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Book review of Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible

Nathan Pitchford has just written a review of the book, Sola Scriptura, released by Reformation Trust. Edited by Don Kistler, the book features several essays by prominent evangelical authors such as Joel Beeke, R. C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, and James White, defending and explaining the sufficiency of Scripture.

The indispensibility of humility in apologetics

Betsy Childs from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries:

“What are we offering to the world?” Those of us who desire to engage in the ministry of the Gospel – whether formally or informally – must continually ask ourselves this question. Although we may start with a clear sense of purpose, it is frustrating to recognize one’s self gravitating towards selling the messenger (ourselves) rather than the message. Critics of Christianity goad us toward self-preoccupation when they focus their critique on a particular method or messenger, ignoring the claims of Jesus altogether. This may tempt us to believe that the salvation of souls has less to do with the power of the Gospel and more to do with the skill of the one presenting it. Yet the apostle Paul writes, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

…humility is not just vital to our own spiritual health; it is crucial for our witness to the world. Not only should a defense of the faith be humble, humility should itself be a defense of the faith. I know of no more startlingly countercultural scheme than to be honest about one’s own failings. In the political world, to admit a mistake seems to be equated with signing one’s own death warrant. In the intellectual world, both professors and students are encouraged to bluff comprehension and competence rather than admit ignorance. In the world of sports, one loss or weak moment can end a career. But the Gospel radically calls us to bring our sin and our weakness into the light. If our message is one of forgiveness, how can we conceal from the world our own need of it? We should certainly not flaunt our sin or champion our failings, but we can be honest about them in reverence and gratitude.

Practicing the apologetic of humility does not mean that we content ourselves with ignorance, accept our own laziness, or “continue to sin so that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). On the contrary, taking any of these courses would not make us any different from the world and would not testify to the power of the Gospel within us. We should strive for excellence in all we do. We should never forget that we are Christ’s body and that we reflect him to the world. Many people first approach the faith when they recognize the excellence or intelligence of a Christian they encounter. But Christian humility should also be a means by which people are confronted with the genuineness of our message. When non-believers discern ongoing repentance and meekness in the lives of believers, they observe that which only the Spirit of God can effect.

As earthen vessels, we can admit our ignorance of an answer to a particular question, while at the same time holding fast to the idea of absolute truth. After all, we do not claim to be omniscient; rather we claim to know the One who is. Honesty is far more disarming than defensiveness.

Read the whole thing at

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

I’ve taken the time to write some of my thoughts on the proposed “Atheist” bus advertising initiative coming to New Zealand next year. If you haven’t heard, the campaign hopes to raise awareness about atheism through advertisements such as “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” (check out this post for all the details). Here’s my take on the campaign:

Firstly, it’s not properly an Atheistic campaign.

Traditionally and properly speaking Atheism is the theory or belief that God does not exist. As a positive claim to truth this philosophy needs justification – that is, if it is to be held as rational. On this definition Atheism turns out to be just as much a statement of faith as belief in God is often accused to be. Aware of this and lacking successful or convincing arguments to sustain their position, many have sought to redefine Atheism. This is especially true of the so called “New Atheists,” such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and many others. Because of their popular appeal, evangelistic zeal and appearance of scholarly credentials, they have succeeded in construing Atheism as the theory or belief of those who have no reason to believe that God exists.

This latter claim is very different. The first thing that should be said is that this new construal of atheism is totally consistent with God existing (of course, it is also totally consistent with God not existing). Accordingly, on this new definition, both a Christian Fideist and the most fervent anti-Christian bigot can call themselves an Atheist. Also, a person who has looked at all the evidence for God’s existence, and tried their best to understand and engage rationally with the arguments, may well conclude in the end that there is no reason to believe that God exists. He then may decide (i) to believe anyway, or (ii) he may decide to disbelieve. Alternatively, (iii) he may decide to remain undecided on the issue, declaring he doesn’t really know. This last option should rightly be called some form of agnosticism. But under the new definition, this person would be an Atheist.

That said, I’m willing to grant the new Atheist his definition. The net result is a belief which is frankly identical to the traditional Atheist – that God does not exist. Even if that were not the case, their predicament also remains the same as before – such a position is a philosophical position and therefore needs rational justification by way of reasoned argument. It is also false that in the absence of evidence for God’s existence it is more rational to presume that God does not exist. (This idea is fleshed out in my discussion of Russell’s Teapot.)

What can we say of the bus advertising slogan “There probably is no God”? Lacking certainty, this is actually soft agnosticism – the belief that does not know if there is or is not a God. Given the measures Atheists are willing to take to make their philosophy more reasonable, one might be forgiven for thinking that Atheism is a philosophy in retreat.

Secondly, if God does not exist, why should we not worry?

Here are three points where I think worrying would be good advice if it were true that God did not exist.

First, the question of God’s existence is truly the most important question there is. If God exists there are many entailments, some of which are the strong probability of an existence after the death of the physical body. Such an entailment should strongly effect how you live in this life. So this is not a trivial question at all.

