Friday, November 19, 2010

"Biblical Inerrancy- A Fifty Year War......and Counting"

Back in 1990, theologian J. I. Packer recounted what he called a “Thirty Years’ War” over the inerrancy of the Bible. He traced his involvement in this war in its American context back to a conference held in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was nearly fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over — not by a long shot.

From time to time, the dust has settled in one arena, only for the battle to erupt in another. In the 1970s, the most visible battles were fought over Fuller Theological Seminary and within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. By the 1980s, the most heated controversies centered in the Southern Baptist Convention and its seminaries. Throughout this period, the evangelical movement sought to regain its footing on the doctrine. In 1978, a large number of leading evangelicals met and adopted a definitive statement that became known as “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.”

Many thought the battles were over, or at least subsiding. Sadly, the debate over the inerrancy of the Bible continues. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a renewed effort to forge an evangelical identity apart from the claim that the Bible is totally truthful and without error.

Recently, Professor Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has argued that the biblical authors clearly erred. He has argued that Paul, for example, was clearly wrong in assuming the historicity of Adam. In Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, published in 2005, he presented an argument for an “incarnational” model of biblical inspiration and authority. But in this rendering, incarnation — affirming the human dimension of Scripture — means accepting some necessary degree of error.

This argument is taken to the next step by Kenton L. Sparks in his 2008 book, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. Sparks, who teaches at Eastern University, argues that it is nothing less than intellectually disastrous for evangelicals to claim that the Bible is without error.

His arguments, also serialized and summarized in a series of articles, are amazingly candid. He asserts that Evangelicalism has “painted itself into an intellectual corner” by claiming the inerrancy of Scripture. The movement is now in an “intellectual cul-de-sac,” he laments, because we have “crossed an evidential threshold that makes it intellectually unsuitable to defend some of the standard dogmas of the conservative evangelical tradition.” And, make no mistake, inerrancy is the central dogma he would have us let go.

God’s Word in Human Words is an erudite book with a comprehensive argument. Kenton Sparks does not misunderstand the evangelical doctrine of biblical inerrancy — he understands it and sees it as intellectually disastrous. “So like any other book,” he asserts, “the Bible appears to be a historically and culturally contingent text and, because of that, it reflects the diverse viewpoints of different people who lived in different times and places.” But a contingent text bears all the errors of its contingent authors, and Sparks fully realizes this.

The serialized articles by Sparks appear at the BioLogos Web site, a site with one clear agenda — to move evangelicals toward a full embrace of evolutionary theory. In this context, Sparks understands that the affirmation of biblical inerrancy presents a huge obstacle to the embrace of evolution. The “evidential threshold” has been crossed, he insists, and the Bible has come up short. The biblical writers were simply trapped within the limits of their own ancient cosmology and observations.

But Sparks presses far beyond this argument, accusing the Bible of presenting immoral teachings, citing “biblical texts that strike us as down-right sinister or evil.” The Bible, he suggests, “exhibits all the telltale signs of having been written by finite, fallen human beings who erred in the ways that human beings usually err.”

When Peter Enns and Kenton Sparks argue for an incarnational model of inspiration and biblical authority, they are continuing an argument first made long ago — among evangelicals, at least as far back as the opening salvos of the battle over biblical inerrancy. Sparks, however, takes the argument further. He understands that the incarnational model implicates Jesus. He does not resist this. Jesus, he suggests, “was a finite person who grew up in Palestine.” While asserting that he affirms the historic Christian creeds and “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” Sparks proposes that Jesus made routine errors of fact.

His conclusion: “If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, [and/or] John wrote Scripture without error.”

That is a breath-taking assumption, to say the very least. But, even in its shocking audacity, it serves to reveal the clear logic of the new battle-lines over biblical inerrancy. We now confront open calls to accept and affirm that there are indeed errors in the Bible. It is demanded that we accept the fact that the human authors of the Bible often erred because of their limited knowledge and erroneous assumptions about reality. We must, it is argued, abandon the claim that the Bible is a consistent whole. Rather, we are told to accept the claims that the human authors of Scripture were just plain wrong in some texts — even in texts that define God and his ways. We are told that some texts are just “down-right sinister or evil.”

