The Adam Quest

April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Tim Stafford, The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling With the Mystery of Human Origins. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, December, 2013.  240 pp. Hardcover, $22.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

I had intended to post this review yesterday, but given what day it was, I declined. Also, other things were more pressing than writing a book review. I just decided not posting on April Fool’s Day was ok.

Today then, I want to tell you about Tim Stafford’s book The Adam QuestThe book is in large part motivated by an experience Stafford’s son in his late teenage years. Having grown up in the church, Silas Stafford became enamored with geology. The more he learned about the field though, the more it clashed with views his friends had about what Genesis teaches. Ultimately, their insistence in arguing for young earth creationism drove Silas away from the faith (2). Stafford presents this story not in a way that vilifies the views of young earth creationists, but does drawn attention to how demanding people with a scientific background adhere to that reading of Genesis seems to do more harm than good. To help remedy this situation, Stafford wrote The Adam Quest.

The subtitle gives you the outline of the book. Each main chapter profiles a different scientist, who as a person of faith, had to come to terms with the worlds of science and Scripture. Tim Stafford went to interview them, and then tells their stories in the as a kind of mini intellectual biography. Each profile is around 20 pages long, and in that space, Stafford helps readers to have a clear picture of how that scientist wrestled with the issues related to creation and evolution. Specifically, as you can guess from the title, the focus is on the historicity of Adam. But, as you’ll see when we talk about Four Views on The Historical Adam, you can’t really discuss Adam without addressing larger concerns about creation and evolution.

The subtitle may give the substance of the book, but the internal structure is a different story. Here are the eleven scientists profiled:

  • Kurt Wise
  • Todd Wood
  • Georgia Purdom
  • Michael Behe
  • Fazale Rana
  • Mary Schweitzer
  • Darrel Falk
  • Ard Louis
  • Denis Alexander
  • Simon Conway Morris
  • John Polkinghorne

Of this list, I had only heard of 4 before reading the book (Behe, Falk, Alexander, Polkinghorne). Part of this, I think, is because I am more familiar with the other side of the debate (usually involving OT scholars and theologians). Though I’ve heard of 4, I haven’t read any of their writings. Not to say I’m not interested in the scientific aspects, but just to let you know I was able to approach the book somewhat objectively with only little background knowledge of the scientists profiled.

Of the 11 scientists profiled, there are (in order): 3 are young earth creationists, 2 are devoted to intelligent design, and the remaining 6 are different forms of either evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution (not identical I know). Stafford tells readers they are free to skip around from profile to profile (10). There isn’t an explicit narrative the ties the chapters together in a certain order. But, Stafford suggests that “you will get the most from this book if you take the chapters in the order presented.”

That is the last sentence of the introduction. At the beginning of the conclusion, Stafford explains how he alleviated the concerns of the scientists about his agenda (or lack thereof):

I told all of them the same thing: I was going to get out of the way and let them tell their own stories. I wasn’t going to try to referee who was right and who was wrong. My goal was for readers to get to know them and to understand their points of view.

I told them that I approached the subject of origins with well-deserved humility. I know I am no expert. I know what I don’t know – and it’s a great deal. The issues involved in creation and evolution are complicated and highly technical, and they involve many disciplines. (199)

He then goes on to offer commentary on the range of views and discloses where his sympathies lie. He gives the greatest strengths and weaknesses of each view. To it out, I’ll start with the strengths (203-205):

  • Young earth creationism’s fundamental commitment to the Bible
  • Intelligent design’s assault on the New Atheists and their assertion science disproves God
  • Evolutionary creationism’s offering a coherent scientific account that is attractive to many types

Then the weaknesses:

  • Young earth creationism’s lack of cohesion with the actual world we live in (specifically when it comes to geology)
  • Intelligent design’s wholesale rejection by mainstream science
  • Evolutionary creationism’s lack of harmony with Scripture

Now, keep in mind, these are strengths and weaknesses as Stafford sees them, so read them in light of the block quote above. I think that for the most part I would agree with him, though I don’t think being rejected by mainstream science is that big of a weakness (it’s a problem for sure, but the least problematic of the three weaknesses). It is certainly interesting that in Stafford’s analysis, evolutionary creationism and young earth creationism mirror one another. The strength of one is the weakness of the other, and vice versa.

When Stafford then explains why his sympathies ultimately lie with evolutionary creationism, the overall structure of the book makes more sense. As you can see from the above outline, we move progressively through the book from strong young earth creationism, on to intelligent design, and then to a wide spectrum of evolutionary creationists views, the latter of which is from the only theologian in the group. In this way Stafford unfolds his profiles, it parallels the intellectual journey many people take that were once young earth creationists, but now are not.

At the very least, it humanizes the different viewpoints so that readers will see those they disagree with as other thoughtful individuals who have wrestled (or are still wrestling) with the issues. Ultimately, I think that is the value of the book. Especially in reading through the Four Views on The Historical Adam, which is mostly focused on ideas and positions, one can easily lose sight that this debate involves flesh and blood people, who are also made in the image of God. The The Adam Quest helps avoid this by giving you an inside look at how those with the relevant scientific knowledge wrestle with the issues.

