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

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The Carson Option: Viable for Evangelicals?

fuchs_studious_fox_public_domain_1460_modified_by_piouseye_copyright_2015I just read an interesting document, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s 2001 “Report of the International Theological Dialogue between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches” (hereafter, the Dialog Report). As was the case with the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney, some evangelicals have (well, at least one evangelical has) seen the Seventh-Day Adventist faith of Ben Carson as disqualifying, though many more will say that Seventh-Day Adventism is not a “cult” than would say that Mormonism is not. When it comes to voting, this sort of thing has never been my focus. My view is that the compatibility with biblical principles of candidates’ values, particularly as those values have been shown in past political behavior and personal conduct, should be Bible believers’ focus when voting, not candidates’ formal religious affiliation; after all, our current president, whose pro-abortion credentials are unsurpassed and who celebrated the Supreme Court’s imposition of nonsensical “gay marriage” on all states with rainbow lighting across the White House, has never abandoned his “I’m a devout Christian” claim. Still, a suggestion by someone on Twitter that evangelicals should vote for Ted Cruz rather than Ben Carson because of the latter’s Seventh-Day Adventism did make me curious to know just what is so bad about Seventh-Day Adventism. Though online resources detailing all that Bible believers should find troubling about Seventh-Day Adventism abound, the central “Is it a cult?” question seems best and most concisely answered by point eight in the Dialog Report, in which dialog participants assert the following shared convictions:

We accept the Bible as the rule of faith and practice, the supreme witness to God’s saving grace in Christ.

We believe in the triune God.

We believe that God became truly human in Jesus Christ.

We believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God reconciles the whole created order to himself. By the work of Christ, God’s holiness is honoured and our sins forgiven.

We believe that God calls all people to a new and better life.

We believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all people.

We believe that Christ calls us to work to bring hope, healing, and deliverance from spiritual and economic poverty.

We believe we stand in the succession of those who, through the ages, have faithfully proclaimed the Gospel of Christ.

We believe that the [Lord’s] Supper is integral to the [Church’s] worship and witness.

We acknowledge our debt to the Reformation with its biblical emphasis upon salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus).

We welcome conversations with other Christian churches concerning doctrine and mission.

Admittedly, the “We acknowledge our debt to the Reformation with its biblical emphasis upon…” does not quite equal “We endorse the Reformation’s biblical emphasis upon…,” but the phrasing does admit that the emphasis is indeed biblical. As well, point thirteen of the Dialog Report states forthrightly that “Adventists hold to the Reformation principle of grace alone, faith alone and Christ alone.” On balance, it is difficult to see how a group that affirms all these assertions could merit the “cult” label, at least in its common pejorative (“this isn’t true Christian faith”) sense. (Formal anthropological use of the term “cult” can specify any smaller religious group distinguishable in doctrine or practice from the majority or mainline. This parallels the formal use of “myth” for any “sacred narrative,” whether or not one grants that it might be true.)

Dialog Report point twelve adds that “Adventists believe that the death of Christ on the cross provided the once-for-all atonement for sins, all-sufficient in its efficacy,” asserting that “Their distinctive view of the high priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary teaches that he is applying the ongoing benefits of his atonement, not adding any value to it.” Bible believers, particularly those who respect the “common faith” of Spirit-indwelt believers over time and so view skeptically doctrines that are new and distinctive, may find Seventh-Day Adventists views defective and troubling, but it at least seems that those views do not reach the point of denying the True Faith.

Point fourteen also merits reflection. It states that “Adventists believe that the biblical gift of prophecy was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White.” While we Reformed Bible believers find such a claim disturbing and unscriptural, it has to be admitted that many whom we consider Christian brethren and would not be inclined to call “cultists,” Pentecostals and charismatics, make similar claims for people in their groups. The point continues by noting that Adventists “regard her writings highly as providing ongoing counsel, devotional material, and biblical reflection.” Ditto Pentecostals and charismatics concerning present-day “revelations” by those in their midst. Point fourteen’s key and closing point adds this clarification: “However, they hold firmly to the principle of sola scriptura, teaching that the Bible is the rule of faith and practice that tests all other writings, including those of Ellen White.” Pentecostals and charismatics, at least those who have not fallen in with troubling fringe movements, grant the same supremacy and finality to the Bible. Pentecostal, charismatic, and Seventh-Day Adventist theologies may make us Reformed Bible believers cringe or bristle, or at least give us what-is-wrong-with-these-people headaches, but accusing them all of being in “cults” is not something most of us are inclined to do.

Helpful though portions of it might be for putting to rest one’s worries that Seventh-Day Adventism is a false-gospel cult, the Dialog Report does not qualify as a good representation of either Reformed doctrine or of a thoroughly Bible-believing approach to Scripture. For instance, after a paragraph rather nicely pointing out the important distinction between “predestination” as a religious term and “determinism” as a general or philosophical term (point seventeen) (I generally prefer to speak of “foreordination” rather than “predestination,” perhaps because it avoids the “determinism”-reminiscent “d” sound), the report enters into an exploration of “the perplexity caused by ‘double predestination’” that concludes by claiming that among the Reformed there now exists “a broad consensus to the effect that God’s electing grace is not to be construed fatalistically, but in the context of God’s undiscriminating love whereby all are called to salvation, to which call they may make their own, enabled, response.” One can construe this statement more than one way, I suppose, but the point of “their own, enabled, response” seems to be that all persons without exception are enabled by God to respond to the Gospel based on “their own” personal decisions on the matter. This sound like individual human sovereignty in salvation, Arminianism, not like divine sovereignty in salvation, Reformed faith, where God has mercy upon or hardens whom he will (Romans 9:18) for sometimes inscrutable reasons about which we mere mortals have no right to inquire (Romans 9:20). Saying that God’s love is “undiscriminating” also seems incompatible with Bible-believing Reformed faith. I’m willing to grant, in disagreement with some Reformed people, that saying “God loves everyone,” even those who will always be his enemies and will reside eternally in Hell, is justifiable: he at least “loves” all persons he has created in the sense that he so values them that he chooses to maintain their existence forever rather than annihilate them. (If one rejects the eternality of created persons, as do Seventh-Day Adventists and growing numbers of evangelicals, one can’t make this argument, of course. The common faith of traditional Bible believers has always held to such eternality, however.) One needn’t be Arminian to tell someone who might never become a Christian, “God loves you.” But to suggest that God’s general love toward everyone and everything he has made is the same as his special love for his elect, all those who have been or ever will be saved, to say that his love is “undiscriminating,” is pure nonsense from a Bible-believing Reformed perspective.

The Dialog Report also fails to qualify as a Bible-believing document by asserting as dogma positions questionable on biblical grounds and not clearly in accord with the common faith. For instance, it asserts that “The New Testament…teaches that women are equal recipients of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and should therefore exercise leadership roles in the church’s ministry.” It then notes that “Reformed representatives [participating in the dialog] emphasise that this includes the ordination of women to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament” (point forty). While there are indeed many today who identify Scripture as their supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and practice who also take this stance, this extreme egalitarian position has been most long and readily accepted by persons whose views of Scripture do not well comport with Bible-believing Reformed faith. (This doesn’t disprove the position, but does suggest viewing it with skepticism and approaching it with caution.) Does Scripture teach that God’s gifting of his elect through the Holy Spirit is “undiscriminating” as to gender (to borrow point seventeen’s wording), that every potential gift without exception might be assigned with equal likelihood to any believer regardless of gender? Though a fundamental equality between men and women, as between Jews and non-Jews, is evident in God’s view of his elect (Galatians 3:28), this suggests neither a necessary sameness in inherent natures or most appropriate functions, nor an equal freedom to take on various roles and responsibilities in one’s church and family. As naturally and traditionally interpreted, I Timothy 2:12-14 and Colossians 3:18,19, for example, do not comport well with the Dialog Report’s egalitarianism. Arguments interpreting these and other verses in a way that fits with such egalitarianism are plentiful, some even seeming to take seriously the idea that Scripture is the supreme and final authority in such matters, but the existence of such arguments hardly justifies the Dialog Report’s egalitarian dogmatism.

Persons tending leftward on the political spectrum have long sought to co-opt the Faith in service of their political agenda, even getting traction for their ideas in books from respected evangelical publishers, so prevalence of leftward-tending “social justice” concerns in the Dialog Report isn’t entirely surprising. (Whether those tending rightward have attempted similar co-opting, or have in fact set forth the political implication of scriptural principles fairly and accurately, is a question not relevant to review of the Dialog Report, since any leanings it expresses are leftward.) That leaders of whole large religious communions are willing to stake out positions on issues about which sincere believers within their communions disagree, while not entirely surprising, is disconcerting. Without doubt, sincere Bible believers will oppose all true “injustices,” will oppose any “ecological destruction” that humans can prevent by means that do not themselves risk causing greater harm than the problems they’re meant to correct, and will consider unacceptable all “racial, ethnic, [and] gender…discrimination” (in the sense of “discriminating against,” not in the sense of “discriminating” by recognizing differences and distinctions) (point 22). (The Dialog Report also condemns “religious discrimination,” but this is potentially problematic. Should the Christian hiring for a Christ-centered organization consider it wrong to discriminate against applicants who identify themselves as Satanists?) But must every true believer accept that “use of fossil fuels” is invariably bad, or that “global warming” is both a real and a human-caused phenomenon? (As an advocate of a majority-nuclear energy economy, I’m open to believing either or both of these ideas should the evidence warrant, but I don’t see belief in them as something leaders of any faith group should be asserting dogmatically. They are subjects for scientific and economic debate, not for dogmatizing by religious leaders or for demagoguing by political leaders.)

