“The Bible Tells Me So,” So What’s With Pete Enns and Progressive Christians Anyway?

On the religious blogging site, Patheos, questions arise about progressivism quite often. A fellow poster there asked if it might not be a good idea to bring some questions he had about the epistemology (underlying truth claims or rationale for belief) of postconservative and progressive Christian thought. We have both read a number of progressive authors and I have agreed to start a discussion here on an excellent intro to progressive thought, Peter Enns’ book, “The Bible Tells Me So.”

For Christians brought up thinking a certain way about the Bible, postconservative and progressive attitudes toward Holy Writ may seem disturbing or a weakening of the basis for Christian belief. Typical of progressive thought, Enns begins chapter one by questioning those presuppositions typical of evangelicalism:

“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instruction manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force.

If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to ‘defend the Bible’ against these anti-God attacks. Problem solved.

That is until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rulebook view of the Bible is like a knockoff Chanel handbag—fine as long as its kept at a distance, away from curious and probing eyes.

What I discovered, and what I want to pass a long to you, in this book, is that this view of the Bible does not come from the Bible but from an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it.” (Chapter 1, pp. 3-4)

So without further ado, I open the discussion up to anyone who has read Enns and wishes to join the discussion of his views. Hopefully we can have a fruitful discussion. Thank you.

 

 

34 thoughts on ““The Bible Tells Me So,” So What’s With Pete Enns and Progressive Christians Anyway?

  1. Kirk,

    As mentioned, my deep thanks for the invitation and hosting the discussion. Brevity has never been my strength, I pray you’ll forgive that failing, but I do like to make sure I communicate clearly. I thought to organize structure and thoughts I would give two preliminary observations that outline my two biggest difficulties that arise in just about ANY progressive author that I have read, so you see the correct difficult I am seeing. Then in another post I’ll address these specific concerns as I find them in Chapter 1 of “The Bible tells me So” (TBTMS)

    I apologize for the length of these preliminary thoughts, but I thought this would be helpful structure to make sense of my concerns before we go into particulars in the book. I am busy today but should have time tonight to outline my specific concerns from chapter 1.

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    • Welcome Stephen. I am looking forward to the conversation. I suffer from the same weakness, brevity is not my strong point either, but that’s ok…we’re not Tweeting here. Weekends I should be able to engage with your questions and observations. Still working full time, at least for the next 5 months…then retirement!

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      • Sounds fine, I won’t be in a rush. Like I said, I simply love batting ideas around, so I look forward to your sharpening anything I miss here, or just helping me better understand the larger progressive position in case I am missing anything or misrepresenting anything. Don’t worry about brevity yourself, I always want to make sure I am fully understanding.

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  2. 1—yes, as you mentioned, my core question is epistemology – how do we know actual truth about God. And what I find in the progressive authors we’ve read is a constant reminder that the Bible was written just like every other book, with the same manner of motives, weaknesses, limitations, agendas, prejudices, cultural influence, and the like as any other ancient (or for that matter) modern book—None of which I essentially disagree with – but if that process was not also in some way guided by God so as to guarantee that the product of their limitations, weaknesses, agendas, etc., also was revelatory truth from him, then I am left with a collection of uninformed and untrustworthy “best guesses” about who God is, which is essentially no different than any other ancient (or modern) such religious writing. The obvious logical consequence of this seems inescapably to lead to some form of agnosticism about God.

    So for instance: In a previous blog on formerly fundie (where I believe we met), the author wrote about his distaste for the idea that God controls all things, including Evil in this world. But this basic question is one that resides outside of any empirical study, it is something that, if we are to know it, must arrive by some kind of revelation. And so some progressives I read decry the idea that God controls all things, and suggest that the words in the Bible that claim he does so control are results of their insecurities, desire for a God who will protect them, etc.

    OK, but then I want to ask the progressive – from where did you receive such certain knowledge that God does not so order all things? Are there some parts of the Bible that teach this which are infallible truth? Did God speak to you in a dream? How?

    Essentially, all progressive books I’ve read cut off the branch they are sitting on. They undercut various traditional doctrines about God which are derived from Scripture by claiming that Scripture should not be trusted on this or that topic – so far, logically, so good.

    But then they claim I should embrace their absolutely true, correct, and dare I say infallible beliefs about a loving God, what hell is really like, whether or not God does control all things, etc. It is at that point my only response is, “huh?”

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    • “how do we know actual truth about God?” “but if that process was not also in some way guided by God so as to guarantee that the product of their limitations, weaknesses, agendas, etc., also was revelatory truth from him, then I am left with a collection of uninformed and untrustworthy “best guesses” about who God is, which is essentially no different than any other ancient (or modern) such religious writing. The obvious logical consequence of this seems inescapably to lead to some form of agnosticism about God.” “OK, but then I want to ask the progressive – from where did you receive such certain knowledge that God does not so order all things?”

      To better achieve a “baseline” understanding of your objections, I’d like to know a few things about where your thinking is at:

      First, how much “guidance by God” is necessary to assuage your fears about the trustworthiness of scripture? What “guarantee” are you seeking? What amount of “certainty” of scripture do you feel is necessary to put your faith in Christ? Is there a “special” way to read the Bible, different than reading other books making truth claims? How do you personally arrive at truth, in a general sense? Let’s say you’re reading a history book on the Civil War. Do you require it to be totally true in order to find it of value? Is there a different standard of “truth” when reading other literature than when reading the Bible? What hermeneutical method do you use when scripture presents conflicting ideas, events or theology?

      Second, to what degree would you apply your epistemology of truth to doctrinal development by the church historically? Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Calvinist, Arminian, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, 7th Day Adventist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.? Is there some sort of “guarantee that the product of their limitations, weaknesses, agendas, etc., also was revelatory truth from him?”

      Thanks, looking forward to your response.

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      • But of course (and by the way, this is exactly what I appreciate – to dig down to the core and really understand the foundation of these thoughts – hence why I likewise tried to spend more time on the foundational preliminaries than on particulars): Let me lay out even more specifically my larger epistemological/logical question and observation, then respond to your particular 2 questions:

        Again, at core, my question is purely the logic and epistemology. The basic structure of reality is that God exists outside of our entire physical, material, space-time reality, and we have no direct access to him… not unlike (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ analogy), the way a character in Hamlet (if they were conscious, sentient entities) would have no direct access to Shakespeare. There is no experiment, no science, no test tube, no telescope, that can tell me if God is loving or aloof. No empiric science could distinguish, for instance, between the God of Christ and the God of the deists. Without some sort of actual, bona fide, communication from the other side of the veil, at his initiative, all we would have at our disposal is to look around us, and extrapolate from what this creation is like to what the creator must (or, better, might?) be like.

        So, for a thought experiment, let’s assume that the true nature of reality is a God of the deists that has not, in any way, communicated to us – he got this world going, but in actual (hypothetical) fact, has not in any way made communication to us – ALL we know is extrapolated from what we see around us.

        We see beauty in creation, majestic sunrises, we see coagulating stagnant smelly ponds, disgusting rot of death. We see parents loving their children, we see parents abusing their children, we see people feeling guilt over their actions, we see others murdering without any remorse. We see some sacrificing their lives in noble love to others, we see some cheered as a hero by their throngs for wiping out their perceived enemies without mercy.

        And what, exactly, do we extrapolate from this? some extrapolate that God is the God of their tribe, that might makes right, that he created this world red in tooth and claw, and my survival means to do whatever I can to be predator rather than prey. Others go the opposite way.

        If God hasn’t communicated, in some direct way to us, neither position is more logically justified than the other. **YOU** may object to the violent, control freaks of the world – the Iran and North Koreans of today, the Hitlers and (dare I say) Joshuas of the past…. but, presumably, they would object to your perspective. You might say their perspective is warped because they are lacking in love – they would say you are warped because you don’t understand the glory of the conquest and the great society they are achieving for all of the people deserving of such.

        ONLY if there is some standard outside our own invented perspective of right and wrong (that is, what GOD has said is right and wrong) do we judge between these things. So, only if there is **SOME** revelation of some sort.

        So to anticipate my later objection in TBTMS, Peter suggests that the genocidal God of the OT was just a tribal God, they were projecting their perspectives and cultural expectations onto him.

        Fine. But so his he.

        Unless he wants to demonstrate that SOMEHOW, and I don’t care how (Scripture, one part of Scripture in particular, in the words of Jesus specifically, papal infallibility, in a dream, a voice from heaven, tea leaves that spelled something, a vision quest from peyote, from Muhammad, SOMEHOW)…. Unless God has actually, in fact, communicated in some way, from his side of the veil, that Peter’s perspective of God is the “true” one and that of the ancient Israelites erroneous, then all we have are competing, and I might add, rather baseless, hypotheses about who God is and what he is like.

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  3. Secondly, I would refer you to C. S. Lewis’ article “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” as my issue with so much progressive writing – especially of the more scholarly sort, can be better described with his words:

    “Whatever these men may be as biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading…. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.”

    I am at times astounded by the blindness and selective reading of the progressive authors I read, and the apparent the blindness to what is right there in the text. It is one thing to recognize different passages or interpretations, wrestle with them, and reject them for whatever reason. But it is another to seemingly not even notice counter-examples to one’s position right in the very texts under examination, in fields wherein these authors are purported to be the world’s experts. “But I had better turn to examples.”

