Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Experiencing Pablum

From the July 2009 -Block, a guest spot by "Teluog". It's a review of Blackby's "Experiencing God."

***

My own title for this review is:

Experiencing "Blech"aby: How to Live the Full Adventure of Not Knowing and Not Doing Basic Exegesis. When I began to write up this review, I planned on typing up an analysis of each chapter. I did this until I got to chapter eight, which is where I decided to stop reading. As I went through these eight chapters, my review quickly turned into a polemic. There are so many problems in this book that it is useless to mention even the majority of the major problems, so I dropped the chapter-by-chapter analysis. Even a topic-by-topic analysis is impossible due to the quantity of errors. The problems are consistent throughout the whole book, so a brief review of the fundamental issues will be looked at.

Individualism

The first impression I have of this books is that it reeks of individualism. On the back cover it reads, "share the experience that has led a million people into a new personal relationship with God," and, "Experiencing God challenges Christians to experience...a life lived in a fellowship with the loving, personal God. God reveals Himself to each of us in special and exceptional ways, so our perception of Him is unique. [EG] shows you how to deepen your own personal relationship with God."

The preface is littered with phrases like, "God asked me," "God gave me a vision," "God has spoken to me," etc. The preface ends with an editor's note about the book content is mostly from Blackaby's personal experience, and "written as though Henry were your personal counselor. This first-person approach was selected as a means of making this book a warm and personal message just for you."

It sounds sweet and all, but the high emphasis on uniqueness and privateness should set off alarm signals in our mind, because individualism has wreaked enough havoc in both our society and church. Not to mention that our personal relationship with God really isn't that different from anyone else's, and is not as personal as many of us believe it to be.

Blackaby also uses terminology and concepts that suggests that he views Jesus/God as his personal buddy or romance partner. Blackaby personally spends "quiet time with God" so that he can "enjoy His fellowship." Not only is this doctrinally incorrect (more on that later), this also dumbs God down to the level of another regular human like everyone else. In other words, Blackaby is recreating God in his own modern, private, Western individualized, and introverted image, and has been doing so throughout the book. He does this a lot with his (ab)use of Scripture (more on that later).

Blackaby even suggests that we should confess to God the times where we didn't spend this private time with God. Apparently, we are sinning if we aren't as introverted as Blackaby is.

Kids

The writing style is of an adolescent level. This and the concepts make the book appear like it is meant for Junior High Youth. Blackaby's target audience is mostly mature adults. In fact, the questions at the end of each section are like the questions I came across when doing English in grade four. They are way more distracting than edifying.

Throughout a chapter, Blackaby will say something like "We should live a God-centered life, not a self-centered life." The questions at the end of that section would go something like, "We should live a _______-centered life." The contents, style, and questions are not sufficient to challenge the person of average intelligence. Everything is super-simplified to the point that Blackaby is vague and unclear in what he is trying to get across to the reader.

Vague

And yes, a lot of what Blackaby says is unclear. Often, his point will not come across due to poor paragraph structure. He also goes off-topic at times. He often doesn't mention enough details of a subject that leaves the reader hanging and clueless. He teaches that "God provides," without detailing what it is that He provides (Money? Health? Wisdom? The basic living necessities of food, water, and shelter?). God provides, that's all.

Contradictions

There are a lot of these. Perhaps the most noticeable is when Blackaby affirms that the Bible is our final guide and authority for faith and life, but relies on extra-biblical revelation and experience as a greater guide. It's impossible to highlight most of them, but a couple of the major ones are:
  • At the beginning of chapter five, Blackaby states that "when God gets ready to do something, He reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do." At the beginning of chapter eight, he says, "God doesn't consult the servant before He begins His work."
  • Blackaby views Moses as the example that we all should personally follow today. But then, Blackaby says, "When I want to learn how to know and do the will of God, I always look to Jesus. I can find no better model than Him."
  • Blackaby points out that whenever God spoke to people in the Bible that those people were certain that it was God speaking and that they knew what God was saying. Then he turns around and points out that people have a hard time hearing and knowing when God is speaking.