So, then, Bible-believing conservatives who realize Donald Trump must be opposed needn’t fear that selecting Carson as their candidate would mean legitimizing a false-gospel cult, even if they do believe (as I do not) that voting for people for political office means legitimizing their religious beliefs (it only means legitimizing their values). Though my own preference for a combination of government executive experience and true conservatism leaves me unexcited about the Carson option, when polls suggest no one with more experience than freshman Senators will be considered by most Republican primary voters, the Carson option gains some appeal.

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For Love of God’s Word: Useful, Not Essential, to Biblical Understanding

for_love_of_gods_word_cover_courtesy_publisherKöstenberger, Andreas J., and Richard D. Patterson. For the Love of God’s Word: An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015. Hard cover, 444 pages. ISBN 978-0-8254-4336-7.

Late in For Love of God’s Word (hereafter, FLGW), a condensed and revised version of their Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, Köstenberger and Patterson (hereafter, K&P) state the following about the book’s purpose: “In essence, this entire book is designed to set forth a responsible hermeneutical method that will enable the interpreter to derive the Bible’s own theology through patient, repeated study” (362). Since all Bible-believing Christians are duty-bound to be responsible interpreters of the words God inspired and has preserved for their instruction, guidance in responsible hermeneutics is something every Bible believer should value. K&P’s understanding of what sort of interpretation qualifies as “responsible” seems correct, on balance, and the interpretative method they propose seems, in general, sound, so Bible believers should find FLGW a worthwhile purchase and edifying reading. Summary lists of guidelines at the end of each chapter, some helpful tables of data (summarizing biblical chronology, for instance), a glossary, a Scripture index, and a brief subject index add to the book’s value.

Before surveying some of the book’s content to show why I felt I had to use hedge words like “on balance” and “in general” in the preceding paragraph, I note a concern raised by a statement late in the text. There seems to be a disconnect between Kregel Academic’s approach to marketing FLGW, which includes providing free copies of the book to persons who maintain Web sites that include book reviews, what publishers typically call “having a blog tour.” It seems an odd strategy, and this is the disconnect, to have a blog tour for a book that advises readers to “First, avoid blogs,” even if the book grants that one may reference a blog if it is maintained by “a recognized scholar” or by “a person whose materials have been proven valuable over time” (379). (Scholars “recognized” by whom and on what basis? “Proven valuable” to whom and according to what criteria? K&P do not say.) Since a person whose materials are not initially considered is never going to have them “proven valuable over time,” the advise is basically to only read blogs maintained by professional academics. The idea that the research, reflection, and arguments of persons outside the scholarly establishment should simply be ignored may be dominant among professional academics, but you’ll find the attitude very rare among, and typically viewed with hostility by, persons who maintain independent Web sites, whether they call those sites blogs or not. One may well lament the credulity with which some approach online repositories of opinion and reflection, whether those repositories are labeled blogs, forums, wikis, or something else, but a simple-minded “avoid blogs” directive does nothing to train anyone to assess research and arguments in terms of content. Even if one endorses the “avoid blogs” elitism, one must still wonder why Kregel’s marketing department thought it wise to include a book endorsing such elitism in its “free books for bloggers” program. Though there is much that I like about this book, my unwillingness to reward dumb marketing and elitism limits how positive a rating I can assign FLGW.

In the Preface (9-11), K&P identify FLGW’s broad intended audience (“high school, home school, and college students and anyone who is interested in a solid course of instruction on studying and applying God’s Word”), note that in the FLGW abridgment they “have retained all the essential core knowledge from” the unabridged text, and describe some of their formative influences (such as the teaching and guidance of Grant Osborne and D.A. Carson). In “A Personal Note to Teachers, Students, and Readers” (13), K&P briefly introduce the “hermeneutical triad” that underpins and guides their entire approach to Scripture’s interpretation. In this brief introduction, one encounters the first suggestion of a prioritizing of one point of the triad over others. Though the triangular graphic repeated in the following chapters might suggest that “history” and “literature” are equally fundamental, the bottom corners of a triad for which “theology” is the apex, discussion here and throughout the text indicates that K&P in fact see “history” as most fundamental: “The first element of the hermeneutical triad is history. Studying the historical setting provides a proper grounding….[since] the genres and language in which God chose to reveal himself reflect the historical context.” Once this grounding is provided, “Second comes literature. Studying the literary context is the focus of Bible study….we locate a passage’s place in the canon, determine its genre, and interpret it in keeping with its genre characteristics, doing justice to the language used.” After this, and building upon this, comes theology: determining the theology of the passage and formulating broader theological conclusions with reference to other passages.

Chapter 1, “Introducing the Hermeneutical Triad: History, Literature, and Theology” (14-27), not only does what the chapter title describes, but also emphasizes the necessity, the ethical imperative, to interpret Scripture properly, and notes some of the dangers that attend improper interpretation. (Kregel has opted to exclude the chapter objectives, chapter outline, and “you are here” hermeneutical triad graphic from the pagination of each chapter shown in the book’s Contents, identifying each chapter’s initial page as the first page of prose following these. My identification of chapter page ranges, in contrast, includes these chapter-opening materials.) Contrary to what one might hear in literature courses at the state university, the proper interpretation of any work of literature, in fact of any document, requires that one recover the meaning intended by the work’s author: “The rules of proper communication demand” that one focus upon “authorial intention,” that one seek “to understand the meaning [the author] intended to convey” (17). In ethical terms, proper “interpretation requires that we extend the same courtesy to any text or author that we would want others to extend to our statements and writings,” meaning, in the case of Scripture, that we must honor, not only “the intentions of the human authors of Scripture,” but also those of “God who chose to reveal himself through the Bible by his Holy Spirit.” One thing required by this, K&P note, is that one must “give careful consideration to the theology of the Bible itself and…interpret the parts in light of the canonical whole” (18).

Proper interpretation, K&P emphasize, can be likened to skilled craftsmanship: “No sloppy or shoddy work will do. Everything must be done in proper sequence, appropriate proportion, and with the purpose of producing an end product that pleases the one who commissioned the work. Background information [which can be put to “improper use” (20)], word meanings, the context of a given passage, and many other factors must be judiciously assessed if a valid interpretation is to be attained” (19). Believers’ attitude as they pursue this work should be one of humble submission: “Rather than adopting a critical stance toward Scripture, we should…submit to it as our final authority in all areas of life” (21).

While the references to interpreting “the parts in light of the canonical whole” and to the need to submit to Scripture “as our final authority in all areas of life” might lead one to expect K&P to suggest some way to let self-interpreting Scripture underpin and guide our understanding of extrascriptural historical material (data and the hypothetical reconstructions based upon data), the Preface’s treatment of history as foundational to, rather than founded upon, Scripture’s interpretation continues here: “As an interpreter sets out to explore a particular biblical text, he will first research its historical setting. After grounding his study in the real-life historical and cultural context of the biblical world, he will orient himself to the canonical landscape….[that is, the] proper salvation-historical context”; only after this does the interpreter examine “the literary context and word meanings” of the passage. Key terms here include “first,” “After,” and “only after.” At this point, a believer in Scripture Alone, the classical Protestant doctrine of the Reformation (normally expressed in obfuscatory Latin), must wonder: Do K&P hold that some historical and cultural background information essential to the correct understanding of God’s inspired words is not included in, either explicitly stated by or necessarily inferred from, those words of Scripture? As well: Do K&P maintain that background information not included in Scripture, information only obtainable through the empirical work and interpretive theorizing of fallen and finite human beings (archaeologists, historians, etc.), is essential to correct understanding of the inspired text, even necessarily precedes the first efforts to unpack that text’s meaning?

K&P do point out that “Only the interpreter who depends on the Holy Spirit in his interpretive quest will likely be successful in discerning God’ special, Spirit-appraised revelation” (22). (They also recognize the indispensability of the Holy Spirit to enable successful and obedient application of Scripture’s teachings to the interpreter’s life [Ibid.]) It does not appear, however, that they believe the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, joined to such background information as is included within Scripture itself, is sufficient to permit correct interpretation. K&P seem consistently to hold that at least some extrascriptural background information (humans’ uninspired and necessarily probabilistic interpretation of empirical data) is a prerequisite to correct interpretation. Perhaps they would point, as I’ve seen others do, to the need for translation across languages, and to the historically uncertain meaning of some rare and ancient terms used in Scripture, as indisputable proof that such is indeed the case. (In fact, they do just this in the next chapter [34].) How this all fits with the Scripture Alone doctrine (which, as professing Evangelicals, K&P presumably embrace) is not clear; perhaps some discussion of the matter would have strengthened FLGW.