That being said, I don’t think this book will ultimately convince anyone who is confident in their position that they should reconsider. Whether or not Stafford structured the narrative to help young earth creationists along down the road toward evolutionary creationism is hard to know for sure. He doesn’t come out and say it, but I could see it being presented for that purpose (among others). I’m also not a mind-reader. Even if he did, I don’t think the overall purpose is to convince anyone to change their mind. The book is mainly written for people like Stafford’s son who are struggling with reconciling what they know from scientific studies, and what they’ve been told the Bible teaches. It could probably serve as a mini apologetic for evolutionary creationism, but the issues with Scripture aren’t only noted, not dealt with. In the end, I think people from all sides of the debate ought to read this book. It will help to reduce stereotypes, and mostly importantly, will remind us that even when we disagree, we are still interacting with real people, and not just pixels or pages.

Introducing Movie Mondays

March 31, 2014 — 1 Comment

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This saying is true and worthy of full acceptance: people love movies. 1 Given the prominence movies play in the our culture, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that being conversant with them is a necessary skill for Christians. We could say at bare minimum, it would be good if most Christians were cinematically literate.

If this is true for the average Christian, I think it is even more true for Christian leaders, whose thoughts often set the tone for the conversation. If a Christian leaders is watching movies and posting either reviews or extended thoughts on their blog, it will in effect model for others how to engage the movies. If it’s done poorly, it’s not just an isolated incident. It will, to some extent, influence how others engage the particular film as well.

Nothing has made this more clear than the recent release of Noah, which won the weekend at the box office. In evaluating a film like Noah, something I won’t do here, we have a perfect example of the need for Christian leaders to be able to evaluate a film as a film. Though it may complicate things when core of the story is from the Bible, it is still a skill everyone needs to have, especially when it is a film with a message and is going to be seen by a lot of people. Noah has provoked a lot of discussion, and it seems like everyone has an opinion on it. The best assessments are multi-dimensional. The worst focus too much on one aspect of the film (i.e. basing the entire assessment on whether or not the story fits the Bible, something it was, by the director’s admission, never intended to do). We need to develop the ability to offer 3D assessments if we’re going to interact with films well.

To be able to do this, we need to learn the language of film and develop the ability to interpret what is there. If a film is bad, you need to explain why it is bad. Though the above picture is a humorous way of explaining things, it is making a clear statement about the Twilight franchise. Here we have a series of films that contain no great stars (maybe debatable after the fact), no great acting, and no good plot. This is not even touching on the moral aspects. The film as a film is just not good, just like the books, as books, were not well written.

It is also important to separate the more objective qualities of good vs. bad from the subjective qualities of loving vs. hating. You can love a film that is objectively speaking, bad. Take Sharknado for instance. There are people who loved that movie (I enjoyed it). But from what I can tell, most of them would never claim that it is a good movie. Conversely, there are movies that are critically acclaimed but not well liked. Personally, I’m not a fan of films set in dystopian futures, but there are some of them that I cannot deny are quality films. 2

I say all this by way of an introduction to a new series on movies. Call it “Movie Monday” if you like, but kind of like philosophy Friday, I want to start devoting time on Mondays to talking about movies. I’ll likely cover how to best watch a movie in general, and as a Christian in particular. I may post movie reviews. I may also apply some of the principles to music as well (since “Music Monday” also works). For now, I’ll probably draw on a lot of material from my thesis and my recent ETS paper. I’ll rework it and add more examples. I’m also planning on hosting Friday night movie nights over the summer, and am hoping that generates good discussion.

In starting this conversation, what are some aspects you think need to be discussed? Where do you think Christians get it wrong with the movies? Where do you think Christians get it right?  What’s missing? What movies would you like to see evaluated?

Notes:

  1. Also, a corollary: the love of good movies compels people to hate certain movies.
  2. This paragraph applies equally to music. Songs can be classified are well or poorly written, or somewhere in between. Whether you personally like it or not has no bearing on whether, objectively speaking, it is a good or bad song

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When we left Moses, he was having a heart to heart with God after things didn’t go as planned. A bad situation became worse, and Moses wanted some answers. In chapter 6, God responds.

Exodus 6:1-13

We drop in mid conversation:

But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” (6:1)

Realizing that requires some explanation, God continues:

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” (6:2-8)

Notice how covenantal God’s answer is. “On the basis of the promises I made with your ancestors I will act,” is essentially what he is saying. Moses wants answers in the present, but God points his attention to the past. He then shifts to the future promises as part of his directions for Moses in the present. Everything is centered on knowing how God is and a more intense way. Moses wants God to answer for what is happening. God wants Moses to know who he is.

