Books

Epistemology

Linguistics

Theology

Worldview

Fantastic Deal on My Favorite Theology Books

John Frame is retiring, and now you can have all six of his best and most important books for $120. Hardbacks. This is killer. I paid much more.

Do not miss this deal: $20 a book for some of the best theology books you will ever buy.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, in particular, has been epochal for me. It shapes me in ways I see just about every day. The Doctrine of the Christian Life was also extremely helpful. When I’ve dipped into Frame’s Systematic Theology, I have also found what he always delivers: carefully biblical, straightforward, clear, even simple explanations of complex topics.

Books

ChurchLife

Review: Confessions of a Fundamentalist

Confessions of a FundamentalistConfessions of a Fundamentalist by Aaron Dunlop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some good insights. A gracious perspective. Critical of bad leaders without letting fawning followers of the hook. Thinks carefully through what a healthy doctrinal militancy should look like.

Gives us all a great Newton quote:

All religious parties profess a great regard to the precept, Jude 3. “Contend earnestly for the faith.” And if noisy anger, bold assertions, harsh censures, and bitter persecuting zeal, can singly or jointly answer the apostle’s design, there is hardly a party but may glory in their obedience. But if the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; if the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; if the true Christian contention can only be maintained by Scripture arguments, meekness, patience, prayer, and an exemplary conversion—if this is the true state of the case, where is the Church party (may I not say, where is the person) that has not still much to learn and to practice in this point?

Feels a bit too much like what it is: a collection of blog posts. It isn’t really a unified book, though it presents a unified perspective. And it hews to the blog genre in its willingness to make just a few (and I do mean only a few) unsubstantiated assertions, such as “The past ten years have witnessed a sharp increase in defections from fundamentalism.” (88) That’s a bloggable assertion, but not a bookable one. I need to see a footnote or some verbal hedging (“My impression is…”).

Introduced a helpful category: the “silent moderate majority” of fundamentalists, people who don’t like but who don’t complain about the excesses of bad leadership. (81)

And introduced a helpful concept: the “war psychology” many fundamentalists adopt.

Helpfully asks:

Could it be that the brother who “walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6) is not necessarily the one who has a broad view of fellowship but the one whose doctrine of fellowship is too narrow, divisive, and schismatic? Could it be that the “disobedient brother” is not the one who is over-generous in his acceptance of others, but the one who lacks that gracious and magnanimous spirit? Could it be that those who have “caused division and offenses” are indeed the hyper- fundamentalists and that we should “avoid them” (Romans 16:17, emphasis added)? Could it be that the hyper-fundamentalists are the ones who have trespassed against their brothers and that it is these who need to be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–17)? (61)

And this is all too true:

This rehashing of the old battles left the fundamentalist church anemic and intellectually impotent for the present battles. Where are the fundamentalists in the battle against evolution, Open Theism or the charismatic movement? It is the conservative evangelicals who are leading the charge on current debates.

And this, too:

A superstitious adherence to the King James Version of the Bible became the measure of one’s spiritual experience. (54)

I urge Aaron to start over, with a *book* in mind, not a series of blog posts. Use his blog posts, but get a fresh outline that really goes somewhere. Give us some criticisms and then a constructive proposal for a way forward. Meanwhile, readers will still benefit from a gracious but firm spirit and some helpful insights.

Aaron provided me a review copy free of charge, but I hope it’s obvious that he attached no strings to my review.

KJV

NTScholarship

KJVParallelBible.org Needs Your Help


Training Video

I’m working on a textual critical project aimed at laypeople, and I need help from volunteers. I want to show English speakers, using English, the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland text.

SIGN UP HERE

Differences between the TR(s) and the various critical texts are locked not only in Greek but in complicated textual apparatuses which don’t give anyone but the most attentive readers a good overall picture of the actual differences between the texts. I want to put those differences on display in an accessible way.

And in a neutral way. I believe my brothers in Christ within KJV-Onlyism are wrong in their preference for the TR and wrong in their insistence on the exclusive use of the KJV, but I believe in God’s power to sanctify their thinking on this issue. He can use authorities and arguments, and he does. But he can also use a simple presentation of the facts, without any arguments and interpretations.

