UnPhiltered Moral Philosophy: Phil Robertson Speaks Out Again


About 15 months ago, Duck Dynasty star, Christian media mogul, entrepreneur, and popular preaching circuit speaker Phil Robertson took some flack in the press for his candid and biblical description of homosexual behavior as recorded in an interview with GQ.  In the midst of a controversy over his comments, Robertson was suspended from his own A&E Network Reality show.  The outcry over his comments, as well as his suspension, was short.   In little time, Phil’s legions of supportive, evangelical Christian fans demanded that he be returned to A&E’s airwaves.  He was.  Consumers demanded and the market supplied.  This week, Robertson has once again come under fire for candid and graphic comments.  In a recent speaking engagement at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast Robertson said:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them, they probably would say ‘something about this just ain’t right.’”

There is no shortage of outrage over Robertson’s latest candid comments.  Even in the Christian community, some have complained that Robertson’s comments were too graphic.  Others have complained that Roberston’s comments did not fairly represent the atheistic worldview.  Dustin Chalker of the Mobile (Alabama) Atheist Community reacted to Robertson’s comments by saying, “Robertson has made a mistake so old and so worn out that it can only be a deliberate lie or a result of sheer ignorance.  Atheism is not, and never has been, a synonym for moral nihilism… Rather than obedience to a mystical authority that probably doesn’t exist, atheist morality is based on things that we can prove: other humans exist and behavioral self-regulation is necessary for peaceful coexistence.”  Is Chalker correct?[1]

Notice that Robertson did not argue that atheists can’t act morally.  It’s a misunderstanding of his argument (a common one) to state otherwise.  Rather Robertson’s argument was that atheists have no objective justification to declare actions moral or immoral.  As Chalker noted, Robertson’s argument is an “old” one, but it’s hardly “worn out”.  As Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig has noted, z moral argument like the one used by Robertson is perhaps the most powerful argument against the atheistic worldview.  It’s not hard to image that Robertson, who has a master’s degree in education, knows that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s wrote through his character Ivan Karamazov that “everything is permitted” in a world without God.  There is hardly any outrage to be had over the classic writing of Dostoevsky.  Yet, Robertson is roundly condemned. Robertson, in his straightforward manner, has put forth a classic argument that Christian theists commonly level against atheism.

  1. If God does not exist, Objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Atheists and theists alike generally agree on premise 1.  Where they differ is on premise #2.  Robertson’s comments were clearly meant to engender an emotional and intellectual reaction that would cause his hearers to affirm premise #2.  Using rape an example of an objective moral evil is a common tactic, not just of for frank country boys like Robertson, but for intellectuals and academics.   The following story was republished in Jeremy Evans’ The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs in order to demonstrate the moral evil of rape:

“[Consider] a little girl in Flint, Michigan who was severely beaten, raped, and then strangled by her mother’s boyfriend on New Year’s Day of 1986. The girl’s mother was living with her boyfriend, another man who was unemployed, her two children, and her nine-month old infant fathered by the boyfriend. On New Year’s Eve all three adults were drinking at a bar near the woman’s home. The boyfriend had been taking drugs and drinking heavily. He was asked to leave the bar at 8: 00 p.m. After several reappearances he finally stayed away for good about 9: 30 p.m. The woman and the unemployed man remained at the bar until 2: 00 a.m. at which time the woman went home and the man to a party at a neighbor’s home. Perhaps out of jealousy, the boyfriend attacked the woman when she walked in the house. Her brother was there and broke up the fight by hitting the boyfriend who was passed out and slumped over a table when the brother left. Later the boyfriend attacked the woman again, and this time she knocked him unconscious. After checking the children, she went to bed. Later the woman’s five-year-old girl went downstairs to go to the bathroom. The unemployed man returned from the party at 3: 45 a.m. and found the five-year-old girl dead. She had been raped, severely beaten over most of her body, and strangled to death by the boyfriend.”[2]

The graphic story above is about the brutal rape of a little girl and it was printed in a philosophy book published by an academic press.  No one is criticizing Professor Jeremy Evans in the Huffington Post. Robertson’s words are hardly shocking to Christians apologists regularly engaged in defense of a Christian worldview.  The question, “Is it always wrong to murder a child for fun?” is the stock question asked by Christian apologists to atheists to support premise 2 of the moral argument.

Despite to the rhetoric of Dustin Chalker, atheists cannot prove that is objectively wrong to rape and murder children…even though they know it is.  Phil Robertson is right.  Evangelical Christians should support these statements rather than decry them.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] Atheist Philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche would almost certainly disagree with Chalker.

[2] Evans, Jeremy A. (2013-03-01). The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs (NONE) (p. 24). B&H Academic. Kindle Edition.

DISMANTLING THE JETHRO PRINCIPAL

Overlaying the Jethro Principle

For those who believe in the inerrancy of scripture, the essential questions of Christian theology were settled long ago by the church fathers and their answers reiterated by the reformers.  Except for the finer points of eschatology and soteriology, evangelical theologians have all but settled upon a systematic theology of Christianity.  For those in the publishing business, this poses a peculiar conundrum.  There is nothing new under the sun about which to write, but books must be printed to keep the presses, academic and popular, in business.  This is perhaps why the top-selling Christian books of 2014 included superficially biblical titles about dieting, money-management, relationships, signals of the end-times, heaven tourism, (montanist) devotional reflection, prosperity-gospel motivation, and Christian celebrities.[1]  One of the top-selling books of 2014 was I am a Church Member by Christian leadership guru Thom Rainer.  Church Leadership has become a very popular subject in Christian circles.  Since the theological question of what the church is is long-settled, some authors have take to writing about the contemporary question of how the church should be administered and marketed; they search the scriptures to support their findings.  In so doing these authors run the risk of advocating for “scriptural” leadership principals that aren’t really prescribed in the bible.  The “Jethro Principle,” purportedly gleaned from the book of Exodus, is one such principle.  Christian leadership teacher Robert Welch has identified and written-about common-sense business management principles regularly taught in secular business schools,[2] which are potentially helpful in administering churches, and overlaid an eisigetical biblical foundation over top of them.  While these business principles are good, useful common grace insights and sometimes proper to use in a church context, they are not scriptural and should not be considered as such.

The book of Exodus is a historical narrative that “recounts the formative event in Israel’s history, ‘the departure from Egypt.’…The book centers on two crucial divine acts in Israel’s history; God mightily delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (1:1-18:26), and he entered into covenant with them at Mt. Sinai (19:1-40:38).”[3]  Within the eighteenth chapter of this powerful and dramatic account of God’s power and providence, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advises him to appoint judges to help administer the nation of Israel’s large population lest he wear himself out trying to do so all on his own.  It is within this chapter of Exodus that Robert Welch purports to have identified “A Biblical Foundation for Organization.”[4]  Welch is mistaken.  Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush made no mention of a mini-leadership academy put on by Jethro for the former prince of Egypt, Moses, in their comprehensive book Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament.  In considering the implications of Exodus 18, Venerated biblical commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “We have reason to value government as a very great mercy, and to thank God for laws and magistrates, so that we are not like the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less.”[5]  Henry made no mention of management principles in his commentary.  His assessment is very good in that the immediate audience of the book of Exodus, the ancient Israelites, could look back upon their own history and understand the way in which they came to be governed.

Robert Welch has claimed something more for this biblical text, however.  In Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry, Welch presents Exodus Chapter 18 as illustrating a “Moses Model”[6] of leadership.  Paraphrasing the text, Welch put the following words in the mouth of Jethro, “You’re crazy! If you keep this up you are going to experience burnout in ministry. What will become of my daughter if you go over the deep end? But worse yet, what will become of the people?”[7]  Chuck Smith, pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel, similarly paraphrased Jethro in his commentary in Exodus 18 as follows, “Hey Moses, hey you’re gonna kill yourself, man, trying to keep up that heavy schedule. You can’t do it. So it isn’t right that you just wear yourself out in doing it. So you need to get other men to help you with this thing.”[8]  Both Welch and Smith transform Jethro from an ancient Midianite priest giving advice to his son-in-law to a modern management consultant rapping with a client in a hip vernacular as he presents his “Jethro Principle” of leadership.  To do so stretches the historical narrative of Exodus beyond its exegetical limits.  There simply is no prescribed Jethro Principle in scripture.  Sam Storms communicated the matter well in his article The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster, writing that those who advocate the Moses Model “ground their authority in an unbiblical appeal to the example of OT figures.”[9]  Storms rightly concluded that the structures and spiritual authority operative in the Old Covenant aren’t necessarily applied to life of the church in the New Covenant.  This doesn’t mean that such structures are not useful and worthy of consideration.  Even where common-sense management principles are eisegesed, they can be useful.  There are eight key concepts of the Jethro-principled “Moses Model” which deserve the consideration, the careful consideration, of those in church leadership:

  1. One individual cannot do the work of ministry alone
  2. It will lead to burnout – of the leader and the people
  3. The leader is to do the primary task – represent to God, instruct and teach, etc.
  4. The leader is to select qualified persons to assist him
  5. The leader is to delegate to those individuals portions of the task
  6. These subordinates report back to the leader
  7. The load will be lightened; the leader will endure
  8. The people will be satisfied participants

 #1 – Going It Alone

It’s hard to imagine a CEO running a company all by himself, working noon and night everywhere from the factory floor to the penthouse boardroom.  It just can’t be done.  Similarly, Moses could not reasonably be expected to judge every contentious situation that arose around among millions of sojourning Israelites.  His father-in-law’s advice to appoint judges to help do so was good.  Moses was smart to take it.  A pastor who tries to take care of every facet of church business by his lonesome is almost certainly doomed to failure.  A pastor who is surrounded by a plurality of elders and servant-hearted deacons will find that many hands make light work.  However, it should be noted that the offices of CEO, Prophet, and Pastor are very different.  Though each is a leadership office, what works for one may not work for or be appropriate for another.  Moses was not a CEO and neither was he pastor.  The “Moses Model” seems to justify the existence of the highly-compensated mega-church CEO-model pastor who has no time to personally shepherd each member of his flock because there are far too many of them for him to do so.  The local church and the million-strong[10] Old-Covenant ancient political nation of Israel are simply not comparable on an apples to apples basis.  The best possible comparison to a Moses Model pastor of millions is the Pope of Rome, who no evangelical pastor should seek to emulate.  When a pastor becomes a “Moses” he gains his own cult of personality. While such a cult is workable for for-profit companies such as Apple and its visionary founder, Steve Jobs.  All too often a vision-casting pastor becomes as venerated as Moses when the only personality cult a church should subscribe to is that of Jesus Christ.  It’s His church.