The remainder of FLGW is divided into three parts, one for each point of the triad. Part one, “History,” includes only Chapter 2, “Setting the Stage: Historical-Cultural Background” (30-54). Since K&P see historical and cultural background as the essential first step, the most fundamental step, of Bible interpretation, they naturally cover this point of the triad first. They do make an effort to nuance their view so as to avoid too strong an emphasis on background information: “Certainly,” they state, “background information should never override what is stated explicitly in the text. Conversely, understanding the background of a given passage is often vital for proper interpretation and application” (34). Does this “background of a given passage” that is “vital” include only the information provided by the inspired text itself (which, as it happens, is the sort of background most focused upon in the chapter), or does it include extrabiblical historical and cultural background information, the uninspired deliverances of human empirical efforts? K&P seem to believe the latter: “It is commonly acknowledged,” they write, “that it is vital to study Scripture in its proper context, and that context, in turn, properly conceived, consists of both historical and literary facets; so there is no need to justify the necessity of responsible historical research as part of the interpretive process.” Further, belief in “The necessity of historical research also underlies major reference works such as study Bibles…commentaries” and the like (34). Whether common acknowledgement (great prevalence) of a belief, and availability of reference works motivated by the same belief, really makes justification of the belief unnecessary seems questionable. Interestingly, K&P themselves indicate that believers err if they honor “modern or postmodern presuppositions” at the expense of humble submission to Scripture (21). Is not much of the “historical research” they counsel drawing upon informed by modern empiricist assumptions about the nature of human knowledge and how it must be obtained and justified?

The extent to which K&P think the extrabiblical background is essential might be open to question. The first directive in their summary “Guidelines for Interpreting Historical-Cultural Background” is “Determine the scope of the historical account. Look for links with other scriptural passages, especially those relating to the same event(s).” Extrabiblical data only enters in directive two: “Compare the biblical record with external data for additional information and illumination” (53). I might prefer to see the second directive read something like “Compare the biblical record with alleged external data and, where that data comports with what Scripture clearly reveals, seek additional information and illumination from that data,” but I’m pleased to see the Bible given priority. I’m also pleased that K&P emphasize that the primeval history of Genesis 1-11 is true history: “If these are not historical realities, then the Christian faith is merely one among many mythological understandings of the world” (35). I also appreciate their nuanced wording concerning the focus of Genesis 1-2: “The purpose is to demonstrate to Israel that their covenant God…is also the Creator of the entire universe. In this context, locating the creation of the world at an exact point of time in the past is secondary….” The welcome nuance here is that K&P identify creation chronology as of “secondary” importance, not as “unimportant,” which is what advocates of the Central Meaning (or Central Purpose) Fallacy would have done. (This fallacy, which seems obvious but which I’m not sure anyone else has yet identified in print, suggests that meanings and implications of a scriptural passage may be disregarded if they are not central or primary. I’ve previously called it the Main Concern Fally.)

In their conclusion to the chapter, K&P quote approvingly a statement by Grant Osborne concerning “the interpreter’s task in assessing the ancient historical-cultural background” of a passage. That statement concludes as follows: “The cultural aspects presupposed in the passage help interpreters get behind the words to the underlying message, understood by the original readers but hidden to the modern reader” (52). The way this is worded, it appears that Osborne believes that Scripture as inspired lacks information essential to (not just enriching) its understanding; after all, if the “cultural aspects presupposed” in a passage were evident from Scripture itself, it would be incorrect to say the message is “hidden to the modern reader.” Even the reader with an accurately translated Bible, or the reader with accurate knowledge of the Bible’s original languages, it seems, is unable to fully and accurately understand God’s inspired words based solely on the information the full collection of those words, the Bible, provides. No doubt this is happy news for the publishers of study aids for rich Westerners, but it might trouble Westerners of very limited means and non-Westerners barely able to acquire a decent Bible translation. It might also trouble believers in Scripture Alone who take time to reflect on the full implications of making extrabiblical material essential to biblical understanding.

Part 2, “Literature,” comprises Chapters 3-13. dividing them into three units: Unit 1, “Canon” (Chapters 3, 4); Unit 2, “Genre” (Chapters 5-11); and Unit 3, “Language” (Chapters 12, 13). Though Scripture’s interpretation must be “properly grounded…in an investigation of its historical setting,” these facets of Scripture’s “literary dimension” constitute “the major focus” of FLGW (61). These chapters look at Scripture starting with its larger and more general, and ending with its smallest and most specific, features, “In keeping with the bedrock hermeneutical principle of interpreting the parts in light of the whole” (Ibid.). The overall treatment is sound and helpful and should prove useful to Bible-believing readers. Rather than bog the review down with a lot of summary, I will simply point out some noteworthy items.

In the first “Canon” chapter, Chapter 3, “The Old Testament Canon: Law, Prophets, and Writings” (58-81), K&P state the following: “it may be safely said that careful historical inquiry and research have demonstrated that at each step of its formation the Old Testament accurately represents the area and era with which it is concerned. Its truthfulness in the case of data that can be verified further suggests that where it claims to be the word of the Lord, the Old Testament can be trusted” (62). The possibility I suggested earlier, that K&P hold to certain modern empiricist assumptions about the nature of human knowledge and how it must be obtained and justified, seems supported by this statement. Note the order of authority, what justifies what, in the statement: knowledge acquired by human empirical investigation, “careful historical inquiry,” verifies the truthfulness of those statements of Scripture open to verification and thereby, the implication seems to be, justifies our believing in the truth of those statements; this, in turn, “suggests” that we are also justified believing in the truth of those statements of Scripture that cannot be verified. The assumption seems to be that if a document can be shown trustworthy in verifiable “earthly things,” then one is justified believing whatever unverifiable assertions the document makes about “heavenly things,” to borrow the wording of John 3:12, a verse that seems to carry the contrary implication that believing testimony about “heavenly things” in fact requires greater faith than believing testimony about earthly things. If one can’t believe verifiable testimony about earthly things, John 3:12 seems to imply, one certainly won’t be able to believe unverifiable testimony about heavenly things; but, the verse also seems to imply, just because one can justifiably believe verifiable testimony about earthly things doesn’t mean one should also believe unverifiable testimony about heavenly things. The latter requires more faith than the former. The verifiable may comport with and so confirm or encourage unverifiable faith, but it cannot justify it. Evidence-based “faith,” as opposed to faith-based trust in and interpretation of evidence, always seems to run into this problem: the base (“careful historical inquiry”) is too small for what one needs it to support (faith that trusts unverifiable statements in Scripture, such as those identifying it as God’s own words). K&P’s apologetically-motived promotion of an empiricist theory of knowledge does nothing to detract from the usefulness of their guidance for interpreting Scripture (once one has accepted that it is indeed God’s Word), of course, but it does suggest understanding Scripture’s authority, and Bible-believing trust in that authority, in a way that may work against the never-doubting, no-compromise faithfulness that humble submission to Scripture’s authority requires and that K&P seem elsewhere to encourage.

This chapter also includes discussion of traditional efforts to partition the Mosaic legislation in various ways. Concerning this, K&P write: “The difficulty of assigning individual laws to specific categories has made scholars consider an alternative approach. Increasingly, they are beginning to view Old Testament laws in relation to the narrative context in which they are found” (63-4). K&P then add this: “Therefore…the careful interpreter should see [the laws of Moses] as part of the broad narrative in which they are found” (64). The chain of inference here is noteworthy: scholars today increasingly do A; therefore, careful interpreters should do A. However useful the categories traditionally used for the Mosaic legislation might have been for organizing our thinking about and discussion of God’s laws, the partitioning, because imposed upon Scripture rather than drawn from it or necessarily implied by it, has always struck some Bible believers as unsatisfactory. The current scholarly trend away from such partitioning may, thus, be very laudable and worthy of imitation. It is not laudable or worthy of imitation because it happens to be what scholars are doing, however, no matter what K&P suggest. An assumption disturbingly prevalent among Christian scholars and apologists, an assumption that is either lazy or elitist, is that statements about what “scholars” or “experts” currently believe or do can legitimately stand in place of arguments. Trends in opinion or practice within one or another scholarly or expert subculture do not automatically merit imitation or acceptance; until sound arguments in support of them are adduced, such trends carry no special authority. They merit a hearing that merely popular trends may not, certainly, but that is all. All cultures, including ones organized around scholarly pursuits or subject-matter expertise, are at constant risk of misguided group trends, often the result of some unsound presupposition no one has yet thought to question and which, typically, the nature of the culture involved makes it unlikely that anyone within the culture ever will question.

The second “Canon” chapter, Chapter 4, “The New Testament Canon: Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse” (82-98), continues the prior chapter’s discussion of the broad sweep of Scripture as a whole (salvation history with its various covenants, progressive revelation, and so on). As was true of the prior chapter, and as will be true of succeeding chapters, Bible believers will find little to object to in K&P’s interpretive guidelines. The end-of-chapter summation of these guidelines includes the following: “Note not only the historical progression of New Testament teaching but also the topical interconnection between passages on similar or related topics, in keeping with the Reformation principle that Scripture is its own interpreter” (97). Though we’ve already seen that, in K&P’s understanding, Scripture itself is certainly not Scripture’s only interpreter (extrabiblical historical and cultural data, independently interpreted by humans, is also an interpreter of Scripture), a hermeneutical approach that emphasizes this Reformation principle cannot go far wrong.

