Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Beyond Liberal and Conservative

I am officially a senior. I have one more year as an undergraduate and I will hopefully be on my way to graduate studies. I came into this school 3 years ago pretty uneducated about the Bible (perhaps as much as a typical zealous sunday school attender) . However, something that has really changed is the way I look at things. I've stopped placing theologians and Biblical historians into categories of "good and evil" and "safe to read/keep up the guard". My goal from the get-go has been to teach at a state school in order to help revive Evangelical scholarship in the main square. Now, I'm more about the truth. Not that the two are mutually exclusive (although some might argue that), but my mind's allegiance isn't with's with Truth.

One of my main pet-peeves is when I hear people try to distinguish theologians as either "liberal" or "conservative". For one, those terms are extremely relative. I'm sure to some Bob Jones graduates, I'm the most liberal thing they've ever seen. To some Harvard Div graduates, I may be some crazy fundamentalist Bible thumper. I think ideas need to assessed without placing neat labels on them from the get-go. Read Bultmann without thinking, "Uh oh, this guy's a dirty liberal." Read Maurice Robinson's case for Byzantine priority without thinking, "Geez, crazy conservative." I'm not against all labels (that would be ridiculous). But labels such as "conservative" and "liberal" are too broad and too relative to do any kind of good.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I'm in the midst of exams right now. My last two are tomorrow : Ancient Near East History (a good class but a ton of information) and Greek II (my favorite class). My boss actually let me have tonight off very last minute so that I could study for both of them. That's pretty amazing. So, back to studying I go.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Classes next Fall

I'm all registered for classes next semester. My schedule is as follows:

MWF 8:00-8:50 - Old Testament Hebrew I
MWF 9:00-9:50 - Logic
MWF 11:30-12:20 - Greek Syntax and Exegesis III
TTh 8:30-9:45 - Communication (Because I don't want to take a preaching course)
TTh 2:30-3:45 - Christian Theology III

I'm also taking a summer class on Later Pauline Epistles which I'm really excited about. Unfortunately, it's my last NT elective at Southeastern and I don't have any room for anymore.

Being counted off for my own ideas?!

I just got out of my 1,2, 3 John and James final. As we passed in our exam, we got our papers back that we turned in a few weeks ago. I was pretty proud of myself on this paper because I knew I had done a good job, and more importantly, this was the first time when I could say, "All translations mine unless otherwise indicated."

My professor's grader was apparently not as enthused as I was about my new-found ability to translate Greek. He actually counted against me for doing it, writing off to the side: "It's dangerous to use your own translation when other scholars have their own translations. It will only weaken your argument." For one, how does using my own translation weaken arguments I make in the paper? No offense, but I think it's only when I'm not "kissing the bride through the veil" that I can truly begin to do exegesis. I picked up on the theological nuances of the passage I did, I think, because I translated it myself. And just who should I use? The two texts we used in class were Expositor's Bible Commentary and New American Commentary and their translations differ.

Secondly, I had some ideas in the paper that were my own. I've been studying at Southeastern for 3 years now, I figure it's high-time I start making statements that I didn't steal from someone else (I always footnote, I don't actually steal). Again, the grader tried to knock me for this. "Where's your source?" Perhaps it's all original. You might be looking at gold, buddy.....not likely, but still! At what point can students begin to give ideas that are their own? At what point am I allowed to branch out from what the commentaries say and maybe give my own two cents? I noted what I thought was a chiastic structure of 1 John 1:8-10. I've taken a class on Psalms and on Hermeneutics...if I can't identify a chiastic structure by now, it's time to pack it up.

I'm glad to say that the professor went back and regraded my paper, even making some notes about the notes the grader had made (on the translation, note, for instance, the professor wrote, "Still, this is a good translation.") and restored my grade from a 92 to a 97.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Last Night's Debate

The debate I attended last night was…terrible. It was less of a debate and more of Christopher Hitchens posing as an expert on religion with short asides by Dr. English. It should be noted that Hitchens is not educated formally in religion, history, or anything of the sort. However, as J.P. Moreland recently pointed out in some lectures he gave at Southeastern, the modern man feels that there is no truth in ‘religion’, thus there are no experts. If there are no experts then everyone is welcome to put their two cents in, regardless of the truthfulness of the argument. This is why a great many people (Oprah, for instance) feel comfortable making rather grandiose metaphysical claims.

