Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Furry Pal Grover

As a follow up to yesterday, a reader sent me this quote:

...I am willing to-believe that, notwithstanding the aid already furnished, a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region, to enable them to put in new crops, would serve to avert a continuance or return of an unfortunate blight.

And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan, as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

The author: President Grover Cleveland. The date: February 16, 1887, in a response to the House of Representatives.

Try to imagine Barack Obama (or even George Bush, for that matter) sending this out as a response to requests for funding for entitlement programs, and you'll have a good idea where and why we've failed -- and also get an idea why the Feds were never supposed to run as much as they do. Too many conflicting interests lead to compromises where no one is happy -- and then everyone turns out a bunch of the folks in office and the whole thing resets, leaving behind no one except the likes of Robert Byrd who serve the self-interests of their constituency.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Social (In)security

Ruminations by various parties in the news over the current financial crisis have focused on the alleged importance of what are termed "entitlements" -- things like Social Security and Medicare. I have certain views on the practicality of such programs and whether they'll survive, but that won't be the subject today. The subject will be why they came about as a result of our failure.

Proponents of these entitlements describe them as sort of social contract. To my recollection this language goes back to their origins in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Perhaps they go back even further. But the social contract they describe is actually the sort of thing the church was supposed to be enacting all along.

Here's what I mean. In the manner of the ancient collectivists, the church was supposed to pool members' resources for the greater good. If we had this today, the upshot in practical terms would be as follows: Have you been diagnosed with cancer, and need treatment you don't have the money for? Your brothers and sisters in Christ would pool their resources to help you pay for the treatment. Or even better, the community would have already pooled resources beforehand, anticipating that someone, someday would need some expensive treatment.

Were you in an accident? Did your house get destroyed in a fire? Yes, again, that shared pool of resources would be your supply. Now imagine what this would have meant. We'd never have needed any such things as health, life, or property insurance. We'd never have needed Social Security or Medicare. We'd also have a much better sense of community as we shared in each others' sufferings.

Of course, this all assumes that the church has enough members, and enough willing and able to share this way. I think we do have the numbers even now. But willingness -- doubtful. Especially since the government took away that role in part because we weren't fulfilling it. Any contribution would amount to a double dip.

In a nutshell, the Body of Christ was (is) itself a social contract -- a covenant. It included in its terms pledges of mutual assistance within that Body, and then, by extension of missions, enacting that pledge in the broader world as well. By now, though, it's probably too late. We've lost our chance to the government, and the sense of entitlement for entitlements is so entrenched that it wouldn't be easy to change.

We probably don't want the government entitlement system to collapse, but there are times when I get the sense that such a crisis might be the best thing for the church to get it off its backside. A little persecution and suffering of that sort would be great way to shake Western Christians out of their SUVs...and their sense of complacency.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Modest(y) Proposal

A reader asked us to have a look at a Christian website essay on the virtues of modesty. As a prelude a few comments are necessary about what, Biblically, "modesty" would have meant. The main focus of the word would have been on excessive ornamentation for the sake of honor. In modern times the connotation has to do with, as is said, how much "skin" is shown. But given the nature of social interactions between men and women in the Biblical world -- the whole complex of arranged marriages and so forth -- modesty in that sense would have been less relevant of an issue. No woman would show a lot of skin in the first place unless perhaps they were prostitutes.

So that's a bit of refinement. Now for some expansion. I'm obviously not an expert anthropologist, but it does appear that there is a sort of balance in various cultures between modesty and self-control. Some cultures (particularly in warmer climates) seem to have less inhibition about showing skin; correspondingly, if I were investigating any particular culture, I'd ask where their "modesty level" is (as we understand the word) and what sort of self-control people have.

In my own cartoon universe of Hearthstone, the dress code is what in Puritan terms would be called immodest. But it's also a world where ogling and disrespect is likely to get you a fist in the face (including from the female members of the races there, who are just as apt fighters as the male characters). Perhaps some other balancing act is at work in cultures here as well. I can say that in the Biblical world, any male showing too much attention to an eligible woman without permission was likely to find himself beaten to a pulp by other male members of the woman's family.

So what then of the website I was asked to check? It starts with discussion of what it calls the sin of Bathsheba, which it regards as a sin of carelessness. I'm not so sure of that myself; such is never directly said of Bathsheba, and the Bible, though high context, isn't hesitant to assign guilt for such actions which have such an important bearing on major figures. But it matters little in context for the article's author -- who is not named, but who I'll call Shelly, for no particular reason -- because they could no doubt find other real life examples of what they want to discuss, which is the careless sin of Christian women who dress immodestly.

