Was Francis Schaeffer an Intellectual?

The latest comment in the very Protestant discussion of why we don’t have Christian intellectuals anymore like Reinhold Niebuhr and John Courtney Murray comes from Jake Meador on the merits of Francis Schaeffer who even attracted a story from Time magazine (though he did not make it on to the cover).

Time‘s description of Schaeffer, however, tells us something about how things had changed during the 12 years between Niebuhr’s cover and Schaeffer’s. In 1960, Time presents Schaeffer as a missionary to the intellectuals, which he no doubt was. But this assumes that Christianity needs missionaries to the intellectuals because the intellectuals are no longer Christian. What had been conflict within the intellectual community 13 years before when they reported on CS Lewis has become an attempt to witness to the intellectual community by 1960. This suggests, in one sense, that Jacobs is right—the Christian public intellectual is dead by 1960, which is why Schaeffer was needed.

I wasn’t reading Time in 1960 but fifteen years later I was reading Schaeffer and the better description of the apologist is not as missionary to intellectuals but missionary to would-be intellectuals. That is, Schaeffer was great for kids who had lost their faith and wanted to talk about the films of Bergman or the novels of Camus. Schaeffer was even more effective for young believers like me for taking the lid off subjects not so much forbidden as ignored. All of a sudden, Schaeffer seemed to make it possible for evangelicals who were so culturally marginal never to have heard of C.S. Lewis to entertain ideas about the arts and sciences, movies and trees, and even politics (DOH! That’s where it all breaks down). In other words, Schaeffer inspired as neo-Calvinists so often do. But when it came to the contents of his arguments, chances are that intellectuals weren’t impressed because Christian professors (who might qualify as intellectuals), the ones who grew up inspired by Schaeffer (like mmmeeeEEEE) weren’t so impressed with the scholarship that underwrote Schaeffer’s arguments.

I myself am not so troubled by the loss of Christian intellectuals because having read Niebuhr and Murray (for a current project) I can’t say that their arguments stand up so well. Whose do? Not many. But what Niebuhr and Murray may have gained in public recognition, they may have lost in faithfulness to their traditions. Niebuhr was by many confessional Protestants’ lights a liberal Protestant. And Roman Catholics today still wonder if Murray sold out Roman Catholic teaching to American political norms. And for what it’s worth, a 2k Protestant is happy to take guidance from non-Christian intellectuals on public life. To insist that public life needs Christian input is a soft, even fluffy, version of a theonomic desire for Christians running things, or at least a Eusebian desire to be part of the establishment.

Meador ends by likening Schaeffer to Tim Keller:

Of course, it’s not all so bleak as that. If we wish to go in the direction Jacobs is outlining and try to identify publicly recognized Christians translating the faith into terms the public square can understand while remaining orthodox, there are some examples.

You could easily argue that both Tim Keller and Russell Moore are doing that well in their own ways. Keller’s Reason for God was a best-seller and he lives in and pastors a church in Manhattan. Moore, meanwhile, has been in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post and is deeply engaged in many of the pressing social questions of the day, particularly on issues of racism and sexuality. . . .

Valuable as their work is (and I have enormous respect and gratitude for both men!), the best either can hope to achieve on a cultural level is helping to move us away from apocalypse and toward cultural dhimmitude. That isn’t meant as a criticism of either man, to be clear, nor is it to underscore the work they are doing. There are many people who have met Jesus thanks to the ministry of Keller and we should never forget how significant that is.

Bringing people to Christ is not the same as being a missionary to intellectuals. For that reason it may be useful to remember the review that Bruce Kuklick, an accomplished intellectual historian of Protestant background but agnostic outlook, wrote on Tim Keller’s The Reason for God in the Fall 2008 edition of the Nicotine Theological Journal:

The editors of the NTJ asked me to review this book. Readers have heralded it, he said, as a sophisticated body blow to secularism, but maybe the author is only talking to the already converted. What did I think?

Keller serves as the astoundingly successful pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. Presbyterian readers of NTJ will forgive me if I say he reminds me of a latter-day Henry Ward Beecher, an effective exponent of Christian ideas to a prosperous northeastern urban audience looking for guidance in the modern world. The book exemplifies the more or less systematic exposition of Reformed Protestantism that Keller’s sermons present, and that he promotes in his ministry.

But no matter what the blurbs from Publishers Weekly and New York magazine tell us, Keller writes not as a thinker but as a clergyman. The book is not designed for careful, logical scrutiny, and going to church differs from sitting in a philosophy seminar. As Keller describes his parishioners, they are good people, sometimes in some mild distress, most often decayed Protestants looking for counsel. But they are not interested in honing their cognitive skills by taking a course in The Critique of Pure Reason or reading David Hume on religion, or even emotionally mastering Kierkegaard on faith or Karl Barth on Pauline Christianity. Their frequent social locus in the American Christian tradition means that Keller does not have to start from scratch with them. The book supposes a basic familiarity with Protestant ideas and the notion that western Christianity has something exceptional going for it. Keller is not exactly preaching to the choir, but he is not lecturing in an international classroom to people with serious intellectual doubts, nor is he straining for truth. Keep Beecher front and center.

Let me give one extended example, which is to me is decisive, and decisive about a fundamental issue. Toward the end of the volume Keller takes up the question of miracles, and in particular the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For Keller, and I think for any good Christian, Jesus had really to have been dead and to have come back to life. What is it to believe such a thing? Keller, it seems to me, simply does not deliberate perceptively here. He begins by telling us what he thinks stands in the way of such belief: the presumption that miracles never happen, an outlook that “short circuits” our investigation. But, he argues next, we can’t elucidate everything else that took place later after the resurrection unless we acknowledge the miracle of the resurrection itself. How do we account for all the witnesses? How do we explain the entirely unexpected series of events? How do we come to grips with a brand new set of commitments and a hitherto unthinkable point of view – not foretold or expected by any ancient culture – except on the hypothesis that the resurrection is true? Perhaps more important, how are we to understand the explosive expansion of this new Christian world view? It only could have triumphed if people were transformed by their engagement with some extraordinary truths. Big things, Keller concludes, can only be caused by big things.

Can we accept this approach? In considering whether we are to believe in a miraculous event, we need to recall two factors. First we look at the evidence in favor of an event’s occurring, usually the credibility of testimony. Second we consider the unusualness of the event that the evidence requires us to accept as occurring. The stranger the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it has occurred. A miracle overthrows what I call “laws of nature.” They are propositions about our universal experience, the regularity of our sense perception, that enable us to predict with confidence the occurrence of one event after the occurrence of another. People don’t walk on water, change water to wine, or rise from the dead. If you jump off a bridge, you fall into water; if you have club soda in a can, the twelve ounces of it will come out into a cup; if someone dies, the body decays. We must weigh what is more likely to be false when it is said that a miracle has occurred. Is the testimony mistaken or has a law of nature been abrogated?

To allow for the possibility of miracles, we need only be open to experience. A law of nature cannot proscribe miracles; all it need do is to warn us of their rarity and of what is involved in asserting that they have come about. That is, sufficient testimony might overthrow a prima facie overriding adherence to a law of nature, and the regularity of experience. We can imagine scenarios where we would be obliged to believe that laws of nature have been violated, that something inexplicable in ordinary natural terms has occurred.

But reports of religious miracles have a notorious unreliability – even the Roman Catholic Church tells us that. In all times and places, we have had interested and credulous observers eager to persuade others of the veracity of their peculiar convictions. Provincial self-serving witnesses have repeatedly tried to impose ridiculous stories on our stock of ideas. Over and over religious miracles have come to be rejected. Again and again we find the quality of testimony suspect and never near to meeting the standards of credibility needed to overthrow a natural law. In fact, uniformity exists in the failings themselves: when someone proclaims a religious miracle, we regularly find biased testifiers, a lack of subsidiary evidence, suspicious circumstances. We have available far simpler explanations, and so on.

Put it another way: if we accept the miracles of Jesus, we have good reason to accept others that have more or less indistinguishable support. For example, Keller needs to think about how his privileged supernatural events compare with those promoted by the Mormons. If you already believe Jesus is a special guy, the resurrection is easy to swallow. But if you don’t have that belief in the first place, I don’t see how you make Jesus’ supernatural doings unique. I have two choices: between rejecting religious miracles and accepting the legitimacy of laws of nature; or accepting a lot of the miracles and rejecting laws of nature. We have Jesus arising from the dead, Muhammad touring heaven and hell with Gabriel, and Moroni delivering the golden tablets.