So, back to the debate…the main points which I jotted down are as follows:
1)The Multiplicity of religions and conceptions of God prove that man made God
2)Religion is propagated by fear from the priestly class (a la Marx. Keep in mind that Hitchens is a former Trotskyite).
3)A question of Epistemology. How can you know about God?
4)“Grow up” and/or “mature” past religion.
5) “I don’t want to live in an eternal Korea where I’m constantly worshipping and thanking someone.”

Here are my thoughts:
1)The idea that religion spans the globe in all ages across all peoples shows commonality in man. It shows a desire to worship, at the very least. At most, it shows that all men know of God in some way. I don’t see how Hitchens connects the dots to get to a point where God is man-made. Religion may be man-made, but you have to explain away that pesky fact that the idea of God has permeated all of human history. Indeed, Hitchens has to imagine that at some point in human history, nearly all cultures spontaneously decided to create religion independently of one another while sharing a great deal in common. For instance, every major world religion has some kind of Sky God who is referenced with masculine grammar. Generally this Sky God is the Creator who is has great knowledge and power.
2)This is obviously a Marxian idea. It’s popular and easy to say this on this side of Christian history. I wonder how many Christians in the first 300 years of its inception would agree with Hitchens. The Christians who were burned as torches in the emperor’s gardens…do we imagine they propagated their religion by scare tactics, ruling over the masses as a priestly class? Quite the opposite. Anyone who says this makes me wonder how much historical research they’ve done. It may sound like a good idea, but it’s not true to historical fact, and that’s where we have to stay.
3) Hitchens assumes that because he does not know, then no one can. Of course, as an atheist, Hitchens would not allow Revelation (both Scripture and the ‘self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit’, if I may use Craig here) as a valid epistemological model. However, it’s not because of the validity of the argument for Revelation, but because of Hitchens’ own predisposition to anti-supernaturalism (which is fine).
4) This is repugnant. I’ve spoken about this earlier, but this really eats my lunch. Hitchens thinks that ‘primitive’ man was running around, scared of his own shadow, so he invented religion. This is a pretty grand idea, however, it’s just not true to history. For one, under Hitchens own beliefs, how does he suppose that nearly all cultures all over the globe decided to go this route? Why is it so nearly universal? Secondly, to imagine that because people lived longer ago they are immediately naïve and gullible is ridiculous. They may have had different thought processes than us (I don’t imagine Moses thought like I do), but they had the same capacity. This kind of argument is elitist and it’s just not true to what we know about people groups long ago. Read Lucretius (who Hitchens referenced), read Plato, read the Psalms or Ecclesiastes and you’ll find some pretty astounding thought.
5) Hitchens referenced North Korea where people are forced to ‘worship’ their leaders. In fact, he cleverly stated that they’re one deity away from a trinity (they have a father and a son). He stated that he doesn’t want to live in an eternal celestial North Korea. For one, he doesn’t have to worry about it at present. Secondly, N. Korea’s leaders are not worthy of worship. The reason why it’s joyous to worship God is because He is God. I would certainly have a hard time worshipping for eternity a being who did not deserve my worship.

