A further reply to Tim Rogers

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. As it stands, I didn’t do a blog yesterday due to my coming down with the flu and I’m still in recovery. As I’ve told my Mrs. before however, I am not one who is prone to just lie down and rest. I have to be doing something. Thus, today I am writing a blog once more. Today, I’d like to reply to Pastor Tim Rogers who wrote here. Note in this that he said the following:

As one examines the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy there is this understanding that a large group of highly intelligent men sat around in a room for three days and hammered out a statement they all could sign. Mike Licona’s son-in-law, Nick Peters alluded to this over at his blog–Deeper Waters as he was calling for an openness to anyone interpreting the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in any way that suits their fancy;

“However, as I said at the start, this was put together in a 3-day period and should not be the final statement, just like Nicea was not the final statement on orthodox Christology.”

I am amazed that he would compare the statement in Chicago to the statement on orthodox Christology. It is this comparison that he concedes a major point of his argument. Why? Notice the comparison of the Chicago Statement to the one statement that every scholar begins when the debate of the Trinity is presented–The Council of Nicea. Does Peters really believe that all of the various writings that flow from the Nicene Council are hallmark statements on the doctrine of the Trinity? Even those who try to define the Trinity go back to the Nicene Creed using the intent of the council to define the doctrine.

Interesting to note that I did submit a reply to this on his blog that was not allowed to go up. Pastor Tim is free to post here. I’m free to respond here. Just letting that be known up front.

Anyway, so let’s look at what I said. In each case, I was taking a concept that I believe is biblical, such as Inerrancy and the deity of Christ. (Note, I did not say the Trinity. The Council of Nicea was not about the Trinity but about the nature of the Son. Of course, if the Son is not of the same substance, there is no Trinity, but that does not make the council about the Trinity.)

Do I believe that all the writings that flow from Nicea are hallmark statements on the doctrine of the Trinity?

Again, that was not about the Trinity, but to answer the question, no. I also see no way that Rogers got that from my post. My point which I stated was that neither were the final word. I don’t see that being disagreed with. It would have been nice had Rogers interacted with the point that I had made rather than a point I didn’t make.

Furthermore, would I go to Nicea to show the doctrine of the Trinity? Not at all. Creeds do not establish the belief that they support per se. They do not give an argument for it. They just make a simple statement of what the belief is that has called for that creed. The Chicago statement does not argue for Inerrancy. It simply tells you what the believers think Inerrancy is.

As one who has interacted with them, I can guarantee Rogers that were he to start with the Council of Nicea to establish the Trinity, the Jehovah’s Witnesses would quickly dispatch him. To be fair, I do not think Rogers would do this and I think that he would go exactly where I go first, to Scripture.

However, while that is what I believe he would do, these statements from him do get problematic.

Thus, when one speaks of the Trinity the first place one returns is the Nicene Creed.

And in the comments sections:

Whenever anyone debates the doctrine of the Trinity they go to the Nicene Creed. Certainly we can see the Scripture contains the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But instead of rehasing that entire debate was move to the Council of Nicea for the simple reason they have released the defining statement concerning the Trinity.

Once again, I wonder what reading Rogers is doing. The original Nicene Creed ended with saying “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” The Council was not about the Trinity but about the deity of Christ. I fear that Rogers is doing what commenter Darren said and placing the creed and thus ICBI on the level of Scripture. (Incidentally, if Rogers wants a creedal statement on the Trinity, he can go to the Athanasian Creed.)

Do I think Rogers is intentionally doing this? No. Do I think he really places those works on par with Scripture? No. However, his words seem to indicate otherwise and he needs to finely nuance those better. As I have said, when I debate the Trinity, I will go to Scripture first.

I do agree that ICBI was not written in a vacuum, but I do not believe it was the final word either. Even after Nicea, there were other councils on Christology. We had to really flesh out our doctrine. If someone showed a contrary idea, then that needed to be debated instead of just pointing to earlier statements. The great danger is that we can think our statements are infallible, when as Christians we should be looking to Scripture.

Rogers goes on to say however:

This is the problem with Dr. Licona’s affirming the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy but then denying the ICBI commentary of the statement. There are three living framers of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and all three insist the ICBI Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the authorial intent of the Chicago Statement on Inerrency. Though we have multiple apologists trying to express their own views of the Chicago Statement it makes no difference.

