Friday, November 25, 2011


A friend of mine recently asked me to take a look at Gregory Koukl’s Tactics, an introduction to apologetic methodology from a Christian perspective. He plans to give it to his teenage brother for Christmas. I hadn’t heard of the author or book before, though I could see that both have received favorable reviews from the Christian community (link). After reading the book, I can see why. Mr. Koukl is clearly a bright and experienced philosopher (link).

As this book is designed to be accessible to all laymen, his style of writing is popular rather than scholarly. Furthermore, it isn't a defense of Christianity so much as a beginner's guide on how to think, query, and act to become someone who is confident that what he believes is true. It reminded me of the adage: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. So the focus on the fundamentals doesn’t take away from the points he makes; on the contrary, though I understand why he placed limitations on what he covered, I rather wish he had delved deeper into some issues. The prospective buyer should be aware that the book is primarily designed to teach Christians how to do defend the rationality of Christianity rather than to show its necessity. Insofar as it attempts to defend the rationality of Christianity, it purports to engage and refute claims which would undermine this. I believe Mr. Koukl expects his reader to turn elsewhere to look for an extensive explanation of the necessity of Christianity or what one might call "positive" apologetics. Nevertheless, taking all things into consideration I would give the book a 4/5 and say it is worth picking up if you know little about fancy topics like epistemology (the study of knowledge) and want to expand your mind to better equip yourself to defend the faith. Here are some thoughts:

Broad Areas of Agreement

It was very interesting to note with how much Mr. Koukl would agree with a Scripturalist like myself. He emphasized the necessity of knowledge and argumentation over shallowness and comfort. He believes faith and knowledge are “companions” rather than opposites; faith is belief, not ignorance. He even correctly defends the idea that our knowledge is univocal with God’s knowledge because, given that God is omniscient, to affirm otherwise would lead to skepticism.

This is a problem because skepticism is self-defeating. His goal to put a “stone in the shoe” of the unbeliever is meant to illustrate his focus on showing the inconsistency in another’s worldview before attempting to demonstrate the consistency of and evidence for the Christian worldview. Parenthetically, as a Calvinist, he demonstrated an understanding as to how apologetics relates to evangelism: men are responsible for communicating the truth, not soul-winning. God causes growth.

Returning to how he goes about showing a position to be inconsistent, this is to be accomplished primarily by means of reducing it to absurdity via Socratic questioning. This is excellent advice and has worked well for me, as it neatly leads a person to the logical conclusion of a statement without it being possible for him to argue that his words were being taken out of context. At worst, one is just asking questions for the sake of learning about someone else's beliefs.

He intersperses a few other examples of self-defeating positions throughout the book: logical positivism, religious pluralism, Hinduism, secular moral absolutism &c. These are the sorts of examples those who are just starting to learn about apologetics will find most interesting.

All of this points to a fundamental divide between Christian and non-Christian worldviews which needs to be addressed, and while he is confident in the supremacy of the Christian worldview, he cautions the reader against prideful behavior. At the same time, he understands sharp rebukes are sometimes necessary and explains how to deal with people who continue to heatedly disagree for personal rather than rational reasons. His last chapter provides some practical advice on how to be an “ambassador for Christ,” though I disagree with him when he says “Christian lingo” shouldn’t be used with unbelievers, as what that constitutes is rather subjective and possibly detrimental to maturity.

He suggests several neutral or inoffensive prefaces to disagreements or questions when one wishes to depart on good terms with another. He then shows how to redirect accusatory questions meant to paint an ugly picture of the Christian by addressing the underlying premises which logically led to that conclusion. He recommends finding common ground and explaining how, with respect to the two worldviews, the Christian alone can logically account for his belief.

On the other hand, the Christian can always thank someone for their thoughts and ask that time be taken for reflection if he is not able to think of a response to a particular question or argument. The individual is always in control of his side of the conversation.

Interacting with the finer points of logical analysis, he stresses the importance of examining the central thesis of an argument for factual accuracy, possible fallacies, and implications. He further provides many examples of how to question a person’s conclusions discern these. He notes that dealing with logically prior objections can undercut a present objection just as showing that two objections are incompatible cuts in half the number of arguments which need to be addressed.

In short, Mr. Koukl provides some very useful apologetic tips and does well to counsel believers not to be afraid of adverse worldviews. This is just a brief overview of the better aspects of the book. One should turn to the actual book for details and numerous examples.


1. I found it odd that Mr. Koukl, a Calvinist, would have a problem with determinism, but on pg. 128 he writes:

It always strikes me as odd when people try to advance arguments for determinism. Let me tell you why.

Determinists claim that freedom is an illusion. Each of our choices is fixed, determined beforehand be the circumstances that precede it. All of our “choices” are inevitable results of blind physical forces beyond our control.

The problem with this view is that without freedom, rationality would have no room to operate. Arguments would not matter, since no one would be able to base beliefs on adequate reasons. One could never judge between a good idea and a bad one. One would only hold beliefs because he had been predetermined to do so.

This is, of course, a false dichotomy. Naturalistic determinism and an undefined “freedom” are not the only alternatives. Divine determinism is an option - the only option, in fact - one which I’ve repeatedly defended (link). As to his specific criticism of determinism, since beliefs can be determined on the occasion of having examined the reasons for two different positions, it is the case that one can be determined by God to point to the reasons why such and such is logical and ought to be believed.

2. In what he calls the “professor’s ploy,” Mr. Koukl suggests a student use Socratic questioning on a “superior force” such as a professor who is taking “potshots at Christianity.” In this way, the student can both learn the professor’s reasons for thinking little of Christianity and test the merits of such thinking. The “ploy” comes when he gives an example of how a professor might attempt to shift the burden of proof to the student, challenging him to disprove what has been said. This is what Mr. Koukl advises the student say in reply (pg. 67):

Professor, I actually haven’t said anything about my own view, so you’re just guessing right now. For all you know, I could be on your side. More to the point, my own view is irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter what I believe. Your ideas are on the table, not mine. I’m just a student trying to learn. I’m asking for clarification and wondering if you have good reasons. That’s all.

