Category Archives: Unorthodox

Theism vs Panentheism

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Is this a diagram of orthodox Christian theism?

clip_image001

 

(Image courtesy Christian Forums.com)

Panentheism means ‘”all in God.” It is also called process theology (since it views God as a changing Being) [Geisler 1999:576].

This is the person’s retort to my teaching at: Is Panentheism true Christian teaching?

Does Christianity affirm this understanding of God? This person’s responses are in red font.

1.    The Judeo-Christian God is outside the universe

The biblical teaching is that the Judeo-Christian God had to be outside the universe for him to create the universe, which is external to him.

1.1   Illogical that God is outside the universe

Regarding my statement that the God who is outside the universe created it, you stated:

This is not logical. I feel this is a lame attempt to explain how evil can exist alongside God.  What did God use then, to create the universe?  This does not resonate with me as I believe it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God.  God may be “outside” the universe, however, this does not mean that the universe is not God.  He may not be in this universe, however, this universe is in him.

Take a listen to an interview with leading Christian apologist, born in India, the late Ravi Zacharias, about the problem of evil and God:

It is perfectly logical if you take the biblical text of Genesis 1 seriously. Your response indicates to me that you haven’t done an exegesis of Genesis to arrive at an understanding of how God created the heavens and the earth. In Scripture, He tells us specifically but you don’t seem to want to accept God’s view, but instead take the line, ‘This does not resonate with me’.

That sure sounds like Frank Sinatra’s worldview, ‘I did it my way‘. I’m trying to be kind in my understanding of your analysis of the origin of the universe, but I find some contradictory and nonsensical things in what you wrote here, for example:

clip_image003‘I believe it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God.’ If I’m to take that at face value, there is nothing – including you and me – that is not God. I can assure you that I’m a sinful human being who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). I am not God. My car, house and the beautiful Australian landscape are not God. They are separate from God because they are created things and are in need of creators.

clip_image003[1] If the universe is God, then this keyboard on which I type, computer screen, PC hard drive, office chair, and my meal tonight are God. Surely you know that is nonsensical thinking.

1.2 Genesis 1-2 disagrees

It seems to me you need to do some reading and study of the first 2 chapters of the Book of Genesis. I recommend H C Leopold, Exposition of Genesis, vol 1 (available online).  Genesis 1:1 (NIV), the first verse of the Bible, is teeming with meaning, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. This sentence is so full of meaning because it declares to us:

    (a)    God did several things (all stated in this verse) at once. These are …

    (b)    God is the Supreme Being who created the universe. Before the universe came into being, there was the Person, God. We know He is a person because he created personal beings, Adam & Eve.

    (c)    God exists independently of matter and sequential time. He is independent of space and time. This is possible because some of His prominent attributes are declared in this verse.

    (d)    According to this verse, before the creation of the heavens and the earth there was nothing. ‘Theologians speak of God’s immensity, infinity, and transcendence to describe this and our minds race at the thought of it, unable to take it in. All we can do is acquiesce and worship’.

1.3 God’s creation of everything in the universe

Genesis 1:1 teaches that everything that exists in the universe was created by God. There is a special Hebrew verb used in this verse which is translated ‘God created’. For this act of creation the verb b?r? is used. When this verb appears in the Old Testament, God is always the subject, stated or implied. Yes, human beings also ‘create poetry, music, literature, construction work, etc, but there is nothing to compare with God who creates. It is used in Gen 1:1, 21, 27 and Gen 2:4.

In Gen 1:21 and 27, creation does not exclude pre-existing material. However, in all of these verses, the emphasis is on the ‘achievement of something completely new’. The point of these verses is that the All-Powerful God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). Eastern creation stories from Egypt and Mesopotamia assumed their gods worked with existing materials.

Can you imagine the power of the God who created the entire universe? But there is more to the what of creation …

1.4 God and creation of darkness

Genesis 1:2 states, ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. What does it mean that it was ‘formless and empty’? God’s initial creation out of nothing was on in its final form.

What God initially brought into being was “t?hu vab?hu,” a “formless and empty mass.” Initially, the created universe had no distinctive shape; its structure would be formed by the artistry and design of God. In this sense, we are like God. We, too, fashion and mold and make things that are often beautiful. It is, in part, what Genesis 1:26–27 means by saying that Adam was created “in the image of God.” Man, too, creates, or better, re-creates, shapes his environment in such a way as to reflect something pleasing and good. Once man fell, this capacity became as much a liability as a blessing: his capacity to fashion became a means to idolatry (Derek Thomas, Table Talk, ‘Creation Ex Nihilo‘, January 2006).

In Scripture, God doesn’t reveal Himself in anyway that resembles ‘it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God‘. Your view promotes panentheism, i.e. the world is in God; nothing is not God. To be honest, this is a self-construct, although there are many followers. See the panentheist supporter, Dr Marcus J Borg (1997). The God we never knew. He died in 2015, so now knows the truth about his view of God.

News from the Diocesan Worship Adviser - The Church of England ...

(photo of Michael W Brierley courtesy Diocese of Worster, UK)

 

Other panentheists include Michael W. Brierley, a Church of England priest in the diocese of Exeter UK  and Philip Clayton, contemporary American philosopher of religion and science, Claremont Graduate School of Theology.

 

2.    Lucifer is part of God

In my discussion about the origin of Satan, you responded:

Once again, this does not quite sit well with me.  If Lucifer created the 7 deadly sins then he truly is a part of God to be able to create at all.  There must be trillions upon trillions of different endings to this story if we have the ability to choose.  Only God knows which ending is the true ending then. How can God create what he doesn’t know?  Why was there ever a choice if God didn’t have a full understanding of the negative choices that can be made?

2.1 Subjective opinion is not good enough

clip_image005‘Once again, this does not quite sit well with me‘ is a subjective response that is open to other kinds of subjective responses, e.g. The ‘7 deadly sins’ nails areas of my life where I need to be right with God. May I suggest you move to the more objective position: What does God say about these sins in Scripture? I need to be obedient to him.

clip_image005[1]    ‘If Lucifer created the 7 deadly sins then he truly is a part of God to be able to create at all‘. This is your hypothesis. We know Lucifer did not create the 7 deadly sins. It is a misinterpretation to make the 7 deadly sins an indicator for your panentheistic theology. Besides, all sins are forgivable by God, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29).

clip_image005[2]    ‘How can God create what he doesn’t know?‘ He knows everything because of his attribute of omniscience, so there is nothing God doesn’t know (1 John 3:20; Psalm 139:1-4; Acts 1:24).

