Eagle's Wings Community Church

Theology & Science – Part 4

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 4)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part one of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Click HERE for Part 2.

Click HERE for Part 3.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its distinctiveness] There seems to be a bit of a difference regarding the fact that there is suffering in the world of nature versus the fact that there is suffering in humans. Whether or not there should be a difference is the topic of another essay. However, one thing is certain. More work has been done theologically with the problem of suffering in humans than has been done with analyzing suffering in all the rest of creation.

This points to one aspect of the problem which is that humans are basically anthropocentric. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve looked at the human piece more than the other. I myself have spent most of my time studying the problem of evil in relation to humankind and almost no time in relation to nature. Even when I did spend time on nature it was usually things like natural disasters that had a disastrous effect on humans, usually ignoring the devastating effects on others in God’s creation.

However, I don’t think that the fact of selfishness is a distinctive feature. I see that in evolution there is rampant selfishness, as pointed out by Dawkins in Foster’s work. However, even though there is selfishness that has infected both humans and non-humans, it’s only on the human side that we should expect to see a rising out of this conundrum. More on that in a second.

One question we need to ask first is whether there is evil in nature? I agree with Reynhout’s assessment that to call disvalues in nature evil is a category mistake. I don’t see animals having the same moral ability and therefore responsibility as humans have. Because of this ability and responsibility humans also have the ability to sin. Sin is evil. However, animals can’t sin in my theology. So, when a lion brutally attacks, kills and eats a gazelle, or when an orca playfully kills its prey, I don’t think it is evil. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that there is something not right in all of that, though. I’m different in my thinking here than people like Rolston and Sideris. I am hopeful that someday those disvalues will no longer be a part of creation.

So, the most salient difference that I see between the human realm and the non-human realm as it relates to this question is the existence or the type of free will. Presumably, at least some, although not all, suffering in the human world can be attributed to human sin. But this can’t so easily be done in the animal kingdom, for example. Nor can it be done in a single celled ameba (I hope I’ve gotten my science right here!) It seems impossible to make a case that these forms of life have the same kind of free will, if they have any free will at all, as humans do. So, I suggest that the main difference in the suffering topic on the nature side is the existence or type of free will.

McFague, whom I criticize but whom I also regard as a person with great erudition, seems to have tapped into at least a bit of my idea of responsibility and accountability here. She says, “The only difference between us and the rest of creation is that the others reflect God, tell of God, simply by being, whereas we must will that it be so (The Dearest…, 113). She assumes here that both humans and non-humans are in a state that is not full, there is something missing, something that we are striving towards. However, humans have the extra responsibility, due to the extra capacity we have, to align our actions with the Trinitarian God’s character.

Theology & Science – Part 3

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 3)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part three of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Click HERE for Part 2.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

C) Most of the time, hermeneutics is done quite naturally. We do it better with more and more experience. However, there are some extenuating circumstances that can make hermeneutics a much more difficult task. One of those is the analyzing of very old communication, such as biblical texts. Another is when we look at texts that are interdisciplinary, especially when we are unfamiliar with the language that is used in one of the disciplines.

When a scientist who is used to reading science books picks up a modern-day novel, they seem to know it’s a novel and they seem to have the ability to read it as such. However, possibly due to influences from popular, often uninformed theology, the same scientist often seems to be unable to remove their scientific proclivities when they pick up the bible. Maybe they have looked past the fact that they have put down the reading of one genre and picked up a book of another genre. Certainly all scientists are not guilty of this offence just like all Christians are not guilty of this genre mistake. However, Christians have often been unable to remove their narrative proclivities when looking at science.

Young Earth creationists have needlessly gone to great lengths to attempt to explain away scientific findings. When there were scientific findings in the single digits that needed to be explained away, the task wasn’t so great. But, it seems to me that there has gotten to be so many things now that scientists have found regarding the age of the Earth and evolution and such, which these well-intentioned folks feel they have to explain away, that the weight of the task has made the arguments in defense of a young Earth look a bit foolish.

I remember a number of years ago listening to a Christian making the claim that the “so-called” dinosaur bones that were “discovered” were all fake. Or, that God miraculously put them there to test our faith. I also remember thinking, “Really, all of them are fake? There sure do seem to be a lot of them.” Regarding the planting of fake bones, well, obviously that kind of act would go against everything scripture claims about the character of God.