Now, a good way to get on a professor’s bad side is for a know-nothing student to tell him he’s guessing. A better way to get on a professor’s bad side is for the know-nothing student to tell him that he’s guessing about the student’s “own view,” when the fact is the professor has only challenged the student to refute what the professor has said. The professor didn’t guess what side the student was on and could very easily point this out. Not only does this embarrass the student, but it is out of character with the rest of Mr. Koukl’s book which preaches patience and politeness.

Actually, the student’s reply also doesn’t work because everyone has a point of view, so everyone has a burden of proof. Socratic questioning is a good apagogic tool, but it is my opinion that Mr. Koukl is more adept at refuting non-Christian worldviews than defending his own. Of course, since Mr. Koukl does the former very well, this is not to say he performs the latter with little skill. But suggesting that an apologetic “babe,” as it were, try to take on a professor in so blunt a fashion is likely to hurt the student more than give him confidence.

The point is that Mr. Koukl tries to walk a fine line between epistemic humility, inoffensiveness, and exerting effort to “win someone over” (pg. 73). He does the job better than most, but there are some lapses. There are a few examples of this throughout the book, but to take just one in keeping with what has been said the above, in the chapter following the professor’s ploy (pg. 72), Mr. Koukl writes:

Questions are your arrows. Your target will be different in different situations. Sometimes your goal will be to defeat what you think is a bad argument or a flawed point of view. Your questions will be “aimed” at that purpose. Or you may want to use questions to indirectly explain or advance your own ideas.

While I don’t disagree with any of this, when this is read just after an example in which a student chides a professor for insinuating that his questions are meant to lead to conclusions contrary to those the professor is advancing, I have to wonder just how Mr. Koukl thought the professor was supposed to correctly infer when a barrage of questions are “aimed” at gathering information, when they are “aimed” at refuting a position, and when they are “aimed” at advancing one’s own position. He never explains how one does this. Yet instead of advising that the student reply to the professor that he was only attempting to gather information – a reply certainly more in line with Mr. Koukl’s position on cordiality – the written reply basically tried to show up the professor.

3. There is distinct tension between a couple of statements Mr. Koukl makes. After citing Acts 17:2-4, he writes (pg. 35):

Simply put, you can argue someone into the kingdom. It happens all the time. But when the arguments are effective, they are not working in a vacuum.

I agree, through the phrasing is awkward. The key point is that arguments play a central role in conversion. “Argument” doesn’t refer to vehement disagreement but rather a case for the truth of a [set of] statement[s]. But on pg. 55, Mr. Koukl writes:

Most people who believe in the authority of the Bible did not come to this conviction through argument, but through encounter… I came to believe the Bible was God’s Word in the same way I suspect you did. I encountered the truth firsthand and was moved by it. If you want skeptics to believe in the Bible, don’t get into a tug-of war with them about inspiration.

In the first citation, we read that arguing someone into the kingdom “happens all the time.” In the second, we read that “most people” aren’t convicted of biblical authority by argumentation. The context of the latter statement makes it possible that “argument” refers to vehement disagreement, but if so, it would be different from every other time it is used in the book. At the very least I would have used different wording. Or perhaps Mr. Koukl thinks that one can be argued into believing the gospel but not argued into believing that the source by which the gospel is known, Scripture, is authoritative. That would be a strange position. Regardless, I also think he overly minimizes the issue of biblical inspiration. More on this in the next point.

4. On pg. 144, Mr. Koukl makes one of the very few positive assertions one will find in the book:

The fact is, mankind is made in the image of God and must live in the world God created.

Unfortunately, he does not elaborate much on how he knows this. This leaves the reader with a feeling that something is wanting. Let’s apply Mr. Koukl’s “Columbo” to this statement: what does Mr. Koukl mean by “God”? In what sense are we allegedly in God’s “image”? How does he know either of these? Is Scripture the ground of his claim? Why should anyone believe Scripture’s metaphysical claims? Just because some of what is in Scripture is correct would not mean all of it is correct, right? Inductive reasoning is a formal fallacy, is it not? Why would prophecy, for example, be a proof of rather than merely an evidence for Scriptural infallibility or inerrancy? Or suppose Jesus was resurrected – does that necessarily mean He died for my sin?

How might Mr. Koukl respond to these questions? Well, we get some small indication in the next two pages:

We start with guilt, then reason back to morality and a moral lawgiver. We start with evidence for design, then reason back to a designer. We start with personal worth and significance, then reason backward to the source of all meaning. We start with reality, then reason backward to a cause that makes the best sense of what people already know to be true.

As is evident, Mr. Koukl is obviously a fan of classical apologetics (cf. pgs.53-54). This is effect-to-cause reasoning, or what might be called a bottom-up process. The problem with this sort of philosophic methodology is that in the last analysis it is inferential question-begging. Mr. Koukl very early in his book affirms the importance of knowledge, but when it comes to presenting a positive apologetic or case for Christianity in particular, we have, at best, “plausibility” and “probability.” Does knowledge consist in mere plausibility or probability? No. So these sorts of arguments leave open the option for an individual to reserve the right to suspend belief in Christianity. This is evident when Mr. Koukl writes on pg. 65 that:

There are only a few exceptions to the burden-of-proof rule, and they are usually obvious. We are not obligated, for example, to prove our own existence, to defend self-evident truths (e.g., denial of square circles), or to justify the basic reliability of our senses. The way things appear to be are probably the way they actually are unless we have good reason to believe otherwise. This principle keeps us alive every day. It doesn’t need defending.

