Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calling "Men of Faith" to Account

Recently I had a scheduled engagement on a podcast show that I had to shift because of planning problems. In the week prior to that, though, I had some emails from a Christian who expressed concern because the host had certain Catholic leanings.

I told the emailer that if he wanted to make a case to me, vague accusation was not enough; he had to prove his point, and also prove that there was a real problem with the doctrines the host accepted. Cordially, the writer replied asking if I would be willing to check out some material written by some “men of faith” on the subject.

Oh boy.

After this long I know well enough that “men of faith” tends to mean, “some loudmouth with inadequate credentials and a holier than thou attitude.” And I was right: The writer recommended works by Dave Hunt, John MacArthur, and James White.

My doings with White, and why I don’t consider him particularly reliable (compared to serious scholars, that is), are well known to most readers, and I will not reiterate them here. One thing I will add is that there is more I have learned lately about White’s inability to re-examine his prior conclusions which make me even less inclined to trust him.

It isn’t good to speak ill of the dead, so I’ll just say about Hunt for now that while Seduction of Christianity was okay, things went downhill from there, especially with reference to his end times material.

As for MacArthur…readers will have seen in a prior entry here that I am far from enamored with his scholarship. I now have even less reason to be. More on that after some background.

I’ll announce something for the first time publicly here. Of late I have been “hired on” to put together a rebuttal to a rather execrable YouTube series called The FUEL Project: Know Your Enemy. It is ostensibly Christian, but promotes a lot of that paranoid New World Order/Catholic Church is the Antichrist nonsense, the latter of which is informed by the even more execrable book The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop. This book from the 19th century is the Christian version of Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy, and contains just as much bad scholarship per page. FUEL's series consists, frankly, of one error after another, as the creator apparently did little more than copy and paste from conspiracy websites without checking their claims, in many cases I have found simply doing so word for word (without always crediting the source, either -- which is plagiarism). More on that project another time.

Thanks to my work on that project, at any rate, the email writer’s note got me thinking. I knew MacArthur had written some screeds against Catholicism before, and now I wondered if he had ever recommended The Two Babylons.  Well, he has. Below is the text of an interview (link below) with MacArthur for his Grace to You program, where a caller (also named John) dialed in.

JOHN: Hi, my name is John. I have this book on Babylon Mystery Religion by Ralph Woodrow and I just wanted to ask you what you thought of it and is Christmas derived from paganism and is the cross derived from paganism?

JOHN MACARTHUR: Well, I'm not sure, who published, what's the publisher of that book, John?

JOHN: He published it himself.

JOHN MACARTHUR: Okay. Basic principle: Be careful of books that are published by the guy who wrote them (laughter).

JOHN: Uh-huh.

JOHN MACARTHUR: You just have to be discerning. Usually, when a man publishes his own material, it is either because no one else will publish it or because it is too volatile or argumentative or there's no audience for it or it's not right or something. Now, basically speaking, I believe that he's right on many of those issues. Much of modern Christendom is a result of paganism. There's no question about that.

After giving a list of supposed examples, MacArthur closes:

But, yes, there's no question about the fact that the systems of Babylon have been superimposed upon Christianity. There's no question about that so, insofar as he brings that issue. There's another book that's very helpful called The Two Babylons Hyslop, H-Y-S-L-O-P. Also, a very, very helpful book.

This interview result is hilarious for a few reasons, not the least of which is that MacArthur doesn’t even spell Hislop’s name right. A second amusement is the irony in the caller’s original question about Woodrow. Woodrow did indeed write such a book, which was essentially a prĂ©cis using Hislop as a major source. But he later wrote a contrary book in which he disavowed his findings in Babylon Mystery Religion, having found that Hislop’s book was historically unreliable. Woodrow also wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal on the same subject. 

The third hilarity is the irony of MacArthur saying we have to be “discerning” when he ends up recommending garbage like The Two Babylons.

