Saturday, 28 July 2018

Why theology is not a science (and neither should it be)

We live in a time where science is held in an almost mystical reverence by many people (mostly non-scientists) and this is not new. The result has been that many academic fields that was originally not considered as "science", has either lost their respectable positions  (e.g. various arts, literature and even philosophy) or has tried to present themselves in a more "scientific" guise. This reverence for science (often without really understanding the strength and weaknesses of science) has many unfortunate consequences, including the lack of training by the majority of scientists in basic logic or the philosophy of science, the very presuppositions and assumptions on which all their scientific work is built. To be sure, I can do good science without thinking or understanding the principles on which my scientific method rests (yes, there is not just one "scientific method", in spite of what many scientists think). I simply need to know my own field and the methods used for research in my field.

But the most unfortunate consequence of this lack in philosophical background, has been the rise of "scientism", the belief that only knowledge based on some "science" can be true or worthwhile and that only that which can be investigated using "science" or scientific principles actually exists at all. Just a moment's thought will expose the fallacy of this idea. It means that mathematics (used extensively in all science, but not based on or scientifically proven), logic (used in science, but often also with glaring logic fallacies to be found in scientific publications due to the lack of a solid grounding in basic logic in most science undergraduate programs) the philosophy of science and epistemology (really the foundations of science), and all the historical fields (e.g. history, and archaeology, which do use some scientific tools like carbon dating, but is not and cannot really be called "science" in the modern sense, including the history of science itself) can no longer make any meaningful contribution to knowledge. Philosophy, ethics and theology all obviously becomes superfluous in this "modern scientific" world.

I have for the longest time considered modern "liberal" theology as simply an mask for unbelievers in the Christian community, the mask that hypocrites who no longer believe in Jesus or the God revealed through the Bible, used to hide their unbelief and to pretend to be "good Christians" so that their livelihood would not be under threat (since they are basically paid by the common, believing Christians). A way for them to still be able to call themselves "Christian" or "Christian scholar" or at least "theologian" or "biblical scholar" while simultaneously denying the very fundamentals of the Christians faith. However, I recently realised that at least originally, the early liberal theologians often had totally different motivations. It was for them an attempt to reach "modern" people who had a "scientific" worldview and could no longer believe in the supernatural and miraculous events found throughout the Bible. For them theology and even Christianity was not inherently based on the real existence of a living God and a Jesus who worked wonders or physically rose from the grave, but instead was all about the "ethics" or "spiritual insight" to be found in Christianity. Christianity for them was not about the person of Jesus the Christ, of Nazareth, but about a "historical Jesus" who was not really the Christ "of faith", but who did teach some timeless "truths" that meant that religion and theology was still relevant in the modern word. It was all about saving some kind of "Christianity" or the church and making it acceptable and believable to modern man. In a sense they acted out of love and loyalty, but not loyalty or love for the the God and Jesus of the Bible, rather loyalty to the church and love of religion (and maybe their own positions in the religious structures). They tried to change theology to appear more "scientific", to be based on the same presuppositions as "science", so that in this way it could be relevant and meaningful to modern people. But also to a certain extent so that they would escape some of the disdain in which many of their colleagues in the new modern sciences were looking down on their area of expertise, their "queen of the sciences" having been dethroned. When I talk about "modern theology" here, I use the term in the way that Andrew Murray used it: the so-called "liberal theology" of the nineteenth century and its philosophical modern-day descendants, which includes most of "mainstream" theology taught in most (Dutch) reformed theology faculties in South African universities (see Die Moderne Teologie.pdf).

I have always maintained that if God (the God of the Bible) truly exists, He would in no way be the proper subject of science. He is the Creator of all nature, so there is no way that the methodologies and approach developed to investigate the natural world, would be appropriate or able to investigate a Person so great. He is claimed to be the Creator of all the "laws of nature" painstakingly being discovered by the natural sciences, so how does it make sense that He would Himself in any way be subject to the very laws that He created? Why should a methodology developed so that we can find these regularities in nature tell us anything about the Creator of these laws? The methods and assumptions of the natural sciences for investigating creation, are simply irrelevant to investigating the existence, nature and character of the Creator. Instead, historically the foundations of the natural sciences were based on the philosophical foundation of the God of the Bible (combined with Greek philisophy - http://jameshannam.com/index.htm). Science is based on a foundation of logic, philisophy, mathematics and yes, even theology, rather than the other way round. The reason why the Christian worldview provided the basis for science is twofold:

  1. Christianity postulated that one single God, a God of order and laws, created all of nature and that therefore nature was subject to these laws. This was in contrast to polytheism that postulated different (often capricious) gods ruling over different parts of nature and often in opposition to each other, so that there was no reason to suppose that nature could be predicted using certain laws. This was also in contrast to ancient atheism which could provide not basis to suppose that nature would not simply be chaotic, with anything and everything simply the result of chance and randomness and no reason to presuppose laws of nature that can be used to predict how nature works.
  2. Christianity postulated that nature is just the creation of God and is in no way divine itself. This meant that we were free to investigate and study all aspects of nature in contrast to those religions that held that nature itself was divine and above us, so that as mere humans it would be irreverent to study nature as just an object. Because our God and Father had created nature, as Christians we were not only free, but actually encouraged to study his handiwork as a way to bring more glory to Him, the Creator.

I recently realised that there is another and very important way why modern "liberal" theology is not and should never be considered as a "science" or "scientific". While in science it is true that we "stand on the shoulders of giants", our current knowledge and new discoveries are based on the results of previous research, it is also a basic part of science that the foundations and previous claims are frequently re-examined and retested. And it is this aspect, the repeated experiments or retesting of current theories and hypotheses, that is lacking in modern theology. The "JEDP hypothesis" of the origins of the first 5 books of the Bible, which should have been rejected long ago based on archaeological and other evidence, is still with us in new and modern guises. The fact that we now know from the archaeology how ancient documents in the Near East were copied and changed by their copyists over time, and that this actual evidence shows absolutely nothing like the claimed process of the JEDP hypotheses, is simply ignored by most (all?) modern theologians. The typical feedback and re-examination of evidence that is so important for modern science, is simply absent. Instead, ever-more complex, new hypotheses are simply built on the foundations of previous hypotheses, with little or no new evidence and little or no examination of the basic foundations or assumptions themselves  - it gets refined and expanded, but the hypothesis itself is never seriously subjected to testing and compared to the alternatives. It is well-known by now in the history of religion, that nothing like the pseudo-evolutionary process of religious "development" originally proposed by theory behind the JEDP hypothesis ever occurred... this real, actual evidence is simply ignored in favour of a theoretical framework into which all evidence are simply pressed to fit or else just ignored. It is claimed that writing and literature could not exist in Israel before the existence of a sophisticated monarchy on theoretical grounds, and the actual evidence of literacy and development of alphabetical writing itself among Asiatic slaves and miners in Egypt, simply ignored! The one exception to this uncritical acceptance of theoretical claims without evidence, for which theologians no doubt congratulate each other, is the "traditional" supernatural viewpoint of the Bible as describing real events and a living God, active in history. This is the one hypothesis in theology where no punches are pulled and of which nobody can be sceptical enough. I have no problem with the fact that we should not be gullible in theology and examine everything critically... this approach is actually encouraged in the Bible ("But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;" - 1 Thess.5:21). What I am saying is that the major problem in modern theology is exactly that they do not critically examine everything. Only one hypothesis (that the God of the Bible actually exists as He is revealed in the Bible) is regularly subjected to critical examination, while the alternative hypotheses are not subjected to nearly the same level of scepticism. Modern theology is a pseudo-science, not primarily because it attempts to investigate a Person who would not legitimately be the object of scientific study if He truly exists, but because it is too eager to accept uncritically the alternative hypotheses and isolates itself from the many new discoveries in other fields (like archaeology) and its implications - See On the Reliability of the Old Testament. It pretends to be scientific while showing the same uncritical reverence for "science" that used to be shown for God, not understanding the methodology and limitations of science and evidence even in related fields like archaeology and history. Most importantly, it commonly accepts or illegitimately uses the argument from silence - if there is no external confirming evidence of an event, it is considered as evidence that it did not happen (there is a legitimate argument from silence, but again, there is little evidence that most theologians can distinguish between the two).