Set aside the problems with empirical epistemologies and questions such as what is the meaning of “existence,” how does one gauge how plausible or probably a claim is, and what constitutes a self-evident truth. The main point is: if these really are all self-evident and known, why does Mr. Koukl think I should believe what may not be true? If the Christian worldview is not necessary, Mr. Koukl’s entire book is for naught.

The problem with classical apologetics is that it begs questions only answerable by defending certain first principles. “If there is moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver,” “If we sense an intricate, artful universe, then it must have been intelligently designed,” and “If the universe began to exist, then it must have been created” all may or may not be valid arguments, but the more important question is how one can verify the if-statements. Such requires examining the premises upon which the if-statements are constructed. And so on with the premises of those premises until one realizes the necessity of first principles. But once one realizes this, he may as well just become a presuppositionalist.

Classical apologetics may be useful in pointing out that a person’s beliefs, if true, would require God in order to justify those beliefs; however, since in response to this all the unbeliever would have to do is change his beliefs, what needs to be challenged is the ultimate basis upon which those beliefs are purportedly derived.

So not only can a top-down epistemology, where one begins with certain presuppositions and deduces theorems from there, avoid inferential question-begging and establish the necessity of a Christian worldview, it confronts the unbeliever with a foundational choice: knowledge and Christianity or a self-defeating alternative. I’ve written about Scripturalism elsewhere on this blog (cf. the links below); my focus here is that of the focus of Tactics: to show the appropriate method of argumentation rather than the argumentation per se.

Aside from the throwaway paragraph on self-evident truths cited above, pg. 32 seems to me to be the only other place in which Mr. Koukl may have alluded to presuppositionalism:

A different thing is necessary before we can accurately know what God is saying through his Word. Yes, the Bible is first in terms of authority, but something else is first in terms of the order of knowing: We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly. Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.

For some of you this may be a controversial statement, so let’s think about it for a moment. In order to understand the truth or the Bible accurately, our mental faculties must be intact and we must use them as God intended. We demonstrate this fact every time we disagree on an interpretation of a biblical passage and then give reasons why our view is better than another’s. Simply put, we argue for our point of view, and if we argue well, we separate wheat from chaff, truth from error.

On this basis, Mr. Koukl concludes that “[reason] is the tool we use in our observations of the world that helps us separate fact from fiction…”

At best, this section is confusing. Taking the argument in order, Mr. Koukl first states that “we cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly.” So far as he is describing the historical process by which we come to know a proposition is true, I agree. So far as his second paragraph is designed to support the above premise, I can agree with that as well.

His conclusion however, is that “the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.” Now, this seems to me to be trading on an ambiguity between the historical process by which we come to know a proposition and the justificatory process by which we come to know a proposition. The former refers to the means by which we come to know a proposition. The latter refers to the grounds by which we come to know a proposition. Both are necessary for a sound epistemology. I have explained this distinction elsewhere on this blog. See here:

…for Scripture to be the ground of knowledge also presupposes that it provides an account of the means by which one knows that which God has revealed. Deducing [from Scripture] the historical process by which one comes to accept the axiom of revelation is as important as recognizing that such a deduction cannot circularly function as a premise by which the axiom of revelation becomes, oxymoronically, a conclusion.

Or here:

Having offered his case as to why alternative first principles yield logical inconsistencies and are therefore incapable of functioning as a sound basis for an epistemic system, Clark customarily presented his own first principle for inspection; that is, “the Bible is the Word of God.” Clark’s definition of Scripture and God as well as relevant biblical texts can be found in the Westminster Confession. This comprises what might be called the ground of knowledge. The propositions contained in the Bible collectively form the content of what one is able to, at present, tenably know. Distinguishable from this is the means of knowledge, the historical process by which one gains access to Scriptural propositions. Consistent with his deterministic theology, Clark, following in the footsteps of Augustine, Malebranche, and other Christian philosophers, supported the doctrine of efficient, divine illumination. Hence, one can gain access to the so-called world of Ideas because universal propositions can be mediated to his mind from God’s. On this theory, the role of sensation or experience in knowledge acquisition is at most an occasional stimulant.

Clark submitted that anthropological considerations and linguistics explain the reason man is able to understand God’s thought. Man is the image of God, so the structure of man’s mind images that of God. Logic “is the characteristic of God’s thinking,” so that man’s thoughts may be univocal with God’s is unsurprising. Because man possesses the necessary a priori equipment in order to think logically, persons are able to communicate by knowing the idea which a given word symbolizes.

Scripture as divinely inspired (here we see the importance of biblical inspiration) comprises the extant extent of what can currently be know. Taking as our first principle the Protestant canon as God’s word provides us with an epistemic system in which knowledge is possible. What claims can be derived from Scripture are those claims which alone can justifiably be referred to as known. This is the sense in which Scripture is the ground of knowledge and the reason I would argue that it’s clearer to regard Scripture as our first line of defense against error.

I suppose in another sense our minds might be considered the first line of defense against error. After all, it is my mind which assents to the truth of Scripture. Historically, I believe the Protestant canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd. This is the “encounter” to which Mr. Koukl alluded in point 3 above. But the fact is that Scripture, since it is the ground or basis of all knowledge, is necessary to justify this historical process. If the historical process by which one comes to know a proposition is not found in Scripture, then I would be unable to demonstrate how I came to know any proposition. This would fall under the category of “practical suicide,” as Mr. Koukl would call it (pgs. 128-129). So both the historical and justificatory or means and grounds of knowledge are necessary. But the former are known by means of the latter. This satisfies the self-attestation principle Mr. Koukl seeks.