This underlies how God-centered the book of Exodus is. Ryken explains:

Exodus is a God-centered book with a God-centered message that teaches us to have a God-centered life. Whatever problems we have, whatever difficulties we face, the most important thing is to know who God is. We are called to place our trust in the One who says, “I am the LORD.” When there is trouble in the family, and we don’t know how to bring peace, he says, “I am the LORD.” When a relationship is broken and cannot be mended, he says, “I am the LORD.” When nothing seems to go right , and it is not certain how things will ever work out — even then he says, “I am the LORD. 1

Ryken also helps to underscore the 7 “I wills” that God presents in his response to Moses. God will be Israel’s liberator, they only need to trust. This may have worked for Moses, but unfortunately, Israel wasn’t buying it and I essentially responds with “I won’t”:

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (6:9)

In some ways, this is understandable. I have no understanding of what slavery is like or how harsh it might be for my spiritual well-being. Israel is at the end of her rope, but deliverance is just around the corner.

So the Lord said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. (6:10-13)

Exodus 6:14-30

What comes next may seem like an intrusion:

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the clans of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the clans of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri. Aaron took as his wife Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the clans of the Korahites. Eleazar, Aaron’s son, took as his wife one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their clans.

These are the Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said: “Bring out the people of Israel from the land of Egypt by their hosts.”  It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing out the people of Israel from Egypt, this Moses and this Aaron. (6:14-27)

Why put a genealogy in all of a sudden? Good question. I’m gonna let Douglas Stuart answer:

In the style of ancient Near Eastern writing and according to the concerns of ancient Near Eastern culture, a genealogy here is neither out of place nor stylistically intrusive but welcome and perfectly placed. At the end of 6:12, the ongoing narrative stops for a moment: right at the point where Moses said, in effect, “I can’t do it.” This would be the ideal point for a commercial in a modern TV dramatic presentation, the point just before the resolution of the suspense, since the viewer’s interest level is held by the emotional interest in story resolution. Most ancient narratives had no concern for preservation of suspense per se. But neither did it hurt to place a review and retrospective, which is what 6:13–27 functions as in Exodus, at a location just prior to a major story resolution, the final, great divine reassurance of Moses’ call, commission, and challenge (6:28–7:7) equipping him for the launching of the plagues (7:8 and following).” 2

Right after this point, the story picks up dramatically. The beginning of the next chapter is when Moses and Aaron throw down the gauntlet, and the plagues start rolling out. Here is the prime place to introduce to first time readers/hearers that, oh by the way, Moses and Aaron are part of the first priestly tribe. From their line comes the high priest who represents the nation to God. Here, they are about to represent the nation before Pharaoh.

Unfortunately, Moses is essentially still unsure as the chapter ends:

On the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the Lord said to Moses, “I am the Lord; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:28-30)

You get the feeling that Moses just really does want to do what God is calling him to do. God will make concessions, but here is a man who does not in any way feel qualified for the job. Even after God assures him with 7 “I wills,” he isn’t quite saying “I won’t,” but more of a “I don’t think I can.” The important point for us is that when we most often feel like “I can’t” or “I’m not qualified,” that’s when God seems to delight to use us. Though it’s cliche, God definitely qualifies the called more than he calls the qualified. I think the reason for that, in my own experience, is that the more confident you are in your own ability to do things, the less you’ll depend on God to work through you. “It’s alright God, I got this,” is something you’ll never verbalize, but you’ll essentially life like that, or worse, do ministry like that. I’ve had to learn, especially post-seminary, this isn’t the way to do things. Thankfully, I didn’t have a major disaster come along to teach me that. Instead, God worked through ordinary means to get my attention and get me to start feeling my need for grace and to depend on him in all areas of my life. I’m still learning, but then again, aren’t we all?

Notes:

  1. Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, Kindle Loc., 3222-3227
  2. Stuart, Exodus, 175

12082644Earlier today, I finish reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. I think I picked it up on Keller’s recommendation. I was looking for a general history of philosophy that was aimed at the popular level. That’s pretty much what this is, but with a twist I didn’t expect.

For starters, I didn’t have an idea of what Ferry’s background might be. But, he describes Christianity so sympathetically, I briefly thought he might be a Christian.

Not even close.

Ferry is a dedicated secular humanist. But unlike someone like Dawkins, he is not against religion in general and Christianity in particular. Instead, he paints Christianity in a very favorable light. Contrasting Christianity and other philosophies, he says:

Therefore I must renounce the wisdom of Buddhism, as I renounce that of Stoicism – with respect and esteem, but also with a sense of unbridgeable difference. I find the Christian proposition infinitely more tempting – except for the fact that I do not believe in it. But were it to be true I would be certainly be a taker. (Kindle Loc., 3341-3343)

Earlier in the book, asking whether “Christian philosophy exists,” Ferry says:

The response must be ‘yes’ and ‘no’. No, in the sense that the highest truths in Christianity, as in all of the major monotheistic religions, are termed ‘revealed truths ’: that is, truths transmitted by the word of Christ, the son of God himself. These truths become an active belief system. We might then be tempted to say that there is no further role for philosophy within Christianity, because the essentials are decided by faith. However, one might also assert that in spite of everything there remains a Christian philosophical activity, although relegated to second place. Saint Paul emphasises repeatedly in his Epistles that there remains a dual role for reason and consequently for purely philosophical activity. On the one hand , Christ expresses himself in terms of symbols and parables (the latter in particular need interpreting, if we are to draw out their deeper sense). Even if the words of Christ have the distinction, a little like the great orally transmitted myths, legends and fairytales, of speaking to everyone, they do require the effort of reflection and intelligence to decipher their more hidden meanings. (Kindle Loc., 934-942)

You can see now why one might say that there both is and is not a Christian philosophy. There must clearly be a place for rational activity – to interpret Scripture and comprehend the natural order sufficiently to draw the correct conclusions as to the Christian divinity . But the doctrine of salvation is no longer the prerogative of philosophy , and, even if they do not in principle contradict one another, the truths revealed by faith take precedence over those deduced by reason. (Kindle Loc., 947-951)

Later in other discussions, he seems to “get” Christianity better than some Christians. He doesn’t entirely get it mind you, but he does see Gnosticism has no place in Christian thought. Consider his explanation of the Christian doctrine of salvation:

One can be a non-believer , but one cannot maintain that Christianity is a religion dedicated to contempt for the flesh. Because this is simply not the case. Taking resurrection as the end-point of the doctrine of salvation, we can begin to understand what enabled Christianity to rule more or less unchallenged over philosophy for nearly fifteen hundred years. The Christian response to mortality, for believers at least, is without question the most ‘effective’ of all responses: it would seem to be the only version of salvation that enables us not only to transcend the fear of death, but also to beat death itself. And by doing so in terms of individual identity, rather than anonymity or abstraction, it seems to be the only version that offers a truly definitive victory of personal immortality over our condition as mortals. (Kindle Loc., 1204-1210)

Ferry makes much of this “doctrine of salvation” business, and not just in relation to Christian thought. In contrasting religion and philosophy, Ferry sees that latter as “doctrines of salvation (but without the help of a God).” That was the other twist I wasn’t anticipating. In Ferry’s understanding, philosophy is just a different way of formulating a doctrine of salvation. As such, it leads to certain ethical commitments (hence the subtitle of his book). To get to those, one must study philosophy. Ferry explains:

Philosophy is the best training for living, better even than history and the human sciences. Why? Quite simply because virtually all of our thoughts, convictions and values exist and have meaning – whether or not we are conscious of it – within models of the world that have been developed over the course of intellectual history. We must understand these models in order to grasp their reach, their logic and their consequences. (Kindle Loc., 55-58)

He goes on to add:

As several contemporary thinkers note: one does not philosophise to amuse oneself, nor even to better understand the world and one’s own place in it, but sometimes literally to ‘save one’s skin’. There is in philosophy the wherewithal to conquer the fears which can paralyse us in life, and it is an error to believe that modern psychology, for example, can substitute for this. (Kindle Loc., 69-72)

Notice that in Ferry’s account, philosophy is a different way of achieving peace in the face of fear. And, as he noted above, the chief fear is death. What one is saved from then is our own fears, and specifically death. In this way, his “doctrines of salvation,” Christianity included, are missing a “doctrine of sin.” That certainly skews his account, but it did make for a very stimulating take on philosophy and religion. I’ll probably post more on here since there is much to add. This merely sketches out his general approach to philosophy. Later, I’ll add my thoughts on how he presents the narrative of western philosophy.

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Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Reading for Preaching: The Preacher In Conversation With Storyteller, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, November, 2013. 136 pp. Paperback, $14.00.

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Cornelius Plantinga Jr. is president emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary, as well as senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The lectures that underlie this particular book were delivered as the Warfield Lectures at Princeton in 2012. They grew out of seminars in Reading for Preaching Plantinga led at Calvin.

This book is a brief read, but an important one, if you regularly teach/preach the Bible. In the span of 6 chapters and just over 120 pages, Plantinga makes a convincing case for the type of reading that a preacher should add to his schedule in order to add depth to his illustrative sermon material. As he explains in the preface:

In this book I want to present the advantages to the preacher of a program of general reading. Good reading generates delight, and the preacher should enjoy it without guilt. Delight is a part of God’s shalom and the preacher who enters the world of delight goes with God.

But storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists can do so much more for the preacher. Good reading can tune the preacher’s ear for language, which is her first tool. A preacher who absorbs one poem a day (perhaps from Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac) will tune his ear, strengthen his diction, and stock his pond with fresh, fresh images. That’s before breakfast: after it, there’s a day’s worth of rumination on whatever the poet has seen of the human condition (x).

You may have noticed that Plantinga often uses the pronoun “her” when referring to “the preacher.” He also utilizes examples from preachers who are women. I found this somewhat oft-putting, but it did not detract from the overall purpose and aims of the book. Plantinga clearly doesn’t have an issue with women in the pulpit, and even finds them beneficial to his own preaching style. Those who don’t should at least be aware that this is a feature of the book, but note that he doesn’t argue for women to preach. He just kind of assumes everyone is on the same page with him.

