On one extreme, radical Islamic clerics persuade followers that because homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will, it is an act of piety to kill “gays,” just as it is to kill Western infidels in general. On the other extreme, Western secularists
On one extreme, radical Islamic clerics persuade followers that because homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will, it is an act of piety to kill “gays,” just as it is to kill Western infidels in general. On the other extreme, Western secularists promote acceptance of homosexual behavior as normal, healthy, and morally right, celebrating it with “gay pride” events, affirming it by lighting up of the White House in “gay pride” rainbow lights, and proclaiming their support for those engaged in it, often (particularly if they are government officials) speaking as though all good Americans share their viewpoint. Extremist secular leaders add to this assertions that any who reject their view are hate-filled bigots, mentally ill phobics, or both, who are creating an environment that encourages violence against “gays.”
Bible-believing Christians reject both extremes. Called to do all they can (short of sinning) to remain at peace with others (Romans 12:18), to obey the laws of their nations (whenever they can do so without committing sin) (Titus 3:1, Romans 13:1-5), and to act with benevolence toward (seeking what is best for, most in the true interests of) even those hostile toward God, God’s truth, and God’s people (Matthew 5:43-5, 2 Timothy 2:24-6), Bible believers condemn and oppose the murder-as-Islamic-piety extreme, as they condemn and oppose any lawless killing, whatever its alleged justification. Recognizing, however, that homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will and to nature as he designed it (Romans 1:26-7), and that nations that promote and celebrate it cannot expect good results (Leviticus 18:22-4; Psalm 2:10-12), they know their duty is to warn those engaged in homosexuality, and the nations that celebrate them, that they are in danger (Ezekiel 33:2-6), and to tell them of God’s gracious provision for the deliverance of all among them who will repent (Matthew 26:19; Luke 24:46-7; John 3:16; Acts 17:30-1; Ezekiel 18:32; II Peter 3:9).
Lacking the one-dimensional simplicity of both radical Islam and extremist secularism, the Christian’s joint affirmation of Scripture-revealed morality and of Christ-exemplified benevolence toward its violators can seem difficult to promote and apply. Given this, Bible believers are certainly in need of sound books that combine the benevolence of Christ with uncompromising affirmation of Scripture’s moral precepts and principles.
Brad Hambrick’s Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends (Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016) seeks to be such a book. I don’t think it entirely succeeds. In places, it seems to move past Christian benevolence into a live-and-let-live don’t-force-your-views-on-others realm that derives more from postmodern American culture with its libertarian tendencies than from Scripture. And it has numerous other defects, some of which I will discuss, due either to such misjudgment of what constitutes true Christian benevolence, to too-superficial discussion made unavoidable by the publisher’s goal “to keep it simple” and to “publish short, clear…books” that “are easy to read” and tend to run about 100 pages (6), or to other causes (such as failure to take variation in Christians’ personality types sufficiently into account when offering advice).
In spite of this, Hambrick’s understanding of biblical sexual ethics seems sound overall, and his practical suggestions do contain much that could prove useful to Bible believers reaching out to those who admit to experiencing same-sex attraction or who identify themselves as “homosexual” or “gay.” (I try to put these terms in quotation marks whenever they are used as descriptors of persons, of identity, because such usage is misguided and lacks biblical warrant.) So, I’ll note some of its more positive and useful content below. In order to end on a positive note, however, I’ll cover some of its noteworthy defects first.
“First,” that is, after two asides. The first aside helps explain my interest in Do Ask, Do Tell…. In this book, Hambrick addresses the question of how Christians should interact with those who admit to experiencing same-sex attraction, or who self-identify as “gay.” This shouldn’t be confused with the separate question of what sort of legal and cultural environment Christians should support, meaning what laws they should try to pass and what cultural attitudes they should hope to make more prevalent. Hambrick thinks the legal-environment question relatively unimportant (15). I, in contrast, think it very important. My sense of its importance has led me to make some effort to discern how God-mandated, Jesus-exemplified Christian benevolence might be relevant to the legal environment. As you might know, there are Christians today (granted they are a small minority) who think that Bible-compliant law requires enforcement by modern governments of the penalties God imposed upon sexual sins in Old Testament Israel (key words: Theonomy, Christian Reconstruction). In the cases of both homosexuality and adultery, this would mean execution (Leviticus 20:10,13). Though I respect those who hold this view for elevating God’s own words in Scripture above their feelings and the currents of American culture, the view doesn’t strike me as compatible with Christian benevolence. (Non-capital sodomy laws might be a different matter, since, some might argue, an environment outlawing homosexual activity would ultimately be better for those experiencing same-sex attraction than an all-permissive libertarian one. Supporters of such laws might ask, “Would not such laws deter many from indulging homosexual impulses, even motivate them to seek guidance and help from others in resisting and overcoming, as well as understanding, such impulses?”)
My thinking on this is fundamentally what is was back in 2013, when I reviewed a book that favored enforcement of Old Testament penalties against homosexual behavior (Pious Eye site, “Swanson’s Apostate: Merits Reading, Could Be Better,” “Problem Content 3: Whom Would Jesus Execute?” subheading, posted 23 September 2013, verified available 23 May 2016). My continued assurance that the laws of Moses imposed penalties on sexual sins harsher than we are expected to impose today owes much to John 8:3-11, where God in the flesh permits “go and sin no more” repentance in place of the Old Testament penalty for adultery. (Since those who accept mainstream textual criticism reject this passage, I’m once again glad I hold to the Received Text. Of course, even in the Old Testament, God freely imposed different punishments than those he handed down to Moses [2 Samuel 12], so his leniency as Christ may not imply all I’d like it to imply.) That there are Christians today who think sexual sins punished by death in the Old Testament should be punished by death today perhaps did more to interest me in a book aiming to help Christians reach out in benevolence to those inclined toward, or who have already indulged in, one such sin. Were no Bible believer today advocating capital punishment for sexual sins, I might not have requested a free pdf of Do Ask, Do Tell…, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. (Unbiased, that is, by my receipt of the free copy. Any review written by a human being will, of course, be biased in one way or another.)
(It occurs to me that some readers might find my talk of “benevolence” rather than “love” off-putting. In the debate over sexual ethics, however, the term “love” has been badly abused. For instance, the terrorist who attacked the “gay” nightclub in Orlando was said by many to have thought it permissible to kill people because of whom they “loved.” And no doubt you’ve seen the “love wins” signs in images of various “gay” events, such as those celebrating the Supreme Court’s imposition of homosexual “marriage” on all American states. As well, use of “love” when speaking of carnal heterosexual indulgence, regardless of marriage context or procreational intent, has been well establish for many years. Though importing the Greek term “agape” and specifying “selfless love” are more popular alternatives, “benevolence” seems to me more clear and precise.)
The second aside provides some useful background information and illuminates my starting perspective. You’ll recall that in an earlier parenthetical I said of the terms “gay” and “homosexual” that “I try to put these terms in quotation marks whenever they are used as descriptors of persons, of identity, because such usage is misguided and lacks biblical warrant.” Reflecting on some news a while back, I wrote this: “Insofar as they act in accordance with Scripture, Christians do not reject anyone because of ‘orientation’ (desire, inclination)….In fact, biblical Christians only reject persons when, by persistent refusal to repent and open hostility to the gospel, they make it impossible to reject their behavior (actions indulging sinful inclinations) without also rejecting them” (Pious Eye site, “A Month that Will Live in Infamy: October 2014 (Reflection on News in My Local Paper),” posted 31 October 2014, verified available 23 May 2016). In choosing this wording, I was objecting to the practice of applying these “orientation” labels to people as though “sexual orientation” were an inborn trait fundamental to identity. I learned more recently that what I was objecting to is called “orientation essentialism” (Michael W. Hannon, “Against Heterosexuality,” First Things site, March 2014, online document discovered 01 May 2016, verified still available 23 May 2016). I don’t endorse every assertion in Hannon’s article. For example, unlike Hannon, I still think “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” and “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality,” are apt labels for behaviors and the inclinations that motivate them. I do endorse its rejection of orientation essentialism, however, and so share its opposition to use of the labels “homosexual” and “heterosexual” to describe people. I must agree with Hannon when he writes, “The role of the champion of Christian chastity today…is to dissociate the Church from the false absolutism of identity based on erotic tendency, and to rediscover our own anthropological foundation for traditional moral maxims.” For Bible-believing Christians, of course, the “anthropological foundation” to be looked to is all that Scripture has to say about human beings as created in the image of God and fallen into sin.
Opening asides aside, on to a closer look at Hambrick’s book, which he dedicates to “those who have felt that their experience of same-sex attraction has left them isolated within or from the Body of Christ” (1). This brief book’s layout is as follows: it begins with an introduction titled “Please Don’t Skip Me” (7-11), ends (if one disregards the “More books from…” advertising) with a few pages of endnotes (123-5), and organizes its core content into the following six chapters: (1) “Beyond the Us-Them Divide” (13-29), (2) “Comfortable Being Uncomfortable” (31-45), (3) “Learning about the Experience of SSA” (47-62), (4) “Getting to Know a Christian Experiencing SSA: Key Markers on the Journey” (63-80), (5) “Getting to Know a Non-Christian Experiencing SSA: Winning an Argument vs. Influencing a Friend” (81-100), and (6) “Navigating Difficult Conversations” (101-22). The “SSA” in the third chapter’s title stands for “same-sex attraction.” For whatever reason, perhaps to meet a Cruciform Press word or character limit, Hambrick uses initialisms instead of full phrases. Other initialisms he adopts include “OSA” for “opposite-sex attraction,” “GI” for “gay identity,” and “HB” for “homosexual behavior.” (Those professing to experience no sexual attractions, who typically self-identify as “asexual,” may be disappointed that they are not mentioned. Given that the “NSA” initialism in already prominent, the lack of mention may be for the best. Those self-identifying as “bisexual” might also be disappointed, since Do Ask, Do Tell… seems generally to assume individuals are either opposite-sex attracted or same-sex attracted.) Though I certainly empathize with Hambrick if he adopted these initialisms to meet a word or character limit, I have to admit I don’t care for them and would have been much happier had he used the full phrases throughout.
On the Negative Side
I’ll be honest: there are many things I dislike about this little book. Some of what I dislike are minor annoyances. The initialisms just mentioned are one example. Adoption of a couple vogue English usage conventions is another. For example, the book adopts the vogue whom-less usage that jettisons separate subjective and objective cases. This usage may be the inevitable future of English, but the loss of precision still makes me sad. This usage, at least, it adopts consistently.
It also follows the increasingly popular practice of using third-person-plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their”) as generic third-person singulars (according to which a person must watch their usage). This too may be English’s future, since, though illogical, it feels natural (even irresistible) to most, has long been prevalent in spoken and informal usage, and reads better than “he or she, “him or her,” and “his or her.” But the progressive loss from English of unambiguously plural third-person pronouns signals another lamentable loss of precision. Like the earlier loss of unambiguously plural second-person pronouns (“ye,” “you,” and “your,” contrasting with singular “thou,” “thee,” and “thine”), it may be inevitable, but it’s still sad. As well, Do Ask, Do Tell… adopts this plurals-for-singulars convention inconsistently, even using contradictory variants on the same page (80, for example).
Among defects that are more than minor annoyances, I would have to include Hambrick's evident belief that our nation's attitude toward homosexuality, not only permissive but increasingly celebratory, poses no danger to the nation's future nor to the potential for a future revival among its Christian people (15). His related belief that emotional stories of bad experiences (Alan Turing's conviction for homosexual activity under British sodomy laws of his day) should influence law (31-2) also concerns me, not because I think restoration of sodomy laws is a good idea (I’m undecided), but because even the most just laws can produce cases that will strike many as tragic: principles, not feelings, must be the basis of law, though the extent to which feelings may properly influence application of just laws can be debated. I admit I prefer (sometimes with reservations) a legal order where personal liberty reigns in the realm of private consensual activity, provided that legal order does not limit freedom of believers to condemn and oppose openly and publicly such activity (in speech and writing, not with force), and to opt out of all involvement with or assistance of such activities, I must also admit that this is simply a bias of mine that may not be well grounded in Scripture, that may owe more to my American upbringing than to a fair appraisal of all that Scripture says on the subject. Scripture does, after all, indicate that the laws God gave Israel through Moses were, compared to laws of other nations, uniquely correct and praiseworthy (Deuteronomy 4:8). And these laws did require punishment of acts committed by “consenting adults,” though the requirement of witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15) would have meant no activities kept private would be punished.
I should perhaps also note that, like many Christians trying to combine the American bias toward liberty with all the Bible says on various subjects, I have not been perfectly consistent. Though private property rights would seem to require that private companies be free to adopt whatever foolish and dangerous “transgender” bathroom policies they like, I have joined socially conservative groups in supporting a state whose lawmakers have decided that safety and recognition of natural gender are more important than private companies' property rights. As well, since rights are given by God, I have noted that one cannot have a “right” to what is against God and nature, so that it is appropriate to refuse by law to call homosexual unions “marriage” and to deny same-sex unions legal privileges granted to opposite-sex (real) marriages. On the same rights-are-God-given basis, I also think that, rather than being added to insurance plans, “gender reassignment” surgery should be made illegal. So, though I would have been happier had Hambrick not revealed his biases in law and politics, my own inconsistencies require that I not judge Hambrick's legal and political biases too harshly, at least not until my views more perfectly comport with one another.
In his first chapter, “Beyond the Us-Them Divide,” Hambrick emphasizes that this “is a book about individual Christians learning to form better friendships with…[various acquaintances] who experience same-sex attraction or embrace a gay identity,” not a book about church outreach to “the gay community” (13-4). He wishes to discourage an approach to relationships with such acquaintances that suggests “that from the Christian perspective the only two possible outcomes in such....
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Aug 08, 2017 10:53PM · like · see review · preview book
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I am not part of the signs-and-wonders (Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave) movement, nor has this book tempted me to join up. Though my Reformed Baptist convictions remain intact, I did find Spirit-Empowered Theology enjoyable reading overall,
I am not part of the signs-and-wonders (Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave) movement, nor has this book tempted me to join up. Though my Reformed Baptist convictions remain intact, I did find Spirit-Empowered Theology enjoyable reading overall, sometimes edifying (96-7, e.g.), and a good survey of the signs-and-wonders way of thinking. I admit that Carrin’s overuse of “impact” reduced my enjoyment of some sections (see Charles Harrington Elster,
The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly
[New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010], 46-8), but this is a minor fault imperceptible to many of today’s readers. The book is not a systematic and detailed exposition of theology as signs-and-wonders advocates understand it. Rather, it is a collection of questions and answers, usually brief, of uneven quality, and conversational rather than formal. Its treatment of topics is more broad than deep. Where Pentecostals, charismatics, and Third Wavers disagree, it takes charismatic positions (speaking in “tongues” is a sign, but not a necessary one, of Holy Spirit baptism; demons cannot possess but can oppress true believers; and so on). Where Calvinism (in all things, including salvation, ultimate sovereignty resides in God’s decree) and Arminianism (ultimate sovereignty in salvation resides in humans’ choices) disagree, it stands with Arminianism (though Carrin may not be satisfied with every aspect of Arminianism proper). Though the book has an index (343-51), it lacks both a bibliography and in-text source citations or footnotes.
In a text aiming to be informal and pleasant to read, one might be able to justify minimizing or excluding in-text citations and footnotes, provided one includes a bibliography. Excluding the bibliography as well seems impossible to justify. Spirit-Empowered Theology’s failure to identify or acknowledge any sources, except for Behe’s Darwin's Black Box (292), takes the quest for readability too far. Carrin makes many historical, factual, and scientific claims that critical readers might doubt (as I do), even dedicating whole sections to them (241-97), and he asserts debated doctrinal views and takes positions on debated biblical interpretations without acknowledging that there is any debate and without citing any sources showing that other faithful (so no less Spirit-guided) Christians, particularly those with topic-relevant expertise, have drawn the same conclusions. (Statements on 38, 43-4, 70, 76, 79, 91-3, 136, and 152-3 come to mind, but many more examples appear in the text. The statements on 152-3, it should be noted, also fall short by addressing only one of multiple relevant and much-debated verses on the subject discussed, though they do at least acknowledge that the subject is debated.) Carrin does at one point offer the support of unidentified “significant biblical scholars” (85), but this isn’t much better than no source acknowledgement at all. Carrin, in fact, omits citations even when quoting in English people who did not write in English (85, 220). In addition to being left doubting whether one should trust the translation quoted, one is often left wondering whether a quotation might be taken out of context, since the source is not identified and cannot be checked (109). I am surprised that Baker (Chosen is a Baker imprint) would publish a book that thus fails to acknowledge its sources. Surely the publisher has fact-checkers and researchers on staff who could at least have constructed a select bibliography, based on interviews with Carrin or their own research. In its present state (the complimentary review copy I have was sent to me at the end of July 2017), the book seems appropriate only for leisurely and skeptical reading, not as a reference, and certainly not as a text book. With the addition of references, which I hope both Baker and Carrin will consider, its range of uses could be broadened.