Turning for a final look at Mr. Koukl’s view, he is adamant that he is neither a rationalist (pg. 33) nor an empiricist (pg. 204). Strictly speaking, he is correct. He is not purely either but rather a mix of both. This is obvious from his list of self-evident truths. He bases faith on reason rather than reason on faith [in God’s word as one’s fundamental first principle], and for the reasons already mentioned, this doesn’t work.

Again, these points are deeper than the beginner may be wont to hear or able to understand. Every apologist began somewhere. Mr. Koukl’s book is very well written for its purpose, though I hope my reservations are well-taken.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christ's Sacrifice: Perpetual or Completed at the Cross?

In accordance with their view of the Mass, the RC understanding of the nature of Christ's sacrifice and high priestly activity must differ from that of the Protestant. Very few RCs, however, believe that their position requires them to hold that Christ is re-sacrificed in the Mass. Rather, a more nuanced position is taken wherein Christ's high priestly sacrificial offering in heaven is perpetual or continual.

This is all unofficial, of course, because the Roman Magisterium can rarely be bothered to exercise its infallibility to clear these things up, but anyways, this article by Philip Hughes, a somewhat altered excerpt from his own commentary on Hebrews (pg. 337ff.), is a short but very well written explanation (see John Owen's exposition of Hebrews 7:25, 8:3, 9:12ff., etc. for more) as to why this notion of perpetual self-offering neither corresponds to OT typology nor can be found in Hebrews itself. It also touches on the classic Protestant position.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hughes on Hebrews: Introduction

I've decided to try to start working my way through commentaries on the Bible in an effort to focus my studies. I probably should have started this a long time ago, but I'm lazy and prefer a set way of thinking, and my decision doesn't mean I won't continue to think and write topically.

But in any case, I wanted to begin with a more challenging book of the Bible, so I somewhat arbitrarily selected Hebrews. Leviticus and Revelation were alternative considerations, but I've checked Philip Hughes' A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews so many times now that I suspect the librarians are going to soon take it away so other people can use it. Out of all the commentaries on Hebrews I've flipped through, this one has stood out the most. Hughes writes like I want to be able to write - accessible and unpretentious but with obvious scholarly knowledge of the material and a willingness to engage relatively modern issues. Here are a few things I took from his introduction which I hope to solidify in my memory over time:

Synopsis: pg. 10

“It is evident, therefore, that the whole practical thrust of the epistle is to persuade those to whom it is addressed to resist the strong temptation to seek an easing of the hardships attendant on their Christian confession by accommodating it to the régime of the former covenant, which they had professed to leave behind when they were baptized in the name of him who is the Mediator of the new covenant, and which in any case has been rendered obsolete by the advent of Christ and the inauguration of the new and eternal order of priesthood. This practical purpose is pursued by demonstrating that the former system was inherently imperfect and therefore impermanent and that the period of forty years in the wilderness under Moses was no “golden age” to be recovered or emulated, and by insisting on the absolute supremacy of Christ and the sole and complete sufficiency of the redemption that is ours through him. To compromise this unique gospel is to lose it; and losing this is to lose everything.

Occasion: pgs. 10-11

“What was the occasion that called forth this document? Because of the silence of the epistle itself and the absence of any external information or tradition which might provide a solution to this question, the only alternative to an incurious agnosticism is to attempt to construct a conjectural answer that takes account both of the internal implications of the epistle and of contemporary circumstances of its composition. Leaving aside for the moment inquiries concerning the identity and locality of those who are being addressed, it is apparent that a situation has arisen in which a particular community of Christians is contemplating a compromise of disastrous consequences since it would mean in effect the abandonment of the gospel. On the one hand, faced with daily indignities and the prospect of persecution of a more severe nature, they are sorely tempted to withdraw from the good fight of faith; on the other, enticed by teachings which threaten the uniqueness of Christ, they are in danger of squandering their birthright in order to purchase temporary relief. More specifically, they are showing a disposition to assign to angels a dignity above that of Christ, and to treat the Mosaic system with its levitical priesthood as an institution of abiding value and efficacy.

The strong temptation to effect a compromise with idealistic Judaism points to the conclusion that the opposition being encountered by the recipients of the epistle was Jewish rather than Gentile. Accommodation to judaistic beliefs and practices wa the prices that would purchase ease and acceptance. It is clear from Luke’s account of the fortunes of the early church that the first fierce opposition to the gospel came from the Jews, and that this hostility was intense because the original Christians were their compatriots whom they regarded as traitors to their ancestral religion. Peter and John, for example, were summoned before the Sanhedrin to be reprimanded and threatened (Acts 3 and 4); the apostles were imprisoned by the high-priestly party (Acts 5:17ff.); Stephen, the first of the martyrs, was stoned to death by the Jews (Acts 7:54ff.); the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus led the savage and systematic persecution of the apostolic church in Jerusalem and beyond (Acts 8:3; 9:1f.); and subsequently he himself, as Paul the apostle, met with violence from Jewish opponents of the gospel as he traveled from city to city (Acts 13:45ff.; 14:2, 19ff.; 17:5ff.; 21:30ff.; 22:22ff.; 23:12ff.). Congeneric antipathy must have been largely responsible also for the chronic poverty of the mother-church in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 11:29f.; 24:17; 1 Cor. 16:1ff.; 2 Cor. 8:1ff.; Gal. 2:10).

This consideration, together with the frequent indications that the temple priesthood was still in operation (see below, pp. 30ff.), would tell in favor of locating the recipients of Hebrews in Jerusalem or, more generally, on Palestinian soil.”