The trouble is, according to Charles Foster, that both the Atheist (Dawkins) and the Young Earth creationist are looking for one grand theory that explains all the difficult questions of the world. It seems to me that this is a failure of hermeneutics. Good hermeneutics would recognize the milieu and genre of each discipline and modify their interpretation of things accordingly. Here the scientist or the fundamental Christian may shriek, “How dare you modify!” I remind both that science and theology has to modify when new information comes along. Copernicus modified his science when new information and a relooking at old information came along and many expectant Jews who were looking for an earthly warrior Messiah modified their theology when Jesus came along. So, hermeneutics is always interdisciplinary at some level.

Reynhout has supported this claim in his introduction as well as throughout his book. He says that, “theology’s interdisciplinary character is fundamentally hermeneutical” on page xii (emphasis his). The very definition of hermeneutics includes interpretation, which is at the very least one person with their own set of notions attempting to correctly understand another from their own set of notions. This, of course, comes after the step of interpreting the data provided to the first person. Let us not forget that if I asked someone to show me science they would likely wander off and bring back a science book or drag a professor in to talk science. Either way, they would be bringing back science as communication. Reynhout shows that they would be sharing meaning and this meaning has to be interpreted. Imbedded in all of this is an “author, context, and receiver” as well as a gap between the author and receiver. This gap is where either communication or miscommunication can happen. (122-123)

Since this is the case, it is most prudent for both the scientist and the theologian to study hermeneutics.

Theology & Science – Part 2

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 2)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

B) Hermeneutics is generally about interpretation and not just interpretation of communication. We reflect back on our lives and interpret our whole story, even though it is unwritten. So, hermeneutics has to be used in the realm of nature and when that nature is evaluated in the context of communication between scientists and theologians and between regular folks like me with interest in one or both of those topics, there is no questioning the certain need for the discipline of hermeneutics. Each of these two disciplines of knowledge are seeking to understand truth, and once discovered they each tell the story of that truth. The moment that story enters into the picture there is a hermeneutical requirement.

In science observations have to be interpreted and communicated and once that communication happens, it is necessary to interpret that. Theology is not much different except our observations largely come out of a text that tells a story where we notice certain things within a text rather than inside a beaker. Theology and science both have within them an art and a science. In theology, one might easily think of the art side first. We think of theology differently than we think of doctrine or dogma. Theology is freer than doctrine or dogma to explore possibilities. It is about piecing things together to create something that is expressed uniquely, something expressed differently than at any other time.

However, theology, at least if it is going to be good theology, has to contain an element of science as well. Anything and everything is not permissible to the church regarding theology. There are checks and balances, tradents within the church. There is a great community also interpreting and reminding of certain truths when someone goes too far. There is history and those who interpret history and its truths. Like the world of science those truths are not always agreed upon by everyone, but also like science certain false truths eventually fade, unable to stand the test of time and the scrutiny of their growing number of interlocutors.

Neither science nor theology is strictly logical. For many, it may be easier to think this way in the realm of theology. But science has been characterized by logic. It would seem to many people that that is the purpose of science. However, Reynhout uses Heidegger to show that science is not a place of strict logic, allowing for no infiltration of things like subjectivity (Reynhout, 104). Like theology, science has a search for meaning, and wherever there is a search for meaning, there is interpretation. Reynhout says that “the most unbiased experiment conducted under ideal conditions will still involve a certain kind of interpretive process” (Reynhout 121). If science was only based on facts and no interpretation was needed, there would never be any changes to scientific theory. But changes come when new information is discovered, just like changes to theology as one grows in that field of knowledge come.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Theology and Science – Part 1

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 1)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part one of my answer.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

A) I have borrowed my definition of hermeneutics from Grant R. Osbourne in his work, The Hermeneutical Spiral (pg. 5) as the art and science of interpretation. I like both sides of this definition. Hermeneutics is about precision in communication and this is where the science comes in. There are rules to be followed in interpretation. Not just anything will go. “I love dogs.” cannot be interpreted as “The weather is cold today.” There may be a range of interpretation but there remains the ability to go outside of the range to a place where the interpretation is wrong. For example, when a communicator wants to exaggerate and intends to use hyperbole, it should only be interpreted as such. If the intention is to go over the top to make a point, the interpreter is obligated to read (not necessarily just text) the communication as hyperbole.