#2 – Flaming Out

Ministry “burnout” was not an extant concept during the time of Moses.  Neither was the local church or seminary.  It’s true that “between one-third and one-half of a seminary’s graduates are not in church ministerial leadership positions a decade after graduation.”[11]  However, this statistic is completely irrelevant to the life of Moses, who was called by God out of the burning bush.  Moses’ call is indubitable since it is recorded in Holy Scripture.  The “calling” of individual seminary students is not a matter of biblical revelation but their own personal claims.  The droves of seminary graduates who do not last in vocational ministry may have just made poor career choices and gotten a professional degree not suited to themselves.  73% of protestant pastors work more than 50 hours a week.[12]  Such grueling workweeks are similar to the ones worked in other high-burnout professions such as law and accountancy.[13]  In an article posted at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants website entitled The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout, Ron Rael, a CPA and “leadership consultant”[14] recommended that CPAs combat burnout by “developing a personal mission statement.”[15]  This is the same advice given by church leadership consultant Aubrey Malphurs in Chapter 8 of his book, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership.  In The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout Rael cites career burnout causes that are very similar to the ministry burnout causes cited by Robert Welch in his book.  There is simply no “Jethro Principal” for how to avoid burnout.  Burnout is just a potential pitfall of any stressful career.  Though the idea of ministry burnout was unheard of in Moses day, people did know what it was like to get tired.  Moses was no exception.  He needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms while the Israelites battled Amalek[16] because his arms were tired.  Moses needed to appoint judges over the people to keep from wearing out both himself and the people awaiting his decisions.  Pastors don’t need examples from historical narrative to tell them not to try and do everything themselves.  Common grace provides that common sense insight.  Rael’s advice rings just as true as that of Welch and Malphurs without an artificial scriptural overlay.

 #3 – Preaching and Teaching

Moses is not a type of pastor; Moses is a type of Christ.  In the New Testament church, Jesus has replaced Old Testament figures such as Moses as the mediator between God and man.[17]  The Jethro Principal idea that pastors somehow represent God before the people is a faulty one.  Each member of the New Testament church is a member of the priesthood of all believers and is in relationship with God Himself through Jesus.  A pastor does, like Moses, have a responsibility to preach and teach.  Being two thousand years removed from the writing of the last book of scripture, pastors need significant study time to determine how to communicate timeless truths recorded in ancient languages to contemporary people.  In his day, Moses talked to God to God “face-to-face”[18]; pastors have God’s word in old, written scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Reading the Bible is not exactly a face-to-face conversation and communicating it requires intense study. Without day-to-day shepherding assistance from fellow elders, a teaching pastor may not be able to adequately present an understandable sermon each Sunday.

#4 – Looking for Help

There are clear scriptural qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon.  No church should appoint individuals to these offices who do not meet those qualifications.  This is not a requirement gleaned from any secular management school and it’s certainly not a Jethro Principle.  It is a requirement plainly stated in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles.  The Pastoral Epistles do not speak to the hiring of janitors and secretaries (W-2 employees).  Neither does Exodus 18.  In Exodus 18, Moses is essentially appointing officials in the Israelite civil government.  This scripture simply does not apply to hiring paid church staff nor does it imply that such hires should be made at all.  If church leaders do choose to hire paid staff, they should use the same caution and business sense that secular business use.  Furthermore, they should stop and ask themselves the questions, “Are we employing hirelings like a secular business would do?  If so, Why?”

#5 – Sharing the Load

The larger a secular business organization becomes the more employees and more departments it needs to run: finance, operations, warehousing, shipping, legal, human resources, and administration.  Additional executives, middle managers, and shop-floor managers are needed to help operate these departments and carry out their business functions.  In the realm of secular business, no one would ever call such leaders “commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”[19] Even to many Christian businessmen, doing so would seem completely absurd.  Hiring such managers is simply how business…not church…is done.  To be certain such managers should, like Moses’ judges, be trustworthy men who abhor corruption.  Crooked managers are bad for the bottom-line.  As churches grow (perhaps into megachurches), more and more middle-managers are needed.  However, it sounds tacky at best to call church leaders “middle-managers.”  Thus, they become ministers of certain age groups and operations functions.  Under the “Moses Model” this is biblical.  On any other model, it’s simply business as usual.

#6 – Supervision

Advocates of the Jethro Principle believe that it demonstrates by biblical example that subordinates should report to their supervisors.  This is perhaps the biggest strain on credulity foisted by the Jethro Principle upon those who study church administration.  Even before Exodus 18, Joseph reported to Pharaoh, his jailer, Potipher, and his father.  His doing so doesn’t seem out of place to the biblical reader because that’s just what subordinates do…they report to their leaders.  The idea that Exodus 18 somehow draws this out for the church to see is ridiculous.  Of course subordinates, in any organization, should report to their leaders.  The better the relationship between subordinates and their leaders, the more efficient and effective their organizations will be.  Supervisors, whether they are shop-floor managers or sergeants, should be trained to manage people respectfully.  Church employment, paid or volunteered, is no exception.  No one needs Exodus 18 to understand this.  It doesn’t teach this.

#7 Enduring in Ministry

Some leaders will burn out no matter what their job is.  Leaders with a great support staff are less likely to burn out.  This is true of anyone from a football coach to a construction foreman.  If a top leader, such as a CEO, has a great supporting team from top-to-bottom, his company is bound to be successful.  Pastors are not CEOs. Pastors are also not Old Testament prophets.  Moses endured because it was simply the will of God that he do so.  He was called for a specific task by God and God’s plans do not fail.  It may be the case that a given pastor endures in ministry because it is God’s will for his life.  Endurance in the ministry is not a matter the financial bottom line, a support staff, or an organizational chart.  It is a matter of prayer and spiritual strength and the sweet and gentle mercy of a loving and forgiving God.  It’s not a Jethro Principle matter at all.

#8 Satisfied Sheep

It’s a commonly accepted tenet of business that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to win a new one.  There is a great danger of in the ministry of looking at church attendees as not served sheep but satisfied customers. In November of 2014, Thom Rainer wrote a blog post about the “Top 10 Ways to Drive Away” First Time Guests.  In his post, Rainer listed reasons why someone might visit a church once but never again.  Many of the reasons were the same reasons someone might not go back to a restaurant or tourist attraction after an unsatisfactory visit.  People don’t like to wait in long lines at the DMV, the theme park, or to be judged by a prophet.  Churches need to do a gut check when engaging in Jethro-Principle-style delegation.  Are they doing so to meet ministry needs or are they doing so to keep people from going to church somewhere else.  Hungry people are going to out to eat somewhere; saved people are going to go church somewhere.  Pastors should concern themselves with being available to their sheep themselves, not concerned simply with making someone available. If a church is as big an Old Testament Israel so that a few elders can’t handle everyone’s needs, maybe it’s just too big.

A Personal Perspective

Before I enrolled in seminary, I completed two business degrees at secular public universities.  I’ve worked in the business world as an accountant for almost 10 years.  I’ve had plenty of leadership training during my time in school and time at work.  The only difference between what I’ve been presented with in that training and what I’ve been presented with studying leadership in seminary is a facade of scripture.  Otherwise, it’s no different.  I think it should be.  Christian leaders err when they pretend that there are scriptural Jethro Principles of leadership in the bible that just happen to look like common-grace business ideas from the for-profit, government, or military world.  It’s said that Alexander the Great wept when there were no more world’s left for him to conquer.  Perhaps the academic theologian wept when he saw that Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley had already written all the theology left to write.  Christian orthodoxy was pretty much figured out except for two pedals on a tulip and millennium that may or may not have come.  Drying his tears, the academic theologian decided he could write on biblical leadership…and it came out looking a lot like John Bisagno’s recommendation to make the church look like Starbucks and Disney World.

