Online books by Don Carson

Andy Naselli has helpfully gathered a list of resources by New Testament scholar, Don Carson. Just about every article and review that Carson has ever written is freely available. Including in his list is also several of Carson’s books that are now also available in PDF, free for download:

Carson22If you don’t know who Don Carson is, I recommend you get acquainted with him and his work. He is regarded as one of the foremost evangelical thinkers of our generation. For thirty years he has taught at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is presently their research professor of the New Testament. From the list Andy has assembled, you can see that Carson has been responsible for a stunning body of work (50 books; 235 articles; 112 book reviews, and edited another 46 books), addressing topics from the Emergent church movement to Christians and Culture (Justin Taylor averages it out as about one book written or edited every four months, with one article and two reviews written every six weeks—for three decades). More importantly, he is able to write with both a pastoral sensitivity and academic brilliance in such a way that neither is nullified by the other. Take advantage of these wonderful resources that the Gospel Coalition has kindly and generously made available.

William Lane Craig on his recent Intelligent Design debate

I guess we all know by now that Richard Dawkins refused to debate Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and recently also refused to debate Dr. Stephen Meyer, even though their paths crossed in the USA.


But Dawkins may just well be feeling relieved, however, given the outcome of Craig’s latest debate at Indiana University. By all accounts, Craig appears to have soundly beaten his opponent and advocate for evolution, Francisco Ayala. Ayala is no dummy either, and in debating the topic Intelligent Design: Is it Viable? he should, at least on paper, have been a serious contender with Craig. Professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Ayala is described by the New York Times as the “Renaissance man of evolutionary biology”, authoring or editing over 980 articles and 34 books. In 2001 he was awarded the National Medal Of Science and throughout his carer has been recognized by numerous other Institutes and Academic organizations (Craig isn’t kidding when he says Ayala “has as many medals as an Argentine general!”) But Ayala was outperformed. Even the moderator of the debate was less than impressed with the evolutionary biologist and viewed it in Craig’s favour (“Ayala didn’t really engage with Craig, but instead presented his own information, ignoring the arguments that Craig was giving.”). Luke Muehlhauser, the blogger at Common Sense Atheism was even more blunt, suggesting Ayala was getting ‘womped’ by Craig:

Ayala’s presentations were meandering musings on evolutionary theory, the history of science, and anecdotes about Darwin. Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent. In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design. Craig, as usual, cut very clearly to the heart of the disagreement between Ayala and Intelligent Design theory. He then showed how Ayala’s objections to intelligent design were invalid.

Download the audio from the debate and judge for yourself. But, lastly, here are William Lane Craig’s own thoughts from his November Newsletter:CRAIG

As I write this letter, I’m on my way home from my debate last night at Indiana University on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” My opponent was Francisco Ayala, an eminent and highly decorated evolutionary biologist who, judging by his lengthy resumé, has as many medals as an Argentine general! I had heard Ayala lecture on Intelligent Design last year in China and was dismayed by the caricatures and misrepresentations he gave to the Chinese students. So even though I had never debated intelligent design in biology before, I decided to take on this debate to try at least to set the record straight. The last few months I prepared diligently for this debate, reading Ayala’s work, familiarizing myself with relevant new developments in biology, studying the recent works of ID proponents, conferring with colleagues who work in this field, and formulating the best strategy for the debate. The key to my approach was a distinction helpfully drawn by Ayala himself. Ayala distinguishes three aspects of the contemporary evolutionary paradigm:

  1. Evolution: the process of change and diversification of living things over time.
  2. Evolutionary history: the reconstruction of the universal tree of life (common ancestry).
  3. “Darwinism”: the mechanism behind evolutionary change is natural selection operating on random variations in living things.