You pay a high price by believing in the Christian miraculous, and are on a slippery slope. You can’t rule out the miracles of any of the “major” religions. You also give license to the existence of zombies and vampires, who are after all, let us remember, first cousins to the resurrection. You are on your way to an environment populated by demons, ghosts, and weird apparitions; bleeding statues, the blind seeing, pictures flying from walls, and devils being exorcised; oracles, dreams with the force of predictions, the dead walking, or talking to us; dolls with pins stuck in them. And god knows what else. You give credence to a world where any sort of unnaturally caused events might occur. Our experience then does not much guide us. We can’t reason much about matters of fact, since we would have a universe in which at any moment we could not rely on the evidence of our senses and not have much of an inkling of how events hooked up.

I don’t expect Keller to deal with this sort of complicated chain of reasoning in his sermons, or even in The Reason for God. Nor do I expect him to be convinced by this group of arguments, however telling they are once one has discarded the veil of conventional respect for our regional Protestant traditions. But in writing his book, he is trying to do more than offer comfort — he is supposed to be sketching a rational account of matters, and his chapter on miracles should not convince anyone who is perplexed by fundamentals. He never takes a hard look at this issue, or others like it.

Undoubtedly I am making too heavy a demand on this volume. But Presbyterians who want to go after skeptics need to keep in mind the different social roles of the Beechers and Kellers of this world and a Machen.

That doesn’t undermine the value of Keller’s work. But intellectual life is a whole lot more demanding than getting noticed by Time magazine or the New York Times.

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95 thoughts on “Was Francis Schaeffer an Intellectual?

  1. If it takes an intellectual to preach to other intellectuals why did the members of the very large, famous, and costly New York Fifth Ave. Presbyterian church swoon so heavily for the likes of the largely uneducated, grammar-challenged revivalist D.L. Moody in the late 19th Century?

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  2. I know it’s not the point of the post, but Kuklick pushes his conclusion too far; “You give credence to a world where any sort of unnaturally caused events might occur. Our experience then does not much guide us. We can’t reason much about matters of fact, since we would have a universe in which at any moment we could not rely on the evidence of our senses and not have much of an inkling of how events hooked up.”

    It seems to me the nature/existence of miracles has inherent in it, the idea/reality of exceptionalness. Such that the predictability and reliability of observation/experience remains reliable all the way up until it doesn’t. Which of course, is an expectation/fear that a naturalist may not like and hyperventilate that EVERYTHING is up for grabs but that would be not only his problem but not the nature of the miraculous(abrogation of natural laws) for which the orthodox are lobbying. Thus, Christians are ‘friends’ of the debunkers and skeptics. Two cents, if that.

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  3. Sadly, no one in reformed Christianity (much less American evangelicalism) has come even remotely close to Schaeffer in terms of intellectual importance and gravitas since his death. I’m truly distressed at the lack of leadership the Christian church has in the West. Intellectually, the second half of the 20th century had people like Schaeffer and Rushdoony (is his name a dirty word on this site? It is most places), the latter of which was unapologetic in his convictions. Today, however, there is no one. While we have great Church historians (here’s lookin’ at you, Dr. Hart), intellectually and theologically we are very weak.

    It is a dark time for Christianity in the West, and it seems that evangelicals don’t even understand it. In the churches I have attended, sin is rampant. I’ve seen pastors who are clearly distressed at this, but nothing they say sinks in. Every time I wander into a Christian book store, I want to cry because the books that evangelicalism cranks out are pathetic. Nothing goes in depth in any way, which is probably because most people are incapable of understanding anything beyond one syllable words. Oh well. Jesus said it wouldn’t be easy (being a Christian). I guess He was right.

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  4. What draws so many to Keller is that he is not Jerry Falwell. Keller speaks to that Christian who is anxious to let her secular liberal friends know that her pastor enjoys Mozart, Bach, and Annie Dillard; believes in evolution and listens to NPR, loves New York City, Modern Art, Opera, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Haitian Folk Music. This ain’t your grandpa’s sweaty, uneducated, pot-bellied bigoted Christianity.

    But the outside world is not impressed. Keller, after all, still believes in the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth, Heaven, Hell, and the Final Judgment. He still has too much in common with Jerry Falwell than Alain de Botton. Worldly approval is a harsh mistress.

    In the cubbyhole of Evangelicalism we draw sharp distinctions between Tim Keller and James Dobson, Russell Moore and John Hagee, James K.A. Smith and Mike Huckabee. But from the high towers of The Secular City we’re all Fundamentalists.

    And a Fundamentalist in a tuxedo is still a Fundamentalist.

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  5. I’ve been writing intermittently on how I admired Schaeffer in my teens and early twenties–yet now that I’m in my early forties and have read a lot more about music history I have numerous issues with Schaeffer’s trilogy just on the topic of music history, and specifically his approach to John Cage. Not that I’m a huge fan of John Cage so much, but I was posting this summer about how the remarkable thing about Schaeffer’s criticism of Cage and Cage’s w–v is that it’s the same basic approach taken by the Marxists Cornelius Cardew and John Tilbury in Stockhausen Serves Imperialism–that man cannot live by these ideas. There’s no doubt in my mind Francis Schaeffer was not a Marxist, yet Schaeffer’s criticism of Cage was almost word for word and concept for concept the same as one provided around the same time by Marxists.

    Particularly for musicians and artists, Schaeffer can be an inspiring starting point when you’re very young but if you want to make any progress within the arts and you immerse yourself in arts history you find out quickly you have to move beyond Schaeffer’s legend of WASP decline.

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  6. About a year before Schaeffer’s trilogy started Leonard B. Meyer proposed that in Western art you had revolutions fueled by the synergy of Renaissance optimism and the Christian doctrinal conviction of the genuine need for improvement in the human condition. Once both these teleological ideological components stopped being “in play” together, there basically could no longer be an avant garde–Cage and his crew had embraced an anti-teleological approach to history and arts interpretation that rendered an avant garde conceptually impossible. So ironically Francis Schaeffer’s proposal that the avant garde emerged in the arts as the West rejected the Christian world view was the opposite of Meyer’s proposal, that by rejecting the teleological conception of history in the Christian faith the Zen-inspired avant garde defined itself out of the possibility of there being an avant garde based on its own ideological assertions.

    And, of course, Cardew and Tilbury’s complaint about Cage was that he’d become a lapdog of the capitalist ruling class.

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  7. Letme, I agree. But isn’t it also the case that if Christians admit some miracles, it looks arbitrary that our miracles are true and Mormons’ are false.

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  8. Bryan, where were Christ’s intellectuals? Did the church depend on smart people? Isn’t the exactly what Paul said was the problem? The foolishness of the cross?

    Have yourself a helping of Bible.

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  9. You can never really become an ex-evangelical if you keep writing about evangelicals.

    Stan Hauerwas, After Christendom, p 42–The intellectual is in an insoluble dilemma,. The only Christian who can be trusted to be politically virtuous is the person who is indifferent to the survival of the relative shapes of the existing order, and this because she trusts in God’s immutable providence. Politicians with virtue know about the discipline of martyrdom. This truth places Christians at odds with the politics of liberalism,”

    When Apologists like John Courtney Murray translate Romanism into pluralism to please the pluralists, it turns out that pluralism has its limits.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/1990/10/006-the-real-john-courtney-murray

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  10. Are intellectuals with a two kingdom worldview attempting to save Christ’s kingdom from being private by preemptively rejecting the law of Christ to govern their lives in public?

    Hauerwas —I thought that after John Murray Cuddihy’s The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi Strauss and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, no one would be able to recommend being “Judeo-Christian” again. As Cuddihy points out, civility is that part of the modernization process that requires the separation of private affect from public demeanor.

    Hauerwas—It is the great bourgeois project to adapt the individual’s intellectual life to the socially
    appropriate. Liberal correctness is expected—indeed required. Intensity, fanaticism—too much of anything, in fact—is unseemly and bids fair to destroy the fragile solidarity of the surface we call civility. The order of “appearance” is itself the message. “The Jews, ” writes Maurice Samuel looking back on the epoch of Emanclpation, “are probably the only people in the world to whom it has ever been proposed that their historic destiny is—to be nice.” You may well object that being nice is not a bad alternative to being killed. but the Holocaust is but the other side of assimilation into the new and oppressive order of pluralism.

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/1990/03/the-importance-of-being-catholic-a-protestant-view

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  11. Does Ross Douthat count as an intellectual? He isn’t a Ph.D., but he is pretty influential (having that spot at the NYT) and his conservative catholicism is on full display. Andrew Sullivan is probably the most important public intellectual of the 21st century. While certainly a liberal catholic, there is no question that his position is strongly informed by the Christian tradition and theological topics were a regular part of his blog. Plantinga, Marsden, Noll, Collins, Stuntz, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, and Polkinghorne are all relatively conservative protestants who have been fairly accomplished scholars as well. I’m not sure that any of them have much popular influence – perhaps Stuntz would have if he hadn’t died so young.