However, there is a certain art to hermeneutics, as well. Typically we don’t have the time to clarify every intention, and often we don’t have the communicator present to ask for clarification. But, original intention has to be at least a part of our hermeneutic. Some people recognize figures of speech more easily than others. This is also where the art comes in. The kind of art I’m thinking about here isn’t some sort of “born to do art, gifted directly by God” kind. Becoming someone who excels at art takes practice, even from those it comes most naturally to. Hermeneutics also takes practice. The good news is that we do hermeneutics every day. We’re constantly interpreting communication. However, those who get really good at it tend to be those who reflect on it and study it.

Reynhout has used a slightly different definition which serves to enhance the one I typically use. He says that interpretation is “the dialectical process of understanding through explanation” (Reynhout, xv). Reynhout’s focus figure, Paul Ricoeur, agrees with the idea that all interpretations are not equal (Reynhout, 73). The fact that there are arguments about the correct interpretation shows they are not all equal. If hermeneutics was only a science or only an art, then the case could be made that all interpretations are equal. But that is not the case. For him, we go back and forth in a dialectical way from understanding and explanation. I liken this to Kierkegaard’s idea of going back and forth from epistemology to hermeneutics.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

 

Brian Bram August 13, 2014 4 Comments Permalink

Why I’m Not Leaving Bethel

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Why I’m Not Leaving Bethel.

For various reasons people have been asking me about my future at Bethel Seminary. Some have also asked my thoughts on the future of the seminary itself. They may have asked because I’m close with some of the departed. Or, they may have asked because I’ve attended outside functions linked to those that have departed. And so on.

The title of this blog gives my intentions away. So I’ll say a bit about why I’m not leaving.

However, I’m famous for my prefaces, so I should stay true to form and give a few here first.

  • I’m speaking only as one particular current student. I have no insight from the perspective of faculty or staff or anyone else other than me.
  • I’m not sending any hidden messages about what I think anyone else ought to do or ought to have done in their own situation. I have enough trouble hearing the voice of God in my own life to be claiming any clarity for anyone else’s journey. This blog is about why I’m staying, not about whether or not others should stay or go.
  • Finally, I have no scriptures to quote or Jesus parables to reference. I’ve written before on how these kinds of actions often get used inappropriately in an effort to gain the upper hand. After all, if I quote the Bible, who can disagree, right?
  • I can’t say everything there is to be said in a blog on the topic. I’m open for further comments or coffee!

So, on to my reasons. First of all, I’m way too close to graduation. However, even if I had much further to go, I doubt that I would leave anyways. My whole ministry is centered on the church resisting the urge to divide and rather, entering into dialogue. This doesn’t mean there is never a time to divide. However, division in the church has happened far too frequently for reasons that are often way too trivial. Bethel Seminary and the people in it are part of the church. So, unless circumstances get much worse off for me as a student, I will stay. The church and seminary are alike in that both are broken. In that brokenness, I have sometimes stayed, and sometimes left. However, my convictions about my need to struggle to stay have grown the last few years. In fact, I’m currently serving in a church denomination where I stand in a different place doctrinally and a seminary that many are describing as falling apart. I am able to accept that. In my view, both the church and the seminary have done damage to Jesus’ beautiful Kingdom that has caused the hearts of people pain, just as I have done things in my own life to cause others pain. However, where there is great pain there is great opportunity. So, my hope is that the Bethel community will enter into dialogue rather than division.

Second of all, I don’t see that Bethel owes me the right to remain in the same position in terms of its vision, goals, strategies, values, etc. I am not ignorant to the fact that seminaries and churches in our country operate in the clutches of capitalism, and there is no way around it. We can say the church is not a business but we fool ourselves if we think we can be a church or seminary in America unaffected by capitalism. So, when the surrounding economy turns, when payroll and other bills can’t be met, when people in power make decisions, when core values are rethought, I have no delusions that I will not be affected. I accept this as an employee at my job and as a student at my school.

They do not owe me a utopian environment nor do they owe me my chosen doctrinal/worldview beliefs. However, they do owe me a community that is working towards fulfilling the Kingdom. They do owe me fairness when I disagree with their doctrine/worldview. So far, I haven’t experienced any inappropriateness from a professor regarding my grade as a result of my views. I’ve never found a church perfectly aligned with my own views on every subject so I doubt I’ll find a seminary in that mold either. Bethel has always been and so far remains for me a place where I am able to decide for myself what I believe. If that were to change, I suspect that I would leave. But that has not happened so far.