As a leisurely survey of signs-and-wonders beliefs, this first edition of Spirit-Empowered Theology is at least as good as the many Wikipedia articles flagged as needing references, so I give it a mildly positive rating (three stars out of five). People who agree with Carrin (Chosen’s target demographic) will enjoy the book most. People who disagree with Carrin but enjoy reading books they disagree with, provided the books make a good-faith effort to honor Scripture’s authority, and provided they tell the readers something they don’t already know, might also enjoy it (as I did). Reactionary anti-charismatics who clench their fists and fume whenever their charismatic acquaintances share an anecdote, on the other hand, would find the book intolerable and are advised to look elsewhere for reading material.
Such is my general overview and recommendation. I do think other aspects of the book deserve criticism, and I will discuss some of those aspects below. I will not attempt to refute, nor will I even mention, all the ways I think Carrin errs. Instead, my criticisms will focus primarily on Carrin’s portrayal of and attempt to refute Reformed doctrine, aka Calvinism. His portrayal of its content and effects is inaccurate, and his refutation of it fails. I will also address some aspects of his descriptions of God and of the Holy Spirit and things spiritual that I find troubling. Though he usually seems soundly Trinitarian (e.g., 36), he opts for modalistic wording in some places. And, though the physical manifestations of God and his non-human servants in Scripture makes speaking of spirit and things spiritual in physical (including energetic) and spatial terms tempting, I find doing so problematic, so I’ll discuss some instances of such physical-spatial language in Carrin’s work. I may also address other topics.
Before criticizing, I should point out at least one positive aspects of the book, since my general overview admitted there were some. One aspect of signs-and-wonders thinking that Bible-believing Reformed people might do well to study and reflect upon is its unapologetic attempt to understand contemporary phenomena in light of biblical supernaturalism. Carrin’s supernaturalism in such subjects as demonic influence (157-71, 203) might serve as a corrective to the naturalistic tendency of even Christians, particularly those who think themselves learned, to not take into account Scripture’s tracing to demonic influence of phenomena that our secular therapeutic culture attributes entirely to physical and mental causes, namely, physical disease and “mental illness.” (I admit to seeing no value in Carrin’s weird physicalizing of demons at one point , and I do not claim to see biblical justification for some of the practices he endorses for dealing with them. Where I do see value is in his basic willingness to allow for supernatural causation of phenomena normally assumed natural.) Whether demons are, like Satan, fallen angels (as most suppose, and as the Authorized Version’s “devils” translation suggests, making demons lesser versions of the same sort of being as the Devil, Satan), or something else, as Carrin believes (161-2), a humble reading of Scripture in its plain sense finds demons, unclean spirits, responsible for many problems that contemporary culture assumes invariably mundane in their causes and cures. If one is much motivated by a desire to be respected by the elite of our secular culture, this thoroughgoing supernaturalism will be hard to embrace. Though various signs-and-wonders doctrines may not match Bible-affirmed phenomena (treating the ecstatic utterance of nonsense, a phenomenon found across the religious spectrum, instead of the miraculous speaking of unlearned languages, not so widespread, as biblical “tongues” may be an example), suggestion of demonic activity aback some seemingly natural phenomena does seem in accord with the Bible.
The same might be true of other signs-and-wonders claims, such as claims to dreams of supernatural rather than natural origin, a phenomenon affirmed in a matter-of-fact way throughout Scripture. I admit that I am troubled by the lack of any obvious way to determine a given dream’s origin with certainty, but I must grant that Scripture seems to treat dreams given by God as obviously and undeniably so. As those to whom God manifests himself in Scripture never ask, “How do I know you’re really God and not an impostor?,” so those to whom God sends dreams never say, “Well, maybe God didn’t give me that dream after all.” Belief in miraculous healings also seems scripturally sound, though not everything signs-and-wonders advocates claims may comport with the Bible. Most Christians, even learned Christians of the Calvinist variety, grant that miraculous healings do occur, so the only point of contention is the signs-and-wonders claim that God grants some people today miraculous healing ability. Unless one believes the biblical and historical case for cessationism too strong to be doubted (I admit I do not*), this is a matter for empirical investigation and beyond the scope of this review. (*To my eye, cessationism resembles dispensationalism in that both systems can be made to fit with Scripture, offering plausible explanations for its contents, but neither arises naturally from Scripture. Carrin’s views on prophecy and the relationship between Israel and the Body of Christ, as it happens, seem to line up with those of dispensationalism. As well, he makes some statements suggesting that the nature of salvation has changed since Old Testament times, so that, for instance, David somehow managed to be a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) without being regenerated .)
This issue of cessationism (146-7) deserves further comment. Since God may sovereignly reduce or increase his open and visible activity in the world as he deems appropriate, for reasons he needn’t reveal, appeals to history seem to me to carry little weight unless they can be firmly tied to biblical statements suggesting that likely historical facts should be interpreted in a certain way. If signs and wonders became exceedingly rare among God’s people for a time, as Carrin seems to grant (131, 146), I’m not sure either the cessationists’ explanation (having served their purpose, supernatural gifts and signs found in the New Testament went away permanently) or Carrin’s explanation (God’s people were disobedient and had stopped believing in Spirit manifestations, so the gifts and signs went away temporarily) is needed. History might tell us what God did, but only Scripture can tell us why he did it, assuming Scripture speaks to the issue. In any case, arguments that certain things did not happen in history are typically the weakest sorts of arguments, arguments from silence. Most of what happened in the past is lost to us, having never been written about and having left no physical evidence. Countless strange and wondrous things might have happened that we will never know about until God tells us about them in the world to come.
At least since Old Princeton (think B. B. Warfield), it could be argued, leading Reformed people, and leaders in the broader evangelical community, have tended to treat scholars and scholarship as a Protestant substitute for the Roman Catholic magisterium (minus the validation of apostolic succession). Since the skeptical spirit of the Enlightenment permeates contemporary academia, even the most dedicated Christians can end up doing their scholarly work in a way more compatible with unbelief than with faith. Were I a signs-and-wonders person, I might well suspect that cessationism owes more to unbelieving presuppositions than to humble submission to Scripture. Even as a non-signs-and-wonders non-cessationist, I’m inclined to suspect such is true of various things widely believed by the most educated Christians, such as the conclusions of naturalistic textual criticism, including rejection of the “long ending” of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Whether or not this suspicion is justified in the case of cessationism, there is nothing about Reformed doctrine that makes cessationism necessary. Calvinism and cessationism are separate issues, so even those wholly dedicated to the perpetuity of New Testament signs and wonders should not fear to explore Calvinism. (An excellent way to do that without spending any money is to download or request printed copies of some of the works available free from Chapel Library.)
By the way, like other signs-and-wonders people, Carrin accepts Mark 16:9-20 as genuine and sees verses 17 and 18 as applicable to believers from New Testament times through today. While this is a possible reading, one may just as naturally read Mark 16:17-18 as a prophecy wholly fulfilled during the apostolic era. Though, at the moment, I don’t recall anyone remaining unharmed after drinking poison in the book of Acts, I do recall seeing all the other signs there. If this is a prophecy rather than something intended to apply to believers in every generation, no doubt someone in that founding generation did drink poison and remain unharmed, whether or not the record of this event appears in Scripture itself. Jesus does not say that everyone who ever follows him will manifest these signs, so all that is needed for what he does say to be correct is for each of the signs to be manifested by at least one of those who believe in him in the days and years following the prophecy. The case for signs-and-wonders doctrine and against cessationism does not hinge on this passage: viewed without bias, insofar as that is humanly possible, the signs-and-wonders and cessationist readings of the passage seem equally plausible. (Even signs-and-wonders people do not infer from these verses that all these signs should be manifested by every believer, so the way some advocates of naturalistic textual criticism poke fun at the passage, asking listeners to act on the basis of these “promises” and see what happens, is misleading and unfair.)
Prior to the aside on the closing verses of Mark, I urged those dedicated to the signs-and-wonders way of thinking not to fear exploring Calvinism. By “explore,” I mean “reflect upon in a serious way, giving honest consideration to the possibility that Calvinism is true, the very teaching of Scripture.” One has not explored Calvinism if one has simply researched ways to refute it, or (which is more common) to refute caricatures of it. Carrin’s discussion of Reformed or Calvinist doctrine inclines me to believe he has never sincerely explored Calvinism.
Early in the text, Carrin expresses dissatisfaction with both Arminianism and Calvinism (61-2). Many Calvinists, such as A. N. Martin in his audio series on God’s sovereignty (available online from Sovereign Grace Audio Treasures), admit to having long sought a mediating position between Arminian human-willism and Calvinist God-willism, resigning themselves only after long struggle to the reality that the comprehensive sovereignty of God works all things, including the free decisions of humans (which we know free simply by experiencing ourselves making them freely, under no compulsion), decisions both good and ill, according to his own will (Ephesians 1:11), comprehensively foreordaining absolutely everything. With this resignation, they come to see “freedom” in the human context as something under God’s sovereignty, not something independent that limits its scope. Humans are free and responsible, but the choices they make freely and responsibly are all foreordained of God. Rationalists may bristle at this formulation, and aberrant forms of “Calvinism” may claim to wholly and neatly resolve all human-perceived tension,** but the normal and orthodox view of Calvinists is that humans are indeed free and responsible, and that they are so under the sovereign direction and all-encompassing eternal decree of God. (** Since it is human finitude, with assistance from fallenness, that makes humans perceive tension between God’s comprehensive foreordination and their own freedom and responsibility, it is impossible for any system trying to resolve the tension to succeed.)
Despite professing early on to be dissatisfied with both Arminianism and Calvinism, for the reason that they both attempt to resolve tensions in biblical teaching that cannot be resolved (61-2), an accusation that isn’t true of orthodox Calvinism, through the remainder of the book Carrin shows a strong preference for Arminianism’s brand of tension-resolution. Rather than resign himself to the truth of Calvinism, and accept the specific tensions that go with that viewpoint, he chooses to redefine the “saving faith” that is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) as, not actual belief given by God at God’s sole discretion, but as an enabling to believe should one choose to do so, that is, should one voluntarily choose not to resist this enabling gift (183). Since this verbal trick makes human decision the ultimate determiner of salvation, and since human decisions are no less human works than are human physical actions, persons saved under Carrin’s system do have cause to boast in their works (Ephesians 2:9): they may boast in their works of making decisions superior to those made by the unsaved. As well, since the word translated “of faith” is a form of a word (πíστις pistis) for which “belief” is a primary meaning, along with related meanings like “trust” and “commitment,” it seems linguistically impossible to claim that any form of “faith,” much less faith that is “saving,” can fail to include actual belief. See, for example, Timothy and Barbara Friberg’s Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (2000) and Barclay Newman’s A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (1993), both included in Bible Works™ version 7 (2005). (Those without access to these sources may be able to find equivalent references through The Sword Project and such free Sword-based software as Xiphos.) No honest reader of Scripture should have trouble seeing that Carrin’s interpretation here is not only unlikely but impossible. If the term eisegesis did not already exist, one would have to coin it to describe such a desperate attempt to evade the truth that dreaded Calvinism is just what Scripture teaches.
Carrin also does violence to language in his interpretation of biblical references to God’s “foreknowledge” (178-9)....
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Aug 07, 2017 10:36PM · like · see review · preview book
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Preview — Spirit-Empowered Theology by Charles Carrin
This review also appears, possibly expanded with more links, on the reviewer’s blog, Pious Eye: Seeing by the True Light, more commonly called the Pious Eye site.
This is an excellent and edifying book. An effective combination of sound research, sust This review also appears, possibly expanded with more links, on the reviewer’s blog, Pious Eye: Seeing by the True Light, more commonly called the Pious Eye site.
This is an excellent and edifying book. An effective combination of sound research, sustained scholarly reflection, solid Reformed theology, and strong pastoral focus on an all-of-life Christian piety that goes far beyond assent to correct doctrines, Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition merits high recommendation, deserves a broad readership, and is difficult to criticize. It could perhaps be improved by the addition of subject and Scripture indexes, since it lacks these standard supplements. Beyond that, though, there’s nothing in the book I would complain about or wish to change.
Since I cannot criticize, I’ll just just give you an ideas of the contents and look at a couple highlights.
The first and final pieces of writing in the book make clear that doctrinally sound studies of revival, such as one finds in Pentecostal Outpourings, are greatly needed in the church. It follows from this that believers making up that church are well justified giving their time and attention to this book. The Foreword, by Steven J. Lawson, of OnePassion and Ligonier Ministries, and The Master’s Seminary, well fulfills the usual function of a foreword, giving readers good reason to read the rest of the book. Revival, relates Lawson, is a “powerful work of the Holy Spirit” effecting “new awareness of the holiness of God” and bringing about “the conviction of sin” and “heartrending repentance”; or, as he says a bit later, it is “a season of vibrant renewal that comes to the church during a time of spiritual declension” (vii). No observer of contemporary Christianity should doubt that “a time of spiritual declension” is upon us. Nor, given this, should any doubt that revival is greatly needed. All should grant, then, that scholarly works on past revivals, specifically revivals that have not compromised Reformed doctrine, merit Reformed believers’ review and reflection.
As no observer of Christianity should doubt the present need for revival, so no such observer should fail to lament that doctrinally sound Reformed people—in response to revivalism-inspired excesses of Pentecostals, charismatics, and a dominantly-Arminian evangelical mainstream—have abandoned much of the revival-friendly language and behavior (such as praying for revival) that their equally sound forebears embraced and promoted. This is a reality specially emphasized at the end of the book, in editor Robert Davis Smart’s “A Concluding Word—A Call to Seek God for Revival Today.” (Smart is a pastor in Bloomington, Illinois). In combination, these first and final items make clear that Pentecostal Outpourings is not a collection of safe-to-ignore, practically irrelevant scholarly speculations on historical minutiae, but is instead a highly practical mining of church history for instructive evidence of God’s sovereign work of revival among his people. (The Introduction, also by Smart, in addition to the expected introductory overview of what is to come, adds to one’s sense of book’s importance and to one’s motivation to continue reading.)
As a collection of works by various authors, Pentecostal Outpourings varies in style and specific interest from one chapter to the next. Still, certain themes recur throughout. Rather than attempt a chapter-by-chapter summary, I’ll focus on two of these.
First, though, a listing of the book’s contents. The book has two parts: Part 1, “Revival in the British Isles,” comprises chapters 1 through 4; Part 2, “Revival in America,” comprises chapters 5 through 8. The Part 1 chapters are these: Chapter 1, by contributor Eifion Evans, a retired Presbyterian minister who served in Wales and Northern Ireland, is titled “‘The Power of Heaven in the Word of Life’: Welsh Calvinistic Methodism and Revival”; Chapter 2, by editor Ian Hugh Clary, fellow of Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies (at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky) and lecturer at other institutions, is titled “‘Melting the Ice of a Long Winter’: Revival and Irish Dissent”; Chapter 3, by editor Michael A. G. Haykin, director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and professor at its host seminary, is titled “‘The Lord Is Doing Great Things, and Answering Prayer Everywhere’: The Revival of the Calvinistic Baptists in the Long Eighteenth Century”; and Chapter 4, by contributor Iain D. Campbell, of Point Free Church of Scotland (Isle of Lewis), is titled “Revival: A Scottish Presbyterian Perspective.” The Part 2 chapters are these: Chapter 5, by Smart, is titled “Edwards’s Revival Instinct and Apologetic in American Presbyterianism: Planted, Grown, and Faded”; Chapter 6, by contributor Peter Beck, of Charleston Southern University and Doorway Baptist Church (North Charleston, South Carolina), is titled “‘The Glorious Work of God’: Revival among Congregationalists in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”; Chapter 7, by contributor Tom J. Nettles, retired from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is titled “Baptist Revivals in America in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”; and Chapter 8, by contributor Joel R. Beeke, of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, is titled “Revival and the Dutch Reformed Church in Eighteenth-Century America.” After Smart’s conclusion, the book contains some basic information on the editors and contributors (259-60).
As can be seen from this listing, Pentecostal Outpourings makes a point of surveying revival history in each main branch of the Reformed faith in Britain and America, from Calvinistic Methodists (not to be confused with the Wesleys’ Arminian Methodists), to Presbyterians and Congregationalists, to Particular Baptists. One also can see from the chapter titles, and would expect given how many of the authors are affiliated with universities or seminaries, that these are not fluffy chapters good only for light devotional reading, but sound scholarly works of English and American church history. Given their subject matter, the chapters are also, it should be noted, a treasury of references to edifying and instructive works now in the public domain. (The Internet Archive is your friend.)
As noted, certain themes recur throughout Pentecostal Revivals. I’ll look at just a couple. One such theme is the need to embrace revival without losing doctrinal purity. Revival is a sovereign work of God, not (contrary to Charles Finney’s revivalism) something humans can engineer, and true revival neither requires nor is benefited by doctrinal compromise. Though this theme is prominent throughout the text, as it should be, the treatment of it that stands out most in my mind is Beck’s Chapter 6 discussion of a lesser-known Second Great Awakening preacher, Asahel Nettleton (182-92). If you’ve spent any time around Reformed people, of whatever denomination, you’ll know that, though they might see much good in the First Great Awakening, they don’t so often have good things to say about the Second. This was, after all, the revival brought to us by Charles Finney and his human-centered, free-will, emotion-manipulating revivalism. No, thank you! If that’s revival, we’ll have none of it.