Caveat time again. Though I have the artist's appreciation for the human form, 20 deliriously happy years of marriage to my beloved Mrs. H speaks to where my only interests are. My beloved is a strong and willful woman -- and I love her all the more for that. Under that consideration, I'm hard pressed to share Shelly's intention to warn women of "careless" acts of immodesty. I blame men entirely when imagination is what drives them rather than purposeful exposure.

But what does Shelly consideer immodest? The first answer is offered in this rather strained analysis:

The first thing which must be understood is that nakedness before the eyes of others is wrong. It is wrong in a man, and it is wrong in a woman. When Adam and Eve sinned, God made "coats of skins, and clothed them." (Gen.3:21) The sole reason for His clothing them was to cover their nakedness, as the Genesis account makes plain.

Er, hold on a moment. Genesis says they were naked before the Fall, so there was a time when it was not wrong. Actually, this has some relation to the conception of nudity as shameful, due to exposure and humiliation -- not "wrong" in a moral sense. Perhaps Shelly didn't think this statement through, but she just condemned everything from sex with the lights on to undressing before your physician.

Observe, he clothed them with coats. They were already wearing aprons, which probably covered as much as, or more than, much of the clothing which is worn today, yet in spite of their aprons they were still naked in their own eyes, and in God's.

Say what? Coats? Yes, that word is in the KJV, but the garment so described was essentially (cough) a type of underwear. So if we want to be purely literal, Shelly just told us we can go outside in our underwear. Moreover, there's no specification as to the exact extent of the accoutrements. Shelly's purpose in lengthening the wardrobe as much as possible becomes evident, though, in the next observation:
And God did not clothe them with shorts, or swimming suits, or "tank tops", or "halter tops", or anything of the sort —nor with jackets either, but with coats. He did not clothe Eve with a coat, and Adam with a pair of shorts. He clothed them both with coats —whence we may assuredly gather that nakedness is just as wrong in a man as it is in a woman.

Sorry, I said, there's nothing of precise tailoring instructions. A case for "modesty" won't be able to fly on such rampant speculations.

From here, Shelly embarks on a rather tendentious attempt to argue that "when a woman exposes herself only a little, she becomes a fiery dart to tempt the heart of every man who sees her". But while she's good at finding passages warnings of lust, adultery, wickedness, and temptation, and is all too ready to designate men as too weak to control their thoughts, setting up guidelines for what is "modest" ultimately falls back to that same creative notion that Adam and Eve were made "coats," and anything less is sinful:

Bare backs, bare midriffs, bare legs and thighs, are wrong —wrong in the sight of that God Who clothed Adam and Eve with coats to cover their bare bodies. Shorts, halter tops, swimming suits, and anything and everything else which intentionally leaves you partially exposed, have no place in the dress of a woman professing godliness.

From here, it all gets rather legalistic; eg: legs and thighs are a provocation to lust in the eyes of men...

See that your legs are covered below the knee, front and back, while you are bending over or sitting down, and you will be safe enough. But be careful here: it is not enough that your legs should be covered only from the vantage point of your own eyeballs. When you bend over or sit down, the front of your dress will naturally hang lower, so as to cover more of your legs, but the back will be drawn up so as to cover the less...

But only bend over a little, so that the material of your blouse falls away from your body, and immediately the most provocative and tempting part of your anatomy is exposed to the view of any man who happens to be standing in front of you. The same is true, of course, when you dress with the top two or three buttons of your blouse unbuttoned. This looks provocative, even if nothing were actually exposed by it. It looks seductive. It looks to a man as though you must design to expose yourself and tantalize his passions. What else can he think? For what other purpose could you leave two or three buttons of your blouse unbuttoned?

Sleeveless blouses always reveal too much. Little as you may be able to understand it, the area beneath your arms, and the parts of your chest or your back which immediately adjoin them, are very attractive to a man; and a sleeveless blouse cannot help but display these parts. You must also bear in mind that others will see you from all angles and in all positions, and thearmholes of a sleeveless blouse will often allow a man to see inside the blouse, especially when your arms are uplifted or outstretched, thus displaying part of your chest.

And first, in their very nature slacks are apt to reveal and display the form of a woman. Women contend for modest slacks, but who wears them? In the very nature of the case, it is difficult to make a pair of modest slacks, (especially for a woman who has a full figure), and as a matter of fact, it is an extremely rare thing to see a woman in slacks which are not too tight. Why is this? Why may men wear slacks which fit loosely, while the slacks of women must cling to every inch of their legs and loins? Verily because it is the god of this world who inspires these styles, and he knows his business only too well.