Science cannot investigate the supernatural. Its methods were developed to investigate and discover the laws of nature and the natural world, working according to unchanging and predictable laws. By pretending to be scientific in adopting naturalistic assumptions (that there is no super-natural or that we cannot investigate the supernatural), it adopts the weakness of science, but without the strength of science in being truly self-correcting when the evidence is in contradiction to our hypotheses or theories... this makes it a pseudo-science. If theology ever hopes to again be worthy of a title equal to "queen of the sciences", it should unapologetically recover the supernatural as part of its field of study, at least as a legitimate possibility to be investigated, and truly develop a new methodology by which various supernatural claims can be tested and examined carefully; holding fast and accepting only the good and rejecting all evil and falsehood.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Can we trust the Bible? 2

At the end of the blog asking about the inerrancy of the Bible (can-we-still-trust-the-bible), there is an appendix with a number of apparent contradictions in the Bible. While I am not going to answer them one-by-one, I am going to mention a few basic principles that can help us see why most "Biblical contradictions" are nothing of the sort.


  1. Almost every event described in the Bible will only tell what was considered as the most relevant facts. We never tell a story including every single detail. Realising that some facts have been omitted, will go a long way to understanding many apparent "contradictions".
  2. Different parts of the Bible sometimes confirm what is written elsewhere (without meaning to) by providing missing information.
  3. Sometimes we simply do not know what information is missing. This is not a good reason to claim "contradiction".
  4. Much of the Bible is poetry. We should not read poetry as prose. Many so-called "contradictions" are simply a matter of not reading something as the genre it was meant.
  5. There are common usage of hyperbole in the Bible. This is especially true in the Hebrew parts of the Bible. An example (which I read today) is where it claims that Joab killed all the males in Edom, and then explains in the same passage how Hadad, the son of the Edomite king with some of his father's servants escaped to Pharaoh Shisak. "All" is often used to refer to "almost all" or "most" or "all that matter" or "all that they could" (1 Kings 11).
  6. In the same way, when describing what a king did, it is often referring to what his people or his high officials did or implemented. The above passage does not mean that David himself (or even Joab, leader of his army) killed every single Edomite male. But this was never understood in this way and it is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures to read it as such.
  7. Time plays a role. When somebody did not do something immediately it is often recorded as "they did not do it". E.g the women not telling the other disciples about what they saw does not mean that they never ever told anybody about it (otherwise, how could Mark even record it as happening?)! The importance of time when something happened, is often ignored by those who claim ¨contradiction".
  8. Similarly, place plays a role. What happened at one place with one group of people did not happen elsewhere (with another group of people). This is another source of many claimed "contradictions".
  9. Sometimes the Bible focus on one person (or small group of persons) without implying that they were the only ones there or that all of them reacted or acted exactly the same.  As an example, I have a book describing some parts of the life of the missionary "Praying Hyde". In it one colleague (Dr. Chapman) describe in a letter a period of prayer that he spent with this John Hyde and how it impacted himself and his work. There is no mention of anybody else. Then, in the very next paragraph, another colleague (Mr. Charles M. Alexander), who worked together with Dr. Chapman, describe to John Hyde's sister that he was at that meeting as well and that it was almost a whole day. Then at the end of the meeting, they called in a whole team of fellow workers to pray together. Are these two accounts contradictory? I trust that most people will see that it is not. But the Bible is frequently treated differently.
  10. Numbers are often rounded up or down. Similarly for time. A common example is where an event took some time and one author would record the time of the beginning of the event and the other the end or middle of the event (e.g. when did the women come to the tomb of Jesus). And of course, they did not have cell phones or wristwatches for exact time keeping. 
  11. The Bible often do not tell things in chronological order, but in geographical or topical order. This is another frequent reason for claims of "contradiction".
  12. There are some cases of textual corruption in the Bible (but the fact that we can identify them, already tells us something). However, they do not change the meaning of what the Bible actually teaches and are often just a side-note. The only two significant passages of which I know, is John 8:1-11 and the longer ending of Mark 16. For both passages James Snapp Jr (https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=James-Snapp-Jr) has made a fairly strong case to their authenticity. http://www.thetextofthegospels.com

Can we trust the Bible? 1


Questions for those who insist on inerrancy:

1. Where in the Bible does it state inerrancy is an essential of Christian faith?
The words of Jesus Himself (unless of course this record is in error) should be sufficient:
"For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished." (Matt.5:18)
"If He called them gods, men to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be undone or annulled or broken)," (John 10:35
And that Scripture says: 
"The words and promises of the Lord are pure words,
Like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times." (Ps.12:6) and "So I will have an answer for the one who taunts me,
For I trust [completely] in Your word [and its reliability]. ...
 All Your commandments are faithful and trustworthy. 
They have persecuted me with a lie; help me [Lord]! ... 
Forever, O LordYour word is settled in heaven [standing firm and unchangeable]." (Psalm 119:42, 86, 89)
Oh, but that does not include the New Testament? Paul was adamant that the gospel he proclaimed was not just his own: 
"And we also thank God continually for this, that when you received the word of God [concerning salvation] which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe [exercising its inherent, supernatural power in those of faith]." (1 Thess.2:13)
So does Peter, quoting the Old Testament:
"But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word [the good news of salvation] which was preached to you." (1 Pet.1:25)
And Peter considered the writings of Paul as Scripture already:
"And consider the patience of our Lord [His delay in judging and avenging wrongs] as salvation [that is, allowing time for more to be saved]; just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him [by God], speaking about these things as he does in all of his letters. In which there are some things that are difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable [who have fallen into error] twist and misinterpret, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Pet. 3:15-16
This passage also answers the question about how we can have so many different interpretations of the Bible. Our hearts are deceitful and we often twist the meaning of the Scriptures in order for it to say what God did not mean at all.
In this context Jesus said: "Heaven and earth [as now known] will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Matt.24:35) ... if this does not refer to the written records of the words of Jesus, to what does it refer?
2. Did the early church have a Bible to believe was inerrant, or did they believe in the passion narrative and life of Jesus apart from sola scriptura?
How early? When they had the apostles living among them, they had the eyewitness testimony of the apostles themselves. But the apostles themselves depended on the truth and testimony of the Old Testament prophecies (and its fulfilment in Jesus) as a source of authority. Thereafter the church had the writings of the apostles (and of course the Old Testament throughout).
3. Did God give us a book to have a relationship with Him? If the Bible is the sole foundation for Christian thought and worldview, why is it so ambiguous that it could take a team of lawyers to read it, and still disagree on its meaning?
Yes, He gave as a book so that we can test the spirits. So that we can evaluate any teaching in the light of what He has already revealed. So that we can be equipped: "All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honourably with personal integrity and moral courage]; so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim.3:16-17). Is the Bible truly so ambiguous? Or is it too often ourselves who are looking for loopholes (like lawyers so often do) to avoid the full implications of what it teaches? Again, the Scripture itself teaches us that He also gave us the Holy Spirit to interpret it correctly. "So we have the prophetic word made more certain. You do well to pay [close] attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and light breaks through the gloom and the morning star arises in your hearts. But understand this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of or comes from one’s own [personal or special] interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet.1:19-21) The reason why we so often disagree about the meaning of Scripture is exactly because we think it is a matter of one's own interpretation.
4. Have you ever changed your views on a perfectly orthodox article of faith? If you were wrong about one view, and right, or more justified in the other view, how can scripture be inerrant when you held several legitimate views on the same set of biblical texts? I realize the claim is that it is the text that is inerrant, not the interpretation, but how is strict inerrancy maintained when so many theories about the same passages can be legitimately held?
What is a "perfectly orthodox article of faith"? If it is anything that would influence my salvation by Jesus Christ, then no, I have never had to change my views on this. Yes, I have learned a lot more about what it implies to know and follow Jesus, since I first believed in Him, that I did not know in the beginning. And yes, there has been many peripheral issues about which I was wrong (and some about which I am still not sure that I have it correct). How is it possible if the Bible is inerrant? Because we should use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Even from a purely human viewpoint we know that later Biblical authors considered those who wrote before as authoritative and it is reasonable that they knew the previously existing Scriptures. So they would not then on purpose write something to contradict previous revelations. What they would do, is to correct some wrong interpretation of previous Scriptures. In my case, I did not know the Scriptures well enough to always tell which interpretation does not clash with what is said elsewhere. And in my experience, almost every misinterpretation or false teaching (including some that I believed) was based on taking some passages out of context and not taking into account the whole Bible. 
5. Is certainty a necessary condition for believing something is true? Consider other good beliefs we have in other matters and your certainty in them.
Faith in God is based on trust. If He is not trustworthy, I would not have faith in Him. And yes, I have to be certain that I can trust Him in order to believe that what He says is true.
6. Do you believe in Jesus because you have the Bible, or do you trust the Bible because you trust Jesus?
I trust the Bible because I trust Jesus (and the claims that He makes in the Bible). However, I would have no idea who Jesus is, except through the Bible. And if the Biblical record is not trustworthy and true, then who is it that I trust? My own idea of who Jesus is? Like the Jesus seminar always creating a new "Jesus" that fits with what I want Him to be? Not who He truly was and is! But let me continue with this line of argument... It is not necessary to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible to come to faith in Jesus. I only have to accept that the Bible is a reasonably trustworthy revelation of who Jesus was. But once I believe in Him and becomes his follower (a Christian), I also follow his teaching on the authority of the Scriptures. And then I do trust the Bible as the word of God and therefore inerrant. It is in the faithfulness and reliability of God that my trust in the inerrancy of the Bible is based.
7. If the Bible is perfect, what role does the Holy Spirit play in the formation of our faith?
Everything! The Holy Spirit is the One who originally inspired the Bible. And I can only understand the Bible through Him (2 Pet.1:19-21). But I can and should (1 John 4: 1 & 6) test the spirits to see that it is in agreement with what the Holy Spirit has revealed before (in the Scriptures). If not, I must reject it as not being from the Holy Spirit at all.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Why would God care more about what we believe about God than how we live for God?