Your God is too small and has the wrong digestion system. I suggest you read a sound book of Christian theology on the attributes of God. I’m thinking of Norman L Geisler, Systematic Theology in one volume. I could never find your God in Scripture. God knows everything he created. How do we know? He told us so: Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20; Acts 15:18).

Are the 7 deadly sins found in the Bible? Yes and no! In Proverbs 6:16–19 you can read of 7 things that God detests.

When God created human beings he didn’t create robots. He produced men who raise cattle and work in offices, women who raise children at home while others choose to go into many occupations in the work force. Wouldn’t it be a horrible world if you or I could not make choices of what we eat and which brand of steak is preferred?

clip_image005[3]    ‘Why was there ever a choice if God didn’t have a full understanding of the negative choices that can be made?‘ Your premise is false. God had a full understanding of the negative choices people would make (see verses above), but he chose to create people with free will, knowing the consequences. Remember that the one who created everything from nothing, knew what people would do with their free will, provided a way of escape. It was redemption for sinners who respond in faith to Jesus, the one who shed his blood for our atonement (cleansing of sin).

3.    No place for evil side with God

You wrote: ‘there is no place for this evil/negative side to exist within God ‘. This causes your worldview to come crashing down in the heap of panentheism. If there is no place for evil within God, how can you justify this statement: ‘God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God ‘? If ‘God is all‘, then ‘God’s “all” includes evil and the negative side‘. Are you prepared to defend that position in the public square: Facebook, Twitter, online forums, letters to the editor that the terrorist monsters, the rapists and Hitler exist within God? Is he the holy God of justice or is he some other ‘person’ who has an image generated by panentheism?

4.    Darkness is not separate to God

clip_image007 You wrote: ‘To suggest that the darkness is separate to God would give the impression that God is up against another entity separate from him.  I can’t gel with that.

Neither does it gel with me either. Here’s why: In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus told the story of the ungodly rich man and the godly beggar. When they died, the rich man went to Hades (for punishment), while the beggar went to Abraham’s Side (heaven). The rich man in Hades was experiencing ‘agony in the fire … this place of torment’ (vv 26, 28). It was conscious punishment. See also Matthew 12:36-37 and Luke 12:47-48. This article explains the biblical teaching: Is God in hell?

clip_image007[1]  ‘I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible that in the beginning there was God and the Word and darkness‘.

I can’t believe you’ve made such an uninformed statement. Take a read of these early verses from Genesis 1: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day’ (Gen 1:1-5).

There you have it right before your eyes that in the beginning there was God and darkness. Where does Scripture affirm that the Word was in the beginning? It’s in John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.

Who is ‘the Word’? ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. So, John 1:1 teaches that Jesus was the Word who was God. However, this One who is God also became a human being, the God-man who was ‘the Word [who] became flesh’ (John 1:14) and lived on earth among human beings.

The Bible contradicts your view that there was no darkness separate to God as He created darkness. May I suggest you do more careful reading of Scripture to arrive at an accurate understanding, instead of imposing your panentheistic views on Scripture.

5.    Why I will never support panentheism

Figure 2The references you have provided do not convince me that there is something that is not a part of God that can then go up against him’.

I can guarantee you that I’m not a part of God, although I have Jesus living in me, because of salvation through Christ. I don’t expect to convince you from Scripture that the almighty God is the Creator who created the universe from outside the universe. Here is why I’m not a panentheist:[1]

a. The nature of God.

The Bible teaches nothing about the panentheist God who has two poles. The biblical God is self-existent and this includes many supernatural attributes.

b.    The nature of the universe.

Instead of the universe being processed (changing), the Christian God is immutable (changeless) and the evidence he provided in the reliable Bible (using historical criteria) is that God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)..

c.    Miracles

Since your view is that the world is in God, it conflicts with the almighty God who demonstrated many miracles throughout history. He can do that because he stands outside of the universe. In your worldview, there is no need for supernatural acts and in fact they are impossible.

d.    The nature of human beings

Your worldview allows for human beings to be personal and free. But your view is that humanity was co-created with God and is of God. This is radically different to the Christian view of original sin and the need for a Saviour to cleanse us from sin through repentance and faith.

e.    Ethics

Do you believe there are absolute values? Are the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) always true or are they in process and can change?

In the words of Dr William Lane Craig, these are three reasons why I am not a panentheist:

1) Does God act as a cause outside of nature or are acts of nature acts of God without an external cause outside of nature? The Bible teaches that God on occasion acts as a cause outside nature. The effects of such actions are called miracles. The supreme example is the creation of the universe itself. We have good evidence for such a transcendent cause, e.g., evidence for the beginning of the universe and evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, which cannot be accounted for by wholly natural causes.

2) Is the universe eternal? If the universe is eternal could God be the cause of the universe’s existence? The Bible teaches that the universe is not eternal but was created by God at some time in the past, a view that is confirmed scientifically and is eminently reasonable philosophically. Setting aside philosophical arguments against the eternality of the past, there is no reason that God could not create an eternal universe. For any time t, the universe would depend for its existence upon God at t, whether or not there were moments of time earlier than t.

3) Can God be the universe and exist apart from the universe at the same time? Obviously, if God = the universe, then since the universe cannot exist apart from the universe, neither can God exist apart from the universe! But I think the more appropriate question is whether the universe could be a part of God. Biblically, that’s ruled out, and most of the traditional theistic arguments rule it out as well. God and the world are ontologically distinct (Panentheism).

f.    The nature of biblical revelation

I consider one of your greatest issues with biblical Christianity is that you will not accept Scripture at face value. When the eternal God stated he ‘created the heavens and the earth’ from outside of the universe, you reject this and impose your panentheistic interpretation on it. The presuppositions of panentheism drive your views of reality. You seem to impose them on Scripture and don’t want to admit what you do. Nowhere in Scripture have I read anything that looks like ‘the universe is in God’.

