Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Defeating the Dingbats

This past week there was a most revealing exchange with a head-between-the-cheeks fundy named Ed Dingess, who came out in support of Norman Geisler's stance with respect to Mike Licona. Having claimed to have read the defenses offered by Geisler, Licona, and myself, Caveman Ed, as I now call him, then proceeded to "respond" -- by doing no more than reiterating Geisler's own stance as though nothing had been said in reply to it.

Was that all? No, not quite; there was also an extended, sermonizing admonition about not making scholarship into a "trophy" that one held dear to self. An admonition all the more ironic from Caveman Ed, since he plasters himself as “Dr. Dingess” and proudly lists his degrees on his blog...even though they come from a non-accredited school (Tyndale Theological Seminary) which makes them about as useful as toilet paper.

The mode of his response on Geisler is, as noted, most revealing. At its heart is an implacable arrogance that is so pure that it becomes almost innocent -- an obscene sort of innocence, to be sure, but one so insulated in its arrogance and self-assurance that it sees no need to respond to arguments made against its position. Instead, the assumption is made that the position is secure, and impossible to improve upon; thus all that is left to do is to turn the "debate" into an occasion to warn possibly wayward souls away from the dangers of dissent; to affirm that there is no reason to disagree with the status quo aside from being a wretched sinner in need of dispensed grace. It is furthermore a chance to remind the guilty and gullible Christian that “Satan” is behind such interpretations as the one Licona used (presumably when Satan isn’t busy ruining Joyce Meyer’s BBQs).

The ills of the modern, Western church are a multifaceted problem, and this in itself is one facet, closely related (though it seems not on the surface) to the problem of pathological literalism as an interpretive tool, and anachronism as a guideline for exegesis Licona's initial suggestion -- that Matthew interrupted historical narrative to use a poetic device -- is, as we have pointed out in Ticker posts, not an unreasonable supposition given the nature of ancient composition; it does bear a significant burden of proof, but it cannot simply be dismissed on the assumption of uniformity.

Uniformity, however, does lies at the heart of such objection as Geisler made, as well as the sort of objection made by one of similar mindset, Robert Thomas, as we have recorded:

I've answered points claiming contradiction between Matt and Luke's versions of the Sermon on the Mount by noting that Matt's version is likely to be an anthology -- a collection of Jesus' teachings, organized by Matthew according to his purpose as the composer of a handbook of faith; whereas Luke is more on the historical side, and reports what was actually said on that occasion.

No big problem. Both writers were following standard literary and historical practices for the time. But Thomas insists that such an approach "inevitably leads to diminishing historical accuracy in the Gospels" -- for you see, Matthew 5:1-2 "indicates Jesus began at a certain point to give the Sermon's contents." And what of the literary-device explanation above? Thomas wonders, then, "why would (Matthew) mislead his readers" into thinking that Jesus made this full sermon on one occasion?

What is missing here: This was a normal practice for the day. No one would be "misled" into thinking this was a full sermon because no one would have thought it was meant to be recorded as such in the first place. But Thomas, clearly, does not agree, with comments like this in response to Blomberg's assertion that Biblical writers followed the typical practices for composers of the day: "Despite what the practice of ancient historians may have been, Matthew's intention to cite a continuous discourse from a single occasion is conspicuous. Was he mistaken?" "No matter what the alleged motives of the writers in so doing, that kind of action is fundamentally problematic at best and dishonest at worst." (!) The only difference between these comment and comments like C. Dennis McKinsey's "read the Bible like a newspaper" is that McKinsey is nastier in his formulations. And yet we are told that it is we who propose such solutions who are "run(ning) roughshod over the historicity of the Sermon's introductory and concluding formulas".

You might wonder, of course, how Thomas suggests that we resolve the differences in the Sermon, and his answer is: By harmonization -- of an extreme, unnecessary sort. Put it this way: Did Jesus say, "Blessed are the poor" or "Blessed are the poor in spirit"? Thomas replies: He said both, and on the same occasion. Matt and Luke just chose to report one or the other: "Most probably Jesus repeated this beatitude in at least two different forms when he preached His Sermon on the Mount/Plain, using the third person once and the second person another time and referring to the Kingdom of God by different titles." Odd here how omission is not a sin; but commission is. I thought it was Matthew's intent to show he was citing a continuous discourse? If that is the case, isn't he "misleading" his readers by not giving a full report and leaving things out?

Thomas is also responsible for a great deal of the book's panic-polemic, and some of his claims (and others in the book) are either misrepresenting their source or are just plain wrong. "(Craig) Blomberg attributes a higher degree of accuracy to modern historians than to Spirit-inspired writers of the Gospels in ancient times." If by this you mean, Blomberg says that modern historians revere "accuracy" in the sense of not being inclined towards literary practices that we would consider "inaccurate", but the ancients would NOT consider "inaccurate," then you are right: But to frame the matter in a way that suggests that Blomberg thinks that the Gospels contain fabrications is off base.

There is a sentiment in such arguments that, first of all, the Bible should reflect the perception of order held by the reader -- in this case, modeled upon Western precision-literalism, and the alleged “Christian ethic” developed in Western churches. Any suggestion that the text might vary from this order or ethic is looked upon as a deception. We have commented on this enough times, but would now add this dimension: That there is likely also a sort of psychological security sought by those like Thomas and Caveman Ed, in saying that the Scriptures present that uniform face. It is this same psychology that also rejects external contexts (like the social sciences) as interpretative lenses, and results in the objection that such factors are "not in the text" and are therefore off limits. (Thus as well, linguistics -- Hebrew and Greek -- are the only context admitted; for it can hardly be denied that the Scriptures were written in these languages; it's "in the text". But this is also overcome easily by assigning modern values to the semantic range of the words used; eg, "love" is not collectivist and utilitarian care under God's umbrella, but modern sentimentalism.)

Thus, Thomas and Caveman Ed, in their arrogance, also presume to rewrite the Bible in their image, and remake God in their image as well. The extreme of this is the "buddy Jesus" construction, or the health and wealth gospel. But the less spectacular manifestations are no less false for their lack of sparkle.

And thus as well, our point for today: Leaders and followers like Geisler, Thomas, and Caveman Ed in essence hold us hostage to their own insecurities. That is why it is so crucial that they be confronted, that they be challenged, and that they not be permitted to peddle their deceptions without rebuke. They must not be allowed to spread their insecurities and thereby weaken the Body of Christ. It is to the end of stopping such deception that we will continue pressuring Geisler to answer our challenge.

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