Hitchens commits what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery.” When I was an atheist, I did the same thing. Atheists tend to “take for granted the prevailing ideas of our time and culture [as] unquestionably true.”[1] I think there’s something very en vogue about being an atheist. I know I used to fancy myself enlightened, intellectually superior to my Christian peers. They were locked into some silly myth that focuses on some guy who was crucified. Not I, oh no. I’m the enlightened one here. Snobbery. Sheer, utter, despicable snobbery. It may be applauded by some, particularly in the academy, but not by me. I’m not impressed. This is by no means a sweeping statement. I have friends who are atheists who are fantastic people who I love to death. A popular (former) atheist that I really admire is Anthony Flew. Although he is a bit of a deist now, when he was an atheist he didn’t have the mean streak that Dawkins and Hitchens have.
I should say that if you’re an atheist and you’ve arrived at that conclusion after giving a fair shake to the evidence on both sides…good for you. If you’re searching for the truth and that’s where the evidence has led you, I am 100% behind you. But if at any point your atheism is a fashion statement…if you’re in love with being an atheist rather than the philosophical propositions themselves, I believe you should reassess what you believe (actually, I think we should always be reassessing what we believe, but that’s just me). At that point, I think you’ve fallen into a trap of pseudo-intellectual elitism and you’ve stopped looking for truth.
So, back to Hitchens…I’m left wondering why he wrote the book at all. If you read Nietzsche, Russell, and Dawkins with a dash of Robinson’s Honest to God, you’ll have his book. As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Hitchens writes the same argument rehashed and watered down.
[1] Art Lindsey, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, 40.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Tonight I'm going to go see a debate between Dr. Adam English (Prof. of Theology and Philosophy, Campbell University) and Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I'm very excited. Having read a bit of Mr. Hitchens' book, I'm looking forward to seeing him in action. I'm fortunate to have such a wonderful degree program at Southeastern (History of Ideas) as it affords me the opportunity to read the 'greats' like Nietzsche, Kant, Marx, etc. Not quite what you'd expect from a Southern Baptist school, but there you have it. If there's an opportunity to ask questions tonight, mine will be: "What do you bring to the table that hasn't already been said?" My one main critique of Hitchens is that there is nothing new in his book. It's...boring. It's the same old arguments, rehashed and watered down with some witty writing and a few zingers. That's it.

If you're interested in attending, the debate is being held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Raleigh at 7pm. I believe is the website.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Question

Unfortunately, I'm not a fountain of wisdom (a la Goodacre, Tilling, Barber, Black, etc), but a burden of questions. One that has really been on my mind lately is: Did the authors of the New Testament understand that they were writing Scripture? I'll go even the New Testament Scripture? Yikes! I'm sure I'll get some double-takes on that one. But, really, why should I think the New Testament is Scripture? Why can't it just be a collection of books that detail the height of God's interaction with man in history? Something I'm always weary of is idol-worship. A post I made awhile back was reposted on a German website under the title uber Bibel-Gotzenverehrung (which translates to something like "super Bible Idol worship", or something along those lines). And that pretty much sums up what I'm afraid of: worshiping something other than God. In my questioning I have in mind 1 Corinthians 15:15 where Paul says :

"Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ , whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised" (NASB)

Something I'm pretty sure of is that I don't want to be a false witness against God. So, if I say "The New Testament is inspired, inerrant, Holy Writ" and it's not true, I've sinned.

Something else that bothers me are the endings of 2 and 3 John. 2 John 1:12 and 3 John 1:14 both mention that John had much to tell the recipients of the letter, but that he would rather tell them "face to face". If I knew I was writing Scripture, I'd want to be as lengthy as possible, not missing any details. If I were aware that my writings were going to be read for thousands of years, I don't think I'd write a short letter that pretty much repeats exactly what I've already written (1 John). It seems that what he had to tell them was far more important than writing it out on some papyri (or a scroll, depending upon who you read). In other words perhaps the Gospel is more important than any of the gospels.

Two arguments I hear for the inspiration/inerrancy (not the same things, but these arguments are used for both...and naturally if they aren't inspired, they aren't inerrant):

1)Scripturally:I hear 2 Timothy 3:16 thrown around as if we can assume that Paul had the NT mind. He may have it in mind, but I need more proof than just citing the verse. 2 Timothy would've been written when some of the books of the NT had not yet been written. How do we explain that? Another argument from Scripture is the use of 2 Peter 3:16. This is a bit more convincing that at least some of Paul's letters are Scripture, in Peter's view. However, which ones? Are we sure we have all the letters? I'm not conspiring here, I just mean that Paul's epistles are occasional and sometimes personal, so can we be sure that we have them all?

2)Historically: A great many contemporary scholars will disagree with me here, but...I believe that there were atleast some churches (perhaps Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Oxyrhynchus) that had complete copies of the NT as we have it by the end of the first century/very early in the 2nd century. Most people who appeal for the canonicity will appeal to the historical understanding of the canon from the early church. But, just because historically someone did something doesn't make it right. In other words, like N.T. Wright mentions in The New Testament and the People of God, we shouldn't immediately assume that the early church is normative for all of Christianity. An appeal to the earliest understanding may not be the right way to go. Perhaps they were mistaken. Perhaps they needed their book to be Scripture too (compared to the OT).