What Bethel owes me is a quality education and I have gotten that with no apparent drop off. In fact, I just finished a class that was amongst the finest I’ve had in my years at Bethel. I’m bummed to see some great professors leave, some on their own and some who didn’t leave by choice. Again, I hearken to the business world where I’ve been hired and fired, where I’ve done the hiring and firing, and where I’ve watched those who were hired and fired. It’s always sad when a company’s direction changes and people lose their jobs but that is the reality of life in capitalism. It’s also one of the reasons the world needs the church. One interesting observation I’ve made is that both for me and for people I know who have had to move on from a job not by choice, things seem to end up better for them in the end. But surely, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things do end up worse as much as we wish they wouldn’t.

I’m sure there may be some who might say I’d change my mind if I knew all the details. True, I’m not an insider. I don’t know all the dirt. But, I don’t care to learn about the dirt on Bethel Seminary any more than I care to know the dirt about you. If by chance I find out something really bad I’m sure I’ll take it into consideration. But for now, I’ve decided to stay at Bethel Seminary. In the midst of the storm.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 5)

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Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 2 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 3 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 4 of this blog series.

 

Blog 5

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 5).

 

We’ve come to our final blog on contradictions in scripture. We’ll cover external contradictions in one blog so it will likely be the longest of the 5. We’ll cover archaeology, dating of materials, and science, both general and specific before we conclude.

It’s interesting how much faith we put in certain things these days and how easily we dismiss the overwhelming evidence from archaeology regarding the accuracy of the historical record of the Old and New Testaments. McDowell has said that our knowledge of the text has been increased because of the science of archaeology which, in turn, has strengthened confidence in the Biblical historical record.[1] Even if someone doesn’t ultimately arrive at a position of faith, they should really view scripture’s history as generally accurate.[2]

Many times there have been claims based on various criteria, including archaeology, of historical contradiction in the scriptures. Unfortunately for the sceptic, those claims have often come back to be shown false after newer discoveries. McDowell and Kreeft list a number of them, although not exhaustively. McDowell says that the following was once believed:

 

* Sargon didn’t exist

* Hittites were not significant (I assume in number)

* The Davidic Empire was not very extensive

* Belshazzar never existed

 

In fact, all of these were eventually found to be almost assuredly true so that these “supposed errors and contradictions are not errors at all.”[3] Kreeft chimes in with his own example of the walls of Jericho. The claim was that the walls fell before the Jews came. However, Kreeft cites B.G. Wood’s work on the subject and says he has done a great job in showing, through archaeological evidence, that that was not likely the case, which has caused most skeptical scholars to withdraw their earlier claim.[4]

Often, on a more scholarly level, whose details trickle down in basic form to the masses, there are objections to dating in terms of linear history. For example, McDowell has faced those who claim that there are words used in the Pentateuch that are too late in origin. If it can be shown that this is the case then it must be that the Pentateuch is not as old as we thought and was not written at least partially by Moses. However, once again, patience in archaeology shows the light. The word swh was once thought to be one of those words used in the Pentateuch thats origins were too late. However, recent discoveries of a Moabite stone show the word being used much earlier as scripture has long claimed.[5]

Sometimes scholars have claimed that a prophetic writing was not written until after the fulfillment of scripture.[6] As an evidentialist I’d like to note that this is extremely difficult to do regarding the resurrection, but I digress. Over and over again, these scholars and their presuppositional hermeneutic have been exposed. For example, as Kreeft has shown, it’s not good scholarship to claim Isaiah must have been written after the days of King Cyrus just because their presuppositions regarding the supernatural don’t include the ability to prophecy about the future.[7] Presuppositions do not equal evidence.

We’ll end with a bang and talk more specifically about the popular external claim to the contradiction of science. Up for discussion is both general and specific scientific claims. Surely this is the one that has gotten most of the attention both explicitly while also residing in the back of the mind during other claims of contradiction. In discussing science and theology here, I would like to center on miracles.

