July 2007

Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason ministries developed a great tactic to use when a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness comes knocking on your door. It’s easy to remember, and it doesn’t require that you know much about either religion:

First, I ask them, “If you discovered you were mistaken about your faith, would you be willing to
change your religion?” This question is critical because it exposes whether or not they’re a genuine truth seeker. They are presumably there to show you’re mistaken about your faith and should change it after they show you the truth. If not, then I point out how their position is unreasonable and thank them for coming to visit. I try to avoid spending time with people who are not genuine
truth seekers and are not willing to follow the evidence where it leads. You can waste a lot of time talking to people who are closed to the truth.

Second, I ask them, “Can you offer me three objective reasons or evidences for why you believe your religion is true?” Notice this question immediately shifts the burden of proof to them, where it belongs. It takes the pressure off you and gives you valuable insight into their rationale. Remember, they’ve come to you. You’re under no obligation to jump through their hoops and answer their questions. Just be sure to keep them on track and not let them deviate from the question at hand. They’re often hard pressed to offer you convincing objective reasons. Mormons often ask you to pray and ask God to reveal the truth to you. This is not an objective reason or evidence, however, so don’t let them get away with offering it as an answer.[1]


[1]Alan Shlemon, “Making an Impact Without Knowing Very Much”; available from http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2007/07/making-an-impac.html; Internet; accessed 30 July 2007.

Tullian Tchividjian penned a great description of what it means to be a “secular” society:

The word “secularization” is a fancy term used by social scientists to identify the process through which God and the supernatural are relegated to the fringe of what’s important in society. A secularized society is a society that has determined to make God and the supernatural socially irrelevant even if they remain personally engaging. It restricts the relevance of God to the private sphere only. This has created, according to Richard John Neuhaus, “a naked public square.” That is, God may be important individually but he is rather unimportant socially and culturally. He may be alive and well privately but publicly he is dead.[1]

[1]Tullian Tchividjian, “The Irrelevance of God”; available from http://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/07/irrelevance-of-god.html; Internet; accessed 30 July 2007.

Some of the readers of this blog post anonymously. Some do so by choice, while others do so because they do not have a blog id that comes with having your own blog account with blogger.com.

If you want to reveal your identity in a particular comment (I would prefer that you do), you can do so without opening a blogger.com account. The easiest way is to finish your comment with your name. The other way is to select the “other” option under “Choose an identity.” You will see this right below the text box in the comments section. If you select “other” you can type in the name you want to appear at the top of your comment.

Many Eastern religions make this claim about God. So do Muslims. Unfortunately it is incoherent.

To say God is unknowable is either a statement about God, or a statement about ourselves. If it is a statement about God it is an affirmation that he has no properties capable of being known. And yet having at least one property is what differentiates existence from non-existence. If God has no properties, then he doesn’t exist. If it is a statement about ourselves—our ability to know a God with specific properties—then it is self-refuting because the statement itself is a claim to know something about God: he is unknowable. If God was unknowable, we would not even be able to know that He was unknowable. This can be pointed out by asking, “How do you know God is unknowable if nothing can be known of God? Isn’t that something you know about him?”

Either way you look at it, that statement is incoherent.

“Western culture is pervaded with scientific naturalism and with postmodernism. The first of these strips the world of spirit, the other of knowledge. Both take away the hope of ultimate, transcendent meaning. Naturalism denies there is anything more to life than what we can touch and see, and postmodernism says there is almost nothing beyond ourselves that we can truly know.”

—Tom Gilson, in his review of J.P. Moreland’s Kingdom Triangle, available at http://www.thinkingchristian.net/C2031585454/E20070625223226/

I intended to send this out some time back, but never got around to doing so.

J.P. Moreland is a Christian philosopher extraordinaire. I’ve read a lot of his material, and he is a hardcore evangelical intellectual (yes, those terms can go together!). So it was surprising when I heard him speaking of the supernatural during a radio interview with Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. He spoke of how the Gospel is spreading in other parts of the world—particularly the Muslim world—through supernatural events. I’ve heard a lot of amazing stories of the miraculous in Pentecostal circles, but I have to admit that these stories are even more amazing. And I’m not talking about healings! Listen to the broadcast. You’ll be glad you did!

The interview took place during the second hour of the program, so jump ahead to the 58:00 marker where the interview begins (you may have to wait a few minutes for your computer to download the broadcast to the point where you can jump ahead that far).

Today, for the first time in this nation’s history, a Hindu led the opening prayer in the Senate. When I first heard about this I was not particularly troubled. I understand that this country is not a Christian nation, politically speaking. While the political philosophy of the founders was informed by Judaeo-Christian principles, and the vast majority of the citizens of this country are Christian, our government is not. There is no governmental basis on which I can say Christian and Jewish-led prayers in the Senate are acceptable, but Hindu-led prayers are not.