To illustrate, think of yourself as a parent whose child has gone missing in the wilderness. Three days of desperate search has quickly passed by, and the leader of Search and Rescue comes to you and gently says, “Listen, we all are very tired and hungry, and we think that there is only a 5% probability that your child is still alive. We want to call off the search.” As a parent you would truly be alarmed, for as long as there are people searching there is a possibility that your child may be found, and found alive. You therefore press the Search and Rescue officer, “Please… Keep searching.” He responds kindly and continues through the night, but in the morning says, “Listen, we think that there is only a 1% possibility that your child is still alive.” Even with a 1% possibility, do you as a parent ascent to calling of the search? Of course not. In fact, the small odds would inspire the parents to reconsider how the child has avoided detection and even the assumptions that informed the initial search parameters. Even if the possibility were to be reduced even further, as long as there is the slimmest hope, the search is not abandoned. For the parents continuing the search is justified, for the reward of having their child back safely in their arms far outweighs the any effort they could expended. In the same way and for the same reason, so should our search for God be. Pascal says the wise man will search for God with all his heart.

The immortality of the soul is a matter so important to us, one which touches us so deeply, that a man must have lost all feeling to be indifferent to it . . .

One does not need to have a very highly trained mind to understand that there is here no genuine and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are only emptiness, that our ills are infinite, and that finally death, which threatens us every moment, must in a few years inevitably place us in the awful necessity of being eternally annihilated or miserable.

There is nothing more real than that, and nothing more terrible . . . So a man who doubts and yet does not search is at the same time utterly miserable and utterly wrong-headed. Pensees, 11

Second, if God does not exist then what restraint is there on moral behaviour? This is not to say that Atheists cannot act morally – they most often do. Similarly, I’m not suggesting that Atheists are unable to discern what is right and wrong – I think for the most part they can. Instead, the point is that by erasing God from the picture all morals become mere human conventions that are unfixed and subject to change by the latest whim. They are reduced to preferences, such as the taste of chocolate over vanilla. Without a transcendent ground for moral values and duties, justification for commonly held moral beliefs we all share is lost, and rational restraint from tyranny and oppression along with it. All are vulnerable to be victimised by another’s hedonistic ideal. Without a standard, there can be neither justice nor injustice. Without an ultimate good, there can be no evil.

God has traditionally filled the position of that transcendent ground required for the justification of morality. Immanuel Kant saw that for practical reasons (in order to make sense of morality) it was necessary to assume that God exists. Voltaire, the Eighteenth Century French Atheist said, “If God does not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” In other words, if God does not exist objective moral values and duties do not exist, and this is unacceptable. An Atheist may believe in objective moral values – if he does, he does so without rational justification. An atheist may disbelieve in object moral values but still live a life that affirms them – but to be more consistent with his philosophy he should renounce all moral values and duties, actually become a nihilist and not just believe it, and live as he pleases. After all, if God is absent there is ultimately no moral accountability and no life after death. So if there is no ultimate accounting for your actions, why not live by pure self-indulgence and gratification if you can get away with it? The consequence of a thoroughly realised atheistic view, is cause enough to worry.

Third, there is implied here in the statement “Now stop worrying” a view of God who sits in judgement of the world, condemning every trespass and hanging the threat of hell over every person, in order that they might behave. Such a view is a distortion of the Christian view and misrepresents the nature of God. Jesus said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) As we approach Christmas, we are reminded about the extraordinary lengths God undertook to rescue us from the predicament we were already in, and of the God who loves, and saw fit to offer the life of his Son as a substitute for many. The Christian message is not one of sorrow where a judge finds us guilty and punishes every wrong action, but one of great joy, where a Saviour has made every effort to reach out and draw people to himself, that we might freely choose him and thus avoid the judgment we already so richly deserve.

Thirdly, thanks for the reminder to enjoy life.

Jesus said, “I come that you may have life, and life more abundantly.” This slogan reminds us of the words of Jesus, and that it should be Christians who enjoy life the most. This is the natural state of true believer who has discovered the purpose of all life. That this life is is to discover and know Christ Jesus our Lord, and this should be the greatest adventure as He is the source of fulfilled life and true happiness.

Fourthly, Atheists apparently need a thicker skin.

The stated reason for this promotion of so called Atheism is not to convince anyone that there is probably no God, but to reduce stigma attached to the label “Atheist”. At this I wonder, what stigma could he be referring to? I’ve wrestled with a number of obstinate, unreasoning, and raving-mad atheists in my time, but realise that these are not representative of the general horde (approximately 60% according to the last census) of Atheists/Agnostics in New Zealand. Have Atheist’s got it so bad that they feel stereotyped or misunderstood in some way? It strikes me as supremely odd that in western countries such as Britain and New Zealand, Atheists would start an awareness campaign for Atheism, when Christians in other countries face immanent threat of death from real persecution, and must meet in secret to avoid extermination. To add to the insult, for the most part in the twentieth century it was Atheistic regimes doing the persecuting of Christians. Atheists in Britain and New Zealand apparently need thicker skin. If they want to know what persecution is they should become Christians and experience what it is like living in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia.

Fifthly, these issues are not unprovable.

I often hear the claim that;

1) The Atheistic claim is a universal negative
2) In principle, it is impossible to prove a universal negative.
3) Therefore, Atheism is unfalsifiable.

While the logic is valid, both the premises are false. For (1), the Atheistic claim that “God does not exists,” is not a universal negative – it is a singular negative statement. For (2), both universal negatives and singular negative statement can in principle be proved. All that is required is to find an instance of whatever x is. And if x is God, then finding God disproves a negative. Christians should be aware of this, and have a ready response.

As another instance, I heard recently this argument made by a Christian

1) You cannot prove that God exists.
2) You cannot prove that God does not exist.
3) Therefore, both Atheism and Theism are equally faith commitments.

