Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Pastor at Liberty

Over the past week I’ve had two rather disturbing encounters – disturbing because of the way they illustrate the problem the modern church has with accepting its responsibilities.

One encounter was on Nick Peters’ blog, where a commenter reacted to his posting declaring that apologetics should be a mandate for pastors. This oblivious soul declared that by declaring such a mandate, we impinged upon the “liberty” of pastors, who should feel free to explore apologetics as an option, but not be required of them.

The second encounter was with a book. I’ve been researching the relationship between the Nazis and Christianity for a TektonTV series of late, and it’s been a fascinating exploration. However, I was disgusted to find that a book had been published on the subject by Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor at Moody Bible Church in Chicago.

I’ll be blunt as usual: Lutzer has absolutely no business writing such a book. He is not knowledgeable in that subject area. Nor is he competent to research the subject, and his bibliography shows this: The newest edition – published this year – makes no reference to one of the most critical and comprehensive volumes on the subject of Nazism and Christianity (The Holy Reich).  The few respectable books used are badly out of date (e.g., Shirer’s 1960 history), and Lutzer also makes use of questionable sources like Dusty Slkar’s item on Hitler and the occult, and (cough) Dave Hunt.

To make matters worse, Lutzer’s book won an ECPA Gold Medallion Award for excellence (!) and Ravi Zacaharias wrote a foreword. This, in spite of the fact that it was clearly amateurishly done, as reflects Lutzer’s non-expertise on the subject (and I’ll add just in case it’s true, that of any ghost writer he may or may not have used), and at times is more like a sermon than a serious history.

This is not the first time Lutzer has put out a book on a subject that is truly none of his business. I also recall he did the same for The DaVinci Code. There may well be others.

In light of this, I have to ask: Do pastors really need to be given the “liberty” to NOT be responsible generators of information? 

As I told the person on Nick’s blog, all of this talk about “liberty” for pastors would be fine – if (among other things) they also agreed to not meddle in subjects they have no business meddling in. As it is, Luzter was clearly authoring this book not because he had any idea what he was talking about, but because a book by Erwin Lutzer, star pastor, sells well.

The sad fact is that many Christians do come to their pastors for advice on all sorts of things a typical pastor knows nothing about. In turn, some pastors either think they know the answer, but don’t (as with Lutzer), and continue to spread false or incomplete information. That in turn spirals downward to a time when those who first queried of them find out their pastor was talking out of his hat, and then we have the standard crisis of confidence in authority figures…and on it goes.

Pastors like Luzter do not need “liberty”. They need accountability.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Neil Godfrey: High on Context

Some time ago I challenged the incompetent Neil Godfrey (aka Vridar) to come over to TheologyWeb and debate me on the issue of high vs low context. Quite wisely, he has chosen to pretend that I do not exist, including in a posting of his in late August on the same subject.

In that post, Godfrey continues to display his usual lack of awareness of his own ability to craft a non sequitur using the highest quality that can be achieved. He quotes Casey:

 This is one basic reason why Paul says so little about the life and teaching of Jesus. To some extent, his Gentile Christians had been taught about Jesus already, so he could take such knowledge for granted. He therefore had no reason to mention places such as Nazareth, or the site of the crucifixion, nor to remind his congregations that Jesus was crucified on earth recently.

And replies:

According to this critique we can conclude that Paul forgot to mention anything about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – or even that Jesus Christ was exalted subsequently to a heavenly role as our Saviour — to his Gentile converts since he clearly does not take such knowledge for granted but repeats it scores of times throughout his epistles.

Well, no. That’s not what Casey is saying, or what “high context” means. Rather, it means, for example (as I noted in my own work), that a word like “crucifixion” becomes an effective code for all associated concepts which will NOT be explicitly mentioned (such as the location at Calvary, one of Doherty’s peeve-points). High context does not mean NO mention; it means minimally explicit and highly coded references. I daresay that’s a subtlety too complex for Vridar to grasp.

Following this, Vridar he offers an extended quote from Hall’s book culture (from which I and others get chief quotes on the subject of high context) on the subject of literature. Why he does this is hard to say, though I’d guess that it is done in order to persuade his readers that he s actually saying something worthy of notice.  The quote is all about a Japanese novel, and Vridar bolds two phrases (“in high-context situations, less is required to release the message,” “how much we take for granted even in the most mun­dane acts,”) for no noted reason, and concludes:

It seems clear to me that the high/low context question in literature is all about how we understand the fullness of what IS said.

