Tag Archives: belief

gee, that was subtle

On the heels of their most recent convention, here in ATL, and thus ostensibly (re)energized for mission, the “Jehovah’s” Witnesses were out in full force this past Sunday.[1] By way of example, our little neighborhood, which is held together by a single half-mile-long road, was peppered with six or seven teams of JWs. Exuberant. Excessive. Overkill. Pick your term.

When I saw one team begin to mosey up the front walk, I bolted downstairs to meet them at the door. Not because I was bored, or genuinely excited to see them as I would an old friend, or wanted to hear their version of the gospel. My haste was rooted in the fact that Ashley just fell asleep and she truly needed a nap. A sudden ringing of the doorbell would not help that cause.

So I opened the door and was immediately met with a greeting that suggested the dude went to the Joel Osteen school of public speaking, only with more volume. As politely as I could, I interrupted and told him we just got our daughter down for a nap. He graciously lowered his voice, apologized, and proceeded to hand me two brochures–one on how to improve my health, and the other on a mix of apologetic-type issues. I took the brochures, said thanks, and we parted ways.

Curious, only because I like to see how the JWs approach certain things, I glanced at the table of contents in the apologetic-like brochure. My eyes quickly fell on the article entitled, “Who is the Antichrist?“. This might be either because I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading on Dispensationalism (don’t ask why) or because the other topics appeared rather dull. Either way, I knew I had to read the Antichrist bit. So I did. I must say: the contents of the article matched the exuberant, excessive, overkill, and–to add another term–hubris of their swarming our little neighborhood. While I laughed at some of it, there was one thing that caught me off guard.

The first few paragraphs were decent and generally not out of sync with the small handful of biblical texts on the Antichrist. They did well to point out the fact that John speaks of many antichrists in the world, and that an antichrist is one who denies Jesus as God’s Messiah and as having come in the flesh. But then two summary remarks in this first part gave me a good chuckle. In reverse order:

Clearly [in these passages], John understood the antichrist to be all who deliberately spread religious deceptions about Jesus Christ and Jesus’ teachings.

Fair and true enough. And

People or organizations making up the antichrist spread lies, deny that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, and try to distort the relationship between God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who make up the antichrist claim to be Christ or his[2] representatives, but since “they went out from us,” they deviated from true Bible teaching.

The theological and cognitive dissonance in these statements is astounding. And that’s what made me laugh. The very thing that the JWs characterize the antichrist doing is the very thing they themselves do! The christology of JWs, if I can label it that way, is not only extremely low but also out of step with biblical evidence. They deny the true nature of Jesus by making him a lesser god, or at least one like God but not identical with God. Thus, they distort the true relationship shared between Jesus and God. However, both of these are the result of a faulty hermeneutic the JWs use, only they don’t see it as faulty.

As with any sales pitch, there’s a “But wait, there’s more” type claim in the second part of the article. After having explained what the antichrist does, the article proceeds to identify who the antichrist is specifically–or at least the kinds of characteristics that make identification easy. They offer two key markers, again in reverse order:

  1. Antichrists are those who, through countless and needless varied translations of the Bible and the promotion of such translations, routinely “omit God’s personal name, Jehovah, from the text. . . . The result? They identity of the true God becomes even more shrouded in mystery.” While I don’t have the time to go into the specifics, what’s funny about this claim is not just its absurdity (and its reliance on a faulty premise) but the JWs’ failure to recognize the perpetuation of a different error. In other words: the JWs, in criticizing others for omitting God’s personal name, fail to see the fundamental error in their own insistence of including a “name” for God that’s not even a word.
  2. But the leading characteristic of the antichrist? Simple: “the churches [propagating] the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming that the Father and the Son are part of the same entity. The antichrist thus shrouds in mystery the identity of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.” Once again, the theological and cognitive dissonance is amazing. And sad. But there’s something more, something rather disturbing. The effect of this claim is that every (orthodox) Christian church who affirms the age-old, firmly established doctrine of the Trinity, rooted in a clear and faithful reading of John 1.1-4, are the antichrist. In other words: non-JWs. The further implication is that such is the case because orthodox Christians are like those who, according to John (as cited by the article), “went out from us”–i.e. away from true biblical teaching. The “us” in this case would be the JWs. But historically, theologically, and ecclesiastically speaking, it is the JWs who broke from orthodoxy and formulated their own (distorted) beliefs based on their own (faulty) hermeneutical principles and practices.

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[1] I’m anticipating a similar effect in a month so, since they have yet another convention scheduled for mid-July.
[2] I didn’t mistype. The article deliberately refuses to capitalize the pronouns for Jesus vis-à-vis those used for God, and this is because of their particular (and peculiar) view of Jesus’ identity. Though, strangely and oddly enough, they have no qualms about capitalizing the term “Son” when speaking of Jesus.