Craig L. Blomberg, in his book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has mentioned that there is a paradigm shift that has taken place in the attitude of scientists from the 1930’s to today, largely due to quantum physics. Laws of physical nature that were once held absolutely are now seen more as regularities because physicists realize they can’t know the exact position and momentum of subatomic particles. This, Blomberg says, has introduced chance into the equation rather than strict law.[8] Still, he cautions us not to take this idea too far since, on a larger level, things seem to be very predictable when it comes to the “laws” of nature. At a minimum, he concludes, miracles are not a violation of the law. Instead, they are an aberration from a regularity.[9]

There is this idea sometimes that the ancients were people who believed in just about anything, even if it was irrational. Blomberg thinks people think that way because they are preconceived to view past people as having “primitive scientific understanding.”[10] However, he gives a good example to say that even ancient people knew that you needed two parents to conceive and when you were dead for three days you were done with this life.[11]

If God exists, then it logically follows that miracles can exist, too, says Blomberg. As we saw in archaeology, sometimes the evidence, both scientific and theological, may seem to contradict. However, more often than not, new scientific discoveries or advanced theology helps them to coalesce.[12] One example of this, given by Blomberg is the theory in science that used to be held that the universe was eternally expanding. Now, scientists believe that the universe is both expanding and decaying towards entropy at the same time, which is an idea that can absolutely square with scripture.[13] Blomberg quotes Peter Medawar’s book The Limits of Science to say that we should be abandoning our ideas that the supernatural is impossible because of scientific discovery.[14]

What do we do when we read scripture or science and we see what appears to be a contradiction? I’m willing to say what many are not and that is that we should consider the idea that they actually do contradict. In my experience, I’ve eventually learned that they don’t, at least in any meaningful way, which has allowed me to have a great faith in both the Bible and science.

Arthur F. Holmes in his work, All Truth is God’s Truth, gives us some good pointers on how to proceed when we run into just this situation. First, we must make a careful analysis of the claim from both a scientific and a biblical perspective. Then, we must be sure we’re properly interpreting the facts. Finally, we must be sure we’re correlating science and scripture in the right way.[15] Returning to our textual example of a “rising sun,” Kreeft shows pretty easily how we can eliminate the barrier to faith after reading this.[16] A careful analysis of the textual claim clearly shows that there is no attempt to be scientific. Proper interpretation reveals the conversational genre being used. The only correlation between science and theology in this example is that there is a horizon and a sun in both while there is no evidence that scripture is trying to be both conversationally true and scientifically true at the same time. At all points within Holmes’ method we can see that the contradiction in the statement does not eliminate the possibility of inspiration, or even inerrancy, within the text.

In conclusion, I can’t say that there are no contradictions in the Bible for two reasons. Firstly, I think there are contradictions when we interpret across genre type, ignoring the context and overall message the author is trying to send. However, these hardly qualify for the type of allegations scripture often receives from its critics and it is certainly no reason not to take a long look at who Jesus really was and is. Secondly, I simply don’t know every claim for contradiction levied against scripture. While I’m not the type to flatly refuse to even consider the possibility, I have gained a great deal of confidence in the trustworthiness of scripture over the years during my careful study of its claims. After all that time, with as much of an open mind as I’ve been able to muster, I know of no contradictions in scripture that are outside of the type I’ve talked about regarding genre and context, so that I should abandon my faith. So, I remain a believer in what I see as the greatest apologetical evidence for the truth of Christianity. I believe in the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

 

[1] McDowell p. 18

[2] McDowell p. 20

[3] McDowell p. 21

[4] Kreeft p. 217

[5] McDowell p. 153

[6] Kreeft p. 217

[7] Kreeft p. 217

[8] Blomberg p. 106

[9] Blomberg p. 106

[10] Blomberg p. 105

[11] Blomberg p. 105

[12] Blomberg p. 107

[13] Blomberg p. 107

[14] Blomberg p. 108

[15] Holmes p. 59-60

[16] Kreeft p. 218

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 4)

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 4). I have a new level of enthusiasm in this video.

Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 2 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 3 of this blog series.