    Perhaps the worst I ever encountered was Elaine Pagels, PhD from Harvard, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton, who recently wrote a book about the book of Revelation. In an interview with, she made the following inexplicable claim:

    “There’s no indication that he [the author of Revelation] read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.

    And I am forced to wonder if she has ever read the very book she claims to be an expert in. Did she make it past the first 6 verses even of chapter 1, you know, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…”?

    Claims to see fern-seed; can’t see an elephant 10 feet away in broad daylight.

    Bart Ehrman makes similar unbelievably indefensible claims; I found such pons asinorum kinds of errors throughout his book “Forged” and others. If he is not aware of the numerous counter-examples to the “facts” he presents, he has no business being a New Testament professor.

    Derek Flood I find in general a more careful nuanced author, but yet I find the same tendency to simply ignore the most obvious evidence – sometimes in the very texts he is examining, that would counter his conclusions.

    Claim to see fern-seed….

    And thus I am forced to believe that this entire method is simply an exercise in conclusions seeking proof-texts (or perhaps the removal of proof-texts). When these authors don’t seem to even recognize or deal with the most glaringly obvious counter-examples, I simply can’t trust their methods, approaches, or conclusions. “It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no primafacie confidence in your teachers.”

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  4. OK, as for the particular examples of these concerns I notice in Chapter 1 of The Bible Tells Me So (TBTMS). First, a few observations, and then the blind spot I see right in the center of his own “exhibit a”

    ”…until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rule book view of the Bible….does not come from the Bible.”

    Just a guess, but I’m thinking that Moses [or whichever person/s we want to say wrote much of the Pentateuch] would disagree, as would Joshua (“be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you….”), and certainly, off hand, the author of Psalm 119, etc. I don’t hesitate to agree that the Bible is much, much more than just a law book. But that view of the Bible

    This points to one of my deepest objections – I do not understand where people get off looking at the Bible, that **CLEARLY** teaches something, then accuse evangelicals of “importing” their beliefs into it. Really? The idea that the Bible is contains rules to be obeyed is something entirely foreign to anything one could find in the Bible?

    Seriously?

    “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”

    No, I think one can actually find the “rulebook” view of the Bible from the Bible.

    In other words, I wouldn’t object if he simply claimed that the Bible ought not be read as a rulebook. OK, I accept that. Or that some parts of the Bible, in contrast to others, if we read it carefully, would show us we should not treat it as a simple rulebook. Got it. No major objection. But when he claims that the rulebook “view of the Bible does not come from the Bible…..?!?

    Claims to see fern-seed…. ?

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  5. 2——He lists many of the acts, behaviors, and characteristics of God, especially in the OT, that he finds especially objectionable; then asks, “What are we supposed to do with a God like this?”

    This goes back to my first larger objection I noticed earlier. OK, I get that Professor Enns finds these attributes of God personally reprehensible. That is his privilege, of course. But the ancient Hebrews, who wrote and recorded these various behaviors and attributed these characteristics to God, would presumably disagree with Professor Enns.

    Thus I am left with a choice between the (baseless) preferred view of God of the ancient Hebrews and his (equally baseless) view. derived from… his personal preference? On what <rational, reasoned, logical, epistemological basis does he wish me to reject their view of God and embrace his?

    Granted, this is just his introductory chapter, but as I recall reading the book, this core question of mine is never answered (or even addressed).

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  6. 3—”I believe God wants us to take the Bible seriously….. I don’t believe he wants us…. I don’t believe God wants us to live our lives wringing our hands…. what if God is actually fine with the Bible just as it is….. maybe God wants us to wander off the beach blanket.

    Same issue as above – OK, fine. He believes this about God. He is welcome to. How does he know? Did the Bible tell him so? a revealed dream? A survey of the majority of religious people? on what basis? Does he believe these things to be, in fact, true, and ask me to do the same?

    4–”…to make the Bible something it’s not meant to be, isn’t a pious act of faith, even if it looks that way on the surface. It’s actually thinly masked fear of losing control and certainty, a mirror of an inner disquiet, a warning signal that deep down we do not really trust God at all.”

    Resorting to ad hominem attacks do not generally inspire my confidence in one’s argument.

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  7. 5–Now my most major objection, partly because it is Professor Enns’ most central point in this chapter: He gives his own journey, and his turning point regarding the problem he found in the “the spiritual rock that followed them” passage. Now, far be it from me to criticize his own experience. He experienced what he experienced.

    But he wants to convince me, the reader, that the problem he discovered is a real problem. He wants me to believe that Paul, in fact, wrote about a “moveable water-producing rock,” that he believed and wrote about “stupid things like rocks follow people around in the desert to give them a drink.”

    First—it is clearly, patently, evidently, manifestly, overtly, unmistakably, incontrovertibly obvious that at least aspects of this passage simply cannot be taken literally. “The rock was Christ.” Jesus was not a literal rock. Q.E.D.

    For all the grief that progressives give fundamentalists about “reading the Bible literally”, I find it so odd that such progressives revert to demanding the most woodenly literal interpretation and refuse any other alternative interpretation…. when only the literal reading will support the proposed difficulty.

    Secondly—how many times have I heard Progressives argue, “Just because Jesus said, “Adam and Eve” or referred to Jonah doesn’t mean he literally believed in these things, he may have been just referencing it the same way we would reference Cinderella, etc
    OK, fine. But now Paul makes a reference to a Jewish myth, and now he MUST believe it literally happened… because only that interpretation will allow us to conclude the error in this passage?

    Thirdly—did he completely miss that word “spiritual”? It was a “spiritual” rock that followed them, which was Christ. And from this, Professor Enns concludes that Paul believed in a literal rock that followed them. I presume Professor Enns doesn’t believe that “spiritual gifts” means Paul carried literal, physical gifts to his churches, or that when he sowed “spiritual seed” among them that he was dumping literal, physical seeds in their churches?

    Look, I grant that Paul was likely familiar with that Jewish legend; regardless, what he actually wrote about here was a “spiritual rock”.

    So to my major difficulty. If professor Enns wants to wrestle with that word “spiritual,” to convince me it means, say, “miraculous” (unlike any other use in the NT that I can find), then I’d be happy to read further. If he wants to convince me that, unlike spiritual gifts, spiritual blessings, spiritual seed, spiritual houses, or spiritual forces, this “spiritual rock” is actually also a literal, physical rock, I am willing to hear his argument.

    But he writes as if he didn’t even notice the word was there: He italicizes only after the word ‘spiritual’, and then neglects to use that adjective in all his subsequent discussion: “…they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them”,“the _____ rock, Paul says, was Jesus”. “He’s not supposed to say stupid things like _____ rocks follow people…”, “such a silly idea about a ______ rock that became a portable drinking fountain.”

    Why doesn’t he simply speak forthrightly and say “He’s not supposed to say stupid things like spiritual rocks follow people,” or “a silly idea about a spiritual rock that became a portable drinking fountain?

    Presumably, because it wouldn’t sound so stupid or silly.

    And if one needs to use such tactics to arrive at one’s conclusions, I trust you’ll appreciate why I remain dubious at the scholarship involved. If he can’t tell that the adjective “spiritual”, alongside the identification of the rock with Christ, may allow other interpretations of this passage than the strictly, woodenly literal one that shook his earlier perspective, then perhaps he is the one that shouldn’t “be allowed to teach biblical interpretation at the seminary that first introduced [him] to Paul”?

    For whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to see this. And thus why I continue to resonate with Lewis’ thoughts….. ”Whatever these men may be as biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading…. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed….”

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  8. As to your two specific questions:

    First, how much “guidance by God” is necessary to assuage your fears about the trustworthiness of scripture? What “guarantee” are you seeking? What amount of “certainty” of scripture do you feel is necessary to put your faith in Christ? Is there a “special” way to read the Bible, different than reading other books making truth claims? How do you personally arrive at truth, in a general sense? Let’s say you’re reading a history book on the Civil War. Do you require it to be totally true in order to find it of value? Is there a different standard of “truth” when reading other literature than when reading the Bible? What hermeneutical method do you use when scripture presents conflicting ideas, events or theology?

    If a book on the civil war is wrong on some point, my life doesn’t change in some significant way. If Jesus promised that those who trust him would receive eternal life, and that is in fact wrong (and, say, Muhammad or Joseph Smith turned out to be correct), then this is more consequential.

    More to my core point, a book on the civil war is based on *empirical* evidence and facts and truth that we (at least in principle) have access to – the nature of history is that we may have lost that knowledge, but the knowledge of who fought who at what location is detectable to our senses.