In essence, we end up with everything but a recommendation to use a straight-edged ruler to figure out what to wear. Maybe there's something immodest about rulers.

If it all sounds good to them, I have a news flash for Shelley: Many of the male prison inmates I used to supervise would get sexually excited just reading these warnings. So perhaps for good measure, she should take down her article before any men see it.
In all this, of course, I am not saying humans aren't capable of flaunting sexuality (men and women alike). But Jesus warned against adultery in the heart, and the women of his day were wearing stuff a lot more "modest" than anything modern women wear. Shelly's controls -- and any other controls that put the burden on the woman to be the one who takes the preventative measures -- are unfair and absurd, and thoroughly neglect the proper balance of responsibility.

So what's my take on it then? Well, it's sure not a matter of Romans 14, as Shelley suggests, because no one is apostasizing because of low necklines, and that is what Rom. 14 means when it speaks of stumbling. So no woman will be held responsible for some man taking the advantage in whatever way to sate his lusts.

But the decision is the same one we all have with any appetite, including food: Weighing when so much is "too much" can't be rated closely on a scale beforehand, and there are too many variables at any given time to account for other people's behaviors. As I said, the inmates I knew would get excited just from Shelley's descriptions, and would even get too happy over the most modest dress she prescribed. So doesn't that tell us where the real problem lies?

So yes, everyone, men and women alike: Carefully consider the limits, but don't make the limits your control. The heart has that job in all of us.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Josh McDowell's Revelation

Fifteen years after I warned him both in person and by mail that he needed to do something -- Josh McDowell had the light go on in his head.

In an article (link below), McDowel is reported as saying:

The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have... whether you like it or not...


Later on he is quoted as saying that all of this is "just beginning." No it's not. It was beginning long before that, even before I warned him, in fact. I was using databases that worked like Google when googol was still just a number (and was spelled differently). I'm not saying I predicted the Internet any more than Al Gore invented it. But it wasn't hard to see that it would become important to collate and collect information in defense of the Christian faith, and I was doing my best to do that from the start.

McDowell didn't pay any attention to this. Oh, sure, he says, he "made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism." I never heard him say that, but even if he did, he sure didn't do anything about it.

Yes, he's right that the Internet has levelled the playing field; such it is that any idiot can get online and be believed by other idiots. YouTube is proof of that. And I've ranted enough on the Forge about how we've gotten to places like that far later than we should have, so I won't repeat that all here. Suffice to say that McDowell himself is one of the people riding in the caboose, and all this time has also been hanging his feet out of it dragging along the tracks.

McDowell's also worried about pornography, and that's a good thing. I do think that sort of social concern should be his niche, rather than apologetics. But the sort of neglect he and others have performed over the past 15 years is now coming back to haunt us.

If God were to grant me one wish for myself (not for the world at large), you know what it would be? I'd ask Him to take the Dell Inspiron notebook I'm typing this on, and send it back to my 1996 self, with all of my apologetics articles on it. It sure would be fun to pre-empt all the Skeptics out there with refutations of articles they hadn't written yet, and also be ahead of the game on YouTube when it starts (most of my vids are on the notebook too). Actually though, if McDowell had listened to me, the results might have been much closer to that time travel scenario.

It's too bad things are so bad that that is my fondest wish.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 2011 E-Block

Time for the July 2011 E-Block summary!

The Musicians' Gambit, Part 2 -- This time I profiled the group Casting Crowns. I was told their theology was more solid than most, and I agreed – definitely much better fare than most of the stuff I hear.

Ghosts of End Times Future, Part 3 – Another grab bag of arguments made by heretical hyperpreterists, evaluated.

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, Part 1 – A new series on the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony. I’ve been told some awful stuff about him by various folks, so this series will be a check-it-out. So far – no harm, no foul, but I still have to enormous (and controversial) books of his to look at.

The Take on Pancake Earth -- a fresh look at claims that the Bible teaches a flat Earth. I discovered something I think may be entirely new.

Is Thom a Moral Misfit? Part 3 -- Last in series on Thom Stark's critique of Paul Copan. You’ll also want to check out where Copan and Co. are responding to Stark on the Parchment and Pen blog. As for this one, it’s relatively short because it is mostly “been there done that” topics.

Biblical but Not Christian? -- Guest writer W. R. Miller on a claim by minister Henry Brinton, regarding American religious values.