Place of origin and destination: pgs. 15-16

Speculations concerning the places from which and to which the Epistle to the Hebrews was written have been no less varied and inventive. The only possible indication in the epistle itself is the salutation at the end: “Those who are from Italy send you greetings” (13:24). Unfortunately, however, the designation “those who are from Italy” is ambiguous. If it means Italian Christians who were away from Italy, that is, in some country other than Italy, this would exclude Italy as the place of the epistle’s origin. But if it means those who are from or of Italy, in the sense that Italy was their homeland and implying that these were Italian as distinct from non-Italian Christians in Italy – a distinction to be expected in a cosmopolitan city like Rome –, the letter would then have been written from some place in the Italian peninsula.

pgs. 18-19

“There is general agreement that those to whom the epistle was addressed, wherever they were located, did not constitute the worshipping community there in its entirety. This is suggested particularly by the request that they should convey the writer’s greetings to all the leaders and to all the saints (13:24), implying, it seems, that there were leaders other than their own and saints other than themselves in that neighborhood.[1] Zahn and others have supposed that the recipients belonged to a house-church, similar perhaps to the congregation which used to assemble in the home of Aquila and Priscilla when they lived in Rome (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19). Be that as it may, theirs was a group which was seriously considering the advisability of devising a concordat or reconciliation with the Mosaic covenant and its levitical priesthood. Spicq’s suggestion that the group was composed of former priests converted to the Christian faith, who would have been more susceptible than others to such a temptation, is not unattractive. The temptation to effect a compromise with an idealistic form of Judaism, however, would have been felt by the Hebrew Christians, whether formerly priests or not, living in a Jewish environment, who thought that by this means they would be able to obviate the hardship and hatred which awaited those who professed Jesus as Christ and Lord. We may be sure that it was their “Hebrewness,” possibly some specific background that as Hebrews they had in common, that bound them together into a distinct community and that made it necessary for the writer of the epistle to instruct them so carefully on the transient imperfection of the old order compared with the unique and abiding perfection of the redemption achieved by him who is our great High Priest. Where this group of Hebrew Christians was living we do not know, though the probabilities increasingly favor a location somewhere in Palestine. The obscurity surrounding the place from which the epistle was sent continues to be impenetrable.

Authorship: pgs. 24-25

“Barnabas, however, is in many respects an attractive candidate. Unfortunately, unlike Luke and Clement, we possess no authentic writings of his with which to compare the epistle. Originally called Joseph, the name Barnabas, which Luke explains as meaning “the son of encouragement,” was given to him by the apostles, and it may be understood accordingly as a reflecting their estimate of his character and qualities. (The suggestion that the description of the epistle as a “word of encouragement,” 13:22, is a pointer to Barnabas, “the son of encouragement,” as the author is specious and paltry.) A native of Cyprus, with Greek as his first language, Barnabas was a Jew. Of particular interest and perhaps significance is the information that he was a Levite (Acts 4:36). It was Barnabas who befriended Paul after his conversion and allayed the suspicions of the apostles regarding the genuineness of his Christian profession (Acts 9:26ff.). Sent by the apostles to Antioch, he showed himself an enthusiastic supporter of the evangelization of the Gentiles, and he subsequently spent a full year, together with Paul, in that city instructing the numerous convert in the faith. Thereafter the Antiochene church sent him and Paul to Jerusalem with contributions for the relief of their fellow Christians in Judea (Acts 11:20-30). On returning to Antioch Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church there for the work of evangelism and Barnabas accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. John Mark, his cousin from Jerusalem, went with them as far as Perga in Pamphylia, where he turned back (Acts 12:25; 13:1ff., 13; Col. 4:10). Barnabas is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24), and was held in the highest regard as a leader in the apostolic church; indeed, in Acts 14:14 he is designated an apostle. Altogether, then, because of his acceptance among the leaders of the church in Jerusalem and farther afield, his close collaboration with the apostle Paul, his gifts as a teacher and evangelist, and his upbringing as a Levite, he possessed some excellent qualifications for writing the Epistle to the Hebrews.”

Date: pg. 30

“The rebuke in 5:11ff., that “by this time” they ought to be teachers instead of dull of hearing and immature, shows that the recipients had been Christians for some years, as also does the writer’s appeal to them in 10:32 to “recall the former days.” The assertion that the gospel “was attested to us by those who heard the Lord” (2:3) means that the author and the Hebrew Christians to whom he is writing had been evangelized by persons, possibly apostles, who had received instruction from Christ himself. To describe them as “second-generation Christians,” as F. F. Bruce, Spicq, and others do, is misleading, at least in the ordinary sense of the expression. They were simply believers at one remove from direct contact with the Lord. Their conversion could have taken place at any time after Pentecost – quite soon after that event, if Spicq’s hypothesis is correct which links them to the great number of priests who were obedient to the faith in the days preceding the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 6:7).

pgs. 31-32

“The present tenses which indicate that the levitical priesthood was still operative when the epistle was written are as follows.

5:1-4. “For every high priest who is chosen from among men is appointed … to offer … he can deal gently … he himself is beset with weakness … he is bound to offer … one does not take … but he is called.”

7:21 (7:20 Gk.). “They have become priests.…”

7:23. “They are many in number who have become priests, because they are prevented by death from continuing in office.”

7:27. “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily.”

7:28. “The law appoints men in their weakness as high priests.”

8:3. “For every high priest is appointed to offer….”

8:4f. “… since there are priests who offer gift according to the law, who serve a copy and shadow….”

8:13. “What is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

9:6f. “… the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes … not without blood, which he offers….”

9:9. “… gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper.”

9:13. “For if the sprinkling … with blood … and ashes … sanctified….”

9:25. “… the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly….”

10:1. “… the law … can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near.”

10:3f. “… in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.”

10:8. “… these are offered according to the law.”

10:11. “… every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

13:10. “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”

13:11. “… the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the priest … are burned outside the camp.”

[1] The significance of the term έπισυναγωγή (10:25), which some have interpreted to mean a distinct congregation within the larger church community, is discussed in the not on pp. 417f. below.