    Sure, the Bible could be of “value” even if filled with error if I was just looking for some inspiration about how to be a nice person in this world. But the writing of the Bible claims to have been written “so that, by believing, I may have life in his name.” What Jesus taught about heaven and hell are not something one can arrive at by empirical information – these are things outside of any perception we could have as humans. It is divine knowledge, or nonsense. What Jesus talked about there, or about who his Father was, was one of two things:

    1. He knew what he was talking about because he was either deity himself (as we traditional Christians believe), or because he had been given this knowledge by God in some authoritative, trustworthy fashion. And if so, they are completely authoritative, trustworthy, and objectively and absolutely true….. or

    2. These were his beliefs as derived from his own personal preferences, experiences cultural understandings, discussions, his own limited perspective, or whatever – and if so, they are completely baseless, not to be logically trusted any more than the Bhagavad Gita or anything else.

    Heaven and Hell, if either exist, are entirely outside our empirical data, and if these aren’t revelations from God, then they are simply fantastical fantasies and wishful thinking.

    So, all that said – to answer your question, my own belief in authority comes and derives from Jesus. I trust him to be who he said he was, uniquely the son of God and therefore able to speak about these matters with absolute authority, and what he said is thus true.

    On the flip side, if he was wrong about this or that (like how he, or Mark at least, is accused of referencing the wrong Priest which dealt with David)…. I fail to see how I can trust him when he speaks about God’s character or heaven and hell. At most, I could reasonably see him having received true revelation from God about these things, yet mistaken on others…. but then the question reverts to our side of the court – how do **WE** decide which words of Jesus I’m going to believe, and which not? Maybe I can trust him about tossing people into the outer darkness (that was surely revealed by God), but all that stuff about loving your neighbor, that was probably just the family he grew up in….,

    My own understanding of how to read the Bible is derived, then, from him. I for various reasons have embraced him as the unique son of God, as such, inerrant in anything he affirmed – and I see him giving equal weight to Scripture as to his own words. this doesn’t mean he had access to omniscience, but one can be careful not to speak more than you know (as he did about the second coming). So I trust what he says, whatever he says, as absolutely true.

    But on that basis – I would not logically object to anyone – Dr. Corey or any other progressive – that claimed that Christ’s words were absolutely inerrant, and we have a decent enough record of them recorded in the Scripture to know what he said, and then this becomes our guidance by which we know everything else. That satisfies my first primary objection (as I wrote previously).

    But then, that gets into my second….. if we take Jesus’ words inerrant, when I read progressives on Jesus, I start to find the worst examples of hermeneutical gymnastics (shared by fundamnetalists as well, granted).

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  9. (I warned you, brevity is not my strength)

    Do you require it to be totally true in order to find it of value?

    So, yes, when we are talking about something outside of my or any human’s empiric evidence. Otherwise, the core problem is that I am left to MY OPINIONS as to which non-empiric claims of revelation to reject and which to accept. And I have no business doing that. If God has spoken, then I take what he said as 100% true. If I am presented with a manuscript which I am told is 50% God’s revealed truth, and 50% human erroneous opinion – and no way to determine which is which, then yes, I would think that manuscript worthless to communicating truth about God’s character to me. If you had a history book wherein 50% of the details were right and which were wrong, but which you had absolutely no way of determining which, it would be worthless to you in order to determine the *truth* about what happened.

    I would grant that you could still find value – some inspiring story you could use to encourage a friend, and it would be irrelevant whether or not it really happened, sure. But as a guide to what actually happened? No.

    And when we are talking about heaven and hell, who God is, and such rather weighty items? Sure, if the Bible was like an erroneous history book, then sure I could gain some nice platitudes or encouraging stories or the like – but as a guide to whether or not God is more like the Father of Jesus than the conquering tribal deity of Joshua (if those did in fact conflict)…. then yes, it is worthless to determine the truth of that if both are equally best guesses.

    What hermeneutical method do you use when scripture presents conflicting ideas, events or theology?

    As an inerrancy-believing troglodyte, I recognize that there is plenty of manner that it can be true even if I don’t understand it.

    Just as a student of archaeology, I would be very, very, very hesitant to claim an error or contradiction in any ancient text I find – I may be suspicious that the author was erroneous, but it may be that he really, actually, did know something that I simply don’t have access to or didn’t see. Many events can appear contradictory, but further explanation can actually teach me, the reader, something. This would be my method reading any ancient literature. To conclude that an ancient author is erroneous or contradicts another requires me to claim that my knowledge of history, events, his writing style & purpose, and all has risen to the level where I can confidently claim better knowledge of the situation than he.

    For instance, I have often speculated what would have happened if one gospel had only recorded the feeding of the 5,000 with 12 baskets left, (as Luke and John do, as I recall,) and the others *only* recorded the feeding of 4,000 with 7 baskets. This would have been exhibit A of a clear contradiction in the Bible. Anyone of those silly Bible-defenders who claimed, “Maybe it happened twice” would have clearly been reaching for the most desperate measures to defend the historicity of what was clearly just an error.

    But, no, Matthew and Mark actually explicitly note it happening twice. So, for such reasons, I try to withhold judgment on historical facts and such details because it is quite possible that it may be egg on my face if I firmly conclude a contradiction when I simply don’t have all the facts.

    Theological “diversity” (to use Prof Enns’s term) is much more wonderful. I have grown in my understanding of so many, many things because of this. If God is true, and life is complicated, then there will be two if not multitudinous perspectives on many things, which don’t at first seem so simple and clearly lined up.

    I might tell my children, one day, “Work hard, study well, always give your best, and you’ll reap what you sow and find yourself richly rewarded in life.” A few years later, after he did do all those things and then got fired from his job from a completely false accusation, I might say, “Even if you do everything right, the world may not turn out right.” Professor Enns suggests things like this are “theological diversity” (the so-called conflict between perspectives of Proverbs and Job) and thus as if we have to choose one or the other. Maybe by embracing both, we are able to better navigate both poles of complex things and truly understand the depth and nuance of real life? I’ve found this to be true regarding all manner of theological “conflicts.”

    Do I believe in Faith or works? predestination or free will? do we find rest in God alone, or is it not good for the man to be alone? Do we grumble against God like Israel and get punished or complain against him and be commended like Job? Do I trust that he is in control of all things and working them out according to his will, or do things happen that are “against his will?

    The answer to all these is “yes.” Jumping to embrace one and dismissing the other as erroneous is simply the path which would circumvent our understanding God, truth, life, and meaning in continually deeper ways. For instance, as I noted, God punishes some with death and destruction for grumbling against him. He commends others and invites complaint. Two options – either one or the other is erroneous, or these are two nuances wherein there is a good way to complain but a bad way, and by embracing the truth of both we are led to understand better where that boundary lies?

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  10. Finally,

    “Second, to what degree would you apply your epistemology of truth to doctrinal development by the church historically? Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Calvinist, Arminian, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, 7th Day Adventist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.? Is there some sort of “guarantee that the product of their limitations, weaknesses, agendas, etc., also was revelatory truth from him?””

    Of course I personally wouldn’t give any of those particular denominations any trust that their particular formulations can guarantee revelation from God. I’m personally committed to sola scriptura as you’d imagine. 🙂 And all the Protestant crowds, in theory, would likewise acknowledge that the writings of Augustine, Calvin, or Wesley, or Luther, or whoever, however helpful, however insightful, and however correct they may or may not in fact be, they are neither infallible nor claimed as inerrant. Other groups claim other sources of infallible truth (church authority, the receipt of a revelation as handed down from another manner outside of Scripture, etc.), but to my knowledge they would not claim any current formulation as inerrant, unless and insofar as it accurately reflects what they do acknowledge as inerrant.

    So I would acknowledge that the Catholic Church’s dogma of papal infalliblity, in principle satisfies my epistemological objection. What the pope declares, ex cathedra, is so guided by the hand of God so as to guarantee that what the pope declares is true is simultaneously what God has so communicated such that these things are de facto true and can thus be considered as the very word/ communication/ revelation from God.

    I’d acknowledge similarly what I understand as the neo-orthodox or the very early liberal position that that claim a fallible Bible but that Jesus was absolutely infallible, and his words are the very truth of God on any matter on which he spoke. And cultural influence, human limitations, ancient perspectives did not so affect his thinking to change the fact that what he said was always, 100% true, and we have a reliable record (confirmed with high reliability through historical and textual criticism) of his absolutely true teachings in an otherwise fallible Scripture. This likewise satisfies my epistemological objection.

    Likewise, the Mormon doctrine wherein they understand Joseph Smith to have received direct revelation from God through the various manners they so claim, is, in principle not epistemologically problematic to me. If God did so work in such a manner as to guarantee Smith as having received his revelation, then what Smith says to me, assuming I could trust his character such that he was not adding or otherwise twisting what God communicated to him, would be epistemologically “true.” (assuming God was not likewise lying, of course.)

    For that matter, I have no epistemological objection to Muhammad’s claim to revelation. If God did so reveal, through the dreams or angelic visits, the Koran, and if God so guided his writing of it to ensure it was trustworthy, then, in principle, that belief system could be a means to receiving truth about things beyond the veil.

    My objection to what I perceive as the Progressive position is at core this: I feel I am being told, “Stop trusting the Bible’s writers as somehow infallible guides to what is true about God. They were culture-bound, influenced, products of their time, Jesus included – this can’t be some kind of rulebook guide to what is infallibly true about God. Rather, you should follow my own culturally bound personal beliefs about God as your guide to truth.”