What's the Connection? -- Guest writer Jeffrey Stueber on UFOs, Obamacare, environmentalism, and more...connected how? You’ll have to read it to find out.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Copycat Devices

Turns out I had some errands today, so just a post recommending a link from a reader, who notes:

Can you imagine someone in 2200 writing a web article arguing the 'war on terror' was concocted by the US govt, who based it on the earlier Starship Troopers? The comparison between the initial movie attack and 9/11reminded me of the parallels Acharya S likes to draw.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Textual Reliability Debate Up!

After defeating some technical gremlins, the organizer of my debate with Richard Carrier on textual reliability of the NT has now made the video of the debate available on his channel here in 5 parts. Indexed posts on the debate are on the Forge blog here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Geisler vs Preterism, Hub Post

I had thought there might be a Part 4, a look at Geisler's review of Hanegraaff's Last Disciple, but it seems it had nothing new, so here's a hub post for the series to close out.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Monday, July 11, 2011

Geisler vs. Preterism, Part 3

We next have a look at Geisler's review of Hanegraaff's Apocalypse Code (AC). Again, since I have not read AC, my comments will be limited to what affects my own views directly -- which turns out not to be much.

After outlining some points of agreement with AC, Geisler outlines what he perceives to be "logical fallacies" in AC. Most of these can't be adequately judged without reading AC itself, but I find some hard to swallow even as phrased. For example, Hanegraaff is accused of committing the "straw man fallacy" by using what is said to be extreme views in LaHaye's works to dismiss all premillennial views. However, Geisler does not quote anything in AC to indicate that this is what is being done, and indeed says that it is only an "implication" he gets from the text. In the same way, the fallacy of "guilt by association" is charged, but no quote is offered to show what is claimed, and again it is only said to be found "implicitly".

Quite frankly, this sort of mind-reading has no place in any serious critique. It is tempting to ask (imply) if Geisler is simply so out of his element here that he feels the need to impress readers with a listing of logical fallacies -- the sort of tactic I have seen atheists use frequently.

Yes, I just did to Geisler what Geisler did to Hanegraaff. I'll leave it at that.

It takes a while for Geisler to get past his list of reputed (or implied) fallacies in AC, and there's little to nothing to evaluate in terms of actual argument against a preterist view in general. Some points about the land promise, which we discussed in a prior entry, are used here as well, but there's still nothing that reverses my observations concerning the inevitable and continuing disobedience of any person who signs on to the OT covenant but ignores Jesus as the predicted prophet like Moses. Other points, like a first and second resurrection in Revelation, we have noted earlier as well.

I can gather from some of Geisler's comments what some of Hanegraff's arguments are (or at least, what he THINKS they are), and they don't seem to reflect any I would use; for example, it would be of no relevance to me that the "loss" of ten tribes means that the dispensational promises can't be fulfilled; the "loss" of those tribes isn't a certainty at all (link below).

One point of notice for me is where Geisler asks

Also, how can a thousand years represent eternity. The thousand years have a beginning and an end.

I don't know if AC says that the thousand years is "eternity" -- but I don't. I say it is a long, unspecified time of length unknown to humans.

After all this, we finally get to some arguments on various topics, and I'll comment according to topic if I find anything that connects with my views. In some cases I have no comment as I would not use the same arguments as AC.

The Use of Words Like “Shortly” and “Quickly” -- Geisler finds preterists inconsistent on this point:

Yet, by the same token passages about the resurrection and second coming (which partial preterists admit is yet future) are relevant. Indeed, they are used to comfort and exhort believers in the present (cf. 1 Thes. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:11).

That's true, but irrelevant: For an agonistic person, as with Jesus, resurrection would be a significant vindication of personal honor, in contrast to also-then-present sufferings and judgments by the world; it would therefore not matter in the least how far in the future that resurrection would occur, for it would still be a comfort to believers.

It is also added:

Further, if terms like “soon” mean in the near future, then the resurrection and second coming must also have been before AD 70 since Revelation speaks of both of these events as part of the revelation that would be fulfilled “quickly” (1:1,3: 22:6-12, 20).

Well, no, not really. These are quotes from the open and close of the book, and the promise of resurrection of all men is divided from the rest of the chronology with the thousand-year block. So that divorces it from the "quicklies" in Chs. 1 and 22. However, just in case, Geisler adds that "quickly" in Greek can also mean "speedily" -- with which we do agree. However, for my part, the time text that tells the story is in Matthew 24, not in Revelation, and we'll get to that shortly.