[Note: Rather than my laboring to copy all of Hughes' footnotes, some of which are to other sources or express the Greek of a particular passage, see here.]

Canon Closed

Someone recently asked me to explain why I thought the canon of Scripture is closed. I cited a few arguments for him from various authors and then summarized those arguments as follows:

The only explanation of what it can mean when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away and cease is that after the time of the apostles, the last of whom was Paul - as he was the last to whom Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:8, cf. Hebrews 1:1-2) and therefore he who was to fill up the word of God (Colossians 1:24-26) - the purpose of divine revelation was fulfilled. The apostles laid a foundation to which no other [revealed] knowledge was needed in addition, for what had been revealed was complete or sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as opposed to that partial, orally disseminated knowledge which accompanying apostolic signs were designated to validate or attest (Hebrews 2:1-2).

If God is speaking to individuals today, this information would be binding on the consciences of all Christians. This is a serious claim which requires answers to at least these following questions:

How are such claims to be verified? Can anyone point to an actual, verified case?

What answer to the question of why God would speak to an individual today could be given which does not impinge on the formal and material sufficiency of Scripture?

Do such claims presuppose the necessity of apostolic succession, and if so, can such succession be identified?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Good Work of Philosophy

I only just noticed that some of the material from my essay submission to this year's TrinityFoundation contest was not included in what is published on their website (link). I forgot that in many of the essays which place, what is shown is excerpted from the whole. So, whether for the sake of brevity or because I wrote something which they found to be unjustified (which is possible), my critique of rationalism, conclusion on secular epistemology, introduction to Clark's "Westminster Principle," criticism of logical positivism, and thoughts on biblical politics was left out. [I happen to think this was done for the sake of brevity, since the material I wrote on logical positivism in particular was uncontroversial.] Since some of this material will be relevant to a future post I plan to write, I have here reproduced the full essay:

The Good Work of Philosophy

Christians are in need of an apologetic which can thoroughly equip them for the good work of guarding the gospel against those deceptive philosophies by which men are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Anyone who has attempted to organize a defense of the faith quickly realizes that it is no small task, as one must successfully integrate diverse fields of study like science, ethics, politics, history, and religion. Gordon Clark, a 20th century Calvinist whose goal was to elucidate such a philosophy, argued that the center of the proverbial web to which each of these disciplines may be traced and by which each may be related to the others is a sound and uniquely Christian theory of knowledge.

Clark’s emphasis on the importance of epistemology as a means to a cohesive belief system is warranted, for to any assertion pertaining to science et. al., the question may be “properly ask[ed], How do you know?”[1] This poignant question is sufficient to refute skeptics who contradict themselves when they claim they cannot know truth, exposes as question-begging statements and actions which advocate a so-called suspension of judgment, and inevitably shapes one’s meta-epistemological thoughts regarding the nature and structure of knowledge itself.

Clark, for instance, contended that “knowledge means the possession of truth”[2] and that truth is “propositions that are consistent.”[3] The criteria to which one can refer to verify that he possesses truth is outlined by Clark in his various works, and a summary of it here will serve as a useful foundation for understanding Clark’s analysis of secular and Christian philosophies as presented in his Wheaton lectures.

Briefly, propositions can be separated into one of two geometrical categories: epistemic axioms and theorems.[4] One can know a theorem is true if it is contained in the body of propositions validly deducible from an axiom which yields a self-attesting, consistent philosophical system in which the ground and means of knowledge are explicated. Hence, while axioms by definition cannot be proven, there is nevertheless a mutual dependency inherent in the relationship between an axiom and its respective theorems. “By the systems they produce, axioms must be judged.”[5] As a theorem can be discredited if it does not follow from a purported axiom, an axiom can be falsified if it bears contradictories.

There are those who accuse Clark of impracticality for demanding that a worldview meet these requirements. Consistency, it is alleged, is an unrealistic, unachievable ideal. In response to such complaints, one can do no more than highlight the chaotic arbitrariness which would ensue if one were to insist on clinging to a self-defeating position. What deserve greater attention are secular axioms – some of which are unfortunately shared by some religious philosophers – chosen for the purpose of acquiring objective knowledge. For despite the impressive number of knowledge claims secular systems have accumulated over time, they are collectively only as rational as the first principle from which they are derived; if one’s axiom is demonstrated to be unsound, then all of his beliefs predicated on it are groundless.

It may be for his survey of these axioms that Clark is most well-known. Due to the continuing popularity of underlying principles first expounded by Aristotle, Clark’s critiques of empiricism have particularly elicited significant replies. Clark believed no empiricist has yet provided satisfactory answers to the difficulties attendant to a theory in which sensation is said to be the means of knowledge. To concisely sketch a few illustrations:

· The capriciousness of individuation: “…for Empiricists… the physical continuum and the Heraclitean flux prevent the identification and even the existence of individuals.”[6]

· Incorporeality: “…if sensory experience cannot deal with mountains and bears, much less can it account for… the ethical concept of justice and the mathematical concept of cube.”[7]

· Inductivism: “…universal judgments… are impossible, because no one has experienced all the past nor any of the future.”[8]

· The arbitrariness of inferences: “In Empiricism there is no reason for choosing six or eight sensations out of the fifty or a hundred we have at any one time and combining these six into the perception of a thing.”[9]

Moreover, these aforementioned problems presuppose that sensation is objective, reliable, self-attesting, and extensive, concessions Clark was by no means willing to vouchsafe.[10] Depending on the qualifications specific to a given empiricist, perplexities may even be multiplied. Any one of these points would corroborate Clark’s inference that empiricism is a futile epistemology; cumulatively, they are conclusive.