    Who are the secular public intellectuals that are driving the conversation… Fish, Dennett, Posner, Krugman? Or is it the popularizers like Gladwell (a christian himself from what I understand), Thomas Friedman? I don’t see that any of these guys are more influential than the christians I mentioned above.

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  12. Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, believed in the historicity of the Resurrection. Rene Girard, a Catholic, believed that the Resurrection was part of a true myth that proved all other myths false. I can’t imagine that Girard and Schaeffer would play well together, but on that Great Day all things are possible. (My guess would be that Girard would cause some agitata for converts from Fundamentalism like Father Dwight, but he is slick enough to cover it up.)

    Maybe the miracle we ought to pay more attention to is that a simple fisherman preached the greatest sermon ever. Acts 2.

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  13. A disenchanted evangelical is still an evangelical.

    http://bulletin.hds.harvard.edu/articles/winter2008/enchantment-and-disenchantment-evangelical-tradition

    Mencken—As for Bill Sunday’s extraordinary success in drawing crowds and in performing the hollow magic commonly called conversion, it should be easily explicable to anyone who has seen him in action. His impressiveness lies in two things, the first being the sheer clatter and ferocity of his style and the second being his utter lack of those transparent pretensions to intellectual superiority and other worldliness which mark the average evangelical Billy Sunday does not preach down at his flock from the heights of an assumed moral superiority — i.e. inexperience of the common sorrows and temptations of the world — but discharges his message as man to man, reaching easily for buttonholes, jogging in the ribs, slapping on the back.

    Billy Sunday comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important. . . . It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical —an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all Christian theology to a few and simple and (to the ingenuous) self-evident propositions

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  14. Like anybody else who still likes the Niebuhr brothers, Douthat ultimately has a dogmatic faith in the project of liberal democracy.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-obama-the-theologian.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

    Douthat— It’s been neoconservatives taking exception when Obama goes abroad and talks about our Cold War-era sins. He was reaching back 500 or 1,000 years to play at moral equivalence with people butchering their way across the Middle East. From a Niebuhrian perspective, such complaints are to be expected. “All men,” the theologian wrote, like to “obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity.” Nobody likes to have those ambiguities brought to light; nobody likes to have the sanctity of his own cause or church or country undercut. Certainly the sweeping Wilsonian rhetoric of George W. Bush cried out for a corrective, and Obama’s disenchanted view of America’s role in the world contains more wisdom than his Republican critics acknowledge.

    Douthat–“But the limits of his Niebuhrian style have also grown apparent. Self-criticism doesn’t necessarily serve the cause of foreign policy outreach quite as well as Obama once seemed to believe it would. Early in his administration, especially around his 2009 speech in Cairo, there was a sense that showing Muslims that an American president understood their grievances would help expand our country’s options in the Middle East. But no obvious foreign policy benefit emerged, and since then Obama’s displays of public angst over, say, drone strikes have mostly seemed like an exercise in self-justificatio… Obama is not just a Niebuhrian; he’s also a partisan and a progressive, which means that he too invests causes with sanctity, talks about history having “sides,” and (like any politician) regards his opponents as much more imperfect and fallen than his own ideological camp. This can leave the impression that his public wrestling with history’s tragic side is somewhat cynical, mostly highlighting crimes that he doesn’t feel particularly implicated in (how much theological guilt does our liberal Protestant president really feel about the Inquisition?).”

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  15. Darryl, maybe before you read the relative accounts and then you realize Joseph Smith’s top hat and special reading glasses belong in the same category as Harry Potter fiction not Jesus’ intrusion of the eschaton in rolling back the curse by making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to live again. It quickly becomes clear that we aren’t comparing and evaluating similar historical events. Jesus’ events are incredible whereas Smith’s are the work of a two-bit con. I observe the work of two-bit cons every day. Not much miraculous going on there. But if it helps Kuklick to sleep by lumping them together……. I’m not living with Keller’s “but look at the magnitude of what happened, it had to be true”. It’s right up there with his ‘brilliant’ evaluation of the human condition that we all need a friend and that friend we need is Jesus. But then again, I’ve never believed we were all created equal, I was working through that religious felt need in CCD classes.

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  16. Al Mohler—Niebuhr’s “oldtime religion put through the intellectual wringer” was a wink and nod to the fact that what is left is not classical Christianity at all, but something far less.

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/22/christian-intellectual/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AlbertMohlersBlog+%28Albert+Mohler%27s+Blog%29

    dgh—Does Jacobs really think that the evangelicals who supported Fuller Seminary or went there to study with Carl Henry regarded Reinhold Niebuhr as one of their own? More likely is the case that Carl Henry read Niebuhr the way Jacobs reads Robinson — namely, as a liberal Protestant. Jacobs is not wrong to so dismiss someone who may minimize certain Christian truths to gain a following with a secular audience (any atheists for Robinson?).

    Al Mohler, president of the Arminian evangelical Southern Baptist Seminary, regards Billy Graham’s gospel as “classical Christianity” “Reformed” ex-evangelicals who profess conversion to Christ as “evangelicals” regard the gospel of C S Lewis as “classical Christianity”.

    Evangelical Roger Olson— “C S. Lewis more than implied that God will sometimes accept as worship of Him the worship of other gods. The logical import of such a statement is that, in effect, the person was worshiping ‘the same God’ whether they knew it or not. Billy Graham stated very publicly in a video recorded interview with Robert Schuller, that he did not think only Christians could be saved

    Bonhoeffer, Lutheran intellectual —”There are some who, when they find out that the bus is going the wrong direction, walk toward the other end of the bus.”

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  17. Two kingdom intellectuals affirm a dualist world view. .

    https://oldlife.org/2016/01/06/why-credit-schaeffer-but-not-aristotle/

    Jonathan Malesic, Secret Faith in the Public Square (2009)—“Can Christians be witnesses to the truths of the gospel in a land where being Christian is a form of social capital? What about when Christian identity has become a brand? American public life easily converts Christian identity into something which saves a culture. … Being a Christian is thought to be politically useful.”

    Francis Schaeffer maybe used to be at sectarian back in his Carl McIntire days, but the more concerned Schaeffer became about every square inch, the more willing Schaeffer became to form coalitions with Mormons and Romanists who “love the Lord”

    NT Wright —“Let’s run through types of dualism, beginning with four types that would be comfortably at home within ancient Jewish thought:
    a. a heavenly duality: not only God exists, but also angels and perhaps other heavenly beings;
    b. a theological duality between God and the world, the creator and the creature;
    c. a moral duality between good and evil;
    d. an eschatological duality between the present age and the age to come.
    All of these dualities a first-century Jew would take for granted. But none of them constitutes a cosmological dualism, a la Plato, in which the world of space, time and matter is radically inferior to the noumenal world. They are not dualisms of form and matter, essence and appearance, spiritual and material, and heavenly/earthly…”

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  18. I understand your point, Dr. Hart, but I can’t help but wonder if 2000 years of humanity screwing up Christ’s message has made the “Christian intellectuals” necessary… or maybe they make things worse? And how many people actually are reading their Bibles? I’m not saying these intellectuals should be above the Bible – far from it! The Bible is God’s authoritative Word, but Christian apologists, theologians, and intellectuals have been very important throughout the history of the Church. Since Christ and the Apostles aren’t physically here to tell us exactly what they meant when writing the New Testament, we are left to create a dialogue about these issues… and I see that dialogue growing cold in American evangelicalism, to the point where most don’t even acknowledge our heritage and tradition.

    I think men like Schaeffer have their place in Christianity because some people do come to intellectual conversions – just look at Paul Elmer More, or a contemporary example, Lee Strobel. God led them to an intellectual understanding of the truth before He changed their hearts. Of course God did this through their own study of the Bible, not through reading other contemporary intellectuals.

    I’m still sorting through these things. But for now, I think I will have myself a helping of Bible. Cheers.

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  19. I’d have to agree that disbelieving Mormon claims isn’t arbitrary. There are quite good reasons to believe Joseph Smith was a huckster and a fraud. We just have so much more documentary evidence against him than we do against the Bible.

    That’s not to say that the Bible’s claims aren’t “hard to believe,” it’s just that we have so much more evidence for/against Mormonism than we do for Scripture and Christianity.

    In general, I’ve long said that apologetics is far more effective for people who are already Christians than it is for unbelievers. Someone like a Keller or a Schaeffer can help young Christians who are questioning whether Christianity is at all intellectually credible. But of course, like all thinkers, they make mistakes and often oversimplify. As you grow in the faith, you see some of their gaping holes. But I think any honest scholar would say the same thing about scholarship in general.