Secular business ideas work; they are good….but they are not scripture and they are not meant for a profit-disinterested church.  I see no difference between the Ron Rael’s of the world and the Aubrey Malphur’s of the church.  Why does the church need a management consultant?  Didn’t God give it a Bible and His Holy Spirit?  Career ministers who have never worked in the secular world or been educated at a secular college may think they are receiving some unique Christian insight when studying Jethro-Principal-type material.  They are not.  I understand that it is the responsibility of a seminary to prepare pastors to work in churches.  I understand that modern churches are becoming more and more corporate as they struggle over attracting a dwindling attendance base.  Teaching leadership is a good thing.  Yet, somehow my most frustrating experience as a seminary student has been studying secular leadership and profit-making principles subtly disguised as biblical wisdom.  It shouldn’t be this way.  I love God and I love His word.  It’s so much greater than the wisdom of this world.  I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be able to study God’s word with fine brothers in seminary.  Christians should respect God’s word and be honest enough to not teach secular leadership, no matter how useful it seems and how good it sells, and say it comes from God’s Holy Word in Exodus 18.  It does not.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Bibliography

Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/ (accessed March 10, 2015).

Holdridge, Bill. “The Real Moses Model.” Calvarychapel.com. 2015. http://www.calvarychapel.com/resources/article/view/calvary-chapel-and-the-moses-model/ (accessed March 9, 2015).

LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. “Chuck Smith (pastor).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. February 20, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chuck_Smith_(pastor)&oldid=648007395 (accessed March 9, 2015).

[1] Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

[2] Welch has written about about Drucker and Taylor, both of whom I studied while earning my undergraduate business degree.

[3] LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996, p.63-65.

[4] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[5] Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024

[6] Welch does not use the term “Moses Model” in his book but this somewhat popular term accurately described what he presents.

[7] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[8] Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024

[9] Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

[10] Fighting men alone were 603,550 according to Number 1:46

[11] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, location 80 of 10184

[12] Ibid 165 of 10184

[13] I am an accountant.  I have personally witnessed and experienced high turnover and burnout in the public accounting profession from working long hours.

[14] High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/

[15] Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

[16] Exodus 17

[17] Hebrews 9:15

[18] Exodus 33:11

[19] Exodus 18:21

Situational Hitting: A Personal Perspective on Apologetic Method

If I didn’t believe that the gospel was true, I would have no incentive whatsoever to make a defense of it.  Since I do believe that the gospel is true, I do have an incentive, upon which I act, to defend it.  Thus, whenever I engage in apologetic activity, I do so presupposing that the gospel is true. I would not say, however, that this makes me a presuppositional apologist.  In fact, I would not say that my apologetic activity is grounded in any specifically identified apologetic method; it is grounded in scripture. Specifically, it is grounded in the prescription Peter gave to the church: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”[1]  In his prescription, Peter does not designate a specific method by which to make such a defense.  Classifications of apologetic methods as designated by contemporary Christian theologians, such as classical apologetics, evidentialism, presuppositionalism, reformed epistemology, and cumulative case apologetics[2], were unknown to Peter and the other biblical writers.  While there is a clear scriptural prescription to engage in apologetics, there is no scriptural prescription given to us by the biblical writers to use a specific apologetic method.  There are certainly examples of apologetic activity in scripture that the Christian can look to for guidance.  However, these examples are only descriptive.  This being so, the Christian is free to employ whatever apologetic method he deems appropriate for any given situation.  The only requirement is that he be ever-ready to do so with “gentleness and reverence.”  My personal preference is to engage in presuppositional apologetics because this method allows me to stick closely to scripture as I contend for the faith. However, my Christian duty is to utilize that method of apologetics which is most appropriate for a specific situation.  Thus, it is often the case that I engage in a variety of apologetic methods to provide a situationally appropriate defense for my hope in Christ.

I liken my personal apologetic method to my behavior at the plate when playing for my church-league softball team.  In any given at bat, my personal preference is to cut loose, swing-away, and see just how far I can hit the ball (hopefully over the fence).  This is a low-percentage proposition as compared to trying to hit the ball the other way, using speed and bat control to get on base, or simply working the count, not swinging at all, in order to try and earn a walk (thereby frustrating the psyche of the pitcher).  The game situation dictates my plate approach.  No matter my approach preference for any given at-bat, it is subordinate to my preference to win the game.  I cannot, in good faith, justify a swing-away plate approach to my coach and teammates when the game situation does not call for such an approach.  In the same way, I cannot justify using my preferred presuppositional apologetic approach to the church and to God when the given situation calls for a different apologetic method.  Therefore, the key to being justified in my choice of apologetic method lies in identifying the situationally appropriate apologetic method and utilizing it.

A clear biblical example of a presuppositional apologetic would be the speech of Stephen in Acts 6-7 (though, I wouldn’t wish for myself the results that Stephen got).  Stephen’s apologetic was appropriate to his audience because both he and his audience agreed that scripture was true and authoritative.  Such an apologetic method would be appropriate for me to use with a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Roman Catholic, a member of the Church of Christ, or even a Muslim.  Such an apologetic would also be appropriate to use with anyone, even someone with no religious belief, who challenged the Christian hope based upon a misunderstanding of (not a historical objection to) scripture.  Given that Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,”[3] it’s hard to imagine a time when a presuppositional approach is ever inappropriate. However, it should be remembered that Paul was writing Timothy in a pastoral context and not necessarily an apologetic one.  Quoting scripture to an unregenerate person, especially one who already suppress God’s general revelation in unrighteousness[4] may prove ineffective with and even aggravating to that person.  This has often been my personal experience, even when showing an unbeliever where her stated beliefs align with scripture.

When someone challenging the Christian faith is hostile to an apologetic that presupposes scripture, it is prudent to use a different method.  When the apologetic discussion concerns the nature and historicity of Jesus, as it so often does, an evidentialist approach is wise.  The evidential approach, especially Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach, is helpful in such a situation given that there is extra-biblical evidence about the life of Jesus with which to interact.  Building upon this evidence, one can develop a “poached-egg”[5] argument for the deity of Christ.  Furthermore, once the historicity of Jesus can be established, the gospel texts (scripture) can be employed as non-presuppositional apologetic tools. Since the gospel texts are historical accounts, the theological truths about Christ which they contain can be snuck in the back door of the historical discussion, as it were.  Establishing Jesus as the risen Jewish Messiah also serves to establish the Old Testament as reliable, given its Christological prophecies and Jesus’ references to it as authoritative.  (Jesus himself used a method quite like this on the Emmaus road in Luke 24.)  An advantage to this evidential approach is that there is popular and accessible literature that utilizes it.  The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace are two books to which skeptics can be referred.  Both Strobel and Wallace are former nonbelievers who were won to Christ in the midst of their investigations into the person of Jesus and provide widely known testimonies about Christian conversions.


Some skeptics are both hostile to scripture and to the possibility of supernatural occurrences.  Such individuals are likely to be unswayed by an evidential argument that points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  Their anti-supernatural bias will not accommodate such an explanation.  Thus, their anti-supernatural bias itself must be challenged before specific evidence for the Christian faith can be presented.  In such a case, the situation calls for classical apologetics.  The arguments of classical apologetics provide strong challenges to atheism and deism.  Ontological, teleological, moral, and cosmological arguments can all demonstrate that non-deistic theism is a more rational than alternative beliefs. In Romans 1, Paul, while not employing the names of the specific arguments listed above, makes it clear that the propositions and conclusions of such arguments are reasonable.  Not only do these arguments tie in with scripture (special revelation), they can be supported by scientific findings (general revelation).  The fine-tuning of the universe indicates that it was designed.  The standard cosmological model indicates that the universe began to exist.  These arguments also demonstrate the limits of scientific knowledge, which is often solely relied upon by skeptics.  Science cannot determine what actions and values are moral.  Nor can it prove or disprove the existence of immaterial persons (i.e. God and Angels).  Logic favors the Christian.  Once non-deistic theism is adopted as a rational belief system, anti-supernaturalism can be abandoned.  Once anti-supernaturalism is abandoned, arguments about God’s actions in the world can be accepted.  Once arguments about God’s actions in the world are accepted, scripture can be seriously considered.

Unfortunately, there are still those skeptics would will refuse to acquiesce to the classical arguments of theism.  These same individuals, however, may still be sympathetic to the views of those who are swayed by them.  They may also be sympathetic an apologetic from reformed epistemology.  The apologetic prescription given by Peter is to “make a defense.”  There is always a great-commission obligation to make disciples and teach what the Lord Jesus commanded, however, the apologetic obligation is to simply make a defense.  Therefore, a biblically faithful apologetic doesn’t necessitate that the skeptic or persecutor ends up believing exactly like the Christian apologist.  The skeptic may only end up believing that the Christian is reasonable in holding to the hope that is within him.  For a situation in which the skeptic may be completely reprobate and is hostile to all other apologetic methods, reformed epistemology is situationally appropriate.  Using reformed epistemology, the believer can demonstrate that his belief is properly basic.  While the apologist may not be able to show the skeptic that Christianity is true, he can reasonably justify that he knows Christianity to be true in his own heart.  The skeptic, having been shown that the Christian is rational to hold to hope in gospel of Christ, has shakier intellectual ground from which to attack the belief of the Christian.