Contrarily, it is noteworthy that Clark was able to qualifiedly agree with some key ideas found in rationalism as “exemplified by Plato and Hegel.”[11] Contrary to the incoherence of pluralism, Hegelianism and theism both “hold that everything must be related to everything else in some way; there are no two things utterly independent, though… they may nonetheless be distinct.”[12] Also, because “all thought and speech depend on classification… no epistemology can succeed without something like the Platonic Ideas.”[13]

What both Hegel and Plato have in common with Clark is the recognition that omniscience is an epistemic necessity. Unfortunately, neither Hegel nor Plato adequately details how man accesses omniscience. Plato suggested that man’s senses occasion reminiscence of a part of the innate omniscience with which he was born. “The difficulty is that… sensation stimulates different notions in different people… The failure of Platonism… to ascend from Earth to Heaven leaves the theory ineffective.”[14] Hegelianism, due to its dialectic, maintains that knowledge of a given concept requires knowledge of the way in which it relates to other concepts. Clark pointed out that if such were true, “…we cannot know one relationship without knowing all. Obviously we do not know all. Therefore we know nothing.”[15]

From these considerations, one could argue Clark applied at least a variation of the following elenctic argument against rationalism in particular and secular philosophy in general. To claim to know a given proposition is true without knowing that another proposition is true begs the question: if truth is “a logically ordered series,”[16] it could be that the truth value of a given proposition depends on the truth value of a different proposition. For man to know even one proposition, then, he must either know all propositions or rely on one who does – one whose knowledge must be eternal, comprehensive, and intuitive.

As was seen, locating omniscience in man fails. Attempts to do so were not entirely fruitless, for they highlighted a philosophical problem in need of addressing and acted as a foil against which Clark was able to credibly propose his own axiom for scrutiny; namely, “the Bible is the Word of God.”[17] Faith in an omniscient God whose revelation is necessary for man to know [Him] was Clark’s reasonable alternative to secular axioms which, since they lead to inconsistencies, cannot function as a basis for an epistemic system. It now must be determined whether or not the propositions contained in Scripture can justifiably be said to comprise that which one is presently able to know.

If Clark’s Westminster Principle is to be taken seriously, “there is no reason for making assertions beyond those that can be validly inferred from the statements of the Bible.”[18] Scripture is full of statements affirming its divine origin (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21). Inter-textual analysis (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2 Peter 3:15-16) and divine illumination (John 10:3-5, 26-27) constitute the means by which one becomes enlightened as to the extent and contents of the canon. The role of sensation in Clark’s system is, at most, as an occasional stimulant God uses to mediate knowledge to men’s minds. As God perspicuously spoke to the patriarchs and Jesus to His disciples, the Spirit unequivocally communicates God’s eternal word to modern men through Scripture.

Indeed, the purpose of language is that believers might be able to worship God in truth (John 4:24). If man’s knowledge is merely analogical to God’s, not only would it be impossible to worship Him, but it would also connote that men are skeptics or that they know a proposition which God doesn’t. Either of these deductions would be fatal to Christianity. Providentially, there is no indication that exhortations to grow in knowledge (Colossians 1:10, 2 Peter 3:18) refer to a subspecies of truth, and that one becomes a participant in the divine nature itself by knowledge of God[’s word] necessitates that what men know is univocal with what God knows (2 Peter 1:3-4).

In fact, man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). God is truth and logic (John 1:1, 14:6), so one would expect that in these respects the structure of man’s mind mirrors that of God. Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 confirm that man was created originally righteous. Furthermore, because he naturally possessed knowledge and righteousness, Adam must also have been concreated with the a priori equipment necessary in order to think logically and rightly.

Sin distorted man as the image of God, but he still retains the distinction (Genesis 9:6, Acts 17:28). The image of God, then, must refer to the rational faculty. Unregenerate individuals are by nature extensively depraved because their thinking is, at root, fallacious, but they are still able to understand and construct valid arguments. Restitution of the divine image now requires that man become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). This renewal by the Spirit and word of truth conforms man to the image of Christ, the Logos in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Saving faith in the last Adam obtained by this regeneration, far from being blind, is actually the result of man for the first time being able to see (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Logical thinking, then, must be continuously exercised by Christians. As Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Jesus is the teacher, and the sword of the Spirit is the tool with which He instructs a believer to be furnished for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Sanctification is by the truth, not an analogy thereof (John 17:17). Upon glorification, the Christian’s transformation will be complete and confirmed, but until then, he must live in and deal with a fallen world. For though their epistemic axioms are erroneous, secularists are still influential. Thus, it will be useful to compare secular ideologies to what Scripture has to say on science, ethics, politics, history, and religion.

In discussing the purpose of science, the previous remarks on empiricism must be remembered. While scientific discoveries cannot produce knowledge, it is often the case that they trigger belief. For example, Hume famously observed that correlation does not imply causation, and yet it is customary to assume a uniformity of nature. Rather than viewing an artificial experiment as a bearer of truth, Clark regarded the purpose of science as “manipulation”[19] or “an attempt to utilize nature for our needs and wants… not a way to any knowledge.”[20] Because Clark accepted that God has determined all of man’s thoughts – his opinions as well as his knowledge – man’s responsibility is to intentionally act on those thoughts in a godly manner. Such does not depend on the possibility of empirical knowledge. One may, by scientific procedures, come to believe something upon which he must accordingly make a choice. What is important in the realm of practical theology is the intention of the choice made in conjunction with one’s belief, not whether or not the belief is true.

This leads to the question of ethics, a less compromising subject. After all, either one is obliged to obey a given precept or he is not. Ethical dialogue can, however, lead to confusion if one does not carefully define his terms. Is good that which one ought to do, or is that which one ought to do good? To be more precise, what principles ought one to follow, if any? It seems intuitively obvious that rape and murder are unethical, but ethical relativists or emotionalists would have to acknowledge that one may validly consider them to be good.