That’s what I’ll provide (though the About page will carry some brief interpretations from me and from a TR advocate): in one column of KJVParallelBible.org will be the KJV as it stands in the 1760 Blayney edition most people use; in a parallel column will be the KJV as if someone had gone back in time and given the KJV translators an NA28. All differences between the two resulting texts will be bolded.

I am aiming the project at KJV-Only Christians, but the tool could be useful for teaching textual criticism to any layperson (or even as a cheatsheet for those of us who ought to be using our textual apparatuses). I have nothing to hide from them: a TR-Only school should most definitely be using my site to try to teach TR-Onlyism to their students. Let those students see how big and how significant the differences actually are. A critical text advocate should be able to use the site to show students how big and how significant they actually aren’t. I hope people will conclude that my side is right, but I won’t force them. The site is just the facts, ma’am.

If people who cannot read Greek look at the New Testament in an ESV and in a KJV, they have no way of knowing which differences between the two are due to textual variants and which are due to any number of other factors: changes in English, advances in Greek understanding, differences of translation philosophy or interpretation, variations in style. Into that huge gray area of totally understandable ignorance (why should nonspecialists know these things?) comes a totally understandable fear: are modern translations changing the Bible?

As long as the facts of textual criticism remain locked in Greek, everybody with an opinion on the matter is forced to trust someone else who can read Greek and has formed an opinion. However, most people in pews don’t have easy access to such a person. They have pastors, but my impression is that most pastors are stuck trusting authorities, too: namely their peers, their crowd, their Bible college professors, their favorite writers, etc. The problem is that everybody has to have some kind of opinion, even implicit, if they’re going to pick up a translation at all, because every translation has a base text. And basically, you’re going to use the TR (KJV, NKJV, MEV, KJ2000, etc.) or the critical text (ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, NET, etc.).

I am looking for people to help me complete the New Testament. I’ve done about ten chapters, and I have a new friend at a KJV-Only Bible college who is doing the book of John. That leaves over 200 chapters to be worked on. I have made a training video for you, and I will share with you a Dropbox folder with text files for whatever portion of the Bible you want; you just need Logos or BibleWorks and copies of NA27/28* and Scrivener’s 1881 or 1894 TR (which are textually identical). Your job is basically to indicate which differences show up in translation by bolding them.

I will also need checkers to look over the work of others. There is plenty of work to do.

SIGN UP HERE

* I know the NA27 and NA28 texts are slightly different, but I know where they’re different and will run a check. I am using the NA27 as the base for a few practical reasons.

Epistemology

Worldview

Is Science the Best Way to Know?

Not long ago, popular YouTube science guy Derek Muller of Veritasium put out a video detailing the myriad ways in which scientific studies go wrong. He titled it, “Is Most Published Research Wrong?”

He ends with these words (click here to skip to this portion of the video):

What gets me is the thought that even trying our best to figure out what’s true, using our most sophisticated and rigorous mathematical tools, peer review, and standards of practice we still get it wrong so often. So how frequently do we delude ourselves when we’re not using the scientific method? As flawed as our science may be, it is far and away more reliable than any other way of knowing that we have.

I’m actually not a science skeptic. I have to have pretty compelling reasons to disbelieve a given Western scientific consensus. The Words of the Living God in Genesis 1–11 provide one compelling reason to doubt one reigning consensus. But I’m not against science as such. I’m for it. I think the scientific method is an incredibly useful tool for discovering truth God reveals through the observable cosmos.

What gets me is scientism: the faith people place in science. “As flawed as our science may be, it is far and away more reliable than any other way of knowing”? How can we know that? Science can’t prove that science is the best way to know. I’m far from the first to make this point; I simply found it interesting to see such faith at the end of a video in which Muller shows how flawed science can be.

For a much fuller discussion of the themes in this post, check out Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption. I wrote unit 7 on science, and I roundly praise the created good in science, explore the ways the fall twists it, and show that Christ can and will restore his rule over it.