Most of his contradictions lie in his (mis)interpretation of Scripture.

Eisegesis, Misinterpretation, and Abuse of Scripture

Tying in very closely with the above categories, Blackaby's (mis)handling of Scripture is quite frankly offensive to those who look to the Bible seriously as an authoritative guide. Here's a broad idea how he (mis)treats the text.
Blackaby is fond is using rare occurrences in the Bible (and thus, rare throughout all of ancient history), and rare character roles as examples that Joe Christian today should follow day-by-day, month-by-month, or year-by-year. If it happened once in the Bible, it happens to us regularly, according to Blackaby.
Moses is frequently used an example that we all should personally follow in our lives. Although Blackaby confesses that Moses' experience at the burning bush was unique, he still uses it as an example for how Christians should be called to ministry. Apparently, Blackaby is unaware that God doesn't speak through miraculous phenomena like burning bushes or dreams. People don't regularly report God speaking to them in the morning out of a box of Fruit Loops, or out of a tornado. Not only that, but Moses had the once-in-history opportunity of leading an entire nation, a nation of God's covenant-people, out of slavery, for 40 years while travelling across a large portion of geographical land, and into a land promised by God many years earlier. How, exactly is this something that Joe Christian can follow today?

Blackaby believes that since God spoke to people in the Bible that he still speaks today. He states correctly that it's clear that God speaks to his people, but never points out that the times that God spoke were in rare and urgent circumstances. He uses three verses in John to try to prove that God speaks to us today, when one verse was Jesus speaking to his opponents, while the other two verses only were directed to the disciples. They do not apply to us, nor is there anything to say that they do.

He also tries with Hebrews 1:1, which says, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son" (NKJV). Blackaby apparently can't even handle basic English, let alone basic exegesis. The verse clearly doesn't say that God spoke all the time; it says He spoke at various times. It also says that he spoke through prophets, a rare office, and there is no indication that prophets heard God speak on a regular basis. It also says that God spoke in the time of the Hebrew author(s) by Jesus, not by the Holy Spirit, which is what Blackaby is trying to make this text mean. Blackaby didn't get anything in this verse correct!

He also uses these rare and various occurences of God literally talking to people in the Bible as proof that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit today. He doesn't even prove that God speaks today; he just says that God speaks today without providing any proof from Scripture. He cites Scripture showing that the Holy Spirit indwells in us, but he doesn't cite anything showing that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in any particular way. He misinterprets Scripture everytime he speaks of God speaking. He also fails logic on this subject at the same time.
Blackaby makes statements on spiritual "truths" without explaining himself or providing proof from Scripture. One such case is when Blackaby states that "when God gets ready to do something, He reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do." He doesn't expand on this or provide any Biblical reference, he just makes the statement and moves on. Blackaby sees things in the text that aren't really there, or doesn't see something in the text that really is there. Here are some examples that deserve attention:
  • Blackaby believes that God supernaturally enabled Noah and his sons to build the ark, but the text does not mention God enabling him in any way whatsoever. The narrative simply says that God gave Noah instructions, and Noah followed them.
  • Blackaby interprets the name "I AM" not only to mean that God is eternal (which is correct), but also to mean that God would be all that Moses needed to free His people. The latter is not reflected in the name at all. God gave Moses this name so that His people in Egypt would recognize Him and know that Moses was not being deceitful, not to give Moses a boost of confidence.
  • Blackaby believes that Moses was called to the top of Mt. Sinai for to have personal fellowship with each other. This is plain absurd. Moses was called up the mountain to get instructions from God, and if Blackaby is assumed correct, then an obvious inequity is created, as it would be unfair for God to call only Moses up while leaving the other 600,000 men plus women plus children alone, if indeed personal fellowship was the purpose. Not even righteous Caleb was called up for fellowship. Indeed, this example would only serve to contradict Blackaby's contentions of universal personal fellowship.
  • Blackaby doesn't believe that God used Moses to free his people because of any skills he had; God equipped Moses with his administration skills only after calling Moses to lead. Apparently, Blackaby is unaware that Moses was raised in the royal courts of Egypt under Pharaoh, and likely already had the administrative abilities. Blackaby even takes this further by commending that today's Christians not look for ways of using our talents and abilities when going into ministry! Imagine Paul not making use of his Scripture and theology training from Pharisee school to write out his letters full of thick, systematic theology and Old Testament references!
  • Blackaby looks to the 12 disciples as an example of having a "personal" relationship with Jesus, only there are TWELVE disciples, not one. The only time where one disciple was alone with Jesus was when Peter took him aside only to get rebuked! Plus, as Holding explains, "Since people of the ancient world seldom 'got to know each other' personally (as is taken for granted in modern, Western society) there is no way that NT writers could have had an idea like a 'personal relationship with Jesus' in mind" (see #2: God is my buddy, Jesus is my friend).
  • Blackaby believes that God had a personal relationship with Moses and Noah, even though there is nothing in either account of this.