The Use of “This Generation” -- Yes, this one I do use, and Geisler doesn't offer a lot to convince me he's got a solution. It is rightly noted that "this generation" used by Jesus always refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. Geisler's retort that this "begs the question by assuming references given in a prophetic context must be understood like all the other ones which are not" is actually itself a rather shameless effort at special pleading, and itself a begged question that "prophetic context" in some way changes the meaning of "this generation" in a way that conveniently accords with his point of view. Geisler also hauls out the standard idea that the word "generation" can also mean "race," but this too amounts to special pleading in light of the other usages, and Geisler's bare citation of a single lexicon entry is not sufficient scholarly evidence upon which to draw a conclusion. (See also critique by DeMar linked below.)

The Alleged Early Date for John’s Writings -- Geisler notes the equation of 666 with Nero, but rather than answer this, offers a wide variety of wild speculations about what else it could mean. However, in not one case does he offer any serious argument for why any of his alternatives fit the data better than Nero, and to the extent that he also offers candidates he would obviously never agree with (e.g., the Pope's name in Latin!) it is clear that Geisler's intention here is merely to cloud the waters, not actually analyze Nero as a candidate and determine his fitness.

Geisler further provides a very brief argument for dating Revelation early, but it is not overcome by our own analysis (link below). He further dismisses the preterist reading by assuming literalist and fundamentalist exegesis for predictions of such things as the rivers drying up (Rev. 8:10). Here it is clear that Geisler has not studied preterism to any serious depth, for otherwise he would know that it requires no literal drying up of rivers to be fulfilled; rather, within the genre of Revelation as an apocalypse, this is symbolic language, most likely representing the destruction of commerce and sustenance, which for ancient peoples was what a river was all about. Geisler does not deal with these genre considerations at all; he simply dismisses them as a "resort" (and later "spiritualizing") to avoid a literal meaning. But whether a literal meaning is required is the very point at issue, and until Geisler comes to grips with both the genre of apocalypse AND the dramatic orientation of speakers and writers in agonistic societies, his own "resort" to literalism is merely a case of spinning his exegetical wheels.

Spiritualizing --A good example of Geisler's failure to come to grips with this reality is found here, on a point with which I agree with AC, based on the description:

For example, the mark of the Beast on their forehead is said to be symbolic of identity with. But if it was not an observable mark, then how could it be recognized for identity in marketing?

Well, that's really rather simple: In the agonistic and collectivist world of the NT, there was no privacy, and plenty of what we'd call gossip: A Christian who behaved as he ought to have would stand out like a sore thumb in that pagan setting, and word of that would spread to everyone in town. So there's your recognition. Geisler is unwittingly anachronizing modern ideas of privacy into the text.

Genre analysis also fails Gesier when he says:

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 a said to be “figurative” (130) witnesses to the Antichrist. The Code calls them “literary characters” forming “composite image” of the Law and the Prophets(131). Yet The Code urges us to interpret the New Testament in the light of its Old Testament background. But there two literal witnesses (Moses and Aaron) brought down literal plagues on the Antichrist of their day (Pharaoh).

True, but Exodus is in the genre of historical narrative, while Revelation is -- again -- an apocalypse. The two witnesses of Revelation may well hearken to Moses and Aaron; more likely I think is that they mean a "sure" testimony to the truth, based on the legal stricture that what is said by two witnesses is true. Whatever the case, genre tells us a message Geisler apparently does not hear.

Tribulation -- Geisler doesn't even deal with any arguments for the 7 year period as fulfilled in the Jewish war of 67-73; that is merely dismissed once again based on the assumption of literalism being the only option.

There's nothing of note in the rest, or nothing new, or applicable specifically to anything I've written. Geisler closes:

It is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself succumbed to a method of interpreting the Bible that is not significantly different from those used by the cults which he so vigorously opposes.

Well, then, let me put in my two cents: it is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself advocated a method of interpreting the Bible that is misinformed, decontextualized, and enslaves us to Western and modern presuppositons, in ways that are not significantly different from those used by snake handlers, King James Onlyists, and other fringe groups.

I'm being somewhat facetious. But as I said in an E-Block article on a related subject:


The main point here is Walvoord’s appeal to a “slippery slope” which he apparently felt would cause us to cascade down the whirlpool of misinterpretation. In a sense he was correct, though: Once the door of possibility opens, it does open more. But that begs the question of whether the slope is one we ought to be going down in the first place. Walvoord looks into the maelstrom and sees darkness and death; we see paradise and Pellucidar. I see Walvoord warning us that we should not understand the Bible as people in its day would understand it – though he would not have seen it that way, but rather as taking us away from a proper hermeneutic – that happened to match with modern perceptions as opposed to ancient ones.