    But outside of our Christian bubble, few even know who Keller (or Schaeffer) is, even with his having a bestseller, and even less actually care. Seems like Christians need to be more realistic about that, but too many have bought into the myth of influence.

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  20. Dan, “Maybe the miracle we ought to pay more attention to is that a simple fisherman preached the greatest sermon ever. Acts 2.”

    Now you’re sounding like a Babdist.

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  21. 1. He provides a decent dummies guide to art and music and philosophy, especially for the 20th century.

    2. He introduced concepts of cobelligerency and connotation words, which were needed at that time.

    3. He makes a lot of simple mistakes that hurt his credibility.

    4. His universal theory of the arts and the downward spiral of despair is fun to read but not to be taken seriously.

    5. I had no clue he was Reformed/Presbyterian even as I read him at the end of my tether with Evangelicalism in the mid 1980s.

    6. His theology is not top shelf, filling most of the rainbow set of his works.

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  22. DGH, never been sure why so many Reformed types argue about what the gospel is and/or just where in the NT it is to be found, when it is right there out of Peter’s mouth in Acts 2. Is it because Peter has, in your (speaking collectively) eyes, been appropriated by the RC’s, so it is easier just to ignore him? Would you and I have reacted any differently if we had been in the crowd that day?

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  23. kent, regarding your point 4, this is particularly true in 20th century music history where some of the biggest revolutionaries were not only religious but embraced fairly traditional Christian beliefs. The French avant garde composer Messiaen was still alive when Schaeffer was writing, without Messiaen’s teaching and example we wouldn’t have necessarily gotten Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis, Stockhausen and other major figures in the 20th century avant garde. Stravinsky was wobbly at best from time to time in lifestyle but he was never not Russian ORthodox in professed beliefs. Schoenberg was briefly Christian but returned to Judaism and also had an interest in theosophical stuff. So for Schaeffer to propose that as the West rejected Christian w–v thought it embraced radical, ugly art is so easily disproven by doing biographical reading on the musicians of the 20th century Western avant garde It would be funny if Schaeffer was not taken as seriously as he is by evangelicals and conservative Protestants.

    The other thing I mentioned earlier that connects to your point 4 is that Schaeffer’s unified theory is really only for Western European and American arts, not arts from the Eastern traditions (Christian and otherwise). So it’s ultimately a narrative of WASP decline that’s impossible to take seriously for any Christians who may be Western but don’t have only WASP lineage.

    Point 1 is a good one. If Schaeffer were read as a cliff notes/primer on trends in Western culture and no more he could be an okay starting point for more historical and scholarly stuff later on. But way too many people who read him have read him as a substitute for their own study.

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  24. per the Mere Orthodoxy piece and the Jacobs piece it can seem as though the authors didn’t address that back when there were Christian public intellectuals they were addressing problems that non-Christians or nominal Christians considered wroth solving. If the biggest problem Christians who want Christian intellectuals want to solve is public/social influence we’ve got better things to do. As a musician I’m more interested in how someone might be able to arrive at a fusion of 18th century contrapuntal idioms with melodic writing inspired by pre-World War 2 Delta blues than by the question of why there aren’t Christian intellectuals who can be influential in the public sphere these days. In the time it takes to do that you could be looking at how Anton Reicha’s approach to the fugue could provide a bridge between early Romantic era approaches to counterpoint and early 20th century styles like ragtime.

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  25. “… As a musician I’m more interested in how someone might be able to arrive at a fusion of 18th century contrapuntal idioms with melodic writing inspired by pre-World War 2 Delta blues than by the question of why there aren’t Christian intellectuals who can be influential in the public sphere these days …”

    Ever checked out what Steve Dobrogosz does with The Mass. Not saying it’s a perfect correlation to what you’re interested in, but it’s certainly worth considering.

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  26. I haven’t heard of Dobrogosz before (or at least I don’t think I’ve heard of him before). I have been curious about experiments in jazz and classical fusion (Nikolai Kapustin’s piano sonatas are frustratingly amorphous while his set of preludes and fugues for piano have some cool stuff). I’ll have to keep Dobrogosz in mind as someone whose work I can check into later this year.

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  27. He takes small cultural moments and inflates them with eternal significance. The effects of a Bergman or Antonioni scene do not wash over everyone and send them further on a dizzying path of despair.

    People figured out fornication well before Francis sort of makes an excuse of the devil of a modern art exhibit giving the young ladies a case of the moral vapors.

    A Christian cultural hero is something to be.

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  28. There well may be good reasons to believe that Joseph Smith was a two-bit con man, but that is mostly because we have so much primary source material from outsiders including non-Mormons who dealt with the Latter Day saints in their early days and ex-Mormons who left the fold. If we look only at comparable sources for the earliest days of Christianity and Mormonism–i.e., those written by devout believers several decades after the fact–I think that it would be much harder to claim that one’s miracle claims were any more or less credible than the other’s.

    Even with the sources we have, I think it hard to claim any greater credibility for Christianity’s miracles without being highly selective. We must ignore all the apocryphal works in favor of Canonical ones, and even then we must ignore plenty of the miracles described in the latter, such as Matthew’s zombie saints.

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  29. Vinny, why would I discount apostolic writings as credible historical documents? I’m no expert on early church history or the Mormons but why would I surrender the best historical ground for the Christian truth claims? I know the higher critics like for one to grant that initial move and as well as skeptics, but why should I? Last I studied, when you’re dealing with ancient texts( IOW, we weren’t there) your best source were reliable(where they can be verified) eyewitnesses of the actual historical events. If I remember right, Smith had no such eyewitness testimony for his spectacles and golden plates. Plus, the nature of the miracles-parlor tricks vs. raising the dead.

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  30. You might discount the apostolic writings for any number of reasons including the following: (1) outside the writings of Paul, their authorship cannot be established; (2) none of them identify their sources; (3) they were written decades after the fact; (4) it is impossible to know how many times the stories were passed along in oral tradition prior to being recorded; (5) it is impossible to determine whether the oral tradition originated with anyone who had firsthand knowledge of the events in question; and (6) we have no sources from outside the movement.

    Imagine trying to figure out what happened at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 if your only sources were books written by UFO fanatics in the 1980’s. You would find it just as difficult as figuring out what really happened to Joseph Smith if your only sources were written by devout Mormons after the Church reached Salt Lake City. When it comes to fantastic stories recorded by true believers decades after the fact, I think that there is ample reason to take them with a huge grain of salt.

    BTW, the book of Mormon contains the testimony of eight witnesses who claim that Joseph Smith showed them the Golden Plates and that they handled them. It also contains the testimony of three other witnesses who claim that the Angel Moroni showed them the plates. I don’t find the testimony credible, but at least it comes from identifiable witnesses.

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  31. Vinny, what are you considering ‘established’? I know of two contested books, from memory, Hebrews and one of John’s epistles, if memory serves, and a possible shared document as regards the synoptics (which wouldn’t rule out distinct authorship). (2) They claim eyewitness testimony. (3) As long as your decades don’t extend into hundreds of years and more importantly eyewitnesses, including hostile ones were existent at the time of the letters. (4) Oral tradition is an old canard of the higher critics and really requires hundreds of years of oral tradition to get any traction. More importantly it ignores the jewish scribal tradition already well established within the church (5) see three and four (6) actually we have Josephus, though I don’t recall how extensive/overlapping his historical coverage was, primarily related to synoptic accounts of roman rule, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, but it’s a terribly credible ‘hostile’ testimony.

    The bit about the zealous interlopers(enthusiasts) is a hypothetical and best linked to an extensive oral tradition and bears no relation to the credibility of alleged eyewitness testimony, which was often disparaging of their own character.

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  32. Letmesplainsean,

    At the very least, I would look for a consensus of scholars in order to say that authorship is established. That gives us seven of authentic letters of Paul with everything else in the New Testament being open to dispute. There is very little that can be characterized as claim to eyewitness testimony.

    As far as hostile eyewitnesses being alive goes, that assumes that there was something to witness while Jesus was alive. If, on the other hand, Jesus was an obscure itinerant preacher who went unnoticed outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers, there might have been few people who were in a position to contradict the stories that were recorded several decades later.

    More importantly, the existence of hostile eyewitnesses who knew the truth did little to deter the early Mormons or the UFO fanatics. Why should I think that the early opponents of Christianity would have deterred true believers from inventing fantastic stories about Jesus? Roswell and Joseph Smith are not hypothetical situations; they are documented examples of fantastic stories spreading despite the existence of contrary evidence and witnesses.