This blog will focus on the last, and possibly the most important, of our internal contradiction possibility type. Certainly many have been troubled by conflicting chronological ordering in such renderings of the creation story or the gospel accounts. We’ll quickly deal with the creation account from Genesis 1 and 2 and then move on to a broader discussion on the Gospels.
Genesis 1 gives a creation account where the animals are created and then humans. Genesis 2, it is sometimes asserted, gives an account where humans are created before animals. Josh McDowell, in his work More Evidence That Demands A Verdict, shows us that much of this can be attributed to poor translation. (1) The word in Genesis 2:19 in the Hebrew is va-yeetsehr which McDowell shows should be translated in English in the pluperfect form which would then be “had formed” rather than formed, like it is in the King James Version, for example. (2) So, God, having already formed animals, will now create a helper for Adam. The result then would be a creation order that matches in both chapters with the animals being created before mankind.
McDowell goes on to show a few more things about ancient Hebraic writing. First of all, recent archaeology has shown that other ancient writings exist using a style that initially covers a grand story and then circles back to one central section in more detail, much like Genesis 1 and 2 do. (3) Chapter two is not about another version of the creation story. Instead it’s following an ancient Near Eastern pattern that is circling back to the central figure of man and expounding on that part of the creation story. (4) In this way, the aside on God’s creation functions a bit like a dream sequence in a movie reminding us of how God creates as He is about to create once again.
How about the Gospels? Much of what we see is similar to what we’ve already seen in Genesis. Mark L. Strauss, in his work Four Portraits, One Jesus tells us that there is both a unity and a diversity in them due to the different perspectives each author had as well as their different points of emphasis. (5) In his opinion, part of the problem many readers have when it comes to chronological order in the Gospels is what we expect to see when we read these works. Too often readers think they are simply reading history when they are really reading a mixture of history, narrative, and theology. (6) Aside from that, each author is addressing different concerns. For example, John is writing to show the divinity of the Son while Mark is writing to highlight the suffering Son. (7)
Finally, there were some different stylistic ways of writing that the gospel writers employed that are not very frequent today. We are familiar with hyperbole and sarcasm but we are not as familiar with the intercalation, inclusio, and chiasm that was used by writers of the Bible. (8) It was these methods that resulted in a thematic construction in their writing, especially in John, rather than a sequential order that modern readers are accustomed to. (9)
So, due to their differences in sequence, someone might ask whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal as suggested by the Synoptics, or a regular meal as suggested by John. According to Strauss, if we are allowing each author to tell their own story according to the accepted customs of their day, there is no contradiction between the two. The Synoptics are highlighting the Last Supper as a Passover meal while “John can portray Jesus as the Lamb of God crucified on the eve of Passover, precisely when the Passover lambs were sacrificed in Jerusalem.” (10) If this sounds too “loose” for some, Strauss educates us on the attitude of the ancients. For them, when events were reordered for emphasis of topic or theology, there was no diminishing of historicity. (11) We dare not impose our standards, which didn’t yet exist, on their writing.

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1 McDowell p. 138
2 McDowell p. 138
3 McDowell p. 138-139
4 McDowell p. 138-139
5 Strauss p. 24-24
6 Strauss p. 27
7 Strauss p. 24
8 Strauss p. 76-77
9 Strauss p. 393
10 Strauss p. 393
11 Strauss p. 390

Brian Bram December 23, 2013 1 Comment Permalink

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 3)

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Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 2 of this blog series.

We’ve been talking about internal contradictions in scripture.  Essentially I’ve been contending for a particular answer to the question of whether or not there are contradictions in scripture.  I’m suggesting that we stop giving an unmovable no and say both yes and no.  For those uncomfortable with this suggestion, I offer two main points for the beginning of this blog.  First, don’t we do this on many occasions with the already but not yet theology around eschatology?  We say the Kingdom is here but we pray for it to come.  Secondly, I’ll give another genre example like the one on troop numbers in the previous blog as a means of picking up from our list in paragraph 3 in that same blog.

There are some who make claims of conceptual or logical contradictions.  Once again, we can’t cover them all but we can give a popular example.  Again, Grudem gives a good one.  Scripture uses language about the sun by saying that it “rises” and “goes down.”  He clarifies by saying that this is “ordinary descriptive or observational language” and not “twentieth-century scientific” terms so that they are “accurate from the speakers perspective.”[1]  What’s interesting is that we still use this kind of language today in our everyday conversations and people don’t generally call us liars when we do!  However, we may not use this kind of language in, say, an oral science exam.  So, it is both true to the conversational genre and contradictory to the scientific language genre.  The key then becomes, setting, audience, and many other subtleties Carson has talked about.  In fact, he goes on to say in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon that we have to notice that there is a before and after, prophesy and fulfillment, that we must notice in the text along with type/anti-type and command.[2]

