Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thoughts on Ann and the ADL

In the wake of Ann Coulter's confrontation with the Anti-Defamation League it is interesting to read the comments of David Klinghoffer here at the Discovery Institute.

Being a Jew himself David disagrees with Ann that a Jew must accept the authority of Jesus as Messiah, but he acknowledges that from her perspective her statement was entirely correct.

He goes on the argue that there are two ways of being a Jew, the first being merely a matter of biology. That is, merely an accident of birth. The second, which he advocates himself, sees Jewishness being related to Torah which he sees as being of cosmic significance.

I can subscribe to this position, although as a Christian I would agree with Ann that a Jew should embrace Jesus to be perfected. David deserves credit for a nuanced and reasonable position that seems quite foreign to the Anti Defamation League.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thoughts on Tabloid Theology

Michael Patton has some interesting thoughts to share on the subject of Tabloid Theology here.

In his words tabloid theology emphasizes sensationalist claims without criticism. This results in a theology that is very prone to being disrupted by encounters with cold hard reality.

In agreement with him I advocate a form of critical theology, where every claim is subjected to a high degree of scrutiny. Unlike Michael I am not a cessationalist, believing that the gifts of God's Holy Spirit are available to achieve His purposes today, but because of that we should be even more vigilant to ensure no false reports be included among our testimony.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thoughts on Quirinius

The Census of Quirinius and the birth of Jesus of Nazereth

As I have said in an earlier post the internal evidence suggests that Jesus was born between 6 and 4BC during the closing years of the reign of Herod the Great and during a census ordered by Augustus. The problem with this dating is that, according to Josephus, Quirinius whom Luke places as Governer of Syria at the time of the census did not ascend to that rank until about 6AD, a 10 to 12 year difference.

There have been a variety of suggested solutions to the problem and the referenced article mentions two. The first being that the passage in Luke can be translated:

This census happened before Quirinius was in charge of Syria’

While this is possible answer the writer of the article points out that such a translation is inconsistant with normal Greek practise.

A second answer is to suggest that Quirinius was governor of Syria at an earlier stage but as the writer points out again; although there is evidence that someone was legate for a second time in Syria, that person is not identified and the gaps that could be filled by Quirinius are before 10BC and from 4-1BC. Neither of these frame the time period that Jesus' birth embraced.

The writer's conclusion is that Luke's information is faulty and perhaps it is; even a careful historian may preserve incorrect information. However let us see if there are other possible options available to us.

Could Josephus be at fault? The gospel of Luke is the precursor to the book of Acts which internal evidence suggests was composed about 60AD. It is therefore closer to the events than Josephus' own writings. As careful a historian as Luke was demonstrated to be by Sir William Ramsay should perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless I do not favour this answer. Josephus too has been shown to be a careful historian.

Perhaps the simplest answer is to acknowledge that a combination of distance and the techniques available to the ancients did not fasciliatate rapid compilation and assessment of data. The census begun prior to the birth of Jesus was not completed until Quirinius took over the governership of Syria. This attempted harmonisation does seem to answer the point without requiring any of the recorders to be in error.

Ultimately we cannot know for sure what happened 2000 years ago. There are difficulties in understanding certain parts of the Bible. However claiming that we need 100% certainty in every aspect of the Bible erects a standard that few, if any, documents could meet. The basics of Christianity can be fairly well established by normal historical criteria. The evidence is sufficient; it is not exhaustive.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A criticism of Randerson

Professor Richard Dawkins, a zoologist from Oxford, has written a book called The God Delusion, in which he attempts to offer cogent argument against religious belief in general and Christian belief in particular. Leaving aside the ludicrous idea of a zoologist and atheist writing about religion, we turn our eyes closer to home and another Richard, Richard Randerson by name, who holds a position of some significance within the Anglican Church of New Zealand.

According to Deputy Bishop Randerson the appropriate response to Professor Dawkins’ fulminations is to roll on ones back and play dead. More specifically; to say that the response to Dawkins’ criticisms of Christianity is that some in the Christian church don’t believe in such concepts as God as supreme being anyway. Such a position is not Christian.

To argue that science cannot prove the existence of God as Randerson does is to say nothing. The scientific process is based on an individual observing a phenomena, constructing a hypothetical mechanism to explain that phenomena, testing the hypothesis and if it stands declaring it a theory and casting it into the trash if it does not. Few if any “theories” are proven; they are merely in a state of pre-falsification. Science does provide us with inferences such as the argument from first cause, or the design argument, which suggest the existence of deity but such general revelation does not lead us automatically to the God of the Bible.

The specific means by which we can know about God is through the Bible. This book records a history of the relationship between God and the human race through the eyes of Moses and the people of Israel. However Randerson rejects much of this book as well, in favour of his “god is a warm fuzzy feeling” heresy. He rejects the existence of the first man and woman, despite the fact that even atheists recognize that without a literal Adam and Eve and a literal rebellion against God, there is no need for Jesus, a divine settling of debts (atonement) or a literal resurrection. Interestingly enough Randerson accepts some form of resurrection despite it being unnecessary from his perspective and impossible for his warm fuzzy god to achieve.

The gospels that we have were determined by Dr. John A.T. Robinson to have been written prior to 64AD, within forty years of the Crucifixion and within the lifetime of many observers including Mary, Jesus’ mother. The gospels of Mark and Luke were not written by eyewitnesses but by researchers who were extremely careful in their work. It makes no sense for Randerson to reject the accounts of the Virgin Birth because Matthew and Luke could not have experienced it personally, if they could get the information from others. Those sources could have been friends of Joseph for Matthew, and Mary for Luke.

Christianity is based on events whose historical accounts at least rival the accuracy of other ancient sources. The doctrines derived from the accounts are logical and rational. In place of them Richard Randerson would substitute a tyranny of feelings and post-modern illogic. Ironically on this point Professor Dawkins and I agree. Dawkins despises Christians, but he has no use for those who profess some watered down beliefs. The beliefs of liberal Churchmen like Richard Randerson are indistinguishable from those of atheists on any point that matter and hence I have no use for them either.

I may have been a little hard on Richard Randerson, based on later comments he seems to adhere to a fairly orthodox position on the nature of God and Jesus. However the main thrust of my argument, that the Christian should not compromise their position because of the latest nonsense from atheists, is undisturbed.