In the end, the “slippery slope” warning is little more than an attempt to coerce by way of threat that something held dear will be lost. And it is true that some Christians hang on to the modern hermeneutic, kicking and screaming, lest they lose other parts of it as well. On the other hand, much thankful feedback has come my way from persons who saw the dropping of the hyper-literalist hermeneutic as a burden from which they were gladly relieved. And I daresay those reflections were from persons I’d regard as more mature on their faith.

This is an ideological battle, however, and we cannot afford to lose it. A church body that will not move off immaturity will not be equipped to equip, much less convert, an entire world.

Lost Tribes

Demar critique
Date of Revelation

Friday, July 8, 2011

Geisler vs Preterism, Part 2

Geisler discusses four objections to premillenialism that he considers worthy of some discussion, but only two (the third and fourth) touch on anything I might say. So we'll skip the first two.

Objection Three: Premillennialists are not Consistent It is objected that even the premill view takes some prophetic passages symbolically and figuratively, such as the seven “stars” (angels),“lamp stands” (churches), and “beasts” (world powers) in the book of Revelation. If so, why should not “a thousand years” be symbolic of a long period of time and “144,000” from the “twelve tribes of Israel” (Rev. 7, 14) be symbolic of the Church, and so on.

This is indeed a point similar to one I would make: Really, preterism and dispensationalism both recognize some level of metaphor in the text; but the dispy view takes more literally than the preterist view. Geisler offers six responses.

First, figures of speech are not contrary to a literal interpretation since even they are based in a literal meaning. For example, just because there is a “key” (a symbol of secure containment) to the bottomless pit where the Devil is consigned for a thousand years does not mean there is no real Devil.

I agree. But I know of no one who is saying there was no real devil, so I have no idea what specific application Geisler is trying to make here.

Second, the Book of Revelation identifies many things as symbols, but it gives their literal meaning (cf. Rev. 1:20).

Also agreed. So again, what point is being attempted here? This is not a rebuttal in any sense to arguments concerning to what level symbols are symbols, and literal things are literal things.

Third, all these symbols represent literal people, things, and events. Fourth, the worlds “tribe” and “resurrection are never used figuratively in the Bible. Even symbols have a literal meaning (Rev. 1:20).

Agreed and agreed. And none of this (again) rebuts and preterist point, save that heretical hyperpreterists reinterpret "resurrection".

Fifth, the rule of thumb still stands: “If the literal sense makes good sense, then seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.”

Actually, this "rule of thumb" -- Geisler's first real "argument" here -- is heavily biased towards a Western and modern literary view. Biblical peoples, as we have noted, had a much more "dramatic" orientation in their language, and that means we'd best be a lot more cautious before assuming that a "literal sense" actually makes "good sense." Beyond that I can say nothing without specifics.

Finally, amillennial interpretations are inconsistent for in the same passage (Rev. 20) they take one “resurrection” literally and the other one spiritually.

The inconsistency is merely on the surface. See on that point the link below.

Objection Four: The Prophecies about Israel are fulfilled spiritually by the Church. According to this “replacement theology,” Israel was disobedient and lost the conditional promises God made to them. Thus, God replaced Israel with a new “spiritual Israel” (Gal. 6:16) known as the Church who fulfill the “new covenant” made with Israel (Jer. 31 cf. Heb. 8).

My view is slightly different. Mine is not a "replacement" theology, but a grafting-in theology. Israel always has been defined as those loyal to YHWH, according to Romans 11. Today that can be anyone -- whether they are descended from Jacob or not.

Geisler responds to the above objection, but it is of none effect against a point I made Wednesday: The Deuteronomic covenant requires Israel to be on the lookout for a prophet like Moses. That's Jesus, as Geisler and I would both agree. And that means as long as an adherent to the Deuteronomic covenant isn't listening to Jesus, they're in disobedience -- continually. So there's no way they can be granted the blessings of Deuteronomy -- and in turn, the only possible fulfillment now existent can be that in which Jesus reigns over his Body, those who are now loyal to YHWH. That doesn't mean we get the Holy Land, of course; that's not in the new covenant.

In conclusion: Geisler sides with those who call premilleniallism a "fundamental." He concludes by threatening a slide down a slippery slope, but as I have said in an E-Block article to John Walvoord, who made the same kind of threat:

The main point here is Walvoord’s appeal to a “slippery slope” which he apparently felt would cause us to cascade down the whirlpool of misinterpretation. In a sense he was correct, though: Once the door of possibility opens, it does open more. But that begs the question of whether the slope is one we ought to be going down in the first place. Walvoord looks into the maelstrom and sees darkness and death; we see paradise and Pellucidar. I see Walvoord warning us that we should not understand the Bible as people in its day would understand it – though he would not have seen it that way, but rather as taking us away from a proper hermeneutic – that happened to match with modern perceptions as opposed to ancient ones.