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on affirming “non-credal” creeds

Not too long ago, while searching for employment, I happened upon a job opening that looked promising and appealing. It was in my field, it was at a good school, and it was in a city that we love (though I would certainly melt in the summer months). Yet two out of the four desired qualifications presented a challenge for me. One, the school wanted someone ordained in the Southern Baptist convention; two, the candidate needed to affirm, in good faith, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (2000 BFM).

Despite the fact that the first qualification had a “must” attached to it, I decided to see if there was any flexibility in the requirement. I asked because, while I grew up Baptist (here is my early childhood church) I neither remained nor was ordained in that denomination.[1] The kind and helpful people at this school responded by stating (quite understandably): since they are a Southern Baptist school, the ordination requirement is extremely firm; there’s no bending it. However, if I wanted to serve in an adjunct capacity, then the requirement would be lifted. Although, the second one would still apply–i.e. affirm, in good faith, the 2000 BFM–and a third one would be introduced: affirm, in good faith, the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI).

The requirement of needing to affirm, in good faith, the 2000 BFM and the CSBI struck me as rather odd for at least two reasons. On the one hand, historically and traditionally, Baptists have prided themselves on being non-credal;[2] their longstanding mantra was, “No creed but the Bible” (which, strangely enough, functions as a credal statement). On the other hand, the Preface to the CSBI clearly states: “We acknowledge the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference and do not propose that this Statement be given creedal weight” (emphasis added);[3] yet the requirement of needing to affirm the Statement, in good faith, for the purposes of gaining employment sounds rather credal–not to mention in conflict with the nature and intent of the CSBI. This would seem to be reinforced not only by the implied corollary of the requirement–i.e. no affirm, no job–but also the qualifier, “in good faith.”

Tangent, but a necessary one: In 1798, Barton W. Stone sought ordination in the Presbyterian Church. In order to obtain that goal, he needed to pass a type of examination before a group of governing Presbyterian ministers.[4] One of the determinative questions in that examination was, “Do you receive and adopt the ‘[Westminster] Confession of Faith’ [WCF], as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Bible?” The problem was that Stone had two hiccups with the WCF: the doctrine of the Trinity (he didn’t understand it), and the doctrines of election, reprobation, and predestination (he rejected them). And Stone knew that if he said “No” because of these two points, he would fail the exam and not be ordained. So rather shrewdly, he said: “I do, so far as I see it consistent with the word of God.” He passed.

This type of response used to be acceptable–even commendable–for it represented the freedom of conscience, or: the ability and permission for ministers and/or teachers of the Bible to teach in accordance with faithful, disciplined interpretation and the guidance (or, “illumination”)[5] of the Spirit. However, in the case of the particular school I contacted, the inclusion of the qualifier “in good faith” in the required affirmation would seem to disallow that ability and permission. What do I mean? Would I be permitted to accept/affirm the two documents as guidelines for orthodoxy and not creeds with exclusionary powers–because that’s how they present themselves? Would I be able to say, “In good faith, I affirm the 2000 BFM and CSBI as far as I see them consistent with Scripture”? Or to come at this a different way: would I be free or allowed to disagree with parts of both “creeds” and openly discuss such things in the classroom if prompted?

If the answer is yes, then I will admit the error of my assessment. If the answer is no, then we have a problem, and the problem is twofold. First, “in good faith” no longer relates to acting in accordance with with one’s conscience, but comes to mean an “all-or-nothing” affirmation. This takes us right back to the issue of the documents functioning as creeds–i.e. determiners of one’s acceptance or exclusion.[6] Second, that “all-or-nothing” affirmation comes at the expense of one’s conscience and it winds up undercutting the nature of a “good faith” acceptance.

In other words: if I want the job, and yet I happen to disagree with either the 2000 BFM or CSBI (or both) in part or whole, I would have to affirm the entire contents and teachings of both documents, teach in accordance with them, and do so in such a way that I appear to agree with their entirety, when in reality I do not. Thus, while I would be conducting myself in a manner that reflects (or even exemplifies) the desired requirements of the school–i.e. acting “in good faith” (i.e. full acceptance)–I would be doing so in a way that is dishonest to my theological and academic conscience. In essence (or effect), I would be intentionally and knowingly misleading the institution and the students I might teach, giving the appearance of full acceptance of the 2000 BFM and CSBI when such acceptance does not exist. That, by definition, would not be acting “in good faith”.