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  33. Vinny, you’ll have to forgive me If I don’t put a lot of stock in a group of scholars, who, last I studied, were starting out with the notion that at best the historical Jesus was a myth but in case he was real, then they, two thousand years removed(so not there) would determine which texts were actual sayings of Jesus and/or Jesus actually did what was reported by casting colored marbles to determine what was legitimate and what was the work of interlopers. It looks and acts more like chronological snobbery and radical skepticism than scholarly history. So, we’re back to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of eyewitness testimony and, of course, Josephus, original autographs, even just pieces, manuscript copies, and a hostile Jewish cult who had every reason to disprove or find fault in the accounts given. I’m not saying that you can’t have enthusiasts going off and doing whatever they choose to do regardless of the evidence. But those considerations aren’t textual criticism of ancient texts nor historical scholarship. I’m not arguing Keller’s evidence of the truth of the historical Jesus.

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  34. To me, the question is whether being an intellectual is an elite rank or is it merely a description of what everyone does when they seriously think about the issues. Those who favor authoritarianism prefer the former while those we favor egalitarianism favor the latter.

    In any case, Noam Chomsky’s take on intellectuals is that are the equivalent to the OT prophets. Yes, there were false prophets and true prophets. And the primary distinction between them revolved around one’s position on the status quo. Those who supported the status quo and gave false assurances were the false the false prophets.

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  35. Letmesplainsean,

    You will have to forgive me for pointing out that even if we could establish the existence of motivated fault-finders, it would give us little reason to trust the New Testament accounts. In an era of newspapers and high literacy, Joseph Smith had no shortage of critics; nevertheless, the are some fourteen million Mormons in the world today. Religious belief tends to be highly resistant to debunking.

    I think that skepticism concerning the Jesus Seminar’s methodology is justified, but uncertainties about the authenticity and authorship of the New Testament writings are acknowledged by scholars across the spectrum.

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  36. Vine,

    uncertainties about the authenticity and authorship of the New Testament writings are acknowledged by scholars across the spectrum.

    This simply isn’t true. Evangelical scholars don’t generally question “authenticity and authorship.” D.A. Carson, Charles Hill, Michael Kruger, Greg Beale, Tom Schreiner, and many others will interact with the questions and typically come down on the side of traditional attributions of authorship. And historically, there have been plenty of non-evangelical scholars who have affirmed much of those traditional attributions even if they think the NT is a bunch of hooey. But hey, we know better in the twenty-first century because computers and unverifiable theories of literary dependence, church development, and the transmission of oral stories.

    Biblical scholarship almost more than any other discipline is characterized by groupthink. The seven “undisputed letters of Paul” is a notorious example. This year it’s seven. Consensus at one time was more, at one time was less.

    I would look for a consensus of scholars in order to say that authorship is established. That gives us seven of authentic letters of Paul with everything else in the New Testament being open to dispute. There is very little that can be characterized as claim to eyewitness testimony.

    Consensus. Who determines what that is? And of course, consensus is never wrong? Please.

    It’s just bad thinking. Why those 7 and not the Pastorals. “Consensus” is that those are not from Paul but from a single other author. Okay, why aren’t those 3 genuinely Pauline and the 7 others frauds? Why? Because NT scholarship (and biblical scholarship as a whole) is largely agenda driven and rooted in a theory of evolutionary development that says Paul simply was too early to suggest such an organized form of church polity. Yeah, that’s demonstrable from the sources we have.

    But if you want your seat at the NT scholar table, you have to kowtow to whatever the current consensus says (and the current consensus is whatever the favored group says is right today). That plus conspiracy theorists with PhDs such as Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan.

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  37. Baron von Raschke’s infamous The Claw move?

    Where does he come into the discussion of Baby Mozzart’s first chapter on over-simplistic redaction criticism? Reading that stuff makes one philosophize more than their first beer.

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  38. Vinny, I noted two letters I was aware of, and I’m not hinging my argument solely on hostile witnesses, nor am I disagreeing that zealots and skeptics don’t do what pleases them regardless of the evidence. I’ve seen both. None of that touches upon the legitimate historical scholarship and the evaluation of ancient texts. There are archeological evaluations, presence of reliable eyewitness testimony, manuscript copy, presence of hostile witnesses. When you can verify an account what do you find? Is it truthful, accurate, corroborative or disputative? I’ll admit to not having engaged in an in-depth study of Mormonism, ever, and only briefly reviewed it over twenty-five years ago. What I have read and gathered from others anecdotal accounts isn’t compelling. I did however spend a good deal of my life interacting with the ‘consensus of biblical scholars’ including two, now, Vatican officials and contributors to much of the RC curriculum and lay teaching materials and they were all imbibing the higher critical method, which was at the core a deconstructive evaluation, and last I heard on the Discovery Channel and even Ehrman was more of the same with some distinct nuance but the same predetermined bias and methodology of evaluation against the historicity of the biblical accounts but(not Ehrman) somehow managing to construct both an exhaustive political and psychological analysis of Jesus(though he may not have been an historical person and certainly didn’t perform ‘miracles’ or claim to be divine-interlopers) that still had meaning for life. It’s poor historical scholarship, and a jaundiced methodology. From a historical angle, not a philosophical one, it’s a question of how you’re going to treat the accounts and are you going to give more credence to a methodology two thousand years removed from the actual events or instead the historical accounts and testimony you do have from the time frame in which the historical persons and events were alleged to have existed and occurred. I’m not making a philosophical argument.

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  39. Very often authorship is in dispute. Good commentaries give the reasons for and against John as the author of the gospel and epistles.

    Whoop dee doooooo…

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  40. I would say that the language differences as well as the more developed church hierarchy found in the Pastorals are the arguments that make the most sense to me.

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  41. Robert,

    If you prefer to characterize it as “interacting with the questions” rather than “acknowledging the uncertainties,” I won’t quibble. My point is that it is not limited to fringe groups like the Jesus Seminar.

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  42. Vinny,

    But there aren’t any uncertainties unless you throw out the testimony of the early church altogether. The evangelicals are responding only to questions raised by a methodology that says “we can’t trust any extrabiblical attributions of authorship.” Because the fact is, there is almost no question among the early church sources as to who wrote what. Everybody agrees that Paul wrote all letters attributed to him, that the named Evangelists wrote the gospels, etc. Without a methodology that says “believe nothing” going in regarding first and second century sources, there are no “issues” to address.

    It’s flawed methodology. Assume that we know how skilled first-century Jews would be with Koine Greek. Postulate an evolutionary development of the Christian organization according to certain lines. Then, use that to use actual current testimony or testimony far closer to the origins than we have today and “prove” that the attributions of authorship are wrong. And it helps that by coming up with a new theory, you can make a name for yourself in the scholarly world.

    Bonus points for assuming that authors have a set vocabulary that they will never alter, expand, and so on. I’m a professional writer. You could apply the same “methodology” to ten pieces I’ve written and come up with different authors if you wanted to.

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  43. That is,

    Then, prefer those late-developed ideas to use actual current testimony or testimony far closer to the origins than we have today and “prove” that the attributions of authorship are wrong or at least highly doubtful.

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  44. RE: the dating of the Pastorals,

    IMO the hierarchy arguments are weak because there is no difference between ecclesiology in the Pastorals from Philippians. Appeals to the language of the Pastorals is more compelling, even if ultimately unconvincing, IMO.

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  45. Robert,

    There are uncertainties because we can only ever know what probably> happened in the past.

    More specifically though, there are uncertainties about the authenticity and authorship of the New Testament writings because people sometimes attributed writings to apostolic sources falsely. Knowing this, it is perfectly legitimate to evaluate the conclusions that the early church reached about any particular writing. It may be true that Irenaeus was much closer to the composition of the gospels than we are, but he was still some century removed; that hardly puts him in a position to “testify” to their authorship. If we cannot determine his reasons for thinking that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the canonical gospels, we cannot be certain that they were any better than the ones that other people had for thinking that Peter wrote the apocryphal gospel that was attributed to him.

    There is a saying among newspaper reporters: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” We can, of course, trust whomever we choose to trust; however, I don’t see how we can claim something as historical fact if we haven’t examined it, sought to corroborate it, and considered alternative possibilities. That’s the methodology of historians.

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  46. Letmesplainsean,

    I agree that scholars like Ehrman tend to express an irrational degree of certainty in their conclusions about the historical Jesus given the shortcomings they find in the sources; however, I don’t think they are wrong about the shortcomings. I simply don’t see any basis for concluding that what we have is reliable eyewitness testimony.