Turns out, though, that there was some real revival, some God-driven, soundly Reformed, non-revivalist revival going on at the same time. Beck characterizes the reason for contemporary ignorance of Nettleton’s Finney-opposing revival ministry this way: “Unfortunately, most historians limit his role in the Second Great Awakening to his opposition to the more famous revivalist of his day, Charles Finney....Such selective memory overlooks that Nettleton’s contemporaries admired him for the power of his preaching ministry and his mind” (183). Later, discussing their differing treatments of the doctrine of human sinfulness and original sin, Beck characterizes the contrast between Nettleton and now-better-known Second Great Awakening figures as follows: “While Nathaniel Taylor...and Charles Finney watered down this key tenet of the Reformed faith, Nettleton remained firmly convinced of its veracity and the crucial role it plays in one’s theology of revival and man’s response to it” (187). As in the First Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards had insisted on doctrinal purity and offered principles for distinguishing between the true and false in alleged movements of God’s Spirit (principles drawn upon throughout Pentecostal Outpourings), so Nettleton insisted on doctrinal purity and distinction of true from false in the Second Great Awakening. And the evidence is that this paid off: Beck relates that the work God performed through Nettleton’s ministry “produced...lasting results” (191), whereas the work Finney performed got mixed results of short duration (191).
Another prominent theme is the central role of prayer in bringing about revival. Though revival, as is emphasized throughout Pentecostal Outpourings, is a sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit, God seems to have ordained that this work should be effected through the prayers of his people, much as he has ordained that his people’s sharing of the gospel should be his means of effecting conversion. Haykin’s Chapter 3 treatment of revival among English Calvinistic Baptists might take on this theme most directly. (It also does a good job discussing “the theological position known as High Calvinism, sometimes called hyper-Calvinism” , siding with those who opposed and corrected this error without maligning those who, attempting to best honor God’s absolute sovereignty, adopted it.) Discussing a 1784 call to pray for revival proposed by John Sutcliff (91), Haykin notes that the biblical justification offered by those issuing the call was Ezekiel 36:37, then offers this observation: “At first glance this passage from Ezekiel hardly seems the best text to support the prayer call. Yet...it reflects a biblical principle: when God intends to do a great work He stirs up His people to pray for the thing He intends to do. Preceding times of revival and striking extensions of Christ’s kingdom, the concerted and constant prayers of Christians invariably occur” (93).
Obviously, my basic listing of contents and brief look at examples of two prominent and recurrent themes cannot do justice to the richness of Pentecostal Outpourings. But it should help you decide if you care to read the book yourself. (In case it matters, I’ll note in passing that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
For my part, I found this book very worthwhile reading. I have to admit, I’ve always identified most with the more grim biblical characters, such as the mournful Jeremiah destined to prophesy bad news, or the bravely fatalistic Thomas (John 11:16) who just couldn’t believe good news when he heard it (John 20:24-5). Surveying the current state of Christianity in America, and I don’t mean just the decisions I see Christians making this election year, I tend to think that God has decided to withdraw his influence and protection from the American nation and its professing Christians, that if spiritual awakening and the advance of God’s church are going to happen, they’ll happen elsewhere (in Africa or China, perhaps). But Pentecostal Outpourings gives me hope, since, as one discovers in this excellent survey of past revivals, significant spiritual decline typically does precede God-wrought revivals. We have the decline. Will revival follow?
Speaking on behalf of all the volume’s editors and contributors, and on behalf of supportive Reformed leaders more generally, Smart calls upon readers “to join us in seeking God for revival today” (256). This is a call we would do well to accept. And this is a book you would do well to read. ...more
What follows is abridged from the original review available on the reviewer’s blog, the Pious Eye site.
Bible believers, who accept Scripture’s ultimate authority in all matters on which it speaks, are appropriately inclined to take all that Scripture What follows is abridged from the original review available on the reviewer’s blog, the Pious Eye site.
Bible believers, who accept Scripture’s ultimate authority in all matters on which it speaks, are appropriately inclined to take all that Scripture says in its natural, straightforward sense (that is, in the sense that would be most natural and straightforward to its original recipients), and to let that sense, and all that it implies, guide their thinking on all topics. When the implications of Scripture’s natural sense, such as that the earth is “young” (thousands, not billions or even millions, of years old) and that a great flood once wiped out all land-based life not aboard a divinely-designed ship, radically contradict a narrative taken for granted by the broader culture, such as the anti-biblical “scientific” narrative about molecules-to-humanity evolution and billions-of-years deep time that is tiresomely repeated in everything from school textbooks to science documentaries to popular films, Bible believers, who must always be training themselves to think more biblically, urgently need a Scripture-consistent counter-narrative to draw upon. Sadly, the norm among Christian scholars today is not to provide such a counter-narrative, but to attempt to integrate the Bible’s words with the anti-biblical narrative.
Dr. Tim Clarey’s Dinosaurs: Marvels of God’s Design is a welcome exception to that norm. Though “the text is as accurate, up-to-date, and scientifically sound as any secular book on the market” and “covers the complete spectrum of dinosaur-related topics, from the earliest dinosaurs to debate over why they went extinct,” it does so without compromising the straightforward sense of Scripture. Rather than following the scholarly norm of explaining Scripture in terms of a narrative that currently passes for “scientific,” it offers scientific explanations of extant evidence that comport with the biblical narrative: it “explains dinosaurs in a biblical context” (8). The glossy Time-Life-Books-series style won’t appeal to everyone: the color pictures are great, and the graphic design is appealing, but roughly half the writing is white text on a black background—easy enough to read, but highly annoying to annotators and underliners. The book also has some minor flaws, which I’ll note below, but overall it merits a top rating and high recommendation.
The book comprises a table of contents, preface, fourteen chapters, one appendix, a brief “About the Author” page, endnotes, photo credits, and a brief index. The first four chapters, the scope of which is clear from their titles, cover the more general and foundational topics: Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark”; Chapter 2, “Dinosaur Basics”; Chapter 3, “The True Age of Dinosaurs”; Chapter 4, “Dinosaur Discoveries.” The book’s final chapter, Chapter 14, “The Real Story of the Dinosaurs,” also deals with general and foundational topics, serving as a concise overview of the Scripture-consistent scientific narrative informing the whole book. This last chapter deserves to be read first. Clarey’s use there of his own research into the thickness of megasequences in various areas of North America to explain why dinosaur fossils and footprints are found where they are (and not found where they’re not) is especially interesting. (Megasequences are spans of geologic strata larger than the greater-name-recognition systems. For instance, the Zuni megasequence spans much of the Jurassic, all the Cretaceous, and just a bit of the Tertiary systems. Clarey, in common with other creation geologists, interprets these megasequences, of which there are six, “as catastrophic deposits left behind by six major advances of the Flood waters onto the continents” .)
The book’s fifth through thirteenth chapters, as well as the appendix, deal more with details about dinosaurs and, in the cases of Chapter 13, “Digging Dinosaurs,” and the appendix, “Determining the Weight of a Dinosaur Using Scale Models,” how one might go about doing some amateur dinosaur science oneself. I confess to zero interest in the do-it-yourself chapter and appendix, but the more empirically inclined might enjoy them. As in the case of the more general and foundational chapters, the scope of these more detail-oriented chapters can be well discerned from the chapters’ titles. Chapter 5 through 9 focus upon specific types of dinosaurs: Chapter 5, “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design”; Chapter 6, “The Sauropodomorpha: The Large and Lumbering”; Chapter 7, “Suborder Ornithopoda: The Duck-bills”; Chapter 8, “Suborder Marginocephalia: The Domed, Horned, and Frilled”; Chapter 9, “Suborder Thyreophora: Armored and Plated.” People who often exclaim “I love dinosaurs!” at inappropriate times and in public places will probably like these chapters best. Chapters 10 through 12 are somewhat more general than Chapters 5 through 9, though still more focused on scientific details than the first four chapters. Again, scope is evident from titles: Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology / Anatomy”; Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior”; Chapter 12, “Dinosaur Endings and Extinction.” Those who, like myself, can’t recall ever exclaiming “I love dinosaurs!” will probably like these chapters, along with Chapters 1 through 4, more than Chapters 5 through 9.
While different readers will like certain chapters more than others, every chapter is well worth reading; and, given the prevalence of the anti-biblical narrative throughout our culture, even Bible believers with no interest at all in dinosaurs should consider acquiring a copy (or, as suggested on the publication data page , requesting their local library purchase one). A couple particularly useful matters covered (beyond what has already been noted) are created “kinds” and how they might relate to current scientific taxonomy (14, 21, 22, 92, 110, etc.) and the discoveries of intact dinosaur soft tissue (48-9), which the anti-biblical narrative cannot reasonably explain, and of carbon-14 where the anti-biblical narrative says there shouldn’t be any (50-1).
One of Dinosaurs’ minor flaws is that Clarey occasionally resorts to ad hoc and speculative suggestions to “solve” problems raised by the Scripture-consistent narrative he’s presenting. Since advocates of the anti-biblical narrative also employ ad hoc and speculative suggestions freely (with considerably more freedom, it could be argued), I am tempted to consider this a feature rather than a bug, at least where no unstated or undefended assumptions are involved. Such an unstated assumption does seem to be involved in at least one case, however. In the “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark” chapter, Clarey writes the following: “In order to fulfill this command [God’s command to repopulate the earth], the so-called meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) probably ate only plants after the Flood, at least for a time, before returning to their meat-eating ways” (14). In compliance with the natural sense of Scripture, Clarey affirms that all animal kinds, even the kind that includes the vicious T. rex, were vegetarian prior to humanity’s Fall and the resultant Curse (145). This is clever and, when first read, sounds plausible. Upon reflection, however, one perceives an unstated assumption. In proposing that theropods reverted to vegetarianism for a time after the Flood, Clarey clearly assumes that the basic anatomy and physiology that allowed the various meat-eater kinds to survive and thrive as vegetarians before the Fall remained sufficiently unchanged by the Curse to allow their post-Flood reversion to vegetarianism. This assumption is unstated in the context of this speculation, so I’ve tagged it as a flaw. I’ve tagged it as only a minor flaw because, though Clarey leaves the assumption unstated and so undefended here, he does come very close to stating and defending it later. In “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design” chapter, he writes this: “Exactly what type of vegetation T. rex [better, the created kind of which T. rex is a representative] ate with those massive teeth remains a mystery, but animals with similarly sharp teeth have remained exclusively vegetarian, like the fruit bat and panda. A recent study of modern crocodilians,” he adds, “has shown that nearly three-fourths of them consume plants, including fruits, nuts, and grains to supplement their diet, leaving secular science baffled for an explanation” (79). Would Clarey go so far as to maintain that all created kinds, including humans, today retain the ability to survive and thrive on entirely vegetarian diets? Clarey’s failure to answer this question is not a flaw, but I am curious.
The last passage quoted from in the preceding paragraph (and the bracketed modification I’ve made in the portion quoted) points to another minor flaw. Clarey, oddly enough, fails to employ his own thoughts on created “kinds” in some of his discussion. For instance, just before the words quoted near the end of the preceding paragraph, Clarey writes, “In God’s original creation, even the mighty T. rex was a vegetarian, as were all animals. It wasn’t until after the sin of man and the resulting Curse that T. rex became a meat-eater” (79). T. rex, however, is a species (genus Tyrannosaurus, species rex), and Clarey is quite consistent in pointing out his belief that a created kind is probably close to a taxonomic family, the next level up from genus. Though the presence of T. rexes in Flood sediments means that the species had been produced by the created kind’s build-in potential for variation by the time of the Flood, it doesn’t follow from this that God necessarily created any actual T. rexes when he created their parent kind. Since created kinds are not species, we can’t assume that any specific species were among what God originally created. The same rapid speciation proposed to have repopulated the earth (from as few as one species per created kind) with a vast array of species after the Flood, might be expected to have produced (from an original creation that included only some species of every kind), at least some of the species extant at the time of the Flood. This, at least, is something one might easily think. If Clarey has biblical or scientific grounds for maintaining that every species existing at the time of the Flood had been created as a separate species when God first created each kind, he should set forth those grounds in the book.
Another of the book’s minor flaws is the lack of rigor and detail in its use of concepts drawn from presuppositionalism. Like many capable advocates of biblical creationism, Clarey is an empirical scientist by training, so detailed and wholly consistent treatment of foundational philosophical matters can hardly be expected. Still, Clarey’s use of such presuppositionalist concepts as “worldview” merits comment.
Opening Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark,” Clarey notes that, in addition to being “a science book about dinosaurs,” this text is “a story of discovery,” then adds the following: “However, each discovery is judged on presuppositions, or a particular starting worldview....How factual data, like dinosaur fossils and rocks[,] are interpreted, depends on which presuppositions you start with.” One such set of presuppositions is “the uniformitarian worldview,” adherents of which “believe the earth has had the same processes, unchanged for eons of time” and “believe life somehow began from nonlife without help of a Creator”—“the dominant worldview in science today.” The other set of presuppositions is “the worldview that God’s Word is true,” which “holds that God made everything in six days and that there was a Flood that destroyed the original world just thousands of years ago. This,” he adds, “is the presupposition used throughout this book.” He adds further that “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence” (11).
In saying this, what does Clarey mean exactly? The most natural reading seems to be that, in Clarey’s opinion, worldviews are subject to testing by how they fit (or fail to fit) with uninterpreted, worldview-independent (“brute”) facts. This understanding, however, is inconsistent with the presuppositionalism from which such terms as “presupposition” and “worldview” are drawn. (The terms exist in the broader language, but the apologetic use of them should be credited to presuppositionalism.) The idea that worldviews are subject to worldview-neutral empirical testing is, at least, inconsistent with the most rigorous and self-consistent form of presuppositionalism, that advocated by such thinkers and Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, what adherents call “true presuppositionalism.” Even use of such terms as “factual evidence,” “facts,” “evidence,” and “data” without qualification, as though adherents of all presuppositional frameworks necessarily understand the terms the same way, is open to criticism in terms of “true presuppositionalism.” Such presuppositionalism recognizes that worldviews don’t just guide how one interprets evidence, but guide what one identifies as evidence. In place of Clarey’s “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence,” such presuppositionalism might suggest such phrasing as “this worldview permits one to explain, in a self-consistent manner, all that it identifies as data or evidence needing explanation, and to explain, when necessary, why what advocates of other worldviews identify as data needing explanation is not such in terms of this worldview.” Because secular science in the West has borrowed its understanding of the natural world, and so its understanding of data or evidence, from the West’s Christian heritage, it is easy and natural to assume that evidence is held in common by adherents of both biblical and anti-biblical worldviews, but increasing numbers of persons on the anti-biblical side of things are recognizing that a consistent (“postmodern”) outworking of their worldview allows very different views of evidence, perhaps even rejection of the concept of “evidence” altogether. A presuppositional purist would likely not speak of a “uniformitarian worldview” either, since uniformitarian scientism is merely one outworking of the anti-biblical worldview (which, like all outworkings of that worldview, proves inconsistent and self-refuting when analyzed closely enough).
To be fair, Carey’s usage is only a flaw to those of us trying to perfect our presuppositionalism, to make it as self-consistent and rigorous as possible, to ensure that nothing “neutral” sneaks in. No higher authority has declared that “presuppositions,” “presuppositional frameworks,” “worldviews,” and related terms must be used only in the “true presuppositionalist” manner purists prefer. Whatever its potential flaws, Carey’s usage does not prevent valid insights. For example, in Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology/Anatomy,” when discussing the debate over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded (Clarey believes they were cold-blooded), Clarey says of this “metabolism debate” that “It is actually a war of worldviews. Mainstream, secular science is trying to make dinosaurs into warm-blooded animals because they [adherents of mainstream, secular science] are trying to make them [dinosaurs] the evolutionary ancestors of birds” and “Birds are warm-blooded, or most are nearly so” (124). Later in the same chapter, Clarey observes that, “Because of the nagging lack of transitional fossils, Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed a modification of Darwin’s...theory that tried to explain away missing links, called punctuated equilibrium. Their hypothesis didn’t...provide...rock and fossil evidence; rather, it was merely an acknowledgement that the fossil record shows repetitive episodes of no change (stasis) followed by periods of sudden change. This,” he adds, “is precisely what creationists have pointed to as conclusive evidence of a catastrophic Flood, with sudden fossil changes occurring in rapid succession as sediments accumulated. It all depends on your starting assumptions, your worldview, to explain the same results” (129). The facts (“results”) themselves are not at issue in these “worldview” conflicts, only interpretation of the facts. While this usage of terms, like that in Chapter 1, doesn’t mesh with “true presuppositionalism,” it does, like discussion in Chapter 1, offer a valid and helpful observation: commitment to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint determines how one interprets evidence more than evidence determines whether one commits to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint.