Culture

Epistemology

Stanley Fish on the Foundations Baptist Fellowship and American Protestant Fundamentalism More Generally

Readers of my blog know that I have a strong (and perhaps strange) affinity for Stanley Fish, the pragmatic, antifoundationalist literary theorist and classic public intellectual gadfly. I find him always stimulating and incisive, even when I disagree. But because his strength is analysis and not so much evaluation (indeed, in what I’m about to quote he makes a rare statement of something he “certainly” believes in—and it just happens to be original sin!), I don’t really have to disagree very often.

Recently, Fish has been called up to the lecture circuit because of rising interest in some of his long-term themes: academic freedom and the proper justification for the liberal arts. And in his recent comments defending the idea of a university against the hordes of student protesters (who, Fish says, should be listened to but ultimately told to shut up, because academic freedom is not for students, and giving into them will destroy what the university was created to do), he offers genuine wisdom for someone like me who is currently engaged in defending the existence of certain institutions of American Protestant Christian fundamentalism. A narrower ideology is not supposed to be available than this one, so why do I defend it? Because, in part, as Fish says, every ideology is narrow. Every culture proclaims and defends its values and not others. I hope my proclamation and defense hew to a standard external to my subculture, namely the standard of Scripture. But I can’t pretend that I have no culture through which I view that standard, or that I think other cultures are equally valid. If I want to give to my children what I was given, I have to work to maintain the relevant traditions.

Bear with me here, because my extended quotation of Fish is going to be off-putting at points for much of my readership. But I genuinely believe there is wisdom here. I give different supporting reasons for the conclusions that Fish reaches, but those conclusions most certainly resonated with me.

I have transcribed the following from the Hugo Black lecture Fish gave (audio) a little over a year ago. I won’t be breaking this up with commentary, so have patience until I can explain a few more things. Fish again, is talking about higher education:

The perfectionists are, by definition, progressivists. They do not believe in original sin, but hold rather to an optimistic view of human potential, and they are in search of the political methods that will liberate rather than shackle that potential. Perfectionism or progressivism could possibly flourish on either side of the political aisle; it has a liberal as well as a conservative face. But as many have pointed out, it’s natural home these days seems to be on the left. Political theorist Jacob Talmon puts it this way: “The left proclaims the essential goodness and perfectibility of human nature.” That was a statement made in the 1950s, but here is a statement made last week, by William Voegli, editor of the conservative journal, The Claremont Review:

Liberals believe in progress because they believe in a virtuous circle. As a society becomes more free it progresses, and as it progresses it becomes more free.” (citation)

The natural movement of history, unless stymied by reactionary forces, is from less freedom to more, and never from more freedom to less. Conservatives, on other hand, do believe in original sin, as I certainly do, and I quote Voegli again:

Conservatives see little basis to embrace the conviction that progress will reveal humans to possess unfulfilled or unrealized capacities for reason, freedom, and love. They believe, rather, that it is wise to take our bearings from the abundant historical evidence that human nature reveals astounding capacities for savagery, hatred, and idiocy. (Thomas Hobbes, thou art living at this hour.) Therefore, while liberals want to make the world a better place, conservatives want to keep it from becoming even worse. [could not find citation after repeated searches; it is possible that the quotations ends before the parenthesis]

Voegli concludes that “the urgent work of maintaining civilization is constant.” By that he means, and I agree with him from a postmodernist perspective he would probably reject, that the absence of a view of history assuming an internal logic in the direction of the good means that we had better take care to maintain those institutional arrangements that we cherish, institutional arrangements that in the course of a history that has no teleology but only events we have been lucky enough to hit on. That is, there are certain arrangements, associations, structures, and institutions that turn up in the course of human history that are extremely beneficial and healthy and inspiring—but it’s just a contingent accident that this has happened, which means that we must work contingently, empirically, pragmatically, to ensure that they stay around.