    And to clarify – I don’t epistemologically object to, say, the theological perspective of someone like Bart Ehrman or Elaine Pagels (though I find their scholarship atrocious). As I recall reading them (I could be wrong, but it has been a few years), they seem to share the same or similar perspective about “theological diversity”, religious development, cultural influence, etc., as Professor Enns – but they refrain from making any claims about who God is or isn’t (As I recall). In Ehrman’s case it is as he is an atheist/agnostic, I do not recall Pagel’s personal religious view, but I don’t recall her making absolute claims about who God is, or what he is like. She seems to write in such a way as would make be believe she didn’t trust the perspective of any New Testament author, but neither do I recall her telling me that God is like this or that, or wouldn’t do this or that.

    To address something else I think you may be getting at here, my belief in Sola Scriptura means that God was working through fallible men (Jesus being the notable exception) to communicate truth. I have no doubt that Paul was guilty of believing all manner of things, and may himself have developed his theology over his writings. I would even grant the hypothetical possibility (though I seriously doubt it) that he may have believed in Professor Enns’s mobile water fountain. But he didn’t write about that. Sure there was development over the old testament times (and new for that matter), new hints and things – some of which I of course believe to have happened because of “progressive revelation,” God actually revealing something new. some of which was by taking the revelation that was there, developing it, wrestling with it, working out the logical consequences of it, applying it to real life, etc. But, given Jesus’s confidence in the product as the word of God, then I trust that the very process of writing it was so guided as to guarantee that what was written was also guided so as to be both revelatory and free of error. We have no doubt that ancient Israel believed, and did, all manner of wrong things. Heck, the Bible was written by murderers and adulterers. I’m sure they had all manner of wrong beliefs too.

    I’d be happy in the midst of this conversation to explain my own take on inerrancy/infallibility, but as I mentioned, that really isn’t my core issue – logically, epistemologically, I have no issue with Islam, Mormons, Roman Catholicism, or even my Pagan friend that claims he believes a certain spirit spoke to him in the forest one night.

    My issue remains with the Progressives that, as far as I can possibly perceive, have cut off any sense of our ability to receive inerrant trustworthy revelation from any source whatsoever, and who then proceed to tell me what God is or isn’t like, what he will or won’t do.

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  11. One last one, I promise – I reread what you wrote and think this is a vital question:

    How do you personally arrive at truth, in a general sense?

    1. I think it is safe to guess that around 5% or less of things in my brain that I believe are such because I have personally experienced them. I know the make of my car. My son is taller than my daughter. I know what color the carpet is in my church. These are truths I know from direct observation.

    2. Some other very small percent of what is in my brain is such due to scientific deduction or extrapolation based on my own personal experiences and observations. I know the anatomy of frogs, and amphibians in general, because of the one I dissected in 8th grade, etc. This is extrapolation from #1 above, in essence.

    3. Some other small sense of things I think are true are logically derived from 1 and 2 above.

    4. The vast majority of any things I think are true in my head are such because:
    -I am trusting the authority wherein I learned it, or
    -The alternative (that there is a grand conspiracy to make me believe something) is inconceivable.

    (or some mixture of both)

    So, for instance, I believe in the existence of Antarctica not because I have seen it, or done any scientific observation myself that tells me there must be a land mass there, but because I trust the testimony (the numerous books, pictures, maps, etc.) Yes, hypothetically, there could be a vast conspiracy to insert this into maps and fake pictures and history books to make people believe Antarctica is there when it isn’t, but that is instinctively unreasonable.

    Most other truths are like that – the existence of other places I’ve never visited (Paris, Shanghai, etc.), existence of historical people (Washington, Lincoln), existence of solar systems, existence of DNA, the fact that the earth goes around the sun, none of these things I have either personally researched nor directly observed, I trust them because I have no reason to doubt the testimony of those sources wherein I have received such knowledge. I don’t have access to this knowledge, but someone did, and I trust what they are telling me.

    (Some knowledge, though, I weigh of course and reject the expertise of the experts – especially if I find I am not the only one raising such objection – one doesn’t need a scientific, archaeological, or historical training to recognize certain obvious logical fallacies in various claims).

    So, all that to get to this point. Any knowledge we can have of God – his character, actions, etc., – MUST, by definition, be in my category #4 – his particular character traits and attributes are not something we can observe, empirically test, or (in my understanding) logically derive. Any knowledge we have of God must be received through trust in the authority by which we receive it. And the only authority we can trust to actually have access to any such knowledge of God is…. God. No?

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  12. So one last, last, I promise last observation, then I’ll wait and give you the floor – but this may help zero in on my two particular difficulties. This blog I read recently is a particularly good example of both issues I’m getting at (note my 2 comments there as well): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theperipateticpreacher/2017/10/reflections-451-7-dangerous-theology/

    OK, the first three paragraphs he is talking about how (II) Isaiah developed the theology he had, what made it comforting to him, why he would gravitate to such beliefs given historical context, etc., etc. I have various quibbles and disagreements with what he wrote in the first three paragraphs, but no major, core logical objections. Then the next two paragraphs he talks about the dangers he perceives in people who embrace this theology today. Again, various disagreements, but no core logical objection.

    Then he goes here:
    “We can no longer embrace the belief that God is the author of all things, both foul and favored. That way lies disaster! The book of Job was written expressly to combat this absurd notion. The God we revere and worship does not in fact determine and control the everyday actions of nature and humans.”

    To borrow again from Lewis’s prescient article, “After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world?”

    So, he is basically telling me that the theology of Job (as he reads it) is objectively, in fact, *correct*, and the theology of II Isaiah is objectively **wrong**. He makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that God “does not in fact determine and control the everyday actions….”

    How, precisely, does he know?

    Hence, my aforementioned problems:
    #1: If (II) Isaiah developed and believed his theology for the reasons he describes, then Job did the same. If Isaiah invented his theology out of the air in response to his sitz in leben, so did Job. How did he determine that Job is the objectively, in fact, “correct” view, while II Isaiah is erroneous on this particular question?

    #2: He makes the utterly absurd claim that Job was written to combat the idea that God is in control of all things. This is perhaps every Calvinist’s favorite “go-to” book in the Old Testament for prooftexting the idea. It is a veritable treasure-trove of such statements that affirm everything that happens is because God did it – and such are in the beginning, middle, and end, from the mouth of every character in the book. And this is the conclusion he reaches? This from a PhD in Old Testament.

    Hence my two core difficulties. When he can only reach his desired conclusion by ignoring both basic logic and the text in front of him…. I trust you may see my difficulty with the position he wants me to accept.

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    • Stephen I would suggest we move on to dealing with the book as a whole rather than chapter by chapter as I think we could save some time and space. So feel free to move on to the broader context of the book. First, your observation about Enns’ comment about Paul’s use of the water fountain rock that followed the Israelites around in the wilderness is valid. Paul used the Israelite story allegorically as support for the theological points he was making. He, like the early church often found Christ in the OT, in passages where the original authors had no intention of pointing to a future messiah (often a bone of contention with modern Jewish scholars). One cannot fault Paul for doing so, as reading the OT through the lens of Christ is an established hermeneutical technique in Christianity. So, yes, Enns’ attempt to discredit a literalist hermeneutic is weakened by his ironic use literal interpretation of the 1 Cor. 10 passage.

      I am going to condense the rest of your comments down to:

      Progressives “cut off the limb they’re sitting on.”
      2. “ONLY if there is some standard outside our own invented perspective of right and wrong (that is, what GOD has said is right and wrong) do we judge between these things.”
      3. “until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rule book view of the Bible….does not come from the Bible.”
      4. “On what <rational, reasoned, logical, epistemological basis does he wish me to reject their view of God (Israelites) and embrace his (Enns)?”
      5. “to answer your question, my own belief in authority comes and derives from Jesus. I trust him to be who he said he was, uniquely the son of God and therefore able to speak about these matters with absolute authority, and what he said is thus true.”
      6. “and I see him (Jesus) giving equal weight to Scripture as to his own words.”
      7. “the core problem is that I am left to MY OPINIONS as to which non-empiric claims of revelation to reject and which to accept. And I have no business doing that. If God has spoken, then I take what he said as 100% true. If I am presented with a manuscript which I am told is 50% God’s revealed truth, and 50% human erroneous opinion – and no way to determine which is which, then yes, I would think that manuscript worthless to communicating truth about God’s character to me.”
      8. “but as a guide to whether or not God is more like the Father of Jesus than the conquering tribal deity of Joshua (if those did in fact conflict)…. then yes, it is worthless to determine the truth of that if both are equally best guesses.”
      9. “But, given Jesus’s confidence in the product as the word of God, then I trust that the very process of writing it was so guided as to guarantee that what was written was also guided so as to be both revelatory and free of error.”
      10. “My issue remains with the Progressives that, as far as I can possibly perceive, have cut off any sense of our ability to receive inerrant trustworthy revelation from any source whatsoever, and who then proceed to tell me what God is or isn’t like, what he will or won’t do.”