This “valid and helpful observation” is stated in terms I think Clarey could accept. Introducing Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior,” which suggests what “can be gleaned about behavior from the study of footprints, egg nests, and even computer models,” Clarey writes, “Once again, all conclusions are a consequence of worldview. If you think dinosaurs are millions of years old, you will most likely interpret this data much differently from those of us that hold a biblical worldview. The data set is the same, however, and scientists are always making new discoveries” (141). Here, Clarey interestingly suggests that someone whose presuppositional framework includes the evolution-and-deep-time narrative will only “most likely” interpret the data in a manner consistent with that framework. The presuppositional purist must wonder whether Clarey really believes that “all conclusions are a consequence of worldview,” since surely one draws a conclusion whenever one decides that something one observes is or is not part of the set of relevant information (“data set”). Non-purists, on the other hand, may join Clarey in hoping that, as the data set expands to include new discoveries, those with the uniformitarian worldview might, faced with offering ever more complicated interpretations of the data to make it fit with their worldview, grow more willing to consider the biblical perspective.
In summary, Dinosaurs’ strong points are numerous and significant, and its weak points are few and minor, making it easy to recommend and rate highly. ...more
The full version of this significantly abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
In 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution (hereafter, 40Qs), a fairly comprehensive survey of debated questions related to creation and e The full version of this significantly abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
In 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution (hereafter, 40Qs), a fairly comprehensive survey of debated questions related to creation and evolution, particularly as those questions are addressed by evangelicals, authors Keathley and Rooker (hereafter, K&R) survey and assess extant opinions in a manner that attempts, more successfully in some chapters than others, to be fair rather than polemical. K&R’s efforts at fairness notwithstanding, reading the whole 40Qs does give one a clear impression of what views K&R prefer.
If the impression one gets is correct, K&R’s judgment is that, at present, the most natural reading of Scripture is still biblical creationism (BC). (This is the terminology I and others advocate because it places proper emphasis on what motivates BC: humble, childlike submission [Matthew 18:3, etc.] to the plain or natural sense of Scripture, even when considering historical and scientific questions. K&R, in agreement with dominant usage, call this young-earth creationism. In this review, I will use the terminology I advocate.) The only biblical difficulty they agree exists for this reading (i.e., the only one not easily resolved) is the great deal of activity that seems to have taken place on the sixth day of the creation week. Most alternative readings of the Genesis creation account show themselves, in the chapters (“questions”) that discuss them, to be fraught with more significant biblical difficulties than BC’s too-much-stuff-on-day-six issue. Though K&R commend the more Bible-centered of these alternatives, Scripture itself prevents them from claiming that any non-BC position fits Scripture so naturally and well as BC. Notably, however, a metaphor-for-literal-but-ineffable-pre-Fall-reality theory is not criticized, but only presented as a “mediating” view open to persons who are persuaded that the Genesis creation days must (given biblical wording and context) be understood as normal-length days (164). (What exactly does a metaphor communicate if the literal reality it is alleged to describe is wholly beyond verbal description?) Also notably, K&R, like such past opponents of BC as Gleason Archer, do sometimes call the BC reading “cursory” or such (I believe Archer said “superficial”), even though their own chapters studying the various approaches show that BC has strong biblical justification on close, not just “cursory,” reading. Since this is not a “Genesis debate” book, and since chapters are not specifically assigned to one author or the other, this inconsistency of tone is troubling. Readers are informed early-on (23) that each author “leans to” a different position, but nowhere is it suggested that either author disagrees with what they have chosen jointly to assert in their 40Qs collaboration.
While K&R generally (“cursory reading” inconsistency aside) seem willing to grant the Scripture-alone case to BC, they also believe that scientific support for BC is scarce to nonexistent: they think that BC is and (one gets the impression) should embrace being a fideistic position that is simply untestable because it relies on miracles like the global Flood and an initially mature creation. Old Earth Creationism (OEC), on the other hand, has (they believe) very strong scientific support (even if various systems offered to go with OEC don’t seem true on biblical grounds alone). Evolutionary Creationism (EC), while it can claim the support of most of the scientific data that K&R believe supports OEC, has considerably weaker biblical justification than non-evolutionary OEC. In fact, K&R seem to think that progressive creationism (God created intermittently over long periods, with limited “evolutionary” development of creatures occurring during times when God wasn’t creating) fits better with the scientific data than does full-on evolutionism (whether that of EC or Darwinism, the latter of which K&R judge an ideology unsustainable on either scientific or philosophical grounds). On related matters: (1) though they admit BC’s belief in a global Flood has good biblical support, they consider the local Flood theory rational and acceptable on biblical grounds, and they are unpersuaded by the scientific (geological) case for the global Flood; (2) they endorse the idea that the Genesis genealogies contain gaps of unknown duration, ruling out strict chronology based on those genealogies.
Clearly, a good deal of research and thought has gone into 40Qs. As a result, it does contain much useful information. Its identification by name of advocates of various viewpoints, and its references to key texts and articles promoting those viewpoints, are two examples that may alone make the book a worthwhile purchase for some readers and for libraries. Researchers will find the lack of a subject and person indexes annoying, I think. (These indexes are lacking in my complimentary review copy, at least.) Nevertheless, persons desiring a comprehensive survey of currently debated issues might decide that 40Qs serves their purposes nicely. I can only give the book a mildly positive rating (three stars on the standard five-star scale), however, because (1) a fundamental aspect of its overall approach is deeply flawed; and (2) its treatment of BC, and of the Bible-believing presuppositionalism (BBP) that often goes with it, is unsatisfactory (as to BBP and BC generally, and in failing to address a longstanding BC concern with terminology). (My rating is also based upon other shortcomings in the book that do not appear in this abridged review. See the full review for details.)
The deeply flawed fundamental aspect of 40Qs is K&R’s attempt to frame the differences between advocates of BC, OEC, and EC as disagreements over “apologetic approach” only. These three viewpoints, which all adopt very different approaches to God’s infallible written Word, are included in a list of “apologetic approaches” along with Intelligent Design (ID), which takes no position at all on God’s Word (nor on whether nature’s designing intelligence is the God of the Bible). Disagreements about how God created, or about what Scripture means when it touches on the subject, K&R maintain, are disagreements about “apologetic approach,” apologetic strategy, only. If it is a variety of “creationism,” it is apologetic approach, not doctrine. Only the question of whether God created is a matter of doctrine, “the doctrine of creation”; everything else is just strategy (“approach”). To be more precise, the “doctrine of creation,” as K&R describe it, includes the following propositions: God created the world out of nothing; only God is eternal, meaning creation began in, and includes, time; God is distinct from creation; God did not create out of necessity; God did not have to create this particular world, but chose of his own free will to do so; God created a world that is consistent with his nature and character; God is sovereign over the world; God continues to be actively involved with the world, being not only its Creator but its Sustainer.
Even on the expanded “to be more precise” description of “the doctrine of creation,” however, the idea that “everything else is just strategy” is neither persuasive nor plausible. Everything that Scripture teaches, all that is directly stated or “by good and necessary consequence” may be inferred therefrom, is doctrine. When people disagree about what Scripture teaches or implies, as when people disagree about whether or not God really did create absolutely everything in the space of six days of the sort experienced in a normal week (Exodus 20:9-11), their disagreement is doctrinal. If two BC advocates disagree with one another about whether they should (1) do an internal critique of an opponent’s worldview, pointing out how it takes for granted presuppositions that actually don’t fit with it but are “borrowed” from the Bible-believing worldview, or (2) draw upon ID arguments to show how the presuppositions that opponent takes for granted make God’s existence impossible to deny rationally, that is a difference over apologetic strategy. If one Christian thinks the Bible must be humbly accepted in its most natural sense and the data of science interpreted in light of that sense (BC), while another thinks the data of science has a natural (objective, worldview-neutral) sense in terms of which an unclear Bible must be reinterpreted (OEC, EC), that is a difference over doctrine.
Even so, I appreciate K&R’s effort to show that Christians who fail to embrace BC do still agree with biblical creationists on the doctrine that God created. (All aspects of the “to be more precise” description of the doctrine noted above may be seen as implicit in the “God” part of the identifier “doctrine that God created,” since it is understood in context that the God of the Bible is in view, and the “to be more precise” points simply unpack what being the God of the Bible entails.) Where they disagree is on the doctrine of how God created. It is misleading to call either of these separate doctrines “the doctrine of creation,” but that is what K&R have chosen to do. Perhaps this is longstanding usage, but that doesn’t make it any less misleading. By adopting the usage they do, K&R bias their presentation in favor of those who, in complete disagreement with advocates of BC, claim the Bible doesn’t mean to say anything about how God created, only that he created. This biased and misleading framing of the issue makes 40Qs, for all its wealth of information and critical reflection, a deeply flawed book.
40Qs is also flawed in its consideration of BC and BBP. K&R observe that “most” BC advocates are presuppositionalists, often to a degree K&R think verges on, or passes wholly over into, the “blind faith” of fideism. They write: “The presuppositionalist believes that the validity of one’s presuppositions must eventually be tested by using the laws of logic and be demonstrated by a consistency with the evidential findings. Fideism, by contrast, does not believe one’s presuppositions can be tested” (20). Were presuppositionalist pioneer Cornelius Van Til and his star pupil, Greg Bahnsen, available for comment, I think they would find this description objectionable. By insisting that presuppositions must be tested for “consistency with the evidential findings,” K&R disallow any form of “presuppositionalism” that is more than evidentialism with some presuppositional analysis thrown in. As for testing “using the laws of logic,” the stance of Van Tilian presuppositionalists (the only “real” presuppositionalists were one to ask the late Dr. Bahnsen) is that the Christian worldview with its BBP is the only belief system with which trust in the laws of logic makes sense, the only system that can account for those laws. Calling them “laws” or suggesting they be used to “test” anything before one has adopted BBP is, on Van Tilian grounds, nonsense.
Okay, I just used some terms I should probably clarify. First, I spoke of “the Christian worldview with its BBP.” Van Tilians will typically just say, “the Christian worldview,” and leave it at that, though the growth in popularity of that term among non-Van Tilians inclines me to think “with its BBP” must be specified. Words like “worldview” and “presuppositions” are used very freely in discussion of these issues, so perhaps I should clarify them also. Sometimes it sounds like the two terms are meant as synonyms. A worldview, however, is a comprehensive belief system: it includes and owes its existence and content to some set of presuppositions (or, as some, though not usually Van Tilians, put it, an unproven and unprovable set of axioms), of which adherents of the worldview may have little conscious awareness (prior to careful and uncomfortable reflection), but it is not limited to those presuppositions. The correctness of presuppositions cannot be tested by any worldview-neutral (“objective”) criteria because, simply put, there are no such criteria. All criteria express and function within worldviews. K&R’s suggestion that presuppositions must be tested for compliance with “evidence,” thus, misses a fundamental point of BBP. Presuppositions can be tested, but not by “evidence”: they can be tested for whether or not they cohere with the worldviews of which they are a part. When a worldview and its presuppositions cannot be brought into coherence, either through modification of the presuppositions to fit the rest of the worldview, or through modification of the rest of the worldview to fit the presuppositions, the worldview fails. The faith of Christians who advocate BBP is that every non-BBP worldview, including “Christian” worldviews that reject BBP in favor of the presuppositions of secular empiricists, Thomistic philosophers, or others, will fail upon analysis, whereas the BBP worldview will not.
Another term that requires comment is “evidentialism.” This is the term Van Tilians have typically applied to the approaches of those who reject BBP. This simple terminology doesn’t always satisfy those to whom it is applied since they, thinking solely in terms of apologetics, know approaches among them vary, from “minimal facts” historical apologetics, to basically Thomistic “classical” apologetics, to properly “evidentialist” apologetics that John Locke might have embraced. For Van Tilian BBP advocates, however, broader questions of epistemology, of how one can rightly claim to know anything at all and how one should go about managing one’s beliefs in view of this, cannot be placed in a separate compartment from one’s apologetics. When one adopts BBP, one cannot separate “doctrine” and “apologetic approach” in the way K&R do: doctrine is all that Scripture, rightly understood, teaches, and this is foundational to and determinative of one’s apologetics.
To highlight just how different BBP is from the empiricist-leaning way of thinking that is the automatic, seldom-questioned, default cognitive strategy in our post-Enlightenment culture, one only need survey K&R’s frequent use of phrases like “evidence indicates,” “evidence points in the direction of,” and “scientific data shows” in contexts of naïve acceptance, with no hint of uncertainty that data and evidence really do “indicate” and “point.” Such statements reflect what Van Til identified as biblically-unsound belief in “brute factuality.” This belief posits a realm of neutral or objective “facts” or “data” that “speak for themselves”: “data” or “evidence” that “points” in some direction. Adherents of BBP reject the idea that God’s creation contains any such brute facts. Facts and interpretations can be distinguished and talked about separately, but facts are never free of interpretation. Every fact, or datum, or evidence anyone perceives or thinks about will inevitably be perceived or thought about in terms of some interpretation or other, in obedient submission to God, in rebellion against God, or (most commonly in the non-idealized real world) in an inconsistent mixture of submission and rebellion. In terms of BBP, the previously quoted phrases must be reworded if they are to be accurate: “evidence, as I select and interpret it in accord with my believing or unbelieving or inconsistent presuppositions, indicates”; “evidence, as I select and interpret it in accord with my...presuppositions, points in the direction of”; and “scientific data, as I select and interpret it in accord with my...presuppositions, shows.” To drive the implication of these statements home more clearly, they may be reworded as follows: “my presupposition-guided selection and interpretation of evidence indicates” or “...points in the direction of” or “...shows.”
For BBP adherents, then, essential to both biblically correct doctrinal beliefs and God-honoring apologetics is the bringing of one’s intellectual life, in particular one’s presuppositional framework and the comprehensive worldview growing out of it, into conformity with—into childlike, trusting submission to—God’s verbally-expressed and infallible revelation, the Bible. On this view, the Bible is the ultimate authority, so the lesser authority of interpreted natural evidence (“natural revelation”) must always be understood in light of the Bible. (More precisely, the Triune God speaking in Scripture is the ultimate authority. Since in Scripture alone God speaks clearly, verbally to his people, it is Scripture alone that effectively functions as Christians’ ultimate authority.) For BBP adherents, to force upon Scripture any interpretation not evident from Scripture itself as its original believing recipients could have been expected to understand it would be to set up something other than Scripture as the ultimate authority.
K&R’s treatment of BC also proves unsatisfactory by failing to acknowledge an issue of terminology that many BC advocates consider very important. Though they identify Answers in Genesis (AIG) as the leading BC organization (16), K&R neither adopt nor comment upon that organization’s rejection of the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution,” and in fact later adopt those terms (without mention of BC objections) in their discussions of evolution and ID (Questions 32-40, 313-407). To see why AIG objects to these terms and how K&R show bias in both their adoption of and definition of them, please see the full review. Do the same to see additional shortcomings that have influenced my rating of the book.
In closing, since 40Qs is an academic rather than popular or devotional work, I can only fault it for its failure to be as impartial as is might have been, for failure to present the BC perspective as well as it might have done, and for other imperfections I’ve noted in the full review on the Pious Eye site. Purchasers will find it interesting reading with quite a bit of useful information. Provided they read it critically, the book might also serve as a decent (though maybe not the best) introduction to the creation/evolution topic for persons new to the topic or new to books espousing views on the topic other than their own. ...more
The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Contemporary rediscovery of the intellectually rich yet rigorously practical work of Puritan thinkers continues. Pastor David W. Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Contemporary rediscovery of the intellectually rich yet rigorously practical work of Puritan thinkers continues. Pastor David W. Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation is a welcome addition to the growing body of works presenting aspects of Puritan thought and practice to today’s Bible-believing public.
It seems obvious—it is obvious—that merely reading the Bible and listening to sermons will have no lasting effect unless one follows-up one’s reading and listening with protracted, reflective, application-oriented thinking about what one has read and heard. Obvious as this is, such extended thinking, biblical meditation, is frequently neglected. In God’s Battle Plan for the Mind, Saxton’s “goal...is to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation” (2), and thus to overcome the neglect.
In Chapter 1, “The Importance of Recovering the Joyful Habit of Biblical Meditation” (1-14), Saxton suggests that the “shallow spirituality” and “weak, meaningless religion” that dominate today’s “anemic Christianity” owe largely to Christians’ failure to bring their thinking (and through it, their emotions and their will) into conformity with God’s (Bible-revealed) thinking through consistent, disciplined practice of biblical meditation (1-2). To practice biblical meditation “means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look in [one’s] life” (2). Properly pursued, such meditation “imprints and fastens a truth in the mind” and “drives a truth to the heart” (6, quoting Thomas Watson). It’s effectiveness in bringing not only intellect or understanding, but also affections and will, into greater conformity with Scripture owes, in the Puritans’ thinking, to the reality that “Affections always follow the rate of our thoughts, if they are ponderous and serious [as opposed to light or superficial thoughts lacking sustained focus and care, which affections might not follow]” (7, quoting Thomas Manton).