Paul Helm deals with what I would call in this work a genre of logic.  In his work he correctly says that two propositions can’t contradict one another.  Both can’t be true, and I agree.[3]  However, this assumes we’re staying in the genre of logic.  However, once we step out of that genre and step into another we have to add the disclaimer that we must use existing sound rules of hermeneutics to properly interpret.  The premise of the sun rises, in the context of plain conversation, is not contradictory if what follows remains in the genre of plain conversation.  If we incorrectly move it into a genre of scientific language it would then be contradictory to what we know about physical reality.  The sun does not actually rise.

Much the same can also be said for terms.  One text saying God parted the water does not contradict another that says the wind did so, by necessity.[4]  J.I. Packer shows that we use various tools, such as logic, history, semantics, and linguistics to better understand the text and the God behind the text.[5]  He reminds us that the immediate audience was first and foremost being communicated to, rather than us.  Just like when we speak, we speak first to be understood by the immediate person or persons we’re speaking to.  So the writers of the Bible wrote so that their contemporaries could understand them.[6]  There simply is no surefire way to write to an audience that is thousands of years away from existence with the same ease of writing to one’s own current community.

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[1] Carson p. 52

[2] Carson p. 22

[3] Carson p. 317

[4] Kreeft p. 216

[5] Carson p. 350

[6] Carson p. 350

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 2)

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Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

In talking about a writing like the Bible on the topic of contradictions, we must deal with the claim of internal contradictions.  If there are actual significant internal contradictions it would seem a bit illogical to put our trust in the God it promotes.  If someone writes that Jesus wore a navy outfit while another reports that he wore a black outfit, this hardly seems to be reason enough to toss out the whole record, especially if His outfit has little bearing on the overall theme and intended message of the author.  However, if one reported He rode to town on a donkey and another said He skipped town on a mountain lion, well, that’s tough to reconcile.

One key hermeneutical rule when reading anything from any age is to pay close attention to when the writing was produced.  It matters more with some readings than others.  The reason we do this is to make sure we are aware of the nuances that exist or are prevalent in one age that do not exist or are not prevalent in another.  For example, it is likely that ancient writers felt less constricted in their historical writing to exactness than modern writers of history.  Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say it best in Handbook of Christian Apologetics when they say, “we must not impose our modern standards of accuracy on material that was never intended to have it.”[1]

So, there are a few basic types of claims of internal contradiction within the Bible.  There are claims that certain numbers such as army size are contradictory and that there are some quotes that are varied in different accounts.  There are claims that some terms contradict themselves.  There are some who are especially bothered by contradictory sequences of events.  Finally, there are concepts that seem to contradict one another.  We will look at the first two of these in this blog entry.

Wayne Grudem, in Scripture and Truth, talks about the difference between trustworthiness and precision.[2]  In modern culture we look for precision.  However, I would contend that we also allow for less precision than we think, especially when we consider what I am calling genre.  Grudem gives an example that goes something like this.  If I say that my home is not far from my work I’m making a bit of a subjective statement, for what is far for one is not far for another.  At what point does my statement become untrue?  It certainly seems there is a line, for if I have to cross an ocean to get to my office it’s tough to say I was being truthful in my statement.  So it seems that the spectrum goes something like precise, trustworthy, and untrue.  Kreeft’s claim, then, is that when different writers use slightly different numbers for people groups and army numbers, they were easily in the realm of trustworthiness.  In fact, he points out that it was also normal for ancient writers to take liberty with actual numbers and insert symbolic numbers instead.  They did this not only in scripture, but in other works of antiquity as well.[3]  Just like we still do today, ancient authors made estimates.

So, here is our first example of something being true and untrue at the same time.  Is it true if the President reports in a press release that he sent 2,000 troops into a war zone?  (Insert sarcasm!)  Yes.  What if the mathematical number he reported in an official document was actually 1,999?  My contention is that he’s being truthful and contradictory at the same time.  He’s truthful in a conversational genre and contradictory in a scientific/mathematical genre.  Overall, he has been trustworthy in his reporting of the number of troops sent.  So it is also in scripture.