Again, the logic is valid, but the premises are false. For (1), it is certainly true that one cannot prove with logical necessity that God exists. Logical necessity would be the level of certainty attained by mathematic equations, logical syllogisms, and very few other things. However, it is possible to prove that God exists to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt, which is all that is required in a courtroom. Successful arguments for God’s existence can be constructed with premises that are true or at least more plausible than their contradictories and therefore, rationally compel one to believe its conclusion. For (2), the same response for (1) applies – logical necessity is not necessary for a proof. Plus, it is untrue that Atheism does not have positive arguments. The Atheist has traditionally appealed to the Problem of Evil. Some atheists still appeal to the incoherence of the concept of God. Furthermore, what I said about universal negatives not being unfalsifiable applies – all one needs to do is demonstrate there is a God and Atheism is falsified.

Sixthly, this is an opportunity for Christians.

My last thought on this campaign is it makes for an excellent opportunity to address this important topic and to enter into discussion with those who have never thought about it before. While I won’t be donating any money to the cause, this should be seen as an open door for us to advance the gospel of truth. It is a fair warning for all Christian theists to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15), and demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5). Accordingly we should be wary of people who have no good reason or sound argument to hold to Atheism, yet believe it anyway. Likewise we should call our fellow believers to become familiar with the good reasons and sound arguments for Christian theism, which implicitly will be defeaters for Atheism.

Why Richard Dawkins Won't Debate Craig: "I'm Busy"

Richard Dawkins responds to the question at the recent Intelligence Squared debate at Wellington College in Berkshire, over his refusal to engage with prominent philosopher of religion, William Lane Craig.

HT: Gil S at the new Rational Thoughts blog


Wintery Knight has some good analysis here:

Dawkins’ reasons in point form (with Wintery Knight’s commentary):

  • Dawkins claims that he is willing to debate high-ranking clergymen (but Craig is a scholar, not a clergyman)
  • Dawkins claims that Craig is a creationist (but Craig supports his kalam cosmological argument with the Big Bang)
  • Dawkins claims that Craig’s only claim to fame is that he is a professional debater (but see Craig’s CV and publications below, which is far more prestigious than Dawkins’)
  • Dawkins claims that he’s too busy.

What are the real reasons why he won’t debate Craig?

I can think of three reasons why Dawkins would avoid a debate with Craig:

  1. He doesn’t know how to defend atheism and disprove theism in public
  2. He doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand logic and study evidence
  3. He doesn’t want to debate a real scholar and be humiliated in public, like Hitchens and Dennett

My opinion is that he is guilty of all 3 of these.

Jason Engwer at Triablogue quotes ChristianJR4, who posted the clip:

“To me, it sounded like Dawkins was saying he wouldn’t debate Craig because he doesn’t have any other claim to fame besides him being a really good debater. Of course that’s patently false. Craig’s academic credentials and fame far outstrip any of Dawkin’s past debate opponents against theists… It’s quite amusing, to say the least, that after 2 full years of hearing about him, Dr. Dawkins still doesn’t have a clue about who Dr. Craig is. He doesn’t know, for example, that Craig is a world renowned philosopher of Religion (indeed he’s considered to be at the top of his field). He doesn’t know that Craig is a ‘leading philosopher of space and time’ (Quentin Smith quote). He doesn’t know that Craig’s claim to fame is actually on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, not his debating.”

Apologetics and effective dialogue

This last semester, a group of Auckland university friends and myself attended a rally on campus to help launch a student pro-life group. Whenever students seek to form a club under the umbrella of the University’s Student Association, advocates must do so at an annual forum where votes are petitioned from those who are present. It is an interesting and cumbersome way to establish clubs, but it does guarantee a colourful event. And with an issue as controversial as abortion, you can imagine the intensity of debate.

In the end, however, opponents were able to gather more support against the club through successfully derailing the discussion. Instead of a debate about whether students should be able to establish a pro-life club, the merits of abortion were instead trumpeted. While it was heartening that pro-life advocates did not resort to the kind of personal attacks or irrelevant arguments that the other side did (the common complaints: “The morality of abortion should only be discussed among woman”, “Denying women the right to abortion is a form of religious oppression”, etc) I was reminded of how important it is that Christians are effective communicators.

Recently, I came across the excellent Life Training Institute Blog, and a post by Josh Brahm about effective dialogue and different tactics in conversation. To illustrate, Brahm recounts a conversation he overheard between a pro-choicer and a pro-lifer (‘Charlie’):

The pro-choicer made a comment along the lines of, “I don’t like abortion, but if it’s made illegal, women will be hurt in back-alley abortions.”

Charlie’s response? “So you think we should legalize murder?” (Add a hint of combative attitude to the tone, and you’ve got the picture.)

Now, I know where Charlie was going with this – he wanted to explain that we shouldn’t make or keep immoral things legal to make the crime safer for the felon. For example, we wouldn’t make murder legal to make things easier and safer for murderers, because murder is wrong. Unfortunately, our pro-choice friend who had probably never explored that logic, misunderstood where Charlie was going with this.

Instead, he responded, “Now, that’s called a strawman argument. That has nothing to do with what I just said.”

So to be clear, Charlie hadn’t made a strawman argument; he just wasn’t very clear in his argumentation.

I wasn’t able to hear all of Charlie’s response, but it was basically a second try at responding to the original pro-choice objection, and it still had that same combative tone. Then the pro-choicer starts talking about red herrings. He obviously wasn’t getting it, and he stormed off before I could catch him to continue the discussion.