At this point, one is reminded of Francis Beckwith’s comment that if he were Freudian, he would be thinking Geisler has a case of Pontiff Envy. Let’s ask some questions. How many of these are NT scholars? How many are qualified to judge Licona’s work? Why should the rest of the world submit to these for all time?

The only reason someone should believe something like Licona’s case is not because it is in accordance with ICBI, but because it is in accordance with the Bible. If it was the case that ICBI said one thing and the Bible said another, then as Darren rightly points out in the comments section, so much for ICBI.

When I see something like what is quoted above, I do think of the statement often attributed to Augustine, and whether it is historical or not and how it is to be interpreted I leave to the historians, but how he reportedly said “Rome has spoken. The case is closed.” Now we have “ICBI has spoken. The case is closed.”

To which Rogers has said “I am not open to debate! You can make all the arguments you want! It doesn’t matter!” Well I’m not like that. Frankly, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the better argument, I would want to believe it. If the Trinity was false, I would be thankful to them for pointing that out to me.

I am convinced it is true however, and that is not because of a study of the Nicene Creed, but because of a study of theology centered heavily in the Scriptures. I do not mind using extra-biblical material such as Jewish Wisdom Theology from Second Temple Judaism since the concept of the Trinity did not come out of a vacuum. (To be sure of course, the Trinity has already existed, but our understanding of it did develop.)

It is for that reason I do not hesitate to enter the debate. I love it when Jehovah’s Witnesses came around. My wife and I were once about to head out to see her parents when the doorbell rang and it was Jehovah’s Witnesses. We had no specific time to see my in-laws so I believe we did meet with them for a bit. If my memory is faulty there, we arranged for a later time, but I always love it when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come by and I do not bring up Nicea at all. If they do, I do what I can to bring us back to the Bible.

Rogers however is apparently saying that he’s not even going to examine the data. ICBI is right. Now keep in mind one can believe in Inerrancy without holding to ICBI. In fact, Inerrancy was around long before ICBI so unless Geisler and others wanted to say the ECF, the medievals, and the reformers were not inerrantists, they would have to agree. Note that Henry Morris would not sign the ICBI statement as well since it allowed for an old-earth, which he believed denied Inerrancy. Does Morris deny Inerrancy? Would he think Geisler does?

The problem with not being willing to examine the data is that your opponent just has to be wrong somehow! Now of course, if your position is true, your opponent is wrong somehow, but if you have to say a priori that he is wrong without examining the data, then you have a problem. I do not doubt that there is a flaw in the argument of the atheist, but it is still up to me as an apologist to examine the argument and the data that he presents and do my best to find that flaw.

Is Rogers willing to examine the data? That’s a good question to ask, but as I said, I fear there has already been an answer.

Even if those who signed the statement at the time agree that Dr. Licona affirms inerrancy they must deny the Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics in order to do so. Thus, those agreeing with Dr. Licona who were original signatories on the Statement of Inerrancy must either admit they are denying the Statement on Hermeneutics or they must provide evidence they disagreed with Summitt II, and if no evidence is provided, they must admit they originally signed the document under false pretense.

But we have repeatedly an idea that we must take the text literally, but what does that mean? If we go to 2 Samuel 22, we have a poem no doubt as Rogers recognizes, but it is a poem describing historical events. Is Rogers going to say that that poem is literal? Does Rogers think God hitched up an angel and came flying down shooting arrows at David’s enemies?

What about Exodus 33-34? A normal reading of this passage would tell us that God has a body and that no one can see His face, but Moses was privileged enough to see His back. There is nothing in the text that indicates that the passage is anything other than historical, but is Rogers going to accept that God literally has a body?

In fact, descriptions of John the Baptist start out with quoting Isaiah 40:3. However, what is the next verse?

“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

Does Rogers believe these happened literally? If someone decides that they do not think that the texts are that literal, are they outside of Inerrancy? Do Rogers and Geisler want to say that everyone that is not of a dispensationalist bent, for instance, denies Inerrancy? What of Preterists? Do they deny Inerrancy?

In fact, since Geisler is a dispensationalist, one could ask if it was the case that his eschatology was driving his framing. If so, then there could be reason to take such with a grain of salt. I am not saying that is the case, but it is something we have to be aware of.