Needless to say: I did not apply for the full-time version of the job, and I will not apply for the adjunct version. In good faith, I just can’t.

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[1] If you’re curious, in 2002 I was (technically) ordained into the non-denominational Christian Church–which, strangely enough, is a classified denomination. To avoid confusion and strange looks, I usually tell people my ordination was into the Christian Church/Church of Christ tradition–i.e. the net result of the Restoration Movement in the US.
[2] Although, the Preamble to the 2000 BFM oddly says otherwise.
[3] Though, it is worth noting, the underlying tone of the CSBI Preface (and the Statement itself) comes across as a rather credal.
[4] For a fuller account, see John Rogers (ed.), The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone, Written by Himself (Cincinnati, 1847), 29-30.
[5] I’m going to side-step the idea of “illumination” as a valid doctrine. Suffice it to say that I have problems with it.
[6] And I’m setting aside the curious fact that the 2000 BFM removed a key statement from its earlier edition–i.e. the 1963 BFM. In the Preamble to the earlier edition, it was stated: “Throughout their history Baptist bodies, both large and small, have issued statements of faith which comprise a consensus of their beliefs. Such statements have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority.”

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be careful in polemics . . .

because (apparently) it might cause forgetfulness, misrepresentation or an uncontrollable urge to speak untruths. One example comes from the always feisty Thomas Ice, an ardent mouthpiece for (Classical) Dispensationalism.

The topic of discussion is the (rather untenable) notion of a secret pre-tribulation rapture of the saints as the first stage of Christ’s second coming–i.e. what Classical Dispensationalists (mis)label the parousia.[1] Ice’s beef is not necessarily with the teaching itself but with the qualifying term “secret” being attached to it.[2] Expressing his angst with those who (wrongly–in his view) describe the pre-tribulation as “secret”, Ice says the following:

Sorry, but this is another mistake, another myth. In all my reading of pretribulationism and discussion with pretribulationists, I have never, that I can recall, heard a pre-trib rapturist use the nomenclature of “secret” to describe our view. I have only heard the phrase “secret” rapture as a pejorative term used exclusively by anti-pretribulationists. Why. Apparently they enjoy fighting a straw man.

T. Ice, “Rapture Myths” (accessed, 25-Dec-12);
cf. also the same article, yet posted here.[3]

Ice then pins the blame for this “myth” on Dave MacPherson, a staunch critic of both Ice and (Classical) Dispensationalism, and asserts that MacPherson misrepresented the truth in order to fuel his criticisms. However, it is in voicing his animosity against using “secret” and his railing against MacPherson that Ice slides into trouble in a number of ways.

First, it is simply not the case that MacPherson (or anyone else) created the description for (Classical) Dispensationalism’s understanding of the (supposed) first-stage in order to mock it. Dispensationalists long before and after MacPherson’s book (The Rapture Plot [1994]) regularly employed the term. For example:

  • Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth (1918), 13-14
  • Michael Baxter, Forty Prophetic Wonders (1918), 153
  • Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth (1970), 142-43
  • Robert Gundry, Church and the Tribulation (1974), 104
  • Warren Wiersbe, Be Ready (1984), 19, 144
  • Tim LaHaye, Prophecy Study Bible (2004), note on 1Thess 4.13
  • Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (2005), 4:623
  • cf. also Charles Feinberg, Millennialism: Two Major Views (1985), 287

This raises the second problem: not one of the sources just listed uses the term “secret” in a negative way–contrary to what Ice boldly claims. In fact, not once in these works is “secret” used in any way other than an axiomatic description for the (so-called) pretribulation rapture. Thus, in this case, it would seem that it is Ice who has created the straw man argument, not the so-called anti-pretribulationists (e.g. MacPherson, Ken Gentry).

Third, Ice’s adamant assertion that in all his reading he has not encountered the term “secret” used for the pretribulation view of the rapture is untenable. (Admittedly, he supplies his own escape-hatch with the qualifier: “that I can recall”). With someone as entrenched in Dispensationalism as Ice is, one would think that he’s read the likes of Larkin, Lindsey, Feinberg; and with LaHaye being his colleague at the “Pre-Trib Research Center”, it would safe to assume that Ice has read LaHaye’s stuff.

Even if we can’t assume that, let’s go on what we can know. In his 1990 article, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulation Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret MacDonald,” Ice quotes directly from John Walvoord’s book, The Blessed Hope and Tribulation (1979). I mention this because Ice’s quotation ends on the same page where Walvoord mentions the secret rapture (i.e. p. 43). And since Ice later quotes from p. 44 of Walvoord’s book, we can be reasonably sure he noticed the reference to a “secret” rapture–that is unless Ice is reading selectively.