No matter what apologetic method is called for, I think it is important to remember that human beings are created for relationships.  We are firstly created to have a loving relationship with God and secondly created to have a loving relationship with other humans.  This is where my softball analogy breaks down.  Sport is all about winning the game.  Apologetics, however, is not about winning the argument.  People do not need to be beaten over the head with argumentation but rather pricked by the Holy Spirit.  Christian apologetics is about winning the person.  To do so, a relationship must be developed.  When I develop relationships with non-believers, I know that, over time, I will be able to present every apologetic method to them.  In doing so, my life, can become a kind of a cumulative case apologetic.  Through living in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can demonstrate by my Christian walk that the Christian way of life is fruitful, livable, and consistent.  Through interacting with people on a regular basis, I can remember to pray for them, by name, that they might be saved.  To be a successful apologist once must present himself as a living sacrifice.  A living sacrifice sanctifies Christ in his heart and is always ready to gracefully make a defense for the hope that is within him.  Being a living sacrifice is situationally appropriate at all times for the Christian life.  Being a living sacrifice will make one ready to use situationally appropriate apologetic methods.   This grounds my preferred apologetic method.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] 1 Peter 3:15

[2] I took these specific names from the course textbook, Five Views on Apologetics.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:16

[4] Romans 1:18

[5] Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord

A Philosophical Analysis of “How to Murder Children: Bible Style”

The list pictured above is an anti-Christian meme making its way around the internet.  It is one that is typical of the evangelistic new atheism movement.  The list is credited to the “We F**king Love Atheism” Facebook page.  The lists’ authors seek to discredit the biblical text with numerous specious assertions that paint The Bible in a barbaric light.  A philosophical analysis of “murder” on an atheistic worldview and a hermetically faithful examination of the texts presented show that this list is rather a weak one that exhibits either a remarkable ignorance of the biblical text or an egregious intentional misrepresentations of what Christians believe.  An analysis of the biblical texts has already been done by Theologians in the Field.  Here I will provide a philosophical analysis of the message the list attempts to communicate.

A Philosophical Analysis of Murder on an Atheistic Worldview

The title of this list is “How to Murder Children: Bible Style” not “How to Kill Children: Bible Style”.  This is an important distinction because the term “murder” carries a moral connotation that the term “kill” does not.  For example, when a whale eats a seal, no one accuses the whale of “murdering” the seal.  Rather people simply observe that whale “kills” the seal because moral standards are not assigned to animals.  No injustice is implied.  However, if a man kills another human being in the course of a robbery, he is rightly considered a murderer because he has killed someone unjustly.  Moral standards are applied to humans by other humans.

However, on an atheistic worldview, humans are just one more species of animal, albeit a highly involved one.  On this worldview, morality is grounded either in the evolutionary process or in the standards of societies and governments.  Where it is grounded on an atheistic worldview, morality is ultimately subjective.  Objective moral values and duties do not exist.  As evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins has observed, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”  Since there is no objective good and evil, killing acts are arbitrarily designated as “murder” by societies.  In the eyes of the modern American, Nazi Germany murdered 6,000,000 Jewish human beings during the holocaust.  In the eyes a German from the Nazi era, Nazi Germany “exterminated” 6,000,000 Jews who were considered “life unworthy of life”  Both the American and the German would agree that killing was done, however, they would disagree on whether or not the Jews were murdered.

Since there are no such things as objective moral values and duties on an atheistic worldview, it becomes impossible to universally define and condemn murder.  The definition of “murder” is grounded in a given culture; murder is culturally relative.  Thus, it makes no sense on atheistic worldview to call Old Testament stonings “murder” given that such stonings were killings sanctioned by the government and society at large.

Without addressing a single biblical citation in the list above in any depth, the “How to Murder Children: Bible Style” list is proven self-refuting on atheistic worldview.

On a Christian worldview, objective moral values and duties can exist given that God exists and is a sufficient source in Whom to ground them.  The atheist should examine the following syllogism:

  1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God Exists.

In consideration of proposition #2, the atheist should ask herself, “Do objective moral values and duties exist? Is it always morally impermissible to torture little children for fun?  Is it always morally impermissible to systematically exterminate unfavored ethnic groups?”  If the atheist answers these questions, “Yes” then she is intellectually bound to abandon her atheism.  Of course, abandoning atheism in this manner does not equate to accepting the truth value of Christianity.

The Christian God condemns murder and is rich in mercy.  It is wise to consider the word of this God as revealed in the Bible.  Forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God awaits any person who repents of her sin and places her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

For more on Old Testament Ethics and Christian Apologetics see: Is God a Moral Monster and When God Goes to Starbucks by Paul Copan.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

PHILOSOPHICAL AND BILBICAL REPONSES TO CLASSIC ARGUMENTS FROM EVIL

CLASSICAL ARUGMENTS FROM EVIL

Although the story recounted in the book of Job is not the oldest story portrayed in the Bible, the book Job itself, it is argued,[1] is the oldest of the divinely inspired canonical texts[2].  Fittingly, the protagonist of that book, Job the Uzzite, and his friends grapple with one of mankind’s oldest problems, the problem of evil. Through no fault of his own, Job suffers the loss of vast amounts of wealth, failing health, and the death of all his children.[3] A major theme of the book is how he and his friends cope with and try to understand the tragic events that have befallen him.  God’s role in and possible culpability for the horrible events in Job’s life, among other issues, are called into question.  Tragic situations like that of Job are hardly unique to him.  Mankind as a whole is beset by evil and ever-beleaguered by the negative experiences that accompany its manifestation.  Experiences like those of Job raise a classical philosophical quandary: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?”[4]

Enlightenment Philosopher, David Hume, credited the phrasing of this question to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.[5]  This question, as formulated by Epicurus,[6] is one of the oldest recorded statements about evil as it relates to God in Western thought. A more recent statement on this classical philosophical quandary, which has become formally known as “The Problem from Evil,” was formulated by philosopher of religion J.L. Mackie.  According to Mackie, the problem from Evil[7] in its simplest form is this: “God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”[8] This is a sobering statement; one that shakes the faith of many.  The Problem from Evil makes it seem as if theistic belief (in a wholly good, omnipotent God) contradicts itself.  Throughout the years, the simple problem from evil identified by Mackie and Epicurus has been challenged, rethought, and, perhaps as a result challenges, evolved into various, more nuanced arguments from evil.  Three such classical arguments from evil that every Christian apologist should understand and be prepared to refute are:[9] (1) The Logical Argument from Evil, (2) The Probabilistic Argument from Evil, (3) and the Argument from Gratuitous Evil.  These arguments can be refuted philosophically (using general revelation) as well as biblically (using special revelation); the Christian apologist should be prepared to use both general and special revelation to make a defense for the hope that is within him.[10]  Before engaging these arguments from evil, the apologist must also be acquainted with two understandings (or categories) of evil: (1) natural evil and (2) moral evil.  Furthermore, he must be wary of the temptation to engage in refutations of these arguments that are less than biblical for the sake of defeating them.  Scripture and general revelation provide avenues by which these arguments can be refuted in ways that are faithful to the biblical text and respectful of God’s perfect nature.

MORAL EVIL AND NATURAL EVIL

 “Evil comes in a plethora of types and instances, but the field divides into two categories: natural evil and human evil.  Natural evil is the natural world turned savage: tornadoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, floods. Diseases and deformity fill out this category, since they are not usually instigated by humans…Then there is evil from human hands (moral evil). It comes from the gun, the knife, the bomb, the pen and the tongue.”[11] Arguments from evil and the theodicies by which they are refuted interact with one or both of these categories of evil.  For example, in the minds of some, a soul-building theodicy may be a more plausible defense against an argument from natural evil than a free will theodicy. Thus, being able to identify the categories of evil to which various arguments from evil refer is very important to understanding them.  Unless, that is, one denies the existence of evil altogether. The idea that evil does not exist was popularized by Augustine. According to Augustine, evil is the result of the improper function of God’s creations, the result of the improper use of the free will which God has granted to his created beings.  These created beings all have their place in God’s ordered creation and sometimes evil is caused by their actions, whether it be natural evil (like a lion eating a baby) or moral evil (Satan rebelling against God).  In that sense, evil does not truly exist but is merely a privation of good.  For those who insist that evil does exist, it is generally understood in the two categories mentioned above.

GOD OR EVIL: THE LOGICAL ARGUMENT FROM EVIL

The logical argument from Evil is designed to show that the existence of an omnipotent, wholly good God is incompatible with the existence of evil.  It asks the question, if God is wholly good and created everything, how could evil exist?  It seems illogical that a good God would have (or even could have) created a world in which evil exists.  If one proposes that an all-powerful, all-knowing, entirely good God exists, he makes a logical contradiction if he proposes that evil exists as well.  Since evil clearly exists, according to the logical argument from evil, there cannot be such a God.  There are several different flavors of the logical argument from evil, each denies the theistic position.  J.L. Mackie’s simple statement, mentioned in the “Introduction” section above, is the most straightforward:

  • An omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God exists
  • Evil exists

Theists don’t necessarily see these positions as contradictory. Therefore, it us up to the atheistic critic to point out that they are.  No matter how well an atheist may argue, he is not able to do so.  Theists agree with atheists that it is illogical for one to hold contradictory beliefs[12] but deny that the logical argument from evil presents contrary positions.

A Free Will Defense and a Soul-Building Theodicy

Theists believe that one can believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God and believe that He created a world in which there is evil without engaging in a logical contradiction.  This belief is supported by The Free Will Defense, which proposes that God created a world in which beings have the capacity to choose to perform morally good actions or morally evil actions.  If God did not create such a world, there would be no moral value.  In other words, there cannot be a capacity for good unless there is a capacity for evil.  Beings have the free will to choose to do good or evil; sometimes beings will freely choose to do evil.  Any other state of affairs would render the world valueless.  Furthermore, God cannot be held morally responsible for this state of affairs, nor can His nonexistence be logically deduced from it given that “God cannot both create free beings and determine what they freely do.”[13]  J.L. Mackie himself, in the face of a Free Will defense admitted that the Problem from Evil does not demonstrate that theism is contradictory by stating “we can concede that the problem (from) evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”[14] Mackie is not the only person who has rejected his thesis.  “It is almost universally agreed that evil is logically compatible with the existence of God.”[15]

The Free Will defense, while sufficient, is not the only formidable refutation of the logical argument from evil. The soul-building theodicy of John Hick also counters this argument.  Hick’s soul-building argument posits that God has a plan and purpose for the world; God’s plan involves a growth and development for humans in which they should overcome evil.  Hick argued that the evil in the world that causes it to appear that God does not exist imparts value on the faith of those who believe He does.  The evil in the world helps those who overcome it build their souls. God’s purpose in allowing evil is soul-building; evil is the fire through which the metal of the soul is heated so that it may be hammered into its proper form.