So, if you've made it all the way through this post, you may think me a heretic. Quite alright. Whether you think I'm a heretic or not, I want you to suggest some reading. The overall question is: Why should I think the New Testament is Scripture?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Grading Scales and Graduate Applications

As I prepare to take the GRE's this summer and apply for Graduate school this Fall I'm feeling pretty stressed. The main reason for my stress: my school's grading scale. Our grading scale is not the more universal 10 point grading scale (to which all 3 major universities in the area, Duke, Chapel Hill, and NC State adhere), but a grading scale which tries to incorporate the curve automatically. Our grading scale is as follows: A - 95-100, B - 87-94, C - 77-86, D - 70-76, F 70 and below.

I feel that this grading scale is inherently flawed. For one, instead of allowing a curve to occur naturally (if a professor so chooses to utilize a curve), it builds one in. Secondly, and my main concern, is that it puts Southeastern students at a disadvantage when compared to our peers from other institutions. If someone from UNC and I both make 93's, then we apply to graduate school, my peer from UNC has a 4.0 while I have a 3.0. The suggestion was made to include a copy of our grading scale when we send out our transcripts, but this will do little to help. Schools keep records of their incoming graduate students' GPAs. This is often posted in order to help people gauge whether they should consider a particular school (i.e. if the avg. GPA for a school is 3.7 and you have a 2.5, perhaps you should apply elsewhere just in case). So, lets say I apply to Duke, but because of the grading scale, my GPA is a bit lower than their average...I doubt Duke is going to want to lower their average for that year (and overall) just to let me in because Southeastern's grading scale is more strict.

I don't see any advantage in keeping the grading scale that we currently have. I don't think the more stringent a grading scale, the more academically rigorous your school is. Southeastern is a good school because we have amazing faculty and good degree programs.

Because of this, I'm going to be sending a letter to the Dean with some research I've done on the benefits of a 10-point grading scale. However, I wanted to ask (since many people in the Bibliobloggosphere are educators or are currently pursuing Graduate degrees) your opinion. What do you think?

Thinking Blogger Award

Sean over at the blog Sean the Baptist has nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award with the tag "I wish I had Josh in my classes." Thanks, Sean! This is a real honor to be nominated by Sean, as his blog is one of my favourites. I don't consider myself a "thinking blogger"...but I'm flattered nonetheless.

President of ETS becomes Roman Catholic

Perhaps it's just an internet rumor, but allegedly the President of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) has become a Roman Catholic. If this is true, I'll say this: Good for him. I agree with Michael Barber (who was quoted by Chris Tilling as well, on his post about it) when he said:

"His example is clearly one of courage , intellectual integrity, and spiritual sincerity."

Indeed, I know personally how hard it can be to even venture into having ideas about changing denominations and the negative reactions that can come from that. I can only imgaine the mental and spiritual durress that such a decision has caused Dr. Beckwith. My prayers are with him and his family as they continue their walk with the Lord.

For various reactions around the blogosphere:
James White's Post: Head Of Evangelical Theological Society Swims the Tiber
Jimmy Akin's Post: Dr. Francis Beckwith returns to Full Communion with the Church
Michael Barber's Post: ETS President Becomes Catholic
Chris Tilling's Post: Rumours

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Downing's The Bible and Flying Saucers Part II

"The degree of probability of my hypothesis depends on (1) the probability of the existence of flying saucers (which transport beings from another world to ours) and (2) the probability that these space vehicles are the same ones the Bible describes as having been pivotal in the development of the Biblical religion."[1]

This is how Downing opens his second chapter, titled What is the probability that Flying Saucers exist? However, Downing never answers either of those questions. Indeed, his writing style is haphazard, jumping from topic to topic. As a result, this review will probably follow the same style.

On his first issue, the probability of flying saucers, Downing does not offer statistics or scientific facts. Rather, Downing tips his hand early by saying, “the degree of probability which I emotionally feel about the existence of UFOs is 70 per cent belief and 30 per cent doubt, or something on that order.”[2] After stating this, in his usual slapdash fashion, Downing jumps into a discussion on Angels in History.