In some cases, Blackaby makes inexcusable blunders. Blackaby believes that in Job 16:20, Job is calling God his "friend," when Job is clearly referring to his friends who tried to comfort him. In 2 Kings 6:17, when Elisha prays for God to open up the eyes of the servant, and the servant then sees chariots of fire protecting him and Elisha from the Syrian army, Blackaby interprets this to mean that God opens our spiritual eyes so we can discern God's activity around us. He spiritualizes something that is meant to stay literal.

There are many more mistakes, misinterpretations, blunders, contradictions, and unsupported assertions in the first eight chapters alone that I put the book down to concentrate on something more edifying and useful. There is, actually, some good theology here and there, and the rare good point is made, but there is too little of it compared to the fallacies that Blackaby makes. It's not worth anyone's time to have to sift through and sort out the good stuff. People are better off reading Mere Christianity or Blue Like Jazz, or a more technical systematic theology treatise. This book is not worth the reader's time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rabble-Rauser and Neville Chamberlain Apologetics

Update: Rauser has responded to this post, but I'll be responding any further on the TheologyWeb thread below.

**


Oh dear. Poor Randal Rauser is in quite the snit of snark over our published Book Snap this past Friday; so upset, indeed, that he sacrificed some part of his Saturday away from the show down at Chuck E. Cheese to reply. That’s rather a shame, as I expect he was intent on attending the apologetics conference there and had been planning to do so for weeks.

In any event, his dyspepsia is expressed concerning two broad points. The first is an objection to my comment:

This book is valuable for one reason, though, as a study of how emergents/postmoderns "do" apologetics -- rather badly, as it happens.

In response, Rauser demurs, thumb in cheek, that he is not, is not either, so there too, a postmodernist, “by any conventional definition.”

Um, yes. That’s why the exact descriptor range I used was “emergent/postmoderns” – not “postmoderns” in isolation. Rather tellingly, Rauser doesn’t bother to engage the first half of that designation-slash-designation, the format of which is a clue to most readers of the English language of an either/or proposition, of which either designation might be intended to apply to the designee as part of a much broader continuum of persons.  I gather such nuances escape Rauser, perhaps due to some past mental engagement with fundamentalism. Or, maybe he got too much snark in his soup to pay attention carefully.

Then we have the second bout, in which we are treated to a Rauser Ramble about how he found the “warfare model of apologetics…wholly inadequate.” I do not doubt this; given Rauser’s manifest lack of competence in that arena, it is no surprise he finds it so readily dispensable. One may as well hand a caveman an iPhone, if not an insurance application. Indeed, his very distaste for the “warfare model” is a sign that we don’t have someone academically prepared to confront the reality at hand.

As it happens, one of his commenters conveniently sets the table for us:

That's one of the reasons I find the gospel portrayals of Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees odd, a few quick words by Jesus and the Pharisees just seem to melt away. Doesn't work that way in real life.