Edmund Calamy, Saxton adds, “wrote that for meditation to be biblical, it must pass through three doors to be any good—the door of understanding, the doors of the heart, and the doors of conversation (lifestyle)” (9). Lifestyle or practice, of course, is a manifestation of will, an expression of decisions that alone evidence the state of one’s will. “Heart” here, unfortunately, seems used as a synonym for emotions or affections, potentially misleading usage given the scriptural indication that one’s “heart” or center not only feels but thinks (Proverbs 23:7) and understands (Psalm 49:3; Proverbs 2:2). This raises an issue that causes me mild discomfort. In places, Saxton seems to embrace today’s sharp division between “mind” and “heart” (note headings on 31), treating “mind” as a synonym for intellect or understanding and “heart” as a synonym for our non-intellectual faculties, emotions and will (51-2, for example). I’m not sure if this not-entirely-biblical dichotomizing accurately expresses the Puritans’ thinking or reads today’s sharp dichotomy into Puritan expressions not meant in quite that way. My hope, as one uncomfortable disagreeing with the Puritans (given their greater piety), is that what someone like Calamy had in mind when he distinguished “understanding” and “heart” was the difference between superficial or initial intellectual consideration and deep, in-the-heart intellectual consideration. The idea would be that in one’s heart, in the center of one’s being, intellect/understanding, emotions/affections, and will/volition all interlock and influence one another, with the meditative ideal being to progressively reform all three faculties through the meditative work that begins in the intellect. The undesirable alternative would be intellectual consideration that does not reach beyond the surface of the self (or soul or mind), where intellectual activity may not affect emotions or will (or even deeper intellect) in any lasting way.
No doubt this is a minor point. But, since I agree with Saxton on all major points, I can only offer criticism on such minor ones. I would prefer to avoid using “mind” to mean only intellect, since “mind” is really all that one is that is not physical (hence the use of “mind and body” to designate one’s entire person). I would also be happier if Saxton had selected his quotations and written his exposition in a way that more carefully and consistently avoided suggesting that the common heart-mind or heart-head dichotomy is acceptable or biblically sound. While intellect, emotions, and will clearly are faculties that can be discussed and analyzed separately, the scriptural picture seems to be that one’s “heart” is not a subset of these faculties but the deepest and truest part of all of them. This truth seems the whole justification for believing that focused and sustained intellectual activity, thoughtful meditation on the content of God’s written Word, can be relied upon to influence, not only how one thinks, but how one feels and what one wills and does.
Chapter 2, “Unbiblical Forms of Meditation” (15-23), contrasts biblical meditation with meditative practices growing out of Roman Catholicism and Eastern religions, and with non-biblical thinking more generally. The fundamental problem with Roman Catholic meditative practices, says Saxton, is that “Whenever any notion or form of spirituality fails to be tied back to the written Word, the end result inevitably tends toward unbiblical mysticism and religious sentimentality” (17-18). In a footnote, he add this: “Mysticism promotes having spiritual experiences with God apart from one’s mind governed by the objective, written truth of Scripture. It is prevalent within Roman Catholicism as well as in the charismatic and Pentecostal movements” (18 n10). A note in a later chapters offers these additional thoughts: “Mysticism teaches that the Holy Spirit bypasses man’s intellect, dealing directly with his emotions without the means of God’s written Word” (43 n43). The latter note seems to make “mysticism” and “religious sentimentality” synonymous in away the former note does not. Does Saxton believe everything one can label “mysticism” is in fact purely a matter of emotions or sentiment? My own understanding is that mystics claim to have had experiences they cannot satisfactorily describe in words and which they believe exceed the intellect’s ability to comprehend (except, perhaps, in some imperfect and partial, perhaps misleading, way). While moderns who think emotions are the deepest and most central part of people, that they are the human “heart,” may consider mystical experience emotional, I don’t know if this characterization accurately captures what all persons claiming mystical experiences have meant to claim.
In any case, it might be asked whether human experience of God really is limited entirely to experience through “the means of God’s written Word,” as the phrasing of the second note suggests. Every Bible believer must join Saxton in insisting that all alleged spiritual experiences be tested, and interpreted, by “one’s mind governed by the objective, written truth of Scripture.” In fact, I would assert that all human experiences, even the “purely physical” ones from which we (for example) construct scientific and historical theories, must be interpreted under Scripture’s guidance. Even so, none of this seems to rule out the possibility of mystical experiences that really are direct experiences of God. It might be that one can make a biblically-sound case that direct experiences of God cannot today occur except through “the means of God’s written Word.” Saxton, however, has not made this case, perhaps assuming that his Reformed readers will take it for granted. This is another minor point of dissatisfaction for me.
Saxton’s primary example of “Far Eastern religious practices” labeled “meditation,” is Transcendental Meditation (TM). (He also mentions yoga.) Whereas biblical meditation “seeks to fill one’s thoughts with Scripture,” TM “includes a practiced passivity of thinking and emptying the mind of itself” (20) that, advocates claim, “allows your mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought—pure awareness, also known as transcendental consciousness” (19, quoting the Maharishi Foundation Web site). Such practices, Saxton believes, “open the mind to spiritual predators by creating a kind of mental vacuum” (20). Many in contemporary America, of course, have accepted the idea that practices such as TM and yoga can be treated as “nonreligious” methodologies for achieving various ends, such as (my examples) better health, more positive emotions, or enhanced mental function. (The latter is most commonly claimed for “Mindfulness” meditation, a practice that involves focusing on present experience in a detached, non-analytical, non-judging, appreciative manner.) The thinking behind this, I suppose, is that these practices grow out of past trial-and-error learning that might, even if its religious motivations were in error, have discovered techniques with beneficial effects that can be reliably reproduced by practitioners who question or reject the religious or metaphysical beliefs historically motivating or associated with the practices. In Saxton’s judgment, the effects of these practices are anything but beneficial. More importantly, he holds, they are not biblical (true) meditation.
On the subject of non-biblical thinking more generally, Saxton notes how both sinful thoughts and trivial or earthly thoughts can take the place in our minds of proper biblical meditation. “We must realize,” he emphasizes, “that we are responsible for straying or sinful thoughts” and so strive to keep our minds “focused on those matters that honor the Lord” (22).
Chapter 3, “Defining Biblical Meditation” (25-32), further elaborates on the meaning of biblical meditation, discussing the relevant Hebrew and Greek terms, quoting a number of Puritan definitions of “meditation,” and providing further description of the “ingredients” of biblical meditation as the Puritans understood and practiced it (31-2). This very useful chapter, which makes clear the biblical justification and Puritan understanding of meditation, does seem to dash my earlier-expressed hope that I could maintain my understanding of “heart” and “mind” without disagreeing with the Puritans. Oliver Heywood, for example, seems to treat “working...upon the heart” and “impressing...on the will and affections” as equivalent phrases (quoted on 31-2), which implies he did not consider intellect or thought an operation of the heart. Additionally, Henry Scudder speaks of “the mind or reason” (quoted on 32), indicating he restricts the meaning of “mind” to intellect or understanding alone. I’m not persuaded that this is the best usage, and I can’t be sure it obtained in the writings of all Puritans, but is does seem that the dichotomy so prevalent in our day is pretty close to what at least some Puritans had in mind. This has the unfortunate tendency (it seems to me ) to suggest that emotions and volition are more fundamental and central than thought, so I might wish that Saxton had chosen to modify or correct the Puritan usage somewhat. Whether this minor matter will concern any other reader, I am curious to see.
Chapter 4, “Occasional Meditation” (33-44), discusses a type of biblical meditation meant to allow us to “grow in grace during the many hours when we are unable to study an open Bible” (33). The basic idea is to train oneself to find illustrations of scriptural truths in the objects, occurrences, and activities of one’s daily life. Of course, one must be sure to ground such spontaneous meditation in actual scriptural truths, not to let one’s imagination run wild (43-4). Thus, such meditation does not replace, but depends upon and requires, more regular and planned meditation and ongoing study and memorization of Scripture (44).
Chapter 5, “Deliberate Meditation” (45-9), concerns more regular and planned meditation, what Saxton identifies as “the foundation of a godly person’s thinking and Christian practice” (46). Such meditation is divided into direct and reflexive categories. Direct meditation involves “a mind that focuses complete attention on meditating on something outside of oneself, such as the Word of God or some great truth” which “would, in turn, direct the believer’s path in the right moral choices of life” (47); this sort of meditation is pointed to, Saxton relates, in Joshua 1:8. Reflexive meditation adds to this rigorous reflection on one’s own response to the biblical truths one has come to apprehend through direct meditation (47-8). Such reflection is only complete when it leads to tangible results: resolutions and the actions that follow. “Thus,” Saxton summarizes, “in direct meditation, the believer digs out the treasure of God; but it is in reflexive meditation that he brings this treasure home to his own soul in a practical, personal way” (49).
Chapters 6-8 (51-93)—respectively titled “The Practice of Meditation,” “Important Occasions for Meditation,” and “Choosing Subjects for Meditation”—discuss practical aspects of biblical meditation. These chapters provide excellent nuts-and-bolts guidance for incorporating the discipline of biblical meditation into one’s life. Edifying reading, these chapters (like others) are replete with interesting and helpful quotations from various Puritan authors. Though in places it may seem like Saxton does little more than string many quotation together, he does so in a manner that communicates the most relevant Puritan insights effectively and efficiently.
Chapter 9, “The Reasons for Meditation” (95-103), presents “some of the reasons why each believer should be regularly meditating upon God, His Word, and His works” (95). One particularly noteworthy statement in the chapter is the following: “One of the modern believer’s plaguing sins is possessing only a superficial knowledge of the Bible....This brings widespread lack of discernment throughout the modern church. Deliberate meditation upon Scripture builds a habit of thinking through decisions in a biblically thoughtful manner. Christians easily fall for all kinds of errors because they lack this practice” (98). Also noteworthy (and quote worthy), is this: “Meditation should be seen as a positive assault against sins in one’s life—it works with the goal of replacing them with truth and sincerity. Meditation is how lasting change, progressive sanctification, and victory over sin take place. It is the replacement of vain thoughts with the renewal of the spirit of one’s mind (Eph. 4:23)” (102). This chapter provides solid motivation to undertake and/or continue practicing biblical meditation.
Chapter 10, “The Benefits of Meditation” (105-14), further motivates the Bible-believing reader to begin or continue on the path of biblical meditation by describing some of its benefits. Among these are that it (to quote portions of the section headings) “Deepens Repentance,” “Increases Resolve to Fight Sin,” “Inflames Heart Affection for the Lord,” “Increases Growth in Grace,” “Provides Comfort and Assurance to the Soul,” “Creates a Life of Joy, Thankfulness, and Contentment,” “Deepens and Matures a Christian’s Experience,” and “Improves the Knowledge and Retention of God’s Word.” While the to-me-irksome assumption that the human “heart” is all about emotions, while “mind” is just another word for the “merely rational” stuff of intellect (109), continues, Bible believers certainly should desire for their “Heart Affection[s]” to become “Inflame[d]” for the Lord, just as they should long to see their heart thoughts and heart choices conformed to Scripture’s intellectual and moral content. One statement in the chapter particularly worth marking down is this: “Henry Scudder taught that meditation practically changes and fashions a person ‘so that God’s will in his word and your will become one, choosing and delighting in the same things’” (107).
Chapter 11, “The Enemies of Meditation” (115-27), deals with various excuses and hindrances that can interfere with the practice of biblical meditation. These vary from simple busyness, to a meditation-averse temperament, to unwillingness to endure the feelings of guilt resulting from the sins in one’s life, to the various distractions and entertainments so prevalent in our day. “We live in a day of pervasive mental distractions,” Saxton observes. This day has such “conveniences” as “Cell phones [that] provide instant communication...homes...[with] immediate access to hundreds of television channels[,] Rock music [that] pulsates in every building we walk in....Satellite radio....[and] the Internet. What,” asks Saxton, “is the result of all these so-called conveniences? We now have a society of distracted thinkers who are surrounded by a culture whose practices run counter to a thoughtful life of biblical meditation” (124). An accurate observation, no doubt; tragically, however, it exceeds 140 characters and so cannot hope to be attended to by contemporary readers. I appreciate it, however; hence the quotation.
Chapter 12, “Getting Started: Beginning the Habit of Meditation” (129-32), is brief. It advises readers to pray for God’s assistance getting started and continuing biblical meditation (129-30), and to be prepared for and persevere through difficulties (130-2).
The final chapter, “Conclusion: Thoughts on Meditation and Personal Godliness” (133-8), offers closing thoughts. The chapter gives readers some additional motivation and practical guidelines for practicing biblical meditation. One quotable reads as follows: “The battle against sin starts in the mind—the thoughts or what one dwells upon. This is why meditation is so important. It is God’s ordained plan for biblical thinking, renewing the mind, overcoming sin, and thus growing in[to] greater Christlikeness” (133).
The book also includes a bibliography (139-45).
Overall, this is an excellent, edifying book that I’m happy to recommend. ...more
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The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Promoters identify Science and God as intended for Christian youth between the ages of 14 and 20. So, if you’re the parent or friend of a 14-20 year old, The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Promoters identify Science and God as intended for Christian youth between the ages of 14 and 20. So, if you’re the parent or friend of a 14-20 year old, or if you’re a 14-20 year old yourself, should you purchase this book?
As I see it, the most important thing for Christian youth (as well as adults) is to get solidly grounded in a consistently Christian, thoroughly biblical, way of thinking. Books providing such a grounding are therefore of great value. Science and God, alas, is not such a book. If you’re looking for concise but consistently biblical booklets, Answers In Genesis (AIG)’s series of Pocket Guides would be a better choice. Science and God should only be chosen if what you’re looking for is a concise presentation of contemporary compromise, that believing-unbelieving, Christian-secular, biblical-unbiblical hybrid way of thinking tragically dominant today. This particular manifestation of contemporary compromise comprises the following chapters: “Introduction” (5-7), “Chapter 1: Why you don’t need to pick a team” (9-33), “Chapter 2: Big Bang or big God?” (35-45), “Chapter 3: Dramatic design or a risky existence?” (47-63), “Chapter 4: Evolution or evil-ution?” (65-81), “Chapter 5: God and the evidence” (83-91), and “Chapter 6: Q&A” (93-100).
In the Introduction, Petty notes that the anti-Christian work of the New Atheists, whom he calls “the celebrity scientists,” motivated him to write Science and God. “Truth be told,” he writes, “I find it annoying that anyone should argue...that science should be pitted as an alternative to religion, as an enemy of God, or a substitute for belief. There is plenty of room for both, and both are necessary for balanced human existence.” (7). Astute readers may perceive in this statement a desire to make the Bible and science address wholly unconnected realms of inquiry, an effort requiring one to creatively reinterpret any scriptural statements relevant to science.
In Chapter 1, “in many ways...the most important chapter in the book,” Petty tries to show that “Christians can and should pick both God and science” (12). In this chapter, Petty rightly notes that Christians’ Bible-based “belief in an ordered universe, governed by a good and rational God, is very fruitful soil for science to grow in” (13), whereas such other systems of thought as ancient polytheism (14) and modern atheism (15) do not entirely fit with scientific work, since their underlying assumptions are in fact contrary to those science requires. Also in this chapter, Petty lists some of the Christian scientists he thinks nicely illustrate the compatibility of Christian faith with science (21-6). Among these scientists are Francis Collins, John Haught, and (Sir) John Houghton. Notably, these men are all theistic evolutionists (I found confirming Web articles plentiful when Googling each name). Petty’s belief is that “Christians need to be into science and champions of science, even allowing scientific discoveries to challenge the way we understand passages in the Bible” (30-1).
From his choice of evolutionists as exemplifying the proper Christian approach, one would assume he considers evolutionary theory one of the “discoveries” in terms of which we should “challenge” existing understandings of Scripture—that is, in terms of which Scripture should be reinterpreted. However, another statement he makes in the chapter suggests he may not have thoroughly thought through the issues involved. He writes: “Can science tell me anything about the Fall of Rome, or World War II....Can I put the events of 11 September 2001 in a lab to examine them scientifically? No” (28). What Petty seems to say here is that non-repeatable past occurrences cannot be addressed by science, that “scientific discoveries” are limited to the sorts of present-day, repeatable phenomena that can be studied in a laboratory. Petty does realize that evolutionary theory attempts, on the basis of present-day evidence, to describe what probably happened in an unrepeatable and not-directly-observable past, doesn’t he? While study of whether evolution of one kind of life into another, or of non-life into life, can occur today might constitute science on the present-day-repeatable-phenomena definition, theoretical reconstructions of what happened in the past to produce the lifeforms we observe today does not. Petty’s desire to see the evolutionary story of origins as science does not comport with his own intuition about what forms of investigation science includes.