A Biblical Response from Free Will

Evil exists, to summarize the free will discussion above, because God allows people freedom of choice; if people did not have the ability to choose to do right or wrong, life would essentially be meaningless.  Evil exists because God allows people the choice to be evil or do evil.  Thus, evil doesn’t come from a wholly good God but from humanity, whom God endowed with free will.  This is an adequate explanation for the existence of “moral” evil (i.e., murder, theft, rape) levied by humans against other humans; however, it does not provide an adequate explanation for the existence of “natural” evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes) levied by nature.  Humans can’t cause earthquakes and storms[16]; natural evils are not seemingly caused by free decisions.  However, the existence of natural evil in a world created by a wholly good God can still be justified.  One such justification is that that natural evils are indeed caused by free choice; not the free choice of humans but the free choice of lower supernatural beings (i.e. the devil and demons).  Another justification is that the potential for natural evil is the result of original sin which was brought about by the free will of Adam.  There are biblical passages to support these assertions.

In the book of Job, God allows Satan to test the faithfulness of the righteous and wealthy Job by giving Satan permission to take away everything the wealthy man has but his life.  Satan takes away Job’s wealth by various methods, which include natural evil.  While Job is being informed by the third of three messengers that all his livestock has been lost in a series of raids by hostile tribes, a fourth messenger arrives to inform him that his children have been killed: “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you’”[17]  Job’s children are slain by a natural evil, a “mighty wind.”  The destructive wind was not caused by random weather patterns; it was intentionally caused by Satan for the sole purpose of heaping misfortune upon Job.  Satan can cause natural evil.  The book of Job doesn’t go as far to report that Satan causes every single instance of natural evil, but it does show that he does have the power to cause such evil.  This in itself grants validity to the free will defense that natural evil is perhaps caused by the choice of supernatural beings other than God, such as Satan or demons.[18]

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul provides a foundation for the doctrine of original sin and its role in the existence of death.  Paul states, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”[19]  According to Paul, death came to everyone because of Adam’s original sin.  Because of original sin, mankind can die.  Being so cursed, man is subject to the calamities of natural evil.  Obviously, all natural evils do not cause death.  Every tornado or hurricane doesn’t kill a human, it may just destroy property.  However, just because a natural evil doesn’t cause immediate death does not mean that its occurrence is not a repercussion of original sin.  The curse upon man caused by original sin facilitates more than death alone.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam came by his sustenance in a leisurely manner.  Because of the curse, mankind is relegated to eking out a living by “the sweat of his brow.”[20]   In the Garden of Evil, Adam didn’t need a sustainable shelter, farm, or even clothing.  After the fall, because of the curse, such things are needed by man.  Thus, natural evils can destroy property without creating incongruence between God’s goodness and his omnipotence.

A Biblical Response from Soul-Building

Evil in whatever form it exists is a necessary evil.  In simpler words, if everything was all sunshine and rainbows, no one would appreciate sunshine and rainbows.  In effect, a world replete with evil serves as a crucible in which the human soul can spiritually mature. The following biblical passages support the notion that the endurance of evil gives value to the Christian life:  Romans 5:1-5 and 1 Peter 4:12-19.

According to Paul, Christians rejoice in their sufferings because suffering (which is surely considered “an evil”) indirectly produces hope.  Paul states, “…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”[21]  Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were indeed suffering.  They were subject to persecution from Romans of both Gentile and Jewish heritage for their dedication to Christ.  In any age and under any circumstance (no matter how dire); the Christian who perseveres builds spiritual character.  Through this character he can understand that his ultimate hope is deliverance through the Holy Spirit.  This deliverance does not necessarily have to manifest itself in the present age, but is more accurately considered to be a hope for deliverance in the age to come.  The sufferings of the world and its evils pale in comparison to the sufferings of the eternal damnation of hell.  The evil in the world helps Christians come to this understanding by indirectly building their character.  Without the presence of that evil, Christians would not truly understand the great gift they have received in the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s associate, Peter, echoes his sentiments in 1 Peter.  Peter specifically orders his Christian audience not to be perplexed by the evil that surrounds them.  He tells them “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”[22]  This statement endorses a viewpoint that starkly contrasts that of one who subscribes to a Problem-from-Evil-atheistic philosophy.  This kind of atheist doubts the existence of God based upon his perception of evil in the world.  Peter, on the other hand, sees the suffering of evil as by-product of a dedication to God.  Christ suffered and Christians are to rejoice in their opportunity to share in that suffering.  Peter sees suffering as a badge of honor to be pinned upon one’s chest by God himself.  Peter states, “…those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”[23]

Both Paul and Peter observe that suffering is a part of the Christian life.  Suffering, of course, is not limited to Christians alone.  The unrighteous suffer as well, but to a different end and in a different way.  Peter delineates how the Christian should endure suffering, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”[24] This is the same type of character-building suffering, to which Paul refers.  It is the kind of suffering that builds hope.  The atheist has no hope in his heart.  When he suffers or sees suffering, he can only endure it the ways of the unrighteous.  The unrighteous will be judged by God just as the righteous will, but the outcome of the judgment will be very different.  The suffering Christian can hold out hope for eternal salvation, suffering to the conclusion that he is an heir to the Kingdom of God. The suffering atheist, who will not recognize God’s existence, endures suffering to the false conclusion that there is no God.  The Christian’s soul is “built” through suffering; the atheist or even the lost theist cannot relate to this.

GOD COULD DO BETTER: THE PROBABILISTIC ARGMENT FROM EVIL

Whereas the logical argument from evil operates by logically inferring something like, “One cannot say that there is no fire while he yet says there is smoke,” the probabilistic argument from evil infers something like, “One can say that since there is smoke, there is probably fire.”  The probabilistic argument from evil posits that the existence of evil in the world may not disprove God’s existence but it certainly makes it less probable.  Like the logical argument from evil, the probabilistic argument from evil exists in several different versions.  These different versions are based upon the following premises:

  • If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and wholly good, He could have created any possible world.
  • Therefore, if God is as such, He would have created the best of all possible worlds.
  • Because evil exists, it’s unlikely that the actual world is the best world that could have been created.
  • Therefore, it’s not likely that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and wholly good God exists.

This soundness of this argument depends on knowing what God would do and thus it fails; presuming knowledge of God’s hypothetical actions is an exercise in hubris.

A Theodicy from Subjectivity

The theistic counter-argument to this argument from evil notes that the data set from which to probabilistically deny God is incomplete or unidentifiable.  What exactly is the “best” of all possible worlds and who is qualified to make that assessment? A theist could just as easily make an argument that God probably does exist if he picked his own prejudiced data set.  Different people have different opinions on what the best of all worlds is, would, or could be.  Furthermore, different people have different opinions on what evil itself is.  It turns out that, because of the nature of subjectivity, the probabilistic argument from evil is its own defeater. Without God, in Whom humanity can ground objective moral values duties, all judgments as to what evil is are purely subjective. “If atheism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It doesn’t matter what you do—for there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[25]  “Whence then is evil?” becomes a vexing question for the atheist; for it is he who engages in affirming a contradiction.

A Biblical Response from Divine Objectivity

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”[26] These words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  In His statements through Isaiah, God clearly asserts that there are those who reject God’s definition of what is evil while perceiving falsely perceiving themselves as clever.  The Apostle Paul paints a similar picture of such sinful people in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, writing, “…just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”[27]  Those who reject God have such a depraved mind that they are led to approve wicked deeds.  Such men would assert that the world is a better place for the presence of these deeds, while God clearly and rightfully decries wicked deeds for what they are. When the atheist claims that God probably doesn’t exist because the world is not as good as he thinks it should be, he’s essentially saying, “God doesn’t exist because if He did, He would agree with me and do differently.” This argument is painfully subjective.

Without God, who is clearly identified by Jesus as the “only One who is good”,[28] there is absolutely no person in which an objective idea of what is best can be sufficiently grounded.  There can only be various men, who not only disagree with one another about what is best but are inherently flawed themselves,[29] in whom goodness can be subjectively grounded.  “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick,”[30] declared the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah as he cursed those who “trust in mankind, make flesh their strength, and turn their hearts away from the Lord.”[31]  No man can provide proper grounding for objective good.  There simply exists no man who can rightly say, “God would have or should have done better,” for no man[32] can honestly declare that he was there when the world was created and that he knows best how it should have been made.[33]

BURNING BAMBI: THE GRATUTIOUS ARGUMENT FROM EVIL

The gratuitous argument from evil is based, not upon probabilities regarding the existence of evil, but upon the heinous nature of evil itself.  It states that some evil is so intense that its gratuitous nature casts the shadow of doubt upon God’s existence.  Philosopher William Rowe presented the argument from gratuitous evil as follows:

  • There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (In short, this kind of suffering as is gratuitous evil)
  • An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good god or permitting some evil equally bad or worse
  • There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

To demonstrate premise 1, Rowe imagines a fawn perishing alone in a horrendous forest fire.  Rowe can’t imagine that      some greater good could come out of en event such as that; it is an instance of gratuitous evil.[34]  Despite the dramatic and powerful imagining of a helpless burning fawn, Rowe’s premise is faulty because it involves a non-omniscient being stating what an omniscient being would do in a given situation.  His argument is not only hindered because of subjectivity (similar to the way the probabilistic argument is hindered) but because of constraints.  Rowe and others who would declare an evil “gratuitous” can only do so from limited knowledge; from limited knowledge such persons cannot rightly reject the existence of a being, God, Who possesses unlimited knowledge.