This makes it clear just where ID theorists and Ayala part company. It is not on evolution or even common ancestry but on “Darwinism.” Indeed, prominent ID theorists like geneticist Michael Denton and biochemist Michael Behe espouse the same view of evolutionary history as Ayala. What they deny is that the mechanisms of random variation and natural selection are adequate to explain the evolution of biological complexity. Significantly, Ayala states in his published work “The evolution of organisms is universally accepted by biological scientists, while the mechanisms of evolution are still actively investigated and are the subject of debate among scientists.” He says, “To reconstruct evolutionary history, we have to know how the mechanisms operate in detail, and we have only the vaguest idea of how they operate at the genetic level, how genetic change relates to development and to function.” So I decided to just ignore both “evolution” and common ancestry and to go for the jugular, “Darwinism,” since that is the pivotal point on which the disagreement of ID theorists with the contemporary evolutionary paradigm turns. By taking this approach, I could also keep the debate sharply focused. Since the question we were debating was not whether intelligent design is true but merely whether it is viable, it was up to Ayala to disqualify ID as a live option. In his published work, he tries to disqualify ID both scientifically and theologically, so my opening response fell neatly into two parts. First, I argued that Ayala fails to disqualify ID scientifically because he cannot show that the Darwinian mechanisms are capable of producing the sort of biological complexity we see on earth. Then I argued that the theological arguments he presents against the designer’s being all-powerful and all-good are simply irrelevant to drawing a design inference (however interesting and important they may be for theology) because the design argument doesn’t aspire to show that the designer is all-powerful or all-good. The debate turned out to be virtually one-sided! Ayala utterly failed to engage with my arguments. It was almost as if I wasn’t even there. It was pretty obvious to everyone that he was just presenting canned arguments which had already been refuted in my opening statement. I responded to all his points and even went beyond them to tackle the theological problem of natural evil as well. I was also able to call him to account for his misrepresentation of Michael Behe’s work. Ayala likes to indict Behe for saying that the human eye is irreducibly complex, even though it isn’t. Holding up Behe’s book and reading aloud the relevant passage, I responded that this allegation was surprising in light of the fact that Behe says on pages 37-38 that the eye is NOT irreducibly complex and therefore he does not use it as one of his examples of irreducible complexity! Another interesting feature of this debate was the moderator, a young philosopher from the University of Colorado, Boulder, named Bradley Monton. Though a self-confessed atheist, Monton is convinced that the typical refutations of ID that pass muster today are in fact fallacious, and so he has written a book defending not only the scientific status of ID but even its being taught as an option in public schools! Having read his remarkable book in preparation for the debate, I was able to quote “our esteemed moderator” to good effect during the debate itself to counter Ayala’s assertion that ID was not science. I learned so much during those months of preparation for this debate: about features of human anatomy like the appendix, which is not a vestigial organ at all, or the coccyx, which anchors the muscles that keep the anus from just draining freely, about genetics and the incredible molecular machinery of the cell, about malaria and its war of attrition with humanity, about the molecular basis of drug resistance in bacteria and viruses, about the origin of pathogenic parasites, which were once free-living organisms that “devolved” to become parasitic, about Archaeopteryx and feathered dinosaurs, which to my surprise, are now recognized by evolutionary biologists not to be transitional forms to modern birds even though they have both reptilian and avian features, about biomimetics, how engineers repeatedly find that nature has anticipated (and usually exceeds) the best designs of human engineering, about Pod Mrcaru lizards off the Croatian coast which have unexpectedly developed new anatomical structures, about the hierarchy of pain awareness in animals and man’s unique status of having a second order awareness that one is oneself in pain, an awareness that God, in His mercy, has apparently spared the animals (see this week’s Question of the Week for more on this absolutely fascinating subject). One of the things I love about the ministry which God has given us, wholly apart from the practical application in speaking and debates, is the incredible stimulus and personal growth that such study brings.

Craig’s next debate is at the University of North Carolina on the existence of God with Dr. Herb Silverman, in March. And Stephen Meyer is soon to debate Michael Shermer in a superstars of wrestling style “Origins-of-Life tag-team debate at the end of this month. But the question is, where is Professor Dawkins?

UPDATE: Wintery Knight has posted the video to Craig’s opening speech from the debate.

The mystery of the cross

Into this kind of self-centered, earthly kingdom, Jesus brought a different and dramatic – albeit radical – response to pain and suffering. His answer was a stumbling block then, and it is a stumbling block now. But only if it is properly and seriously understood can its beauty be seen amidst its obvious pain and hatred. I refer to the cross of Christ. The cross stands as a mystery because it is foreign to everything we exalt – self over principle, power over meekness, the quick fix over the long haul, cover-up over confession, escapism over confrontation, comfort over sacrifice, feeling over commitment, legality over justice, the body over the spirit, anger over forgiveness, man over God.

[I]n the cross alone, pain and evil meet in consummate conflict. In the cross alone are integrated love and justice, the twin foundations upon which we may build our moral and spiritual home, individually and nationally. It is theoretically and practically impossible to build any community apart from love and justice. If only one of these two is focused upon, an inevitable extremism and perversion follow. Throughout history, mankind has shouted its ideals of liberty, equality, and justice; yet the ideologies that have risen, supposedly in the pursuit of human progress, have left in their wake some very dastardly experiments that echo with the whimpering sounds of man, like a trapped animal. Rising above the cry of liberty, equality and justice is the more rending plea for that sense of belonging we call love. And love unbounded by any sense of right or wrong is not love but self-centeredness and autocracy. In the cross of Jesus Christ, the demands of the law were satisfied and the generosity of love was love was expressed.

Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, Word Publishing (1994), pages 171-172.

More than a fideist: Remembering Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

Today in New Zealand, we remember the end of the first World War and commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces in that period of awful history. Today, however, is also the day that in 1855, Soren Kierkegaard, one of the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, died. This overlap is ironic, for it was only after the first World War ended that Kierkegaard’s influence began to play such a formative and decisive role in the emergence of existentialist philosophy. His impact, however, is not limited to the thought of writers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. Even now, in the twenty-first century, the Danish author continues to stimulate writers from fields as diverse as literary criticism and psychology.


He may often be more known to some Christians as the poster boy of fideism and subjectivism, but it is all too easy to miss the context in which he wrote and the adversaries he set his sights upon. Confronting a sterile Hegelian rationalism that had dissolved the importance of individual existence and advocated what Kierkegaard saw as pure ‘thought without a thinker’, the Danish philosopher sought to destroy the notion of impersonal, morally neutral knowledge. Against a Denmark church that had fallen asleep to the radical demands of Christ, Kierkegaard attempted to emphasize the idea that in judging a person’s life, what counted was not the objective truth of the person’s beliefs but the way those beliefs have taken hold and transformed the knower (“When all are Christians, Christianity eo ipso [by that very fact] does not exist,” he once wrote).

The shortcomings of Kierkegaard’s philosophy are not hard to find. And debate will no doubt continue about the exact nature of his thoughts, given the vast library of his work and the fact that many of his books were written under a variety of pseudonyms, but Kierkegaard still has important things to say about faith, the despair of the aesthetic life, epistemic risk, and the nature of love.

New and recently released apologetic books

With Christmas fast approaching, I thought I could corral some apologetic-themed gift ideas here for those that might want to encourage friends and family members with Christian truth. Why get the latest Twilight Saga CD or Joel Osteen’s latest Fifteen Steps to Self-actualize your Dream Yacht when you can get something with real intellectual and spiritual fiber?

Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors

Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig

B&H Publishing Academic
304 pages (paperback)

This book is a comprehensive rejoinder to the new wave of skeptical arguments against Christianity. It is book two in a series on modern Christian apologetics that began with the popular ‘Passionate Conviction’. Confronting skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Bart Ehrman, the book includes essays by eighteen different evangelical thinkers that were delivered at the annual apologetics conferences of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Google books preview here.

Paul Copan is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is author of many books including  “True for You, But Not for Me” (Bethany House)  and Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (Chalice Press).

William Lane Craig is one of the most prominent philosophers of religion in the world today and also the research professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.


Table of Contents

I. The Existence of God
1. William Craig, “Dawkins’ Delusion”
2. James Sinclair, “At Home in the Multiverse? Critiquing the Atheist Many-Worlds Scenario”
3. Victor Reppert, “The Argument from Reason”
4. Michael Murray, “Is Belief in God Hard-Wired?”
5. Mark Linville, “The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism”
6. Greg Ganssle, “Dawkins’ Best Argument Against God’s Existence”

II. The Jesus of History
7. Robert Stein, “Criteria for the Gospels’ Authenticity”
8. Ben Witherington, “Jesus the Seer”
9. Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection of Jesus Timeline”
10. Craig Evans, “How Scholars Fabricate Jesus”
11. Dan Wallace “Misquoting Jesus? Bart Ehrman and the New Testament’s Reliability”
12. Michael J. Wilkins, “Who Did Jesus Think He Was?”

III. The Coherence of Christian Doctrine
13. Charles Taliaferro and Elsa Marty, “The Coherence of Theism”
14. Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One”
15. Paul Copan, “Did God Become a Jew? The Coherence of the Incarnation”
16. Steve Porter, “Dostoyevsky, Woody Allen, and the Doctrine of Penal Substitution”
17. Stewart Goetz, “Hell: Getting What’s Good My Own Way”
18. David Hunt, “What Does God Know? The Problems of Open Theism”

God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible

Edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister

Intervarsity Press
265 pages

The ambition of this book largely overlaps with Contending with Christianity’s Critics, setting out to address some of direct objections put forward by the New Atheists. Craig and Meister have assembled some of the finest evangelical scholars from across different academic disciplines, including an interview by Gary Habermas with new convert to theism, Antony Flew.

Chad Meister is professor of philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana and is the author of numerous books, including The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Introducing Philosophy of Religion, Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith and The Philosophy of Religion Reader.