The point is that literal is very difficult to understand. There are some Christians that do not take the resurrection in Daniel 12 as literal. There are some that do not see the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as literal. Are we to say that these are denying Inerrancy? If not in any case, where does denial end and affirming begin?

Furthermore, Scripture itself has interpreted Scripture as allegory. Paul sees an allegory between the Judaizers and the Christians in Galatians 4 in the relationship of the children of Hagar and Sarah. If we were to take the statement by the letter, would we have to say that Paul denies Inerrancy?

Perhaps we should instead say “We will seek to interpret Scripture the way that those who were its original audience would understand it.” Of course, this could lead to difficulties for some in the old-earth and young-earth debate as a lot of old-earthers go to the science first and then interpret Genesis in that light saying “Well we know from science that the world is old, so we must interpret these passages differently.” That would be using data however the original audience would not understand. I think the work of people like John Walton however is far more helpful in understanding Genesis as he seeks to use the ancient world to understand the ancient world, much the way Licona uses the first century world to understand the first century world.

And this brings us again to extra-biblical literature. It seems that Rogers has an allergy with the idea of something extra-biblical, but yet does not seem to hesitate to go to ICBI, which is also extra-biblical, and apparently as well Nicea, which is extra-biblical.

I can understand why someone would do that. I do not deny the Bible is above other works of literature and for the NT, it ranks par excellence above other 1st century works, but let us understand this about the NT. IT IS A FIRST CENTURY WORK! It was written in a culture that 1st century people lived in and understood. If not the 1st century Mediterranean culture, which culture should be the one who’s “normal” reading is seen as the best? Why 21st century America? Why not 12th century Japan or 5th century Germany? Why is it our time and place that seems to get priority?

It does seem to some to place the Bible on a higher place by saying it is to have no contact with the world outside of it and it can be understood without any other aids. Well in some ways yes. Someone can pick up the Bible and get the message of salvation. However, if one wants to be proficient in the book, then one needs to study the world of the NT. In fact, to say one need not study to really understand the Bible is a position of arrogance. It is making oneself a pope and saying “All I need is me and the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will tell me all I need to know.” That is not the role of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit does not encourage laziness. I do not say Pastor Rogers does this. I merely say I hope he doesn’t. If he doesn’t however, he should have no problem with what I’ve said in this paragraph. In fact, if he thinks all one needs is the Bible, then he’d best tell his congregation to go home. Why fill their minds with the ideas of what Rogers thinks the text means? They don’t need that. They have all they need in Scripture.

It is also a safeguard of the Bible that I don’t think works. I have no problem putting the Bible up against other pagan works since I believe it will win out in the end. In fact, the early church fathers did this. They agreed that Plato and Aristotle taught a lot of great wisdom on how to live, as they did. I agree with Lewis that losing what I have learned from those two would be equal to losing a limb. However, they also said “But those guys were grasping in the dark compared to Jesus.”

The person who believes the Bible should be open to letting the Bible be investigated with everything the skeptic has. Bring on your objections and let us answer them!

Note also what else Rogers says:

This was a well thought out doctrinal statement and the framers of the statement knew somewhere in the future these statements would be challenged. The framers were already dealing with moderates and liberals who were using, as Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “the same words but different dictionaries.”

Note that Rogers here is poisoning the well by using moderates and liberals as if Licona and his supporters are in that camp. The reality is we despise liberal approaches to Scripture. That does not mean we don’t learn anything from liberals, but it does mean that their system does not work. We stand for true and orthodox doctrine and we don’t discount something just because it’s miraculous. I’ve heard Licona publicly defend modern-day miracles. He has no problem with them. There is nothing moderate or liberal whatsoever in Licona. These are words that are tossed out however in order to automatically impugn the other side. (Note that this is done while referring to us as “brother” also.)

In closing, what Rogers needs to have again is actual dialogue, but it does not seem likely based on what I am seeing in the way he responds to comments and elsewhere on the blogosphere. As I have said earlier, I fear that Rogers’s idea of how to handle debate is simply the use of the big stick of authority. As an atheist once said “Better to debate a question without settling it, than to settle a question without debating it.”

We shall continue next time.