6.    God is sinful

‘Because God is all creating does not mean He is not sinless.

By this statement, are you contending that God is sinful – He is not sinless? Sadly, you don’t understand how a sinful person could cleanse the sins of all people throughout human history who have responded to Jesus in repentance and faith.

6.1 Jesus is sinless

Your view flatly denies biblical teaching on the need for a sinless Saviour who was a sacrifice to cleanse human beings of their sins. These are but a few examples:

clip_image0092 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’.

clip_image009[1] 1 Peter 2:22 : ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth’.

clip_image009[2]Hebrews 4:15: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin’.

clip_image009[3]1 John 3:5: ‘But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin’.

So, God the Son, one person in the Trinity, was sinless.

 

6.2 What about God the Father?

clip_image011 Numbers 23:19: ‘God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind’. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?’

 

clip_image011[1]Deuteronomy 32:34: ‘I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’.

 

clip_image011[2]1 Samuel 15:29, ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind’.

 

clip_image011[3]2 Timothy 2:13: ‘If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself’.

 

clip_image011[4]Titus 1:2: ‘… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time’.

 

clip_image011[5]Hebrews 6:18: ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged’.

 

clip_image011[6]James 1:13: ‘When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone’.

 

clip_image011[7]1 John 1:5: ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’.

 

I could provide additional Scripture to support the teaching on God, the Holy Spirit, who is not a sinner.

7. Theism vs Panentheism

Norman Geisler has provided this helpful summary of the differences between orthodox theism and panentheism (Geisler 1999:576):

Theism Panentheism
God is Creator. God is director.
Creation is ex nihilo. Creation is ex materia.
God is sovereign over world. God is dependent on world.
God is independent over world. God is dependent on world.
God is unchanging. God is changing.
God is absolutely prefect. God is growing more perfect.
God is mono-polar. God is bi-polar.
God is actually infinite. God is actually finite.

 

Where can panentheism be found today? It can be found in Hinduism, Sikhism, certain mystical Jewish traditions, Taoism, some Christianity where it is also called process theology (including the Eastern Orthodox Church. Unitarian Universalist Church),  some Sufi Islamic saints and thinkers had panentheistic views, and Gnosticism.

8.    Main issue

In my view, your main problem is that you choose not to accept the Scripture at face value but replace it with the irrational reasoning of panentheism that does not match reality. This is called eisegesis of any form of literature. It is based on the NT Greek preposition eis, which means ‘in/into’. So, when you read your worldview into the text, you come up with an interpretation that does not come out of the text.

9. Works consulted

Geisler, N L 1999. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

10. Note

[1] These points were made by Geisler (1999:577-578).

Panentheism - Wikiquote

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 July 2020.

Abstract pink lines. Vector — Stock Vector © emaria #6500803

Abstract pink lines. Vector — Stock Vector © emaria #6500803

The Internet: A great place to promote false doctrine

Wolf in Sheep's clothing

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A talking cross is acceptable, but the homosexual proposition concerning Lot and his virgin daughters in Genesis 19 was disgusting. This is how my dialogue with this bloke developed online:

A.  Almost everyone is a heretic

Bob:[1] Almost everyone is a ‘heretic’ to someone.

With a few exceptions who (like myself) think outside the ‘box’, and consequently are occasionally regarded as ‘heretics’ to almost everyone.

Most ‘forumites’ belong to one group or another, who regard everyone who believes differently from themselves as ‘heretics’.

Generally the worst examples of ‘forum’ membership know better, but are unable to apply their knowledge.

Such is religion……the seedbed of confrontation, insular bigotry, hatred, persecution, and even torture and murder.

Even Calvin, who so many rever (sic), fell foul to torture and murder of one of his dissidents.

Now …… how’s about another ‘biggie’ regarding the historical accuracy of my source of information re Calvin.[2]

Oz: Seems as though you are pointing the finger at yourself as well! clip_image002[3]

B. Who decides on books for the canon of Scripture?

Scarlet Scripture Button

Bob: If, by scripture, you include the canonised addition of a selection of the apostolic writings then yes, there probably are elements of truth….[4]

Oz: Are you the one who determines what is truth in the canon of Scripture?[5]

Bob: When it comes to making any determination “for oneself” who on earth, other than a mindless wimp, can make such a determination other than oneself?[6]

Oz: One does not make a determination ‘for oneself’ as to what is in the canon of Scripture. The church has already made that decision in the early centuries. Or, are you reading the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Laodiceans as equal with the books of the canon of the NT?

If ‘for oneself’ determines canonicity, it leads to anything goes. Why place any limit on the canon? Is that your view?[7]

Bob: My view is that it was not God’s intention that, centuries after ‘Christ’, post apostolic men should extend the OT scriptures to form a new Religious Text Book.

The New Covenant moves us up a rung from ‘Religion’ to ‘Faith’ and Paul battled hard and long to prevent a reversion (see “who hath bewitched you etc.) in his letter to the Galatians.

My view is that ALL of the apostolic writings should have been separately preserved, and differently regarded.

I refer to them, and quote from them, with regularity.[8] Being opposed to dogmatic theology places me at the opposite end of the spectrum to yourself (as distinct from being yet another “I am right and you are wrong” merchant).

Good heavens I even ‘allow’ for the possibility that the likes of you MIGHT be ‘right’.[9]

C. Should Gospel of Peter be in the canon of Scripture?

File:Gospel of Peter.jpg

(Gospel of Peter image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Oz: So is it OK with you that Christians should be reading, imbibing and treating as sacred writings, the Gospel of Peter which states:

And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’ [43]

So a talking cross is suitable for you as the norm for biblical Christianity?[10]

Now note his response:

Bob: A darned sight more palatable than the following, which doubtless you endorse.

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].[11]

Oz: Your response demonstrates you can’t discern the difference between the fantasy of the Gospel of Peter and the sinful reality that is expressed in Genesis 19.[12]

Bob: Good heavens, would you ‘die’ if you were not able to have the final ‘winning word’ in a verbal conflict.