Table of Contents

Part One: God Is

1. William Lane Craig, “Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God”
2. J. P. Moreland, “The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism”
3. Paul K. Moser, “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God”

Part Two: God Is Great
4. John Polkinghorne, “God and Physics”
5. Michael J. Behe,  “God and Evolution”
6. Michael J. Murray, “Evolutionary Explanations of Religion?”

Part Three: God Is Good
7. Chad Meister “God, Evil and Morality”
8. Alister McGrath, “Is Religion Evil?”
9. Paul Copan, “Are Old Testament Laws Evil?”
10. Jerry L. Walls, “How Could God Create Hell?”

Part Four: Why It Matters
11. Charles Taliaferro, “Recognizing Divine Revelation”
12. Scot McKnight, “The Messiah You Never Expected”
13. Gary R. Habermas, “Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts”
14. Mark Mittelberg, “Why Faith in Jesus Matters”

Postscript: My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism
Antony Flew (with Gary Habermas)

Appendix A: The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism “Ad Absurdum”:
Review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion by Alvin Plantinga

A Faith And Culture Devotional: Daily Readings On Art, Science, And Life

Edited by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington

304 Pages

Unlike the previous two books, this one isn’t offering an apologetic for the Christian faith but instead a way to integrate the pursuit of truth and the wonder of faith.  The daily reader is intended for Christians who care about literature, philosophy and science by offering the thoughts of some of the most astute theological and philosophical Christian minds of the day. The book is divided into five sections: Bible and Theology, Science, Literature, Arts and Contemporary Culture, and each section features 15 succinct readings. Some of the contributors:


-Dallas Willard
-John Eldredge
-Michael Behe
-Frederica Matthews-Green
-Darrell Bock
-William Lane Craig
-R. C. Sproul
-Randy Alcorn
-J. P. Moreland

Read a sample here. It will be released next month.

Kelly Monroe Kullberg is the founder and director of The Veritas Forum, the author of Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas, and an associate with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Lael Arrington has a master’s degree in the history of ideas and aesthetics from the University of Texas, has authored three books and cohosts the radio talk show, The Things That Matter Most.

A response to the Dunedin School's 'Thinking in Tatters'

Recently, “the Dunedin School” posted an article against Matthew Flannagan (one of our contributors, and the co-author of MandM), titled ‘Thinking in Tatters: Moral Relativism and Hidden Objectivist Assumptions’. The article largely addresses a talk Matt gave against moral relativism, and is rather uncomplimentary. It describes Matt’s arguments as “a mish-mash of illogical nonsense and rhetorical scaremongering” (as opposed, one assumes, to articles in which such descriptions are written); while Thinking Matters is a “conservative think-tank”—which turns out to merely be a “euphemism” for a group “of frustrated and atavistic reactionists who want to take away rights from women, homosexuals, and other minorities and restore power to the patriarchy.” I’d like to respond directly:

Hi “The Dunedin School”. Is this article representative of the quality of research and reporting on this blog? I hope not.

Firstly, Thinking Matters is not run by Matt Flannagan. Matt Flannagan is merely a contributor. Thinking Matters is run by Jason Kumar, Stuart McEwing, and myself.

Secondly, “frustrated and atavistic reactionists”? Seriously? You’re breaking open the ad hominem vial to poison the well in your second sentence?

Thirdly, could you please document where Thinking Matters has ever taken a stance which could be construed, even by great contortions of the imagination, as favorable to the removal of rights from women, homosexuals, and other minorities—let alone the restoration of “power to the patriarchy”? I’m not aware of any such desires on the part of our fairly diverse contributors. As the co-founder of the organization, I really feel I ought to be made aware of whatever it is you’ve discovered. I mean, you do have proof for these allegations, right? Coz otherwise that would be, you know, libel. (That’s where you knowingly lie about people so as to harm them or their reputation.)


His arguments are a mish-mash of illogical nonsense and rhetorical scaremongering. There is much to take issue with in his presentation, so there is no need to dwell on his sleight of hand in presenting obviously unsound arguments for relativism and then (marvelously!) disproving them to his captive evangelical audience – which he does for more than half of his talk.

It’s a lot easier to just smear your opponent by claiming that his arguments are rubbish than to actually show it, isn’t it?


Their commitment to moral objectivism is such that they fail to properly conceive of a world in which every moral duty is simply the result of cultural norms. They can’t do it. And as a result, their protests already – circularly – assume moral objectivism.

This rather begs the question that it is possible to conceive of a world in which every moral “duty” is simply a result of cultural norms. Matt might argue that, to the contrary, this is not possible because any claim to such a conception implicitly presupposes objectivism. So your allegation of circularity is somewhat ironic.


