Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"The Bibliographical Test Updated" by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, has been working on updating the bibliographical evidence for the New Testament documents. His work is now finished and the results have been published in the The Christian Research Journal. They are making "The Bibliographical Test Updated" available online, you can find it here. For those familiar with the work of Josh McDowell, you should remember this test. The bibliographical test is used as a means of establishing the New Testament’s transmissional accuracy. Clay Jones explains:

"Christians argue that if historians will consider an ancient document to have been accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are few and far between the date the autograph was penned and its earliest extant copy, then they should accept documents as accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are comparatively many and comparatively near their autographs. For many years Christian apologists have employed the bibliographical test to argue that since the NT surpasses all other ancient documents in sheer number of manuscripts and the nearness of the date between the autographs and extant manuscripts that the NT has been accurately transmitted." 1

3. Fragment of The Gospel of Matthew

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Alvin Plantinga vs. The Grey

I like Liam Neeson as an actor, Les Misérables (1998) is a favorite of mine, and so this winter I checked out The Grey at the local library. Unfortunately, the language was so bad that I had to practically mute the sound and opted for the closed captions instead. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia, this is not what I would call "family friendly" entertainment. It is a rather haunting movie, the kind that stays in your head for a while, so I thought a lot about the underlying philosophy. In the end, the film is more about man's existential predicament and the hiddeness of God, than it is about survival.

After the long painstaking fight for survival, watching each one of his comrades die, one by one, from the wreck, related injuries, wolf attacks, the weather, falling out of a tree, exhaustion, despair, suicide, drowning, being without food, water, shelter, survival gear, rest and subject to the elements of nature, "the unlikely hero Ottway" lays on the ground, looking into the sky in desperation and cries out to God, "Do something. Do something!" After no response, he trails off in the bitter reality of being utterly alone to contend with the forces of nature, stating, "I'll do it myself." We then see him kneeling in the snow going through the pictures in the wallets of the men who are dead. He looks at their families and then considers his own wife. With his wife being deceased, he only has her memory to give him any semblance of meaning, everything else is gone, including his hope of survival. At this point the wolf pack is upon him and the future is already played out. He remembers his father's poem and knows he must make his own choice and that with courage. Allowing fear to paralyze him is not an option. Meanwhile, he has no real reason to live, except for the sake of survival itself, no matter, he will make his choice and stand his ground, however futile it may be. He will not allow his circumstances to dictate his actions, he will not lay down and give up. This is our hero! 

The Amazon reviews are pretty black and white, either people liked it or hated it and I think it is the meaninglessness and futility of it all that most people found so disturbing. It is more than having wasted two hours, it is becoming emotionally interested in the characters only to have all possible hope of survival dashed to pieces, but then the film goes on to take it another step further, in which it attempts to capture the finality of death and thus the essential meaninglessness of life. Francis Shaeffer has talked a lot about this despair. In The God Who is There, he explains how many atheists have tried to live as if there is no meaning in life, but their attempts have been utterly futile. Meanwhile, some antagonists accuse Christians of using a crutch, but it is just a simple fact that none of us can live under the psychological stress that atheism places man under, that is to say, it is impossible to live as though there is no meaning.

There is an interesting wilderness story that Alvin Plantinga relates in his Spiritual Autobiography that relates to our hero's search for God. "There has been only one other occasion on which I felt the presence of God with as much immediacy and strength. That was when I once foolishly went hiking alone off-trail in really rugged country south of Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades, getting lost when rain, snow and fog obscured all the peaks and landmarks. That night, while shivering under a stunted tree in a cold mixture of snow and rain, I felt as close to God as I ever have, before or since. I wasn't clear as to his intentions for me, and I wasn't sure I approved of what I thought his intentions might be (the statistics on people lost alone in that area were not at all encouraging), but I felt very close to him; his presence was enormously palpable. On many other occasions I have felt the presence of God, sometimes very powerfully: in the mountains (the overwhelming grandeur of the night sky from a slope at 13,000 feet), at prayer, in church, when reading the Bible, listening to music, seeing the beauty of the sunshine on the leaves of a tree or on a blade of grass, being in the woods on a snowy night, and on other kinds of occasions."

