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Thursday, January 20, 2011

apologetics, the quest for certainty and biblical exegesis

I have read what seems like countless[1] books and articles in the apologetics genre starting with  Francis Schaeffer Escape from Reason in 1967 ...  down to The End of Christianity 2009 by William A. Dembski.  When Schaeffer was still news (late '60s) and I was a student at Seattle Pacific College, I attended a week of lectures given by Schaeffer. At that time I was taking a class on modern philosophy with Prof. Walter Johnson and we were embroiled in a long discussion of absolutes as presented in A Place to Stand by Elton Trueblood. My older sister had just graduated from Whitworth College where she had been exposed to the leading secular theologians of the day, Harvey Cox The Secular City, John A.T. Robinson Honest to God, Thomas J.J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism. My pastor Gilbert R. Martin was leading a weekly college level discussion of Escape from Reason and The God Who is There. A couple of years later I was regularly giving public lectures to secular audiences on the christian worldview employing Schaeffer's framework. One of my colleagues at that time Ed Sherman is still giving lectures on christian worldview for the University of the Nations. What is the point? I am not opposed to apologetics.

One of the key methods of attacking the  the orthodox christian worldview is to undermine the certainty of central doctrines including the personal transcendent  Creator God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the full deity of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, the atonement and the resurrection. All of this was going on in the era of secular theology when Francis Schaeffer published his first book. The main objectives haven't changed. The current players have different names and different methods, like Bart Ehrman who is hyperactively engaged in recycling old scholars like Adolf Harnack and Walter Bauer for popular consumption.    

In the quest for certainty there is a constant danger of over simplifying complex issues to provide what looks like certainty but is not. Nowhere is this more apparent than the use of scripture in apologetic argumentation. Natural language is ambiguous. Print that out in large bold type and make several copies to use as bookmarks for your bible. Ambiguity might appear at first to be the enemy of certainty. In my recent posts on Hebrews 7:13 we have looked at the exegetical problems with the affirmations concerning Melchizedek. The argument has some local tensions, things that don't at first glance seem to logically hang together. This ambiguity has been from the time of the early Church employed by those who want to promote various heresies. The strategy is simple. They locate and isolate a text where the language is open to several interpretations and they fix on that text in isolation and build from it a doctrine which is totally incompatible with biblical author's theology.   

Natural language is ambiguous but the communication strategy employed in the bible is one of massive communication redundancy (MR).  The crux interpretum in Hebrews 7:13 isn't a serious theological problem because the message of Hebrews concerning Jesus Christ is massively redundant and abundantly clear. So print that out on the other side of your "natural language is ambiguous" bookmarks. Ambiguity is overcome by massive communication redundancy.

This has implications for apologetic strategy. Don't let the Arians and the Unitarians choose the location of the battle[2]. If you get embroiled in a debate over a crux interpretum your going to waste a lot of time and probably be tempted to take short cuts using less that valid linguistic and exegetical procedures. Debates over linguistic minutia are very difficult to win because of natural language ambiguity. The core issues in the orthodox christian worldview are not suspend by weak threads like the syntax of a particular clause (e.g. John 1:1c). Letting the Arians and the Unitarians choose the ground were the battle is to engage is a loosing strategy.

More on this later. 


[1]  Some of  most significant titles and authors: The God Who is There, He is there and is not Silent, C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man, C. Van Til, Defense of the Faith, Christian Epistemology ... John Frame Doctrine of the Knowledge of God ... A. Plantinga ... N. Wolterstorff  ...  .

 [2] In the movie Gettysburg one of the opening scenes is Brig. Gen. John Buford from the Union Army arriving early before the battle and looking over the battle ground from Seminary Hill.  Hancock asks if this is good ground on which to fight. Buford says it's very good ground.

2 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

This quote of yours:
Natural language is ambiguous but the communication strategy employed in the bible is one of massive communication redundancy.

is a real insight into the processes needed when doing apologetics or for that matter when considering books like Bart Ehrman produces. Again a real insight for me and I am glad to have found your blog.

6:03 AM  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Thank you Bill.

I have posted a comment with some RT resources with you other comment.

I am glad you have found something useful to read here. Gives me some encouragement to keep posting.

Greetings. CSB

8:31 AM  

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