A prevalent problem with moral objectivists such as Matt is that they haven’t ever grasped what a purely subjective morality looks like, how it operates.

Given Matt’s credentials, it seems more likely to me that the problem here is that you haven’t grasped something. Perhaps that a purely subjective morality is incoherent and cannot operate. It also seems to me that, far from burning the strawman you suggest, Matt is interacting with a highly prevalent position found in New Zealand society. How could you not have noticed it when so many people hold the exact views he interacts with? The fact that you don’t hold it, because you’re “more consistent” in your moral relativism than the average Joe, hardly deflects Matt’s critique of it. It just means his critique isn’t aimed at you.

Hoping you’ll either provide some answers, or retract your fibs;
kind regards,

Sarfati reviews Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International and author of numerous works including By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible and Refuting Compromise, has posted a preview of his forthcoming response to Dawkins’ new book. He writes:

Prominent antitheist and self-styled “atheist” Richard Dawkins has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ironically, he admits about all his previous pro-evolution books:

“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
Naturally, CMI is preparing a book to answer Dawkins’ latest. In a chapter about alleged bad design, Dawkins had a section about the loss of wings and evolution of features like halteres, the little drumstick-like stabilizers behind the one pair of wings on flies.

To set the stage, Dawkins related the theory of English evolutionist (and former debate partner1) John Maynard Smith (1920–2004) about the evolution of flying creatures. Maynard-Smith argued that flying creatures evolved first with high stability and low maneuverability (e.g. with the long pterosaur tail or an insect’s long abdomen). Then they shortened, which caused lower stability but greater maneuverability, and they evolved advanced sensory equipment to stabilize by fast reactions (e.g. larger semicircular canals in pterosaurs or halteres in flies).

Even when Dawkins wrote, there were already dragonflies in the ointment, so to speak, because they have both long bodies (stability) but are also highly maneuverable and have advanced navigation systems. Furthermore, even known pterosaur types didn’t fit this theory, as Dawkins admitted in passing. But after writing our response to this Dawkins “Just-so” story, this new pterosaur turned up, and it adds a final demolition point. This new pterosaur, which to be fair Dawkins could not have known about when he wrote, has the stability of the long tail as well as the advanced correction features before loss of stability supposedly drove the selection for the advanced flying skills.

As a sneak peek, to show that we are indeed rebutting Dawkins’ claims, here is a draft section from our forthcoming book answering The Greatest Show on Earth.

Read the rest.

Consciousness and the limits of Science

Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were in not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science.

Michael Lockwood, philosophy professor and fellow of Green College, Oxford, in his article Consciousness and the quantum worlds. In Q. Smith and A. Jokric (eds.), Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, 447–467. Oxford: Clarendon (2003).

Is Biblical inerrancy a late innovation of the Church?

One of the most persistent arguments against the inerrancy of the Bible is that it is late innovation in the history of the church. Inerrancy is said to be the product of the rationalist, Enlightenment mindset that prevailed in the nineteenth century and today, with the collapse of modernism, the rejection of foundationalism and other Cartesian assumptions, it is argued that inerrancy should be jettisoned with the now defunct philosophy that generated it.

While there are many ways to define inerrancy, the theological doctrine is usually understood as the view that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms (the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy remains a useful evangelical benchmark). Certainly, the Bible isn’t a catalogue of facts, and its truth canvasses literary genres that are rich and complex and must be appropriately grasped – but if God Himself does stand behind the production of the Bible, then it must be entirely truthful. Many Christians, however, are uncomfortable with the perceived contradictions between the Bible and discoveries in history and science or even internal difficulties within the Bible itself. Some have therefore sought to articulate more modest positions for what we can say Scripture is. Critical of inerrancy and what they see as a strict modernist understanding of the Bible, some promote a return to a more primitive, pre-modern understanding, where the Bible can be viewed as primarily concerned with questions of salvation and faith. Without a high view of the Bible, greater latitude can be allowed in its claims (and errors) concerning other fields of knowledge.

But does this suggestion hold up to scrutiny? Was the notion of an inerrant, infallible Bible a recent theological innovation, and merely the product of particular Enlightenment assumptions?