I find this to be a most interesting contrast of character representations. You have renown Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, who takes great comfort in knowing God's presence, especially when forced to face nature's fury, and then there is the angry atheist existentialist who chooses to completely isolate himself as he contends with his certain dismal fate.

Mount Shuksan

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Illusions of Atheism

Alex Rosenberg, an advocate of scientism, recently debated William Lane Craig At Purdue, too bad I missed it, and it was in my own back yard. Tom Gilson of Christian Apologetics Alliance wrote an interesting examination of Rosenberg's book, The Atheist's Guide to Reality.  

When atheists try to define the mind as a mere physical object, the person (or soul) is essentially reduced to electricity and everything he or she thinks is actually illusory. 

Gilson notes in his article, "Rosenberg says that science proves our brains and our thoughts are purely physical, and thus we have to give up thinking our thoughts are about anything." Rosenberg puts it in the question, "How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe…?" He concludes, "Since there are no thoughts about things, notions of purpose, plan, or design in the mind are illusory…" (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality). But, it doesn't end there, this strict physicalism goes on to dictate that such thoughts as romance, love, justice, virtue, empathy, kindness, morality, and reason, must also of necessity be mere illusion. That is to say, when you tuck your baby girl in bed at night and tell her you love her as you kiss her on the forehead, it is all just an illusion. You only "think" that you love her, but alas, it is only a mirage. For Dawkins & Company, this is just the cold hard facts about life. And yet, which one of the new star-spangled pseudo-heroes actually have the courage to live like this?

The fact is, no one lives like this. No one can live like this. It contradicts everything that it means to be human. I would even go so far to say that it even contradicts the Humanist Manifesto. The only way to embrace the richness of humanity is to recognize the creator's indelible imprint on his creation. There are certain areas where methodological science comes to a philosophical impasse, that is to say, the gateway closes in on itself, it locks itself in. And they say, religion impedes the progress of science...

Monday, December 31, 2012

Clement: Philosophy & Science, Tools for the Church

I found this interesting quotation in a blog on Apologetics Alliance and thought it worth sharing. It was written by Clement of Alexandria in the late second century and it describes the value placed on philosophy among early Christians.

”Some, who think themselves naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first. Now the Lord is figuratively described as the vine, from which, with pains and the art of husbandry, according to the word, the fruit is to be gathered.

We must lop, dig, bind, and perform the other operations. The pruning-knife, I should think, and the pick-axe, and the other agricultural implements, are necessary for the culture of the vine, so that it may produce eatable fruit. And as in husbandry, so also in medicine: he has learned to purpose, who has practiced the various lessons, so as to be able to cultivate and to heal. So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault.”

Warning against such "syncretism," Tertullian would no doubt counter, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" The early Christians were not always in agreement on the use of philosophy. Some Christians, such as Origen, who incidentally, is thought to have studied under Clement of Alexandria, were highly educated and trained in philosophy prior to their conversion. It would be impossible for this to not influence their understanding and interpretation of Scripture and even God. The important thing that I think is noteworthy is that rather than being hostile toward philosophy as a whole, the prophets and apostles do in fact make certain valid philosophical assumptions and arguments, which I think validates it's use for Christians following their footsteps. They also choose to step carefully, recognizing it's inherent propensity for errors, as a cautionary tale for others. The Apostle Paul, both appealed to philosophy and ridiculed it. May we be wise enough to know when, where and how to do the same.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Brick Testament: A Skeptics Bible?

Following my favorite childhood hobby, I have taken great pleasure in introducing my kids to Legos. Every Christmas they can depend on getting a new box. In addition to gifts, most of their own spending money also goes to support their obsession. They've been to Legoland at the American Mall and most recently Schaumburg's Legoland Discovery Center. Of course the internet has all kinds of amazing constructions. One group of Lego fanatics actually built a life size replica of a house. When I found the Brick Testament, I thought that was a pretty cool idea. The kids got all excited and we started reading through some of the Bible stories. It wasn't long till I started getting annoyed by little things. What seemed like a great illustrated Bible, turned out to be riddled with bits of sinister contempt underlining certain stories. Could it be a Bible written for skeptics? Just who is this author, “Rev” Brendan Powell Smith?