You’re right in respect of all that you say of me ….. there now, does that save you from ‘dieing’?[13]

D. Prevent promotion of false doctrine

Brute Teacher

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Oz: Can’t you engage in constructive dialogue with me without making the false accusation against me of a ‘final “winning word”‘?

I’m not planning on ‘dieing’ but I will be ‘dying’ one day.

I am not saying anything of you personally. However, you are promoting some strange doctrines on this forum and I will investigate – even challenge – you on these points. Why? Because the Scriptures have asked me to do so in 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT):

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

You have provided too much teaching to demonstrate that I need to ‘test’ your teaching as it compares with the Scriptures. So far, I’ve found a number of points of contention. This is my biblical responsibility before God: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV). ‘For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3 NLT).

That’s why I will not let you get away with teaching falsehood on this forum. The Scripture requires that I be vigilant in warning people of false teaching when I see it happening.

The Internet is a great place to propagate such false teaching.

I have nothing against you, but sound doctrine is what the Bible calls me to be as a Bible teacher. This requires refutation of false doctrine.

I have not the slightest interest in ‘winning’ a discussion. I DO HAVE a profound interest in keeping the faith and warning people about others who are promoting false doctrine – like you do.[14]

Bob: I too have a divine commission, and mine is to deflate insular bigots who think that they have access to truth that is so reliable that what they believe can be used as an infallible yardstick giving them the authority to pronounce everyone who believes differently as being promoters of false doctrine.
I’ve cross (sic) swords with you over many forums and many years and never once have you admitted that you could be less than absolutely correct in respect of any aspect of Christian doctrine.[15]

Oz: Where is your divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ found in Scripture? Please show me.

It is not true that you have crossed swords with me ‘over many forums and many years’. I have met you once on a small UK forum and I was only there for a short period of time. Please inform me in a PM of these ‘many forums’. Could this be hyperbole by you?

The issue is still your false doctrine, which you don’t want to admit. Here it is false doctrine regarding the canon of Scripture and its content.[16]

E. Embarrassment: A criterion of historicity

10 Blushing Emoticon Free Cliparts That You Can Download To YouBob objected to this story:

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].

One of the criteria used by historians to support the historicity of a document is embarrassment. It needs to be used in conjunction with other criteria such as discontinuity/dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, plausibility, etc. When I wrote my PhD dissertation for the University of Pretoria, South Africa (graduating in 2015), my doctoral supervisor said that he used coherence as a strong indicator of historicity. I find coherence to be too subjective a criterion as it deals with the how the various criteria of historicity fit together or cohere.

Evans (2007:51) sees a potential problem with this index of coherence because an assumption that something that is attributed to Jesus that is not supported by one or more of the above criteria, does not necessarily make the statement inauthentic.[17]

Apply the criterion of embarrassment to Genesis 19:1-8 and this horrible event of Lot offering his two virgin daughters to those seeking homosexual liaisons. Like Bob, I find this story abhorrent as it describes the wicked, sinful actions of Lot and those seeking homosexual liaisons. This is an incident that could hardly be acceptable to the Hebrew community. It should have embarrassed even the most experienced sinner. The fact that it is included and not censored from the account of the Genesis 19 narrative is a strong statement about the reliability of its history.

F. Why is Bob such an antagonist to evangelical Christianity?

Bob has made his intent clear in his personal statement of faith on Christianity Board. It reads:

Personal Statement of Faith

I major on what I call ‘circumstantial deference’ based on the fact that none can see other through a darkened glass until we finally see Christ face to face and know even as we are known.

I believe that ‘scripture’ was inspired to a degree of which we cannot be certain, but I stop short of the extreme of ‘absolute’ verbal inerrancy. I also reject the view that ‘canonisation’, centuries after ‘Christ’, was a faultless operation. For me ‘The Word of God’ is that which God “writes on the fleshy table of my heart”, using media of which scripture is a vital part, but not the only part (I am not an advocate of ‘sola scriptura’).
I am the originator and sole member of my particular creedless, non-denominational, denomination, which offers fellowship to every person who might conceivably be a member of the ‘Body of Christ’ by virtue of efficacious faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial death in atonement for sin. I would prefer to err on the side of offering fellowship to someone who’s faith (like mine) is somewhat less than ‘mainstream’, rather than erring on the side of rejecting some such person who God might regard as being part of the ‘Body of Christ”.[18]

Note these emphases:

  • ‘Circumstantial deference’ means that he defers to any given circumstance to allow it to decide on his doctrinal conclusions.
  • He is uncertain about the extent of scriptural authority. He most certainly does not believe in inerrancy of Scripture, which he describes as an ‘extreme of “absolute” of verbal inerrancy’.
  • He rejects the idea of the canon of Scripture determined centuries after Christ because it was not a faultless operation.
  • The Word of God is what is written on the heart and Scripture is only one medium for this evidence.
  • He does not support ‘sola scriptura’.
  • His creed (not his language) is a creedless, non-denominational, denomination.
  • People are welcome to join his denomination as long as they are members of the body of Christ, membership obtained through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin. Question: Why would he accept this orthodox position when he is so unorthodox in many of his other statements of faith? He is unpredictably unique or idiosyncratic in his beliefs.
  • He agrees his faith is less than mainstream.
  • He errs on the side of compromise for the sake of fellowship with people.

He told me in one of his posts that he was unable to find a church near him in northern England. I’m pleased about that as he would lead most Bible-believing church leaders to ask him to leave the church because of his contrary nature and unorthodox beliefs. He is aged 81.

G. Conclusion

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I encountered a fellow from England on a Christian forum who did not enjoy challenges from me concerning his unorthodox doctrines he promoted on the forum. The above dialogue demonstrated that:

  • He considered many regard those who don’t believe their theology as heretics.
  • Scripture is not limited to the canon of the Councils in the 4th century who decided on the books of the canon. Anyone should be encouraged to read what the apostles wrote. I challenged him on the Gospel of Peter’s content of a talking cross and he preferred that to the horrible, sinful action of Lot offering his virgin daughters to the men seeking homosexuals (Genesis 19:1-8).
  • I declared my responsibility to discern those who promote false doctrine and expose them on the forum. He is one such person. His response was that he had a divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ – referring to me as such an example.
  • I explained the criterion of embarrassment as one of the criteria of historicity and Genesis 19:1-8 fitted into that category. Israelites would not be ready to accept such a corrupt and sinful story. It’s veracity is hence affirmed by this criterion.
  • Bob is an antagonist of evangelical, orthodox Christianity that has a high view of Scripture because of his personal, unorthodox statement of faith. He is practising what he preaches – unbiblical Christianity.

