How not to be secular (review)

Smith gives us a roadmap of Charles Taylor’s analysis of modernity. On most accounts, Smith’s treatment excels and the reader is well-equipped to analyze both Taylor’s work and (post)modernity in general. The book suffers from an unfocused conclusion and Smith’s overreliance on postmodern pop culture.

In some ways the most valuable aspect is Smith’s glossary of key terms in Taylor (noted below).

Smith’s version of Taylor (S-T) avoids crude genealogical accounts of how the West declined. But there were ideological moments that made it possible. And that leads to Taylor’s thesis: it is not that belief in God is simply wrong for secularists; rather, it is unthinkable. The structures that made belief in God likely on a societal level, so Taylor, are not there anymore.

With this shift came a different understand of person and cosmos. The pre-modern self is ‘porous,’ open to outside influences (grace, blessing, curses, demons). Thus, the modern self is “buffered,” insulated from outside forces (Smith 30). But that gives way to another phenomenon: the nova effect: new modes of being that try to forge a way through cross-pressures (14ff).

Smith has an interesting but undeveloped account of epistemology and the immanent frame (IF). The IF is a concept that, like a frame, boxes in and boxes out, focuses in and out. It captures how we inhabit our age (92). It is our orientation to the world. It is more of a “vibe” than a set of deductions.

Smith is concerned that foundationalist accounts of knowledge (justified, true belief) play into a closed-world, naturalist system. “If knowledge is knowing something outside my mind, the transcendent would be about as far away as one could get” (98).

Criticisms

One horn of my criticism is aesthetic. I think postmodern literature and art is an offense against decency, so I really can’t “relate” to Smith’s usage of them. But that doesn’t negate Smith’s thesis. The other horn of my criticism is that Smith tends to give too much of the farm away. His initial claim is good: secularism not only makes belief in God difficult, it entails an entirely new structure of beliefs that do not have room for God. But I am not sure, pace Smith, why I should be impressed with this new structure. Smith asks “How do we recognize and affirm the difficulty of belief” [in a secular age, p. 6]? The first part of the question is fine–we all recognize that belief in God can be difficult for our age. But why affirm it? What does that even mean or look like? To be fair, Smith acknowledges this point occasionally (20 n32).

Nonetheless, the book has a number of poignant (and occasionally brilliant) insights that should provide good reflection for apologetics and evangelism.

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Review: Waverly (Sir Walter Scott)

“Under which king, Benvolio? Speak or die!”

Edward Waverly might not be the most complex character, and it seems too cheap to say he is “relatable” because of his flaws.  Rather, it might be the case that his youth and zeal for romance make him someone we can at least understand. We’ve many of us longed for heroic (if necessarily doomed) causes.   And yet Walter Scott never ridicules him. In fact, he paints him in a compelling light.Image result for waverly oxford world classics

Edward Waverly, raised on horseback riding and romance novels, joins the military and does a tour in Scotland, and then falls in with Highlanders while on furlough.  Through it all he meets several women, one complicated, one noble, and must navigate the political machinations of the Pretender, rival clans, and the English Army.

Analysis

This book has all the strengths and weaknesses of a Scott novel.  There is skilled poetry, intrigue, and complex (and sometimes hilarious) characters.  Unfortunately, like many Scott novels, there is a lot of “filler” and it has the feel of being episodic.  

Could we call the Waverly novels  “Wisdom Literature?”  Perhaps.  Scott often writes in the 2nd person and makes poignant remarks about the human character.

Further, while Scott ridiculed Presbyterians and Covenanters, he didn’t pull cheap shots. It’s like Flannery O’Connor’s fundamentalist protestants.  They are actually quite fun to watch.

The story is interesting, however, and this is definitely one of Scott’s finest.

On How to Read Samuel Johnson

I picked up a copy of his Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics) last spring.  I’ve read bits and pieces of it but never had much time to invest in it.  I’ve taught passages from Johnson before and students, even if they didn’t like him, at least followed along.