A Theodicy from Constraints

Recognizing constraints, the theist can invalidate Rowe’s entire argument by countering this proposition by asking, “How can it be known that gratuitous evil exists?”  Maybe there is not such suffering which could have been prevented without allowing some equally heinous evil or preventing some equally effable good?   Maybe it just appears that way.  Here, the theist can fall back on the soul-building theodicy of John Hick.  However, “the most potent atheistic rebuttals to theistic specifications of greater goods revolve around the claim that at least some evils…do not seem necessary to any greater good.”[35] Thus, a soul-building theodicy may be unconvincing.

A rebuttal that avoids claims to “greater goods” is the best possible world theodicy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  This argument concludes that God is simply not blame for the existence of evil in the world.  Leibniz made the case that this world is the best possible world that could have been created because God in his omnipotence and omniscience just wouldn’t have created a sub-par world.  Therefore, the evil that exists in world exists in the appropriate amounts and kinds; thus, it cannot be gratuitous. Like the baby’s bear’s porridge to Goldilocks, the evil in the world is “just right.”  This theodicy, however, is open to the retort that a good God just wouldn’t have created the actual world.  “If this is what ‘just right’ looks like, there is no God,” the atheist might argue.

To answer this objection, Alvin Plantinga tweaked Leibniz’s argument to consider, not what God wouldn’t have done, but what God couldn’t have done.  Plantinga argues, in a type of free will defense, for a concept he calls “transworld depravity.”[36]  According to this concept, possible worlds in which all free creatures always freely choose not to do evil are not feasible creations even for omnipotent being.  This situation does not impinge upon God’s omnipotence because it is logically impossible to create any world in which free creatures exist and evil does not.  Creating such a world would equate to creating a square circle or married bachelor.

The atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil fails to recognize the existence of constraints and tradeoffs: his own and God’s.  To conclude that one knows all possible reasons for which a “gratuitous” evil could be allowed is to presume something on the level of omniscience. Only God is omniscient. “As finite persons, we are limited in time, space, intelligence, and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework.”[37] Furthermore, the atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil (really any argument from evil) fails to recognize the existence of the contradiction of a world with evil and without God.  In effect, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.  He denies the existence of God but affirms the existence of evil, which cannot objectively exist if God does not.

Whatever reason one concludes that evil is “gratuitous,” is ultimately subjective.  This subjectivity of opinion is best illustrated by what economist Thomas Sowell calls a conflict of visions. “Visions are foundations on which theories are built.  The final structure depends not only on the foundation, but also on how carefully and consistently the framework of theory is constructed and how well buttressed it is with hard facts.  Visions are clearly subjective, but well constructed theories have clear implications, and facts can test and measure their objective validity.”[38]  Sowell identifies two visions: the unconstrained vision and the constrained vision. Those who hold to the constrained vision see the world as a place that is full of tradeoffs, constraints, and unknownables. Those who hold to the unconstrained vision see the world as a place in which the best possible state of affairs can be identified and actualized by those with the intelligence and intellectual capacity to do so.   It is such people (to whom Sowell refers at the intelligentsia) who believe they can definitively determine what the best possible world would be and what any justifications for evil would be.  One must adhere to the unconstrained vision to stake his atheism in the foundation of gratuitous evil because in doing so believes that he, a finite man, can understand every exhaustive possibility. An atheist who wishes to rely on the Gratuitous Argument (or the Probabilistic Argument for that matter) must set his own, arbitrary definition of what the best possible world or gratuitous evil would look like and hold his definition of above that of anyone else who disagrees with him, despite the condition that there is no objective test by which to prove his view.

A Biblical Response from Constraints

Both the arguments that God does not exist because this world is probably not the best possible world and the argument that God does not exist because of the existence of gratuitous evil fall flat.  It is demonstrated from scripture that God did create the best (logically) possible world; however, it has been marred by human sin.  Scripture also makes it clear that humans have no place, in their limited human capacity, to judge God’s reasons for allowing evil.

God created the world perfectly and will one day restore it to perfection. The current world has been constrained by the fall. After God created the Earth and everything in it, he deemed it “very good.”[39]  God placed Adam and his wife Eve in the Garden of Eden; they had everything they needed.  Still, Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus causing the fall.  Because of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, they and their descendents were assured death[40].  Even the very ground of the earth itself was cursed because of their misdeed[41].  In assessing the fall, theologian Millard Erickson solemnly remarks, “We live in a world that God created, but it is not quite as it was when God finished it; it is now a fallen and broken world.”[42]  Man traverses a world that is literally cursed, whereas before the fall man abided in a state of peaceful existence.

As illustrated by the book of Job, whatever God’s reasons for allowing evil are, man is completely inept at identifying them.  Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all offered Job theories as to why calamity had befallen him; each theory was incorrect.  God himself chided the men for arriving at the conclusions that they reached.  In Chapters 38 through 42, God exposes the depth of the ignorance of man, asking “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”[43] God presents and exhaustive series of questions that Job’s friends cannot possibly answer.  Man’s knowledge is limited.  Furthermore, his very ability to comprehend pales in comparison to that of God, who declares through the prophet Isaiah: “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”[44]

A CAVEAT AND A CONCLUSION

It is readily apparent when assessing the preceding review of classical arguments from evil that their refutations (both philosophical and biblical) can substantially overlap.  The consideration of subjectivity weakens both the probabilistic and gratuitous arguments from evil.  A free-will defense and a soul-building theodicy subvert both the logical and gratuitous arguments.  The fallen nature of man and creation, as described in the Bible, address all three arguments from evil in some way.  The biblical text provides the Christian apologist his strongest defenses available to arguments from evil.  However, the biblical text itself can present its own problems from evil, such as the Problem of Hell, which asserts that a good and loving God wouldn’t punish people with eternal torment.  Seeking to avoid such arguments, the apologist may be tempted to present the unbiblical notions of Christian universalism or annihilationism (even if he rejects them himself) to the unbeliever simply to refute the Problem of Hell.  He may be tempted to present other unbiblical positions to refute other objections to the biblical text as well.  The Apologist, when engaging with a person who is completely unwilling to consider the biblical text, is left only with philosophical arguments.  He can be similarly tempted to use biblically incompatible philosophical arguments to refute a problem from evil.  If a Christian takes an unbiblical position to avoid the implications of a given problem from evil, he wins the battle only to lose the war.

It is one thing to insist that there are logically impossible things that God can’t do, such as force a person to freely do something.  It is another thing altogether to assert that God cannot do something that is logically possible, such as preventing a person from freely doing something or knowing the outcome of all future events. There are those who, when making a free will defense will make claims such as, “once a decision is made, human experience takes one road to the exclusion of others. Until that choice is final, God cannot know the course of an individual’s life.  Free will requires and open future that would be a sham if God were prescient.  It follows that the deity lacks complete knowledge.”[45] Such a position is not required when making a free will defense. When a defense impinges upon the biblically sound concept of God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,”[46] then it ceases to be a biblically valuable Christian Apologetic.  The Christian apologist must choose his theodicies and defenses biblically.

He should also choose them wisely.  Christian Philosopher Jeremy Evans has rightly stated, “In times of suffering we usually need the comfort of friends and not the counsel of scholars.”[47]  The apologist should be careful to assess the appropriateness of pointing out the philosophical shortcomings of arguments from evil to one who is questioning God as the result of some personal calamity.  Not everyone will react to misfortune as righteously and exemplary as Job. “Intellectual arguments are not well received when the other person is involved in emotional arguments.”[48]  Biblical arguments about God’s unfailing love may be better received and are always in order.[49]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

BIBLIOGRAHPY

 Bowman, Rob. “How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Credo House Ministries. February 28, 2014. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/02/how-not-to-debate-a-christian-apologist/ (accessed March 10, 2014).

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008.

—. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Fath. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil (accessed March 8, 2014).

Crenshaw, James L. Defending God: Biblical Repsonses to the Problem of Evil. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Davies, Brian. Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Antholgy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Dunn, G. Seth. “Insuperable Good News: Overcoming the Problem of the Problem From Evil.” Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Baptist Thelogical Seminary, January 31, 2010.

Dunn, G. Seth. Jeremy Evans’ the Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beleifs. Submitted to Dr. Rhyne Putman of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, February 15, 2015.

Dunn, G. Seth. Michael L. Peterson’s God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Baptist Thelogical Seminary, January 31, 2010.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998.

Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013.

Gale, Richard M. “Evil and Alvin Plantinga.” In Alvin Plantiga, by Deane-Peter Baker, 49. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith . Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. Translated by G. Gregory. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1835.

Mackie, J.L. “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Anthology, by Brian Davies, 581. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Menzies, Peter. Mackie, John Leslie (1917–1981). 2012. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackie-john-leslie-14214 (accessed March 5, 2014).