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  47. Vinny, I’m missing the leap from considering alternative possibilities to not seeing ANY basis for concluding that we have reliable eyewitness testimony. If you’re going to discount apostolic authorship, it’s on you(whomever) to prove the accounts we have as unreliable and show reason why your methodology and sources, thousands of years removed, are more reliable than eyewitness sources with corroborative testimony from the time period. You need to overcome the claimed authorship and it’s widespread acceptance from the onset, the corroborative sources such as,Irenaeus, Papias Josephus(events) and provide a more historically reliable alternative. It’s not enough to edit the source material. A historian can edit the source material in such a way that any ancient account is deemed unreliable. And again, moderns are going to be late to that activity as well, you have this sorting going on within the first hundred years How is your sorting, two thousand years removed, better than their discrimination? Analyzing ancient texts isn’t the same as a reporter corroborating the testimonial account of a current event. Ehrman and crew have a lot of people they have to impugn, and provide either a definitive smoking gun of fraud or the same degree/amount of contradictory,historical, disputative evidence.

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  48. Letmesplainsean,

    Where do you see “widespread acceptance from the onset”? Irenaeus is the first person to identify the authors of the four canonical gospels some century after they were written.

    Moreover, am I required to treat every fantastic story as reliable until I can prove its falsity? Isn’t the wiser course to start from a position of agnosticism until I see evidence that pushes me one way or another? Am I not, at the very least, justified in starting from agnosticism as to reliability when someone makes affirmative claims about events that are scientifically impossible?

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  49. Vinny,

    More specifically though, there are uncertainties about the authenticity and authorship of the New Testament writings because people sometimes attributed writings to apostolic sources falsely. Knowing this, it is perfectly legitimate to evaluate the conclusions that the early church reached about any particular writing.

    Sure, but the point is that while you had lots of people questioning the authors of the Apocryphal gospels, you simply don’t have anyone questioning the earliest attributions of authorship regarding the 4 canonical gospels. That’s a simple fact.

    You also have the reality that every copy of the canonical gospels that we have that includes the first page includes the title “gospel according to Matthew” or whoever. There is a big assumption that these were added later, but the fact is that the actual textual evidence we have doesn’t support that. Nobody has found a copy of the gospels yet without a title that I know of, anyway.

    But we keep hearing the the gospels were anonymous even though the actual textual evidence doesn’t bear it out. This is the kind of groupthink when it comes to NT scholarship that I’m talking about. People repeat theories with no textual basis long enough, and it becomes “indisputed fact.”

    It may be true that Irenaeus was much closer to the composition of the gospels than we are, but he was still some century removed; that hardly puts him in a position to “testify” to their authorship. If we cannot determine his reasons for thinking that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the canonical gospels, we cannot be certain that they were any better than the ones that other people had for thinking that Peter wrote the apocryphal gospel that was attributed to him.

    Irenaeus gives us his reasons. He claims to be inheriting a tradition. Now that claim in itself could in theory be wrong, but you test it. And like I said, no one is questioning whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote those gospels in the early church. There is plenty of disagreement over the non canonical gospels where people are aware of them. The textual evidence also bears out Irenaeus’ testimony when it is available.

    The actual sources are unanimous on the gospels in ways they aren’t for other books. Doubts only arise late in the eighteenth century, and then only because of the influence of a particular evolutionary view of religion that is then applied retroactively to the New Testament.

    The evidence for traditional authorship is widespread and comes from many different lines. That plus the early church’s not admittance as canonical anything they knew to be pseudonymous puts a stronger burden of proof on those who would question the early historical sources. If, indeed, the early church is wrong about the gospels, it’s awfully strange how everyone could get fooled on those books but on on the apocryphal gospels. It isn’t as if there was anything resembling a central authority in Irenaeus’ day.

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  50. Irenaeus isn’t the first to attribute the gospels to the apostles. Justin Martyr does that, although he does not name the authors. Papias likewise appears tp believe that Mark wrote Mark from Peter’s memory and Matthew wrote Matthew.

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  51. @Jeff, Robert, Vinney,

    The gospels were written within living memory of the events of eye witnesses who existed in an oral tradition. There is no reason to assume some source as”Q”, as some people do. You have to have a Q to get it as a source, but there is no evidence of a Q, so that whole line starts with a false premise.The written gospels start with Jesus’s teaching and acting; the apostles’s witnessing and passing on by word of mouth and then by writing it down.

    Been listening to Lawrence Feingold on this. Great lectures.

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  52. Susan,

    No doubt stories were passed on orally, but we simply don’t know that much. For all we know, at least portions of the gospels were committed to writing while Jesus was still alive.

    But yes, the canonical gospels were written within living memory of the events of eye witnesses. This is true even if one accepts the “scholarly consensus” of the gospels being written ca. 70–90 AD.

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  53. You can take a stance of agnosticism but that’s not the same as denying the historical reliability of the NT documents

    amen
    Wikipedia: Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims –especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether God, the divine, or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable. According to the philosopher William L. Rowe, “agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.”

    sdb…….(cont) Christian worldview
    -no amount of intellectual debate can talk one into believing the Bible and gospel are true
    – a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God
    -without the Lord’s intervention, one can always be learning and never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth
    -Jesus came to open blind eyes, bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison
    – we learn, become convinced of God’s sacred writings, are given the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, all by the work of our Creator
    -believers have the mind of Christ having His Spirit; God’s revealing through Him, to know the things freely given by God in words taught by Him
    – there is a spirit of the world and there are words taught by human wisdom, different from the above
    – if rulers of this age had understood their Creator’s wisdom, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory
    -there is one God, the Creator;everything else is His creation of which He is in charge -all of which will yield (every knee bow) to Him in the end

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  54. Hi Robert,

    What I meant is that the time of Jesus’s life (and after for a long time afterwards), Christianity like Judaism before it was primarily an oral culture.
    Jesus never commissioned any of his apostles to write down what he told them. But they were good at memorizing ,and had to be, unlike us today, who are the opposite of an oral culture. Jesus his diciples to go into all the world and tell. It was in the providence of God that historic accounts got put to writing of course, but the diffusion of the good news wasn’t dependent on only having the written testimony.
    That’s what I meant.

    For the purpose of your discussion with Vinney it’s important to accept that the gospels were written during living memory of other eye witnesses within the community who would have called foul if something was written down that was untrue.
    Lawrence Feingold uses the example of people even now who deny the Holocaust happened yet there are people still alive that lived it.

    As for agnosticism about the supernaturalness of the scriptures and their testimony, that is founded on an belief that science can lead us to understand ourselves apart from religion. That is to assume materialism. If a person can understand that he is a composite of body and soul, then he can began to ask what is his supernatural end.
    The Christian religion through the Church exists to tell us we have a supernatural end and it aided us in reaching the beatific vision( seeing God face to face).

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  55. Robert,

    I don’t think that it is a “simple fact” that no one questioned the earliest attributions. We know that the Ebionites only accepted the Gospel According to Matthew and the Marcionites only accepted the Gospel According to Luke. Each group must have had some problem with the three gospels it rejected. Unfortunately, we don’t know what their objections were.

    It is true that we have no manuscript evidence showing that the titles were later additions, but we also have no manuscript evidence showing that they were original either. Unfortunately, other than a few fragments, our earliest manuscript evidence dates to well more than a century after the gospels were written.

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  56. Susan,
    Thank you for your concern, but I much prefer agnosticism to pretending that I believe things that don’t make sense to me.

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  57. Vinny,

    Do you mind if I ask what is your interest in the scriptures and/or the person of Jesus?

    Theism isn’t a leap, why Christianity?

    If I’m prying too much, I apologize. I just hate the idea of anyone’s boat taken in water if it doesn’t have to.

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  58. Vinny,

    I don’t think that it is a “simple fact” that no one questioned the earliest attributions. We know that the Ebionites only accepted the Gospel According to Matthew and the Marcionites only accepted the Gospel According to Luke. Each group must have had some problem with the three gospels it rejected. Unfortunately, we don’t know what their objections were.

    Well the last part is important. We don’t know all that much about the Ebionites but we know more about the Marcionites. Marion’s rejection of all but Luke fits very well with agreement on the traditional authorship. Luke was a Gentile. Makes sense for and anti-Jewish Gnostic to accept Luke but not the others who have traditional Jewish attribution. The Ebionites are a more difficult case. I can’t remember offhand, but I don’t know if the Ebionites even knew about the other 3 Gospels. You also had cases were early groups could believe that some disciples got things right and the others didn’t. So it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the Ebionites thought John wrote John but rejected it because they believe John was a compromiser.