And, note clearly, we are told that we must do this in order to save Evangelicalism from an intellectual disaster.

Of course, accepting this demand amounts to a theological disaster of incalculable magnitude. Rarely has this been more apparent and undeniable. The rejection of the Bible’s inerrancy will please the evangelical revisionists, but it will rob the church of its secure knowledge that the Bible is indeed true, trustworthy and fully authoritative.

Kenton Sparks and the new evangelical revisionists are now making some of the very arguments that earlier opponents of inerrancy attempted to deny. In this sense, they offer great clarity to the current debate. Their logic is clear. They argue that the human authors of the Bible were not protected from error, and their errors are not inconsequential. We are talking about nothing less than whether the Bible truthfully reveals to us the nature, character, acts, and purposes of God.

As Dr. Packer said years ago, “[W]hen you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture. What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is. This is necessarily so, for a theology is a seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God. Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man.”

The rejection of biblical inerrancy is bound up with a view of God that is, in the end, fatal for Christian orthodoxy. We are entering a new phase in the battle over the Bible’s truthfulness and authority. We should at least be thankful for undisguised arguments coming from the opponents of biblical inerrancy, even as we are ready, once again, to make clear where their arguments lead.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Pornography-The Difference being a Parent Makes"

Political scientists and sociologists long ago came to the realization that one of the most significant indicators of political behavior is parenthood. Those who bear responsibility to raise children look at the world differently from those who do not. In fact, parenthood may be the most easily identifiable predictor of an individual’s position on an entire range of issues.

Now, along comes Steve Jobs to prove the point. Jobs, the Maestro of Cool at Apple, recently engaged in a most interesting email exchange with Ryan Tate, who writes the “Valleywag” blog for the gossip Web site, Gawker.

On his initial email to Steve Jobs, Tate complained about what he described as a lack of freedom in Apple’s approach to the approval of products for its “App Store” for iPods, the iPhone, and the iPad. “If Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company?,” Tate asked. “Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with ‘revolution?’ Revolutions are about freedom.”

Apparently, Tate was upset about some of the restrictions put in place by Apple. Among those restrictions is a ban on pornography.

Steve Jobs threw Ryan Tate’s definition of freedom right back at him. Is Apple about freedom? “Yep,” said Jobs, “freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’.”

One of the interesting dimensions of Steve Jobs’ leadership at Apple is his habit of answering selected emails personally. It appears that Ryan Tate’s complaint got under Jobs’ skin. It is even more apparent that Jobs’ response irritated Ryan Tate.

“I don’t want freedom from porn,” Tate asserted. “Porn is just fine.” Jobs sent back a remarkably insightful retort, informing Ryan Tate that he “might care more about porn when you have kids.” Tate wasn’t conceding his case, however, acknowledging that he might “sound bitter,” by complaining that Jobs is “imposing his morality about porn.”

There are several startling aspects of this exchange. When was the last time we saw a major American business leader take the lead to point to porn as something from which we should seek to be free?

Steve Jobs is a businessman of unquestioned ability, a technological wizard, and one of the greatest orchestrators of “cool” in world history. Nevertheless, he has not been known as a critic of pornography . . . until now.

Furthermore, Jobs is in the computer business, and that makes his comments on pornography all the more significant. To get a sense of what that means, consider the observation made by Eric Felten in The Wall Street Journal, “Apple impresario Steve Jobs is preparing to overturn one of the most basic assumptions of modern technology–that the computer business is built on pornography.”

While Felten does not expand upon his assertion that “one of the most basic assumptions of modern technology” is the dependence of the computer business on pornography, a look at that business will prove his thesis to be true. Though pornography is not the sole energy behind the quantum expansion of the Internet and digital technologies, its funding and quest for innovation have been major factors driving the digital age. The pornography business quickly recognized the computer and the Internet for what they are — the greatest and most revolutionary means of selling and distributing pornographic materials.