Peterson, Michael L. God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007.

The Presbyterian Church in America. “The Shorter Catechism.” http://www.pcaac.org . http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

Wikiquote contributors. “Epicurus.” Wikiquote. February 18, 2014. http://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Epicurus&oldid=1684115 (accessed March 6, 2014).

[1]Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 11

[2] Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. Translated by G. Gregory. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1835, 352

[3] Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8.  (He loses his wife, too, but it’s debatable whether or not he was worse off for losing that woman.)

[4] Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 78

[5] Wikiquote contributors. Epicurus. February 18 , 2014. http://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Epicurus&oldid=1684115

[6] There is some argument that the question should properly be attributed to Lactantius.

[7] Mackie’s exact quote is as follows: “In its simplest form, the problem of evil is this:  God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”  The terms “Problem of Evil” and “Problem from Evil” are often used interchangeably.  To avoid confusion and because I believe it to be a better descriptor, the term “Problem from Evil” will be used in the paper.

[8] Mackie, J. “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Anthology, by B. Davies, 581.

[9] The forms of these arguments, as presented in this paper, were adapted from Michael L. Peterson’s book, God and Evil

[10] 1 Pet. 3:15

[11] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith . Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011, Kindle Locations 6649-6651

[12] At least in Western thought, they do.

[13] Gale, Richard M. “Evil and Alvin Plantinga.” In Alvin Plantiga, by Deane-Peter Baker, 49. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

[14] Bowman, Rob. “How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Credo House Ministries. February 28, 2014. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/02/how-not-to-debate-a-christian-apologist/

[15] Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013, 23

[16] Here we ignore such activities as cloud-seeding.

[17] Job 1:18-19

[18] This also raises the question, “Is natural evil always really evil?”  The flood of Noah’s day may have seemed like natural evil to those it killed.  However, it was a righteous act directly brought about by God.

[19] Rom. 5:12-14

[20] Gen. 3:19

[21] Rom. 5:3-5

[22] 1 Pet. 4:12

[23] 1 Pet. 4:19

[24] 1 Pet. 4:15-16

[25] Craig,  Willaim Lane . Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008, 175

[26] Isa. 5:20-21

[27] Rom. 1:28-32

[28] Luke 18:19

[29] This notion is explored further in the section of this paper titled “A Biblical Response from Constraints”

[30] Jer. 5:8

[31] Jer. 5:5

[32] With the exception of God incarnate, Jesus Christ

[33] Job 38:4-5

[34] Personally, I think that the very concept of gratuitous evil could exist because God wanted to give theology students and Christian apologists a challenging thought exercise.

[35] Peterson, Michael L. God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998, 104

[36] Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978, 48

[37] Craig, William Lane. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Fath. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil (accessed March 8, 2014).

[38] Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007, 4

[39] Gen. 1:31

[40] Gen. 2:17

[41] Gen. 3:17

[42] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998, 452

[43] Job 1:38

[44] Isa. 55:8-9

[45] Crenshaw, James L. Defending God: Biblical Repsonses to the Problem of Evil. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005, 76

[46] The Presbyterian Church in America. “The Shorter Catechism.” http://www.pcaac.org . http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

[47] Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013, 219

[48] McRaney Jr., Willaim. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture. B&H Academic, 2003, 208

[49] 1 Cor. 13:8

A Plain Black Bible – No Shades of Grey

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Titus 2:3-5

Lately, I’ve been leaving my phone in the car during church. It can be a distraction. I have too great a tendency to Google something interesting that the preacher says during the sermon or look down at the time on my phone and wonder, “When is this song going to be over?” Desiring to keep my attention better focused on the content of the worship service, my phone has occupied a lonely resting place in my minivan’s cup-holder for the last few weeks. This of course, leaves me without scripture since I use a phone app as my Bible. To remedy this problem, as I walked into church today, I stopped an grabbed a pew Bible from the table by the audio booth.

Today, the pastor preached an overview of 1st and 2nd Timothy as an introduction to a sermon-series on those epistles. Discipleship, of course, was a theme. Towards the end of the sermon, he called up a church member, Mrs. Bartlett, to the platform (it is not a stage) to give a testimony about her experience of serving as a MOPS mentor-mom. Mentor-moms are older women who disciple younger women with preschool-aged children. Mentor-moms are taught to think of themselves as “Titus 2 Women” in that they encourage younger women to live pure Christian lives.

Lamenting their lack of discernment, Mrs. Bartlett shared that some of the young women in the MOPS group had been reading the popular erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey and thinking nothing of it. 50 Shades of Grey, she and our pastor shared, is written pornography designed to reach women, who by their nature to not drift towards the visual pornography marketed to men. A movie based on the book is soon to debut. Mrs. Bartlett shared that this piece of pornography was one of the best selling-books of all time. It is not something that Christian women should ingest. Mrs. Bartlett shared how she was teaching the young women, from scripture, how such books could be avoided. Such books prey on a woman’s desire to have a strong man and feel romanced. Reading out of interest in a romantic story-line, women ingest graphic erotica into their minds.

As I mulled her words, I thought of the tamer Amish romance novels that are so popular at Christian Bookstores. I also thought of another book sold at Christian bookstores, written from the perspective of a strong man, and marketed to women, another best-seller…

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.

I know from an eye-witness account that this book pervades women’s Bible studies here in Cartersville and beyond. Unlike 50 Shades of Grey, Jesus-Calling is not overtly worldy. Instead, it is insidiously evil in that it purports to be of a Christian nature. Christian discernment writer, Christine Pack, has stated of Jesus-Calling:

It appears that Young has gotten in touch with the demonic realm, all the while assuming (mistakenly so) that it is the true Jesus of the Bible communicating with her, when in all likelihood she is being toyed with by demonic beings.”

As I listened to Mrs. Bartlett speak about always attempting to disciple young women by speaking from scripture, I looked down at the plain-black pew Bible I held in my hand. I thought about the marketing gimmicks, cover graphics, and bookstore displays used to sell books like 50 Shades of Grey and Jesus Calling. Then I ran my hand over the solid hardback cover of the New American Standard Pew Bible that I held in my hand. On the cover were written two words in a simple gold font:

Holy Bible”

There was no recommendation from a popular author in the font of the book, just a short statement from the translation committee. There is no special display for this book at the front of my local Christian bookstore; those in stock sits in the back. It’s just a plain-black Bible, adorned with no graphics, that sits on a table at my local church. I felt the thin white pages with plain black writing between my fingers…the words of life.

When I got saved, my mom and dad gave me a plain black New American Standard Bible to me. It had my name written on the front, the same name, I was told, that was now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life…a name that could never been erased from that book. That old Bible has been read and carried around so much that some of it’s pages have fallen out. Every time I read that Bible throughout my life, God spoke to me, because every world of scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus called me by His Spirit and spoke to me through His word.

I pray for a time to come when members of the church get back to depending on and reading what’s in their plain black Bibles.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Review

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart is a concise and understandable guide to interpreting scripture.  Fee and Stewart, New Testament and Old Testament Scholars, respectively, take an orderly approach to explaining the science of hermeneutics and presenting how to apply that science across each biblical genre.  Beginning with the New Testament Epistles, Fee and Stewart work their way back through the Bible from the new covenant to the old.  They save for last the final and most difficult of book of the bible to interpret, Revelation.  Before jumping into the interpretative method of any book, the authors discuss the need for doing hermeneutics and the various tools a reader has at his disposal to complete the hermeneutical task.  Overall, the authors present a coherent and generally acceptable view of scripture interpretation; they present hermeneutical tools and describe how to use them to interpret the New and Old Testaments, providing plenty of examples along the way.

By first examining the necessity of doing sound hermeneutics, Fee and Stewart set the tone for the entire book.  The underlying assumption (established in the first chapter) throughout the book’s survey of interpreting scripture is that the text cannot mean what it never meant.  This is a sensible and easily acceptable assumption for any reader to accept no matter what prejudices and preconceived notions he may bring to the table.  Throughout the remaining chapters Fee and Stewart rely on the reasonableness of this assumption as they challenge common misunderstandings of scriptural passages.  The authors also rely on this assumption as they discuss the different English translations of scripture.  Readers almost assuredly come the table with “their” translations of scripture.  When it comes to matters of biblical translations, preferences and prejudices can run strong.  Fee and Stewart, like others, have their preferred translations.  In order to connect with the reader throughout the book, Fee and Stewart must show that the translations which they prefer and implement to perform the hermeneutical task communicate the original meaning of the text.  Fee and Stewart present themselves as quite reasonable in advocating committee translations from a reliable manuscript tradition. Fee and Stewart clearly have a preference for functionally equivalent translations.  Their readers may not agree with such a preference, but Fee and Stewart present themselves credibly by giving an objective assessment of literal and free translations and recommending that multiple translations be implemented for hermeneutical study.