      Whew! Ok, time to roll up our sleeves. Most evangelical or fundamentalist systematic theologies start with, not Jesus, but the ontology of the Bible: its reliability and the nature of “inspiration” as taught by the Old Princeton School of Theology. Scripture is seen not as a collection of stories, poetry and wisdom literature, but as a collection of “propositional truths.” Along with this ontology of scripture goes a belief that, in some manner or another, God “wrote” scripture, that is, the Bible is his “words” not merely man’s. Twice in last Sunday’s sermon, at our evangelical church, the speaker used the phrase, “when God wrote the Bible.” This belief in the absolute truthfulness of scripture combined with it being God’s words, not man’s, combines to form the bedrock of conservative evangelical theology: inerrancy.

      In Wayne Grudem’s 1000+ page theology he defines how he believes theology should be taught. In the preface he states
      “I do not think that a true system of theology can be constructed from within what we may call the ‘liberal’ theological tradition—that is, by people who deny the absolute truthfulness of the Bible, or who do not think that the words of the Bible to be God’s very own words.” (1)

      Grudem and others go to great lengths to prove that orthodoxy throughout history has always taught inerrancy of all that scripture presents us. While the doctrine in its general sense did not begin with Charles Hodge, the present understanding owes much to the Princeton School of thought. As an epistemological starting point it is hard not to see the circular nature of the argument both present and historically. As a means of establishing truth it is ironic that inerrantists must rely on supposedly inerrant original documents, that we conveniently don’t have or appeal to mystery: who is man to judge the very words of God? Yet inerrantists will turn around and claim the Bible we do have is 99.9% an accurate representation of the originals!

      So getting around to your comment about cutting off the limb Enns is sitting on, Enns does what Flood, Zahnd and Roger E. Moore have done: question the circular logic of inerrancy as a foundation for building church doctrine. They are not sitting on THAT limb to begin with! In order to shake that foundational presupposition, Enns and others bring to light contradictions and inaccuracies in the texts that weaken the inerrancy position. Once accomplished they can get to the epistemology that they feel is truer to the Biblical witness: Jesus Christ. He becomes “the standard outside our own perspective of right and wrong,” not a magical understanding of an inerrant text.

      Your comment on the “rulebook” view of the Bible I think misses Enns’ point. The rulebook notion arises from the belief that one can read scripture as a series of propositional “truths” divorced from the “Sitz im Leben” of the original writers. He states that the many rules that the Israelites followed were a center of their story comprising much of the OT, yet are out of touch with our everyday spirituality as Christians. Christians then end up picking the rules they still wish to follow, and dismiss the ones they don’t. (2)

      Your point #4: I am not quite sure if you are defending Israel’s numerous violent laws and views of a violent, retributive God as valid then, or now, or both. The orthodox position of a violent God derives from an inerrant, literalist view of scripture again, and poses a great deal of problems when compared to the Heavenly Father Jesus introduces us to in the NT. We have Augustine to thank for much of angry God scenario that Jonathan Edwards tapped into. History is rife with examples of the church applying the angry God scenario of the Canaan conquest as justification for imperialist expansion, subjugation or elimination of native peoples, Manifest Destiny and slaughter of opposing Christian groups like the Anabaptists. Again, it is not Enns’ word that he is asking us to follow, but that of Jesus who presents us with an entirely different view of God than did Moses and Aaron.

      Which brings us to point #5: Jesus as our authority, which, ironically enough, Enns and every progressive I have read would agree with. Unfortunately, your points #6 thru #9, I believe discredit your claim to believe Jesus as the ultimate authority. Your de facto assumption about the nature of scripture clouds your understanding of Jesus’ dealings with scripture. And what is that de facto understanding? You seem to believe that in order for any of scripture to be true, it must ALL be true. In addition, you have thrown up your hands and claimed there is no way of knowing what is true in the Bible unless we believe ALL of it true. But is this the way Jesus dealt with scripture? I am afraid not. I will deal with that in my next post, and you are free to respond what I’ve stated so far. Sorry to have taken so long to reply, but weekends seem to be the time I can most spend on this.

      1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, preface, p.17
      2 Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, p. 17

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  13. Kirk, thanks again for the discussion – I’ll touch base on a more full and comprehensive response soon. I actually agree with many more of your observations above than you might expect. But for the moment, let me make one clarification:

    You seem to believe that in order for any of scripture to be true, it must ALL be true.

    First, can I clarify, are we talking about it being, dare I say, “propositionally” true? 😉

    More significantly, though – Absolutely not, and please do follow this point – any document, Scripture included, could certainly be a collection of errors and truthful claims. But if I am to use it as a guide to truth about things that I have no other way of verifying their truthfulness – then any book/document/communication – which is error-prone will simply not be a reliable guide to determining that truth.

    So take a random history book from antiquity (something like Thucydides), that contains some truth and some error – one that dealt with a period of history that we otherwise have absolutely no knowledge about. And say, 50% of its claims were in truth, and 50% were in error. How, exactly, could we arrive at any certain knowledge about what did or didn’t happen? Each event – if not independently verifiable, if there were no historic methods to filter the truth from the falsehood – would be a toss-up as to whether it did or didn’t happen.

    A math book would be the same. If I were trying to learn higher-level math, the kind that is simply not verifiable by pulling out my scientific calculator – and I was on a desert island with no other books to compare it to – it would only be valuable as a source of truth if it were entirely correct. But if it were error-prone, or filled with speculation rather than fact, then no, I wouldn’t count it a reliable path to truth regarding higher level math, however much ever truth was still contained therein mixed with the errors – as I would have no way of distinguishing the truth from the error.

    And I don’t care particularly about historic or other such empiric issues in my question of epistemology – my question is specifically about those things about which we have no empiric knowledge. The nature of God’s character, the existence of eternal life in heaven, the reality (or lack thereof) of eternal punishment in eternal fire, whether or not it is true that “the God we revere and worship does not in fact determine and control the everyday actions of nature and humans”, etc….

    These are propositional truths, like it or not, and truths that are simply not accessible to empiric examination. They MUST be accepted based on the authority and communication from one who actually does have knowledge of it. So take any spiritual book that makes claims about such realities: The Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the book of Mormon, etc. If ANY of these are a mixture of truth and error when they speak about things we have no other way of verifying, then yes – our only logical alternatives are to embrace them as 100% true about these things based on their claim as revelation, or to embrace complete skepticism and agnosticism about the spiritual non-empiric realities they claim to report on – as any significant errors put the onus on me to determine which are true and which are false, and it is safe to say that neither I no any mere human has any such method for so determining.

    Hence why I can recognize the validity of the basic epistemology of agnostics, deists, and atheists (that God, if he existed, and any spiritual matters – angels, demons, heaven, hell, eternal life) are completely unknowable; likewise I see the validity of inerrancy-believing religions of any kind (Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam), etc. But after denying inerrancy in any form whatsoever, it is when the logic seems to me suspect…. which leads me to ask for clarification, one more item….

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  14. Jesus as our authority, which, ironically enough, Enns and every progressive I have read would agree with.

    Yes, most Progressives I know speak in such terms, and would also use similar language and not hesitate to say that Scripture was “authoritative” in some form or fashion. Enns himself in another book goes to great lengths to compare the dual “divine/human” nature of the Scripture with the dual “divine/human” nature of Jesus. But whatever Enns means about the Scripture being divine, this divinity certainly didn’t keep it from errors. And, as I read him, the same regarding Christ: “he figured things out and made mistakes along the way.” “Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew and that his hearers assumed to be the case.” Cannot those same words be applied to Jesus’s understanding of eternal life? Hell? The love of God? God’s acceptance and forgiveness of sinners? Christ’s second coming? Are these some of Jesus’s mistakes? Beliefs he embraced due to the tradition he inherited as a first-century Jew?

    Everything I’ve read from Progressives suggest that Jesus may well have been “authoritative” in some sense, but this does *not* typically mean infallible, inerrant, “free from error,” or clearly, “free from making mistakes”. And hence my difficulty – if Jesus can be expected to make the occasional mistake, then how, precisely, do I know that any particular teaching of his that I would like to embrace is not, in fact, actually one of those mistakes?

    So, the $1,000,000 question I must ask you to clarify as we move forward:
    Was Jesus inerrant in what he taught?

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    • I have to stop and ask, as Your epistemology for discovering “truth” seems to be based on authority, was Joseph Smith inerrant in what he taught? Mohammad? Buddha? What about the Koran? If not, why? How do you distinguish between the truth claims of others as compared to Christ, if they all claim equal authority? How is Christ different? I have an answer, but I am curious how you handle this. A hint: if the God Jesus presents us with is no different than Allah, Janus, Zeus, Baal then we have a bit of a problem. Second hint: the way the ancient Israelites viewed God was not much different than the way the Canaanites and Egyptians viewed their gods, they just had more of them.

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  15. So I’ve been reviewing some of my previous studies and reading, and thought I would toss this in for clarity regarding what we mean by Jesus being our “authority.” – as I have read progressive writers and thinkers, I consistently find the sentiment that Jesus, being fully human, was vulnerable to various errors, mistakes, poor judgment, erroneous cultural assumptions, and the like. Whatever is meant by him as being authoritative, it doesn’t seem to mean that everything he taught should be embraced by us as absolutely true without hesitation or question; rather, we should weigh and judge his words as we would any other fallible human. He may have had unique insights, a unique connection to his Father, etc., but this doesn’t mean he was infallible. For instance:

    James McGrath: “[We] should honestly weigh the possibility that Jesus, being human, was not infallible and…. Jesus, like every other human being, may not have always consistently lived out the things that he taught…. even the things that Jesus believed and taught may need to be evaluated from the perspective of hindsight as problematic and set aside.”

