Re: Fw: [asa] Olasky on Collins

From: Merv Bitikofer <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Wed Aug 12 2009 - 20:41:35 EDT

John, thank you for facilitating these questions from Dr. Howe, and
thank you, Dr. Howe, for your interest in this. Please be assured that
many of us lurk here who are not likely to tire of at least "listening
in" on these exchanges. And occasionally I jump in when I can't resist
even though a question was not directed to me. I'm sure Randy will have
his own response for you, and I'm not in any way trying to answer for
him. But since he apparently has not had the opportunity to do so yet,
let me craft my own response.

You ask to the effect: "Where did Randy [any of us] get the knowledge
about what God did or did not intend the Bible to mean?"

I will brazenly claim to have, within limits, some knowledge of what God
did and did not intend the Bible to be -- (Perhaps more on the "did not
intend" part than the "did intend", but a bit of both shouldn't be
difficult to establish.) How do I know? From several sources.

One of them is Scripture itself --i.e. Scripture interpreting Scripture.
I don't consider this method to be the "slam dunk" that some apologists
seem to try to use it as: for one thing, when someone like Jesus refers
to an O.T. passage, we too easily jump on this as a confirmation of our
own favorite way to treat that passage, because after all, Jesus must
have been thinking about it just like I think about it. While I don't
find such things convincing, I don't write off this principle as
useless. Rather I like to look at how N.T. groups (e.g. Acts 15) set
about wrestling with contentious issues of their day, having to do with
the written Law, no less, and in what ways they resolved their dilemmas.
To me, THAT is more valuable information about handling sacred writ,
than trying, as some do, to simply arrive at a new, more condensed set
of static rules: avoiding fornication, not eating meat from strangled
animals, etc. I like to read how they debated, they consulted
leadership. Leadership debated, presumably listened to both sides. And
they were open to further revelation (from Peter) on the matter, that
would to some of them have seemed to have been contrary to their written
law as understood at the time. Looking at that situation is, for me, an
example of modeling how we can handle God's Word. Not that we consider
everything open for question, but that we should have an attendant
humility that we may someday have to part with this or that cherished
understanding of a given passage. Because the Spirit may (directly, or
through other believers or Spirit-led leaders) show us otherwise. So I
do pay attention to how N.T. writers and people treated (and did not
treat) the sacred Word of their day.

And that brings me to my next answer: I also claim to know a few things
about what God intended for the Bible because a lot of well-trained
church leaders (and maybe too many who are not well-trained, to hear
Cameron tell it) have studied Scriptures for a long time help lead lay
persons like myself, keeping us informed about things like historical,
cultural, and language context, and that is valuable for those of us who
don't have that specialized training. Once again, this is a problematic
option when used in isolation, since very well-trained church leaders
can be teaching very contrary things to their respective audiences, and
even great knowledge, if it is devoid of the Spirit can be a dangerous
thing. But I will listen to my pastor, to credentialed theologians --
highly trained people on this list (and yes, I listen to others too),
and I will listen to you, Dr. Howe, since you hopefully would number
among those who have been immersed in the study of Scriptures, probably
knowing Greek or Hebrew in order to be even closer to the sources. The
whole point of this is not to over-elevate credentials, but to emphasize
the importance of not being a "lone-ranger" interpreter who won't be
moved by anyone else. The church, as in the Body of Christ is
indispensable for this. And part of that body is a set of well-read
believers with very useful hermeneutical tools.

Last, but not least, I am informed about what God did and did not intend
for the Bible by another very important premise: That God is a God of
all truth. I'll assume that you share in that premise with me so that I
don't need to defend it. If this was challenged, then I'm sure there are
Scriptures to back it up, but I don't anticipate needing to do this with
anyone since, if they don't already believe God is a truthful God, then
appeal to any Scriptural basis is a rather useless thing as far as they
are concerned. So, given our acceptance of God's [deeply --both in
action and in word] truthful attribute, I claim that any understanding
derived from Scripture that is flatly contrary to the observed reality
of Creation is then a teaching that does NOT have its source in God, but
comes from overlayed human tradition or error instead. E.g. if someone
tries to claim that Scriptures teach us that the earth is flat, but we
observe that the earth is not flat, then I claim (based on my initial
premise above) that they are not correctly understanding the point of
the passages they are reading, because God would not be trying to teach
a falsehood. I anticipate that this shouldn't be a contentious claim to
make among Christians, except for the obvious lead-in to questions like
evolution; but even there, YECs have cherished the notion that the
science must be questionable --even wrong-- precisely because they so
intensely buy into what I am saying here. --but then they also
unfortunately buy into their own interpretations of Creation with equal
fervor and feel that all truthfulness of Scripture must rise or fall
with the correctness of their own understanding. But I digress on this
last sentence, of course, opening the way for other challenge.