Although old, I only recently discovered this thread: One question fundamentalists cannot answer:

Why would God care more about what we believe about God than how we live for God?

The first point I would make is that "believe" and "faith" in the Bible is primary about trusting God and his faithfulness. This is also why we fundamentalists emphasise the reliability of the Bible as God's Word - God is faithful and trustworthy, also in his communication with us (i.e. his inspired Word), otherwise how could we trust Him?

But the real answer to the actual question is this: What we truly believe determines how we live and how we act. If we do not trust Him, we cannot truly love Him. We cannot live a life of dependence on Him. We cannot truly love even our enemies, because He loves them. We cannot look at the world through His eyes. We can try do do all of these things as "followers" of Jesus Christ (Christians), but what will inevitably happens, is that we will eventually discover (even if it takes years) that this is simply not humanly possible (without supernatural help). And when that happens, we can react to this realisation in a number of different ways (all bad), unless we have learned to believe in Him:
  1. We give up on the Christian life and on the Christian message. We become either a New Age "spiritual person" believing that all religions are basically the same and only accepting the "ethical teachings" from each (according to our own definition of "ethical" now) OR we become atheist agnostic. We basically concludes that "Christianity doesn't work".
  2. We redefines who God is and what He expects of us according to how we want Him to be. So we choose our ethics of love according to what we find easy and possible for ourselves. Those sins of which we are not guilty, we condemn (especially lack of love in others), while we excuse the sins of which we are guilty as acceptable to God (through various creative reinterpretations) because "He loves us". We basically redefine "Christianity" to suit ourselves, creating an idol of our own making.
  3. ...
James 2 makes the point clearly that what we truly believe, determines how we act, irrespective of what we say we believe. If I believe the Good News as proclaimed in the Bible about God's breaking into our world through his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, it will change my life. If however, I only see Jesus as a good teacher (as did many of the Pharisees of his day), it will simply set me up for failure in trying to attain the high standards of his Kingdom. I cannot follow Him if I did not do a proper cost analysis (Luk.14). And part of that analysis involves the level of trust I am prepared to give to Him. And this is why I believe that it matters more to God what we believe (what is going on in our hearts) than how we live (what we do outwardly). Jesus repeatedly taught that it matters more that we actually clean the inside (which only He can do!) than that we appear clean from the outside. Of course, if nothing happens on the outside, it is evidence that we do not truly believe in Him, but only say that we do.



Monday, 19 June 2017

The Jewish roots of Christianity

I have always been a bit sceptical of attempts to make Christians more "Jewish". It often felt to me like gentile Christians pretending to be Jews. But here is a good explanation of how important the Jewish roots of Christianity really are to our spiritual well-being as followers of Jesus Christ:
https://chab123.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/five-lessons-on-the-jewish-roots-of-christianity/

(Also have a look at https://www.quora.com/As-a-Christian-how-much-of-the-old-testament-rules-do-you-believe-you-should-adhere-to/answer/Chavoux-Luyt)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Kingdom of God

A good series of blog posts explaining why the Kingdom of God is so central to the gospel Jesus preached: http://bnonn.com/what-is-the-kingdom-of-god-1/

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

There is a new development...

God is doing something new in my life, pulling together many of the past threads of truth, and also the passion He has put in me... for his Kingdom and his King Messiah...

http://www.newdevelopment.co.za