    Derek Flood: “So saying that Jesus is the infallible Word of God cannot mean that we can unquestioningly and unthinkingly follow the words of Jesus in the Bible. That is immoral. Jesus wants us to learn to be moral like he was, and that involves learning to question authority in the name of compassion like he did.”

    Tony Jones: “Jesus held an incorrect cosmology. Yes, of course our cosmology is probably wrong as well, or at least incomplete, but that doesn’t make Jesus’ cosmology any more right.

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    • I trust you had a great thanksgiving Holiday. Daniel, again the sticking point seems to be your need for absolute certainty. Or, to put it another way, the need for an epistemological framework that GUARANTEES absolute certainty. That framework for you is an inerrant Christ, who then claims the Bible is inerrant. You need to remember, the NT was not in compiled for a couple hundred years. Some books, like James and Revelation were still being criticized in the 16th century. Other church traditions include intertestamental books as well as the Gospel Of Thomas, etc.. The promise of certainty, of truth, came with the Holy Spirit being sent, not an inerrant Bible miraculously appearing.

      John 14: He, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of Truth. Jesus does not comfort his disciples by promising an inerrant book, nor does he refer to the OT as the source of their comfort or certainty. Realize, these men have been with Jesus for three years. They know his character and his love and loyalty to them. They’ve seen miracles performed and Jesus confound the religious leadership of the day. Yet they are totally unprepared for what us about to transpire. They will scatter and hide after Christ’s crucifixion. It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to turn things around. That is what bears witness to the certainty of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Through the Holy Spirit Christ is revealed to us.

      It seems to me, that in much evangelical thinking the work of the Holy Spirit has been sidelined, replaced by a “magical” book. Instead of faith in Christ, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, instead of Christ believers, we have “Bible believers.” To me this smacks of idolatry, worshipping a concept of a series of books, poems, songs and stories about God on the same level as worshipping the Son of God.

      I have certainty in Christ, not because I believe the Bible to be inerrant, but because the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit that Christ is the Son of God and we are children of God (Romans 8:16). That may not be enough for you, and you may need some further focal point of certainty, but it is enough for me.

      Was Jesus inerrant? Did he know all things? We’re getting into kenosis here and an area where the church has struggled for centuries. What were his limitations? Does doing his Father’s will necessitate inerrancy? Does it matter? Do we have enough information about Jesus’ life to determine inerrancy, or is this a presupposition we impose upon the man? Again we butt up against your predetermined epistemology that Biblical truth is held to a different standard than general truth. And again, we are faced with Christians for whom Jesus’ promises and the witness of the Holy Spirit is not enough.

      Hopefully tomorrow I can deal more in depth with how Enns, Flood and others understand Jesus’ use of Scripture.
      God bless,
      Kirk

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      • Sure, I hear you, one quick observation, one clarification, and then a more extensive restatement:

        First, a quick observation: The word “inerrant” is singularly unfortunate. I prefer to say “true”, “absolutely true,” “trustworthy,” real, or the like. It is just that some (especially I found liberal Christians of past generations) used these words with such fluidity (“Well, sure it is true, in an analogous, spiritual sense….”) that the word inerrant came into use to avoid any unintentional ambiguity or intentional prevarication.

        Secondly, a clarification: I am not examining Jesus’ authority or his personal “inerrancy” as a jumping off point to move to and claim justification for inerrancy of the Bible – at least, not in this conversation. I may think that there is something to that, but that is irrelevant to my current question. And the question isn’t really about “authority,” it is really about “revelation” – and revelation from God is by definition true (and thus simply by definition, “inerrant”).

        So the question at hand for me is simply, how do we know things about God that are impossible to determine by any empiric methods? As for the epistemology of understanding actual, trustworthy, factual (I’ll avoid the word “inerrant”) truth about who God in fact is and what he does and will do, things inaccessible from any observation from within this universe – SOME means of reliable, factual, truthful, correct, accurate, certain, sure, trustworthy, unimpeachable information must have been translated or communicated directly from God himself into our universe in some manner recognizable or receivable by us.

        So thirdly, to illustrate, restate and re-summarize my main point: Mormons believe, based on Smith’s teachings as I understand it, the afterlife is segregated into three Kingdoms: Celestial, Telestial, and Terrestial. This is something that NO MAN CAN POSSIBLY KNOW given the information we have accessible to us from within this natural world. There is no experiment we can do, no telescope we can look into, no philosophy we can study, that would give us this insight. This truth claim depends ENTIRELY on trust that Smith’s teachings on this topic were in fact revealed from outside of our world by someone who knows these things. If I were ever to embrace this particular doctrine, I wouldn’t need to trust in Smith’s personal infallibility, or the inerrancy of all his other writings, or anything of the sort. But I WOULD have to trust that this particular doctrine was true/inerrant on the basis that it was in fact revealed to him by an absolutely trustworthy God. The three-tiered kingdoms of Mormonism is one of two things: it is either truth revealed by God, or it is speculative nonsense. There is no logical middle ground. It is either truth revealed by God or a fantasy invented by man/men. If the former, then I should believe it to be true; if the latter, I should reject it as nonsense. There really is no alternative.

        So, more to the point. Jesus once said:

        “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I god and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

        Similarly, this is either revealed truth and thus to be trusted as 100% true (inerrant), or it is speculative nonsense. I see no middle ground. The evangelical position (as does the Catholic) allows me to embrace the former – the progressive position logically seems to require me to believe the latter.

        This is given what I understand Progressives to believe about Jesus, Jesus said this (like he did everything else) because he was reflecting the teachings and evolving religion of the first century Jews, while at times interacting with it and challenging it, in some manner enlightened by God or his own deity. Professor Enns speaks this way often – Jesus believed what he did about the OT because of his culture, he taught and argued in ways that reflected the larger beliefs, etc. But the ultimate question still remains:

        Is his promise that he has a place prepared for his disciples, and that he will, in fact, come again and take them there – was that derived by revelation (either through his own insight and access to such otherwise inaccessible knowledge as the God-Man, or directly from his Father)? If so, then this claim is in fact “true”, and, yes, inerrant, and then – if I trusted him – then I could choose to trust this claim as absolutely true.

        But if this idea – his promise of a home and his return to take people there – if this was not in fact revealed, but rather was an idea developed as the conclusion of a long stream of speculative theology, begun perhaps in the OT times and developed with speculation upon speculation, and brought to completion by Jesus own unique perspective given his particular closeness to God…. then I have no reason to believe it to be true whatsoever. It is speculative nonsense derived from human imagination and wishful thinking, in no way derived from any genuine reliable source of truth.

        The typical evangelical answer is that Christ said this (and all similar manner of things that are outside of our empirical grasp) because he really knew it – he personally has/had access to this knowledge, and thus what he speaks about these things is TRUE. Whatever the mysteries of the incarnation, however much as a man he was influenced by his culture, it did not keep Christ from having access to supernatural knowledge, such that what he spoke about these things actually corresponds to actual truth – and thus, by definition, they are “inerrant.”

        The typical progressive answer, if I understand, is that Christ said these things NOT because he was drawing on some kind of inerrant, supernatural knowledge, but being 100% man, and a man completely influenced just like all of us by the cultural and religious developments and assumptions of his time, he was giving his own personal insight, correction, and challenge to the tradition as he inherited it; he as the God-man was perhaps uniquely gifted to provide the most perfect perspective on these things, to change the trajectory of the inherited theology given his unique and perfect love. All fine and good for many things – but when we are talking about doctrines that, if true, could only be accessed by revelation, then no matter how insightful Christ might have been, if these things were not revealed to him (and thus would by definition be inerrant), then his belief in them, and teaching of them can only be pious, speculative nonsense.

        So God’s character, his willingness to forgive the worst of sinners, his threats regarding judgment and condemnation, his promises toward eternal life, his promise to personally return – these are all claims that exist outside of any empiric observation whatsoever on our part.

        It isn’t that I have some need for “absolute certainty.” It is just the basic logic of receiving such truths that cannot in any way be acertained empirically: Claims like this are logically only one of two things: A) revealed by God in some direct manner, which simply guarantees their 100% truth and accuracy, or B) speculative nonsense invented by human imagination. I simply see no logical alternative.

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  16. So to summarize:

    Does doing his Father’s will necessitate inerrancy? Does it matter? I would grant the progressive position for many things that his inerrancy would not matter. But again, I’m asking about things that by their nature can only be known by revelation – and yes, logically, in this case it matters: if something is revealed by God, then just by logical definition it must be 100% true, unless we want to posit a God who likes to tell falsehoods. And what Jesus taught about these things are logically one of two things: they are 100% true because they were revealed by God, or they are pious nonsense invented by some process of human imagination. I just see no alternative when we are talking about things that we can not determine except by revelation.