Without getting into a full discussion of inerrancy, several quick comments can be offered:

1. While it is true that the earliest proponents of inerrancy in the modern period, B. B. Warfield, A. A. Hodge and others, were shaped by the Enlightenment, this influence has been exaggerated. Critics have often argued that both Warfield and Hodge, writing in the late 1800s at Princeton University, were too heavily dependent on a modernist philosophy, known as Scottish Common Sense Realism. Scottish Realism was an outlook that affirmed the human ability to know, and set out conditions for what could count as knowledge. The outlook opposed the skepticism of David Hume and sought to revive the European Enlightenment commitments to science, rationality and the Christian tradition. What is ignored, however, is the fact that the contemporary opponents of Warfield and Hodge and of the doctrine of inerrancy they defended, were no less dependent on this same philosophical position. It is a simply a mistake to conclude that a high view of Scripture is anchored to one philosophical outlook when those who denied that high view were equally reliant on the same outlook.

2. The fact that the Dutch and Germans adopted a similarly high view of Scripture cannot be avoided, and especially when these theologians were not dependent on the same philosophical outlook, and at times, even fought against it. Among the European Reformed heritage, heavyweights like Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck both put forward a view of Scripture that accorded with Warfield and the other Princetonians. For example, Kuyper, while recognizing the diverse literary categories of the Bible, argued that if Scripture contained error, than “God is guilty of error”. (For a deeper discussion on these two, check out: ‘God’s Word in Servant-Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture’ by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.)

3. While there may not have been any attempt to articulate a comprehensive theory of inerrancy before Warfield et al, it is wrong to suggest that inerrancy was not the default view of the church. The best endeavours to assign inerrancy to a late stage of historical development have been ably criticized and do not bear up to rigorous historical research. Church historian Mark Noll has observed: “Most Christians in most churches since the founding of Christianity have believed in the inerrancy of the Bible . . . . [This] has always been the common belief of most Catholics, most Protestants, most Orthodox, and even most of the sects on the fringe of Christianity”.

John Woodbridge has marshaled many examples from church history to show that the suggestion that there was no idea of an infallibly inerrant Scripture before Warfield is mistaken. For example, Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist in the second century, wrote:

“…but if (you have done so) because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that it might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext (for saying) that it is contrary (to some other), since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself”.

Or Augustine of Hippo, a Latin church theologian and philosopher, writing in the fourth century said, ” I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error”. Or again: “therefore everything written in Scripture must be believed absolutely”.

Others have shown that inerrancy has been a central church doctrine from the patristic times. Donald Bloesch notes that inerrabilis (roughly “inerrant”) was used by Aquinas and Duns Scotus to describe Scripture, while both Martin Luther and John Calvin characterized the Bible as being infallible and without error. Calvin, for example, described Scripture as an “unerring rule” for Christian life and faith (“So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds form him is sacred, inviolable truth.” The Institutes of Christian Religion)

The notion that a high view of Scripture is tied to a particular philosophical outlook late in the history of church is simply misleading. Christians have sought to articulate the truthfulness of the Bible, on the same exegetical grounds, irrespective of their position in the history of the church. Don Carson, research professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes:

“If one insists that a high view of Scripture cannot or should not be maintained today, one should at least acknowledge that one is walking away from the ancient and central tradition of the church, and from the teaching of Scripture itself.”

Counting the fallout of New Atheism: Is there an atheist schism?

As early as Epicurus, there have been attempts to debunk the supernatural, but it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Hume, Feuerbach, Russell, Sartre and others, that more intellectually sophisticated arguments for atheism entered the marketplace of ideas. Since the early twenty-first century, however, a new pattern of atheism has emerged. Departing from their skeptical forebears, the New Atheists espouse a dogma that differs in both tone and content. They denounce not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is said to be not only wrong, but evil. The shift in accent and stunning ignorance of the heritage of the debate that they are joining has not only concerned theists, but many atheists as well. Over at The Guardian, an interesting discussion is unfolding among skeptics in the wake of this. Two philosophers, Michael Ruse and Ophelia Benson, address the fallout from the New Atheist movement and consider whether there is a split occurring within the ranks of those who profess atheism.

Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology at Florida State University, defends the revolt against Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist movement in his article “Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute”.  He writes:

There are several reasons why we atheists are squabbling – I will speak only for myself but I doubt I am atypical. First, non-believer though I may be, I do not think (as do the new atheists) that all religion is necessarily evil and corrupting. . .

Second, unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, “What caused God?” as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery. Dawkins was indignant when, on the grounds that inanimate objects cannot have emotions, philosophers like Mary Midgley criticised his metaphorical notion of a selfish gene. Sauce for the biological goose is sauce for the atheist gander. There are a lot of very bright and well informed Christian theologians. We atheists should demand no less.