Having laid the groundwork for their hermeneutical method, Fee and Stewart immediately address the epistles. By starting the interpretive journey through the Bible in the epistles, which are more recent, more straightforward and more western than other genres the Bible, the reader learns to how to apply the hermeneutical method in a less challenging environment. The hermeneutical method of understanding the occasion for writing, the intent of the author, and the historical context in which a book was written applies to all genres.  Applying this method to the epistles and drawing contemporary parallels for theological application is comparatively easier than doing so to Old Testament prophecy.  Fee and Stewart start the reader out on the bunny slopes (epistles), as it were, before moving onto the black diamonds (Revelation).  This is of great benefit.  Chapter Three is subtitled “learning to think critically” for good reason.  Having learned to think critically, the reader is prepared to apply the hermeneutical method to the rest of the Bible.  The Narrative parts of the Bible (the gospels, the Torah, and Acts) are the next genre to be examined.  The three levels of Hebrew Narrative are explored along with the stories Acts.  Fee and Stewart stress the importance of understanding God’s work in these narrative stories while not using them as prescriptive models for theology and church governance.  This builds upon a previous idea explored while discussion the epistles: how to formulate systematic theology from scripture written for a specific occasion or used to tell a story.  Once again, the authors are preparing a foundation for the reader; A Christian systematic theology must be understood through the epistles and narratives before the Old Testament law can be understood within a Christian framework.  Before examining the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets), the teachings and life of Christ himself are examined within the context of his life, times, and purpose since Christ’s nature and teachings undergird all Christian theology.  Christ himself referenced the authority of the Law and the Prophets while exclaiming “It is these that testify about Me.”

Fee and Stewart, while acknowledging that the purpose of the law was to be fulfilled in Christ, stress that the law had other purposes, too.  So did prophecy.  The civil, ceremonial, and ethical facets of the law are explored along with the purpose of prophecy.  The law was not just about Jesus, it was about setting the Jews apart.  Prophecies were not all told about Jesus; much prophecy applies to the fate of Israel and has already come to pass.  Fee and Stewart examine the many pitfalls of taking the Old Testament law and prophecies out of context.  This leads into their examination of the misuse and misunderstanding of the wisdom literature which if often if not constant.  Pitfalls of misinterpreting wisdom literature are given special attention for this reason.  Misinterpreting the final book of the Bible (and the final book explored) isn’t hard to do if one is not careful.  Having shown the reader how to carefully do hermeneutics, Fee and Stewart save revelation for last.  The takeaway from their examination of this book is to build on what is explicitly explained by The Revelator when attempting to understand the prophecies in the book of Revelation.

After reading this book, one should have a workable understanding of how to soundly interpret scripture.  Equipped with a conversance of the original biblical languages and/or a diverse collection of conservative commentaries, such a person should be well prepared to find doctrine and understanding in the pages of scripture.  The book is a dependable source for evangelical readers as Fee and Stewart are evangelicals themselves.  The authors write from the perspective that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is not just another ancient set of books.  If this is a bias, it is one evangelical Christians wishing to interpret scripture should look for in the authors they choose to read.  One other bias of which the reader should be aware of is that of Fee; he is and outspoken Egalitarian and a member of the committee that composed the controversial Today’s New International Version translation of the Bible.  Quotations from this translation of scripture are used and recommended throughout the book over and against more formally equivalent translations.  Navigating an author’s potential bias is a small price to pay for the great benefit to be received from reading this book.  It is a great foundation for hermeneutical study for those looking to learn at the popular or academic level.

Summation: Chapter 1 – Introduction: The Need To Interpret

Unique interpretations of scripture are probably wrong. Interpretations of scripture should not be based on biases. It is important to understand both the literary and historical contexts in which a passage was written, as well as the meaning of the language. Hermeneutics follows exegesis. “A text cannot mean what it never meant.”

 Summation: Chapter 2 – The Basic Tool: A Good Translation

There are many translations but one God.  Translations are either produced by individuals or by committees.  Producers rely on differing methods to render the original language into the receptor language.  Methods range from attempting to produce a literal translation (formal equivalence) to merely trying to express the ideas in the text (free translation.)  Functional equivalence lies somewhere the middle.   Regardless of method, a translation is only as good as the manuscript(s) it uses as its source.  A variety of literal and functional translations are available for use.

 Summation: Chapter 3 – The Epistles: Learning to Think Critically

Interpreting the epistles can be harder than it looks. Many statements in the epistles are straightforward, yet they still must be understood in the context (historical or otherwise) in which they were written. Some epistles were written for general consumption (to the church) while others were written for specific consumption (to a church or a specific person). Another thing to consider is the relationship of the author with the audience. What did they know about one another? Do we know it? What was the occasion for writing? Interpreting is not as simple as picking up a New Testament letter and reading what it says; it’s best to consult several commentaries to answer these questions.

 Summation: Chapter 4 – The Epistles:  The Hermeneutical Questions

All people do hermeneutics (p.71). This is a recipe for disagreements among Christians. Yet, there are surprisingly few because there is common hermeneutic ground. One of these grounds is plain common sense. Another ground is exegesis.  Where we share common ground with the original audience, we can share common understanding. Extending applications of scripture outside of its time to our own can be problematic because we share less and less with people of antiquity as time goes on. Sound hermeneutics turns the task-oriented theology of the epistles into the systematic theology of today.

 Summation: Chapter 5 – The Old Testament Narratives: Their Proper Use

A big chunk of the Biblical text is narrative. Narrative is often hermeneutically abused due to a misunderstanding of how (Hebrew) narrative works. Hebrew narrative consists of 3 levels: the meta-narrative of God’s plan, the story of God’ redeeming people through covenants (old and new), and the stories of individual people. The story of Joseph is a prime example of Hebrew narrative that shows the various levels as well as the components of this type of literature (the narrator, the scenes, the characters, the dialogue, and the structure). Some messages are explained explicitly and some are meant implicitly. Reading between the lines to find implicit messages should not be done too deeply and often results in error.

 Summation: Chapter 6 – Acts:  The Question of Historical Precedent

Acts is a historical narrative, but not Hebrew Narrative. It is Hellenistic historiography, a somewhat different genre. It also tells a different specific story, the story of the early church. It does so in six panels. There is not necessarily prescriptive theology in these panels because Luke’s purpose is giving a history and showing the work of the Holy Spirit, not teaching theology. Thus, readers must be careful not to treat Acts like a church operations manual.

 Summation: Chapter 7 – The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions

There are four gospels that give an account of the sayings and life of the same man, Jesus and he didn’t write any of them. The gospels, though they tell many of the same stories and even use the same sources right down to the same words, must be understood both all at once (horizontally) and on their own (vertically). They also must be considered in the light of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the gospels in ways other “lives” works were not. Each story is told in a specific way for good reason and each reason must be understood in order to generate a faithful interpretation.

 Summation: Chapter 8 – The Parables: Do You Get the Point

The parables are not allegories. Regardless of certain schools of thought, they were not meant to be hard to understand, they were meant to be easy to understand. In fact, we can expect that Jesus’ audience did understand his parables. We, too, can understand his parables and choose to accept his message if we understand the cultural context in which he told them and the points of reference within the stories.

 Summation: Chapter 9 – The Law(s): Covenant Stipulations for Israel

Although Christians are not under the Old Testament Law, they should still see it as God’s inspired word. The law, which is presented like other ancient near eastern contracts, is designed to set Israel apart. It shows how high God has set his standard. It stands far and above the laws of proximate cultures and even its seemingly strange parts are rejections of the godlessness of Israel’s neighbors. Although Christians are only under those parts of the Old Testament ethical law that is reiterated in the New Testament, Christians can still appreciate the entire Old Testament Law (civil, ceremonial, and ethical) for what it was designed to do (set the Jews apart) and what it has done (shown Christ to be a worthy Messiah).

Summation: Chapter 10 – The Prophets: Enforcing the Covenant in Israel

The prophets are more than fore-tellers, though they do predict the future. When reading the prophets we must be careful not to be too focused on eschatology and messianic prophecy, remembering that when the prophets did predict the future, many of the predicted events came to pass before New Testament times. The prophets spoke, in various kinds of oracles. Understanding the different type of oracles and identifying the historical context in which they were spoken is essential to faithfully reading the prophets. Understanding Hebrew poetry helps ensure a faithful reading as well. It is also important not to insert New Testament parallels where none exist. Paul and Matthew were inspired by the Holy Spirit to do as such, we are not.

 Summation: Chapter 11 – The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours

Psalms are poetry. Psalms are prayers and sayings to God from man inspired by God. The Psalms must be understood in their proper genre; they were written by various authors for various purposes. The expression of doctrine is not necessarily one of them, thus the reader should be careful when looking into the Psalms for doctrine. The reader should look to the Psalms for God’s inspired word as these words still carry meaning for today’s reader.

 Summation: Chapter 12 – Wisdom: Then and Now

The chapter on Wisdom literature addressed abuses before it addressed proper uses. Wisdom literature is read more than any other type of biblical literature, is often misunderstood, and is often abused. It’s important to understand the Wisdom genre up against the wisdom literature of proximate cultures and understand that biblical Wisdom literature is God-focused and God-breathed. The Wisdom expressed can be lyrical, speculative, or prudential. It is never to be understood as a 100% literally applicable. Proverbs are aphorisms, not promises.

 Summation: Chapter 13 – The Revelation: Images of Judgment and Hope

Revelation is a tough book to interpret. Like any book it must first be properly exegeted and understood as a product of its author, genre, and time. It cannot necessarily be assumed that its audience would have had access to other New Testament prophecies. Revelation should be exegeted in isolation of the prophecies and understood along the lines of the Old Testament which is references heavily. With regards to the symbolic imagery in Revelation, the images that aren’t explained should be understood in a similar fashion to those that are. It is not 100% clear just what parts of the foretold future have come to pass and what to what degree Satan’s part in the unfolding of the eschaton has been completed. The end is assured though; Satan will be bound and cast into Hell. Jesus will return for his church.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.