He goes on to further extol the illustrative benefits of general reading. By “general reading,” Plantinga is referring to reading short stories, biographies, journalism, poetry, web and visual media, and many other sources. Ultimately, he sees this kind of reading leading to wisdom. This is a wisdom gathered over time, and will help preachers digs up their own stuff for illustrations. What he is really arguing for is well-developed illustrations, rather than simply pulling off anecdotes from a sermon website. A wise preacher is one who develops a storehouse of potential illustrations that can be pulled from later when the right time comes.

Beyond mere having a better stock of images and illustrations, reading the types of sources mentioned above improves your diction. Specifically, it develops your ear for how everyday people actually speak, something a systematic theology will not shed light on (usually). The preacher’s task often means converting valuable gold nuggets from study in the commentaries into a currency that will actually add value to the listeners. This is not easy. But, Plantinga makes a concise case for how steeping yourself in the sources of a general reading program can lead to be better communication patterns.

A shortcoming of this book, and probably related to its origin in lectures, is that there is not a depth of practical application. Plantinga makes a rather convincing case for general reading, and even offers a suggested reading list based on the books they’ve used in the Calvin seminars. I think it would have been helpful to add an additional chapter giving in-depth advice on how to implement a program into a preacher’s already busy schedule. There is a short note to readers at the end of the book toward this end, but it is barely 3 pages long. He does thankfully mentioned the importance of storing your findings into a database, but doesn’t go into detail about how a daily or weekly rhythm of doing this might work.

Because of that, this book is primarily best for readers who are convinced of the need to be keeping up with biblical and theological studies, but maybe not regarding stories, journalism, and poetry. For readers already on board with the need to have a general reading program, and are perhaps already doing so, there is not as much offered in this book. The value for those readers is probably the specific resources that Plantinga uses as examples and recommends at the end. As far as actually setting up a reading plan and implementing a illustration curating program, Plantinga only hints at directions, rather than giving a full blown map. Since this is something I’ve been doing regularly for a while now, I might offer some posts in the future about how I go about it myself. I would have liked for Plantinga to speak to this more, but perhaps it just wasn’t within the scope of the book.

In the end, this could be a good resource for a pastor who needs to start a general reading program. It will underscore the value of such a program and its potential for enriching the wisdom of the pastor’s messages. Further resources will be needed to think through how to implement a program, but this book makes a compelling case for the program’s existence in the first place.

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Yesterday, I wrapped up a look at Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. It’s not the only review series I’ve got going, and it’s not the first I’ve done involving a multiview book. Previously, I did Five Views on Justification. I’ve also done single reviews of Biblical Hermeneutics: Five ViewsFour Views On The Apostle PaulGod and Morality: Four ViewsUnderstanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views, and Four Views on The Role of Works At The Final Judgment. Next month, I’m starting a similar series on Four Views on The Historical Adam.

Recently, I sent a request to IVP Academic to get some older titles from their Spectrum Multiview series. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, they were kind enough to send along all five that I asked for:

At this point, I’ve finished most of the reading for Four Views on The Historical Adam and am going to spread it out over the month of April, along some other related reviews. It’s kind of a themed month, but only because my reading has matched up well.

What I’m offering you is a bit of say in what I read during April in order to do a review week during May (or June). I’ve got this stack of books on my desk and want to dig in, but I don’t have a preference which one I get after first. So, if you do, and would like to see a series review of one of these sooner rather than later, let me know in the comments. I would say first comment wins, but we’ll just see how things go and maybe who makes the best case.

9780310331360

J. Merrick & Stephen J. Garrett eds. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, December, 2013. 336 pp. Paperback, $19.99

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Read an excerpt

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

If you were following along last week, you saw most of the posts in the series review. Here is the entire table of contents:

Several thoughts stick out to me in the editors’ summary of the book. In explaining lines of continuity and discontinuity between contributors, they first note that “participants converge on the notion that God graciously accommodates himself to human sensibilities, yet diverge when considering the manner, degree, and extent to which he does” (318). I think that’s fair to say.

Likewise, they point out that everyone sans Mohler seems to agree that inerrancy is a consequence of inspiration rather than a requirement of it (319). This is a tricky subject, but in the end, I’m not sure that a logical consequence and a requirement are that much different. You could say though that putting inerrancy into the language of requirement is less effective than explaining how it is a logical consequence.

That brings up what I think is the most important takeaway of the book. There are different ways of explaining the doctrine of inerrancy. But some are more effective than others, and all depend on the type of audience you are addressing. Younger evangelicals who are recognizing the challenges to inerrancy will probably not find Al Mohler’s essay that helpful. With some qualifications, I would agree with his perspective. But the manner in which he explained the doctrine didn’t interact in-depth with the two most pressing issues. He did however, do so in the responses to other contributors.