Um….well, not “all about” since communication is a two-way street, a point which seems to have escaped Godfrey completely. But “about to some extent” would be correct. He goes on:

It strikes me as a frightful and hopelessly unlearned interpretation of E. T. Hall’s analysis to think that it can salvage scholarly hypotheses of New Testament scholars that argue Buddha never mentions anything to his Western readers about Jesus’ healings, miracles and teachings of right religion and life eternal because he (Buddha) had taught them all that stuff already.

Unfortunately, that one doesn’t get past the level of supersize non sequitur with a side of fries. What little Vridar bolds indicates the opposite of this conclusion, and he seems to be under the delusion that literature and the spoken word somehow will have different rules for “high context”. They don’t, and what he quotes from Hall doesn’t indicate this either. 

That ends Godfrey’s mumbling for that phase; while we’re here we can also dig out what few worthy notes exist in the comments from his fanbois, which is just about none of it. One denizen says:

The weakness is, as you point out, that using this principle we can no longer tell whether someone is ignorant of something or well-versed in something as the ‘evidence’ is exactly the same: no mention of it at all.

This is a “weakness”? No, it isn’t. It’s a hard reality of high context. That people like this fellow are simply too oblivious to figure out what is is their problem, not the problem of members of high context cultures, nor of those like myself and Casey who actually make the effort to discern the proper contextualization.

Another of Godfrey’s worshippers has the temerity to suggest that we should reject high context explanations because of Ockham’s Razor: It is “simpler” to suppose Jesus didn’t exist. I take this to mean that it is “simpler” to them because high context makes the issues more difficult for them to figure out with their limited mental horsepower.

More than one commenter (including the famously obtuse Steven Carr) fall for the typical error of confusing Paul’s letters with his missionary preaching, to wit: “Given Paul preached mostly in places far away from Palestine, it might be safe to assume that the news of Jesus had not yet reached that area.” Like Doherty, this Neanderthal fails to appreciate that Paul’s letters were written at least 10 years after his recipients were first preached to.

One particularly dense soul actually gets it right without knowing it:

Every Sunday that I attended church as a youth I was constantly being reminded of the many teachings and deeds of Jesus. Apparently I was living in a “low context” culture all those years.

Um, yes….you were. You still are. That’s the point.

Another sorrowful soul, similarly bereft of comprehension, supposes that “apparently the gospels themselves were written in low-context communities.” Well, no – they represent the written form of what was preached; so that once again, this is someone failing to grasp the difference noted above.

Back to Carr again, who submits yet another oblivious comment as part of his effort to spread graffiti on blogs everywhere:

How come in such a ‘high context’ society, Jews had to continually tell each other why they were celebrating Passover?

They aren’t. Here Carr fails to grasp the distinction between the presentation of information and the enacting of ritual. The parallel in the NT is 1 Cor. 11:23, which would be repeated not to inform, but to reaffirm the core values of the ingroup.

It is of note to see Joe Wallack chiming in, as he has still not gone any further on his “1000 New Testament errors” since I started erasing them years ago.

Yet another poor soul bleats Doherty’s refrain, “[Material from Jesus] surely could have settled some of the disputes. Paul could have written that a particular side of the dispute was correct, because of what Jesus did or said.” 

Well, no. Not at all. Doherty made 200 efforts to show that this was the case, and failed 200 times to demonstrate it. The poor soul himself only vaguely appeals to topics such as circumcision, but for several paragraphs of blather doesn’t manage to provide a worthwhile example, only offering the rather imaginative idea that the story of the feeding of the 5000 would somehow have had an application is his dispute with Peter over eating with Gentiles. It wouldn’t have; Paul’s issue had to do with ritual purity, and that was never an issue at the feedings; the poor soul’s ridiculous idea that “maybe there were some Gentiles in the crowd” (really? In rural peasant Galilee?) notwithstanding.

The same ignorant soul says, “It seems impossible that there never were any disputes about what Jesus did or said — especially since the Gospels still had not been written.” Um – what about oral transmission, folks? Like many graphocentrists, this one thinks it “has to be in writing.”

And that’s all, other that repeat bleats of the same errors from others. Our challenge to Vridar to put his neck on the line at TWeb – or for any of his oblivious commenters to do so – remains. Here’s where to go:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stephen Law and the Law

Dear Professor Law,

You have debated William Lane Craig on the topic of the existence of God, with a subsequent discussion of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at your blog.  This discussion has spilled over to the blog of David Marshall, here:

This prompts me to ask you the following questions, to help clarify matters.  Your response would be welcome.