In October 2012, the Brick New Testament was featured in Time and the Huffington Post. It's now available on Amazon and becoming increasingly popular among Christians and homeschoolers. How long will it be before the local Christian bookstore picks it up? I've already seen it used as sermon illustrations. When approached about the author being a skeptic, the pastor just couldn't believe it and continued using it in his sermons. Maybe this blog will help make things clear, as long as Smith doesn't decide to remove all the evidence from his pages. Before you start your own investigation, make sure your prepared to wade through all the profanities, sarcasm and skeptical rants inundated throughout his blog.

On October 2, Smith posted in his news, “This Saturday, October 6, I will be back in the valley signing books at a Freethinker's convention. I love my job. C'mon out, meet some nice folks and get a signed book! If you can't make it to these great events, you can always order a signed copy of any of The Brick Bible books from The Brick Bible shop! Always nice to meet fans in person though.”1 I have no problem associating with nice folks who are skeptics and atheist “freethinkers”, how else are Christians suppose to reach out to them with the Gospel? But, isn't the invitation a bit odd? And, if the book is being marketed to this kind of audience, shouldn't it at least arouse some curiosity?

Commenting on one of his chapters, Smith posted a blog titled, “Abraham willing to kill own son for God”, Smith asks, “How morally vile an act would you be willing to perpetrate if you were convinced God told you to do it? Would you steal someone’s wallet? Would you punch a random stranger in the face? Would you hijack a plane and fly it into a skyscraper? Would you slit your beloved son’s throat and burn his corpse? These are the sorts of questions that the faithful must ask themselves, for one never know when they will be tested. And lest you imagine that, as in the latest set of illustrated stories at The Brick Testament website, God will always shows up at the last second to tell you it was all only a test…keep in mind that sometimes God actually wants you to go through with it.” 2

Perhaps you have read some of the praises associated with this work. Rev. Wanda Lundy, professor of Ministry Studies at New York Theological Seminary calls it, “A spectacular twenty-first century Biblical art masterpiece.” “A curiously powerful graphic novel.” - Publisher's Weekly. says, “From the pew warmer to the geek dad, this book is the perfect gift.” Can people really be so gullible? Maybe they don't really care.

Remember, as the subtitle states, “A New Spin on the Story of Jesus.” Here's Smith's commentary on his adaptation of Armageddon, “God has a plan. Our pathetic, puny human minds cannot comprehend the utter and sheer brilliance of God’s plan (and God made sure of that by only equipping us with pathetic, puny human minds), but rest assured that God does indeed most certainly have a plan. And here’s one thing we can know about God’s plan: it involves torture. Lots and lots of torture. Sure, torture is generally regarded by us comparatively dim-witted humans as the most morally vile, reprehensible, and cruel behavior possible. But this must only show our lack of intelligence, because God can’t get enough of the stuff. In our latest four illustrated stories from Revelation, God continues to pour down wave after wave of horrible torments on mankind.”3

Now I ask you, does this sound like the kind of person who believes in God? Obviously Smith doesn't think God is trustworthy. He certainly doesn't rely on exegesis and hermeneutics to aid his understanding of Biblical texts and cultural contexts; neither are of any concern or consequence to his agenda. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he was reading through this blog, laughing all the way: the thought of Christians using his “Bible,” he probably never even imagined it would be such a hit. His is the work of pure sarcasm. He's actually contending against Christianity, mocking the Bible. There's better works out there. If you have kids who like illustrated books, then I recommend, The Action Bible, illustrated by Sergio Cariello. Another great Bible story book that is out of print is God's Story: The Bible Told as One Story by Karen Henly.

Footnotes / Sources

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jesus and Culture - Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard has a 12 part video series, Divine Conspiracy, available to watch here. Dallas Willard is an important Christian thinker and serves as professor at UCLA.

Rescuing the Mind from Post-Modernism

In The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green explains how "There is an inseparable relationship between the reality of the gospel and the cultivation of the intellectual life. When the gospel ceases to permeate and influence a given culture, we often see a confused understanding of the possibility of knowledge and the meaning of our thoughts. Ultimately, where the gospel is not holding sway, it should not surprise us to see the subtle or not so subtle disintegration of, or rejection of, meaningful intellectual engagement." 

Green argues "that the Christian vision of God, man and the world provides the most meaningful and coherent presuppositional framework for the intellectual life."

p. 19, 20

Dallas Willard has an excellent lecture on the subject of the university and the mind that he gave at UCLA. You can download it here. The Q and A can be found here