(For a good intro, see the essay on Johnson in this book Reading the Classics with CS Lewis)
While I recommend getting his Major Works, I am not sure reading it straight through is the best bet.  Here is how I approach him, with perhaps some questions.18119045_1042335419232498_4289689497078929134_n

“London”

Johnson’s early foray into the scene.  Magnificent patriotic poem.

Selections from the Rambler

CS Lewis read “The Rambler” before bed most nights.  Here is where Johnson can challenge us.  In no. 114 he criticizes capital punishment.  For those of us with a biblical view of justice, and given that Johnson was such a manly patriot, how do we square this?  (Hint: it has to do with the English justice system; cf. “London,” lines 247-254).

The Idler and The Rambler should constitute the bulk of the early reading of Johnson.  The essays demonstrate admirable prose.  They are to the point.

The English Dictionary

This can present something of a challenge to the reviewer.  Even the abridged versions are long, and most don’t read dictionaries straight through.  However, it makes good reading when you don’t have long to read.  And his not-so-subtle jabs at the French are funny.  And he also goes on thot patrol a few times.

 

An Apologetics Primer

My church group began discussing ideas about an apologetics course this summer.  I’m wondering what kind of books to use.  Nothing too advanced.  And I don’t want this to become a “different styles of apologetics.”  Those discussions are usually as fruitful as sucking a gas pipe.  But I have found the following to be good in getting you to think about thinking.

My goal is not to “prove” anything or say x apologetic method is good.  I just want you to be good at thinking, and thinking about thinking.

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with all Your Mind.  The place to start.  I’ve read it probably half a dozen times.  I used to buy it on the cheap and give it away.

Moreland, J.P.  Kingdom Triangle. Never quite gained the importance of his other book, but in many ways the argument is more focused.

McCall, Thomas.  An Invitation to Analytic Theology.  This will teach you how to break down an issue.

Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil and Knowledge and Christian Belief.  After Plantinga atheists realized they could no longer say that evil made the Christian worldview contradictory.

Clark, Kelly James.  Return to Reason. Plantinga’s lieutenant, so to speak.  Read this before you dive into Plantinga.

Clark, Kelly. ed. 101 Philosophical Terms You Need to Know.

Quick Primer on Analytic Philosophy

Before the 1970s analytic philosophy hadn’t yet escaped from logical positivism.  But even Ayers saw through that.  Now analytic philosophy has been liberated.  Here are some mandatory texts:

Wittgenstein, Ludwig.  Tractatus.  My favorite, even if he is utterly wrong.  He corrected some of this in Philosophical Investigations.

Russell, Bertrand.  Problems of Philosophy.  Once you get past Russell’s being in love with himself, it’s actually a good book.

Lewis, David.  On the Plurality of Worlds.  Not an easy read, but Possible Worlds Semantics is such a huge breakthrough.

Husserl, E.  Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy.  Not sure if Husserl is analytic or continental.  I’ve seen both use him.

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom, and Evil. You don’t have to accept his free will defense.  I like his discussions on the difference between logical and physical impossibilities. But more importantly, this is an initiation into his next volume.

Plantinga, Alvin.  The Nature of Necessity.  Third hardest book I’ve ever read, but one of the most powerful.

Poythress, Vern.  Logic: A God Centered Approach.  Flawed in many ways, but he does a good job in decoding what all the symbols mean.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  John Locke and the Ethics of Belief.

Loux, Michael.  Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.

Kripke, Saul.  The Nature of Necessity.  The 20th century classic in analytic metaphysics.

Chisholm, Roderick.  On Metaphysics.  First introduced me to the Problem of Theseus’s Ship.

Rowe, William.  Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality.  Covers a lot of issues that come up with free will.

Van Inwagen, Peter.  Metaphysics.  It’s not often you see a materialist defend free will.

Swinburne, Richard.  Evolution of the Soul.  Once you get past his evolutionary assumptions, there are some great insights on the mind-body problem.

Moreland, JP. Universals.

Notes on Heiser’s Unseen Realm, 2

My opening notes here.  A problem with the Sethite reading.