The chapter also, as one would expect from its title, discusses believers’ reception of the New Testament canon. Discussions of how believers came historically to recognize and receive the New Testament canon often tell one a good deal about authors’ understanding of how the faithful do or should arrive at and justify their beliefs. Certain questions invariably occur to me when I review such discussions. Do correct Christian beliefs, such as foundational recognition of God’s words as God’s words, come into being as the conclusion of chains of inference from evidence and arguments, or is the self-attesting character and Spirit’s witness to God’s own truth more fundamental? Are correct Christian beliefs grounded upon, or merely confirmed by, evidence and arguments? K&P relate how “focus on the apostles as Jesus’s appointed representatives proved decisive in the church’s recognition of the New Testament canon. Matthew and John,” they add, “were accepted on account of their apostolic authorship, Mark and Luke-Acts on account of the authors’ connections to leading apostles (Peter and Paul).” As well, “Paul’s letters were accepted on the basis of his apostolic office (as well as Hebrews). The Petrine and Johannine epistles, too, were recognized as apostolic, and the letters of James and Jude were penned by Jesus’s half-brothers. Apostolicity, and, by extension ‘the rule of faith’ (i.e. the apostles’ teaching), was the primary criterion by which the church recognized the divine inspiration and authority of the books that came to make up the New Testament” (87). Though K&P do not make explicit why James and Jude’s being Jesus’s blood relatives was taken to ensure the apostolic status of their writings, presumably the thinking is that this close association with the Lord was seen as just as good as appointment to the apostolic office or close connection to the Apostles. Since history, particularly ancient history, typically tells us most about the thinking of the writing elite and comparatively little (if anything) about the thinking of the seldom-writing common people, the persons who set forth these criteria in support of accepting certain books (which, perhaps, had already been accepted for some time by common believers) were the writing elite. Had the common people received the various New Testament books as God’s own words on the basis of these criteria offered by the writing elite, reasoning from the books’ apparent authorship to their divine inspiration and authority? Or had they found the words of the books to carry in them, as God himself spoke through them, a self-attesting character that the faithful among them, to whom the Holy Spirit also witnessed confirming the words’ divine origin and authority, could not help but recognize? Was their recognition of what words were from God based upon, or did it only find welcome confirmation from, the arguments of the writing elite?

These queries may seem hopelessly speculative, since the reality is that all we can know about the thought processes of past Christians is what we have found recorded for us in documents from their time, and non-writers, by definition, leave no written documents. Even the common person who can write (relatively rare in history) seldom leaves many documents for posterity; after all, who is motivated to save what prior common people wrote? If writing elites chose to argue for New Testament books’ canonical status on the basis of apostolic authorship (authorship associated with the Lord or the Apostles), whether they themselves or the common believers of their day (and preceding them) actually came personally to accept the books (and all the words in them) on some other and more fundamental basis (self-attesting authority and Spirit confirmation) seems a question closed to historical inquiry. Still, perhaps some edification might be gained by reflecting upon the possibilities.

The “Genre” unit comprises the following chapters: Chapter 5, “Enjoying a Good Story: Old Testament Historical Narrative” (100-119); Chapter 6, “A Word from the Wise: Poetry and Wisdom” (120-59); Chapter 7, “Back to the Future: Prophecy” (160-87); Chapter 8, “Hearing the Good News: New Testament Historical Narrative (Gospels and Acts)” (188-211); Chapter 9, “Calling for Discernment: Parables” (212-35); Chapter 10, “Going by the Letter: Epistles” (236-67); Chapter 11, “Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Literature (Revelation)” (268-300). These chapters helpfully describe the various genres (types) of literature in Scripture and how properly to interpret them. Bible believers serious about both the Scripture Alone doctrine and “the Reformation principle that Scripture is its own interpreter” (97) would, no doubt, like to see K&P show how the rules for properly interpreting Scripture’s various literary genres can be derived from Scripture itself. Such is not an aspect of K&P’s discussion, however. These chapters lay out the various genres, describe their features, and provide sound guidance for interpreting them; the chapters do not suggest scriptural justifications for the interpretive guidelines themselves.

Though the interpretive guidelines seem sound and the information interesting, there are places in these chapters where the interpretive relevance of information provided is unclear. “What difference does this information make to my understanding of the text?” I found myself asking more than once. In a discussion of the poetic structure of John 1:1-5, for instance, K&P write: “What is the impact of such imagery as life, light, and darkness? How does an appreciation of terseness and concreteness help you understand [?] and feel more deeply the theological concepts that John is communicating? We suggest that in asking yourself questions such as these you will gain a new perspective and appreciation of the poetic skill with which John opened his Gospel” (135). And this improves my understanding of what John is teaching in his Gospel…how? Understanding, unlike feeling and appreciation, is intellectual and verbal. While the reading experience might change as a result of focusing on John’s poetic styling, while the passage might then prove more easy to remember, how intellectual, verbal understanding of all that John in asserting, of what some would call the “propositional content” of the passage, would be affected by my poetic appreciation is not made clear. It is not clear to me why a book on biblical interpretation should include guidance on biblical appreciation. Perhaps K&P could offer persuasive arguments in favor of such inclusion, but they do not.

“Most commonly,” K&P state somewhat later, “Hebrew rhyming is a matter of repeated similar endings. Thus in Isaiah 33:22, the fourfold repetition of…[a certain] suffix…forms a clear rhyming pattern, which is missed in translation” (142). Fascinating. And awareness of this rhyming scheme should affect my interpretation of the passage in what way, precisely? K&P do not say. Nor do they explain the interpretive significance of Paul’s use of rhyming, alliteration, and other techniques in his epistles (144). One can’t help but get the impression at times that K&P are noting interesting curiosities that will never affect one’s interpretation of Scripture. Perhaps FLGW should have been abridged a bit more than it was.

In addition to outlining sound interpretive principles and noting various curiosities of unclear interpretive relevance, these chapters also include further attestation to K&P’s empiricist leanings. One example is the following: “Although some have questioned the authenticity of the parables of Jesus in the Gospels, there is ample reason for confidence in the parables’ ability to provide some of the most authentic and reliable teaching from Jesus. One of the proofs of this authenticity is the closeness in language and content to other attested sayings of Jesus” (224-5). This late in the text, when we are well into discussion of self-authenticating (Spirit-authenticated) Scripture’s meaning (as that meaning finds expression through various genres requiring different interpretive approaches), this retreat to neutral-sounding, empirically driven apologetics seems out of place. Critical challenges to the parables’ authenticity seems irrelevant to what the parables mean, so there seems no good reason to include this discussion here.

As well, these chapters include a statement on Paul’s use of the Old Testament that seems to call for additional discussion that is lacking. “Paul’s use and interpretation of the Old Testament may at times be difficult to understand in light of our modern rules for determining meaning,” K&P write. “But what seems to us a strange interpretation may have represented conventional hermeneutical procedure to Paul’s contemporaries….Paul, like his contemporaries, sought to bring an Old Testament passage or prediction into a new historical and theological context, which involved some shift in meaning while remaining faithful to the message in its original context” (249). Now, in the conservative theological circles I frequent, the strangeness of some of Paul’s “interpretation[s]” is typically explained by identifying them as applications rather than interpretations. In such circles, these “difficult to understand” statements by Paul are seen as hermeneutically permissible, not because they accord with the “conventional hermeneutical procedure” of “Paul’s contemporaries,” but because they are not interpretations, but are creative applications of passages for which Paul may not state the interpretation. The way K&P choose to state things suggests that it might be permissible to modify one’s approach to interpreting Scripture based upon whatever happens to be the conventional procedure obtaining in one’s time and culture. Another implication of identifying Paul’s applications as “interpretations” would seem to be to endorse the hermeneutical procedure yielding them as still valid, since that procedure has been endorsed by the example of the inspired text itself.

The “Language” unit includes Chapter 12, “Context is King: Discerning Discourse Structure” (302-25), and Chapter 13, “A Matter of Semantics: Discerning Word Meanings” (326-53). Chapter 12 is one of the most interesting, and one of the most useful, in the text. It concerns the various ways for discerning the boundaries within scriptural discourse so as the better grasp Scripture’s meaning. (The significance of structural features in some genres, unexplained earlier and so of unclear interpretive relevance when discussed, may become apparent here, as one reflects on how these structural features may signal changes from one topic or subtopic to another.) The fundamental insight behind the chapter is this: “The proper textual unit at which meaning is to be discerned is not the individual word, the phrase, or even the sentence, but the larger discourse, that is, the paragraph level and ultimately the entire document of which a given word, phrase, or sentence is a part” (305). Chapter 13, which deals with discerning the meaning of individual words, something the prior chapter would suggest should rely much more on the specific discourse context than on what original-language references reveal is the range of possible meanings for a word in a range of contexts. An important aspect of the chapter is discussion of twelve common fallacies attending so-called “word studies.” One such fallacy, actually a class of fallacies, involves the context-ignoring restriction or expansion of a word’s semantic field (range of possible meanings). In a variation of semantic field expansion called “illegitimate totality transfer….a word’s entire semantic range is improperly considered to be part of the term’s meaning in a specific context when…only one of several possible meanings obtain in that particular instance [fit the context]” (347). To use an example other than those adduced by K&P, consider how some handle the Genesis creation account’s word for “day” (yom).

Part 3, “Theology,” comprises two chapters: Chapter 14, “Making the Connection: Getting Our Theology from the Bible” (356-71); and Chapter 15, “Getting Down to Earth: Using the Tools, Applying the Word” (372-91). The purpose of all the interpretation K&P have been instructing readers how to do is, of course, to arrive at a progressively more complete understanding of all that Scripture teaches and to apply its teachings more and more to one’s thought and conduct. In addition to discussion of biblical theology, as contrasted to systematic theology and application, this chapter includes discussion of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. One useful observation, noteworthy given unsatisfactory earlier discussion of Paul’s “hermeneutical procedure” (above, 249), concerns “whether or not we should expect to be able to duplicate the use of the Old Testament by the New Testament writers….On the one hand,” K&P write, “we would expect the New Testament use of the Old to conform to historical-grammatical principles of exegesis that are reproducible by contemporary interpreters. At the same time, the New Testament writers operated under divine inspiration….[This] provides the New Testament interpretations…with a type of authority that cannot legitimately be claimed by anyone today. For this reason, we will do well to exercise caution and to claim authority only for interpretations of the Old Testament that are made explicit in the New Testament” (368).