But the more I thought about it, I began to be troubled. What bothered me is the apparent motive for doing this. The offering of prayer in the Senate is for the benefit of the senators. There have been Jewish and Christian senators, and thus there have been Jewish and Christian ministers who have offered prayers before the Senate. To my knowledge, however, no U.S. Senator is of the Hindu religion. If no senator is Hindu, why invite a Hindu to offer a prayer? Who does it benefit? No one in the Senate!

On the face of it, it seems the motive for inviting the Hindu was to display a sense of religious open-mindedness. I’m not talking about the kind that is open to hearing what other religions have to say, but the kind that says all religions are basically the same and deserve equal time. If there were a Hindu in the Senate, I would not object. But without a Hindu in the Senate, this prayer was nothing more than a ploy for multiculturalist, relativistic philosophy.

Most of the book of Proverbs was written by Solomon, but Proverbs 30 and 31 were authored by Agur and King Lemuel respectively. King Lemuel’s proverbs are said to reflect his mother’s teachings. When it comes to inspiration, when were these proverbs inspired: Was it when King Lemuel’s mother spoke it to Lemuel, when he wrote it down, or when the compiler(s) of the proverbs that became the canonical Book of Proverbs incorporated them into the book?

Psalm 72:20: “This collection of the prayers of David son of Jesse ends here.” Clearly these are the words of a later editor of the psalms, adding a structural marker to the Psalter. These are not the words of the inspired psalmist. Would you say this verse is the inspired word of God, or is it just an ancient editorial comment that is found in the Word of God?

Conservative Christians (such as myself) hold that the Bible is inspired by God. What we often do not think about, however, is how God inspired the Bible. We know God and man were involved in the final product, but what was the relationship between the two parties? I would venture to say that most conservative Christians picture the process of inspiration as some sort of mechanical dictation, in which God is telling the author precisely what to write, and the author writes it. Others hold to a conceptual model of inspiration in which God directs the author’s thoughts and concepts to reflect God’s intentions for the writing, but allows the author to clothe them with their own choice of words.

Can these models account for all we read in Scripture? It seems not. There are select passages of Scripture that seem to indicate that at least some of the authors were unaware that what they were writing was being inspired by the Spirit. Consider the following:

In I Corinthians 1:12-17 Paul addressed the issue of factions developing around certain high-profile Christian personalities. Some were claiming to be followers of Paul, while others claimed to follow Peter, and others Christ. To expose these factions as unchristian, Paul directed their attention back to their baptisms. Rhetorically, Paul asked if they had been baptized in his name. No. They were baptized in the name of Christ, and as such they must be followers of Christ, not Peter or Paul.

Not only were they not baptized in the name of Paul, but only a few of them were even baptized by Paul. Paul wrote, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name” (vs. 14-15). This completes Paul’s thought. In the next verse, however, Paul adds another name to the list: “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (v. 16). While Paul was writing verses 14-15, he only recalled baptizing two Corinthians, but then remembers one more and pens verse 16. Is that all Paul? He wasn’t so sure, so added a disclaimer that he does not recall baptizing anyone else.

Did God direct Paul to forget (or write as if he forgot), then remember baptizing the household of Stephanas, and to add a disclaimer to cover himself lest there be someone else he baptized that the Spirit directed him to forget? Is this a case of a divinely directed slip-of-the-mind? Was Paul aware of what the Spirit was doing? On a mechanical dictation model the answer is yes. I find that far-fetched. It seems highly unlikely that mechanical dictation was the means by which Paul inspired Paul to write, and unlikely that Paul was aware of the Spirit’s inspiration as wrote the epistle. He had a genuine experience of momentary forgetfulness.

Even if Paul was aware that he was being inspired by God as he wrote, how do we incorporate I Corinthians 1:14-16 into our view of inspiration? If the Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to write, why didn’t the Holy Spirit bring back to Paul’s memory all of the people he baptized in Corinth, prior to writing those verses? Why allow Paul to record his forgetfulness? Doesn’t that cast doubt on the Holy Spirit’s superintendence of the writing? Could this mean that divine inspiration is not enough to overcome the human weaknesses of the authors? Could there be other places in which the author’s memory did not serve him well, but he was not able to correct himself as did Paul? How would you respond to these questions?

Or consider II Timothy 4:13. In a very personal letter to Timothy, Paul asked Timothy to bring him his cloak, books, and parchments when he comes to visit. If Paul realized this letter was being inspired for God, would he have made such personal comments? This is not to say God did not inspire Paul to write this, but it is to say it seems unlikely that Paul knew God was inspiring him to write it. From Paul’s perspective, this was a personal request to a friend, in a personal letter. I highly doubt Paul knew this letter was being superintended by the Spirit, and would be collected into a corpus of writings to be used by Christians everywhere for millennia to come.

What do you think? How does this affect your view of inspiration?

For further reading on my view of Biblical inspiration, go here.