This is not just a one-off. In the same 1990 article, Ice refers to two other works that make explicit mention of a “secret rapture” (Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming  [1984], 21; Harold Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren 1825-1850 [1967], 231-32), and in both cases the tone is no where close to being pejorative. I have not had the opportunity to check other Ice articles to see if a similar phenomenon occurs. But on the basis of this 1990 article alone, I’m having a hard time believing Ice when he says he’s never heard or read pre-trib rapturists use the term “secret” to describe the event in question.

Now, Ice might play his “I don’t recall” card on these occasions, and if we’re in a decent mood we might let it slide. Maybe. But there is one final problem for Ice when he blasts “anti-pretribulationists” for misrepresenting his view, and it is a problem that his trusty trump card cannot settle. In 2001, a book misleadingly called, Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Bible Prophecy & Its Fulfillment,[4] asserts the following (p.112):

When examining Scripture, the honest seeker after truth must face the fact that there are 15 differences between the two phases of Christ’s coming that cannot reconciled. This alone makes it impossible for them to be the same event. One is a secret coming, the other is public for all to see. One will cause participants to rejoice, and the other will cause people to mourn. [emphasis added]

Notice that the statement is not pejorative, misrepresenting or even anti-pretribulationist. It specifically refers to a “secret coming” [i.e. rapture] of Christ as nearly axiomatic of “biblical” prophecy, and something that is a positive find for “the honest seeker after truth.” The authors of this book? Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice.

It would seem that in his haste to ridicule those who disagree with him, Ice has wrongly accused his opponents of crimes they did not commit; he has not accurately represented what other Dispensationalists are saying; and he has apparently forgotten his own contribution to the problem he seeks to eradicate. But it is often the case that when anger sets in, the mouth opens and the eyes shut.

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[1] For now I will side-step the discussion on how Classical Dispensationalists argue for a two-stage return of Christ and how the term “parousia” (supposedly) refers to the first stage.
[2] In some ways, Ice’s argument resembles John Walvoord’s attempt to avoid the term “secret” and yet accept the idea (cf. Church in Prophecy [1964], 83, 136-37).
[3] I have taken screenshots of both sites, just in case Ice wants to erase alter retract his original statement.
[4] The sub-title should read, “A Visual Guide to Dispensational Prophecy & Its Fulfillment”.

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thinking out loud (again)

What would happen if the Reformed doctrine of “limited atonement” were understood from an eschatological perspective rather than one of predetermination?

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disparate observations*

One
Last week, the story of a Georgia House Representative’s views on creation hit the news. The underlying tone of the article seems to be one of poking fun at people who happen to hold a “young Earth” view of creation, or at least paint all Christians Broun. The structure of the article and the nature of some of the comments bear this out. However, in all the fun-poking, the writer’s eagerness produced a couple of flaws–one less severe than the other.

The minor flaw is the assertion that “Broun advanced his own theory of life on Earth” (emphasis added), one that adheres to a literal reading of the text. Yet a tad later the same writer claims: “Broun is far from the only believer in a literal, or Biblical, creation.” Well, which is it? Is it Broun’s own theory, or one shared by others? You can’t have it both ways. I guess the escape hatch here is Broun’s 9000-year-old suggestion, which is a bit odd.

The bigger flaw, however, is that in attempting to paint Christians with the same brush, the writer fails to recognize the basic problem of appointing someone with extreme anti-Science views to be the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (I owe this observation to Robert Cargill). Hey Stephanie: If you wanted a real opportunity to criticize, or at least focus on something more controversial, you missed it.

Two
Two days ago, I read an article by W.O. Fitch, entitled, “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ” (Theology 74.607 [1971]: 18-24). Anyone with a basic knowledge of NT scholarship in general and the Corinthian letters in particular will conclude the article is about the issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth. In fact, this conclusion would seem to follow from what Fitch argues in the bulk of the article.

However, when we come to the end of the article we discover that dealing with issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth, and how we might understand them, are not a part of Fitch’s agenda. His final sentence reveals that he has something completely different in mind. Fitch says: “All of this point to the early date for Galatians: and also suggests that Acts, while it is eirenic, is not as tendentious as some current writing assumes” (24).

Three
This morning I started reading B.F. Westcott’s, A General View of the History of the English Bible (1868)–as you do on a Tuesday.  Throughout the first 70 or so pages, I noticed something: there is a striking (and scary) similarity between 1) the opponents of both Wycliffe and Tyndale and 2) the “King James Only” advocates of today.

