revelation

Is Talman Also Among the Islamicists?

In my previous post I discussed Harley Talman’s argument that Christians ought to entertain the notion that Muhammad might have been a prophet (though not a very good one).  Other critics have pointed out biblical and scriptural flaws with his argument.  But since very few Christian bloggers have specific training in Islamic studies (the academic study of Islam), I thought it might be useful if I pointed out some criticisms of Talman’s argument from the perspective of Islamicists (experts in studying Islam).  In addition to a few outright errors, Talman provides historically ignorant interpretations of the available sources.  In particular, the crux of my disagreement is that Talman argues that the Qur’an is not in fact anti-Trinitarian, as accepted by almost all Islamicists (regardless of their religious views).  Instead, he claims that the Qur’an only criticizes unorthodox Christian views which orthodox Christians ought also to reject.  I think this assertion is untenable, and this flaw is fatal to his entire argument. (more…)

Biblical Authority: Yes! Sola Scriptura? Maybe.

The Bible is amazing.  The God who created all the universe and each tiny flower in a mountain meadow decided to communicate with people in their own language, and to inspire people to write it down for future generations to read!  Even the Bible talks about about invaluable and awe-inspiring the Scripture is.  God gave the law through Moses, and after he re-hashed it all to the Israelites in the plain of Moab (Deuteronomy means “second [statement of the] law”), Moses said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut 32:47).  God spoke through Isaiah, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).  When Jesus quoted a difficult passage of the psalms, he parenthetically remarked, “And the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  The Bible is fully authoritative, life-giving, and amazingly clear (indeed, often far too clear for our comfortable self-deceptions).  I do not think we can speak highly enough of God’s gracious gift of Scripture.  But it is possible to speak inaccurately of it.

“Sola Scriptura” is one of the five Reformation “solas” (the plural ought to be solae, or rather soli, since one of them is masculine).  It is called the “formal principle” of the Reformation, meaning what distinguishes Protestant theology’s method from the theology of Roman Catholics.  But “sola Scriptura” has come to mean many different things to different people.  It seems to me that some of these meanings are true, but some of them are false.  We must evaluate these meanings in turn. (more…)

History Without Witnesses? A Question of Apostolic Knowledge

I love a good question.  It can provide an opportunity for new thinking, and new insights.

Many people presume that because I am an academic in a “secular” discipline, that there must be some tension between my Christian faith and my intellectual activities.  I know of none.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers I would like to have, I do regard Christian faith as fully intellectually satisfying (as well as, more importantly, spiritually salvific), and I regard the biblical texts (rightly interpreted) as first-class historical sources.

Recently I was asked how I, as a historian, deal with episodes in the gospels which specify that the apostles were not there.  I mean, we may regard the apostles as eyewitnesses in a general sense, but how could the authors of the gospels know what they themselves admit that they could not have witnessed?  The result of this line of thinking surprised me. (more…)

Is Prayer a Conversation?

Christians struggle how to understand prayer.  Many people think of prayer as a token to the great vending machine in the sky, which is clearly wrong.  Some people think of prayer as a particularly holy work for those who can muster enough faith for it.  People present God with lists of requests, sometimes demands, or try to bargain with God, while others insist that prayer for physical things is (not only ineffective but also) merely selfish, so they upholster their prayers in pious verbiage to protect it from encountering anything hard (or real).  Some people say prayer is a conversation between a Christian and God, but the obvious objection is that unlike in human conversations, (most) Christians don’t hear audible responses to their prayers.  Some Christians create a model of “holy” conversation by pointing to God’s revelation (Scripture and creation) for God’s part of the dialogue, while others just think prayer is too one-sided to be a conversation at all.  Is prayer a conversation? (more…)

“Fear not!”

(I haven’t written for a few weeks, partly because of starting my new job, and partly because the situation in northern Iraq was driving me to write in other venues…)

I did not grow up in a church, and so I am always a little curious what going to church is like for children.  I particularly appreciate this gem, from a puppet re-telling of the Christmas story in Luke 2:

  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Fear not!
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: What part of “fear not” didn’t you understand?
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Never mind.  I bring you good news…

It always strikes me how fearful many Christians remain, even though Christ has already given us all that we need for godly lives.  To hear some Christians talk (or blog), they are afraid of Islam, atheism, homosexuality, church shrinkage, cultural de-Christianization, loss of constitutional rights, President Obama, censorship, contraception, courts, and the news media.  This is clearly a very heterogeneous bucket o’ fear. (more…)

Fighting Truth Decay

This is, at long last, an answer to a question posted by a commentator (I’m sorry to say over a month ago): “[H]ow do you see Christ as having made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages (if you see Him as having done so at all)?”  Subsequent discussion revealed that he did not mean merely since Christ’s ascension to heaven.  So this post attempts to address the question in general, but first (as a humanities scholar is apt to do), I need to clarify the issue.

Clarifying the Problem

What does it mean to “guarantee the preservation of Truth”?  In what ways is Truth not preserved?  Truth is not an organic mass which begins to decompose in the summer heat, changing color and attracting flies.  Nor is truth a substance that can be diluted or transmuted.  Truth is a property of certain beliefs, and the “preservation of Truth” is the preservation of true beliefs in the minds of people.  A true belief may fail to be preserved in the minds of people either by failing to pass it on to new people, so that the true belief may be said to end (in a sense) with the death of the last person who believes it, or by being rejected in favor of alternate (and false) beliefs.  Since no sound argument can refute a true belief, if we were fully rational beings, no true belief would ever be rejected for a false belief.  And if we were immortal and perfectly rational beings, truth would be in no danger.  But in fact, we are both mortal, so beliefs need to be passed on, and sinful, so that we often prefer convenient falsehoods to inconvenient truths.  And thus true beliefs need to be preserved.  The transfer of true beliefs to other people is a variety of revelation, the means by which those other people come to believe this truth.  The question of how sinful people are checked from simply chucking out whatever truth they don’t like is a question of redemption.  In both processes, God’s message of salvation is at stake, and therefore this is an important question. (more…)

The Miracle of Communication

I am a convert to Christianity, out of an aggressive form of postmodernism which denied any subject-independent reality.  In other words, my world’s only mine and your world’s yours, and how dare you tell me anything about the way my world is!  I thought we are really locked into our own separate worlds, and never the twain shall meet.

Such an extreme version of postmodernism ran into a problem: communication.  Somehow, people who have never had unmediated access to each other’s experiences of world, figure out a way to share ideas and describe experiences in ways the other can understand.  And this happens all the time.  It’s not even considered particularly remarkable. (more…)