The two problems I mention are postmodern thought/theology and the Old Testament issues surrounding science and history. Looking at this book, it is clear that Enns has is steeped in Old Testament problems texts, and as a result, has discarded inerrancy. Likewise, Franke is steeped in postmodern thought and reconsidered theological foundations in that light. Though he doesn’t discard inerrancy, Mohler sees him moving in that direction. In any case, his version of inerrancy is very different from the other contributors who affirm it, and he gets the least criticism from Enns.

When it comes a “Bird’s eye view,” on inerrancy, the result is an affirmation, but a dispute with insisting that it be formulated along CSBI style lines. For Bird, it seems that CSBI style inerrancy is non-essential, but something like inerrancy is. This makes for an interesting contrast to Mohler, who sees CSBI style inerrancy as essential and as a faithful description of what Christians have always believed about Scripture. In this way, they agree that the doctrine is true, but disagree over how it must be formulated.

Then along comes Vanhoozer. The reason I felt like he “wins” is that he, more so than the other contributors, does a retrieval of a classical understanding of the doctrine to deal with a postmodern context. He seems just as aware of postmodernism and postmodern theology as Franke does, but doesn’t feel the need to recast Christian doctrine accordingly. Likewise, because he is much more nuanced in his presentation, he doesn’t alienate Enns the way Mohler does. Avoiding alienation is not a primary concern, but it should be part of the overall strategy. Enns represents someone with significant misgivings about the doctrine (to put it mildly), and in explaining the doctrine, we do well to do so in light of the challenges. I don’t think it is an effective defense to explain the historical evangelical way of formulating things. In the context of the work as a whole, Mohler’s essay does provide essential context. But in light of how to respond to the challenges, I don’t think it represents the best way forward in the discussion.

In the end, this book is an important read on an important doctrine. The range of perspectives covers those who wholeheartedly affirm traditional inerrancy CSBI style, to those who outright reject it on primarily textual grounds. We also see those who think the doctrine is important but don’t think it needs to be CSBI style. Then there are those who want more classical nuance, and those want to slant it all postmodernly. In thinking about a perspective that is missing, it would have to be someone affirming limited inerrancy. Enns kind of covers this, but he doesn’t present any kind of constructive proposal. If something important is missing, it’s that. But even in its absence, this is a well-rounded discussion that should receive a wide reading. There is much more to be discussed and more work to be done, but this book sets the dialogue in motion and will be an important resource in moving forward.

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Over the weekend, I went to the Southeast Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It was my second regional meeting, as I was able to go the Southwest Regional meeting at Dallas my last year there. Unfortunately I’ve failed to make the national meeting, which is more of a big deal. Hopefully this year I’ll make it, especially since it is in San Diego.

I was able to make it up to Knoxville first on Wednesday to see my parents and friends. It was probably my shortest trip to Knoxville, but it was good to be there if even for a little while. Then, I headed down to Birmingham. Usually, driving from Knoxville to Birmingham is just the first leg to Dallas. As much as I’d like to go back and visit, that was just a bit too much driving. Instead, I’ll holed up in a nearby Starbucks, got some writing done, and then headed over to Beeson Divinity School on Samford University’s campus. It was a very picturesque campus, nestled on the side of a hill. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, and the inside of the chapel was amazing. I should have taken pictures, or taken a tour, but I had other things I had to get done. The evening I was in town, I was able to connect with a friend of mine (and my wife’s) Cliff, who is a hip-hop artist working as a youth pastor in the area. Check him out on Noise Trade.

The conference was enjoyable. I was able to sit in on a few good papers, and then presented my own on Saturday morning. I’ve linked to that here. It was refined adaptation of my thesis that included an example of reading a film (Inception) theologically. Much to my surprise, Peter Leithart was both at the conference, and came to my paper. I had introduced myself to him the day before, and he said my name sounded familiar. I guess it was because he saw my paper on the schedule and was coming to hear it. He told me afterwards that he really appreciated it, and we were able to chat briefly.

Then, I spent the rest of the day Saturday driving back to Orlando. Having listened to many papers and podcasts on previous drives, I opted to listen to the archives in my iTunes library. 7 straight hours of listening to old favorite albums on a sunny afternoon does wonders for the soul. It’s probably a second best to spending the day reading. Yesterday, my friend Todd and his wife Megan were in town on the back end of a cruise, so we were able to hang out again. In two weeks, I’ll be back up in Louisville for some conferences, so I’m on a pretty good every 2 weeks with Todd schedule.

In the mean time, spring break is over, and now it’s back to work.

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At one point in time, I think we’ve all experienced it. Particularly common in college, you end up in a class that was nothing like you expected. What was supposed to be a fluff class to fill elective space turned into a nightmare. Or, maybe it was a class you were really looking forward to, and the professor had to go and ruin it with boring lectures and excessive homework. No matter which scenario resonates with you, we’ve all probably at one point thought, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

Exodus 5:1-9

I don’t know how you would say that in Hebrews, but I am guessing that is what Moses is thinking in Exodus 5. He had just met with the elders, teamed up with Aaron, and was coming into Pharaoh’s court to tell him what’s up:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (5:1)

Pharaoh was caught off guard at first, but after thinking for a moment, he said, “You know what, that’s a great idea. Go for it.”