Particularly, the two groups share the same animosity and  indignation toward their chosen “enemies.” Even the kinds of arguments marshaled (or at least the reasons behind them) have frightening parallels. The only notable difference is that the KJO crowd isn’t burning their “enemies” at the stake–although, I wouldn’t say that option has gone without consideration.

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* A couple of these will likely get me into trouble, or at least ruffle some feathers. Sorry.

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transient theological thoughts (3)

Because I appreciate and lean more towards a Molinist view of divine foreknowledge (that’s going to bother some; oh well), this came to mind:

God predetermined that humans would have free-will.

I know it sounds simple–remedial, even–but it’s the implications from it that strike me profoundly.  Give it a think and let me know what comes to mind.

Happy Friday to you.

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apologies Sir Hoyle …

here’s your ribbon for participation; thanks for trying.

In other words: because scientists have recently verified Einstein’s theory of an expanding universe, which suggests (spatial and temporal) movement away from what Georges-Henri Lemaître dubbed a “singularity”, Fred Hoyle and his “steady-state” theory are given a respectful applause while being quietly ushered off stage.

However, with respect to both men (i.e. Einstein and Hoyle), I have to point out that neither this particular debate nor the respective theories each scientist espouses are either new or novel; both continue a (philosophical) dialogue dating back to at least Thales of Miletus (c. 640-547 BCE), and both merely rehash or reappropriate these older theories. The only real difference is that thinkers like Einstein and Holye merely present their theories in the garb of “modern (empirical) science”,¹ a garb ostensibly not colored by religious or theistic presuppositions.

In particular, Parmenides, the philosopher who was “reverenced and at the same time feared … [because of his] exceedingly wonderful depth of mind” (Plato, Theaetetus 183e), argued for the eternal existence of all finite/tangible elements in creation (see Aristotle, Physics 1.2.15). This presupposes–if not prefigures–the logic behind the famous Carl Sagan quote, “The universe is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” However, Parmenides allowed for the existence of a divine being (however deistic), one who is at least responsible for the eternal existence of creation and at most necessary for right interpretations of it.

Moreover, on the twin assumption that fire represents the cause and is the sustainer of all things (see Hippolytus, Refutation 9.10) and that fire by nature is ethereal, Heraclitus of Ephesus argued that all of creation not only has a finite beginning but also continues to move (or exist) in a state of flux–it is constantly “becoming” (see Plato, Theaetetus 160d; Aristotle, On the Soul 1.2.25; idem, Metaphysics 12.4-12). Heraclitus further argued that the otherwise chaotic state of “becoming” was held in harmonious balance by a divine-like principle which he (abstractly) termed, the λογος.²

It is also worth mentioning that this state of flux, in conjunction with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, provides the groundwork for theories regarding the end of the universe. In particular I have in mind the so-called “Big Crunch”–i.e. when the usable energy necessary for expansion is exhausted and/or “critical density” is reached, everything will simply collapse in on itself and form the largest black hole anyone has ever seen. (However, no one will ever see it [to prove the theory] because no one will be around to see it–not even those at Milliways).

This “Big Crunch” theory, too, is not the sole property of modern scientists relying solely on empirically-based data.³ Last time I checked, the Stoic philosophers, using Heraclitus’ notion of fire as the primeval substance, advocated the idea that cosmology is characterized by a cycle of creation, fiery collapse, and recreation–a cycle that continues ad infinitum (see Dio Cassius, History 52.4.3; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.21). Obviously, the notion of “recreation” in the Stoic model would be a point of difference in Einstein’s model. (If I’m not mistaken, Einstein held: once this universe was done, that’s it. Game over).

What’s the point of all this? In one sense, the sage observation of Ecclesiastes is apropos: “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1.9). In other sense, presenting an idea or theory as “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” when it’s based on earlier ideas seems to marginalize the great thinkers of ages past (simply because they are ancient and not Enlightened).

Moreover, calling it “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” simply because it operates with a-theistic presuppositions does not refute or discredit those who might have theistic presuppositions; it merely exposes the particular stance and method for interpreting the data, one that is not entirely “objective” in the sense that it operates independent of presuppositions.

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¹ Just so that we’re clear: I am not opposed to science; in fact, I’m absolutely fascinated by it–especially cosmology.
² The similarities between this and Einstein’s “cosmological constant” should be obvious, although Einstein would readily reject the “divine” aspect of the Heraclitus’ idea.
³ Just for fun: the belief that all things can be explained empirically without recourse to theories of divine beings is not a revolutionary idea, one originating with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers. Such empirical and a-theistic beliefs and methodologies were intrinsic to the Atomistic philosophers from the 6th century BCE onward. The Roman philosopher, Lucreitus (1st century BCE) attempts to reinforce an empirical-based interpretation of creation.

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