    In other words, rejection of a book as Scripture doesn’t mean rejection of the traditional attributions of authorship. Even today, there are some extreme dispensationalists that might believe Matthew wrote Matthew but then they reject it because Matthew isn’t for the post-Apostolic church or something like that.

    It is true that we have no manuscript evidence showing that the titles were later additions, but we also have no manuscript evidence showing that they were original either. Unfortunately, other than a few fragments, our earliest manuscript evidence dates to well more than a century after the gospels were written.

    Sure, but then NT scholars should be more circumspect. It’s stated as unambiguous fact that the Four Gospels were anonymous. There’s no positive evidence for that. What we have is lots of conjectures about the literary abilities of first-century Jews plus thoroughgoing skepticism about things such as predictive prophecy.

    What we should have is “We think they were anonymous and this is why,” not the typical “These have to be anonymous because the original disciples were too ignorant to write such good Greek” and other such things we often get.

    I’d also say that those later manuscripts that we do have, when compared to the early fragments, show great care in copying. So if anything, that would bolster the idea that the Gospels were written with the titles in place.

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  59. But they were good at memorizing ,and had to be, unlike us today, who are the opposite of an oral culture. Jesus his diciples to go into all the world and tell. It was in the providence of God that historic accounts got put to writing of course, but the diffusion of the good news wasn’t dependent on only having the written testimony.
    That’s what I meant.

    I would qualify this. Diffusion of the good news wasn’t dependent on only having the written testimony, but the existence of an oral culture doesn’t mean that the writing is an accident. Every time God gave revelation under the old covenant, it got written down. The idea that oral testimony is sufficient (which is the implicit view of Roman Catholicism, I think, and hence the elevation of the church) doesn’t bear out historically or theologically.

    For the purpose of your discussion with Vinney it’s important to accept that the gospels were written during living memory of other eye witnesses within the community who would have called foul if something was written down that was untrue.

    Absolutely.

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  60. Susan,
    I don’t mind you asking, but I’m not completely sure of the reasons myself. I suppose much of it goes back to being raised Catholic. However, my discussions in the blogosphere go back about ten years to when my son was in high school and some local Bible thumpers tried to get some books removed from the school’s curriculum. I started commenting on a blog that one of them ran, and I was frequently challenged to “Check out the evidence.” When I did, I found that it was even weaker than I had expected it to be. That led me to commenting on other blogs, and I have been doing it ever since.

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  61. Susan says: I know what agnosticm feels like, and it ain’t fun.
    Susan says:Theism isn’t a leap, why Christianity? I just hate the idea of anyone’s boat taken in water if it doesn’t have to.

    Susan, likely only some doubters are meant here for mercy in hope, (Jude 1:22-23) but then there are other ‘doubters’; one must discern

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  62. Hi again Vinny,

    I guess I’m confused because I thought that you aren’t a Christian for the readon that you don’t believe the miraculous events in the gospels.

    It’s really interesting( to me) how we can each come to agnosticism about Christianity from different ways. I doubted the historicity of the bible as God’s revelation mostly for about four reasons:
    I understood that there was no archeological evidence for a massive group of Semitic people living in Sinai Peninsula. Events that I knew weren’t meant to be understood ( in the first sense)as metaphor, so I didn’t understand how a footprint like that could be hidden, especially since older civilzattions( or concurrent ones) had evidence.
    I was hung up on there not being a satisfactory moral answer to God’s putting the ban to the cultures that the Israelites met on there way towards the promise land.
    And I had a problem with the Jesus’s permenent physical departure.
    The people of God had the temple in Jerusalem where God was local in the Ark of the Covenant, then the awaited Messiah comes on the scene, only to leave again. I couldn’t see how it was better for us that Jesus leave, especially since the Holy Spirit alone, we were splitting into different groups.
    And that brings me to the bible alone as a way to know what is all of orthodoxy. As far as I could see, every denomination testified to the perspecuity of scripture, yet they didn’t agree on the essentials. I thought that if they agreed on the essentials, they shouldn’t be divided about unimportant issues.
    Anyways, that how I became Catholic.

    I have a question for you though( and thank you for not minding my prying).
    What do you do with the fulfillment of Messianic prophesies in the Gospels?
    Do you think that the Hebrew people were completely looking for a temporal leader and it was a fluke that a man fitting the description of prophecy showed up?
    In other words, how do you reconcile the Old testament types and prophecies with the gospels?

    Thanks, Vinny!
    Susan

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  63. One more thing, Vinny. Doubt isn’t a good thing, but if it keeps you investigating it can be something that is helpful in the end since we were created with reason to believe that God exists, and given the revelation of so that we can know how he saves us and why.
    I picked up Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth books back when I was questioning.
    This looks to be another excellent help.

    http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/219103/the-case-for-jesus-by-brant-pitre-afterword-by-robert-barron/9780770435486/

    Keep reading and searching!!

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  64. quickly, what I was trying to say, Susan, is that when you had great doubt, did you go to faith blogs and spread doubt seeds around the internet for years everywhere the opportunity, or did you go about it a different way? Do a search on vinny’s name and see his approach. Example here: https://credohouse.org/blog/14-evidences-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-and-14-references

    Some get irritated, for example, at constant public bible quoters ; others oppose constant public doubt spreaders. Both, I presume, because they find it harmful, particularly to weaker brethren.

    It is possible vinnyjh57’s soul may be required of him this very day, in which case, prayer for him, or any agnostic theist/agnostic atheist, that God may grant him repentance, and a call to believe , in hindsight, may seem as kind or kinder than ‘happy searching” (still after these 10 years).

    But everyone has his own opinion about that.

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  65. …and… further, quickly, Susan, if he were raised a Catholic, that church did not do him any service to tell him that he was regenerated at his infant baptism, because that is not what the Lord (the bible) teaches. As much harmful, as claiming, then, too, that though ‘regenerated’ one can then proceed to be lost based on ‘moral sin’ and one’s own self. [I think I got your doctrine correct]

    There is an ‘unforgivable’ sin. Unbelief.
    But as many as receive Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name John 1:12

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  66. Ali,

    If he was spreading seeds of doubt it was because he himself had questions and was looking for answers. If he is purely a materialist,then we have to find some other common ground on which to start( perhaps causality?).
    But as far as I can discern, he is a theist that is asking how to have certainty about the contents of the four gospels. That’s a reasonable question for which there are reasonable answers that can be a prelude to faith.

    From a reformed perspective, he can’t help if he doesn’t have faith can he?
    Catholicism teaches that the stain of original sin is removed, but not later actual sins commited.
    That’s why all people even Christians should avoid sin.

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  67. Susan (and Ali),

    I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with doubt. If there is a God, he is the one who gave me a brain and the capacity to reason about the world in which I find myself. If my best application of that capacity leads me to a point where I find the evidence insufficient to reach a conclusion about a particular proposition, why would it be wrong to acknowledge that uncertainty?

    In the Parable of the Talents, I often wonder what the master would have done if the third servant had invested the master’s money and lost. I think the clear implication of the story is that his master would have preferred that to him burying the money in the ground. By the same token, I think that using the mind that God has given me and being wrong is preferable to choosing to believe in something that does not make sense to me.

    As to your other question Susan, I think it unlikely that Jesus really did fulfill prophecy. I think that it is more likely that in the telling, the stories about Jesus were made to fit the passages in the Old Testament.

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  68. Vinny,

    In the Parable of the Talents, I often wonder what the master would have done if the third servant had invested the master’s money and lost. I think the clear implication of the story is that his master would have preferred that to him burying the money in the ground. By the same token, I think that using the mind that God has given me and being wrong is preferable to choosing to believe in something that does not make sense to me.

    Why is that the clear implication? The master condemns the servant for not being willing to “risk” the possible loss. He’s condemned for not doing anything with the talent. If he would have preferred no return to an outright loss, why is Jesus telling the story the way he is? If you’re right, the master would have commended the third servant for his wisdom or desire to guard his master’s return.

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  69. Susan says Catholicism teaches that the stain of original sin is removed, but not later actual sins commited.

    Susan,
    For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,“THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART,AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,”He then says,“AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDSI WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Hebrews 10:14-18

    Susan says That’s why all people even Christians should avoid sin.

    Susan, Christinas should avoid sin because we have been made free by Jesus.

    But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness Romans 6:17-18

    And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened thebook and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” Luke 4:17-19

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  70. Hi Vinny,

    The truth of the proposition of” Jesus is God, the Holy one of Israel.” doesn’t depend on it “making sense to you( or me).” It’s simply true or it isn’t.
    So you have to find out if it’s true, and to do that you have to first of all believe that God exists. Then you have to figure out if he revealed himself to man and told us the truth about ourselves as well; Do you think that man needs salvation or not? If you can see that Genesis tells the truth about our condition then can you see the reason for the Messiah.
    Also, Jesus gave the parable and you accept it but deny its teaching content. How do you choose how you will use Jesus? He also asks if when the son of man returns will he find faith upon the earth.
    So you shouldn’t look to revelation to tell you that there really is no revelation. If you seek for truth then the door will be opened.