In the end, the “slippery slope” warning is little more than an attempt to coerce by way of threat that something held dear will be lost. And it is true that some Christians hang on to the modern hermeneutic, kicking and screaming, lest they lose other parts of it as well. On the other hand, much thankful feedback has come my way from persons who saw the dropping of the hyper-literalist hermeneutic as a burden from which they were gladly relieved. And I daresay those reflections were from persons I’d regard as more mature on their faith.

Geisler calls premillennialism "a safeguard against liberalism," but as far as I can see, it's mainly a safeguard against being exposed to new ideas that threaten the status quo.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Geisler vs Preterism, Part 1

Over the next few days the Ticker will have a look at some items by Norman Geisler discussing eschatology and criticizing preterism, the latter as presented by certain fictional works authored by Hank Hanegraaff. I have not read those works by Hanegraaff, so I will be limiting my discussion to defending whatever views I can perceive to be in conflict with my own.

The first article by Geisler we will discuss is not a critique of preterism directly, however, but rather a defense of premillennialism. As a reminder, preterism is usually called "amilliennial," but I do not prefer that designation myself; although I hold that Christ rules from the throne in heaven now, and that the "thousand years" of Revelation is happening now and simply means an unspecified long period, I do not deny a future reforming of the fallen creation. Premillenialism combines all three of these things into one package, but I do not.

To that extent, I do not appreciate Geisler's assessment that amillenialism "denies this literal future reign of Christ and claims that Christ is currently reigning over the world spiritually." The current reign is literal; to call it simply spiritual is to adhere to a false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. Christ reigning in heaven does not make this reign any less "literal," and nor does the fact that we may not in the process have Christ seated in heaven on a literal wooden throne complete with splinters and jewels. Geisler may be accurately describing some amillennial views, but not mine.

For today, however, we will simply look at Geisler's "arguments for premillennialism."

1. Without a Millennium God Lost the Battle in History

He did? I'd like to know who made that rule up, especially since the criterion Geisler offers here assumes that an amillennial view does not ever think the creation will be restored to its pre-fall state. I certainly do not think this; I simply don't think it will be tied to the premillennial pattern of a fixed 1000 year period, with all the dispensational accoutrements. So this isn't reason to believe premillennialism over (at least) my view.

2. Without A Millennium History Has no Climax

Again, I'd like to know who makes these rules up, but it's also not correct; I'd place the climax at the final resurrection of all men, at which time also everything else Geisler seems to indicate is missing from amillennialism (such as Christ destroying all dominions) will happen as well. If that's not sufficient "climax" for Geisler or anyone else, then maybe someone's been watching too many Hollywood movies.

3. Without a Millennium God Would Break an Unconditional Land Promise to Abraham.

Oh, really? That's news to me. I can live with the idea that Israel still has the land grant, though in my portrait of things, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. At the same time, Geisler's admonition that Israel has never taken the whole of the prescribed land yet doesn't mean a great deal: Although Geisler rightly notes that the promise doesn't depend on our obedience, the ability to take advantage of all terms of it does. The "reward" for disobedience is specified within the covenant itself, and includes exile and loss of land.

As things now stand, the current nation of Israel isn't doing a whole lot to fulfill its covenant obligations. There's no Temple and no sacrifices. Observance of the law is found among some groups, and I daresay fewer by proportion than in Jesus' time. They are also in disobedience for failing to listen to the prophet like Moses (eg, Jesus), as they were warned in Deuteronomy. So if the terms of the covenant are indeed still good as Geisler argues, I wouldn't be looking for Israel to claim the whole grant any time soon.

Geisler goes on to say that, "according to the Bible it will yet be fulfilled (Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Rom. 11) in the future in the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6)." Well, I'm afraid for each of those, I see more in the way of Geisler reading premillennial doctrine into the text rather than finding it there. Which is to be expected, since none are specific enough by themselves to support any millennial view, save Revelation (on that see below).

The bottom line is, Israel's failure to stay obedient long enough to advantage the whole land grant isn't a failure of promise on God's part, as Geisler implies it would be.