I’d like to say that MacArthur isn’t doing this anymore; this interview did apparently take place back in the 70s or so. But indications are he hasn’t learned. As late as 2001, in his book The God Who Loves, there is a footnote recommending The Two Babylons, saying it offers “abundant historical evidence that the Babylonian religion founded by Nimrod is the basis for virtually all subsequent false religious systems.” One can readily see him asking, as he did of Calvin and Spurgeon, “Who can improve on Hislop?”

I can only hope MacArthur has learned in his lesson about Hislop in the past dozen years. He probably hasn’t. But whether he has or not, it’s high time so-called “men of faith” were held to account for this sort of incompetence. If I had my way, MacArthur would have been stripped of his pastoral credentials and his media outlets back when he first recommended Hislop’s Slop, and would not have been allowed to get them back until he had 1) apologized in the same venues for recommending it and 2) taken remedial courses in church history. He then would have been barred from writing books on any serious subject for the duration, unless they had been fully vetted by a board of credentialed scholars. His recommend of Hislop shows that he can’t be trusted to do it on his own…and we can say the same of far too many “men of faith” publishing their nonsense today. (I already referred to one other such example in an earlier entry here: Erwin Lutzer’s horrible book on Adolf Hitler. I’m now working on an e-book on that subject, which is needed to counter a lot of the nonsense – apologetics and otherwise – that has been issued on that subject in the past.)

It’s a fair complaint that we need to get our own house in order before we straighten the furniture in others’ houses. Tekton’s always had an inclination to do that. It’ll just be a little more obvious in the next few years.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Snap: N. T. Wright's "Evil and the Justice of God"

Today we hand the reins to Nick Peters for a review of this book, which is more his kind of thing. 

            Upfront, I will admit I have a huge bias to N.T. Wright. I just consider the work that he has done to be incredible and if I have a chance to listen to him speak, I take it. I was naturally thrilled when I was given the chance to get one of his books for a review and give a critique.

            Wright’s book “Evil and the Justice of God” is about God’s answer to evil from a biblical perspective. It is quite a different tone from a work such as Bart Ehrman’s “God’s Problem”, to which my review can be found here. Ehrman reads the Bible and thinks it doesn’t answer the question. Wright instead thinks the whole purpose of the Bible is to answer the question.

            What makes the difference is how the Bible is being read. Wright comes from a position of seeking to understand the whole of Scripture, do in-depth background study, and not just go with what the tradition viewpoint is. Ehrman, as we know, comes from a highly fundamentalist and individualistic position.

            It’s not a shock that Wright makes the better case then. Wright early on states the problem and that everyone must deal with it. We ask as Christians at times, or get asked “If the world is created by such a good God, why is there evil?” Wright says we can ask it in reverse for the atheist. “Even if you’re an atheist, you face the problem the other way around: is this world a sick joke, which contains some things that make us think it’s a wonderful place and other things which make us think it’s an awful place, or what?” (p. 19)

            This was the question of Chesterton as well. How do you explain the problem of pleasure? God could have created a world that was in black and white. He didn’t. God could have created food without flavor. He didn’t. God could have made it that we had to reproduce, but He did not have to make the sexual act so enjoyable. He did. How is this to be explained? If Christians must explain evil, and we should have an answer for evil, let us have the atheist explain good. (Of course, we could just as well ask them to explain any absolutes like that)

            Wright also deals with the myth of progress. He sees no way we can say that we are really progressing in morality when we have had numerous wars, including two world wars, Auschwitz, and other events. (p. 23) It is easy to talk about progress if there is no distinctive goal and progress just means the place you have reached when you reach it. (My speaking of Chesterton again.)

            To give an example of today, Wright says on p. 24-25 that “We all know that sexual licentiousness creates massive unhappiness in families and individual live, but we live in the twenty-first century, don’t we, and we don’t want to say that adultery is wrong. (We should perhaps note that only two generations ago many communities regarded adultery the way they now regard pedophilia, which is worrying on both counts.)”

            The only taboo in fact today is to say that anything is taboo. We let everything go its own way and then wonder why there are so many problems in the world. Evil has simply been reduced often to “That which we do not like.” It is not the case that we have a reason why God should not have judged the Canaanites. We but only need to say “We don’t like it” and already our opinion is justified.