In any case, Petty’s way of bringing Scripture and “scientific discoveries” into agreement is something called “layered explanation,” a concept he attributes to John Haught (31). The basic idea, which is hardly limited to the thinking of Haught, builds upon the truism that any given phenomenon may be explained or described from various perspectives or on various levels. For instance, a book’s origin may be explained in terms of the publisher’s initiation of the project (comparable to God’s decision to create the universe) or in terms of the printing process that brings the desired book into existence (comparable to evolution, perhaps) (32-3). That phenomena may be described or explained on multiple levels is certainly not controversial; multilevel descriptions and explanations are pervasive in human thought. Petty notes that “How and why we have a universe at all, how it works, and how we work are all questions with layers of explanation,” which is no doubt true. It is also likely true, as Petty states, that “Some layers are open to scientific examination” while others “require an answer from outside science—from God himself” (33). This raises a question: what should faithful Christians do when God has addressed in Scripture layers of explanation that “scientific discoveries” now claim to explain differently?
Petty answers this question in chapter 4. After noting some reasons one might legitimately doubt evolutionary theory (65-73), Petty explains why he does not think it would be a problem for “Bible-believing, Jesus-loyal, God-fearing Christians” if it were proven conclusively that “all the species of life that have ever existed and that ever will exist” are correctly explained by evolutionary theory (74-5). Put simply, Petty favors an interpretation of Scripture that sees the Genesis creation account as just a vivid and memorable way of saying that God created everything out of nothing, relating nothing “historical or scientific” beyond that bare fact of theism, so that anything that scientists care to theorize about origins is perfectly okay for Christians to embrace. The Genesis creation account, in Petty’s view, is one layer of explanation—a pretty thin layer, if you ask me. Since this layer contains no information about what actually happened, beyond the bare reality that God is the one who made it happen, and perhaps some idea of why he made it happen, the job of telling us “what actually happened” in the material world is left entirely to the layer of explanation modern science lays down. Can one rightly claim to be a Bible believer, can one truly honor Scripture as infallible and authoritative revelation, while adopting this approach to its very first words?
The way Petty frames the scientific issue shows that he is not conversant with (or does not wish to portray in the most favorable and persuasive light) contemporary Biblical Creationism (BC). For instance, he describes the creation-evolution debate as one concerning whether evidence of microevolution, “adaptive change within a species,” favors belief in macroevolution, “all life has evolved from the first one-celled creature” (66-7). Contemporary BC, however, increasingly eschews the term “microevolution” as misleading. While BC advocates accept that “adaptive change” occurs within created kinds, they note that these changes involve loss of useful information and so do not constitute upward movement (addition of such information) as the term “evolution” implies (in popular understanding, at least). One could say that lifeforms become more “fit” for specific environmental niches by losing broader “fitness” for a range of environments. For example, a bacterium has a protein altered and becomes less fit broadly speaking (it now reproduces more slowly, say), but more fit when it comes to surviving in the niche where antibiotics are present (since the action of some antibiotics only affects bacteria with the unaltered protein). (See Georgia Purdom’s 07 July 2007 article, “Antibiotic Resistance of Bacteria: An Example of Evolution in Action?,” on the AIG Web site, upon which my example is loosely based.) (Some adaptive change might involve variant expression of an unchanged body of information, a created kind possessing potential to express its capacities in different ways in different environments. While this would not involved any loss of information, it also wouldn’t involve an evolutionary increase in information.)The point BCers increasingly emphasize is that observed adaptive changes within created kinds are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from the “goo to you” evolution commonly labeled “macroevolution.” These changes, they therefore assert, should not be called “evolution” at all, not even “microevolution.”
Petty’s framing of the hermeneutical issue also shows ignorance of (or desire to misrepresent) BC. He writes: “Bible-believing [sic] Christians have discussed at least a dozen different ways of reading Genesis 1....And only one of those views, which sees Genesis 1 as an historical, chronological and scientifically viable account of the creation of the world in six 24-hour days, contradicts the scientific evidence that is emerging today. In other words,” he continues, “if you read Genesis 1 as something other than a scientific and historical account of the creation of the world, you may not have a clash with the scientific evidence that is presenting itself” (76-7). He additionally characterizes BC as “the scientific reading of Genesis 1” (77). In addition to making clear that Petty really does consider evolutionary theory among the “scientific discoveries” he believes should guide scriptural interpretation (in spite of his own suggestion earlier in the chapter that one might legitimately doubt “macroevolution”), this characterization of the issue misrepresents BC. BCers do not hold that Genesis is written in scientific language; they merely recognize that Genesis constitutes a continuous historical narrative, one that extends on into Exodus. That one can discern (or impose) literary structure and styling on such passages as the creation account no more detracts from the “this actually happened” nature of the book than does the styling and structure of modern writers of history or other nonfiction. Given that Genesis recounts what “actually happened,” it seems evident that modern claims about what happened in the past can be tested to see if they agree or disagree with what Genesis, and the entire Pentateuch, has to say. Petty’s assertion in the closing Q&A (Chapter 6) that “Genesis 1 is much more concerned with teaching us about God than about answering the particular scientific questions [better, questions about what actually happened] of any generation of people” (94) does nothing to change this; it merely expresses an increasingly popular fallacy I call “the main concern fallacy.” This fallacy holds that any irksome hermeneutical debate may be quickly dismissed if it does not address what one identifies as “the main concern” of a passage. If “the main concern” of Genesis 1 is “God as creator” then, this fallacy holds, what Genesis 1 has to say about what actually happened in physical reality (how God created) can be ignored. Obviously, this is not a valid way to approach Holy Writ.
At one point, Petty suggests that placing ourselves in the “thought-world and culture” of the original recipients of Genesis will make us more open to the interpretation he favors (79). Let’s see if that’s true. Imagine we are Genesis’ original recipients. As original recipients, having the account read to us by Moses or a priest, we are unencumbered by modern science and evolutionary theory. We appreciate craft in sacred stories, since it makes those stories easier for us to remember, but we see such craft as no reason to assume the stories didn’t really happen as they’re said to have happened. Further, the same Torah that tells us how God created in six days tells us that this creation week, with its concluding day of rest, is the basis for our own divinely-ordained practice of working six days each week then resting on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11). Further, we recognize that the creation story flows smoothly into historical (“this is what happened”) narrative that includes genealogies traceable from Adam to Abraham and thence to ourselves. Within this thought world, would it occur to any of us to interpret the creation account in any of the ways Petty and other modern accommodators do?
If we extend our exercise into the thought-world of those who wrote and received the New Testament, we find our Savior saying that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in “the beginning of the creation” rather than long after the beginning (Mark 10:6; all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version). We also find our leading first-generation thinker, Paul, telling us that not only humans (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21), but “the creature” or “the whole creation” suffers from the “bondage of corruption” resulting from the fall of those first parents into sin (Romans 8:19-22). Though clever and creative moderns may think they see ways to explain these statements in evolution-consistent and old-earth-consistent ways, can one honestly assert that someone immersed in the thought-world and culture of New Testament believers would have understood these passages as indicating anything but that the original creation occurred as described in a straightforwardly-read Genesis 1 and that animal conflict (competition for limited resources, predation) and death (indispensable to evolution) are aspects of the “corruption” originating with the human-death-originating fall of humanity into sin? That God’s concept of the ideal and uncorrupted does not include animal conflict and death would also seem evident to us from Isaiah’s portrayal of the consummation as free of these things (Isaiah 11:6-10, 65:17-25). As Sarfati cogently argues, “bringing ‘science’ to bear on hermeneutics,” as Petty wants to do, “is bringing a completely foreign context to the passages” (Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise , 41). Working from within the thought-world and culture of the original recipients of Scripture, would any but one of the alleged “at least a dozen” readings of Genesis 1 strike us as plausible?
Let’s face it. Arguments alone will never resolve the debate over interpretation of Genesis 1; no one on any side of the issue has said anything genuinely new in quite some time (so far as I’ve noticed). The question is really one of authority and obedience, of choice and commitment. Given sufficient cleverness and creativity, and a willingness to believe that your ability to imagine something makes it more likely to be true, disobedience can always be rationalized, whether disobedience in behavior or belief. This seems nowhere more true than in deciding whether you will (1) let the scientific implications of scriptural statements guide your understanding of science (that is, of the evidence interpreted by science) or (2) utilize your cleverness and creativity (or that of others) to persuade yourself that Scripture means something other than what it says. Will you choose to believe Scripture in its plain sense, or will you choose to make human cleverness and creativity, your own or that of others, your ultimate authority? If the latter, Petty’s book may be for you, or for a 14-20 year old you’d like to influence in that direction. If the former, you’ll prefer some other text—Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle’s Old-Earth Creationism on Trial (2008), perhaps, or some of the AIG Pocket Guides already mentioned.
“But David,” you respond, “why don’t you tell us how you really feel? Seriously, though, I understand you disagree with Petty and think buying Science and God is a bad idea. What I don’t understand is why you gave the book two stars rather than one. What gives?” Well, as already noted, some Christians want to believe they can qualify as “Bible believers” while interpreting Scripture in ways no original recipient could possibly have interpreted it. For that constituency, this may be a worthwhile purchase. As the back cover blurb rightly states, the book is “a fun read” written in a “snappy style.” It is both concise and entertaining, a suitable introduction to the methods of compromise for would-be compromisers age 14-20 and beyond.
Additionally, the book does include some content even non-compromisers might find useful. Chapters 2 and 3, for example, include concise summaries of some general theistic arguments, borrowing from such thinkers as Norman Geisler and Richard Swinburne. Sadly, however, these chapters also emphasize Petty’s belief that “The Bible can tell us about the cause of...[such things as the cosmic background radiation and cosmic ripples] at a spiritual and philosophical level” only (42; see also 62), not on the “earthly” level of material “this is what happened” reality (cf. John 3:12). This compromised content does not “cancel out” the positive and useful content, but it does raise the question of whether one’s reading time might be better spent with other, less compromised, works.
In the final analysis I must recommend against purchasing Science and God. It is primarily and pervasively a popularization of a compromised hermeneutic that undermines Scripture’s authority. As well, it makes no serious effort to grapple with the counterarguments of Biblical Creationists, displaying at multiple points a basic misunderstanding of their perspective. ...more
The full version of this abridged review review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
There are many things I like about The Evangelism Study Bible (TESB). It has a respectable-length concordance (1412-1534); the Zondervan maps are n The full version of this abridged review review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
There are many things I like about The Evangelism Study Bible (TESB). It has a respectable-length concordance (1412-1534); the Zondervan maps are nice (1549-1564); I also like the choice of Bible version (New King James [NKJV]). As well, various items emphasized in the footnotes and features are sound and greatly welcome, among them the following:
•Emphasis that baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of salvation and is not some later occurrence (1161);
I worry, though, that the Bible’s gospel presentation may go too far in its effort to simplify and may in fact end up promoting a variety of easy believism where professing Christians feel secure while all that distinguishes them from unbelievers is assent to certain historical propositions and a desire to be rescued from the consequences of sin.
During my short-lived adolescent conversion to freewill-with-eternal-security Baptist fundamentalism, I conceptualized “the plan of salvation” as “Admit-Repent-Believe-Receive”: (1) admit you are a sinner worthy of hell and incapable of saving yourself; (2) repent of your sinfulness and sins, desiring to turn from them and turn to Christ; (3) believe that Jesus is the Christ, God the Son, as he claimed to be and that he died and rose again to save you; (4) by a conscious act of will, place your trust in (“make a commitment to”) Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Another, (5) rest assured that you are now saved and can be sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven, could have been added. While, from the perspective of human experience (“phenomenologically,” if you wish to sound learned), all these things may happen when persons are truly converted, this conceptualization does seem to make salvation a human work brought about by acts of will and thought.
Today, with both my adolescent “dry ground” conversion and early adult profession of non-belief behind me, my understanding of the plan of salvation would run more like this: (1) sometime during the period of preparation that is your entire life as an elect soul God loved prior to true conversion (“foreknew” from eternity), be made spiritually alive by God’s sovereign grace in a manner one can never exactly pinpoint in time and knows occurred only by its effects (as one knows the reality of the wind by its effects); (2) seeing the truth of the gospel, of Christ’s claims and promises, of your sinfulness and dire need, desiring to turn from your sins but knowing Christ alone can make this possible (at the point of conversion and at all points thereafter), trust in Jesus Christ alone to save and progressively sanctify you ; (3) realize that the true conversion that happened in 2 was the result of 1 and is something for which you can take no personal credit, and that the same is true of your ongoing transformation in sanctification (knowing that sanctification, like initial conversion, is by grace through faith, and that all true faith, whether initially saving or progressively sanctifying, is entirely a gift of God); (4) find assurance in the promises of Scripture and in the tangible evidences of God’s ongoing work of sanctification in your life.
Neither my adolescent nor my present understanding quite matches “The Gospel. Clear and Simple” (back cover) set forth by TESB. My adolescent understanding was closest, and similarly focused on the human side of things, but still fell short of TESB’s minimalism. In TESB’s formulation, those to whom you as a Christian speak, if they would be truly saved through faith in Jesus Christ, need only be made to understand three things: “First, your listeners must know they are sinners. Otherwise, they will never see their need for Christ. Second, they must know that Jesus died for their sins as their substitute and rose from the dead. Finally, they must understand that God is asking them to trust in Christ alone to save them” (1064). A desire to be rescued from the consequences of one’s sins, once one has been made aware that one is a sinner and that there are consequences, joined to a willingness to have Christ serve as the means of rescue, once one has been made aware that Christ is available so to serve, is all that is needed for that faith through which God saves.
What of repentance? What of actually wanting to turn from your sins and so on? TESB offers this response:
The meaning behind the Greek word for repent in the New Testament is “to change one’s mind.” It is not an additional requirement for salvation over and above faith alone in Christ alone. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. In order to trust in Christ, people must realize their sinful condition that separates them from God and recognize their need for a Savior. They must “change their mind” about whatever is keeping them from trusting Christ, or what they are currently trusting in, and trust in Christ alone to save them. When they trust Christ, both repentance and faith have taken place. (1157)
This understanding is thought to best comport with the seemingly synonymous use of “believe” and “repent” in various contexts dealing with salvation. Constraint of “repentance” to a “change of mind” about whom or what one trusts to save one, not about one’s rebellion against God and the sins expressing it (including, but not limited to, trust in false saviors), is repeatedly emphasized by TESB’s notes and features. For instance, concerning Jesus’s call to “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), the notes state: “The term repent means ‘to change one’s mind.’ Believe means ‘trust’ (see Acts 16:30-31). Jesus asked His hearers to change their minds, turn from whatever they were trusting in (good works, religious background, etc.), and place their trust in Him” (1091).
Now, that whatever constitutes saving faith in Christ includes within it true repentance, or that whatever true repentance is necessarily incorporates saving faith—that one who truly repents truly believes savingly, that one who truly believes savingly truly repents—doesn’t seem too controversial. The idea that repentance means a “change of mind” doesn’t seem all that controversial either, though contemporary connotations of “mind” as having to do solely with intellect or cognition, with “head knowledge,” might make it less than ideal. The idea that, in order to manifest true repentance, all one must change one’s mind about is what one trusts for salvation does seem controversial. If one does not change one’s mind about one’s sin, seeing it as the defiance of God’s rightful Lordship that it is, if one does not repent of sin’s rebellious defiance of God’s Lordly authority, thereby granting that Christ (as God) is one’s rightful Lord to whom one, in true repentance that alone shows genuine trust, now bows in total submission—if one’s “repentance” means a “change of mind” less radical than this, if it means only trusting Christ to save one from the penalty of wrongdoing without acceptance of the reality that Christ only saves those he owns and that those he owns have given themselves over totally to his authority (so that discipleship is not optional and possible but mandatory and inevitable for the truly saved)—can one’s “change of mind” be considered biblical repentance?
In line with its constrained understanding of repentance, TESB is careful to emphasize the distinction between salvation, or entering the faith, and discipleship, or living the faith. Reformed believers, of course, emphasize the distinction between justification (God’s declaring to be just those for whom Christ died) and sanctification (God’s making progressively more like Christ those already justified), and this justification-sanctification distinction does seem related to TESB’s salvation-discipleship distinction. God’s ongoing work of sanctification is what Christians experience as discipleship, and the closest Christians get to directly experiencing their justification, their movement from the state of spiritual death and condemnation to spiritual life and justification, is their coming to faith in true conversion (their “getting saved”). In Reformed understanding, however, sanctification never fails to follow justification; anyone who truly “gets saved” also, inevitably, undergoes discipleship. TESB disagrees: “A disciple is ‘a learner’—someone who, having trusted in Christ, follows after Him. All Christian should be disciples, although all Christians are not [more clearly: not all Christians are] disciples” (182). And, of course, “we can never lose our salvation (see John 5:24)” once we have it (212). That truly saved persons might be found living in ways indistinguishable from unsaved persons is often emphasized.