PART 4: YAHWEH AND HIS PORTION

Chapter 16: Abraham’s Word

Throughout the Abrahamic narrative, Abraham “sees” the Word.  Visible Yahweh thesis; Two Powers in Heaven.

Chapter 18: What’s in a Name?

Yahweh tells Moses that he will send an angel and put his Name in the Angel. The Angel will be able to forgive sins (Ex. 23.20-22). “The Name” (Ha-Shem) is a Person (Isaiah 30.27-28; Psalm 20.1, 7).

Chapter 20: Retooling the Template

Believing Israel: God’s Earthly Council

The 70 elders of Israel were a contrast to the corrupt elohim of the divine council (the 70 nations of Gen. 10).

Isaiah 24:23–Yahweh will punish the host of heaven, in heaven. Aside from God’s nuking a few stars, the only plausible reading is God’s punishing the beney elohim.

Rev. 4-5: 24 elders surround God’s throne.  God will replace the corrupt elohim by loyal members of his own family (155ff).

Paul’s logic in Romans 4: Abraham would be the father of many nations, yet the nations besides Israel were then under the domain of the corrupt elohim.

Eden and Sinai

The divine council, which Daniel 7 later on calls a “court” for judgment, mediated the law (Acts 7:52-53; Heb. 2:2).

Chapter 22: Realm Distinction

Holiness and Sacred Space

Azazel.  While it could mean scapegoat (Lev. 16.8), it is also a proper name. One goat is “for Yahweh” and another is “for Azazel.”  The parallelism demands the latter be a proper name (176). The priest isn’t sacrificing to Azazel; rather, Azazel is getting what is his: sin.  Realm distinction and cosmic geography go hand in hand.

PART 5: CONQUEST AND FAILURE

Chapter 23: Giant Problems

nephilim
Go watch the movie “The Fallen Ones.” Yes, it’s terrible but the opening scene is fairly accurate

However the Israelites would have interpreted Gen. 6, it is certain they wouldn’t have demythologized the text.

Does Matt. 22:23-33 rule out the supernatural view? The Bible tells of angels physically interacting with humans. Some considerations:

  1. This text never says angels can’t have sexual relations. It just says they don’t.
  2. Nevertheless, Genesis 6 isn’t the spiritual realm, so the situation doesn’t apply.
  3. This event is far less radical in what is required of a belief than the Incarnation.
  4. The actions in Genesis 18-19 are physical actions (eating food, taking hold of Lot, etc.).
  5. In Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with an elohim and the elohim can be touched and in return physically harm Jacob.
  6. Everyone believes angels can speak, yet on this objection how can an incorporeal being produce sound waves?
  7. Angels open doors (Acts 5:19)
  8. They hit the disciples (Acts 12.7).

Nephilim after the flood

Chapter 24: The Place of the Serpent

800px-Mt._Hermon_from_Manara(GllSprng_319PAN)

Israel will face two enemies in the Holy Land: descendants of the Nephilim and those under the dominion of foreign gods.  The former had to be annihilated. The descendants of the Nephilim are related to the Rephaim (Num. 13:11, 20).

Chapter 28: Divine Misdirection

The OT didn’t have a concept of a dying and rising maschiach.  If it did, and if it were obvious, Peter wouldn’t have rebuked Christ for suggesting that.  Christ wouldn’t have had to explain it on the Emmaus Road. It was veiled because if the powers of the world understood it (1 Cor 2), they wouldn’t have put Jesus to death. “Even the angels didn’t know the plan” (1 Pet. 1:12).

Chapter 29: Rider in the clouds

Daniel 7: Divine Council

Cloud rider: in the ANE, someone who rode the clouds was divine (Ugaritic Baal Cycle; Ps. 104:1-4; Isaiah 19:1). Daniel 7 adjusts this in a way: the one who receives this title is someone alongside Yahweh.

PART 7: THE KINGDOM ALREADY

 

Chapter 32: Preeminent Domain

Matthew 16.  There is a connection between Caesarea Phillipi and “Gates of Hades.”  It is the Bashan Mountain region, close to Mt. Hermon. Caearea Phillipi was also called “Panias,” a sanctuary to Zeus and Pan (cf. Eusebius).

