Book Plunge: Born Divine

What do I think of Robert Miller’s book published by Polebridge Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Miller’s book is a book looking at the birth narratives with an emphasis on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm). It reminds me of what I read in Richard Shenk’s book on the topic that the virgin birth is really a shibboleth. If you want to know someone’s ultimate worldview and how they see Jesus, this is one question to ask. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Larry King was once on David Letterman’s show and asked if he could interview one person past or present who would it be. He immediately answered Jesus Christ. When asked what he would ask he said, “I would ask if He was born of a virgin. For me, the answer would explain all of history.”

So it is in Miller’s book. I certainly agree that most people don’t approach the doctrine of the virgin birth apart from all the others. It is more based on other doctrines. I hold to the resurrection, for instance, and with that, the virgin birth naturally follows. The resurrection shows that Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God and fully God and fully man are true and if so, then the account of the virgin birth fits.

Miller does speak often about how a miracle needs to be public, but I think that misses the point of the virgin birth. The virgin birth was not done as a public sign I think just so much as it was done so that Jesus could not be at all an adopted Son of God. He really is a unique human being with both natures fully in Him. I do not agree either with early church theologians who said it was done this way because sex is something fallen and Jesus didn’t need to come about through that.

Sometimes, Miller gives criticisms of the birth narratives that strike me as weak. Consider that there is often a repeated claim that the angel tells Joseph to return the boy to Israel from Egypt because those who were seeking His life are dead. Miller will tell us there were no those. There was only Herod. I don’t find this convincing at all since when Herod says he wants the child dead, I have no reason to think Herod himself went all around Bethlehem looking for boys and murdering them. Those would refer to soldiers of Herod that were sent to do the job.

Miller also speaks some about how Matthew interpreted prophecy. He gives about a paragraph to how Qumran did the same, but this strikes me as highly insufficient. Why is there no interaction with Jewish exegesis at the time? Why not reference the work of Longenecker that has been done on this topic?

By the way, that brings me to another concern I had. Miller’s bibliography is written on just two pages. I see this as the sound of one hand clapping. Why not look and see what someone like Keener or Witherington has to say in response to some claims? Sure, those two could be wrong, but isn’t it best to interact with them?

Consider as an example his look at the slaughter of the infants. Why should we not consider it? Miller tells us the story can’t stand apart from Matthew’s writing. Since the magi and the star are fictions, so is the slaughter. Also, Jesus would have to be born in Bethlehem, which he was most certainly not. Finally, the story fits perfectly with Jesus being the new Moses.

I find this as somewhat circular. If you don’t see the accounts as historical, they are not historical. Miller does look at the accounts of the magi, but I think there is a lot lacking. Who are they? Where did they come from? These are questions that needed more. I find it odd that when the narratives disagree, there is a problem, but when they agree, such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem, there is still a problem. As for Jesus being the new Moses, if you are a believer in God who is working behind the scenes, this really isn’t a problem.

There is something on history and miracles. He quotes N.T. Wright who talks about people who come with a high view of a closed continuum and everything being in the system so there can be no outside interference. Wright rightly says that this is something we cannot know ahead of time and gives the impression of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs and looking down on the elephant.

Miller says that this sounds open-minded, but it is intending to belittle people with the opposite view and make them look foolish. I find this amusing since this is exactly what is often said about those of us who believe in miracles. I also think Wright is correct. This attitude is right there in many scholars who assume that miracles can’t happen.

Miller replies to this saying that if we want to go the route of openmindedness and say Jesus had no human father, you must be open also to Plato, Pythagoras, Augustus, and others. Why yes indeed! As historians, we must be open! Let’s compare the evidence for them to the evidence for Jesus and see who comes out better!

Miller says we don’t believe in those stories because we don’t believe in those gods anymore, but too many Christians will say their God is real so the story is real. The question I have to ask here is why do we not believe in those gods? We don’t believe in them because they were more glorified superhumans. One God is overall a far better explanation and many of us have arguments that lead us to believe that there is one God, such as the Thomistic arguments that I prefer, though we could happily say that demons could take on the guise of any Greek or Roman god.

Miller also says that belief your God is real is religious and not historical. Sure, but my belief is not outside of history as it is my belief that this God acted in history and that cannot be ruled out at the outset. There is an attempt to compare this to the Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross based on the Qur’an. I would ask in reply to see what non-Muslim scholars will grant is true in the Qur’an and compare that to non-Christian scholars on the New Testament.

One good benefit of Miller’s book that will be fascinating is that he lists several birth narratives in other works about Jesus outside the New Testament, such as infancy Gospels. These were very interesting to read, but at the same time it is quite astounding to realize how many people treated them as historical in church history.

Overall, I am unpersuaded by the counterarguments. I still hold that Jesus was truly born divine based on the evidence of the New Testament. Rest assured all that I still affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheism On Trial

What do I think of Louis Markos’s book published by Harvest House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Markos’s book is an interesting read. He writes as a philosopher with a pastor’s heart. He clearly has a great love for many of the literary classics that have been shaping our culture. This work is a look at how many of those from the past dealt with the atheism that we see today. It’s nothing new. It has already been answered every time. There may be some different arguments, but many of them have the same kind of presuppositions.

The pastoral side of the work is that Markos wants to take us beyond just the God of the Philosophers. I do think that the arguments of classical theism that get you to the God of the Philosophers are just fine. I try to establish classical theism before I establish Christian theism. Still, there is something unique about Christian theism.

Markos rightly points out the importance of miracles for a Christian worldview and finds arguments against them wanting. He also has a section on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I find this to be an important distinction to make because too many of us don’t know the point of those ideas. Many people today might not have even heard of that saying.