I did not encounter many on this forum who were prepared to challenge Bob’s false doctrines. Why? Many may not have the biblical knowledge and bravery to take him on. I found him to be a stubborn old man in the promotion of his false doctrine.

H. Works consulted

Blomberg, C L 1992. Form criticism, in Green, J B, McKnight, S & Marshall, I H (eds), Dictionary of Jesus and the gospels, 243-250. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the Gospels. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press.

Meier, J P 1994. A marginal Jew: Mentor, message, and miracles, vol 2 (The Anchor Bible Reference Library). New York: Doubleday.

I.  Notes


[1] Bob is a pseudonym.

[2] Christianity Board 2016. Statement of Faith – Christian Board Christian Forum, Oneoff#166. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-statement-of-faith-christian-board-christian-forum/page-6 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#167. I, Spencer Gear, am this person.

[4] Ibid., Oneoff#172.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#177.

[6] Ibid., Oneoff#183.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#186.

[8] Ibid., Oneoff#188.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#189.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#193.

[11] Ibid., Oneoff#195.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#199.

[13] Ibid., Oneoff#208.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#210.

[15] Ibid., Oneoff#214.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#215.

[17] Craig Blomberg (1992:249) finds coherence to be ‘a very subjective concept’. He presumes that in the minds of the Evangelists, ‘all of the Gospel material cohered’. He asked the legitimate question, ‘How is any modern scholar to say that apparent inconsistencies are sharp enough to call into question the truthfulness of accounts?’. The validity of the criterion of coherence will depend on the degree to which researchers have reached an accurate picture of Jesus by using the other criteria.

[18] Christianity Board 2016. Personal profile of Oneoff. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/user/6145-oneoff/ (Accessed 7 August 2016).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

Crossan’s buddies are his scholarly support

11 08 6972 John Dominic Crossan.jpg

(John Dominic Crossan, courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

By Spencer D Gear

John Dominic Crossan, eminent historical Jesus scholar, has a one-eyed view of calling on those who principally are his ‘intellectual debt’.

Crossan is clear (at least to me) about his view of which scholars he should call on for support and critique of his views. It is important to note Crossan’s perspective regarding those who offer a contrary opinion: In quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv; emphasis in original). Why would he want to preserve his opinion and scholarship and retain it in-house? Is there a possible presuppositional bias coming through??[1]

However, he breaks with his scholarly ideal by citing the ‘secondary literature’ of people such as N T Wright (Crossan 1998:44, 49, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, 258), Luke Johnson (Crossan 1998:30-31, 103, 114) and Dorothy Sayers (Crossan 1998:91, 92, 93, 98, 99). He doesn’t practise what he preaches on this principle he advocates in his writing.

Is this being unfair to Crossan?

One responded:

I think this is unfair. He’s explaining why he includes the references he does. There are several approaches to references. The ones I see in scholarly work are (1) acknowledging the source of information and arguments that appear in the text, and (2) citing everyone relevant. The second tends to lead to extensive footnotes, because if citations go beyond the views shown in the text, many authors feel the need to talk about what’s in those sources. After all, a long list of references isn’t that useful unless you give the reader an idea of what the position of each is.
I don’t think it’s showing bias to use the shorter approach, where you show only the sources actually used in the text. If a viewpoint is important enough that you really have to engage with it, presumably it will be discussed in the text, in which case there will be appropriate footnotes.[2]

My reply[3] was that that was a false assertion and one of my PhD examiners agreed with my assessment of Crossan’s bias towards his own ilk. In fact, this examiner considered that I was somewhat gentle in exposing Crossan’s biased approach to sources. My examiner is one with an international reputation in historical Jesus’ studies.
When one favours only those of his own persuasion and does not want to get into discussion of secondary sources that disagree with him, one can see he is going uphill with scholarship. This is especially so when he cannot consistently maintain his position. N T Wright gave him a fair run for his money and he dared to violate his own persuasion of referring only to those who are his intellectual debt.
I asked: Are you a supporter of J D Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of Jesus?

Is this being semi-popular?

This fellow’s comeback was:

No. I’m closer to Wright.[4] But my problem with him isn’t his footnoting policy, with which I’m sympathetic. I’d rather see people engage with other scholars in the text, rather than putting half the book in footnotes. So for me, the issue is what appears in the text. Partly because he doesn’t really review a very full range of scholarship, I think of “The Historical Jesus” (the work you’re citing) as a semi-popular synthesis of his position, not a real scholarly work like Wright’s Christian Origins series. A similar work, Wright’s “How God Became King,” has virtually no footnotes, with a very selective bibliography. I haven’t read much of Crossan, so I don’t know whether he has written something more scholarly or not.[5]

[6]I would not regard Crossan’s, The Historical Jesus (1991), as ‘a semi-popular synthesis of his position’. This is what Crossan states in the book:

I knew, therefore, before starting this book that it could not be another set of conclusions jostling for place among the numerous scholarly images of the historical Jesus currently available. Such could, no matter how good it was, but add to the impression of acute scholarly subjectivity in historical Jesus research. This book had to raise most seriously the problem of methodology and then follow most stringently whatever theoretical method was chosen (Crossan 1991:xxviii).?

That is hardly a ‘semi-popular’ approach to the historical Jesus. I’ve spent 5 years analysing Crossan in my PhD dissertation-only research (503pp, 1.15 spacing) and his 1991 publication is not meant for the popular level. For the general populace, you’ll need to go to Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Crossan 1994), which is a popularised, abridged edition of Crossan (1991).