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  17. And, if I may make a suggestion to focus the conversation, let’s not even worry so much about the question for now of how Jesus used Scripture – let’s assume for the sake of the conversation that you’ve sold me on the Progressive view on the topic – For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that Scripture is clearly not inerrant, contains all manner of mistakes both historic and theological, that Jesus dealt with it in order to critique it based on his hermeneutic of love, sets us on a new trajectory for us to continue to re-interpret based on moral and loving interpretations, etc., etc. Let us assume that the historical record of Jesus is shaped by its authors but nonetheless communicates a generally faithful reflection of Jesus heart and intentions, etc., etc., etc.

    My core question would still remain – how do I know that all the things Jesus taught about God’s character, and other things that are only accessible by revelation, are in fact TRUE, and not simply his own wishful thinking, no different than how the ancient Hebrews developed their own view of God given their cultural realities and chosen hermeneutics?

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  18. And one final clarification: You said, Again we butt up against your predetermined epistemology that Biblical truth is held to a different standard than general truth.

    This is a very important point and I must make it clear, I fear otherwise you are missing me: this has nothing to do with biblical or theological truth, or anything else, it is simply a logical epistemological category. It has to do with knowledge that is simply inaccessible by any means whatsoever short of God revealing something, and yes, like it or not, this is simply axiomatic, that this kind of truth has, de facto, a different standard than other truths with are empirically testable. So take an absurd example:

    A man tells me that a certain planet in galaxy Messier 82 has life, and in particular, an ocean with fish, and that all the fish in this ocean without exception happen to be red. He tells me that he knows this because God clearly spoke to him from the sky and told him this was true.

    Can you recognize, logically, that there are only one of two possible logical conclusions here? Given that our current science has no way of even determining the existence of this planet much less anything about it, this kind of specific knowledge is something that we have ABSOLUTELY NO ACCESS TO unless it was revealed to us by someone who actually had such knowledge. So, this is just basic logical deduction – there are only two logical possibilities:

    1) This man did, in fact, receive this revelation from God.
    2) This man did not, in fact, receive this revelation from God.

    If #1 is the case, then the truth claim is logically true and inerrant. If God really did reveal this truth to the man, then yes, it is absolutely, completely, and 100% inerrantly true that all the fish on this planet in Galaxy Messier 82 are red. It is recognized as true because it was revealed by an honest messenger who had direct and correct knowledge of this fact. If God did reveal it, then it is 100% true. This isn’t some predetermined theological conviction, this is logical necessity.

    If #2 is the case – either he dreamed it, invented it, inherited the story from someone else, however – but if this claim was in fact not revealed by God, then it is simply nonsense. There is NO BASIS WHATSOEVER to give his claim even the slightest credibility. It isn’t even worth debating on whether some of the fish on said planet might in fact be green, the entire claim that there is even such a planet is an invention of some person’s imagination, and corresponds not in the least way conceivable to anything that could be remotely called “truth.”

    So this is not an arbitrary standard I give to “biblical truth,” this is simply logical categories applied to basic epistemology regarding truth-claims that depend entirely on revelation from authority, which have absolutely no way of being independently or empirically verified. They are either trusted as true because they were communicated by a reliable and trustworthy messenger that did in fact have access to such knowledge, or they are complete fabrications; there is no middle ground. If I miss another possibility, I’d be delighted to hear it, but I simply see no logical alternative. In my absurd example, there are only two logical possibilities: either 1) this revelation is from God, and thus it is inerrantly 100% true that all the fish on that planet are red, or 2) the entire claim from beginning to end is bogus nonsense.

    (For the sake of completeness, I would have to add the logical possibility that God did in fact communicate to this man, but intentionally lied to him… but I’m assuming we can rule out that possibility as one not worth considering?)

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    • Ok, we are sidestepping for now, how Jesus treated scripture, and moving on to your epistemology of the truthfulness of ideas that cannot be empirically known. We are probably not as far apart as you might think on this. Orthodoxy has relied on Aristotelian concepts for quite a long time. The Scholastic arguments for scriptural veracity depend on the basic belief that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. You have alluded to that a number of times. And I would agree in principal that this is true. More on that in a bit…

      But first, “how do I know that all the things Jesus taught about God’s character, and other things that are only accessible by revelation, are in fact TRUE, and not simply his own wishful thinking, no different than how the ancient Hebrews developed their own view of God given their cultural realities and chosen hermeneutics?”

      I think part of the problem we are having here is that, while Protestants have for centuries claimed “salvation by faith,” they have tried to move past “faith knowledge” to “certain knowledge” based on a logical system that was meant primarily for empirically known things. In short, how do we “know” Jesus was telling us the truth about God’s love for us? …By faith and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. In principal, at least, this is held by evangelicals and progressives alike. There is no magic bullet or “ah ha” moment that comes from reading scripture that dramatically differentiates it from other holy books. As in the first century, one is either impressed by the life and death of Jesus and the witness of early Christians, and therefore excepting him as the Son of God, or we write him off as a well intentioned, but tragically deluded preacher.

      As I recently posted in answer to another Christian on Patheos:

      “I don’t think our problem here is Aristotelian logic but certain presuppositions about the ontology of scripture itself. It is one thing to claim “According to the bible and sound theology, God created man in his image, and then spoke to us. We are able to understand him because we were made to speak HIS language,” then say “John 1:1 In the beginning was the Logos. And the Logos was with God. And the Logos was God… And the Logos became flesh, and dealt among us.” You are, I believe, conflating two different “logos,” applying the same Aristotelian standards of truth to both.

      On the one hand we have scripture, a compilation of disparate literary styles, compiled and created over many centuries by many different authors and scribes, with different agendas. We are not dealing with ONE logos in scripture, but MANY. Whether the many speak with ONE voice is very debatable. I am not here to debate whether God was INVOLVED with scripture, I believe he was. But the assumption that because God is logical, the language he would use in scripture would be Aristotelian cannot be proven from a reading of scripture itself. Instead, we have primarily STORY, not propositional presentations. Occasionally, a human author will make a propositional statement about God, John: God is Love, for example; but, by and large, story, allegory, poetry are used to IMPLY the author’s views about God or the human predicament.
      On the other hand, we have Christ, said to be the “Logos of God.” He is declared to be the “son of God.” Instead of “speaking” through sinful man, he chooses to send his Son, to be a perfect revelation of who he is and what he wants us to be like. Using your analogy of language, Christ more clearly speaks of God to us than scripture does, because, unlike the Bible, Christ as logos is not filtered through man’s limited understanding as scripture is.

      To put it bluntly, Christianity is about a PERSON as God’s final, definitive revelation of himself and not about the Bible. Post-reformation scholasticism’s view of sola scriptura has become way too focused on defense of scripture as an infallible sourcebook of propositional truth. We take our eyes off Christ when this happens and we end up defending our pet theologies of inerrancy, ending up with a legalistic religion devoid of heart.”

      So, on to your premise about “biblical truth” as being either, all true or all false. There is a propensity among evangelicals to see the Bible as not only “containing” propositional truths that by definition must be true, but that these truths add up to ALL of scripture being propositionally true. This where Enns and other progressives part ways with most evangelicals. It is one thing to claim Jesus was infallible or had “…access to supernatural knowledge, such that what he spoke about these things actually corresponds to actual truth – and thus, by definition, they are “inerrant,” and another thing to broaden that to include the biblical writers, whom I suppose we can agree on, were solidly human, not divine.

      “…the question isn’t really about “authority,” it is really about “revelation” – and revelation from God is by definition true (and thus simply by definition, “inerrant.”

      …So here’s another area I am sure you’ve noticed Enns differs from the broad evangelical understanding of revelation. For evangelicals the Bible is equally God’s revelation to us as is Jesus. For Enns it is not. This is the point he tries to get across in his section, “Jesus is bigger than the Bible.” Jesus is THE revelation of God, not scripture, which bears witness to Jesus. This is crucial to understanding Enns, or any progressive for that matter. In Matthew, Jesus is presented as a new law giver, greater than Moses. Jesus refers to himself as having authority over scripture in chapter 5. His breaking of Sabbath laws also underscores he is Lord over the Sabbath.

      ‘I’ll conclude for now with a quote from Roger Olson’s blog:

      “No doubt many conservative evangelical theologians (and others) think they are honoring God by paying him metaphysical compliments derived from Greek-inspired philosophical theology, but what they are really doing is making God very much unlike Jesus who wept, was provoked to anger, rejoiced, etc. Scholastic theology tends to say those were only possible for the Son of God in and through his humanity…
      This is where narrative theology (about which I have posted here before) can be helpful. Our doctrine of God should not be derived from philosophical presuppositions about what is appropriate for the divine but should be derived primarily from the biblical story of God—beginning with Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of God’s person and character and spreading out from there to embrace the passionate God of the Bible who dared to open himself up to pain and peace, sorrow and joy in relation to the world and who could do that because feelings and emotions are part of being personal and God is eternally personal. Having appropriate emotional feelings is part of being in the image of God whereas scholastic theology tends to portray the image of God as reason ruling over emotion, being apathetic.”
      http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.patheos.com%2Fblogs%2Frogereolson%2F2014%2F08%2Fintuitive-evangelical-theology-versus-scholastic-evangelical-theology-classical-christian-theism-as-case-study%2F%23disqus_thread%3A8x3YX35N15SeV1V1r6KGendIYUA&cuid=2572581

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  19. Kirk, operational commitments kept me out of contact for a bit, I hope we can continue the discussion…. let me respond briefly- you mentioned

    Jesus is THE revelation of God, not scripture, which bears witness to Jesus. This is crucial to understanding Enns, or any progressive for that matter. In Matthew, Jesus is presented as a new law giver, greater than Moses. Jesus refers to himself as having authority over scripture in chapter 5. His breaking of Sabbath laws also underscores he is Lord over the Sabbath.