Ah yes, of course. “Real life.” As Hume showed, that was the measure of all things, was it not? Allow me, though, to introduce Rauser and his readers to “real life” in the first century, in an agonistic (honor-shame) society. (Regular readers of my material will be asked to forebear as we return to these most basic explanations.)

Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees were, in fact, small ideological wars – competitions for public honor. On one side stood Jesus, defending his own public honor, at least as most would read it; but also defending the honor of the Father and where He really stood. On the other side stood the Pharisees, defending their own honor, and their public reputation as spiritual guides and leaders.

Despite Rauser’s personal problems with the warfare model, these interactions were mini-RPG contests in and of themselves. The whole idea was to publicly shame and disgrace your opponent, so that no one would respect them.

Now in terms of the commenter’s problem with this as a “real life” scenario, here’s where their realization fails. In the eyes of the Pharisees, they were not confronting the incarnate hypostasis Wisdom; they were confronting a dumb, rural hick from the back country of Galilee, someone who was likely to know more about changing the goat’s oil than about the rigors of Torah scholarship. The Pharisees, in contrast, slept in pyjamas with Torah passages all over them. 

Now surely, their thinking would be, it would be little difficulty to shame this rural hick by asking him one of our first level questions; once that RPG is launched, he’ll melt back into Rednecksville where he belongs. Right?

Ah, no. Jesus not only answered, he answered well. Not what they expected. And worse, it makes THEM look like the idiots for failing to roust him. In that scenario, the silence-response is quite true to life – in fact, their best option for not giving themselves another self-inflicted pwning.

So, sorry, but – “real life” is rather more diverse than your backyard clubhouse and an episode of Seinfeld, kiddies. Might want to try some serious social science scholarship before you pull up the Radio Flyer for another round.

In all of this, I might add, Rauser is not merely wrong, he is also a hypocrite. Typical of the postmodern/emergent (oh, drat, it’s that slash again), he is also well-versed in his own form of warfare and weaponry, such as the Passive-Aggressive Popgun and the Guilt Trip Gumball Grenade. The analogies he draws of “warfare apologetics” to “Archie Comics and Hubba Bubba chewing gum,” designating them as “childish things,” reflects his own choice of warfare engagement; the fact that he is not very good at it doesn’t change that at all. An insult in the third person is still an insult, even if it is an insult reflecting inadequate courage to be direct.

Rauser’s worry was that “the warfare approach to apologetics produced almost no change in others.” Well, as I said, as bad as he was at it, that’s not surprising. If he’d done it right, he’d have seen some changes, much as I have over the past 15-20 years. As it is, his misplaced query speaks for the broader theme that ails him:

It didn’t take much of that before I started to ask myself, what good is winning arguments if I lose people?

What good indeed?

“What good indeed”? Well, let’s see. It does the good of shutting the mouths of those who deceive and destroy – you know, the way the Pharisees fell silent after Jesus lobbed a Shame RPG into their midst. I doubt Rauser understands this; as noted last time, he lacked the wisdom to keep away from John Loftus, and rather than help shut Loftus’ mouth, as he ought to have done, he actually will be sharing a platform with him, one due out, apparently, in April 2013. 

Think on that for a moment, folks. Rauser is sharing a platform with a man who insults people with disabilities; lies unconscionably, and gives amusement park workers “the finger” for just doing their job keeping people safe. Neville Chamberlain apologetics, indeed. It didn’t work in the 1930s and 1940s. It won’t work this time, either.

I’ve seen Rauser’s pattern before, so I expect it’ll amount to this: He’ll launch 1-2 more Passive-Aggressive Popgun postings, then retire from the field claiming the moral high ground of not wanting to soil himself further with warfare that is beneath him. The postmodern/emergent (darned slash again) is, after all, quite predictable. For the record, I rate Rauser a 10 on his own Metamucil Scale, an 8 on the Hypocrisy Scale, and a 2 on the Academic Proficiency Scale.