Several hours later I was eating lunch with Charlie and another young volunteer, when the subject of effective dialogue came up.

I started by explaining how sometimes we hear an argument that we’ve heard over and over, like the back-alley thing, and we want to zero in for that “gotcha” moment. I added, “But in one-on-one conversations, we need to remember to take people slowly through our argument, making sure we make a clear case, and avoid asking pointed questions that will make the person feel defensive.”

Brahm then goes on to suggest a helpful distinction that Steve Wagner, another experienced pro-life communicator, has defined between “I get you” responses and “gotcha” replies. “Gotcha” answers are concise one-liners that are designed to stump the opposition. In formal debates, media interviews and hit and run conversations, quick answers and sound bite-shaped responses are the best weapons. If you’re unable to summarize why your point is true and your opponent’s is false, you lose.

However, in different contexts “gotcha” answers can be counter-productive. People will not want to dialogue if they feel humiliated or that they’re being led into a trap. Wagner explains:

I take time with each person. I try to let them have multiple opportunities to explain themselves. I don’t “move in for the kill.” While I ask tough questions, I’m also content to let some false statements or arguments go unanswered. I don’t always have to have the last word. Why? Because I think communicating to each person the phrase, “I get you,” is more important than making sure everyone else knows “I gotcha.” It’s one of the essential skills we teach every pro-life advocate: Listen to understand rather than to refute.

It’s good advice. And not just relevant for conversations about abortion. In apologetic practice, we can find ourselves  over-emphasizing the importance of finding initial entry points and common ground but it is often just as crucial to think about where we are going in the conversation.

Friday Night Miscellany

Some late night Friday reading from the interwebs. Knock yourselves out, peeps.

Christianity and Politics

-This week, the story that has dominated discussion in Christian circles has been the recent joint declaration by Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders on the need for Christians to stand up for moral issues. The document, titled the Manhattan Declaration, included signatories such Wayne Grudem, Tim Keller, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Josh McDowell,Albert Mohler Jr., J. I Packer, and Ravi Zacharias. Drafted by Chuck Colson, it calls for a renewed vision of justice and ethical life in government and society, especially with respect to the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife. While some have applauded the declaration and view its “ecumenism of the trenches” as a necessity, others wonder if the Gospel is being obscured.

– Timothy George and Al Mohler defend their decision to sign the document.

Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, James White, Frank Turk, Tim Challies explain why they disagree with the document. David Doran, Steve Hays and John Stackhouse also offer their thoughts, while Brian McLaren just misses the point completely.


– Brian has a great list of apologetic podcasts.

Does God really want all people to be saved? Video interview with Dr R. C. Sproul.

– Relativism vs Pluralism: What’s the difference?

– In his post, The Basis for Moral Realism, Tom Gilson puts forward several questions for atheists who want to hold onto moral realism, including:

  • What is a moral value or duty; specifically, to whom or what is it a value, and to whom or what is the duty directed, owed, or pointed?
  • To whom or what was it directed, owed, or pointed when there was no person in the universe toward whom it could have been so pointed?
  • Who or what held any responsibility for these moral values or duties before there was any intelligent life?
  • In what did these values or duties inhere, or in other words, where did they exist?
  • Was there such a thing as evil while the stars and planets were forming? What was it?
  • Was killing immoral for the first 3 billion or so years of evolution, before humans arrived?

Does “I don’t know” work as a defense for certain moral issues?


Kevin DeYoung offers an apologetic for the prominence of words in worship.

John Piper’s presentation at ETS concerning “A Common Word”.

– Douglas Wilson recounts the thinkers who have rocked his world: “The men I am most indebted to philosophically are: C.S. Lewis, Cornelius Van Til, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Calvin, Richard Weaver, the early Rushdoony, Augustine, John Knox, Gary North, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, G.K. Chesterton, Paul Johnson, John Stott, Christopher Dawson, H.L. Mencken, William Buckley, David Wells, R.L. Dabney, E. Michael Jones, P.G. Wodehouse, Greg Bahnsen, and Peter Leithart. And after a diet of such books for twenty-six years, I have to say that reading an emergent book by Brian McLaren is like watching a six-year-old do card tricks.”

– David Mathis reviews NT Wright’s new book, Justification: Paul’s Vision and God’s Plan.

Doug Groothius’ audio presentation on ‘Everyday Spiritual Warfare’.

Christianity and Culture

– Exegeting the Cohen Brothers’ latest film, A Serious Man

– Coming to a pulpit near you? Movie producers hope to try and get pastors in on the marketing of the new film adaption of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak apocolyptic novel The Road.

Dr Who and morality.

Official photos from the set of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Behind the scenes video of the Radio Theatre’s dramatic audio production of The Screwtape Letters.

Other Stuff

– This week marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Time magazine interviews Dennis Sewell on Darwin and his legacy.

Positive comments from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel on Stephen C. Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins): “Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.”

Great photos from the National Geographic’s 2009 International Photography contest.

– And finally, Kevin Staley-Joyce recalls a great quote from the masterful G. K. Chesterton:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to itand says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.”

To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.”


Albert Mohler on the New Atheism

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the radio talk show The Albert Mohler Program, gives a presentation at the University of Louisville explaining and defending the content of his latest book, Atheism Remix. The new book is a popular-level engagement of the New Atheism, helping Christians to understand and respond to the intellectual challenges raised by the the movement. To listen to the audio only, go here.