Now, I believe that the liberal arts college…is one of those arrangements that should be maintained and preserved rather than perfected. “Perfection” is a bad idea, in part for reasons that Isaiah Berlin gave in his famous essay on two kinds of liberty. I believe that because the schemes of perfection given to us in the statement of the student protestors all have the fatal defect of turning the college or university into a vehicle for the realization of a political ideal, the equal freedom of all people in a world untainted by injustice and discrimination. I do not quarrel with the ideal. I quarrel with the assumption that it is the university’s job to implement it. Not only do colleges and universities have their own job, … to enquire into the truth of things and to do so in a way that leads to understanding rather than to political action, but if universities allow their energies and resources to put in the service of other jobs, no matter how worthy, they will lose their distinctiveness, and any rationale for their existence. After all, if the academic life is just an extension of politics, why not just dispense with all that scholarly apparatus and get right down to it—get right down to the business of canvassing for votes and securing political power? Perfectionist progressivism is the enemy of what we have, and given that what we have here at Wesleyan and elsewhere is a precarious achievement, it behooves us to hang on to it, even if in the eyes of many, the liberal arts model is outdated, reactionary, and something in the nature of a museum. Another way to put this: we should wear the label “ivory tower” proudly, and should wear no other.

It is sometimes said that the postmodernist or deconstructive view of human actions as untethered to any foundational truth is a recipe for relativism and nihilism, on the reasoning if there’s nothing holding everything up or holding everything together, we can do whatever we like without fearing any ultimate consequences. But in fact, the reverse is true: if there is nothing holding everything up or holding it together, we cannot rely on time and history to protect those things we love, and, to borrow a phrase of the poet John Milton, to protect those things we would not willingly let die. If you like something, a way of life, a mode of practice, a mode of being, a mode of practice that captures you to the extent of becoming indistinguishable from you, I am what I do, then you had better work hard to ensure that it will still be around for you and for those who come after you and want to live that life and not another.

In a non-foundational world, no abiding fundamental truth is going to save us, and no abiding fundamental truth is going to preserve what we cherish. We have to do it ourselves. Which means doing consistent battle with those, including our students, who would take it away from us, who would appropriate and “occupy”—not a verb casually chosen—the structures that house and enable the distinctive activity that goes by the name “liberal arts education.”

You might think that my talk of “battle” is hyperbolic. But listen to a Yale student in the course of harassing a hapless, low-level administrator. At one point, she relaxed the stream of expletives she was hurling at him to say, and I quote, “What you’ve got to understand is that it’s not about creating an intellectual space, it’s about creating a home.”….

What should be done, and who is to do it? Well, given what I have said here, the resolution of the present set of controversies will not be found in some theory or master algorithm or failsafe, all-purpose method. It will be found, if it is found at all, in the actions of skilled administrators who, after all, are the ones responsible for keeping the enterprise going.

Now, quite clearly I am not an anti-foundationalist. But I’m anti-everybody-else’s-foundation; I mean, I’m anti-all-non-Christian-foundations. So Fish and I actually share a great deal. I’m also not a straight-up postmodern, so I am not “absen[t] of a view of history assuming an internal logic in the direction of the good.” History has a teleology to which we have access; something Someone is holding it all together.

But someone’s also trying to break it apart, and in the age that that adversary rules internal logics go awry, and not everything has yet been brought under Christ’s feet to fully serve their created teleology.

So once again Fish and I can share a lot of agreement. The fact that God is holding everything together, including my own life and sanctification, doesn’t absolve me of the responsibility to “make every effort” to add virtue to my faith (2 Peter 1). Likewise, the fact that man proposes and God disposes doesn’t mean I should stop proposing. I propose to do what I can, what little I can, to maintain the institutions that stabilize and promote my values. It is the leaders of these institutions—the “administrators” of Fish’s example—who are charged with keeping the enterprises going. And I’m trying to help them, and to be a bit of a junior administrator myself.

The portions of fundamentalism that shaped me were 92% “beneficial and healthy and inspiring”—although that means they were 8% fallen, and that means some weeding within my tradition. What can I do when I see the good except to try to preserve it, even in the face of persistent original sin? There aren’t any unstained mantles available out there; I checked. And though weaving a new one is always an option, I don’t think it’s very humble or grateful to try that first. I have to pick up the holes and stains in the fundamentalist mantle if I’m going to pick it up at all. I’ll add my own holes and stains as time passes, through my own “savagery and hatred and idiocy,” but I seek by God’s grace to restore more of the mantle than I rip. What else can I do?