Third, how dare we be so condescending? I don’t have faith. I really don’t. Rowan Williams does as do many of my fellow philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (a Protestant) and Ernan McMullin (a Catholic). I think they are wrong; they think I am wrong. But they are not stupid or bad or whatever. If I needed advice about everyday matters, I would turn without hesitation to these men. We are caught in opposing Kuhnian paradigms. I can explain their faith claims in terms of psychology; they can explain my lack of faith claims also probably partly through psychology and probably theology also. (Plantinga, a Calvinist, would refer to original sin.) I just keep hearing Cromwell to the Scots. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” I don’t think I am wrong, but the worth and integrity of so many believers makes me modest in my unbelief. . .

Today, nearly a decade after 9/11, terrified as so many still are by the terrorist threat, the atheistic fundamentalists are finding equally fertile soil for their equally frenetic messages. It’s all the fault of the believers, Muslims mainly of course, but Christians also. But don’t worry. In the God Delusion, we have a message as simplistic as in The Genesis Flood. This too will solve all of your problems. Peace and prosperity await you in this world, if not the next.

Forgive me if I don’t sign on.

Ophelia Benson, atheist and deputy editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, responds to Ruse in her article “Atheism itself isn’t a movement”. She argues that the disagreement isn’t within atheism but among atheists who hold additional political views (namely, whether religion is dangerous):

Many atheists want to be able to be atheists without being dragooned into some boring noisy unsubtle bad-tempered “movement”. Many other atheists want to be able to be overt explicit unbashful atheists without constantly being told to be more euphemistic or evasive or respectful or just plain silent by other atheists, who surely ought to know better…

The problem, of course, is that what each group wants is incompatible with what the other group wants. In a perfect world, plain atheists could just ignore movement atheists, and movement atheists could mutter away without disturbing their quieter friends. But in the real world, many plain atheists feel that movement atheists bring the whole notion of atheism into disrepute. We make it more difficult for plain atheists to be just that, because the world at large now thinks of atheists in general as movement atheists.

I see the difficulty, and like the walrus, I deeply sympathise, but I also think that plain atheists should to some extent put up with it. We don’t actually want to dragoon them into “the movement” but we would like to be able to talk freely without even other atheists telling us to pipe down.

To put it another way, we’re not telling them to be noisier, but we don’t much like it when they tell us to be quieter. Yes, granted, we’ve made it somewhat harder to be a plain atheist (though they could always just closet themselves completely, by pretending to be theists) – we seem to be jumping up and down on the parapet yelling “over here, we’re over here!” while everyone else is trying to avoid enemy fire. But that’s life. The pope is always making life difficult for liberal Catholics, too; so it goes.

Where one locates oneself on this map depends partly on whether one thinks religion is mostly benign, or mostly harmful, or a difficult-to-unravel mix of the two. It’s not a neat mapping though – I’m a committed “movement” atheist in the sense that I really do think taboos on open discussion of religion should go away, but I also think religion is a difficult-to-unravel mix of the benign and the harmful. But then I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all “new” or movement atheists match that description too.

While the concession in Benson’s final paragraph is well-taken, it’s difficult to agree with her general characterization of the debate. I don’t think Ruse or serious advocates of theism are trying to discourage the open discussion of religion or insulate it off from public scrutiny. Christianity, particularly, has nothing to fear here. It has flourished with the robust examination of its ideas for centuries, by great minds such as Augustine, Aquinas, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Descartes, Leibniz, etc. What Ruse and others are objecting to is the mix of belligerence and intellectual complacency that has marked the New Atheist stance.  With pretensions that outstrip their ability to pontificate on the topics they raise, the volume of their shouting has been inversely proportionate to the credibility of their arguments. Religion shouldn’t get an easy ride – faith is no excuse for intellectual shoddiness – but the cliche-mongering and arrogant tone that Dawkins and the New Atheists all too frequently marshal makes it difficult to believe that their goal is truly to engage the theistic side at all.

What is a Cult?

Talk of late has been centred on the controversy of Bishop Brian Tamaki and the Destiny Church of New Zealand, and whether it is a cult. So the question I’m going to ask today is what is a cult? Or how do we recognise a cult when we see it? The topic could be greatly complicated if we were to start thinking of world religions and their cults, so today I’ll be looking specifically at Christian cults.

Like all things definitions are important, and will influence how precisely one goes about evaluating what makes a cult a cult. Cult just means deviation from the mainstream of its historic representative, but common usage of the word is to denote a sinister group of religious fanatics – notice the word sinister neither means insincere or sincere: their motivation is not a factor. Its that word deviation which is problematic, because deviation comes in a spectrum and the mainstream is so hard to define. On reflection I’ve identified at least four different methods one can use to evaluate if a group is a cult.