Additionally, the book’s closing chapter advises students of Scripture to “be prepared to swim against the stream of tradition” while at the same time to “Be humble” and to “Take on a submissive stance toward Scripture” (389, 388). I see a disconnect here, though a less obvious one than the “dumb marketing” disconnect noted at the beginning of this review. A while back, one prominent individual left Evangelicalism in favor of Roman Catholicism, citing as part of his reason exasperation with the need in Evangelicalism to “reinvent the wheel” in every generation. I share some of this gentleman’s exasperation. It is not clear to me how one can label “humble” an attitude that sets up one’s own judgment, or the judgment of some favored group of contemporary scholars (such as “recognized” scholars professing Evangelical commitment), as more deserving of respect than the God-guided thinking and reflection of Holy-Spirit-indwelt believers in all walks of life over long periods (“tradition”). “Humble” submission to contemporary scholars, which most often (I suspect) means not-so-humble selection of contemporary scholars who happen to draw the conclusions one finds most personally appealing, doesn’t strike me as quite the same thing as humble submission to God’s own words in God-preserved Scripture as God-indwelt true believers have, as a group tending toward certain convictions (a “common faith”) over time under God’s guidance, traditionally understood it. (I borrow this usage of the phrase “common faith” from the late Edward F. Hills, who employed it in his defense of the received or traditional text types of the Old and New Testaments, and whose books, I recently discovered, are still available from their original publisher: The Christian Research Press, Ltd., P.O. Box 13023, Des Moines, IA 50310-0023.) The radical spirit that would reject all that God has guided the faithful to believe and do over the long years since establishing his Church, the spirit that would try to rework everything from first-century scratch, has never struck me as either humble or wise. In practical terms, it seems, more often than not, that Roman Catholics hold to the priesthood of priests, Evangelicals to the priesthood of scholars, and no one at all to the official Protestant and Evangelical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

In saying this, I don’t mean to be anti-intellect or anti-intellectual (anti-scholar). Firm Bible believers have often been accused of being so, occasionally, perhaps, with justification. It should be emphasized, therefore, that when scholars (such as K&P) provide information and insights consonant with Scripture’s plain meanings and with the Spirit-guided judgment of God’s people over long periods, believers would be foolish not to draw upon such scholars’ work. One should also keep in mind, however, that academia is by nature elitist (to be a professional academic is to be among the elite in some field) and that elitism naturally works against consistent and serious application of the doctrine that all true believers are priests with the potential both for God-guided true understanding of Scripture and for sinfulness-inspired errors and simple mistakes. Humble respect for the God-guided thinking and reflection of Holy-Spirit-indwelt believers in all walks of life over long periods, for “tradition,” is one way to mitigate the individual-specific influences of human sinfulness and imperfection.

(Of course, what passes for “tradition” in some circles is just a set of opinions advocated by elites of the past, whether those elites have been priestly, scholarly-intellectual, or both. Discernment of the “common faith” of past generations is not always easy. Exploration of this issue, however, is beyond the scope of this review.)

For the Love of God’s Word, then, provides much sound and useful guidance on how to interpret Scripture responsibly and, with persistence, rightly. Certain empiricist leanings evident in the text, and the authors’ failure to harmonize their belief that uninspired material from outside Scripture is required in order to correctly understand Scripture (that such material is not merely a welcome supplement to one’s understanding but is essential to it) with their beliefs that the doctrine of Scripture Alone is true (which one assumes they believe given that they are Evangelicals) and that Scripture is its own interpreter (which they state that they believe), do detract from the book, but not in a way that lessens the value of most of its hermeneutical guidelines. Therefore, I judge the book worthy of at least a mildly positive rating.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads.

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Worthwhile Reading…For Some: History, Law and Christianity

history_law_christianity_cover_courstesy_publisherMontgomery, John Warwick. History, Law and Christianity. Corona, CA: NRP Books, 2014 (prior edition copyrights were 1964, 1991, and 2002). Paperback. 102+xv pages. ISBN 978-1-945500-01-5.

While my philosophical and theological commitment are not Montgomery’s—I am an increasingly committed presuppositionalist; he is the quintessential evidentialist—I still found History, Law and Christianity worthwhile, if occasionally disagreeable, reading. Though its evidentialist stance—which is blatant, persistent, and uncompromising—would make me uncomfortable giving the book to non-Christians, I can recommend it to presuppositionalist Christians looking for a rigorous yet concise overview of the evidentialist viewpoint. Christians already committed to evidentialism, of course, will welcome addition of this risen-again classic to their libraries.

The book comprises two sections, one on “Historical Evidence” (1-44), developed out of a series of lectures Montgomery gave in response to Professor Avrum Stroll’s “Did Jesus Really Exist?” lecture (reproduced as Appendix A, 79-93) and one on “Legal Evidence” (45-76), originally a chapter in a book on human rights. In addition to these main sections, the book includes a 2014 foreword by Craig A. Parton (ix-xii), a 2001 introduction by Montgomery (xii-xv), two appendices (A, already mentioned, and B, a letter from Edwin M. Yamauchi [95-6], related to textual criticism), and a list of suggested readings (97-102). History, Law and Christianity has no index.

Parton’s foreword, which nicely summarizes Montgomery’s approach in the book’s two main sections and clearly sets forth his evidentialist philosophy, contains one remark meriting comment. Parton writes: “with respect to probability reasoning, Montgomery presents the position that the case for Christianity is ultimately a case based on establishing the facticity of certain events….If certain events did not occur, Christianity is a sham. Period. Facts never rise to the level of formal, mathematical proof….100 percent certainty only comes in matters of deductive logic or pure mathematics.” So, he concludes, “One weighs probabilities, looks at the facts…, and then a decision must be rendered. One must never demand of religious claims a level of certainty not demanded in any other domain” (xi, emphasis Parton’s). Interestingly, Parton does not say that if certain events did occur, then Christianity is true or likely true; instead, he emphasizes what would falsify Christianity. Also noteworthy are this statement’s placement of ultimate responsibility for determining the likelihood that Christianity is true on the human individual and its assumption that “a decision must be rendered,” that is, that agnosticism is not an option. Also interesting is the assertion, not argued but assumed, that an individual “must never demand of religious claims a level of factual certainty not demanded in any other domain” (xi).

Both the idea that one is obligated to make a choice on this subject, and that the choice one makes must not require of religious claims any greater factual certainty than one expects of other domains (determination of the best diet to follow, say), seem open to challenge. On the latter, it seems people routinely, and rightly, require different degrees of factual certainty in different domains depending on how important it is to them to ensure right decisions and avoid wrong decisions in those domains. When a decision involves minimal inconvenience and little risk, and where changing one’s mind later is easy, we invariably demand far less factual certainty before making a choice than when a decision involves a high level of inconvenience or much risk, or where changing our minds later might not be so easy. Religious commitment, if one takes it seriously and tries to apply it to one’s life, ranks very high in inconvenience. Because it requires significant changes to one’s life, serious religious commitment ranks low on the easy-to-change-later scale. These aspects of the religious domain seem to favor the common practice of requiring a higher level of certainty before one will commit to a religion than one requires to, say (to stay with our prior example), commit to a certain dietary regimen. Pascal’s Wager, on the other hand (to import something not mentioned by Parton or Montgomery), suggests that, when risk is considered, one might be well advised to lower rather than raise one’s requirements when dealing with religious questions; applying Pascal’s prudential reflections to the religious pluralism of today, one might be best advised to simply compare the claims of various religions and embrace the least unlikely, even if one deems its likelihood quite low. If ultimate responsibility lies with individuals, then practical concern for their own welfare should perhaps incline them to set the bar of factual certainty lower than Parton and Montgomery (“Montgomery stresses,” Parton notes approvingly, “that the ‘burden of proof’ is actually on the Christian to establish the case for Christianity” [xi]). From a practical standpoint, Pascal’s Wager also seems to favor Parton’s and Montgomery’s assumption that “a decision must [or at least should] be rendered,” since there is nothing to be gained by failing to embrace any religion—aside from transitory freedom to indulge proclivities at odds with the religion one finds most likely true, of course. (I suspect neither Parton nor Montgomery would appreciate my introduction of Pascal here, even if it does strengthen their argument.)

Montgomery’s 2001 introduction (xiii-xv) gives readers additional early indication of the philosophy driving his approach. Concerning the book’s first, historical, section, Montgomery recalls (not for the last time) how when he “argued [in a debate] that so good was the historical picture of Jesus that, to eliminate it, one would have—literally—to throw out one’s knowledge of the classical world in general, Professor…Stroll replied, ‘Fine, I shall throw out my knowledge of the classical world,’” to which the chairman of the classics department at the professor’s school strenuously objected (xiii). The consistent indication of all references to this episode is that one should think, “Oh, what a silly man Professor Stroll was being to a adopt such high evidential requirements as to negate all we know about the classical world in general.” The assumption throughout is that the “knowledge of the classical world in general” asserted by historians cannot possibly be subject to philosophical challenge or any doubt meriting the label “reasonable.” Stroll’s willingness, at least during this impromptu response, to extend his skepticism about the historical Jesus to ancient history more generally, rather than being lauded as at least self-consistent, is lifted up to ridicule. The presuppositionalist must wonder, however, whether a radical skepticism about history, even more radical perhaps than what Stroll was willing (if only momentarily) to adopt, might not in fact comport better with a worldview lacking biblical Christian presuppositions than does the comfortable self-assurance of secular historians. On Montgomery’s account, it is historical method in general that is most trustworthy; the assertions of Scripture merit trust only as they can be substantiated by historical method.