And I’ll also start a thread on TheologyWeb here so that others can enjoy his exercises in postmodern/emergent dance, too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Snap: Randal Rauser's "The Swedish Atheist..."



I'm already unimpressed with Randal Rauser as an apologist; anyone who thinks doing a joint book with John Loftus is a good idea is clearly not thinking straight. This book is valuable for one reason, though, as a study of how emergents/postmoderns "do" apologetics -- rather badly, as it happens.

The Swedish Atheist... is presented not as a systematic apologetic, but as a  coffee shop dialogue between Rasuer and an atheist named Sheridan who sometimes sounds like Loftus, but raises a lot of the other standard canards as well. The presentation probably works for touchy-feely sorts who are more concerned with relationships than truth, and such people inevitably do a subpar job on the actual apologetics. That's the case here, especially clearly on the topics I know something about. Rauser goes for a white flag on the issues related to OT "atrocity" accounts, essentially denying their historicity and providing no serious arguments for doing so; and where hell is concered, waves the white flag some more.

It is just as well Sheridan is fictional, for most real atheists who are as hostile as he is would eat Rauser for lunch after their coffee was finished -- and as it happens, having seen Loftus turn on Rauser (and Rauser in turn just blandly letting Loftus wipe his feet on him), that's true to life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ghosts of End Times Present: John Walvoord's Boiling Oil

From the July 2009 E-Block.

***

It may perhaps be rightly asked whether John Walvoord is a "ghost of end times present" - or past. What makes it hard to say is that, while he died in 2002, his work continued in his name edited by his son (also John) and Walvoord's student, Mark Hitchcock, in 2007. 

In the end, I deemed "present" appropriate as the category, though in some ways, if we were to press the Dickensian analogy, Walvoord's present incarnation does not quote resemble his past incarnations - to put it another way, the image of the ghost wavers, and we cannot be sure, as Dickens would put it, whether we are seeing a true ghost or merely a glob of mustard!
For you see, Walvoord is rather unique in this respect: Unlike some end times writers, who produce numerous books under different titles and often test the wind for trends to use in their books (as we have seen from Lindsey and Hagee), Walvoord himself fairly well resisted the temptation to do this. His book, Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis (AOMC), appeared in successive editions in 1974 and 1990, and then in a 2007 edition retitled Armageddon, Oil, and Terrorism, which was edited and added to by Walvoord's son and Hitchcock. The former two editions are in some places hardly distinguishable from one another - and for the most part, Walvoord didn't try to mesh specific events into the prophetic paradigm in the same way Hagee and Lindsey did.

In other words, specific events like the assassination of Rabin did not prompt Walvoord to see prophecy coming closer to fulfillment. At most, Walvoord made use of general trends (e.g., the rise of Communism) to suggest that prophecy was nearing fulfillment. And this in turn meant that he would have had little need for revision between successive editions of AOMC.

It is thus that I am able to say that in Walvoord, I find someone who represents perhaps the most sensible expositor of dispensational prophecy I have seen so far. He was not given to sensational claims and made only a few tenuous connections compared to other prophecy writers we have examined so far.
In tracking this, we will actually go somewhat further back than AOMC, to a book of Walvoord's titled The Church in Prophecy (CIP) (Zondervan, 1964). Even here, Walvoord was careful about not seeing too much into details. 

Perhaps the only rather peculiar application he tried to make (54-5) was an effort to see in 1 Tim. 4:1-3, a prohibition on marriage and foods, a relation to Roman Catholic prohibitions on marriage for priests and Lenten prohibitions. (I found that one of interest, inasmuch as I recall the "Apostasy Now" website connecting the passage to current diet fads!)

But generally, Walvoord appealed to two major trends as signals for prophecy: The rise of Communism, and the strategic importance of oil. It is this latter point that has remained a staple of Walwoord's work. To a lesser degree, he also appealed in general to things like pollution and dwindling food supplies, but Communism and oil were his two primary themes.

