Re: Frustrations (was Re: Randomness)

From: J Burgeson (
Date: Fri May 31 2002 - 22:44:34 EDT

On May 29th, my friend Terry Gray wrote:

"Let me respond to several of your recent posts with the following
expression of frustration. I'm sure you are equally frustrated.

I would put several of your recent posts in the category of serious
heresy (how's that for openers?)."

I reviewed my previous post on that part and will let it stand.

Terry continued: "Your judgment that scripture is "merely" "how each author
of the time apprehended God" as evidence in the following:

At 2:00 PM -0600 5/28/02, J Burgeson wrote:
>I see them more as a record of how each author of the time apprehended God.
>Some did it well -- some, as for instance the Psalmist who wanted to bash
>the brains out of the Babylonian infants, less well.>

Terry then wrote: "I hope that you will admit that you have set some
standard (I'm not sure where it comes from) above scripture by which you
judge scripture. No doubt, this Psalm is a difficult Psalm as are all the
impreccatory Psalms, but I'm not willing to say that it is not from God nor
reveals to us something very true, good, righteous, and holy about God."

You use the word "merely" (as a pejorative) before you quote me, and, of
course, I did not say that. Having noted that difference, I think I'll stand
by what I wrote. I do not set standards, of course; I take scripture
seriously. If I were convinced by ANY standard, even that of claiming
inerrancy for scripture, that scripture really proscribed homosexual acts
between two adult loving people in a long term commitment to one another,
I'd have a different position on that subject on my web site. IOW, what God
clearly says is sin, I accept.

But in the psalm I mentioned, as well as the "commands from God" to kill all
the members, including women, children and infants, of a Caananite tribe,
including the specific "commands from God" giving directions on how to rape
a young virgin from that tribe after properly running a spear through her
parents, there are parts of scripture I simply cannot reconcile with the
loving Father God portrayed by Jesus. You ahve said that "I'm not willing to
say that it is not from God nor reveals to us something very true, good,
righteous, and holy about God."
OK, I put to you the challenge. Tell me, and be specific, just what is
"good, righteous and holy" about infanticide, rape or genocide.

Were I to speak on these texts, I'd say that the scripture is reporting
faithfully what the writer PERCEIVED to be the voice of God -- and that he
was wrong. Or, I'd say, those stomach-turning verses can be recociled with
the loving God of the NT -- and that I had no idea how to perform that
reconciliation. IOW -- take it on faith that what those verses describe is
fuly compatible.

I'd probably also observe that I, personally, did not have such faith, and
that if I had it, it would not be faith in God but faith in the proposition
that scripture could not conflict with itself.

I don't have faith in propositions, Terry -- I do have faith in a Person. It
is that relationship that counts -- what propositions I or anyone else want
to make about scripture are sometimes interesting; never of ultimate import.

Terry continues: At 11:51 AM -0600 5/20/02, J Burgeson wrote:
>So -- take all away -- show me that the best scholarship indicates that the
>whole Bible was written by a crazed monk in 500 AD, what remains is that
>God HAS revealed himself to me and what faith I have comes from Him, not
>from me. In that sense, falsification is a non-possibility.>

Terry then writes: "I can't think of anything more antithetical to my
understanding of Christianity. Christianity is not primarily about some
personal religous experience. It's about how God became flesh 2000 years ago
in Jesus Christ and fulfilled His own requirements for human beings for us
(both positively in fulfilling our covenant obligations and negatively in
paying the penalty for our failure to fulfill those
obligations). Christianity is not primarily about what I do and how I
respond (although I must)--it is primarily about what God did in
Christ. Christianity is intensely historical...God acting in history
performing mighty works that result in the salvation of his people.
If it didn't happen then there is no Christianity, there's no
salvation, there's merely religious sensibilities which don't get us
anywhere except maybe to recognize our horrible sinfulness before a
holy God. (At worst, they make us think that we're perhaps okay with
Him because we have them.)