After this kind of challenge to him, at least he acknowledged that he had not fully re-read Crossan (1991) ‘to see where I might have gotten the impression that it was a summary presentation’. Then he adds: ‘When Crossan begin to build his picture of Jesus, he uses lots of historical background, but I don’t see him seriously considering alternative pictures and showing how his methodology leads to his conclusion. (This is close to your own objection, except that my concern is with the text, not the footnotes.) In some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail.’ Then he spun off on a tangent of Crossan’s view of the ‘kingdom of God. [7]

Crossan is ‘almost entirely wrong’

NTWright071220.jpg(N T Wright, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

How would another eminent historical Jesus’ scholar evaluate Crossan’s contribution to historical Jesus’ studies? N T Wright’s assessment of Crossan (1991) was:

John Dominic Crossan is one of the most brilliant, engaging, learned and quick-witted New Testament scholars alive today. He has been described by one recent friendly critic as a “rather skeptical New Testament professor with the soul of a leprechaun”. He seems incapable, in his recent work at least, of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph….

It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book [Crossan 1991] is almost entirely wrong (Wright 1996:44, emphasis added).?

‘Almost entirely wrong’ is a stunning assessment by an eminent historical Jesus’ scholar (Wright), with which I have to agree, as Crossan’s presuppositional postmodernism causes him to engage in question begging fallacies where his conclusion agrees with his starting premises.

Since you [Hedrick] admit you haven’t read much of Crossan, I suggest that you take a read of larger chunks of Crossan (1991; 1998) to realise that these two publications are meant to be serious scholarly works. I consider that Wright (1992; 1996; 2003) has annihilated Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of the historical Jesus.
Crossan’s, The Birth of Christianity (1998), is a 651 page examination of ‘what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus’ (sub-title of book) but it lacks substantive historical precision when his postmodern presuppositions so dominate his premises and conclusions.

Crossan’s definition of history fails

This is Crossan’s definition of history and he repeats it in several of his publications: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original). However, he doesn’t consistently apply this definition throughout his publications. He mixes it with a traditional approach to history like that described by Wright: ‘History, I shall argue, is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretations”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions‘ (Wright 1992:82, emphasis in original). Wright admits that this involves a point of view by historians (they cannot be ahistorical observers), ‘a massive programme of selection’, and ‘such a process inevitably involves a major element of interpretation. We are trying to make sense of the world in which we live‘ (Wright 1992:82-83, emphasis in original).

1. Crossan’s use of a logical fallacy

How does one respond to a person who claims that Crossan uses ‘lots of historical background’ and ‘in some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail’?[8]

This writer’s lack of exposure to Crossan, in my view, has led to this selective and imbalanced perspective.[9]

When Crossan starts with this definition of history: ‘This is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse…. History as argued public reconstruction is necessary to reconstruct our past in order to project our future’ (Crossan 1998:20; emphasis in original), and then concludes with his reader-response, interactive content of history, this is a begging the question logical fallacy in its historiography, especially in light of the consensus of historians that I examined in my PhD dissertation. Crossan’s statement points to a worldview of postmodern deconstruction that imposes another perspective on the historical data that so skews the data to accommodate Crossan’s reader-response philosophy.

Crossan wrote that ‘by historical study I mean an analysis whose theories and methods, evidence and arguments, results and conclusions are open, in principle and practice, to any human observer, any disciplined investigator, any self-conscious and self-critical student…. The historical Jesus is always an interpretive construct of its own time and place but open to all of that time and place’ (Crossan 1994:199, emphasis in original). He was pointed in his challenge that historians should say, ‘This, in my best professional reconstruction, is what happened; that did not’ (Crossan 1995:37).

So, his postmodern interpretation of history as the past recreated interactively has these ramifications. How this works for Crossan is that the description of the historical Jesus will vary with each generation as ‘an interpretive construct’. The view of Jesus is open to all that that time and place provides. In other words, we create our view of the historical Jesus, based on what is happening in our time, city, country and world. This is nonsense historically.

Could you imagine the history of George Washington, the pilgrim fathers, Captain James Cook and Captain Arthur Phillip being based on Hedrick or my ‘interpretive construct’ in the USA or Australia in the 21st century? Did George Washington and James Cook say and do what is recorded or is that open to your or my interactive, deconstruction? That’s what we are dealing with in examining Crossan’s approach to history. Imagine doing that with the ‘facts’ contained in Crossan’s autobiography (Crossan 2000)? Did he grow up in Ireland or is that only a metaphor to be deconstructed by me in the 21st century – deconstructed with inventions I want to make?
Imagine reading Crossan’s other books with that view. Surely he wants me to read his books so that I understand the content of what he means with English grammar and syntax, rather than imposing 21st century Brisbane environment and my reader-response on his texts. If I read the Brisbane Times (BT) like that and passed on my postmodern, reader-response, interactive, contemporary interpretation of today’s BT stories to the people in my church on Sunday, they would think I was going over the edge mentally.

Since Hedrick provided no references to which parts of Crossan’s works he referred, regarding the “Kingdom of God”, I have no way of checking if what you are saying is correct or not.

However, he did admit he had not read much of Crossan.

2. Crossan teams up with an archaeologist

To overcome some of this historical imbalance (in my view), Crossan teamed up with archaeologist, Jonathan L Reed, in writing (1) Excavating Jesus (Crossan & Reed 2001), and (2) In Search of Paul (Crossan & Reed 2004). However, both authors have a presuppositional bias towards postmodernism in their interpretations.

This proves nothing more than a postmodern deconstructionist can be found also among a historical Jesus scholar and an archaeologist. This is how this postmodern philosophy overwhelms their interpretations with these kinds of explanations:

  • Resurrection is not equivalent to resuscitation, apparition or exaltation.
  • Rather, ‘to say that God raised Jesus from the dead was to assert that the general resurrection had thereby begun. Only for such an assertion was “resurrection” or “raised from the dead” the proper terminology. That is very clear from a reading of 1 Corinthians 15, a commentary by Paul on an earlier and presumably second or traditional layer of text’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:259-260, emphasis in original).