For instance, in one feature, TESB advises: “Do not confuse entering the Christian life with living the Christian life. Seek to determine if the problem is that they have not trusted Christ or simply that they are not walking with Christ. To do so, ask two questions: (1) What are you trusting to get you to heaven? and (2) Are you growing as a Christian?....There is a possibility that they have missed the simplicity of the gospel. There is also a real possibility that they have trusted Christ but strayed from Him” (334, emphasis removed). In response to this, one might ask: “If all that one must trust Christ for is to get one into heaven, in what sense is living in continued sin and making no effort to become more like Christ in this life a straying from him, so long as one continues to trust him alone to get one to heaven (as one goes on living in the same sinful way one always has)?” If the repentance included in true faith (trust) in Christ does not necessarily include repentance for, and genuine (God-given) desire to turn from, that rebellion to obedience, if all one must repent of is trusting in other means of salvation, then nothing one does while continuing to believe that Christ alone will save one from the eternal consequences of one’s sins can be called a “straying,” can it? So long as one maintains faith (as TESB defines it) in Christ alone for salvation from damnation, one can’t be said to have “strayed,” though one might be said to “miss out” on the “privilege” and “rewards” of discipleship. One could only be said to have “strayed” if one lost one’s faith, though even this would not change the reality that one once had truly trusted in Christ and been eternally saved. Perhaps, then, we may all look forward to fellowshipping with Bart Ehrman in the age to come, even if he remains an apostate until death.
“We must allow for those who have genuinely trusted Christ but gotten so far out of fellowship with the Lord that they appear to be non-Christians,” TESB adds in another feature (340). Further: “When people trust Christ, they should develop a consistent prayer life, learn to love others, and locate a Bible-teaching church. But none of those actions are a basis for assurance of salvation. God offers us a gift—eternal life. When we receive it by trusting Christ, we are saved. The issue of eternal destiny is settled” (1166). This last feature, “How to Give a New Believer Biblical Assurance of Salvation,” suggests walking new believers through John 5:24 and eliciting affirmations from them, such as in response to the query, “Did you believe what God said and trust Christ as your Savior?” (Ibid.) Joined to TESB’s constrained understanding of the repentance that true faith in Christ implies, where trusting Christ as Savior does not imply submitting to him as Lord, has the interesting implication (it seems) of declaring truly saved every person who ever sincerely wishes to be saved by Christ from damnation, even if no sanctification at all, no lasting change of any sort, ever follows that initial profession. How this fits with verses like Philippians 1:6 is unclear, but if one’s goal is to have as many people as possible comfortably sure they will end up in heaven, TESB’s presentation achieves the goal admirably, albeit not so effectively as universalism.
(While granting that “The fruit of repentance is a changed life” or “Good works” , TESB seems unwilling to treat this fruit as an inevitable result of true repentance and so a valid test of the genuineness of alleged repentance—and so, further, a valid source of assurance that one has indeed sincerely repented and been saved. While often emphasizing that truly saved persons might be found living in ways indistinguishable from unsaved persons, TESB does not seem to set a time limit on how long truly saved persons might live this way. It does, however, sometimes note the “danger of...divine discipline”  that attends such bad behavior. That saved persons should be subject to divine discipline for not progressing in discipleship or sanctification seems in itself proof that faith that is saving includes awareness and acceptance of (submission to) Christ’s Lordship and his absolute right to one’s complete obedience in all things. Persons called upon merely to trust Christ to save them from hell and guarantee them heaven with “no strings attached” are not given proper opportunity to “count the cost,” to rightly understand the radical commitment that true repentance, true faith, genuine trust in Christ requires of them. So it seems to me, at any rate.)
TESB’s unwillingness to see discipleship as an inevitable result of genuine trust in Christ, and so dependable evidence that one is truly saved, makes for some awkwardness in the distinction drawn between salvation and discipleship. For instance, concerning Matthew 16:24-27, TESB notes: “Jesus describes the requirements for discipleship, not salvation” (1069). These verses include the following statements: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (verses 23-24). Now, if discipleship is an inevitable result of salvation, then it makes sense that one who fails to follow Christ in discipleship should be spoken of as losing his “life” and his “soul.” But making this fit with the idea that discipleship is possible but not inevitable for the truly saved forces one to read the passage in some awkward and unnatural manner (such as, “well, the ‘life’ and ‘soul’ of the Christian who does not become a disciple are ‘lost’ in the sense that they lack the value and vibrancy they could have had”). The only way to have all the relevant verses about initial salvation and the discipleship that follows, or about justification and sanctification, hang together without strained readings of one set of verses or another, is to hold that the one (true faith or trust, including repentance; initial salvation; justification), if genuinely present, never fails to be followed by the other (true conversion followed by growing obedience; discipleship; sanctification).
While TESB’s simplified gospel presentation does eliminate submission of one’s will to Christ’s Lordship from saving faith and the true repentance that goes with it, making the obedience of progressive sanctification or discipleship merely possible for true believers rather than inevitable, TESB, in fairness, does not at all intend to encourage disobedience. That Christians “should” obey God is emphasized throughout the notes and features. Two examples among many are these: “Christians should respond to God’s righteousness and live in obedience to God’s revelation through the Scriptures” (186); and “God’s standard is that we obey whole-heartedly” (226). I’m pleased that TESB emphasizes this, but the difficulty created by allowing true salvation and complete lack of discipleship to coexist does not go away simply because one tells professing Christians they “should” be obedient, “should” seek to do God’s will out of gratitude, or “should” pursue discipleship because it offers eternal rewards not otherwise obtainable (true and noteworthy as these all are).
Its constrained view of what saving faith with true repentance includes is the main aspect of TESB that doesn’t work for me. It is not the sole aspect I have difficulty with, however. Other aspects I find troubling may be found discussed at this point in the full version of this abridged review, which see.
Overall, then, my feelings about this Bible are mixed. While it has many positive qualities, it goes astray on its topic of central focus, the gospel, by representing saving faith and true repentance as less than they are (as less than I have come to understand them to be, at least). ...more
David Hodges rated a book it was ok
The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Ann Sullivan’s Permission to Doubt (2014) might best be described as a personal memoir, reflection, and self-help book that dabbles in apologetics and her The full version of this abridged review may be found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
Ann Sullivan’s Permission to Doubt (2014) might best be described as a personal memoir, reflection, and self-help book that dabbles in apologetics and hermeneutics. Fairly effective on the personal sharing and reflection side, the book offers standard fare on the self-help side, is fairly superficial and cursory on the apologetics side, and is often troubling on the hermeneutical side. The book’s ostensible purpose is to get readers to accept and explore their doubts, discern their doubts’ types (spiritual, intellectual, emotional), and effectively deal with them (working through or seeking treatment for them, as appropriate). These might be laudable ends, particularly if one could speak of “admitting” one’s doubts rather than of “accepting” them. Sullivan’s method of pursing these ends, however, does not seem particularly praiseworthy. On balance, the book does not strike me as something Bible-believers would benefit from and I cannot recommend it.
Even so, I can think of a few groups that might find Permission to Doubt worth reading: (1) personal acquaintances of Sullivan (to show support); (2) noncommittal professing Christians who prefer a minimum of required doctrinal beliefs, who like to be free to “interpret” Scripture in the broadest possible variety of ways, and who want these preferences affirmed; and (3) persons who happen to have personal experiences similar to Sullivan’s (past experience with an anxiety disorder, being raised Christian but spending much of adult life doubting and finally committing to a minimal set of “essential” beliefs, and so on) and who like reading the stories of persons with backgrounds resembling their own.
Beyond these groups, there might be individuals who would find portions of the book worthwhile. If you believe your doubts may be due to a disorder in your brain chemistry, you might welcome encouragement by the book’s self-help side to take antidepressants (assuming you haven’t read Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs or find it unpersuasive, and assuming you don’t fear such medications might make you feel at ease with beliefs and behaviors the Holy Spirit wants you to find uncomfortable). If you think that dismissing as unimportant doctrines you’re unsure about is one good way to deal with doubts, you might find the book’s hermeneutical side appealing. If you feel God’s own words in Scripture have less persuasive force than theistic proofs, historical research, and your own reasoning, but you’ve yet to read anything at all about apologetics, you might find the book’s apologetics side agreeable, though too cursory to actually persuade you of anything. If hearing others’ personal stories of doubt tends to allay your own doubts (or at least make you more comfortable with them, if you think your doubts are something it’s good to become comfortable with), then you might like Sullivan’s personal sharing and reflection.
Were the book only a story of personal difficulties and doubts and eventual recovery, Sullivan’s story might well merit recommendation. A woman who suffers thirteen years from panic attacks brought on by an undiagnosed heart condition (18) who, after a long “dark night of the soul” her own physiology pushed her into, ends up a successful speaker at women’s conferences and leader of a large women’s ministry at her church: this is Hallmark movie material. Sullivan, however, has taken it upon herself to teach, and that makes the substance of her teaching, and the presuppositions and attitudes guiding her approach, the necessary central focus of any assessment of the book’s value.
Before exploring the “troubling” aspects of the text that prevent me from recommending it (or, rather, one troubling aspect that well illustrates what I find most unsatisfactory in Sullivan’s approach), I should at least note what the division between spiritual, intellectual, and emotional types of doubt is all about, since the book is structured around this division.
What Sullivan labels “spiritual doubt” is, in the terms Reformed Bible-believers would use, the doubt that results from innate human depravity. Sullivan opts for the following description: “the discomfort that surfaces because of the inability for good and evil to comfortably coexist” (34). One’s sinful choices interfere with one’s ability to believe the truth that runs contrary to them, resulting in doubt. As suits the Thomistic and evidentialist slant of her apologetic preferences, Sullivan does not question the sincerity of intellectual doubts. Intellectual doubt, in Sullivan’s way of thinking, asks honest questions that must be resolved by factual information and rational argument. The final sort of doubt, emotional, is a feeling of uncertainty produced by the negative emotional state accompanying suffering and difficulty, disease, or whatever. Each type of doubt, Sullivan believes, requires a different sort of handling. The book’s self-help side has most to say about dealing with (or treating, or perhaps just waiting out) emotional doubt; Sullivan’s sharing and reflection also have relevance. The book’s apologetics side addresses (in cursory fashion) intellectual doubt. Sullivan deals with spiritual doubts mainly through the self-reflection and sharing and the hermeneutical sides of the text; while her beliefs in prayer, the need to seek greater closeness to God, and the need to find guidance in Scripture are (broadly speaking) on target, her handling of Scripture is often troubling, carrying with it attitudes and assumptions that reduce Scripture’s ability to provide sure guidance by portraying full submission to all that it says on every topic that it covers as unnecessary or even objectionable.
Reformed Bible-believers, as it happens, would see spiritual doubt as lying behind most or all apparently intellectual and emotional doubts, and would see study and submission to Scripture, prayer, and similar “means of grace” (as some like to put it) as the key curatives for every “kind” of doubt. The different “types” of doubt are, to this way of thinking, just different ways that fundamental depravity, human rebellion against God (and so against his authoritative Word), expresses itself. This view would emphasize that the fact that God continues to reach out to his elect who doubt, that he does not punish them for being “of little faith,” does not make doubt something to be encouraged. One author’s words on God, belief, doubt, and Scripture capture the sort of commitment of oneself to God and his Word that this view calls for:
If I truly believe in God, then God is more real to me than anything else I know....I am real, my experiences are real, my faith is real, but God is more real. Otherwise I am not believing but doubting. Yet even in my doubting I do not doubt as unbelievers do. My doubts are real, my sins are real, my fears are real, my discouragements are real, my anxieties are real. But God is more real....I cast myself therefore on that which is most real...God Himself. I take God and Jesus Christ His Son as the starting point of all my thinking. For this is faith. To ignore God and take my own experience as my starting point would be doubting. (Edward F. Hills, Believing Bible Study 3 ed. , 56.)
As John Calvin observed, the Scriptures are the spiritual eyeglasses which enable our sin-blinded minds to see aright the revelation which God makes of Himself in nature....the key which unlocks the mysteries of history and reveals to us God’s plan....[the] pure well of divine truth....the foundation of faith. In them alone God’s revelation of Himself is found unobscured by human error. (Ibid., 4.)Early in the text, while offering support for her idea that asking doubt-born questions about one’s faith, “challenging a belief system” one may never have seriously examined (17), is something laudable that she believes can result in a “strengthened” faith (18), Sullivan points to 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:11, and Colossians 2:8, asserting that in these verses Paul “encouraged people to think outside their comfort zone and ask questions” (21). Interestingly, the theme uniting all these verses is that one’s investigations and question-asking, one’s every thought, must be directed by the truth that is Christ, the truth that comes to believers through the God-breathed words of Scripture (see also 2 Corinthians 10:5). This doesn’t look like encouragement to seek answers to doubt-prompted questions from sources outside Scripture (rational reflection on “religiously neutral” premises, scientific or historical investigation, reflection on one’s life experiences and exploration of one’s feelings, and so on). Instead, it look like something more in line with Hills’s perspective: a call to bring one’s thoughts and feelings into conformity with Scripture by investigating what Scripture says in answer to one’s questions and committing oneself to treat what one finds, and the God who lies behind it, as “more real” than anything else, bringing one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions as much into conformity with Scripture as one can.
As I’ve noted, the hermeneutical side of Permission to Doubt “is often troubling.” Sullivan adopts what is a pretty standard strategy in our day (perhaps a good reason to focus most of one’s reading on books not written in our day). First, she suggests that the only beliefs about what Scripture teaches that are essential, that matter enough to merit resolute commitment, are those directly related to salvation, those that are “salvific” (93). She then maintains that such essentials are “few,” that nonessentials (or “gray areas”) are many, and that we should all just get along and “celebrate” our doctrinal “diversity” (92-4). If one wishes to make one’s living speaking to groups of Christians with varying viewpoints, or writing books to be read by the same, this Christian version of the “coexist” bumper sticker is no doubt good success strategy. But are we really to believe that the God who inspired and preserved for our use this large collection-of-books book, this Bible that many Christians think it is a big deal to read through once in a year, only considers essential such content as he could have fit into some gospel tracts or a volume of Cliffs Notes? Softening one’s stance on the clarity and sufficiency of God’s words in order to more easily and agreeably accept and even celebrate the diverse opinions of fallen human beings does not strike me as quite so laudable or humble as some think.
Naturally enough (I almost said, “Naturalistically enough”), Sullivan sees interpretation of the Genesis creation account as one of the nonessentials, bringing up the popular assertion that “in the Genesis account, the word yom, which is Hebrew for the word day, can refer to an age of time or a literal twenty-four-hour period. Both uses of the word are legitimate” (94). Really? While both yom and the English “day,” as Sullivan and others recognize, have a range of meanings in various contexts, this reality does not permit one (as Sullivan assumes) to choose whatever meaning in the range one wishes in any particular context. Is imposing the “age” (“long time period” or “indefinite time period”) reading of yom (“day”) permissible in the context of the Genesis creation account? Biblical Creationists say no, and I remain persuaded that all persons not set on trying to make the Bible fit with secular scientific theories should agree. You may disagree, but don’t ask or expect persons convinced that Scripture speaks clearly on the topic to “celebrate” your contrary viewpoint because in this case, so you say, what God says through Scripture is “nonessential.”
I won’t rehearse arguments about the use of yom with ordinal (creation days 2 through 6) versus ordinal (creation day 1) numbers (if you’d care to review them, see Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Compromise , 76-8). I also won’t dwell on the question of how a God-breathed Exodus 20:8-11 fits with a “days as long ages” reading of the Genesis creation account (or with other non-historical readings of that account). Instead, I’d like to take readers through a thought experiment. Open your Bible to the Genesis creation account (Genesis 1:1-31). Read through the account, changing the label of each “day” there from “day” to the following vague locution that captures as much as possible of the semantic range of the word as it is used in various contexts: “time period.” For example, read verse 5 of the King James account as follows: “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first [time period].” After you’ve read through the passage as modified, proceed to the next paragraph of this review.
Now, setting aside any knowledge you might have of currently-dominant scientific theories about the origin of earth and the creatures that inhabit it (and related efforts to assign ages to rocks and fossils using decay rates of various isotopes or the like), forgetting what views your peer group or family or favorite Christian leaders happen to promote, and going to the text only with such awareness of the world as you know the original recipients of this inspired account must have had, ask yourself: What “time period” is referred to in this context? Note the “evenings” and “mornings” with each numbered day, for example. Are “long age” days plausible here? I can see no legitimate, honest way to take “time period” here to mean anything but a time period of “ordinary day” length. The “well, yom here could mean long periods of time” argument is impossible to take seriously if one wishes to honor the text as God wrote it.
The “diversity” of opinion on this issue, therefore, does not look to me like something Bible-believers should “celebrate.” Nor does this subject seem “clearly gray” (92). By the way, when Sullivan identifies issues such as this, issues that she believes are nonessential and uncertain, as “clearly gray,” she claims the very sort of “black and white” certitude that she condemns others for claiming (Ibid.). Were Sullivan to speak consistently, she could only speak of “seemingly gray” or “potentially gray” areas. “Personally, I’m still not sure about this subject” would be still more exact, but such a statement would not allow Sullivan to condemn as closed-minded (167) those who see as “black and white” (requiring resolute commitment) issues she considers “gray” (permitting freedom to adopt or not adopt a variety of equally good or equally bad viewpoints). This seems to go beyond permission to doubt by making doubt a requirement: If you don’t doubt the Genesis creation account as written, or if you see something amiss when others doubt it, you merit condemnation.