I see I was less than clear. First, I agree. Second, I was responding to
Glenn and I should have pointed out that the response was wholly
hypothetical. Let me rephrase:

So -- take all away -- show me that the best scholarship indicates that the
whole Bible was written by a crazed monk in 500 AD, what remains is that God
HAS revealed himself to me and what faith I have comes from Him, not from
me. In that sense, falsification is a non-possibility. I should add, of
course, that what I would be left with is a very weak form of Christianity,
one probably close to that of the German theologian Bultman, who, influenced
by logical positivism, "demythologized" all the miracles of the NT,
particularly the resurrection. Quite obviously, I reject this position
(although, having read Bultman last year, I see no reason to think he was
not also a Christian, albeit a somewhat confused one).

I also read Wm James' 1902 book THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE last
year. I discovered that I fit into his category of "mystic," for I have had
epiphanies. Not many. One of these I wrote about on my web site, if anyone
is interested. My own mystical experiences, at least in the beginning, were
somewhat like those experienced by CS Lewis (and at about the same age). But
that is another story.

Terry, not yet finished, then wrote:

"Finally, in this latest message, (John writes):
>One may ascribe omnipotence to God if he wishes. The advocates of Open
>Theism seem to have a pretty good argument against it.
>Let me, for argument's sake, assume omnipotence, in which I neither believe
> >nor disbelieve BTW. Assuming onnipotence on the part of God, it seems
>easy to also assume he chooses not to exercise that omnipotence in some
>instances. And that was all I said. That he does so seems (to me)

Terry then wrote: "Personally, I regard open theism in the same category as
process theology. I regard it as an un-Biblical philosophical/theological
response to the problem of evil that ignores fairly straightforward passages
in the Bible that put God squarely in control of and in command of evil
(without Himself being the author of sin or ceasing to be good). I don't
think that the advocates of Open Theism have made a good argument against
God's omnipotence in the slightest."

Terry -- all I said was that the proponents of OT had made a pretty good
argument. Whether anyone, including you, agrees with that is of no
particular interest to me -- I neither defended the arguments nor spoke
against them. That they are decent arguments, proposed by theologians who
have the education and interest to defend, seems obvious. Shoot Terry --
even the arguments of our atheist friends are "pretty good."

Terry also wrote: "I don't even want to crack the door open again on the
homosexuality issue, other than to say that I regard your views on that
subject similarly."

I assume you have read my position statement on my website. That's OK.
Civility in ethics requires, of course, that you give those you oppose a
chance to fairly state both their arguments and their position. BTW, I
wrestled with this one a long time -- 7 years -- before finally taking a
position last August.

Terry then wrote: "Now I'm not particularly inclined to debate any of these
issues. I simply mention these points in part to let you know how far
removed our theology is from mine. I suspect that there are some closer to
my camp on these questions and others closer to yours."

Once again, if we ever got together, I think you might be surprised to find
we have much in common and only a few differences.

Terry continues: "My frustration comes in that it is well-nigh impossible to
discuss faith-science issues without touching on these questions. Yet there
is so little common ground between us on these theological questions that
discussion cannot sensibly take place. As with this post, we merely say "no,
and here's what I believe". I suppose that's discussion of some sort.
[Imagine, if you're familiar with these denominations, church union talks
between the Orthdox Presbyterian Church and the mainline Presbyterian Church

I said earlier that I was not frustrated, but I have to temper that
statement with respect to the above. It behooves us, therefore, to always
look for as much commonality as we can find. And agian, I suspect there is
much more there than you seem to assume.

Terry wrote: "For example, if you tell me that the Psalm that speaks of
dashing the babies against the rocks is sub-Christian and that the author
didn't really apprehend God very well, then it's pretty obvious that you're
not going to take very seriously my appeal to that or similar verses as
proving some teaching about God."

On the contrary, I have asked you to make that sort of appeal. I don't like
the verse at all -- I'd love for you (or anyone) to present a convincing
argument that it is in the essential character of the God of the NT.