Sorry, that was Moses’ dream scenario.

Instead, Pharaoh immediately balked:

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2)

Not very promising, but Moses and Aaron give it another go:

“The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (5:3)

Pharaoh is nonplussed:

“Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”

“Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” (5:4-5)

And then makes a classic dictator move:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” (5:6-9)

Imagine the dejection Moses and Aaron must have felt. Not only did Pharaoh totally shut them down, he made things worse for the Israelite workforce. Not just worse, basically impossible:

Straw is preserved plant stalks from the more rigid long-stalk grains and vegetables. Straw comes from those plants that are harvested but whose stalks are inedible to humans and/or animals. Stubble is the very short remaining stalks of plants after harvesting: the bit between the root and where the reaping scythe or sickle cut the plant. It was only a relatively poor substitute for straw, making the process of producing suitable bricks much harder, but it also was much harder to gather from harvested fields even when the season is right (requiring careful, tedious hand pulling and cutting) as compared to the purposely preserved (and usually bundled) straw and was almost hopelessly difficult to gather in the off season. As Job said, referring to a fruitless endeavor, ‘Will you frighten a windblown leaf and pursue dry chaff?’ (Job 13:25 nrsv). The fact that the Israelites under the new rules simply could not meet their brick quotas is not surprising: Pharaoh had made the task virtually impossible. When the foremen, even under the penalty of being beaten, could not get the people to produce any more bricks (vv. 13–14), the situation was obviously intolerable. It is not surprising that an anguished appeal to Pharaoh for relief followed (vv. 15–16), even though such an appeal was essentially an act of desperation, presumably having little chance of success. 1

Once this news got out, Moses’ name was going to be mud throughout all the land of Egypt. He’s basically back where he was when we fled Egypt. The Israelites aren’t keen on him. At least Pharaoh doesn’t want to kill him (yet).

Exodus 5:10-21

When word got to the Israelites about the new workflow procedures, they weren’t thrilled to say the least:

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ ” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” (5:10-14)

I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck with a job that is an exercise in futility, but at least if you were, you weren’t beaten for failing to complete it. Yelled at perhaps, but probably not beaten on the job. The foreman were kind of caught in the middle and tried to make their case to Pharaoh, but to no avail:

“Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” (5:15-16a)

Pharaoh responds with typical compassion for a middle Eastern dictator:

 “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” (5:16b-18)

The foreman, experience the feeling of total rejection, thought they should at least pass the buck to Moses:

They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:20-21)

Looking at this statement, it seems the foremen think Moses and Aaron have botched the job. They would like God to execute some judgment on those two when he gets a chance. At the same time though, the foremen were really disregarding God’s proper channels of communication. He had appointed Moses and Aaron to deal with things, and the foremen decided to subvert that because it didn’t work out so well the first time. We often do this very thing when we jump the chain of command to try to get things done on our own. We would do well to learn from this scenario that when we do that in the spiritual realm, it is dishonoring to God. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, and wish I had learned this lesson sooner.

Exodus 5:22-23

The chapter ends with Moses going to God with his problems. This is important I think. It shows that even as far as the events in this chapter spiraled downward, Moses took it to the Lord:

O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (5:22-23)

We don’t get God’s answer until the next chapter, but it is a good one. Here at least we see that Moses is questioning God, and importantly, he is doing so on the basis of God’s own words. Often, when we question God, it is based on something we wanted and didn’t get, or as a result of something tragic that we can’t explain. In this case, Moses is questioning God on the basis of what God had just promised he would do for the nation of Israel. It seems that God is not keeping his explicit words, and Moses wants to know why. God is certainly not obligated to give a detailed explanation, but at least Moses is asking the question with the right posture.

When we would like to question God, we do well to follow the pattern of Moses and do so on the basis of what God has promised us in his word. That incidentally is not a suffering free life, but God promises to meet us in our suffering, and we can certainly ask why when he does. When things go from bad to worse, we should feel the freedom to go to God in prayer and ask why. We also do well to search the Scriptures for the wisdom to endure well what comes our way. One place we find that wisdom is in the next chapter, and we’ll examine that next Saturday.

Notes:

  1. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 165

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We come now too John Franke’s contribution to Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. If you’ve missed any posts, see the introduction. I just got into Birmingham and found an aesthetically pleasing Starbucks near Beeson Divinity School. I’m here for the Southeast Regional ETS meeting, and I’ll be presenting a paper tomorrow on the theological interpretation of cinema. It will probably turn into an April-May blog series, so stay tuned for that.