This is what makes Steve Jobs’ statements so interesting and significant. Apple has created an entirely new way of thinking about digital devices and their phenomenally successful iPhone and iPod technologies — now joined by the iPad — have created an enormous market for “apps,” shorthand for custom applications marketed and purchased through the company’s iTunes digital store. While the Internet at large has become a vast supermarket for pornography, Apple’s tight control over its “App Store” has prevented “pornification” of the apps.

Felten argues that Jobs’ posture is based less on morality than on a straightforward assessment that the general public — and parents in particular — will be much friendlier toward the App Store if they know that pornography is excluded.

“Apple seems to realize that it can do far more box office in its App Store if parents are confident they can let their children make purchases there without strict scrutiny,” Felten observed.

There are interesting twists to the exchange between Tate and Jobs. Tate actually accuses Jobs of imposing his own morality on the App Store (as if the contrary decision would not be just a reverse form of imposing morality). Felten also wonders if Jobs’ statements indicate that at least some sectors of the creative classes are turning cold to pornography as such a dominant influence. “Could it be,” he asks, “that the tide has begun to turn against pornography, and not because of any moral awakening, but just as a matter of taste and style?”

That seems more doubtful, but we can hope that it is true. At the very least, a statement like this from Steve Jobs — an iconic figure of the creative class — is hardly insignificant.

The Internet is still the domain of the pornographers, and there is little chance of that changing soon. Furthermore, any device with a Web browser can still download porn. The digital world is rife with sexually explicit material, and this includes many musical and film offerings through Apple’s iTunes store. Still, the “no porn” decision for the App Store is remarkable on its own.

While Wall Street, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley do their best to interpret what all this means, one dimension of this development is clear - parenthood matters.

Steve Jobs made this clear in his retort to Ryan Tate that he “might care more about porn when you have kids.” No kidding. Parenthood changes everything about one’s outlook on life and its challenges. A parent lacks the luxury of believing the world is all about himself or herself as individuals. Parents necessarily and understandably begin to think of the world in terms of how their children, and by extension the children of others as well, engage the world. This concern extends to the digital world, where the generation of young “digital natives” will spend much of their lives.

Ryan Tate got more than he bargained for when he made his protest to Steve Jobs. In a strange way, we are now all in his debt, because the response from Steve Jobs now puts Apple on the line. In the end, the real meaning of this media eruption is less about computers and “apps” and more about parents and kids.

Parenthood matters. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"What Will You Tell Them?"

Like me, my Dad is a Pastor. I can rememeber hearing him say on many occasions that there were many times when the only thing that kept him going in His walk with the Lord (from a human perspective) was the fact of who was watching him. What would he say if one of his children asked him why he was not faithful to the Lord anymore?

That same question has lead me in my adulthood and with the raising of my children. What would I tell my children for the reason of my unfaithfullness to the Lord? Is there ever a good reason? I don't think so. Eph. 6:4 is clear to us, as parents, of our responsibility. The Apostle Paul said in His letter to the Corinthians that it is required that a man be found faithful. Faithfullness is not an option for the believer, it is a requirment for the believer.

What are we called to be faithful too? Well, a number of things and this blog is far to short to speak on all of them, so I will just mention a couple and leave the rest up to the Spirit of God.

We are commanded to pray without ceasing (2 Thess 5:18). A prayerless life is a powerless life. As a husband, you will never be able to fully and completely lead your family without a vibrate pray life. Getting alone with the Lord and asking for guidance, strength, courage and power. Begging God for blessing, begging God to be glorified in your life this day, begging God for the salvation of your children, begging God to help you be the best spiritual leader you can be by His grace. This is where you meet with the Lord. Question, if you are not faithful to this and you lack the power to lead in your home, if you have not spoken to God in while (I am not talking about a quick 10 minute prayer, I am talking about getting hold of the heart of God), what are you going to tell your children? Can you tell them how important prayer is? No! Because your life does not reflect that.

As a wife, you will never be the care giver to your children that you should be. You will never be the helpmeet to your husband that you should be; because your prayerless life is a powerless life. What will you tell your children? Can you tell them the importance of prayer? No! Because neither does your life reflect this.