The first method is the Top-Down approach. This looks to the cults that we know of and seeks to find the points of dissimilarity with the orthodox and historic Christianity, and the points of similarity between them. This is a good approach, but it has its weaknesses. For instance, when another cult comes along you always have to re-examine your definition of what it is to be a cult and possibly expand it. And you can never be sure your not reasoning in a circle – which is fine if your in that circle of logic but from the outside it just an informal fallacy.

The second method is the Bottom-Up approach. This formulates a list of criteria from scratch and evaluates any religious group to see if they fit the criterion. This is also a good approach but what invariably happens is you miss one or two who refuse to fit the mould you construct for them.

Third, you can evaluate them theologically. Like the second approach this formulates a list of criteria, but restricts the list to doctrine. This is an excellent approach, but again has its weaknesses. I’ve seen lists of up to fifteen essential doctrines, where if on any point there is disagreement, then the whole group is just written off. It’s difficult to evaluate the importance of one doctrines over another, and its also true that some church just have bad theology, yet remain not-cults. Its also difficult sometimes to discern if one should take the official statements of belief as normative or the general spoken beliefs of a preacher in the moment and the people of the congregation.

Fourth, you can evaluate them sociologically. Here one would look for signs in the community, like religious enthusiasm, gathering around a strong leader, strict codes of behavior, separation of the laity with the leadership, a distancing of the community from the world. The weakness is here is that none of these things are overtly wrong. Though every Christian community has elements of each, all of them can be taken to the extreme end of the scale. And it’s when a variety of these elements are pushed to the extreme when we need exercise caution. The problem is counter-examples can always be found, and ones own preference (prejudice?) for their own particular style of church is too easily an influence on ones judgement, and so this approach is the least conclusive.

What I think is most valuable is a combination of the above methods. The late Dr. Walter Martin, author of Kingdom of the Cults, utilises mainly a combination of the Top-Down and the Theological method, with some consideration given to another method – Psychology. I formulated a long time ago a quick litmus test to see if a group were a cult. I suspect it’s not perfect, but for me it’s been helpful. In order of importance;

(1)  The Doctrine of the Trinity.

It appears that every cult gets the doctrine of the Trinity wrong. Belief about the Trinity is like a yardstick for the historic, orthodox Christian position. If they get the doctrine of the Trinity wrong, it’s a fair indication they get other important things wrong as well.

(2)  One True Church

Cult groups usually believe they are the only ones who will attain salvation, and one has to be a member of their church to belong to the select group. Mainline Christian denominations do not this belief. Anglicans have their own style and distinctive theological beliefs, but freely accept that Baptists are saved and even members of the same wider church body. Most will say that those who never attend a church service in their life (though inadvisable if avoidable) can be saved.

(3)  Attitude when Leaving

A good indication to see if you are in a cult is to ask yourself this question; if I were to abandon the faith and leave this church, would there be a severing of relationship with those who remain? Would others be instructed to shun or separate themselves from me? If the answer is “Yes,” then this is not a good sign.

(4)  Encouraged to Question.

Other good questions to ask your self are these; if I were to ask the pastor or any church leader the stickiest theological question I could think of, would I told I shouldn’t ask such questions? Are people encouraged to educate themselves? Read the scriptures with no interpretive aids? Go to university or attend a Bible school? Refrain from visiting certain websites with religious information? If I were to disagree with something a leader said or did and I respectfully enquired about it, would I be ignored? Or told I just had to accept some things? Or would I be stonewalled or told not think about it? Or would I receive a pat answer – perhaps one that’s illogical or unscriptural?

Questions are powerful things. But true Christianity is not afraid of questions. Cults generally are, and do what they can to subtly dissuade people from enquiring.

Now is Destiny church a cult? According to my test I’d have to say NO. (1) They are theologically conservative. (2) They do not consider themselves the one true church. I have first hand knowledge of this. (3) I have no knowledge of, so can’t say with authority, but strongly suspect not. (4) Yes, Definitely.

So when people call Destiny a cult, I have to wonder, what method of evaluation are they using? I suspect a strong reliance on the Sociological approach – but this I concluded was the weakest indicator of whether a group is a cult. When Destiny church responds to the accusation of being a cult, what method do they use? I suspect they have strong preference to the Theological method, which is in my view one of the best. What should be emphasized here is that Destiny has ‘cultish tendencies’ sociologically yet remains not a cult. We should pay careful attention to where they are headed and the things that they do, but the solution is probably not confirming the biases of the media, nor flushing the baby out with the bath water. Instead it is good biblical theology and practice to balance their more extreme tendencies in our own churches, pray for our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and cultivate a friendship with them that exemplifies our love for Christ and his church.