Downing traces a short history of Angelology, differentiating from the Greek and Biblical thoughts on Angels. The main difference, according to Downing, is that Greek Angels were “geometric soul-points” out in distance space, whereas the Biblical angels are “essentially humanlike beings that have come from above.” After the comparative discourse, Downing puts forth the idea that the Hebrew religion was brought to earth from another planet and being primitive (thus gullible), the Hebrew people accepted it as truth. Downing doesn’t imagine that all of Judaism was given by the angels/aliens, as he notes that the Bible is both “witnessed and digested revelation.”[3] The “primitive” people of this time looked upon the UFO(s) and created a religion out of what they saw.

The author then deals with a few stories he heard from Air Force pilots seeing UFOs, or stories he heard about Air Force pilots seeing UFOs. Speaking about a pilot with whom he had a personal encounter, Downing confesses, “I have, of course, no way of knowing that the pilot was telling me the truth. But this contact was personally important for me because it tended to support what men such as Keyhoe and Edward maintain; that is, that it is Air Force personnel who have the only overall picture of the UFO situation.”[4] Do you notice a trend? “I emotionally feel” that this is the probability. This contact is “important for me” regardless of the veracity of the pilot’s claim. In fact, the man with whom Downing spoke may not even be a pilot for all he knows! I’m not statistician, but I’m pretty sure one can’t “feel” the probability of something.

Once again taking to task the “demythologizers”, Downing writes that “if flying saucers do exist…theologians attempting to develop a realistic Biblical interpretation will have one good historic example of how ‘demythologizers’ have drawn premature conclusions”[5] Similarly, Downing writes “I believe that this will automatically have importance consequences for theology, whether or not modern UFOs have anything to do with the Bible…”[6] Downing’s use of the non sequitur is impressive. Even if UFOs do exist, you have a great deal of hermeneutical work to do to put them in the Bible. Also, I have no idea how, if UFOs have nothing to do with the Bible, they would have any impact on theology.

Getting back to Bishop Robinson, Downing states that Robinson “has the right to maintain that the ascension is highly improbable, but it is by no means impossible in the light of present scientific thinking, particularly if one provides Christ with an adequate space vehicle.” Later, Downing makes a similar statement that if “flying saucers exist, then perhaps we can again argue for a realistic interpretation of the Ascension of Christ (honestly).”[7] At this point, I have to interject. The idea that you cannot argue for a literal Ascension of Christ as is stated in the Bible is unfounded. It may be simplistic, it may be en vogue to find some “demythologized” version of the Ascension, but it is in no way impossible that Jesus literally rose into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. I appreciate what Downing is trying to do here, to be an apologist against the Bultmannians and Bishop Robinsons, but one doesn’t need to appeal to UFOs in order to do so.

A second point on which I want to comment is the use of the word “primitive”. Numerous authors employ it in the same fashion that Downing does, denoting this “gullible” culture that just couldn’t understand the truth of an event, so they come up with wild tales. This is ridiculous and pompous. I don’t like the use of “primitive” to mean “simple-minded”. If you want to describe farming tools as being primitive, then fine. Of course today’s culture is more technologically advanced, but this in no way means that we’re inherently less “primitive” than people who lived during Jesus’ time and before. Indeed, studying the cultures of Biblical times shows advanced thinking. Perhaps we should be mindful of the way we use the term, in order to pay due respect to earlier cultures.

[1] Downing, 45.
[2] Downing, 46.
[3] Downing, 47.
[4] Downing, 59.
[5] Downing, 62.
[6] Downing, 65.
[7] Downing, 67.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Greek Question

I was reading in 1 John the other day and I came across something about which I have a question.

1 John 2:9 in the Greek:

ο λεγων εν τω φωτι ειναι και τον αδελφον αυτου μισων εν τη σκοτια εστιν εως αρτι.

The one saying in the light _________ and the brother of him he hates in the darkness he is until now.

That's a "wooden" translation (as my Greek professor calls it). But, the question I have is...why does John employ ειναι here? I've not spent hours researching it, but I looked in a few books and couldn't find anything.

I was hoping some of you Greek scholars would be able to help!