            Why should we be given this level of accuracy in judgment? Wright looks at our world where we are afraid to say something is right and wrong and says “We live in a world where politicians, media pundits, economists and even, alas, some late-blooming liberal theologians speak as if humankind is basically all right, the world is basically all right, and there’s nothing that we should make a fuss about.” (p. 25)

            Such a view is not even capable of accepting disagreement with its central dogma on a small scale. (Christians standing up for true marriage.) It is incapable of dealing with real actions of evil, such as 9-11, or seeing how the world is not all right, such as in the case of Hurricane Katrina. 

            What do we need to do? We need to think deeply about good and evil. If subjectivity reigns, then it will be some opinions have power by virtue of the people who have them and not the reasons for them. Even if our opinions are right, we need to know why. As Wright says “Lashing out at something you simply know by intuition is wrong may be better than tolerating it. But it is hardly the way to build a stable society.” (p. 27)

            Readers of Tektonics are well aware of the problem of individualism. While Wright does not write on that, he does give a statement that shows an end result of this along with what has been said. He states that “Claiming the status of victim has become the new multicultural sport, as people scramble for the moral high ground in which they can emerge as pure and clean, and everybody else is to blame.” (p. 29)

            Part of maturity is accepting your own responsibility. Of course, there are times when someone else is to blame for the suffering of another, but just because you are a target somewhere does not mean that you are a victim. This kind of mindset has allowed too many people to get emotional sympathy from a culture that makes moral decisions based on emotions.

            So now let’s get to Wright’s view of the problem. Readers of his work will be familiar with him going back to Genesis to show where the problem takes place and the start of the solution is Abraham. Wright has no patience with our system that goes “Creation, fall, redemption, resurrection.” Wright says that after fall, we should put “Israel.” (That is not in this book, but it is in his other writings and the sentiment is there.)

            This means that God called Abraham to form the nation of Israel and Israel was to make things right. Yet Israel herself proved to be part of the problem, in passages such as Exodus 32, a passage rabbis would later look on with shame. Israel often proved to be even more wicked than the pagan nations that were around her. Yet Israel has done two services for the world definitely.

            The first is the handing down of the Old Testament so we could know about the problem. The second, is the birthing of the Messiah, who is the solution of the problem. Jesus is the true Israel who succeeds where Israel, and every other human being has failed, in dealing with evil.

            Jesus’s life shows what it will be like when God is in charge. The gospels matter. As Wright has said in numerous podcasts, when we look at the Nicene Creed we read “Born under the Virgin Mary. Crucified under Pontius Pilate,” we can then look and see the gospel writers in the background saying “Hold on there! We spent a lot of time on that stuff in the middle!” Wright says this not to fault the creeds. He loves them. He says this to show us that we need to fill in those gaps.

            By the cross and the resurrection, Jesus has dealt with the problem. He has set the world aright by His sacrifice and faithful service to YHWH. Now Jesus is enthroned as the king of this world and has given us the charge in the Great Commission that we are to go forth and make disciples of all nations. The solution to the problem of evil is to have God be all in all again just as in the beginning, and to rescue people from their exile from God.

            Christians are then to live lives thinking about the resurrection and about the future state, which for Wright is not a blissful pie in the sky eternity, but rather God reigning on this Earth and making this Earth right. We are to live with the knowledge of the future and have that knowledge come and impact our present.

            This will also come down to forgiveness. Wright stresses that we need forgiveness for each other and for ourselves, and this is to be done without minimizing the evil that has taken place. We are people who are teachers of grace and we must live with that grace. To not recognize forgiveness for others and for ourselves is to not live in a Christian manner.

            If there is a criticism I have of this book, I think it is that Wright sometimes steps out of his area of expertise. There are times when he comments on economic policy and I do not think he is accurate in what he is saying. This would be the only real problem I have as on a biblical level, it is hard to disagree with Wright.

            Despite that concern, I highly recommend this work of Wright, which should be no shock. When it comes to evil, Ehrman is wrong. The Bible does show how the problem has been dealt with, is being dealt with, and will be dealt with. Ehrman is wrong and Wright is right.