Crossan & Reed push the lack of uniqueness about Jesus’ resurrection with emphasising two directions in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘If there is no Jesus resurrection, there is no general resurrection; if there is no general resurrection, there is no Jesus resurrection’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260). There authors are correct in showing the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection, but this is where the damage enters with this kind of assumption, ‘The resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection, that is to say, with Jesus’ resurrection the general resurrection has begun’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260, emphasis in original). They claim that this ‘proclamation is stunningly creative and profoundly original’ on at least four counts which involve a choice among alternatives. One of those differences is that ‘it is profoundly original in its distinction between the general resurrection as instantive moment or durative process in apocalyptic consummation’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:161).

a. Let’s check the evidence from 1 Corinthians 15

Does 1 Corinthians 15 teach that Jesus’ resurrection is the start of the general resurrection and there is a distinction between instant moment versus durative process (the Crossan & Reed view)? Paul was dealing with a particular objection in Corinth: ‘Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’ (1 Cor 15:12 ESV). To that question his response was: ‘But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor 15:13-14 ESV).

Note that 1 Cor 15:12-14 does not teach what Crossan & Reed state that the resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection. What these verses do teach is that there will be a resurrection of dead people because Christ has been raised from the dead. Yes, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 15:20). When will this resurrection of the dead take please? It is in the future as indicated by this language: ‘So also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end….’ (1 Cor 15:22-23).

The evidence is convincing from 1 Cor 15 and it is not in agreement with Crossan & Reed. There will be a general resurrection of the dead at ‘the end’, at the Parousia when ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26). So, Crossan & Reed have imposed their own postmodern interpretation on 1 Cor 15 to make it fit with their agenda.

b. Postmodern performance by Crossan & Reed

The essence of resurrection, according to N T Wright, is: ‘What the creator god did for Jesus is both the model and the means of what he will do for all Jesus’ people’ (Wright 2003:216; emphasis in original). Crossan & Reed’s emphasis on I Corinthians 15:12-13, 15b-16 is that ‘the argument is very clear: no Jesus resurrection, no general resurrection; no general resurrection, no Jesus resurrection’. They continue with interpretation of I Corinthians 15:20, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’ (NRSV) as meaning, ‘Jesus’s resurrection is to the general resurrection as first fruits are to the rest of the harvest. There is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ (Crossan & Reed 2004:342-343).

It is true that this passage teaches that Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection are connected, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised…. If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised’ (1 Cor 15:13, 16). However, Crossan & Reed’s statement that ‘there is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ needs challenging because of these facts:

(1) Preaching is vain and faith is futile ‘if Christ has not been raised’ (1 Cor 15:14). This verse does not say, ‘If Christ has not been raised and there is no general resurrection, your preaching is without content and ineffective and your faith is pointless’.[10] Christ’s resurrection is unique in order to provide content and foundation to preaching and faith. This is related to another unique necessity of Jesus’ resurrection,

(2) ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15:17). This is explained further in Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification’. The unique, peculiar, and special mission of Jesus’ resurrection was to provide justification for sins so that people are no longer in their sins. They are declared righteous (justified) before God. Of this verse, Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘In order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things’ according to Romans 4:25 (Aquinas 1947:3.53.1). The death of Jesus ‘for us’, as articulated in Romans 4:25 and 5:10 includes both justification and sanctification and ‘they are inextricably bound together with his resurrection’ (Fee 1987:743-744). For Crossan to denigrate this unique role of the resurrected Son in salvation is to deny an essential Christian doctrine. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be detached from eternal salvation itself. Crossan’s reconstruction of Jesus’ resurrection to exclude its uniqueness is tantamount to a denial of Christian existence for the sake of a postmodern view of human beings and reconstruction of the meaning of the resurrection.

Crossan & Reed continue with their metaphorical imposition on the text in pursuit of a postmodern agenda:

Recall the discussion of Jewish and of Christian-Jewish “resurrection…. Those who claimed Jesus had begun the terminal moment of apocalyptic climax would have to present some public evidence of a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace. It would not and could not suffice to claim one or many empty tombs and one or many risen apparitions. That might all be well and good, but where was the evidence, any evidence, of a transformed world? For that they had only their own communal lives as evidence. This is how we live with God and on this basis we seek to persuade others to do likewise. This is our new creation, our transformed world. We in God, God in us, and both together here below upon this earth.

Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians that, “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” 15:14). As stated, that comment is true for Christianity, but so also is its reverse. If Christian faith has been in vain, that is, has not acted to transform itself and this world toward the justice of God, and if Christian proclamation has been in vain, that is, has not insisted that such is the church’s vocation, then Christ was not raised. Christianity could certainly still claim that Jesus was exalted and had ascended to the right hand of God. But resurrection [the argument of this chapter] presumes the start of cosmic transformation, not just the promise of it, not just the hope of it, not just talk about it, and not just theology about it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher can be easily seen in all its marbled past and disputed present within today’s Jerusalem. But the Church of the Blessed Resurrection can only be seen in a world under transformation by Christian cooperation with divine justice and by Christian participation in divine justice (Crossan & Reed 2001:270).

This is a Crossan & Reed metaphorical deconstruction of Christ’s resurrection to make it mean what they want in the 20th century – resurrection meaning a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace, a Christian participation in divine justice.

The biblical evidence is that Jesus’ death and resurrection make justification by faith possible for all who believe in Jesus for salvation. This is affirmed by Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’ (NIV). For a further explanation, see R C Sproul on ‘Resurrection and justification’.

This unique resurrection was the firstfruits, guaranteeing that there will be a resurrection of the dead at Christ’s second coming. There is no postmodern deconstructionist agenda in that view. It is based on the plain meaning of the biblical text.

If history does not involve postmodern deconstruction by deconstructionists like J D Crossan and Jonathan Reed, what then is it?

3. What is history?

By contrast, eminent Yale University professor of missions and oriental history, Kenneth Scott Latorette, defined Christian history this way:

The distinctively Christian understanding of history centers upon historical occurrences. It has at its heart not a set of ideas but a person. By a widespread convention historians reckon history as b.c. and a.d. They are aware of many other methods of recording dates and know that this particular chronology has acquired extensive currency because of the growing dominance during the past few centuries of a civilization in which Christian influences have been potent. To the Christian, however, this reckoning of time is much more than a convention. It is inherent in history. In Jesus of Nazareth, so the Christian holds, God once for all disclosed Himself and acted decisively. The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate (Latourette 1948).