Even at the most general level, however, Walvoord and his successors were compelled to make some changes. We will see how shortly. For the moment, I would highlight some other notes of interest from CIP:

58 - It was ironic to see Walvoord making much of churches as shallow, and referring to pastors who "preach interesting but unchallenging sermons and who leave the congregation undisturbed seem to be in the ascendancy." This was written in 1964 - and I shudder to think what Walvoord might say of today's popular preachers.

92 -- Walvoord was careful not to set anything like a time for the Rapture of the church, not even in very broad terms. His most concise statement: "…if the coming of the Lord was imminent in the first century, it is even more so in the present hour." I would note here that Walvoord did indeed fail to see the inherent problem for the dispensational view: "Imminent" must be redefined to suit the thesis.

99-100 -- Aside from eschatological issues, I found a useful point explaining why Matthew's saints were resurrected early. Walvoord draws an analogy to Lev, 23:9-14, the bringing of a sheaf of grain at the beginning of harvest, as a token of coming complete harvest. The saints amounted to a "token" of this sort before all were resurrected.

114 - Finally, a quote that is useful for dispensationalists and preterists alike: "Most conservative scholarship agrees that the early church fathers were in error in the conclusion that they were already in the great tribulation." Hence as well, it cannot be argued by dispensationalists that preterism is an "upstart" with no past pedigree.

With that, we now move to evaluations of the successive editions of AOMC. We will see how even commenting in the most general terms, and despite due caution, Walvoord ended up having to place a finger in the wind, ever so tenuously and briefly, in order to adjust his prophetic settings. He was more judicious than most we have seen at that, but was no less susceptible to the shifting requirements of the dispensational prophetic system.

Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis (Zondervan, 1974)

The Oil Factor. Oil at this time of early OPEC embargoes must have seemed a critical issue for Americans in 1974; I was too young to remember gas lines and OPEC rhetoric, but I am sure prophecy students of the time saw things much as Walvoord did - of the oil crisis as a prophetic signal.

But there is a bit of an oddity. Walvoord makes this comment [56]:
The coming crisis in the Middle East cannot be far away. The oil supply of the Middle East may run out in the next thirty to forty years.
This appeal is of interest, because essentially, Walvoord has subtly set a date, perhaps without realizing it. By his reckoning, the ability of oil to play a role in prophecy would end soon - and so thereby would the time when prophecy would be fulfilled. Indeed, Walvoord even expected that the USA would achieve self-sufficiency in oil within 10 years - from today's perspective, that is quite a romantic dream!

The Communism Factor. In Walvoord's view [110], spreading world communism was preparation for the Antichrist's coming world religion. This too is rather interesting, since commentators closer to our own time have perceived a New Age component to the religion of the Anti-Christ.

Other Matters. As noted, Walvoord generally (and wisely) avoided being too specific about where fulfillments might be found. He supposed [114] that the European Common Market might become the 10-nation confederacy, or might just be a preparation for it. He foresaw [125] a quite literal fulfillment of the Ezekiel 38-9 Russian attack on Israel - noting that the Russians still had cavalry units. The darkening of the sun and moon [148-9] he thought might come as a result of pollution. And, in an interesting switch from what we normally see [174], Walvoord explains how the entire Earth will see the return of Jesus - not by way of international media broadcasting pictures worldwide, but because it will be a "majestic procession" that will "take many hours." In other words, the world will see Jesus return because Jesus will take his time and take the long way around. That is perhaps the most interesting and creative solution I have seen to that particular problem.

When? Walvoord closes by saying [199] that "the rapture must be excitingly near." In the end, he was cautious only to an extent - but could not resist, apparently, the perceived hope he saw in the schematic he had laid out.

Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis (Zondervan, 1990)

How did Walvoord change things for the 1990 edition? He did not have to do much, for as noted, he was careful, mostly, not to be too specific. Still, we see the need for some significant changes:

The Oil Factor. Walvoord still says [63] "The oil supply in the Middle East may run out in another generation." There is still not much time for his scenario to come to pass, he thinks; but note the 30-40 years of the earlier AOMC "generation" - 40 years at least, tacked on now to the 30-40 Walvoord presupposed in 1974.