Mt Hermon was considered the gateway to the realm of the dead (cf. n15).

israel-2011-267

Chapter 33: A Beneficial Death

Bulls of Bashan

Matthew 27 parallels Psalm 22.

Bashan is the realm of death and Hades.  Also see Amos 4. Amos’s calling the women “cows of Bashan” isn’t simply Amos going on thot patrol. It could very well be that the cows themselves are deities in the form of idols. The Hebrew words dallim and ebyonim are also in Psalm 82.

The Fall of Bashan

Mountain of Bashan/God in Psalm 68 should be translated mountain of gods, since it is immediately contrasted with Mt. Zion.  It wouldn’t make any sense if they were the same: why would the mountain look upon itself with envy?

Chapter 35: Sons of God, Seed of Abraham Gog, Magog, and Bashan

  1.  Gog will come from the heights of the North (Ezek. 38:15;39.2).  The invasion is in a supernatural context. Heiser writes, “The Gog invasion would be the response of a supernatural evil against the Messiah and his kingdom” (364).

Semantics of Biblical Language (Barr)

Docetism is a perennial heresy, and even those who would agree with Barr’s (correct) conclusions, and perhaps even dislike the discipline of biblical theology, would probably find that they, too, practice a form of Docetism.  I’ll put my cards on the table and begin with the conclusion. Barr notes, “Thus the isolation of Hebrew from general linguistics tends to heighten the impression of Hebrew….being quite extraordinarily unique in its structure” (Barr 291).  Barr’s opponents did theology by word-studies based on the assumption that Hebrew was special. I think the danger today, as noted in the quote above, is that we isolate Hebrew from its Ancient Near Eastern culture.

Semantics: study of signification in language (Barr 1).

The problem with the Greek-Hebrew contrast:  there is posited a contrast between “Greek” and “Hebrew” thinking, yet the Biblical Theology guys rightly affirm a unity in the Bible.  So how to get around this?

Nonetheless, Barr isn’t criticising Biblical Theology per se, but only faulty methodologies (6).

Contrast of Greek and Hebrew Thought

Barr’s problem is not with “Hebrew vs Greek thought” per se.  Rather, he is saying you can’t trace the contrast to the languages.

I admit that it is dangerous to speak of a “Greek worldview,” but if we take the leading Greek thinkers (Plotinus, Plato) we will see that they are antithetical to the biblical model.  We have to be careful in not placing the antithesis at the level of word-studies.  You can find anti-biblical, anti-creational elements all over Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.  Explode those.  

Granted, claims about “the Hebrew psychology” are silly, but we don’t need to go there.

Barr’s challenge: are there linguistic phenomena that can be tested to such claims (23)?  Remember, Barr isn’t saying there is no biblical mindset, pace some of his defenders; rather, he is saying you can’t trace that to the magical verbal roots or something.

Dangers in Interpretation

Root word fallacy (101ff): Hebrew words often have three root consonants.  Therefore, the meaning of the word is by finding its root. Barr counters by noting that bread (lhm) and war (mlhama) have the same root.  Therefore, bread and war have the same semantic domain! Indeed, many scholars think etymology is worthless. Do you need a quick refutation of Heidegger? Heidegger says truth (alethia) means unconcealment, since lethos means forgetfulness and the alpha-privative negates that.  It’s the same fallacy.

Illegitimate totality transfer: we all know that a word can have multiple shades of meaning.  Therefore, per this fallacy, any time a word is used, all of the nuances are overloaded into that meaning!

Illegitimate identity transfer: similar to above.  When we read a word’s other meaning into this usage. The Hebrew dabar can mean both word and thing.  And since an event is a thing, every time we read of dabar Yahweh, we can read of the revelation event of Yahweh!

The book has a long chapter on the fallacies in Kittel’s theological dictionary.  I won’t spend time on it simply because no one uses Kittel anymore.