4. Without a Millennium God would Break an Unconditional Throne Promise to David

Again, news to me. Here again, the fault is that Geisler thinks David's throne MUST be on solid dirt here on Earth for this promise to be kept. Since there's no descendant of David "reigning on a literal throne in Jerusalem" in amillennialism, he thinks this fails. But nothing, not even the verse he appeals to in this regard (Matt. 19:28), says a word about a throne in Jerusalem as we know it. The closest he comes to this is Rev. 20:1-6, but here as is often the case, the dispensational eschatology wrenches the genre of apocalyptic into a literalism never intended, and while we have Jesus on a throne there, Jerusalem doesn’t appear until our 21:2. As it is, this is what I offer, based on Daniel 7 and Matthew 25, in the main: Jesus rules on a throne in heaven (not a literal wood and splinters throne, but having all the power and authority that implies, literally); we, the body of Christ, inhabit the New Jerusalem right now . The apocalyptic genre by itself tells us not to expect a bricks and mortar Jerusalem to descend to the dirt. I think it speaks for itself that rather than appeal to a Biblical scholar versed in the genre of apocalyptic, Geisler instead turns to a hymn by Isaac Watts for validation.

5. Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

Hmm. Pardon me while I say, "yeah, right." Actually, as noted above, I'm the one trying to read Revelation as an apocalyptic. Geisler accuses amillenialists of inconsistent hermeneutics, but even he will admit that there are passages in the Bible one does not take literally, so the real question is not consistency, but who is doing the best job of representing the contextual parameters of the text.

In this regard, Geisler impeaches himself when he says amillenialists take "part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus’ predictions made in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming (Matt. 19:28; Matt. 24-25); ...." But here again, he's assuming that sitting on a throne in heaven isn't involving some "literal" action. There's nothing "spiritualized" about this: While it might be said, again, that there's no actual chair upon which Christ places his body in heaven -- for Daniel 7, too, is of the apocalyptic genre -- the assumption of power is literal and real, not merely "spiritual".

Geisler's further warnings of a slippery slope in which we'd end up denying doctrines like the atonement (!) are simply showboating. As I noted here in a prior series, Geisler has trapped himself in a hermeneutic which fails to respect those contexts of the text which he happens to disagree with.

6. Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Basically the argument is, if you think the world will end soon, you'll evangelize more. Really? Then why do so few Christians even now evangelize? It doesn't seem to be working, in spite of Geisler's appeal to premillennial preachers like Moody and Graham; that's less than .00001% of the Christian population. Even so, the amillenial view (or at least mine) holds that the final resurrection and judgment could come at any time, so there's as much urgency there as there is for premillennialism. It's not any "greater" urgency for premillennialism.

7. Premillennial Imminency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

Basically, the same reasoning as above; if you think the world will end soon, you'll behave better. But the same reply applies: a) it doesn't seem to be working for most Christians anyway; b) there's as much "equivalent" urgency as I see it.

We'll pick up tomorrow where Geisler answers some objections to premillennialism.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Latest Computerized Trick Pony

Naturally, you can color me unimpressed by the latest and greatest scheme to validate a literary theory (in this case, the JEDP theory of the composition of the Pentateuch) with a computer program. There's more than a few things that need to be accounted for before it can be given more than a passing nod as a curiosity.

First, does it account for the fact that much of the Pentateuch originated in an oral society? All of Genesis, a good chunk of Exodus, and perhaps some of the rest of the Pentateuch as well, would have originated as chunks of oral tradition. To that extent, Moses would not have been so much an author, as we would know the term, but a compiler and a redactor. Does the program show varying authors? If the stories originated with various oral performers whose performances were rendered faithfully to any qualitative extent -- then the program will show multiple authors. But it'd be wrong, if that meant excluding someone as a compiler and redactor.

Second, does it account for the use of scribes? I'm being facetious, for of course it doesn't. The news accounts indicate that these guys are assuming it's either one person wrote it, or multiple people wrote it over time (JEDP). I don't see any consideration of an option that one honorary author coordinated the effort, in which scribes were part of the process.

Third, does it account for the fact that ancient Hebrew had only a few thousand words? I don't think a language with so few words can provide an adequate statistical sample.

Fourth, does it account for ancient literary production techniques? For example, writers would often allude to other works by imitating them. This is the sort of thing that would throw off a program designed to detect variations and label them as the work of a different author.

Fifth, who gave the programmers their criterion? The articles don't say, but I want to know if the parameters were given to the programmers by people looking to validate JEDP. if they were -- it's the old GIGO problem.

I suppose we'll wait and see if anything comes of this -- or if it's just another variation on the Bible Codes.

As might be expected, the Ticker will be off for the holiday Monday and will return Wednesday.