Another interesting item in the introduction concerns the second section of the book. Concerning that section’s original role in a book about human rights, he writes: “The logic is that, if the only possible foundation for human rights is transcendental and revelational (as I show), it is imperative to demonstrate evidentially that God did in fact reveal himself in the human sphere” (xiv). The presuppositionalist in me immediately wonders what the foundation is for trust in evidence and human demonstration. Granted one is only justified believing in human rights if one can show a transcendental basis for this belief, is it not the case that trust in the human faculties that perceive and interpret evidence also requires transcendental justification? If one is permitted to take the reliability of these human faculties (sense perception, reason) for granted, why shouldn’t one take the rights for granted, as well?

Finally, in his brief dismissal of Postmodernism, Montgomery says that “if the Postmodernist were correct, no practical knowledge, based on experience and evidence, would be possible.” Montgomery finds this objectionable because “No one in reality ever lives this way” and “Each and every one of us must assume the reliability of our evidential examinations of the world in order to live in it” (xv). This is true enough, but practical necessity is not proof of truth. Presuppositionalist hero Cornelius Van Til once pointed out (as is often noted) that, though unbelievers can count, they cannot account for their counting—and this, on Van Til’s understanding, shows that there is something wrong with unbelievers’ whole approach to knowledge. If one adopts Montgomery’s approach, one simply dismisses this as silly because, as a matter of practical living, no one ever doubts his ability to count or thinks that ability needs to be accounted for if it is to be justified and its conclusions called “knowledge.” Since practical living in the world requires that we assume the reliability of our counting—that we trust the intellectual faculties that enable us to count—the whole question of whether our trust in ourselves fits with or contradicts our comprehensive belief system (worldview) may simply be ignored.

The first section of the text proper, “Historical Evidence,” includes five chapters. The first chapter, “Who Is Jesus Christ?” (3-5), notes that Montgomery and Professor Stroll agree that the truth or falsity of Christianity is a matter of facts, both agreeing with Millar Burrows that any who would claim “the affirmations of Christian faith…are not dependent on reason or evidence” are in error and that “Any historical question about the real Jesus who lived in Palestine nineteen centuries ago is therefore fundamentally important” (5, quoting Burrows’ 1958 More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls). The second chapter, “Four Historical-Philosophical Errors” (7-10), faults Professor Stroll’s “Did Jesus Really Exist?” (79-93) for the following errors: (1) relying on judgments by certain modern “authorities” rather than following “The proper scholarly procedure [which] is, of course, to face the documentary problems directly, by way of the accepted canons of historical and literary method” (7); (2) neglecting primary documents, particularly Paul’s letters (which predate the Gospels) (8-9); (3) reasoning in a circle by first assuming miracles impossible then, on the basis of this assumption, identifying miracles in the Gospels as evidence that they are untrustworthy as historical documents; and (4) suggesting that first century “messianic fever” makes plausible the legendary elevation of Jesus to Godhood and Messiahship, even though “Historically it can be proven beyond question that, on every important point, Jesus’ conception of himself as Messiah differed radically from the conceptions held by all parties among the Jews” (10). Within the evidentialist system of assumptions—where reference to “accepted canons of historical and literary method” never prompts the response, “Acceptable to whom? Acceptable on what transcendental basis?”—these chapters are persuasive. One might wonder whether one should ever claim a matter of history “can be proven beyond question,” of course.

The third chapter, “Are the New Testament Documents Historically Trustworthy?” (11-20) seeks to show that, in terms of “the tests of reliability employed in general historiography,” the documents making up the New Testament merit acceptance as generally reliable historical documents. Montgomery wishes to emphasize that, in this approach, “we do not naively assume the ‘inspiration’ or ‘infallibility’ of the New Testament records….We will [instead] regard the documents…only as documents, and we will treat them as we would any other historical materials” (11). While some of us see nothing naïve about taking God’s own words, which as such deserve greater trust than any alternative authority we might use to show them trustworthy, as our ultimate and starting authority, there is nothing necessarily wrong with exploring, as an intellectual exercise, where a different ultimate and starting authority and alternative starting assumptions lead. In Montgomery’s case, we begin our investigation by “naively” accepting the reliability of our various faculties, the correctness of the methods agreed to by members of the historians’ subculture, and the correctness of applying to God-breathed (or, in terms of this approach’s working assumptions, potentially God-breathed) writings the same rules of analysis found correct and reliable when applied to merely humans writings. The tests to be applied are these: (1) the bibliographic test, “analysis of the textual tradition by which a document reaches us” (11-13); (2) the internal evidence test, in which one assumes that “one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies,” then examines the document for such disqualifying properties (13-15); (3) the external evidence test, which compares what the New Testament documents say with what can be learned from “inscriptions and other independent evidence,” such as secular historical accounts and writings of early church fathers (15-17). In terms of the assumptions adopted, those of historians, Montgomery makes a strong case that the New Testament documents are indeed reliable historical documents, and so must be taken as seriously as any other historical documents when determining what the Jesus of history actually taught and did. Montgomery’s treatment also includes a refutation of form criticism, a critical methodology on which Professor Stroll relied heavily (form critics were his preferred “modern authorities”) (17-19). Naturalistically biased and radically subjective, the methodology proves lacking in redeeming qualities. One possible, if weak, challenge one might offer to Montgomery’s arguments would concern test 2 (internal evidence). The innocent-till-proven-guilty assumption underlying test 2 is surely the most practical if one wants to draw historical conclusions from ancient documents, but it is hard to see how one can refute someone who adopts a contrary guilty-till-proven-innocent “hermeneutic of suspicion.” If someone fails to apply an even hand, treating some ancient documents as presumptively doubtful and others as presumptively trustworthy, he certainly must be called upon to justify or abandon his bias. Radical skepticism toward ancient documents in general, though irksome and impractical, seems harder to refute.

Chapter four, “God Closes In” (21-31), reemphasizes some of Montgomery’s basic assumptions and approach and shows that the the main New Testament documents, those shown historically reliable in the prior chapters, portray Jesus as someone who presented himself as, and was believed by his followers to be, God himself. Montgomery emphasizes again that “the documentary attestation for these [the New Testament] records is so strong that a denial of their reliability necessarily carries with it total skepticism toward the history and literature of the classical world” (21). He also asserts, in accord with earlier statements, that his “line of argument…depends in no sense on theology. It rests solely and squarely upon historical method, the kind of method all of us…have to use in analyzing historical data” (21). As at the start, Montgomery admits no authority more ultimate than historical method, no theological or philosophical foundation logically prior to historical method, nothing upon which historical method depends for its justification. Historical method, apparently, is worldview-neutral, a final authority all can and must trust, since (it is assumed) it is simply unacceptable either to adopt a stance of total skepticism or to “naively” treat God’s own words in Scripture as one’s starting point and ultimate authority. Only one’s own assumed-reliable faculties and what they, under the guidance of accepted historical methodology, can do with evidence may rightly serve as one’s ultimate authority. Whether or not one agrees with Montgomery’s evidentialist philosophy, one must grant that the historical case for Jesus’s having claimed, and his followers’ having believed him, to be God is as well supported as many alleged ancient events no one, save the occasional radical skeptic, sees any reason to doubt. Those who grant the validity of historical methodology do seem obligated to accept that Jesus’s claim to be God was not a legendary invention or a misconstrual by loyal but not-too-bright followers.

Chapter five, “An Historian’s Appeal” (33-44), discusses the four possibilities given Jesus’s claim to be God: (1) that Jesus made the claim dishonestly, and so was a charlatan; (2) that Jesus believed he was God when he wasn’t, making him a lunatic; and (3) that Jesus never actually made the claim, but that “his disciples put this claim in his mouth,” making the disciples liars, crazy people, or not-too-bright exaggerators; and (4) Jesus made the claim and the claim was, and is, true. Montgomery, of course, argues for 4. Since Montgomery has already shown that the historical evidence strongly favors belief that Jesus did in fact claim to be God, all that remains to be shown in this chapter is that there are good historical reasons to believe that he in fact is God. After examining alternatives 1 and 2 and finding them wanting (33-40), Montgomery sets forth what he considers the best historical evidence that Jesus was (is) is fact God: historical evidence that Jesus’s resurrection really happened (40-3). Since he has already shown that the New Testament documents are historically reliable, the main burden of Montgomery’s discussion at this point is to urge the illegitimacy of an arbitrary bias against the possibility of a miracle like the resurrection. His fundamental idea is that “The only way we can know whether an event can occur is to see whether in fact it has occurred” (41), which he maintains (with supporting quotations from historians) is the standard assumption of the historical methodology he takes for granted (41-2). Claiming that an event well substantiated in reliable historical documents, such as Jesus’s resurrection, could not have happened because it violates “natural law” is, he holds, not permissible (41). Since even laboratory scientists cannot simply rule out data because they judge it “impossible” given what they believe the laws of nature to be—otherwise, how would incorrect beliefs about the laws of nature ever be falsified?—Montgomery’s refusal to permit naturalistic bias into historical investigation strikes me as both plausible and persuasive (at least within the evidentialist presuppositional framework that he shares in common with secular historians).