This last point [that both creation and Scripture are both useful
theological tools] is more useful for discerning false claims about
passages, than it is for positive proof about what God IS teaching us
.... But still, it is a useful thing -- a second "book" from God that is
not to be neglected.

I don't claim this to be exhaustive, but they are the three that come to
my mind, and I think can be defended as important tools we all need to
use to discern "what God meant" in some passage 'x'.

One last thing: we can't hide behind some vague disclaimer that "well,
nobody can know for sure, so I can dismiss any claims I don't like".
(And I'm sure you are not suggesting this at all; but I bring it up
anyway in this post-modern age.) If a passage can't have any correct
understandings, then it is useless as a pedagogical tool. Part of the
beauty of thinking about God accommodating to a culture as he revealed
His Word to them, is that the accommodation is precisely what makes it
useful to them (and more tricky for us, thousands of years later!) How
else could God connect with any people of any time except by meeting us
where we are at?

--Merv Bitikofer (ASA member)

John Walley wrote:
> Randy, Jon,
> Below is a combined response to both of your emails from my friend
> Richard Howe.
> Richard, Jon replied to you indirectly because I removed your name to
> protect your privacy but will now copy you to allow you to correspond
> directly. I would like to keep this on the list to invite others who
> may want to participate in this discussion to do so as well.
> Thanks
> John
>
> ----- Forwarded Message ----
>
>
> John, et al.
>
> Thanks for the emails and responses. Let me give some "in brief"
> responses of my own to Jon Tandy. (His original comments are indented.)
>
> However, your friend doesn't really offer any positive critique on the
> subject, "Did God intend the Bible to be scientific textbook, intended
> to convey accurate information to inform the 20th century scientific
> community of greater knowledge in their fields of study?" So my
> question to him is, do you really think that God intended the Bible to
> be that sort of information source?
>
> Let me acquaint Jon with the context of my comments (in case it
> perhaps got lost in the email exchanges). I received an (unsolicited)
> email from John Walley which had the comments by Randy regarding the
> issue of (presumably) Olasky's questions posed to Collins and
> intercepted by the ASA (I assume via /World/ magazine; John sent me
> the link to the article but I was not able to read the article since I
> am not a subscriber to /World/ online. The link I received required a
> membership to read all but the opening few paragraphs). I was happy to
> receive such an email (as I am with all of the emails I get from John
> (a good friend) even if I don't or can't take the opportunity to
> response to each of them). I responded to one numbered item which
> contained several points by Randy. I am also appreciative of your
> Jon's comments (even though they seemingly were directed to John
> Walley instead of to me directly; perhaps because my email had gotten
> lost in the exchange or for some other understandable reason).
>
> First, my questions were straightforward and occasioned by Randy's
> categorical claims to know (among other things) what God intended and
> what God (or the Bible) meant. My questions were completely fair. I
> simply asked how Randy got the knowledge he claimed to have. But
> instead of a direct answer, he suggested that perhaps he should have
> "done a little more editing" and that he used "more anthropomorphism"
> than he should have used. That's fine. I'm sure I've written things on
> which I later wished I had done more editing. But it is interesting
> that he characterized his own comments thus in light of him
> introducing these very comments with "we do want to ensure that there
> is a clarity [sic] of dialog with accurate and fair analysis of all
> sides."
>
> Second, Jon now poses questions indirectly to me about what I think
> God intended for the Bible. This is unacceptable at this point in the
> dialog. I was not the one who made any assertions about what I thought
> God intended about anything. Randy was the one who used such language.
> /He/ is the one who said what God intended. My straightforward
> question was to the effect "Where did he get such knowledge?" If he
> now wants to say that he does not have such knowledge (i.e., if this
> is something that he wishes he could have edited or expunged as an
> anthropomorphism), then that is fine. But I am not going to take the
> bait and let someone else redirect the conversation as if my original
> questions were either unfair or answered.
>
> Third, it is irrelevant that I did not "offer any positive critique on
> the subject, 'Did God intend the Bible to be scientific textbook,
> intended to convey accurate information to inform the 20th century
> scientific community of greater knowledge in their fields of study?'"
> At this point, I am under no obligation to offer such a critique. I am
> not the one who introduced the language of what God's intentions are.
> So I repeat: Where did Randy get the knowledge that he claims to have
> about what God did not intend the Bible to be? How does he know what
> God meant it to reveal? Why (to modify the form of my previous
> question) should one not dismiss what Randy says God meant as "a