Source: Justin Taylor

Apologetics on Twitter

The new social networks like Twitter and Facebook offer unprecedented opportunities for communication and contact. For Christians who value both relationships and truth, our participation must always be safeguarded by an awareness of our hearts and our deeper responsibility to Christ. But that being said, one of the benefits of the new media and networking is that it allows for greater accessibility to apologists and apologetics. For those who are on Twitter, here is a list of some apologetic organizations and people that are worth following (I’ve almost made a list you can follow on Twitter here). Obviously, it isn’t exhaustive, but these are some of the good ones. Feel free to add others in the comments, if you wish.


Doug Douglas Geivett, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology –
Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary - Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary –
 James White, Reformed apologist and director of Alpha and Omega Ministries - James White, Reformed apologist and director of Alpha and Omega Ministries –
 John Mark N Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University- John Mark N Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University-
Rav Ravi Zacharias, popular author and founder of RZIM –
Win Winfried Corduan, former Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University –
johnpiper John Piper, author and Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota –
scot Scot McKnight, Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University –
albert R. Albert Mohler, Jr., author and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary –
douglaswilson Douglas Wilson, pastor at Christ Church in Idaho, faculty member at New Saint Andrews College, and apologist –
pastormark Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church –
josh Joshua Harris, popular author and Senior pastor at Covenant Life Church in Maryland –

Organizations and other ministries

apcom Apologetics.Com –
cri Christian Research Institute –
lig Ligonier Ministries –
rtb Reasons to Believe –
str Stand to Reason –
scrip Scriptorium Daily –
redeemer Redeemer Presbyterian Church (pastored by Tim Keller) –
epsoc Evangelical Philosophical Society (follow via request) –
desiringgod Desiring God Ministries –
tgc The Gospel Coalition –

Thinking Matters and New Zealand Apologists


Thinking Matters New Zealand
mattandmad Matthew and Madeline Flannagan –
beretta Glenn Peoples –

Rob (also of

Biblical Interpretation and anticipatory models

View the original post and comments here.

McGrath says there is a sense in which the history of Christian theology can be regarded as the history of biblical interpretation.[1] This is particularly true of typological interpretation. It’s history touches the earliest stages of the Christian movement, and plausibly dates back to the interpretive method of the Christ himself. Over two thousand years it has been plagued by misuse and misunderstanding. A cloud of uncertainty lingers today over the nature of typology and the hermeneutical principles that might help establish the study of types.


A type, put simply, is an ‘anticipatory model.’[2] The traditional definition[3] of typological interpretation distinguishes it from allegorical interpretation in three key respects. First, the allegorical interpretative method treats the narrative as either feigned or, if not feigned, only for the purpose of representing a higher truth. The typological interpretative method understands the referent as an historical account with its foundation in fact.[4] Second, there must be an identifiable pattern of correspondence between dispensations. Third, there must be an escalation or heightening of the same truth embodied in the OT type and the greater NT antitype.[5] Fairbairn states, “The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.”[6]

Jackson summarises, “A type is a real, exalted happening in history which was divinely ordained by the omniscient God to be a prophetic picture of the good things which he purposed to bring to fruition in Christ Jesus.”[7]

Precisely what constitutes a genuine type and what does not is the burden of the philosopher of typology and the theologian, and depends much upon the typologist’s definition and the guiding principles of interpretation one adopts.

History of Typological Interpretation

Typology was a new method arising almost uniquely in the apostolic age – the most likely origin Christ himself.[8] The NT writers had unity in their understanding and exposition of the OT, primarily within the framework of typological interpretation.[9]

The Christian writers of the patristic period had indeterminate views, inferred only from the occasional reference. In their writings it is often difficult to differentiate between the allegorical and the typological. The Latin fathers sparingly offer any, and when they did their usage of type had a common-sense character, being less given to the airy speculations of the Greek Fathers. No hermeneutical principles can be discerned in their writing to distinguish the fanciful from the truly typical.[10]

The Greek Fathers included Clement and his student Origen. These were both influenced by the method of Philo of Alexandria, the Jewish exegete of the Old Testament. Both had an elastic and arbitrary style of interpretation, the method of the latter being described as ‘the allegorical fury’. Origen expressly denied the existence of many Old Testament events.[11] Clement even went so far as to allegorise the decalogue.

The influence of the Alexandrian school, along with Ambrose of Milan and Augustine, was critical for the development of the Quadriga, the fourfold sense of scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. A consensus of accepted types developed in this time.[12] This method persisted throughout the middle-ages where there were no new methodological advances in typological interpretation.

The Reformers were the next to make great advances in interpretation. Their emphasis on the literal sense and dissatisfaction with fanciful exegesis provoked a radical objection to the allegorical school. Luther still employed the Quadriga, but qualified the ascendancy of the literal sense when in 1515 he stated “In the Scriptures no allegory, tropology, or anagogy is valid, unless that same truth is explicitly stated literally somewhere else. Otherwise, Scripture would become a laughing matter.”[13] Although Luther, with other reformers, often fell back on old models of interpretation, in their fervor of this principle they also discarded all use type.