From the historical likelihood that Jesus’s resurrection actually occurred, Montgomery infers that Jesus was (is) in fact God as he claimed to be. As Montgomery sees it, “we must go to the one who rose to find the explanation” of the resurrection, and Jesus’s explanation, “though we may not like it, is that only God himself, the Lord of life, could conquer the power of death” (42). This last step in Montgomery’s argument seems quite weak. So far as I can see, we have no reason to assume that the subjects of rare occurrences should invariably possess special insight into the nature or cause of those occurrences. The lucky single survivor of a plane crash seldom is the best suited to explain why he happened to survive; if anyone could tell us (which is unlikely), it might be someone who could infer from the pattern of wreckage and the black box data that this passenger just happened (in terms of relevant physical laws) to be in the perfect location in the plane to beat the odds. (Arguably, this would answer the question of how rather than why. The why would remain a mystery absent revelation from the divine Interpreter.) That the lucky individual in question did in fact survive the crash could be historically verified, drawing together eyewitness accounts of his boarding the plane, airline ticketing and boarding data, eyewitness testimony to the recovery of his injured but living body from the wreckage, and post-crash hospital records. If the individual had predicted the plane would crash and he would survive, and had added the claim that this miraculous survival would validate his claim to be God, would most of us be inclined to conclude the man’s claim to be God was in fact validated by the “miracle”? In a religiously-neutral environment lacking at least certain monotheistic presuppositions, I’m not sure we would.

Say we imagine a New Age universe where individual consciousness influences the fabric of reality in weird ways. In such a universe, believing oneself God so strongly as to believe one will rise from the dead (or just survive a plane crash) could very well be the cause of one’s actually rising (or surviving). Since our “knowledge” of the past is limited to the small sampling of past facts for which current evidence remains (most past facts have left no sign in any written or archaeological record; just think for a moment of how many people have lived and how many events have occurred of which there is today no evidence at all), we really can’t assert that other resurrections have not occurred. Who knows? For that matter, most current facts remain inaccessible to human observers because the universe, assuming there is only one, is very large and we, even as we extend ourselves with various measuring devices and assumption-dependent inferences from what those devices record, are very small. Once one jettisons the biblical Christian presupposition that the creation is necessarily uniformly ordered, lawful, and intelligible because no other sort of universe fits with the God Scripture describes and in whom we place our faith, one is under no compulsion to grant that uniform order, lawfulness, or intelligibility extend beyond one’s own little area of observation and one’s own brief period of observation—and even that seeming uniformity and lawful intelligibility might be the delusion of misleading faculties rather than anything genuine, much less anything necessarily universal or permanent. In this order of things, references to “sanity” and “lunacy” are meaningless, so considering Jesus a “lunatic” for thinking himself God would be no slight.

If this kind of thinking strikes us as ridiculous, a radical violation of “common sense,” that is only because we live in a culture that, however secular it may aspire and strive to be, is still very much influenced by a long Bible-influenced Christian heritage. Even cultures without our Western Christian background have their ultimate origins in peoples exposed to God’s spoken revelation to Noah and his forebears, and to traditions (however corrupted) about the nature of the world and past events originating in the same common background of all humankind recorded in the early chapters of Genesis. If one can genuinely break away from the assumptions this background makes seem so natural, as one really should if one does not accept the Bible-believing Christian worldview with which these assumptions fit and in terms of which they find their justifying explanation, weird New Age ideas and a host of other modes of thought begin to seem plausible. Of course, this seeming plausibility never rings wholly true, since all humans are prevented by God’s common grace from wholly blinding themselves to God’s self-revelation in the world around them and within themselves. Still, some people seem able to take such “ridiculous” thinking very seriously, at least when it comes to choosing their “spiritual” beliefs (and preferred entertainments).

Exploration of the “ridiculous” thinking that a consistently non-Christian “neutral” autonomous perspective makes plausible aside, Montgomery himself actually makes at least one broad philosophical observation that effectively strips the resurrection of its Jesus-really-is-God-as-he-claimed evidential function. He writes:

But can the modern man accept a “miracle” such as the resurrection? The answer is a surprising one. The resurrection has to be accepted by us just because we are modern men—men living in the Einsteinian-relativistic age. For us, unlike people of the Newtonian epoch, the universe is no longer a tight, safe, predictable playing field in which we know all the rules. Since Einstein, no modern has had the right to rule out the possibility of events because of prior knowledge of “natural law.” The only way we can know whether an event can occur is to see whether in fact it has occurred. The problem of “miracles,” then, must be solved in the realm of historical investigation….And note that an historian, in facing an alleged “miracle,” is really facing nothing new. All historical events are unique, and the test of their facticity can be only the accepted documentary approach we have followed here. No historian has a right to a closed system of natural causation, for as the Cornell logician Max Black has shown, the very concept of cause is “a peculiar, unsystematic, and erratic notion,” and therefore “any attempt to state a ‘universal law of causation’ must prove futile.” (41-2, ending with quote from Black’s 1962 Models and Metaphors)

The ironical quotation marks in this passage, around “natural law” and “miracle,” in combination with all that the passage asserts, perhaps say more than Montgomery should have said if he wanted his use of the resurrection to prove Jesus’s Godhood to appear valid on a worldview-neutral, universal basis. On this “modern man” understanding, what have customarily been called “miracles” are now mere rare events, things unpredictable from the patterns of regular behavior we have so far observed in nature (patterns of regularity we formerly thought expressed “natural law”), but still part of the infinite realm of possibilities: “For the critical historian nothing is impossible” (42, quoting Ethelbert Stauffer’s 1960 Jesus and His Story). If one embraces this understanding, it seems strange that one should also hold to the assumption that all that happens must be explainable, so that all one must do is (1) determine the most probable explanation from among those so far proposed, then (2) embrace that explanation as correct. A universe unburdened by law-limited possibility and clear rules of causation permits countless unique events wholly impossible for humans to explain. Absent the lawful order presupposed by those with faith in the biblical God (albeit a lawful order more complex and less intuitive than once supposed), events and phenomena like resurrection, spontaneous healing, accurate awareness of distant and future people and events, are neither impossible nor proof of divine intervention: they’re just weird, and weird stuff happens.

Montgomery closes his historical section with an appeal. Siding with “Heidegger, Sartre and other contemporary existentialist” in the belief that “all life is decision, and no man can sit on the fence,” condemning noncommittal agnostics and noting that “The atheist at least has recognized the necessity of taking a position on ultimate matters” (43), Montgomery asserts that “all of us, must make decisions constantly, and the only adequate guide is probability—since absolute certainty lies only in the realms of pure logic and mathematics, where, by definition, one encounters no matters of fact at all” (44). Presumably, Montgomery does not claim “absolute certainty” that “the only adequate guide” to decision making is probability; yet, oddly enough, he does not tell readers how probable it is that “the only adequate guide [in decision making] is probability.” “If probability does in fact support [Jesus’s] claims…then we must act in behalf of them,” he concludes, noting how Jesus himself maintained that one was either for or against him (44). Of course, one must accept Jesus’s claims before one accepts Jesus’s assertion that one must choose for or against him, mustn’t one? As well, oddly enough, Montgomery says “we must act,” not “we probably must act.” More accurate than any of these (and recalling my mention of Pascal) might be, “if we are concerned about our own welfare and thinking pragmatically, we should act.” This may not be as strong an appeal as Montgomery intends, but it is not without force.

The second section, “Legal Evidence” (45-76), contains a single chapter, “Christianity Juridically Defended” (47-76). Montgomery’s evidentialist stance remains evident, and is made even more explicit, in this final chapter. Even revelation is not certain truth, as the presuppositionalist would hold (God’s word “is truth” [John 17:17]), but a set of “revelational truth-claim[s]” to be validated by “the very reasoning employed in the law to determine questions of fact” (47). The “testability” of Christianity’s truth claims is central: “the truth of its absolute claims rests squarely on certain historical facts open to ordinary investigation” (47). Montgomery, following Mortimer Adler (and many others), finds appealing “the legal standards of proof by preponderance of evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt” (50). Since “Legal rules of evidence are a reflection of ‘natural reason’” (50, quoting a 1978 article by Jerome Hall), one who assumes “natural reason” trustworthy (if in need of some methodological rigor to minimize errors) will naturally find its methods appealing. From within the biblical Christian presuppositionalist framework, there is much to be said for use of this mode of reasoning when investigating historical questions. From a perspective providing no metaphysical justification for trust in “natural reason,” on the other hand, its value isn’t as clear.