Grudem goes on to talk about trustworthiness and precision when dealing with quotes and paraphrases in scripture.  So long as they don’t alter the meaning too much, people in antiquity, like people today, regarded paraphrases to be true.[4]  Even still, he’s willing to admit that, “The Bible contains statements that lack technical precision.”[5]  However, in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, D.A. Carson concurs that this lack of precision does not automatically equate to a contradiction.  In fact, he actually served as a bit of a catalyst for my thesis when he said:

 

Signals as to degree of precision to be expected, like signals as to genre, are often subtle things.[6]

 

He’s indicating here that while it may sometimes be difficult, we have to pay attention to the kinds of clues we’re getting from the writing as to which genre it belongs.  I’m contending that we have to do the same when we’re trying to analyze whether or not a statement is true or contradictory.  The questions become, “Which conversational genre is the author intending?” and “Is the contradiction within the intended genre or outside of it?”  If it’s outside of it, though it may be contradictory to that genre, it is not untrustworthy or in error since it does not violate the intended genre’s truthfulness.

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[1] Kreeft p. 216

[2] Carson p. 51

[3] Kreeft p. 215-216

[4] Carson p. 51

[5] Carson p. 52

[6] Carson p. 52

 

Brian Bram December 28, 2012 1 Comment Permalink

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 1)

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 1). As usual, I talk on the side of my face.

There is a great gap that must be crossed when looking at works of antiquity, not least the Bible. That gap is the result of thousands of years of separation that can only be filled by good hermeneutics. While there are a good number of objections to Christianity that largely arise from something other than poor hermeneutics, the idea that Christianity should be rejected because it is contradictory often gets flight due to insufficient interpretive skills and a lack of recognition of the way ancient people communicated. Similar to deciphering complex poetry, a simple once-over reading of scripture that is in some cases 3,000 years old is not sufficient to close the gap.
In this blog series I will not attempt to show that the Bible is inerrant/infallible. That is a much broader topic than this space will allow. However, I will attempt to show that many, if not all claims of contradiction do not stand the test of time, or, are only apparent in nature. Also, I will attempt to show examples of certain types of contradiction that do appear, but that those contradictions do not result in error and have no effect on the inspiration, trustworthiness, or salvific value of scripture.

A few words in preface are in order. First of all, this writing is an odd sort. It’s actually for a final paper in my apologetics class. Yet, it’s also a blog. So, unlike most of my blogs which strive for a certain everyday feel, this series will necessarily be a bit more academic. I’ll insert links for technical terms as much as I can. Also, unlike most of my papers, this one will have a certain relaxed style.
There exist probably thousands of claims to contradiction from the Bible. Obviously, I’m not able to personally investigate each one individually. I will attempt to look at some types that have a weightier significance leaving many behind that have little to no effect on the overall “meaning” of scripture. To state my thesis a second time in a different way, I’m not aware of any actual significant contradiction, internal or external, that would matter enough to leave my Christian faith behind. I invite you into dialogue with me if you have one you’d like to discuss. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I rather enjoy a good friendly conversation.
I’ve mentioned that I don’t intend to take on the enormous topic of inerrancy. Contradictions are just one thing an inerrant Bible would have to be absolutely free of. In fact, it seems to me that scripture would also need to be free of misspellings, incorrect usage and grammar, and such. So, being contradiction free is only one aspect of being inerrant. However, we will inevitably bump into, or likely smash into the topic of inerrancy on our way. Because I’m not taking a stand on inerrancy, but only on contradictions, I may quote authors on both sides of the inerrancy debate. So much the better for a blog that prides itself on diversity of thought.
Finally, I’m going to bend a major rule in hermeneutics just a bit and invent or possibly expand slightly the definition for the word genre, at least as we commonly use it. I’m going to do so because I can’t think of a word I can use instead to establish my theory and communicate it well in just the way I want to. Genre in literature is typically used to talk about what kind of writing one is looking at. We talk about poetry, biography, narrative and so on. Here I’m going to expand that, still within the realm of language form to include such phrases as observational genre, communicational genre, and the genre of scientific language. This will become more clear in future posts. Through this medium I will attempt to show a contradiction or two, ironically enough. I will also attempt to show that something can be true and false at the same time, and that a contradiction does not mean an error, by necessity. I hope you hear me out and view the entire series.
At this point, my professor gets to keep on reading. You, however, will have to wait until the next post on the topic of internal contradictions.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram December 14, 2012 6 Comments Permalink