No further attempt to construct a well-defined and properly grounded typological system was made until 1610, when Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), published Tractatus De Legitima Scripturae Sacrae Interpretation.[14] His student Salomon Glass’ Philologia Sacra (1623) was influential to the formation of the Cocceian School in the latter half of the seventieth century.[15] Although this rough collection did not distinguish between the typological and allegorical, seeing both as equally warranted, they did distinguish between two sorts of types: innate and inferred. Innate are those that the NT expressly states (see Appendix A). Inferred types could only confirm truth already received and must conform to the practice of the NT writers in regard to similar examples. Without solid interpretative principles the Cocceian School was given to far-fetched analogies with only superficial resemblances between the OT and the NT dispensations.[16]

The Enlightenment, with essentially an antichristian philosophy and a growing discontent for the typological extravagances of the Coccein School, led to a slow decline in Europe. In Britain Clarke, Jortin and a pervading sense of a connection of the OT with the NT stalled this decline. Into this arena fell Bishop Marsh, the ablest and most systematic expounders of a discernibly new view.[17] He held the only legitimate types were innate, and if not explicitly stated were by obvious implication. He recommended an extreme caution when intending to extend the typical sphere.

Nineteenth century Victorian England was the high-water mark in typological interpretation. It was commonplace in sermons, hymns, and tracts to read the Bible in search of types anticipating Christ.[18] A flux between expanding and limiting the sphere of legitimate types persisted, as did the mediating view of Fairbairn.[19] Critical scholarship in Germany meanwhile, with few exceptions, repudiated the method of interpretation. Types became “an historical curiosity, of little importance or significance for the modern reader.”[20]

The twentieth century saw resurgence in interest in typological interpretation. Instrumental in this was the causative climate that gave rise to the dialectical school of theology, along with four specific factors, namely; a restudy of the use of the OT in the NT; the presence of typology in the OT; a recognition of the need for a Christological interpretation of the OT; and a renewed interest in the commentaries of the Reformers.[21]

In 1939 two dissertations were published; Goppelt’s Typos: Die typologishe Deutung des Alten Testaments im Neuen, considered the standard work on typology in the NT, and Weibe’s Dei Wustenzeit als Typus der messianischen Heilzeit. Through the 40’s escalating interest led to significant studies attempting to fuse the results of historical-criticism with biblical typology. It was not until the 50’s that these drew significant notice and battle-lines were drawn.[22] A “post-critical neo-typology” was born based upon an alternative conception of revelation and history that leaves no room for the predictive element in a type.[23]

The Latter Rain Movement[24] gave the typological interpretation of scripture new life at the popular level.[25]

Davidson notes that in the history of typological interpretation there has been no firmly established hermeneutical principles or solid semasiological and exegetical foundation for “typos”.[26] It is this to which he attributes the confusion of the nature of typology that exists today, and seeks to rectify that in his own doctoral dissertation. He concludes there is substantially more work to be done as almost every area of the subject remains unsettled, including terminology, definition, characteristics, relation to other modes of expression in Scripture, origin, scope and contemporary relevance.[27]

Critical Assesment

Remnants of the Cocceian and Marshian Schools of thought persists today, making assessment of the legitimacy of typological interpretation all the more relevant. The Cocceian mode can be seen in much of the popular literature of the twentieth century,[28] and is absent of sufficient ground to warrant some specific interpretations.

The Reformers I judge to be correct in their reaction against the typological/allegorical excesses of the middle ages, characterised best by Origen and Clement. As a hermeneutical principle it is reasonable to emphasise the priority of the literal sense above, but not in exclusion of, the other senses in the Quadriga.

The Marshian School’s reaction to the Cocceian School and capitulation to the Enlightenment milieu exceeded what was reasonable. Fairbairn’s four-knuckled argument against the Marshian principle that restricted the typical sphere to innate types is decisive. First, it is too narrow to allow investigation of the rational ground for the connection of type and antitype. Second, there is a double standard with respect to prophesy and type, for there is no need to assume inspiration in order to interpret prophesy, nor decide with certainty if prophesy has been fulfilled. Christ’s rebuke in Luke 24:25 gives us a reasonable ground “to infer the same liberty to have been granted, and obligation imposed in regard to the typical.”[29] Third, the author of Hebrews gives a sharp rebuke for the believer’s unfamiliarity with the type of Melchizedek.[30] Fourth, it is unreasonable to expect the OT types are listed exhaustively in the NT. Instead of an arbitrary selection of passages and groundless preference to the few portions of the OT, it is more reasonable (especially given divine inspiration) to afford the OT a homogeneous character.

The benefits of a well-grounded typological interpretation are substantial. It allows one to see scripture as a single integrated whole and the unity of design. It clarifies the meta-narrative in scripture and calls attention to the Bibles divine origin. It gives us a view of a singular sacred history, of deep appreciation for the artistry of God and the execution of his sovereign plan of redemption, and deepens ones understanding of the entire biblical message. It shows the subservience of one dispensation to the other[31] and demonstrates the Augustinian axiom “In Vetere Novum latet et in Nove Vetus patet” (The New Testament is hidden in the Old; the Old is made accessible by the New).[32] The study of types bring forth the more significant conceptual background of the NT as opposed to the mythology and philosophy of Greece and Rome suggested by nineteenth century critical scholars and today’s popular detractors of the Bible. It offers valuable insights into how Jesus and his apostles interpreted his acts and teachings.[33]

The benefits of typological interpretation should be weighed against the dangers involved. Karlberg states, “Resolution of lingering differences of interpretation among evangelicals depends, to a large extent, on a proper assessment of the nature and function of OT typology.”[34] The Cocceian slope is greased by well-meaning popular expositors that fail to communicate the sound principles from which they derived their conclusions. These concerns highlight the need for a detailed and sophisticated investigation into the hermeneutical rationale for legitimizing typological interpretations. This is vital for correct doctrine and if Scripture is to avoid becoming – in Luther’s words – a laughing matter.