The concepts of “preponderance of evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” strike the presuppositionalist as not so obvious and unproblematic as evidentialists like Montgomery suppose. It is certainly true that a finite body of evidence may, as it is most naturally interpreted by most persons who deal with it, seem on balance to better comport with one “here’s what happened” story than another. So, “preponderance of the evidence,” as a shorthand for “preponderance of the most natural interpretations of such limited evidence as is currently under consideration,” is a real phenomenon. That the body of evidence under consideration is always a sampling of an infinite universe of evidence that currently does or once may have existed, some of which might not be irrelevant to the current question, seems to require making all “preponderance of the evidence” decisions provisional, assuming one cannot simply remain agnostic on a given question. On the basis of whatever evidence one has available at a certain time, one makes provisional decisions, decisions perpetually subject to revision or replacement in light of new evidence (or reconsideration of one’s interpretation of the old), when one must; at other times, one may admit agnosticism. All this hinges, of course, on the legitimacy of trusting how most persons “most naturally” deal with given evidence. This equates to a trust in natural human faculties upon which human interpretation of evidence depends. The presuppositionalist asks: Is trust in these faculties (sensory, perceptual, intellectual) justified in terms of any and every worldview? If one does not presuppose that the biblical Christian view of things is true, if one does not even presuppose (say) the truth of some more generalized monotheistic system, is one justified simply trusting that these natural human faculties can generally be trusted? Doubt that this is the case seems warranted.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” seems more obviously worldview-dependent, since it hangs entirely on one’s conception of what is “reasonable” when it comes to doubt. Within the Christian framework, where human faculties are known to be given by a truthful and loving God and so to be generally reliable (only “generally” reliable because our fallen state makes them subject to misuse, including misuse of which the misuser may be unaware), the “reasonable doubt” concept makes perfect sense and can be heartily embraced. All persons should indeed be able to come to agreement on what sorts of doubts are and are not reasonable within this worldview. Can any coherent idea of when the real doubts of any person cease to be “reasonable” be formulated on worldview-neutral grounds, however? Since to be worldview-neutral is to be without grounds of any sort for any ideas (so says the presuppositionalist), the answer seems to be “no.” If I doubt and take my doubt seriously, who are you to tell me my doubt isn’t “reasonable”? What puts me under any obligation to accept your idea of the “reasonable”? For that matter, why do I even need to accept the idea that being “reasonable” is the only thing that makes a doubt worth taking seriously? What if I doubt this faculty reason itself? Why shouldn’t I: it’s just a chance-evolved faculty, after all, or so I’m told. Yes, yes, these sorts of questions, which challenge reason itself while continuing to utilize reason (taking for granted, for instance, that there really is a difference between “accepting” and “rejecting” an idea, which presupposes the law of contradiction), are (in terms of reason) “self-referentially incoherent.” However, if one’s worldview provides no basis for trusting such human faculties as reason, there is nothing necessarily wrong with being self-referentially incoherent; for all one knows, only self-referentially incoherent statements can be true. Yes, this kind of thinking is “nuts,” but that’s the point: worldview-neutral thinking is nonsense. Who are you, anyway, to claim being “nuts” or “nonsense” is undesirable? (By the way, some might prefer to speak of the human faculty as “reasoning” or “rationality,” and to use “reason” to refer only to the abstracted description of how that faculty may be properly exercised. Referring to the faculty itself as “reason,” as in such phrases as “deliverances of reason,” is well established, however.)

It is by no means necessary to get into this kind of presuppositional discussion with every non-Christian. Most non-Christians in our culture are still sufficiently under the influence of our biblical Christian heritage to make a purely evidential appeal like Montgomery’s very effective. The one danger (not an insignificant one) is that persons who embrace Christianity on these grounds will never wholly and humbly, as trusting children (Matthew 18:3-4), submit to Scripture alone as their ultimate authority (more precisely, as the only infallible, sufficient, and clear verbal communication from their actual ultimate authority, the Triune God). A whole range of failures of professing Christian to “speak the same thing” and “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10) can be traced to the failure of many to place their every thought under Scripture’s authority (2 Corinthians 10:5). On Montgomery’s evidentialist understanding, autonomous non-Christian thought is not fundamentally in error, in error even where it seems to reason correctly because its reasoning does not cohere with its professed starting assumptions and overall belief system, but only fails to go far enough or draws some incorrect higher-level conclusions: “At one point in his speech [in Athens], Paul asserted that human life is a product of divine creation, ‘as even some of your [Stoic] poets have said’ (Acts 17:28), thereby making clear that classical natural law thinking was correct as far as it went….Its completion could be found in Jesus” (48; “Stoic” clarification Montgomery’s). (Paul’s pointing to something the pagans believed as in fact true, which Paul knew to be the case on biblical grounds, is construed by Montgomery as Paul’s way of saying that the pagans’ belief was justified on the grounds of their pagan presuppositions and the “natural law thinking” by which they supported the belief in terms of those presuppositions. This construal is not necessary, nor does it seem likely. Affirming that someone’s belief is true implies no endorsement of his way of arriving at that belief.) If one embraces Christianity with this understanding, one naturally will see no need to radically reconstruct one’s cognitive structure on a rigorously biblical basis. The “faith” one possesses in this case is wholly the product of one’s autonomous reasoning on neutral grounds, independent of God’s verbal revelation. It is the product of human decision based upon probabilistic reasoning about evidence, a reasoned commitment to what one judges most likely true in terms of the evidence one has so far considered. This cannot be a “faith that is so firm ([as] Job’s) that it excludes the slightest shadow of doubt and persists even in the face of evidence that [in writer Jerome Hall’s opinion] on rational grounds is plainly [read: seemingly to Hall] contradictory” (50, quoting Hall); so, naturally, Montgomery writes, “We are not persuaded that Job’s faith was quite as firm—or as irrational—as Hall suggests” (50 n.56). The association of doubt-free firmness and irrationality here is telling: “faith” of this sort is always a provisional thing, a tentative human opinion subject to revision in light of potential future evidence.

Is such “faith” the faith through which God saves, faith that is not of ourselves but is “the gift of God,” faith that is not produced by any human work and so about which no human “should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)? “Faith” established and maintained on Montgomery’s grounds certainly seems like a human work and cause for boasting. Even persons who have not authored “more than sixty books in six languages” and do not hold “eleven earned degrees” as Montgomery does (back cover) seem well within their rights to boast if their skill in reasoning and talent for sifting through and assessing evidence have allowed them to establish and maintain the faith through which God effects salvation. Without their cleverness, after all, God would be powerless to save! Could it be that so many professing Christians spend their entire Christians lives with nagging doubts and uncertainties about the most fundamental matters, and that so many other professing Christians wholly abandon the Faith, because the only “faith” they ever have is this autonomously established and maintained thing, what some call “reasonable faith,” that has never saved (never been the means through which God effected the eternal salvation of) anyone? This evidentialist “faith” might often serve as a form of preparation for salvation, as something God finds useful to include in the lives of some of his elect before he grants them new life and saving faith, but the evidentialist idea that this autonomously established assent, even when combined with willful commitment to begin ordering one’s conduct along Christian lines, is in fact saving faith, seems incorrect.

If saving faith, true faith, is not voluntary human commitment to a course of action or lifestyle based on rational assessment of public evidence, what is it? Consider this definition (perhaps a bit rough and preliminary): the faith through which God saves his people by grace, “saving faith” for short, is the product of grace alone, an undoubting trust grounded firmly in God-given awareness of indubitable spiritual truth. This faith is wholly consonant with all rightly interpreted evidence, to be sure, but it is not “based on” evidence; rather, it is the basis upon which one trusts one’s God-given senses and the sensations they receive, one’s God-given perceptual apparatus and the evidence it constructs from sensations, one’s rational faculty and how it interprets such evidence, and so on. The saved believer does not trust his God because he first trusted his own faculties and the world around him and, given this starting point of self and world, came to consider God probably real and his Word probably trustworthy; instead, the saved believer, by God’s grace, trusts God and his Word first of all and most of all, and on this basis trusts his faculties to the extent God’s Word seems to justify and understands the world to be what Scripture helps him understand it to be. (The ordering here is a matter of logical priority, of what justifies what, not of temporal ordering. Temporally, many who end up true believers may not initially realize their only good reason for trusting their faculties is their faith in the God who gave them those faculties.)

No “leap of faith” is proposed here: the idea of a “leap of faith” owes to the understanding of saving faith as a human work. On this understanding, since evidence of Christianity’s truth never rises to a level compelling assent—alternative explanations are always possible, even if not very plausible—one must invariably “leap” beyond the evidence to the wholehearted, permanent commitment that is saving faith. Those whom God sovereignly saves make no such leap; if there is a chasm between human-formed opinions and saving faith, then it is God alone who bridges the gap: true believers do not leap over the chasm; they are thrown (or flown) across it.

This issue aside, the final section is neither more nor less persuasive than the one preceding it; in essence, it is the same argument from a different angle. One thing it does add is an illuminating discussion on handling testimonial evidence (54-63), which is, of course, the sort of evidence we find in the New Testament. The bottom line here is that dishonest, or even just inaccurate, testimony could not have stood up to the hostile challenges of Christianity’s formative years. Eyewitnesses who rejected the Faith were around at the same time the eyewitnesses who accepted it were promoting it and making their various claims, such as that Jesus had risen from the dead and been seen by multiple persons on multiple occasions after doing so. This chapter could have the added benefit of warning off potential perjurers: lying is a much more complicated maneuver than telling the truth, and the attorney(s) cross examining you are well trained to trip you up; best not try it.

As in the first section of the book, Montgomery here infers Jesus’s Godhood from his resurrection, holding that “Surely, if only Jesus was raised, he is in a far better position…to interpret or explain it” (74). This assertion is no more evidently true or likely here than it was in the historical section. This section adds the inference that, since Jesus has been shown to be God, the “stamp of approval” he places on the Bible should prompt us to place our trust in the Bible as infallible. Presumably, this trust should only be as strong as our trust in the evidentialist arguments up to this point; so, “place our tentative trust in the Bible as probably infallible” would probably be more accurate wording for what Montgomery believes he has proven we should do.

On balance, then, History, Law and Christianity is interesting, worthwhile reading. Though its commitment to evidentialism does not allow me to recommend it to non-Christians or Christians not well established in a thoroughly faithful, Bible-based, presuppositionalist way of thinking, I think it good reading for committed Bible believers whose grounding in faithful presuppositionalism is firm enough to permit exploration of the evidentialist perspective. Committed evidentialists, of course, will love it. I’ll pray for them.

This review will also appear, abridged and less nicely formatted, on Amazon and, in more abridged form, on GoodReads.

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