    This I can in general appreciate. And if Enns (or other progressives) affirmed that Jesus was inerrant in all he taught, I would have no quibble whatsoever, my epistemological difficulty would be answered.

    But I don’t see that. For instance, Enns in dealing with Jesus apparent affirmation of Mosaic authorship notes “Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew.” So Jesus believed and spoke about Mosaic authorship not because it was true and Jesus, as absolute authority, was speaking absolute truth, but a Jesus was affirming this erroneous position because it was the tradition he inherited.

    What else, then, did Jesus teach that fell into this category? The final resurrection? The final judgment? His beliefs about eternal life and hell? The mercy of God? If Jesus was mistaken about various things, and taught them not because they were true but because they were the (erroneous or imaginative) beliefs of first century Jews that he inherited…. then again, I am back to the epistemology? How can I have any knowledge about those things that are outside any empirical manner of ascertaining them, if Jesus himself is not a reliable guide?

    So, sure, Jesus is THE revelation from God…. but is he an INERRANT revelation? This is the crux of the matter. So let me return to you this very core question (I think I may have asked it earlier, can’t remember now if you answered):

    Was Jesus’ inerrant?

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  20. (Also, I just briefly re-read some of our discussion, and I would again observe and re-emphasize the quotes I submitted of McGrath, Flood, and Jones all affirming their conviction that Jesus was quite fallible. So I don’t think I’m off base in my estimation that the progressive position, however far it claims to view Jesus as “authoritative”, does not entail a trust in Jesus’ teachings as absolutely true, unquestionable, or inerrant.

    Thus, again, my epistemological difficulty. If Jesus was as fallible in his beliefs and teachings as Enns, McGrath, Flood, and Jones seem to suggest, then how do I determine which of his beliefs about God, eternal life, final judgment, and the like are in fact true, and which are rather the “incorrect” and “problematic” “mistakes” of a “fallible” human “inherited as a first century Jew” that we ought to “question”?)

    So again I return to the core question: Was Jesus inerrant?

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    • Stephan, sorry about the late response. Yahoo Mail put your post in the Junk Mail folder so I didn’t see it until sometime after the Christmas holiday. Then I got busy doing other things.

      Ok, so the real question remains the same even though you’ve move the goalpost a bit. You really, really need/want something, either scripture, Jesus the writers, something infallible to hang your faith on. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you think Jesus as a three year old, ever talked back to his mother Mary, perhaps threw a tantrum or two when he didn’t get his way? Do you think he ever got spanked? Do you think he ever fibbed to his parents while a child?

      As he grew older, reached his teens, do you think he may have had sexual thoughts, or become aroused when he saw someone attractive? Did he ever become angry or impatient with others besides the Pharisees? Did he not know the fig tree was barren before he reached it and cursed it? Mark 11:12-25. Was he actually hungry? Was he just feigning surprise that the tree had no fruit.

      What does the scripture mean “he grew in wisdom and stature?” Luke 2:52. What does scripture mean when it states “he was tempted in all ways as we are?” Hebrews 4:15. Were there things he did not know? Did he have supernatural knowledge of the future? Did he know about cell phones, Mozart and the atom bomb? I’m could go on, but hopefully you get my point. Evangelicals complain about the humanness progressives portray Christ as, but in reality, in their over-emphasis of the divinity of Christ, they end up denying his humanity. In short, the evangelical Jesus is usually quite docetic.

      Again, as with scripture, Christ is sufficient for me, regardless of his humanity.

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  21. Good to hear back from you, I do hope you had some restful and enjoyable time over the holiday as well.

    First, I find the need to channel Adlai Stephenson… “Was Jesus inerrant in what he taught? ‘Yes’ or ‘no’. Don’t wait for the translation. Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’…..” I’m not trying to be silly, but I’ve directly asked numerous times and would appreciate a simple yes or no to this question, so I can clearly understand your perspective as we move forward.

    Secondly, let me clarify the goalpost. The question is about epistemology, specifically about knowledge of ideas, concepts, or realities that are completely inaccessible outside of direct and hence infallible revelation from God. How do we know things to be true that are entirely outside human access…. resurrection to eternal life, hell and punishment, what angels are or are not doing, God’s final judgment and the criteria to be utilized, etc.

    And to clarify, this is neither a personal need nor want for something to be infallible; again, it is logical necessity. When Jesus spoke on these matters, he is either speaking things that are “infallibly true”, or they are “speculative nonsense.” There is simply no middle ground, just like my illustration of the man and the red fish on the distant planet. Claims in this category are either infallibly true due to being transmitted by an infallible source (God’s direct revelation), or complete nonsense. I have no personal need or want in these situations to grasp infallibility, it is simply logical necessity. If you wish to dispute the actual logic involved, I am all ears. But please let us discard the idea that this is due to some personal need or want.

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  22. So, to be equitable as I ask you again to directly answer my question, let me provide direct answers to yours:

    Do you think Jesus as a three year old, ever talked back to his mother Mary, perhaps threw a tantrum or two when he didn’t get his way? Do you think he ever got spanked?

    Talked back in a manner that was sharp but not sinful, quite probably. (He seemed to have done so when he was 12, after all). A tantrum? Expressing his anger or disappointment in the manner that young children do, quite possibly. Out of a sinful motive, no. Spanked? Quite possibly. It is possible he needed a spanking to teach him something or to be disciplined about things that were needed for a child to learn, even if the initial action was not out of sin.

    Do you think he ever fibbed to his parents while a child?

    Now there is a more significant question… if you ask it I assume you believe so. I would say no, if we assume that intentional deceit is sin. But then, even more to the point, can I ask you…. did he ever fib or fudge the truth in some of his teachings that are recorded in the Gospels?

    As he grew older, reached his teens, do you think he may have had sexual thoughts, or become aroused when he saw someone attractive? Did he ever become angry or impatient with others besides the Pharisees?

    Are you intimating that having sexual thoughts or being aroused is inherently a sin? I would assume like any pubescent man he would have had such experiences. I also assume he never allowed such to become sinful lust. Why is this even relevant? Similarly, I assume he would be angry at many things, again, without sin.

    Did he not know the fig tree was barren before he reached it and cursed it? Mark 11:12-25. Was he actually hungry? Was he just feigning surprise that the tree had no fruit……Were there things he did not know? Did he have supernatural knowledge of the future? Did he know about cell phones, Mozart and the atom bomb?

    Yes, he obviously had genuine ignorance about many things. This is indisputable. But a person’s ignorance in some areas do not somehow require them to be ignorant or fallible in other areas. A math professor may have absolutely no knowledge about auto repair and yet write an inerrant math textbook. The question of whether Jesus had supernatural knowledge of cell phones is singularly irrelevant.

    The question of whether Jesus had supernatural knowledge of heaven, of the final judgment, of angels, of God’s character, is quite relevant, however, and returns to my epistemological dilemma. If he did not have such infallible, supernatural knowledge about these items, then everything he said about them were, in fact, fibs.

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  23. So to wrap up for now… might I suggest we take one particular incident in order to focus the discussion: Jesus at one point made a striking promise to someone— He said to a man, “today, you will be with me in paradise.”

    This is not a claim that one can legitimately make short of supernatural or infallible knowledge.

    So, my evangelical perspective is that Jesus, in every way fully human as you discussed above, nevertheless had access to supernatural or divine knowledge in at least some manner such that when he made this claim, he was speaking TRUTH. There really was a “paradise,” and this man would be in it. Thus, this statement I take to be infallibly true.

    So as a progressive, if you wish to deny Jesus had infallible knowledge of this point, I ask you what is the alternative? Jesus was presumably as ignorant about paradise and who would inhabit it as he was about the existence of Mozart and cell phones… so Jesus was making this statement because it was his sincere (but erroneous) belief he inherited as a 1st century Jew? It was his best guess, but he framed as an absolute statement? Was he fibbing, knowing he had no real idea if that man would or wouldn’t be there, but it might comfort him as he died?

    Do you see that, for such a statement, there are only two logical possibilities? Either A) This statement is infallibly true because Jesus had actual infallible knowledge of the afterlife and infallible knowledge that this man would be there, or B) Jesus was tossing out a baseless guess that we have no reason to believe to be true… he had no real way of knowing whether or not there was or wasn’t a paradise, and even if so, no way of knowing if this guy would be in it. Dress it up however we want, but he either had infallible knowledge on this point, or he was essentially lying to that man.

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  24. Pingback: Was Jesus Inerrant? | We See in a Mirror Darkly

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