A. J. Ayer, consistent with verificationism and Positivism, taught that ethical posits are neither true nor false. “Ought” and “should” statements are emotive. Stevenson, another logical positivist, contributed to this theory by explaining that emotivism does not preclude a means of ethical dialogue. By distinguishing between facts and preferences, Stevenson commented that increasing one another’s awareness of facts can only provoke beneficial conversation. But Stevenson too realized that fundamental differences in preferences are irresolvable. As such, some logical positivists bite the bullet and accept moral nihilism. One will not usually encounter persons who will admit that murder and rape are amoral choices – and in any case, one can always point out that ethics as well as science is tied to epistemology – so it may be permissible to pass over these rarities for a more representative stance.

Utilitarianism, possibly the most widely acclaimed secular position, is an ethical theory which defines “good” along a spectrum. A choice which causes the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people is said to be the greatest good, and a choice which causes the greatest pain to the greatest number of people is said to be the greatest evil. This understanding of good and evil leads to irrationality. As a form of consequentialism, choices made by Utilitarians must be prospectively amoral; since one cannot know the future consequences of his choice, choices are arbitrary. Possibilities of future consequences also suggest that the moral value of any choice is subject to change at any instant. Even [relatively] simple knowledge of all the ways in which a past choice has affected present reality is itself a problem, as one would need to be omniscient to know his calculations are both accurate and exhaustive. Another problem is that in order to judge the comparative “goodness” of one’s choice, one would need to know counter-factuals; ironically, such is only possible by divine revelation. There are still more complications when one considers, within a Utilitarian framework, whether or not one individual’s pleasure could qualitatively exceed the sum pleasure of many, whether or not it is proper to state minorities possess rights, and whether or not utilitarianism can escape the demerits of empiricism, inductivism, and subjectivism. Given the extremely relativistic and flawed nature of Utilitarianism, one may well believe the demise of Utilitarianism would maximize the pleasure of those who sincerely desire to be moral.

In short, secularism fails to forward a legitimate theory of ethics because it cannot solve issues like Hume’s is-ought dilemma, the problem of suicide, and moral authoritativeness. Christianity can and does. God, as the creator of all things, made things to be as they are. God created men with the intention that they be responsible to obey His precepts, and so men are (Romans 9:19-21). The chief end of man is to glorify God by following His commandments (1 John 5:3). As a matter of fact, the chief end of God is to glorify Himself in all that He does (Romans 9:22-23, Ephesians 3:10). Consequently, the problem of evil is no problem at all, for sin can function as a means by which God’s glory – His power, wrath, compassion, mercy, grace, wisdom, etc. – is manifested.

Although God is ultimately sovereign, He has seen fit to authorize subordinate institutions such as church and government to dispense discipline and regulations to discourage sin. While a comprehensive political theory was not the focus of the authors of Scripture, there are statements pertinent to private ownership (Acts 5:4) and duties (Genesis 9:6, Romans 13:1-7) which make it possible to delimit the power and design of government (Daniel 6:7-10, Acts 4:19).

Forasmuch as many grumble that Clark’s theory of knowledge is unrealistic, when it comes to matters of science, ethics, and politics, it is more often the secular philosopher than the Christian who must assume an ideal reality. Forced submission is the logical end of any secular society in which there can be found differences in opinions. Totalitarianism or majority rules have historically conquered individual “rights.” Even the hypothetical alternative, anarchism, presupposes an optimistic view of human nature which is simply not historically tenable.

The philosophy of history itself is a matter of debate in secularist circles. Some naively think that history – or any study – can be approached objectively or without presuppositions. Those who admit that history is tinged with an author’s bias are at least honest. Subject matter, source material, significance, and attributed causes are all subjectively chosen by the writer. And, just as with any other topic, history must fit within a coherent epistemic system. The tentativeness of science and the historic horrors which secular philosophers largely ignore have to be accounted for by the historian.

The theistic account of history is somewhat varied and determined by broader religious beliefs. Neo-orthodox theologians, because they consider Scripture to be a human record of divine acts, posit Scripture is fallible and even mistaken on a few points. Additionally, some of the events recorded in Scripture are for didactic purposes only; that is, events need not be assumed to have literally occurred. That these “scholars” do not have immediate recourse to an omniscient God is enough to epistemologically disqualify their view on the nature and hermeneutic of Scripture. It is confusing, though, that one would so highly esteem a source which admits errors. These being the same sorts of individuals who utilize the law of non-contradiction in order to deny it, however, maybe it should not come as surprising. Notwithstanding, the more historical Christian perspective discerns the progressively revealed, cyclically patterned, and eschatological character of history as told by God (Romans 11:36).

In comparison to the assertions made by secularists, what can be extrapolated from Scripture may seem relatively small. More important than this, however, is that a Christian can substantiate his claims. “…whatever knowledge revelation gives us, however restricted, is to be received with thanksgiving.”[21] Or, in the joyous words of the Psalmist, “the sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160). Because the Axiom of Revelation satisfies the preconditions for knowledge, “…secular philosophy is not a greater failure than revelational philosophy is a success.”[22]

[1] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 28.

[2] Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things pg. 33.

[3] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 149.

[4] cf. Gordon Clark, Thales to Dewey pg. 88.

[5] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 53.

[6] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 32.

[7] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 33.

[8] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 34.

[9] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 34.

[10] cf. Gordon Clark, Language and Theology pgs. 132-134.

[11] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 29.

[12] Gordon Clark, Modern Philosophy pg. 288.

[13] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 29.

[14] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 30.

[15] Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy pg. 153.

[16] Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things pg. 23.

[17] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 74.

[18] Gordon Clark, God’s Hammer pg. 3.

[19] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 40.

[20] Gordon Clark, Modern Philosophy pg. 76.

[21] Gordon Clark, Clark and His Critics pg. 56.

[22] Gordon Clark, Ibid. pg. 78.