The Communism Factor. By 1990, we saw Communism as a system entering its death throes. This necessitated the largest change in Walvoord's schematic [119-20]: "Although the political ideal of Communism does not seem to be perpetuated in the end time, the Communist dedication to atheism, materialism, and military power will prepare the way for the final form of world religion."

Other Matters. Walvoord drew somewhat further away from identifying the EU with the ten-nation confederacy. He supposes [25] that the 0 nations might come from Europe, but also may include nations from "Western Asia and Northern Africa." He concludes [130-31]: "Whether the Common Market is the preliminary form of this ten-nation group or whether it is the forerunner of another confederacy of nations is difficult to predict."

When? In terms of time, Walvoord remained hopeful yet vague: [13] "the world has already begun the countdown to Armageddon" and the Rapture [16] "may be expected momentarily." And yet he also said there was [21] "no scriptural ground for setting dates." It seems contrary to say that we cannot set dates, but at the same time use words such as "momentarily" associated with a short time ahead. Walvoord did not set dates, but he did set ranges.

Armageddon, Oil, and Terror (Tyndale, 2007)

Walvoord, as noted, died in 2002, and this latest edition by his son and also his student (Hitchcock) is in some ways barely recognizable as part of the series. Indeed, what we find are solitary sections - recognizable ase work of the senior Walvoord from past editions - surrounded by pages upon pages of dire warnings concerning terrorism, chemical and nuclear attacks, and even bird flu [e.g., 42, 162]. The senior Walvoord made use of such things, but was far more general and restrained in their use; one would have seldom or never seen him citing statistics as a way of emphasizing his point.

The Oil Factor. Where formerly, the senior Walvoord envisioned the Arab nations running out of oil, and this limiting his prophetic schematic chronologically, the junior Walvoord and Hitchcock now make the critical issue "peak oil" [19] - a time when demand will outstrip production, causing political difficulties that will aid the Antichrist's advent.

The Communism Factor. Communism? It is barely whispered of now; rather, the wider complex of political forces, including Islamic militancy, take the fore.
Other Matters. AOT is considerably bulked up from prior editions of AOMC, and includes much more in the way of explanation about Biblical interpretation. I'd like to comment on a few of these points.

50 - One of the artificial constructions of the dispensational system has been what Walvoord and Hitchcock call the "horizontal view of prophecy" - in which they say the prophets' view of the future was like "distant mountain peaks" with no sense of depth, where depth is analogous to time. This view resulted in what they call "prophetic skip" [80] - where prophets had no idea how much time separated varied events they predicted.

It is an interesting concept - but one completely without any anthropological or social support. As I have noted, the actual scenario would be that the prophets pay by far the most attention to the mountains closest too them - and as the mountains are farther away, they see them less distinctly and can describe less of their detail.

Ironically, this is a far more realistic picture of how, indeed, people see mountains - the contrived scenario of "prophetic skip" is analogous to prophets not being able to see mountains in more than two dimensions, and is unrealistic as an analogy to real-life experience.

78 - Though the authors do not address my own preterist views, they make a statement concerning Daniel 2, the great multi-metal statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They insist that the clay and iron feet of the statue were not fully fulfilled in Roman Empire, because "the Roman Empire never existed in a ten-king form" and also "gradually deteriorated and declined" - the Western half in 476 AD, and the Eastern half in 1453 AD. This, they say, does not correspond with the "sudden destruction of the feet of the image and the ten-horn stage of the beast in Daniel 7:7."