Some, of course, evade the creation account’s literal meaning in other ways, such as by making the account an instructive “literary framework” or even a “myth” meant to communicate something “true but not historically literal.” These evasions allow yom to be understood as context requires while the passage as a whole is treated as a story Christians needn’t consider in their assessment of secular scientific theories. I’ve yet to see a good argument that those who received and believed Exodus 20:8-11, and sought to obey it through literal observance of a weekly sabbath, could have understood the Genesis creation account as something other than literal history (prefacing more literal history running seamlessly through the rest of Genesis and into Exodus), but at least these evasions do not require unnatural insertion of weird meanings into the “time periods” of Genesis 1. (Though Sullivan brings up the yom argument when discussing the Genesis creation account, she does show a willingness to treat stories that Genesis appears to present as straightforward history, in the middle of an ongoing this-really-happened narrative, as something other than what they appear, suggesting, for instance, that she doesn’t care “Whether one takes...literally or not” the Tower of Babel narrative .) Obsessing on the idea that “the Bible was never intended to be a science book” (162) misses the point. If the Bible is intended as an understandable communication, and if truths it communicates have relevance to scientific questions, then Bible-believers are obligated to let those truths guide their approach to the various claims made by scientists and stories told in the name of “science.”
This way of thinking, of course, is anathema to “celebrate diversity” sorts like Sullivan. She writes: “More than one Christian has earned the label [close-minded], generally because they are white-knuckle-clinging to an opinion about some interpretation of the Bible. Whether it’s a problem with hairstyles, dress codes, marriage and divorce, or even evolution, some believers have completely forgotten about grace and the fact that they may not have a corner on all absolute truth. God is, after all, a bit outside our human understanding” (167). The conclusion of this statement shows a fundamental confusion. The question is not whether God is beyond human understanding, but whether God’s inspired Word is. If it is, it has failed as the God-to-his-people communication it was intended to be. If Scripture is not beyond human understanding, then persons who stand faithfully by what they understand the Bible to clearly teach—even while “broad-minded” sorts like Sullivan object and accuse them of close-mindedness, arrogance, or “white-knuckle-clinging”—appear to me more true to the biblical model of faith than Sullivan’s doctrinal minimalism and “celebrate diversity” dismissiveness.
Sullivan’s attitude toward Scripture, and toward Christians who believe it clearer and more broadly authoritative than she does, makes Permission to Doubt a book every Bible-believer should grant themselves permission to avoid. Better resources are plentiful. I commend them to you. ...more
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The full version of this abridged review may view found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley’s Christian Bioethics is described by its publisher (B&H Academic) as a “needed guide for pastors, clinicians, stud The full version of this abridged review may view found on the Pious Eye site (reviewer’s blog).
C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley’s Christian Bioethics is described by its publisher (B&H Academic) as a “needed guide for pastors, clinicians, students, and laypeople” (back cover) that hopes “to help readers discover how biblical theology, Christian ethics, and contemporary science and medicine intersect in the real world where people are making life-changing decisions” (2). Unlike some collaborations, this one maintains a distinction between each author’s contributions by adopting a dialog format. While I am not perfectly satisfied with Mitchell and Riley’s arguments at every point, I can recommend the text as a solid, helpful survey of (and introduction to) bioethics. Some remarks on each chapter follow.
The Introduction (1-5) notes Mitchell and Riley’s starting assumptions (Christian worldview, historic orthodoxy, necessary coherence between Scripture and science) and explains the book’s organization (inspired by Theologian Nigel Cameron), which divides treatment of issues in bioethics into “Taking Life” (Part II; chapters 3-4), “Making Life” (Part III, chapters 5-7), and “Remaking/Faking Life” (Part IV, chapter 8), plus a Conclusion. Sufficiently strict Biblical Creationists, those inclined to challenge proposals of “gaps” in the Genesis genealogies, may be uncomfortable with the statement that “surgical interventions date back to around 9000 BC,” which takes secular dating methods for granted. Such persons might even be mildly uneasy with the failure of Mitchell and Riley to note Scripture’s primacy when they describe “science and faith, medicine and theology” as “realms of knowledge” or “sources of truth.”
Chapter 1, “Which Doctors? Whose Medicine” (9-23), like remaining chapters in the book, begins with a case study, followed by “Questions for Reflection.” Here, the case study concerns a doctor who gives a patient a dose of morphine that the doctor knows will have “the inevitable...effect” of killing that patient in a situation where the patient’s desire for or consent to such an “assisted suicide” is ambiguous. Discussion of this case leads to reflection on the Hippocratic Oath, which is little used today, and the history of the Oath and of medicine in the Christian West (how the Oath was Christianized by the tenth century, how Christian faith motivated care for the ill and the founding of hospitals, and so on) and of related ethical debate and the development of a separate field of bioethics. Mitchell and Riley advocate a return to “the higher moral ground” once exemplified by the Hippocratic Oath; only through such a return, they maintain, can we “achieve the proper ends of medicine.”
Chapter 2, “From Ancient Book to the Twenty-First Century” (25-42), discusses how to apply Scripture to ethical questions arising out of contemporary life science developments that Scripture’s original recipients could scarcely have imagined. After rejecting possible approaches to Scripture that would be too one-dimensional and simplistic, Mitchell and Riley propose a composite view that combines the insights of all the one-dimensional approaches, recognizing that “God’s moral instruction comes to us in the form of commands and principles and is also revealed [through the biblical narrative] in Christian virtues and examples.” They label this approach “The Bible as Canonical Revelation of Divine Commands and Christian Virtues.” One particularly noteworthy statement in the chapter is Mitchell’s description of the meaning of 2 Peter 1:3: “In other words,” he writes, “God has not left his people without guidance in every area of life. Although the Bible is not a science textbook, its message speaks to the deep underlying values that can guide decisions about scientific matters. Although the Bible is not a manual of medicine, its truths may be applied to medical decision making.”
The chapter includes basic discussion of hermeneutics, bringing to readers’ attention such common principles as “whenever possible Scripture should be read in its historical and cultural context” (hermeneutical discussion in this chapter relies heavily on Fedler’s Exploring Christian Ethics ). Readers worried by the Introduction’s failure to emphasize the primacy of Scripture will welcome the statement here that “Scripture is primary, normative, and authoritative.” The chapter’s conclusion, however, may revive such readers’ discomfort. The authors write: “Christians must read and interpret two books of revelation: the book of God and the book of nature....God has made himself known in Scripture and in nature....Thus, in order to understand God’s revelation most fully, we study both the Bible and nature, written revelation and created revelation.” While there is certainly nothing objectionable about seeing Scripture and nature as in some ways analogous, the identification of both Scripture and nature as “books” does risk implying that Scripture (which is verbal) and nature (which is not verbal) are equally clear and that information humans derive from Scripture has no greater authority than information they (believe they) derive from nature. Such “two [equally clear] books” thinking has led some individuals, on the basis of their “reading” of the “book” of nature, to impose upon portions of Scripture interpretive schemes that would never have occurred to its original recipients. I discern no evidence of such error in Mitchell and Riley’s discussion, but I would welcome more careful emphasis on how the clarity and authority of God-breathed Scripture surpasses the nonverbal ambiguity and “mixed signals” of fallen nature.
Chapter 3, “The Sanctity of Human Life and Abortion” (45-65), describes the various types of abortion, explains the meaning and implications of belief in the sanctity of human life, and shows how that belief is justified and informed by the scriptural teaching that humans are made in the image of God. The bottom line: “the witness of Scripture and the testimony of the early church are that every human being, from conception through natural death, is to be respected as an imager of God whose life has special dignity.” In addition to the church history alluded to in this quotation, the chapter looks at some pre-Christian Hebrew thought and summarizes the history of abortion legalization that reached it permissive peak with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rulings. Overall, this is a solid and helpful chapter.
Chapter 4, “Human Dignity and Dying” (67-104), addresses end-of-life issues, most notably “euthanasia.” Though once called “passive euthanasia,” the “removal of life-sustaining treatments like breathing machines and technologically or ‘artificially’ administered nutrition and hydration” is now “a separate category in ethics discussion” since “most people recognize that a time can come for removing technology, with proper consent, so that the dying process can proceed.” Forms of euthanasia still generally called such are “voluntary active” (physician assists at patient’s request), “nonvoluntary” (physician effects without patient input), and “involuntary” (physician kills patients against patient’s wishes). While noting that “early theologians were consistent in their insistence that suicide was sub-Christian at best because hope and love sustain patience” in the midst of suffering (102), the chapter fails to directly address what seems to me the most fundamental issue in debates over suicide, euthanasia, and other end-of-life issues: Who owns humans’ bodies and lives? The biblical answer would seem to be that God, their creator, does. The dangers that what begins as voluntary may become involuntary, and that healers who also function as killers could hardly be trusted, do not provide nearly so certain a foundation for opposing euthanasia and suicide as does uncompromising affirmation that humans do not own their lives and bodies, but are only stewards of them for the God who made them and who places strict limits on how they may be used. The former dangers call for safeguards (a “euthanasia provider” career separate from healing medical practice, laws to ensure consent); the latter affirmation forbids willful life-termination, with or without consent, unless authorized by God himself (as in Genesis 9:6, for example).
Because advocates of euthanasia generally justify it as a way to relieve suffering, a fair portion of the chapter is committed to clarifying what is meant by “pain” and “suffering” and to developing a theological and philosophical understanding of “the problem of suffering” or “the problem of pain.” One aspect of this discussion leave me less than entirely satisfied is the attempt at theodicy (justifying God’s ways to humans). The chapter offers the standard “free will” defense of God’s justice: “The consequences of the fall into sin being what they are, any day without suffering is a day of grace and mercy....suffering is deserved. God is just in allowing suffering. In other words, the important question is not, Why do bad things happen to good people? But, Why do good things happen to bad people?” Or, in the words of Peter Kreeft, suffering is “from us, not from God; from our misuse of our free will” (quoting from Kreeft’s Making Sense of Suffering ). This approach to suffering has long been very popular. I confess, however, that it hasn’t worked for me for some time. If one is comfortable making human free will ultimately determinative of whatever comes to pass, if one doesn’t mind treating God’s sovereignty as something that works with or works around free creaturely decisions over which God has no control, and if one is comfortable embracing a justification of God’s ways to humans that Scripture itself never teaches and in fact (in the book of Job; see also Romans 9:19-24) seems to suggest goes beyond the prerogative of creatures, one might find the “it’s all about human free will” explanation satisfactory. If, on the other hand, one believes that God is truly and completely in control, that his sovereign eternal decree includes free creaturely decisions (that creaturely freedom is secondary and derivative, not ultimate; that “freedom” as commonly conceived does not exist for created beings), one will not be so satisfied.
Chapter 5, “Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technologies” (107-27), discusses such things as in vitro fertilization (IVF), use of donor sperm and eggs, and surrogacy. It grapples with the ethical issues resulting from these developments in terms of the already-developed understanding of the sanctity of every human life and the awareness “that pregnancy occurs at fertilization rather than at implantation [of the new life in the uterine wall].” This is an informative and useful chapter. Since the reality that sacred human life begins prior to implantation is emphasized, in order to show the wrongness of “reproductive technologies” that end up never implanting and finally destroying “excess embryos,” the chapter might have taken a few sentences to note how “the abortion pill” is not the only medication that can end a pregnancy already in progress, since this is also how some standard “contraceptives” can end up working.
Chapter 6, “Organ Donation and Transplantation” (129-48), discusses ethical issues related to organ donation. Because most organ donation requires a dead donor (at least for now), this is the chapter where questions about when and how to label someone “dead” are addressed. Whereas prior to ability to measure brain activity the standard for determining death was cessation of heart and lung activity, cessation of brain activity (either of the whole brain or only of areas deemed essential to human consciousness) has more recently been considered an acceptable standard. One particularly interesting revelation of the chapter is that it is not unheard of for persons declared “brain dead” to recover.
Chapter 7, “Clones and Human-Animal Hybrids” (149-65), discusses cloning, including that involving placing nuclei of one species into the enucleated (nucleus removed) eggs of another species to create “hybrids.” This chapter especially well illustrates the morally confused thinking dominant in contemporary secular culture, since the legal environment sees no problem with creating human embryos (or human-animal hybrid embryos) through cloning for experimental purposes or medical use (“therapeutic cloning”) but (so far) tends to strongly condemn and forbid implanting cloned human embryos in human wombs to live and mature (“reproductive cloning”). One especially interesting item discussed in the chapter is the creation of embryos from gametes of three persons (what the chapter calls “Embryos with three parents”) as a way “to avoid mitochondrial diseases.” Since mitochondria are passed from mothers to children separate from the nuclear DNA to which both parents contribute, one could prevent inheritance of mitochondrial disease from a mother by transferring the nucleus of the mother into the egg of a donor (whether this would be done before or after fertilization is not stated). “The resulting child,” Riley summarizes, “would have the chromosomes (nuclear DNA) of his/her mother and father and the mitochondrial DNA of the egg donor [“second mother” if one accepts the “three parents” description].” Mitchell and Riley see this as ethically problematic and fear a “slippery slope” to “designer children,” but I confess it sounds to me closely analogous to organ transplantation. The blueprint of what makes a person a person, and makes a given individual the “child” of two other individuals, would seem to be the nuclear DNA; “transplant” of the rest of the cell from an unfertilized egg with healthy mitochondria doesn’t strike me as ethically problematic or as creating a child with “three parents.” In any case, Mitchell and Riley believe that “all human cloning should be forthrightly banned,” as should creation of “human-animal hybrid embryos,” and their case against most aspects of these practices seems sound.
Chapter 8, “Aging and Life-Extension Technologies” (169-83), discusses efforts to extend the human lifespan or, more audaciously, to achieve immortality and to surpass other human limitations, through various means (health maintenance through nanotechnology, slowing or arresting the process of “growing old,” transfer of human consciousnesses into robots or virtual environments, technological enhancement of human mental and physical capabilities beyond natural limits, etc.). In the chapter, Mitchell sets forth the position that “Aging is not a disease to be cured but a reality of the human condition to be celebrated,” offering Proverbs 16:31 as support for this view. I’m not entirely convinced by this line of reasoning. In our fallen context, where the only alternative is to die young (perhaps because one does not follow the longevity-friendly “way of righteousness”), living to a gray- or white-haired old age (perhaps as a result of following “the way of righteousness”) is indeed something to be celebrated. But this fact doesn’t quite identify any of the “negative” aspects of aging as preferable to (were it possible) retention of the optimal capacities of one’s “prime” for a longer time. Whereas some transhumanist aspirations doubtless violate Christian morals (and will be proven incompatible with humans’ created nature), the quest to extend lifespan, to slow or stop (or reverse or repair) the negative effects of aging, does not strike me as fundamentally different from the broader efforts of medical and related sciences to reduce the effects of the fall on human life and health.
One reason I think the discussion goes astray is that “aging” is used so freely today as a shorthand for the negative (degenerative) effects of aging. Thus, the chapter can conclude by lamenting how our culture “has come to loath every facet of aging.” Is this true, though? One facet of aging is the acquisition of experience and, ideally, of wisdom. Does our culture, does anyone, really “loath” this? Even those who most pine away for lost youth dream of reliving it “knowing what they know now.” The other facet of aging is the deterioration that results as bodily self-repair falls progressively behind degenerative processes. Those who dream of “curing aging” probably shouldn’t use the term “aging,” since they have no desire to eliminate growth in experience and wisdom. For instance, the late Roy Walford (died 2004) thought degeneration and death unfortunate because acquiring the experience and wisdom to live well takes so much time: “It’s a shame to die so young, because it takes so long to learn how to live” (Foreword to Brian Delaney and Lisa Walford’s The Longevity Diet , xiv). Trying to figure out why bodily self-repair inevitably falls behind degeneration, and to determine if there are ways to keep self-repair ahead of degeneration for a longer time or indefinitely (by “fixing” whatever aspect of the human organism prevents self-repair from keeping up or by supplementing self-repair with technology, such as “nanobots”), may indeed be a quest destined to fail, but it does not strike me as dehumanizing or necessarily unbiblical. Degeneration and death are results of the fall, not essential qualities of being human. Scripture does suggest, of course, that physical death, and so the degenerative processes that bring it about, is a mercy: living forever in our fallen state, it appears, would not be a good thing (Genesis 3:22-24). Still, there is nothing in this to suggest that much longer lives would be a problem (the long lives in Genesis are never identified as problematic simply because long), and many Christians might rather wait to be translated at the Second Coming than endure degeneration and death.
The Conclusion (185-97), “Preserving Our Humanity in a Biotech Century” (185-97), offers some final thoughts, such as endorsement of pregnancy care centers as a way to oppose abortion by making it easier to “choose life.”
The book, as a whole, makes persuasive arguments on most points and provides adequate coverage of the range of issues in contemporary bioethics. It is worthwhile reading. ...more
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