(Kenneth Scott Latourette, courtesy Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity)

 

This definition is parallel with that of N T Wright, a scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christian origins in the 20th and 21st centuries, whose understanding was that ‘history is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretation”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’. Wright stresses that ‘for statements to be made about the past, human beings have to engage in a massive programme of selection’ along with ‘a major element of interpretation’ (Wright 1992:82-83 emphasis in original).

By way of methodology, Wright is of the view that the ‘historical method is just like all other methods of inquiry. It proceeds by means of “hypotheses”, which stand in need of “verification”. A good hypothesis in any field must,

(a) ‘Include the data’;

(b) ‘Construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture’, and

(c) Mean that the proposed explanatory story proves to be fruitful in other related areas (Wright 1992:98-100).

Crossan adopts Wright’s view of history in his autobiography, A long way from Tipperary (Crossan 2000), in which Wright defined history. This was the meaningful narrative of events in the life of J D Crossan in Ireland, along with interpretations and his intentions. One example can be seen in Crossan’s own words, ‘“I am curious,” the doctor said. “How can you as a Catholic theologian undergo a vasectomy?” “Because,” I replied, “I am a bad Catholic, but a good theologian, and that makes a vast difference”’ (Crossan 2000:79). What about this evaluation, ‘I maintain that the mode of authority, the style of leadership, the primacy of obedience demanded by the Roman Catholic hierarchy is a crime, if not against humanity, then at least against divinity’ (Crossan 2000 199)?

Is that meant to be a literal or metaphorical statement? Does it contain facts that Crossan considers to be true and his intentions to expose his theological understanding of Roman Catholicism? It sure doesn’t sound like his definition of history: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original).

Conclusion

A scholar who only wishes to include the views of his intellectual buddies (mates is the Aussie language) is engaging in a biased view of history – but all in the name of scholarship.

This investigation has found that it doesn’t matter whether Crossan is writing alone or in conjunction with an archaeologist, Jonathan Reed, he imposes a postmodern understanding on the text. This is in harmony with his presuppositional bias of a postmodern approach to history. When he concludes with his premise – a postmodern explanation of history – he is using a question begging logical fallacy.

History that doesn’t deal with the facts of the past is not history. However, these facts need interpretation, not with a presuppositional, postmodern imposition on the text, but with consideration of the cultural and other issues taking place in that society. That’s exactly what Crossan did in his autobiography. It was not a postmodern exposition of his life but an account that involved facts, intentions and interpretations from his earlier life.

So Wright’s view that history involves ‘the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’ of the past is realistic and does not come with Crossan’s presuppositional understanding of imposing a postmodern interpretation on the facts.

Works consulted

Aquinas, T 1947. Summa theologica (online). Tr by the fathers of the English Dominican Province. Available at Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/index.htm (Accessed 1 February 2013).

Brown, C 1975. kenos, in Brown, C (ed) The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3, 546-549. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1999. Historical Jesus as risen Lord, in Crossan, J D, Johnson, L T & Kelber, W H, The Jesus controversy : Perspectives in conflict, 1-47. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Crossan, J D 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2001. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the stones, behind the texts. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2004. In search of Paul: How Jesus’s apostle opposed Rome’s empire with God’s kingdom. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The new international commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Latourette, K S 1948. The Christian understanding of history. American Historical Association (online). Available at: https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/presidential-addresses/kenneth-scott-latourette (Accessed 23 October 2015).

Oepke, A 1965. kenos, in Kittel, G (ed) Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 3, 659-660. Tr and ed by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).

Wright, N T 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. London: SPCK / Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 2).

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 3).

Notes


[1] I included this in Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, Do I have a ‘Flawed’ library of study material? September 20, 2015. OzSpen#6, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/do-i-have-a-flawed-library-of-study-matierial.7910228/ (Accessed 23 October 2015).

[2] Ibid., Hedrick#24.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#25.

[4] He’s speaking of N T Wright, the British historical Jesus’ scholar.

[5] Christian Forums, Hedrick#26.

[6] This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#27.

[7] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[8] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[9] The following is my response to him in ibid., OzSpen#29.

[10] The Greek is kenos, for which Arndt & Gingrich provide the meaning, ‘without content, without any basis, without truth, without power’ of preaching and faith for 1 Cor 15:14a (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:429). Albrecht Oepke’s study concluded that it meant ‘”empty”, “futile”’, that is, ‘without content and also ineffective’ (Oepke 1965:659-660). Colin Brown’s understanding was that ‘under certain circumstances certain things would be pointless, fruitless, or in vain’ and that applies to preaching and faith in I Corinthians 15:14 (Brown 1975:547).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2015.

What is open theism and what are the dangers?

 By Spencer D Gear

Dr Clark Pinnock (photo courtesy Friends Network)

The father of Open Theology is regarded as the late Clark Pinnock (died 15 Aug 2010). Here is an online lecture by Pinnock, ‘Clark Pinnock on Open Theology (Pt. 1 of 7)’. Here’s an interview with Pinnock on the topic, ‘Does Prayer Change Things? Yes, if you’re an Open Theist’.

Who are the advocates of openness theology? Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders are some of the prominent proponents.  Greg Boyd has stated that  God ‘does not know every detail about what will come to pass…The future is, to some degree at least, open ended and God knows it as such’ (Boyd 2000:8).

Open theism questions these fundamentals of orthodox theology:

  • God’s omniscience (all knowledge);
  • God’s immutability (unchanging);
  • God’s eternity;
  • God’s omnipresence;
  • God’s unity;
  • God’s omnipotence (all-powerful).

See the article, “An examination of open theism“.
Also see, “The doctrine of open theism“.

In my understanding, this doctrine is a serious threat to an orthodox view of the attributes of God. For an assessment, see, ‘The dangers of Open Theism’, by Tim Chaffey. Other assessments include:

For another brief overview, see my article:Does God change his mind?

Notes

Boyd, G A 2000. God of the possible: A biblical introduction to the open view of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Pinnock, C; Rice R; Sanders, J; Hasker, W; & Basinger, D 1994. The openness of God: A biblical challenge to the traditional understanding of God. Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: InterVarsity Press / Carlisle, UK: The Paternoster Press.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.