We are commanded in Scripture to be faithful to Church (Heb. 10:25). Some would say, "Well, I fulfill my obligation when I go Sunday Morning, I am not forsaking the assembling". Well, take a look at the passage. The passage says to be faithful to the house of the Lord when it is assembling. It does not give leverage if you just attend part of the services. These are the words of the Scripture. Question, what will you tell your kids if you are not faithful? We must remember that our children, even if they are grown, are watching us. Even if they don't ask why, they are wondering. I would hate to be the one that gives my children a reason for not being faithful to God in all things.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is Abortion a Theological Issue?

Garry Wills is at it again — this time in the pages of The Los Angeles Times. A liberal Roman Catholic, Wills is a prolific historian who also writes works on contemporary religion. His new book, Head and Heart: American Christianities presents his pluralistic model of American Christianity and his effort to counter the influence of conservative Christians in the public square.

In his November 4, 2007 opinion column in The Los Angeles Times, Wills argues that abortion should be seen as a purely secular and scientific issue. Abortion “is not a theological matter at all,” he insists — making a brazen argument that is likely to shock parties on both sides of this issue.

“There is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion,” he claims. Further, “The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments — or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount — or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.”

This is intellectual sophistry on display. Abortion is not “treated in the early ecumenical councils” because abortion was not an issue in those debates. Neither was homosexuality . . . or any number of other issues. How exactly does Wills interpret “Thou shall not murder?” If abortion is not included here, what else is left out? Abortion is a theological issue because it deals with the questions of human life, personhood, the image of God, and the sanctity of the gift of life. There is no way that is can be anything less than theological at its core, which is why so many Christians take the issue with such seriousness.

Wills wants to secularize the abortion debate and leave it to science. So, when does he believe that a fetus becomes a person? He suggests that this is marked by the development of a “functioning brain” at about the end of the sixth month of gestation. He celebrates that this also marks where he considers the fetus viable.

But Wills also makes this argument:

The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain?

Does Garry Wills believe that a fetus at six months is capable of “recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person?” This sounds like the logic of philosopher Peter Singer, who argues that an individual is not to be considered fully human until he or she develops such understandings of self as a person and is able to communicate, establish relationships, and envision the future. Needless to say, these capacities are not present at birth — which is why Singer would not consider infanticide murder.

Would Wills go this far? Probably not. But his argument that the issue must be settled on purely secular terms leaves the door wide open.

Wills is certainly right that abortion is not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the early Christian creeds. He fails to mention, however, that it is specifically mentioned in the Didache — a compendium of early Christian teaching that claims an origin tied to the twelve disciples. The Didache states that a Christian “shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.”

Consider these two paragraphs from Wills’ article. The first is his opening salvo:

What makes opposition to abortion the issue it is for each of the GOP presidential candidates is the fact that it is the ultimate “wedge issue” — it is nonnegotiable. The right-to-life people hold that it is as strong a point of religion as any can be. It is religious because the Sixth Commandment (or the Fifth by Catholic count) says, “Thou shalt not kill.” For evangelical Christians, in general, abortion is murder. That is why what others think, what polls say, what looks practical does not matter for them. One must oppose murder, however much rancor or controversy may ensue.

Then, a later paragraph:

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear. The experts have only secular expertise, not religious conviction. They, admittedly, do not give one answer — they differ among themselves, they are tentative, they qualify. They do not have the certitude that the religious right accepts as the sign of truth.

Wills is a Roman Catholic, and Catholicism has a much longer tradition of dealing explicitly with abortion than does Evangelicalism (to our shame). Nevertheless, he aims his sights on evangelicals, accusing evangelicals of opposing abortion “however much rancor or controversy may ensue.”

But later, in pressing his own preferred agenda, he admits that his designated secular experts — the scientists and philosophers — “do not give one answer” and “differ among themselves.” Is he seriously arguing that if evangelicals went away, the abortion controversy would disappear?

There is more to Wills’ article (and book) on this subject, and it is clear that this Catholic author and intellectual has huge problems with his own church. But his suggestion that abortion is a merely secular issue will get nowhere. Theology is inevitably involved whenever human life and human dignity are defined or debated. A world in which these issues are considered merely secular is the stuff of nightmares.