Archive | April, 2016

Taking a text literally

13 Apr

Literalists get bad press and are viewed as simplistic and irrational at times.

I’ve recently heard both an agnostic, Stanley Fish, and a Christian, Hugh Ross, expound on how to take a text literally. And they are nothing but reasoned and intelligent men who document a sensible manner to textual analysis.  Both men are experts in their field: Fish is currently a visiting professor at the Cardozo School of Law in NYC.  Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist who founded and guides a Christian think tank called Reasons to Believe.

Our law professor is a practitioner of intentional originalism.  Simplified, this is a method of interpreting the Constitution regarding cases that come before a court.  One examines the meaning of the original words in the written text and searches to find the original intent of those who wrote the law or the Constitution. Antonin Scalia, the recently deceased Supreme Court justice was also an originalist. However, he placed more emphasis on the text and differed from Fish who gave more weight to the intent of the author(s).

Although this distinction is not that wide, what IS striking is the vast gulf in worldviews between Scalia and Fish.  Apparently some critics of originalism have criticized Justice Scalia’s originalism as just ‘code’ for conservative values. That’s a simplistic strawman fallacy, however, even per Fish.

The other misunderstood ‘smart man’ is Hugh Ross who as a Christian takes the Bible literally.  And he is an old earth creationist.  Yes, he does believe the universe was created in 6 days.  But what counts is the translation of the Hebrew term, ‘day’. As Ross explains, Hebrew uses a small vocabulary compared to English. Here’s what Wikipedia writes:

Although it is commonly rendered as day in English translations, the word yom has several literal definitions: [1]

  • Period of light (as contrasted with the period of darkness),
  • Period of twenty-four hours
  • General term for time
  • Point of time
  • Sunrise to sunset
  • Sunset to next sunset
  • A year (in the plural; I Sam 27:7; Ex 13:10, etc.)
  • Time period of unspecified length.
  • A long, but finite span of time – ageepochseason.

To determine the appropriate literal meaning for words in Genesis, one has to look at the context and reasonably (based on REASON) evaluate which meaning best fits the context. Yes, this is a humble undertaking, but not beyond the abilities God has given us and redeemed for His use.

Here’s a clue for Hugh Ross that Yom means an epoch or long time, his view. He points to the words ‘evening….morning, the first day‘ and makes the obvious observation that until Day 4, there IS no sun, hence no 24-hour rotation of the earth.  Look at the text below:

Genesis 1:3-5

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

What do you make, then, of the words ‘evening….morning’?  Dr. Hugh Ross offers the following, as what he thinks could very well have been the intention of the author, God:

  • ‘evening and morning’ are used to communicate the start and the end of a period of time

In the evangelical world, there are Christians who self-identify as ‘young earth creationists’.  From some of the criticisms I’ve heard leveled at their ‘old earth creationist’ brothers and sisters, these Christians FEAR that assenting to ‘an old earth creation model’ smuggles in an accompanying assent to Darwinian evolution.  I can understand that fear, but I believe it is unfounded and not reasonable. These believers are acting more like liberal legislators or judges who fear that originalism might open the door to conservative values.

These differing approaches to finding truth DO encourage me in one way.  They showcase that most folks really do believe and function in a world of values and truth. (good, bad, right, wrong…). And the fact that people hold differing worldviews does not prevent them from agreeing on certain principles.

 

 

 

Do you want to stand out from the rest of society? Then use logic!

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

It’s actually a true analysis of many Americans.  When I was hired at a classical Christian school, I was assigned one ‘extra class’ to teach: logic….to 8th graders!  Not knowing the first thing about rational thought and argumentation, it took a year for me stumbling my way through the curriculum to begin to understand it.  And as I continued to grow more skilled in the tools I was acquiring, I realized what a treasure I had been handed.

Logical reasoning is foundational to reading correctly, to arguing cogently, to sniffing out holes in other people’s assertions.  This discipline also goes hand-in-hand with apologetics, that body of knowledge that provides a rational defense for the truth of the claims of Jesus in the Bible.

In my personal life, I continue a gentle but on-going campaign, through prayer and conversational engagement, to provoke a family member to let go of her 4 score of false teaching imbibed in a liberal church.  When we start to disagree and I turn to the Bible to back my point, she’ll retort:

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

She does NOT believe in the divine and infallible inspiration of the writers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Why not?  Because every other Christian she knows, outside of our family and one of her nieces, believes that a ‘fundamentalist’ (her word) interpretation of the Bible naïvely accepts what was the view of primitive men and women, way back ‘then’!

Right off the bat, her argument is weakened by resorting to Chronological Snobbery, that fallacy that rests on the assumption that simply because something is old OR new, it must be better or worse.  No legs under that assertion!

When she restates her attack and critical view of the Bible, she then reminds me that we have travelled this road before, she and I, and we just need to leave it be.

And being the gracious gal that I am, I demur. (I’ll leave you to decide the truth of THAT claim!)

Today, though, I heard a powerful way of reasoning that I think will give her pause.  Let me try out this hypothetical dialogue. Then you can let me know what you think and how she might respond.

me: Just because someone is baptized as a baby, that doesn’t make them a Christian

her: That’s not so!

me: Well, John records Jesus informing Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Jesus likens this spiritual birth to the wind blowing where it wants; man does not control or initiate being ‘born from above’.  It’s a God-launched change, unlike man-centered baptisms that ASSUME the efficacy of a priest declaring ‘you’re a Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (and this procedure).

her: (Version A) – That’s just John’s view!

me: What?  John was an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus!

her: (or Version B) – Humph, the Bible was written by men and things get lost in multiple translations and in all the copying.

  • It’s at THIS point where we usually reach our impasse and move on to something else.  I respect her because she’s older and I don’t want to be TOO pushy.
  • But now I think I will add….

me: You do believe that Jesus died for your sins and that you’ll have eternal life with him when you die?

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

me: And where do you find that in the Bible? What makes you so sure that you are banking on a true doctrine or teaching?   (Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, advises: ‘Ask a question to make a point.‘)

her: I’m not a ‘Bible scholar’ like you, but I know the church teaches that.

me: Why do you trust what ‘men’ say and teach? What if that doctrine is just a primitive and naïve interpretation?

her:  I have no idea.

me: (another possible question for her) Do you believe the accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  If so, why?

her: That’s a solid belief that every Christian agrees on; nothing controversial there!

me: So do you always believe a position to be true because ‘everyone believes it’? Could ‘everyone’ be wrong about something?

I’m not sure how she might respond.  Any ideas?  My fervent prayer is that this dear lady finally abandons her resistance and trust God.  After all, if one can believe the biggest miracle (or fish story!)

  • of the immaterial God coming to earth in the form of another mortal human being,
  • of being murdered under trumped-up false charges,
  • and of then being raised from the dead and ascending to Heaven,

….then why not take Jesus at his word regarding the truth of all the Scriptures?

Matthew 5:18  (Jesus asserts) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!