Terry continues: "If I were to list for you all the
Biblical proof-texts and arguments that we Calvinists use to argue
that God controls everything even the minutest detail of his creation
(casting of the lot, hairs on the head, death of a sparrow, etc.),
you could refute them all simply by saying that the Bible is merely
the authors' apprehension of the divine and not God telling us
through his divinely inspired Word about himself."

Whether or not I would do that, in any specific case, would depend upon the
strength of your arguments. Again, you use the pejorative "merely."
Scripture is much more than that.

Terry: "I guess you get
your understanding of God that allows you to pick and choose which
part of the Bible you want to accept or not based on something else."

You guess incorrectly.

Terry: "I honestly don't know where to begin with some of your posts. (Not
that I always disagree with you, mind you.) I tend to read them,
shake my head, formulate a long response in my head while walking or
riding the bus to work, then deciding that I don't have time take
this particular issue on. But I do wonder at times what the watching
world (if there is such a thing) thinks of all this."

Not all that many watchers. Although I will tell you that I've had several
(more than 3) offline e-mails from lurkers who have thanked me for bringing
up the homosexual activity issue but who, for fear of academic position or a
similar pressure will not support the cause publically. Yes -- I've had mail
from the other side too.

Terry: "While I'm pretty sure that I'm kind of right-leaning in the ASA, I'm
also pretty sure that you are way out there on the left. (You'll probably
take some satisfaction from that characterization.) In one sense this post
is somewhat about distancing the ASA as an organization from your views (and
from mine too, of course). Perhaps this is obvious to all."

I guess we can both pretty much agree on all that. I joined the ASA 30+
years ago -- I was more conservative then. As I get older, I have changed my
views. Once a Republican; not a Democrat (who deplores many of the
Democratic politicos in DC I hasten to add). I am scared to death of
Ashcroft, but Bush seems to be doing a credible job. What scares me most
about the Republicans is Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell and the RR, who have
influence I never dreamed possible.

Terry concludes: "Another aspect of my frustration is that it would be nice
to have some discussions on various issues where there was a bit more common
ground. Maybe there wouldn't be any discussion if the ground was
common. But most of these issues aren't new. The debates about
scripture go back at least 100 years. The divine sovereignty/free
will discussions go back 1500 years or so (theologically speaking).
Process theology has been around for 75 years. Open theism is kind of
new, but not really. These are well-defined theological and
philosophical camps and which have answers to these questions and
criticisms of the "contrary" perspective. On some of the issues that
we discuss, where one come down on these theological/philosophical
issues determines the answer in advance. Call it worldview, paradigm,
whatever postmodernism is calling this sort of thing these days.

(If you think Stuart was rambling, what do you call this?)

I suppose we perform a service to our questioners and lurkers by
giving them the range of answers to a particular question by those
who claim to be Christians (no judgment intended here). Then they can
think some more, read some more, weight the arguments and decide for

I was going to propose this later, but it seems appropriate now if I
want to end this on a more productive note. I wonder if a good use of
our common interest in these issues would be to have an on-line book
club. For example, several people on the list may be interested in
reading S. J. Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. We could
give ourselves a due date for a chapter or two, have someone
summarize, and then discuss. Then after a while move on to the next
couiple of chapters. [It might be fun to have an informal, impromptu
session at the ASA meeting to discuss some of Gould's book.] Any
takers? The book club wouldn't have to be the exclusive thread, but
could be clearly marked so participants and non-participants alike
would know what's up."

I like this idea.

A proposal -- see my review of Barbour's latest opus in PERSPECTIVES this
month. That's a manageable -- and highly interesting -- volume. At $16.00 it
is not going to break anybody. Wish I could make it to ASA at Pepperdine --
but the dates overlap friend wife's summer school classes.

If you think Barbour's book would be a good starting point, I can post my
review (short) on the LISTSERV and we can tear it apart. Or -- suggest some
other book. Gould's MISMEASURE OF MAN perhaps?

Cordially and in Christian friendship,


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