[1] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 171.

[2] Chuck Missler, Cosmic Codes (Minnesota; Koinonia House, 1999), 189.

[3] This distinction between the allegory and typology in the traditional definition draws criticism from: Peter Martens “Origen the Allegorist and the Typology/Allegory Distinction” Notre Dame University. Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

Also, Davidson critiques the way in which the definition of type is imposed upon the text, rather than a semasiological and exegetical foundation establishing the understanding of “typos”. Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, Michigan, Andrews University Press; 1981)

[4] When the literal sense looks fabulous and is considered incapable of being actual, or employed as it was meant to be fabulous for the purpose of communicating a diverse or higher sense, it is considered allegorical. The typological, on the other hand, requires the reality of the literal sense.

[5] W. Edward Glenny, “Typology: A summary of the present evangelical discussion” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (Dec 1997), 1 Jun, 2009. click here; Leonard Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mi; Eerdmans, 1939) 18.

[6] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 3.

[7] Wayne Jackson, “A Study of Biblical Typology” n.p. Christian Courier, Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

[8] James D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture (London; SMC Press, 1961), 94.

[9] Leonard Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mi; Eerdmans, 1939), 194.

[10] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed., (London; Oliphants, 1953), 7.

[11] “…where the historical narrative could not be made appropriate to the spiritual coherence of the occurrences, He inserted sometimes certain things which either did not take place or could not take place; sometimes also what might happen, but what did not.” Translated by Frederick Crombie. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. click here.

[12] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 171.

[13] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 173.

[14] : Peter Martens “Origen the Allegorist and the Typology/Allegory Distinction” Notre Dame University. Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

[15] The Cocceian school included Glass, Cocceius, Witsius and Vitrina. Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed., (London; Oliphants, 1953), 22.

[16] Ibid., 18.

[17] The Marshian school included Macknight, VanMildert, Conybeare, Nares, Chevalier, Horne and many others. American Joseph Muenscher writes “no person, event or institution, should be regarded as typical, but what may be proved to be such from the Scriptures.” Joseph Muenscher, “On Types and the Typical Interpretation of Scripture,” American Biblical Repository, (Jan 1841): 108

[18] George R. Landrow, “Typological Interpretations of Scripture in Nineteenth-Century Britain” n.p. A Victorian Web book. Citied 1 June 2009; click here

[19] Similar mediating views in the period come from Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkof, and J. Barton Payne. Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press; 1981), 48.

[20] Geoffrey W. H. Lampe and Kenneth J. Woollcombe “The Reasonableness of Typology” Essays on Typology (Naperville, IL, 1957), 17.

[21] James D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture (London; SMC Press, 1961), 94-96.

[22] Protagonists in the debate through the 50’s and particularly the 60’s are Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard von Rad, Friedrich Baumgartel, Walter Eichrodt, Geoffrey Lampe with Kenneth J. Woollcombe, Hans Walter Wolff, and David L. Baker.

[23] Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press, 1981), 111.

[24] Wikipedia, “Latter Rain Movement” Cited 1 June 2009. Online click here

[25] Key proponents from that movement include Kevin Connor, Interpreting the Symbols & Types; and Bill Britton, Jesus The Pattern Son.

[26] Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press, 1981), 45.

[27] Ibid., 113.

[28] Ibid., 48

[29] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 22.

[30] Heb. 5:11-14

[31] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 24.

[32] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 172.

[33] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 24.

[34] W. Edward Glenny, “Typology: A summary of the present evangelical discussion” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (Dec 1997), 1 Jun, 2009. click here; M. W. Karlberg, “Legitimate Discontinuities Between the Testaments,” JETS 28/1 (March 1985) 19.

Against Subjectivism

This is a post by Stuart McEwing on our blog about the nature of moral claims and whether there is a foundation for morality apart from God. Is morality an objective feature of the world? And if it is, are the naturalistic explanations of objective morality sufficient? You can view the post or join the discussion here.

Essential to the moral argument is affirming the existance of objective moral values and duties. If naturalism is true then there are no objective moral values and duties, and therefore all moral values and duties are merely subjective. But this brand of ethical theory, called Subjectivism, we find inadequate for the following reasons.

For one it does not adequately explain our shared moral experience. If a subjectivist were to see a woman being abused, victimised and raped, saying “this is wrong” is saying noting more profound that “Hey, such action is not acceptable to me.” He cannot rightly condemn the rapist for the rapist is only doing what feels right for him. But surely that doesn’t make sense. Such an action is morally reprehensible no matter how one feels about it. Rape is wrong for all people at all times, because it is an invasion of something sacred. But how can it be sacred if it is pure matter? The only way it could be sacred is if it is as the Bible says: the body is the temple of the living God.

If morals are not objective then one would have to say that Hitler’s extermination of the Jews (dissenting Christians, homosexuals and disabled) was only wrong in the sense that it was unpalatable – a mere preference of taste. If subjectivism is true, then Hitler was only acting unfashionably, doing nothing more serious than breaking another social convention like belching at the table, or driving on the right hand side of the road instead of the left.

But if you want to affirm that Hitler was really wrong, and that rape is wrong, and that other virtues like kindness, generosity and love are truly right whether believed or not, then it follows that there are some moral obligations that are objective, and subjectivism is false.