For now, back to Franke. He begins by noting his mixed feelings about inerrancy. On the one hand, he says, he deeply appreciates the core idea it affirms. On the other hand, he is “dismayed by many of the ways in which inerrancy has commonly been used in biblical interpretation, theology, and the life of the church” (259). Though he has “never thought the term inerrancy was a particularly helpful way of articulating the core idea of the authority of Scripture as a witness to the mission of God,” he still more or less affirms inerrancy:

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings, taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. This belief is one of the central convictions of my Christian faith. Insofar as inerrancy functions to assist in the affirmation of this conviction about the Bible, I have been willing to endorse it. (259)

Be that as it may, Franke notes that up to this point, he has never used the word inerrancy in any publications, including several on the Bible and its role in theology (260). That should seem a bit odd.

With this foundation, Franke turns to examine the Chicago statement (CSBI). He notes that as a whole, “the Chicago statement is reflective of a particular form of epistemology know as classic or strong foundationalism” (261). This won’t do for Franke, and he proceeds to deconstruct foundationalism, and show how he sees the doctrine of inerrancy functioning “as just the sort of strong foundation envisioned by classical foundationalist” (262). Franke makes the strong claim that “this approach [classic foundationalism] has been thoroughly discredited in philosophical and theological circles” (262). He thinks many, or perhaps most philosophers in the Evangelical Theological Society would consider themselves modest foundationalists. What Franke finds most frustrating, is that many claim they are not classic foundationalists, but “then defend beliefs such as inerrancy as though they were” (263).

Franke is neither classic, nor modest, but postfoundationalist in his epistemology. From this perspective, he does not believe the CSBI can be the standard bearer for for inerrancy (264). To begin his constructive alternative proposal, Franke sketches out a doctrine of God:

  • God is God (and we are not)
  • God is living and active
  • God is love
  • God is missional
  • God is plurality-in-unity and unity-in-plurality

This leads to a discussion of how God accommodates in order to communicate with his creatures. What follows is a more or less postmodern theological account of language. For Franke, inerrancy functions within the limits of language alone (270). Ultimately for Franke, “Inerrancy is a technical theological term that serves to preserve the dynamic plurality contained in the texts of Scripture by ensuring that no portion of the biblical narrative can properly be disregarded or eclipsed because it is perceived as failing to conform to a larger pattern of systematic unity” (276). What he means is that “the inerrant plurality of Scripture frustrates attempts to establish a single universal theology. It reminds us that our interpretations, theories, and theologies are always situated and perspectival; none simply rise above the social conditions and particular interests from which they emerge” (278). From here, Franke examines the problem texts, and spends roughly 7 pages doing so (the shortest coverage of the contributors).

As always, Mohler is the first critique. He thinks Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and that he proposes a fundamental transformation of how we think of truth itself (288). Because of this, and the whole revisionist slant of his theological project, Mohler feels Franke is headed beyond the boundaries of evangelicalism. Brilliant and creative though he is, Franke is revealing the destiny of evangelical theology if it surrenders inerrancy. (291)

Enns appreciates how Franke discusses inerrancy’s use as a means of asserting power and control (292). On the whole, Enns is more or less appreciative of Franke, which should strike you as interesting. Franke sees himself as affirming inerrancy. Enns adamantly does not. But Enns doesn’t have much to particularly critique in Franke’s account, which gives a bit of strength to Mohler’s claim that Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and he’s more or less on the same road as Enns.

Bird echoes several agreements with Franke before registering his dissatisfaction. First, he doesn’t like how Franke moves from an “a priori conception of God” to how he then conceives of revelation and veracity. (298). Second, he re-expresses the same concern about the incarnational model that he voiced in his critique of Enns. Third, he doesn’t think it is a wise idea to distinguish between God’s Truth, and God’s truth, the latter of which is what we find in Scripture (299). Finally, he is no so sure that postfoundationalism as Franke articulates it, will really work. In the end, he thinks it yields a “fairly weak definition of inerrancy” (301).

Then along comes Vanhoozer. He suggests Franke has exaggerated the extent to which foundationalism has been discredited. Specifically, he says it is not enough to say something is discredited, you need to show where or how it has gone wrong. Also, sometimes discredited theories turn out to be true (304). He also believes it is a category mistake to tie inerrancy to any particular model of epistemology. Later he brings John Frame into the discussion to show how one can affirm the importance of multiple perspectives, and still affirm inerrancy in a CSBI sense. Lastly, he is concerned about the consequences of Franke’s revisionist account. He concludes, “I have an excellent idea of what kind of inerrancy Franke rejects, a good idea of what he thinks his recast concept of inerrancy does, but only a foggy idea of what he thinks his recast inerrancy is” (307).

As I was finishing up the perspectives with Franke, I thought he provided a nice bookend to Mohler/Enns. On the one hand, he wants to affirm inerrancy (like Mohler), but on the other hand, he recasts it so much it appeals to someone who doesn’t (Enns). I found his proposal the least satisfying, mainly because of his overall perspective on theology (and his underlying philosophical commitments). I had not had any sustained interactions with Franke other than his essays in Christianity and The Postmodern Turn. To me, Franke represents a less than promising approach to navigating postmodern concerns. That being the case, I didn’t find his constructive proposal satisfying or attractive.