No ten-king form? Really? What about the ten key Roman emperors (see here) or the ten provinces of Rome in the first century that were ruled by prefects?
As for the demise of the statue, it is rather ironic that this is the same argument once made to me by a Skeptic who denied an equation with Rome. My answer is the same: If we wish to be THAT literal, the whole statue - from the head down - was atomized by the rolling mountain (2:35), and so if Walvoord and Hitchcock wish to appeal to the slow downfall of Rome based on their reading, then they also have to argue that the prediction was that all of these empires would fall at once - which clearly did not happen, even if we assume the legitimacy of continuing to identify the divided Empire with the Roman Empire as it was known. I also see no "sudden destruction" of the beast in Daniel 7:7, though perhaps the statement is a grammatical ambiguity, only meaning that they saw no correspondence to the two separate elements of the image, and the beast.

84 - The European Union now is "not the final, ultimate fulfillment of the 10-nation confederation, but Europe still provides "necessary prelude" to fulfillment of prophecy in this matter.

131-- Jer 30:7 is seen as necessarily a reference to the end times for the same reason as Matthew 24:21 is (see here).

139 -- Is. 13:19 is also said to have to refer to a future Babylon, because the one in the past hung on until AD 1000 "in some form or substance". I believe Walvoord and Hitchcock require the perspective arrived at in our material on Tyre. Such indeed is the problem: For these authors, the prophecy "must be literally fulfilled" [140] and so must be in the future. The problem again is reading ancient texts in a fashion foreign to their literary and cultural background.

145 - The creation of an American embassy complex in Baghdad may be a "key step toward the rise of Babylon" as the new world capitol.

When? The junior Walvoord and Hitchcock are far more gloomy in their assessments, yet for the most part maintain the same soon-not yet tension as the senior Walvoord did. Thus for example [43]: "A dark shadow hangs over our world. It seems like the coming of Christ is very near."

The closest they get to a specific time is when they say [59] that 2006 is to be deemed a "key turning point" for the nation of Israel, as Israel became home to the largest Jewish community in the world. This is an interesting point. Although it is not stated explicitly, one gets the sense that this is being heralded as a marker the same way that the founding of Israel in 1948 was once used - and later the retaking of Jerusalem in 1967 - as the beginning of the "generation" foreseen by Jesus, according to dispensationalists. Does this mean the "generation" will now have until 2046 to see Jesus return?

Concluding Analysis

The works of the senior Walvoord have been escorted into the 21st century. Inside AOT, the end of each chapter refers readers to a website started to keep matters up to date: Prophecyhotline.com. As of this typing, one may see on the front page the lead article, "Oil Climbs to Record High" - dated June 26, 2008. The site appears to have not been updated since then. One can only wonder why.

But that seems to reflect as well, by analogy, a story of what has happened to Walvoord's material. Walvoord's caution, which led him to speak only in general terms of world events fulfilling prophecy, simply gave insufficient reason to see impending fulfillment of specific elements of the dispensational paradigm. Such it is now that his successors have made it so that ANY bad thing can be seen as a sogn of a near end - and have thus gone the route of the Lindseys and the Hagees.

Is this is a flaw in the dispensational paradigm itself? Or in those who teach it, and cannot resist the temptation to make their own sub-prophecies, in order to make the schematic more believable, more concrete, more relevant, and more helpful for evangelism? I tend to think it is a bit of both - but the irony is, such looking at the prophetic long term, in the end, produces in the historic long term the poor result of discontent in those who look to these writers for advice and direction, and end up seeing them proved wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Highly Recommended Book: Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes



This is one of those rare books that you should buy even if you know all the basic facts in it already -- and if you've read Tekton material for any length of time, you do. Richards and O'Brien give us the rundown on all those cultural facets of the Biblical world -- like honor and shame, collectivism, patronage, and so on -- that make it so vastly different than the world of the West.

What makes Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes special is that the authors have spent a good deal of time ministering in Indonesia, which gives them the chance to illustrate some of those differences with real-life examples from a parallel culture. Therefore, even if you do know all the factual material, it's worth having the book for these examples.

There's one more reason to buy it:  It will encourage IVP and other publishers to produce like it. Encourage them to do so -- buy a wheelbarrow, then fill it with copies of this.