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  71. Ali,

    I’m busy and won’t be responding.
    But remember that baptism is for some reason, right?
    You quote scripture( which belongs to the Church)and deny the sacramental economy given by Jesus himself.

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  72. One more thing Ali.

    What you quote means that we don’t have to be slaves of sin any longer. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice we have a way out. Before that event there was no way to obtain forgiveness of sin.
    Jesus is the tree of life and we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood or there is no life in us.
    But, we can still choose to murmer and complain and do ever other kind of sin ,even after we have passed through the red sea while we live in the wilderness, and that will keep us from entering the promise land.
    God is not mocked. Whatever we sew we will reap.

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  73. Susan says: Ali remember that baptism is for some reason, right?You quote scripture( which belongs to the Church)and deny the sacramental economy given by Jesus himself.
    Susan says: One more thing Ali.What you quote means that we don’t have to be slaves of sin any longer. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice we have a way out. Before that event there was no way to obtain forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the tree of life and we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood or there is no life in us. But, we can still choose to murmer and complain and do ever other kind of sin ,even after we have passed through the red sea while we live in the wilderness, and that will keep us from entering the promise land.God is not mocked. Whatever we sew we will reap.

    Hi Susan, not sure how to respond.

    First, I’ll say that I’m not sure what you mean by Susan says You quote scripture( which belongs to the Church) and deny the sacramental economy given by Jesus himself.

    Second, you were saved while attending a Baptist church I believe you have said? How was it you thought you were saved there? I don’t know whether 1) salvation doctrines weren’t proclaim there; 2) you didn’t ‘hear’ them there or 3) you reject them. So maybe you could explain some more.

    Finally for now, I’ll say His word united by faith profits one; saving faith is a gift of God; God never reneges on a gift like humans do; He says people with the gift of saving faith will persevere to the end. We don’t earn any piece of our required wedding clothes. He provides them. Separate from salvation, there is also a doctrine of rewards which you should have heard about where you were saved. Did you?

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  74. Ali,

    Sure. I heard that Jesus died for me and I believed this was true and I was grateful for God’s love for me, a sinner, and his condescension, and if I died at that time, I believe that I would have gone to purgatory.
    But Jesus gave us a sacramental economy so that we could grow and be changed more and more during this life. We partake of Him and become divinized; not in the Mormon idea, as if we become deities, but like Him. This happens as we receive sanctifying grace through the Church’s sacraments.
    So, you see that I have to account for the thief on the cross and all the people who are Christians but have never received the Lord through communion. And you have to account for the bread of life discourse and the preparation( typology) of the Eucharist given in the OT( offering of Melchizedek; Manna; Shewbread)and the multiplication of the loaves, etc.
    Jesus said, that the bread and wine are his body and his blood and is our food for eternal life, and that if we do not eat we don’t have life in us.( John 6:52-58). The church father’s understood all of this, and they understood it on the testimony of Jesus. When our Lord speaks, we have to listen and do.

    Anyways, you have to have some way to understand the typology and to reconcile the lack of sacraments in your paradigm.
    I can’t keep going back and forth though. If you aren’t convinced, I don’t know what more I can say.

    Wish you well, Ali

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  75. You are correct that the truth of a proposition does not depend on whether it makes sense to me. Unfortunately, my ability to know that a proposition is true does depend on whether I can make sense of it. Many people claim to know which propositions are true based on the revelation of God, but like you and Ali, they do not all agree.

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  76. Vinney,

    There are many propositions in the bible, and since you wrestle with them, you demonstrate that something rather than nothing is proposed there. I knew that things were being proposed to me, and I knew that the source was said to be either all that God has spoken and sufficiently clear or not sufficiently clear; or part of what God has spoken and sufficiently clear, or part and insufficiently clear, for me to know wherein Christianity consists. I couldn’t take it as not being the word of God in some kind of respect, as I guess that you have( I assume that you do not accept the OT as being revelation from God?).
    If it isn’t revelation with a purpose of revealing God to man and us to ourselves in relation to God, then what is its purpose? It certainly can’t be to learn about a man who had words put in his mouth by other men. If other men can move Jesus around( assuming that there was a person to manipulate) like a drunk, having him do and speak, so that he appears to others to pass for the awaited Messiah(“Joe, you’re on! Get in the boat and then say this. Here’s the script that you were supposed to memorize. Vellum and ink ain’t cheap so memorize your lines! And another thing, don’t answer to Joe. Remember you’re “Jesus”. Got it!!”), then the cooperating(?) directors(s)? of this masterwork of deceit even had to go as far as getting it written down. I mean if it is a work of imagination with no real acts and no real words from the mouth of an actual person, then all you have is entirely myth, but you don’t think that. You think that a group of writers’ took his real life and filled it in with details to make him appear to be the Messiah, but you have no way to separate what he actually did and said, from what the writers added. It’s a presupposition without any evidence. You don’t investigate anything without some kind of sign that there is something to investigate.
    I guess you could try to figure out what aspects were true, but that could potentially involve him being in the Upper room, in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and standing among crowds, for no reason. In which case, you’re made to wonder why the writers chose to put “this man” in relief.
    Your other options are that the scriptures are entirely a myth, in which case, nobody should be looking for the real historical Jesus, or Jesus really existed and did and said all the things attributed to Him, in which case, he was crazy and had followers who were even crazier being that they wanted to record his lunacy,and even die for him , or an evil genius, who coincidentally knew what and how the Messiah should be so that he could speak and pull off magic tricks so as to appear to be fulfilling prophecy to a T, AND getting people to follow him simply because he believed his own lie so well that he didn’t deny his claim to be god.

    Yes, Ali and I disagree and the Catholic understanding of scriptures and consequent doctrines, don’t just make sense “to me” they are the truth. We are made to know the way, the truth, and the life.
    But your quest is impossible if you believe neither the church or the gospels.

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  77. -Vinnyjh57 says In the Parable of the Talents, I often wonder what the master would have done if the third servant had invested the master’s money and lost. I think the clear implication of the story is that his master would have preferred that to him burying the money in the ground.By the same token, I think that using the mind that God has given me and being wrong is preferable to choosing to believe in something that does not make sense to me.
    -vinnyjh57 says: You are correct that the truth of a proposition does not depend on whether it makes sense to me. Unfortunately, my ability to know that a proposition is true does depend on whether I can make sense of it. Many people claim to know which propositions are true based on the revelation of God, but like you and Ali, they do not all agree.
    -vinnyjh57 says: Susan (and Ali),I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with doubt.

    Susan, from the above, Vinnjh57 acknowledges there is a God Who gave him his mind, giving support to – that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse for even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Rom 1:19-21

    And from bible notes: Although the evidence from conscience, creation, and God’s word is irrefutable, men choose to resist and oppose God’s truth by holding fast to their sin. When man rejects the truth, the darkness of spiritual falsehood replaces it. Man rationalizes his sin and proves his utter foolishness by devising and believing his own philosophies about God, the universe, and himself.

    Vinnyjh57 already has read all this, but vinnyjh57…. may you have ears to hear/a heart to believe/a mouth to confess- hope to see you in eternity:
    God: in the day that you eat from it (the tree) you will surely die.”
    Serpent: You surely will not die
    God: the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    [Serpent: still opposed to, denying, twisting His word and only lying still]
    God: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
    God: He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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  78. @ Vinny:

    Certainly, some kinds of misunderstanding are not fatal to belief.

    I don’t fully understand quantum theory, nor relativity. Yet I believe that light comes in packets that are essentially particles with wavelike properties. And I believe that mass bends spacetime, though I struggle to visualize that clearly.

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  79. Jeff,

    For me, the difference is my ability to make sense of the method by which scientific conclusions are reached. I find it very hard to make sense of the method by which one divine revelation is deemed valid and another is deemed false.

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  80. Isn’t contemporary intellectualism and intellectualism literally just sophism? Isn’t it just foucault dressed up in a variety of drag from religion to science? Foucault was very self aware, je is full of $@@T admits it and proclaims what ever $@@T he believes is reality. Very Christian very intellectual of him. Intellectually we end up with a bat crazy religion of the divine me, or we end up with a bat crazy cosmology science field divine me laws of physics. Which sofist intellectual moron must I find the most appealing? Big finger to the university its bullshit in science religion and just about anything else sofism nothing more.

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