The New Testament is a collection of human testimony.  Do you accept this?  Yes or no?

The analysis of human testimony is the domain of the science of jurisprudence.  Do you accept this?  Yes or no?

The rules of legal evidence should apply to all human testimony.  Do you agree?  Yes or no?

What law, court decision or legal precedent accepts the principle, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"?

Do you accept the legal maxim, "Innocent until proven guilty"?  Yes or no?

Do you understand the legal principle, "means, motive and opportunity"?  Yes or no?

Do you accept the legal principle, "means, motive and opportunity"?  Yes or no?

What first century testimony counters the testimony of the evangelists?

What legal reason do you give for disregarding the claims to eyewitness testimony in
 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, John 8:13-18, John 12:17, John 19:35, John 20:27-28, John 21:24, Luke 1:1-3, Luke 24:44-48, Acts 1:8, Acts 1:21-23, Acts 2:22-32, Acts 3:12-15, Acts 4:33, Acts 5:27-32, Acts 10:34-45, Acts 13:31, Acts 14:3, 1 John 1:1-4 and 2 Peter 1:16?

Should 21st century hearsay opinion supersede first century eyewitness testimony, unrefuted by those with the means, motive and opportunity to do so?  Yes or no?

Do you believe the New Testament accounts be given the same legal acceptance as the Domesday Book, the Ancient Statutes of Wales, or any ancient document published under the British Record Commission?  Yes or no?  If not, for what legal reason?

You stated, "In a court of law, the judge will rightly look much less favourably on testimony provided only decades after the alleged event."  This is an unsubstantiated opinion.  What legal fact supports your assertion?  Does argument by unsupported assertion demonstrate rational thinking?  Yes or no?

Do you accept the Ancient Documents Rule?  Yes or no?

"In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs."  Morewood v Wood, 14 East, 329, n., per Lord Kenyon; Weeks v Sparke, 1 M. & S. 686; Berkeley Peerage Case, 4 Campb. 416, per Mansfield, Ch. J.; see 1 Greenl. on Ev. § 128.  Do you accept this legal principle?  Yes or no?

In Dillon v Dillon, 3 Curteis, Eccl. Rep. pp. 96, 102, the following legal principle was established:  "When you examine the testimony of witnesses nearly connected with the parties, and there is nothing very peculiar tending to destroy their credit, when they depose to mere facts, their testimony is to be believed; when they depose as to matter of opinion, it is to be received with suspicion."  Do you accept this?  Yes or no?

The Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version June 2012, defines "anonymous" as

1.  a. Nameless, having no name; of unknown name.
     b. Hence subst. A person whose name is not given, or is unknown.
2. transf. Bearing no author's name; of unknown or unavowed authorship.

Do you accept this definition?  Yes or no?

Merriam-Webster defines "anonymous" as

1  : of unknown authorship or origin <an anonymous tip>
: not named or identified <an anonymous author> <they wish to remain anonymous>

Do you accept this definition?  Yes or no?

Do you have any epistemology for deciding the authorship of documents? Yes or no?

Do you understand the legal principle, "res gestae"?  Yes or no?

Do you accept the legal principle, "res gestae"?  Yes or no?

Do you believe your opinion supersedes the law?  Yes or no?

Do you believe a double standard demonstrates rational thinking?  Yes or no?

Do you believe argument from ignorance demonstrates rational thinking?  Yes or no?

To what extent have you applied the rules of legal evidence to the New Testament accounts?

"Christianity founds its claim to our belief upon the weight of the evidence by which it is supported. This evidence is not peculiar to the department of theology; its rules are precisely those by which the law scans the conduct and language of men on all other subjects, even in their daily transactions. This branch of the law is one of our particular study. It is our constant employment to explore the mazes of falsehood, to detect its doublings, to pierce its thickest veils; to follow and expose its sophistries; to compare, with scrupulous exactness, the testimony of different witnesses to examine their motives and their interests; to discover truth and separate it from error. Our fellow-men know this to be our province; and perhaps this knowledge may have its influence to a greater extent than we or even they imagine. We are therefore required by the strongest motives,-- by personal interest, by the ties of kindred and friendship, by the claims of patriotism and philanthropy, to examine, and that not lightly, the evidences on which Christianity challenges our belief; and the degree of credit to which they are entitled."

Do you understand this, Professor Law?  Yes or no?

This is a joint effort by myself and a frequent contributor to Tekton. We don't expect Law to actually answer any of these questions, because he pretty clearly makes up the rules as he goes along.