Secondly, it does not adequately explain how we live. Day to day we assume morals really are more than mere subjective expressions of taste. We praise good sportsmanship and deplore game-fixing. We object to be being treated unfairly and we cry out for justice as if it really is a right of ours. We declare acts of terrorism evil and we applaud fire-fighters who run into burning buildings to save lives. Like Princess Di we give to charity because we think it is right, and that not giving when we are capable is somehow wrong. We cherish people like Ghandi, who acted honourable in response to British Imperialism.

Examples are manifold. Everyday we face a thousand decisions and at every decision we understand that there is a standard of right and wrong that supersedes all opinions and judges each appropriately.

Bertrand Russell espoused subjectivism in his writings but could not live consistently with it. He was involved in protests for nuclear proliferation, animal rights campaigns and even spent a number of months in jail for refusing to pay the war tax. In other words he lived like there were moral obligations, and that these moral obligations were valid and binding for all people at all times, and not merely expressions of preference.

Richard Dawkins, the popular evolutionary biologist says “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. . . we are machines for propagating DNA” and yet his latest book is full of moralising. He has shown he does believe that some things that are evil, some things are good, and these not merely right and wrong for him, but wrong for everyone. He is at bottom a walking talking self-contradiction.

Such a moral awareness can be described as basic and bedrock, as the atheist philosopher Kai Neilson puts it:

<blockquote>”It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife beating and child abuse] to be evil that to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot reasonably believe any of these thongs to be evil. . . I firmly believe that this is bedrock an right and tha anyone who does not believe it cannot have probes deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”</blockquote>

We have more reason to deny the physical worl is objective, lthan we do to deny the objectivity of moral values and obligation. Though modification may be necessary on further reflection we have no reaso. To distrust our basic intuitions. Indeed, the atheist moral philosopher David O. Brink considers it the default possision. He says;

<blockquote>”There might be no objective moral standards. . . But this would be a revisionary conclusion, to be accepted only as the result of extended and compelling argument that the commitments of ethical objectivity are unsustainable.”</blockquote>

The objectivity of moral values and duties should be considered what philosophers call properly basic beliefs: something that is perfectly acceptable to believe on the basis of your own experience, only to be abandoned if successful defeaters are found. People who fail to see that moral obligation is objective are simply morally handicapped and there is no reason for their impaired vision to call into question what we clearly see.

Finally, personal subjectivism and cultural relativism are inadequate to explain moral debate and moral reform. These are two correlatives of the above considerations. If all there is to right and wrong is a factual claim about the likes and dislikes of a particular person or culture, then what sense is there in protesting for the civil rights of black American’s in the 50’s and 60’s? There wasn’t anything objectively wrong about racism and apartheid, just like there wasn’t anything ultimately praise worthy about the abolition of slavery. These were just the changing winds of fashion. A fad that was in one day, and could quite possibly be out the next.

If cultural relativism is true, then there was nothing wrong about lashing a run-away slave to within inches of his life during the heydays of slavery in the south, for that was an acceptable practice for that culture. Though unacceptable now, there is nothing incoherent given cultural relativism that slavery may, in 50 years time, be acceptable again. But if you disagree and think that slavery can never again be acceptable, and if you think that moral progress has been made: if you think that mankind has grown up in his thought and that a deterioration of the collective moral conscience would be abominable, then you are pre-supposing a standard of right and wrong outside of your own feelings and culture, and it follows that there is an objective frame of reference for moral debate and reform.

In summary then, (1) our experience assumes and confirms to us a realm of objective moral obligations beyond social convention, emotional preference, or adaptive mechanism. (2) We all take moral duties to be properly basic, bedrock intuitions that we can’t not know to be true. (3) Moral debate and moral progress presupposes an objective, external standard. It is for these reasons that we take subjectivism to be false, and that therefore there are some moral obligations that are objective features of the world.

Preorder the Hitchens v Wilson documentary “Collision”

The documentary of the debate tour involving new atheist Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and evangelical theologian Pastor Douglas Wilson comes out this month. Both are lively speakers and the topic addressed (“Is religion good for the world?”) continues to be a source of heated debate. You can preorder it now on amazon. Also check out the official site to watch the first 13 minutes.

Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics

From the publisher:

Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion by C Stephen Evans

“For philosophers, the pursuit of truth travels on precise definitions. For Christian apologists, the defense of the faith is founded on the defining Word. And for beginning students of either discipline, the difference between success and frustration begins with understanding the terms and ideas and identifying the thinkers and movements. It is in this spirit that C. Stephen Evans offers The Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, a quick reference guide to 300 terms and thinkers related to apologetics and the philosophy of religion.

With clear, concise definitions, this little book will likely become an invaluable research tool. It defines philosophical and religious terms, ranging from a posteriori and a priori to worldview and worship. You also get brief biographies of thinkers like Peter Abelard, Aristotle, Augustine, Plato, Alfred North Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others. In addition, there are short descriptions of some major and minor religious systems, including Buddhism, Confucianism, and Wicca, along with descriptions of many religious movements like Arminianism and Puritanism. Plus, several major apologetic arguments from cosmology, natural theology, and other sources are described.

If it is related to apologetics or the philosophy of religion, you will find it in The Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion. The strength of the definitions is brevity, but they are accurate and reliable, functioning as first steps in probing the issues further. Students of all levels will find this book a useful resource, either as an introduction or as a quick reminder of the basics of a particular position, movement or person.”

You can buy this book in NZ here.