> certain human interpretation"? How can he know what message God has
> intended for the text? Where does he get this knowledge?
>
> How would he substantiate such a position from a theological point of
> view? Would the facts and observations about the natural world have
> any bearing in determining whether such a viewpoint is valid, and if
> not, why not? If the evidence from the natural world isn't relevant to
> a discussion of scientific concerns (presuming that is what the Bible
> is meant to be), how can one consider such a position to have any
> scientific merit? On the other hand, if evidence from the natural
> world is allowed to give independent testimony, what if such evidence
> contradicts what seems to be a straightforward reading of the Bible?
>
> Would it shake his faith if he were to learn that the Bible gives some
> rather inaccurate scientific statements? If so, I would wish him well
> and probably drop the conversation, but ask him to come back if he
> ever has an interest in discussing it further or if he runs into a
> crisis of faith over such issues, so we can have a more profitable
> discussion. If he were interested in an open-minded discussion, I
> would go into some of the questions I posed in an e-mail several weeks
> ago.
>
> While all these questions are interesting, important, and relevant to
> an overall discussion of these topics, they are somewhat premature in
> the exchange. Perhaps if time allows (and the questions are not
> rhetorical) all interested parties (and others who might want to join
> in) can explore them. I am very interested, as a matter of principle,
> in an "open-minded discussion." Whether such a discussion can take
> place in these emails, or, indeed, by emails at all, remains to be
> seen. My experience has been that it is those with whom I am having
> the discussion that tire of the discussion before I do.
>
> I hope that all parties will take my questions and comments in the
> spirit of friendship in which they are intended.
>
> Regards,
>
> Richard G. Howe
>
> Richard G. Howe, Ph.D.
>
> //Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics and Director of the Ph.D.
> Program, Southern Evangelical Seminary//
>
> Home Email: richard@richardghowe.com <mailto:richard@richardghowe.com>
>
> Seminary Email: rhowe@ses.edu <mailto:rhowe@ses.edu>
>
> Internet: http://www.richardghowe.com/
>
> Blog: http://quodlibetalblog.wordpress.com/
>
> Faculty Web Site:
> http://ses.edu/Academic/FacultyPages/RichardGHowe/tabid/477/Default.aspx
>
> "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad
> philosophy needs to be answered." C. S. Lewis, //The Weight of Glory//
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> *From:* John Walley [mailto:john_walley@yahoo.com]
> *Sent:* Tuesday, August 11, 2009 9:44 PM
> *To:* richard@richardghowe.com
> *Subject:* Fw: [asa] Olasky on Collins
>
> FYI...
>
> ----- Forwarded Message ----
> *From:* Jon Tandy <tandyland@earthlink.net>
> *To:* AmericanScientificAffiliation <asa@calvin.edu>
> *Sent:* Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:49:50 AM
> *Subject:* RE: [asa] Olasky on Collins
>
> John,
>
> If I recall correctly, some of the phrases that he takes issue with
> may have been suggested in my response to Randy, so I would like to
> reply. I only have time to respond in brief, but he is right the
> statement as written (about the Bible not meant as a scientific text)
> is an interpretation of God's word, and could seem a bit presumptuous
> taken in the absolutist sense. If I were to have written to Mr. Olasky
> (as opposed to throwing out a few comments on this list, where most
> are already familiar with the various points of view), I would
> probably have qualified the language more.
>
> However, your friend doesn't really offer any positive critique on the
> subject, "Did God intend the Bible to be scientific textbook, intended
> to convey accurate information to inform the 20th century scientific
> community of greater knowledge in their fields of study?" So my
> question to him is, do you really think that God intended the Bible to
> be that sort of information source? How would he substantiate such a
> position from a theological point of view? Would the facts and
> observations about the natural world have any bearing in determining
> whether such a viewpoint is valid, and if not, why not? If the
> evidence from the natural world isn't relevant to a discussion of
> scientific concerns (presuming that is what the Bible is meant to be),
> how can one consider such a position to have any scientific merit? On
> the other hand, if evidence from the natural world is allowed to give
> independent testimony, what if such evidence contradicts what seems to
> be a straightforward reading of the Bible?
>
> Would it shake his faith if he were to learn that the Bible gives some
> rather inaccurate scientific statements? If so, I would wish him well
> and probably drop the conversation, but ask him to come back if he
> ever has an interest in discussing it further or if he runs into a
> crisis of faith over such issues, so we can have a more profitable
> discussion. If he were interested in an open-minded discussion, I
> would go into some of the questions I posed in an e-mail several weeks
> ago.
>
> Jon Tandy
>
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
>
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Received on Wed Aug 12 20:42:14 2009

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