There are also responses to such things as the problem of pain. This really came about in the Enlightenment time and one of the chief events talked about in Voltaire’s Candide is the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal that murdered a large number of people. Evil is probably the most understandable argument against theism, but logically, it no longer works. It can still be used as an emotional or existential argument.

If there were some things I would change, one is that Markos decided to not have notes in order to make things friendly for the layman, but instead included a brief summation of each chapter in the back of the book that did include where to find the information. I would have preferred the notes. Notes have not been a problem in books for laymen. Consider the Case books by Lee Strobel for example. They have been filled with notes and yet they are incredibly reader-friendly.

I also notice that Markos really likes his Plato and so he has a lot to say about empiricism. I do not think empiricism was properly defined since I consider myself a classical empiricist in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. I do realize that there are many who are atheists who consider themselves empiricists, but empiricism does not rule out the immaterial realm at all. (Note that I do not say supernatural realm as I don’t use that term.)

Markos also has arguments against evolution. As a Thomist again, I have no problem with evolution and as a non-scientist, I tend to stay out of it. I would not be bothered at all if I found irrefutable proof that evolution is true nor would I if I found the same that it is false. It does not affect my arguments for theism or my understanding of Genesis one iota.

I still do think that this will be an enjoyable read for many people. Atheism has been with us longer than we realize and in every age, it has been refuted. There is nothing new under the sun.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why God Is Not The Definition

If we say that God’s nature is good or love, what do we mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday on Facebook, I saw a friend of mine post a poem that was saying what love is not, and for the most part, I agreed with it. It ended with the poet saying that God’s nature is love. If you want to know what love is, look to God. That is where I begin to have disagreements.

If you wanted to say that God is the one who acts out what love is, then that is one thing, but too often when we have conversations about goodness and love, we just refer to God’s nature. What is the good? The good is God’s nature. I agree that God’s nature is to be good, but there is a problem with this approach.

You see, when we speak of this, first off, we normally mean only moral goodness, but there are other types of goodness. If my wife fixes a pizza for us for dinner and I say “My, this is a good pizza.” I am not saying anything about morality there. I am saying something about the quality of the pizza. If I read a book, I can say that it is a good book, but I am not saying it is a moral book.

If I am someone who does not know what good is, how does pointing me to God tell me what it is? What am I to think of that? This is a godlike book? This is a godlike pizza? If I do not know the nature of God, how am I going to know the nature of goodness by pointing to something that I don’t know?

Many atheists also tie this in with the Euthyphro dilemma. The Liconas and Habermases regularly get together for Labor Day, so while over there yesterday, Gary and I watched Mike debate Larry Shapiro and it was quite frankly a massacre. Shapiro just did not know the subject matter at hand well enough.

In the talk, he presented the dilemma. Is something good because God says it is or does God say it is good because it is good? He said that no one had ever answered this question. Of course, this problem could be turned back onto whatever Shapiro thinks is good. Does society say something is good because it is, or is something good because society says it is?

Sadly, Shapiro doesn’t realize that Plato’s own student Aristotle answered the dilemma. He did it in a simple way. He defined goodness. That’s what we need to do. Aristotle started it simply by saying the good is that at which all things aim. There’s much more to it, but it is a definition.

That is the proper way to answer the dilemma also. Tell what love is. Tell what goodness is. Pointing to God does nothing to those who don’t know God and even if you do, it doesn’t help. After all, how does knowing God’s nature tell you what is meant by a good pizza?

We should all strive to know God’s nature, but let’s also make sure we’re conveying an accurate message. While I agree goodness and love can’t exist without God, one doesn’t need to know God to know what those are. We find out what they are and then that helps us understand God better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Last Superstition

What do I think of this book by Edward Feser? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TheLastSuperstition

As I finished this book, I must say I was disappointed.

I was thoroughly disappointed since I knew that when I went on Amazon I could only give it five stars. Just five! If only I could have somehow doubled that number!

Now that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Feser says. I don’t think he would even want me to after just a read of his book, but I do think he argues his case very well and quite humorously. As a Protestant Thomist, there are differences, but with much of his philosophy and metaphysics I am right there on his side.

Feser is quite angry in this volume, and he has all right to be. The new atheists are a symptom of the way that our thinking is going downhill. It is not because we are becoming more scientific. No no no. That is all well and good. There is no problem with that. It is because we are becoming more and more anti-philosophical.

This despite the fact that there are some philosophers amongst the new atheists. Yet when they do any philosophy, the results are atrocious. It would have been interesting to see what Feser would have written had “The Grand Design” come out already and there had been a response to Hawking saying “Philosophy is dead.”

With this anti-philosophical bias coming in, we are rapidly losing our ability to think well and becoming a more and more immoral people. Feser also ties this in with the cultural acceptance of redefining marriage and also about how he considers abortion one of the most wicked of all evils.

Feser also brings in some strong polemics to this. Why? He is responding to the new atheists with what they have been dishing out and it adds a nice punch to the work. It’s hard to not be amused when you read that Richard Dawkins would not know metaphysics from Metamucil or that Daniel Dennett should have realized that anyone walking around saying “I’m a bright!” looks like an idiot. Also noteworthy is being told that the sophists are still with us today except they’re called lawyers, professors of literary criticism, and Michael Moore.

Surprising to most atheists will be the bare interaction with Scripture or church tradition that Feser has. The only place I recall Scripture being used is in a section talking about the resurrection. This is really the only place in the book that emphasizes Christ as well. Why is there so little mention of Christ and Scripture? Because Feser is showing that if all you have is just the tools of reason, you still have more than enough reason to hold to the existence of God and deal with the new atheism. It could be that Christianity is false and the new atheists are still wrong after all.

Readers of this book will also see a sustained argument that gives you a brief history of philosophy and why people like Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas matter. Feser throughout the work shows that the arguments of the new atheism do not hold water and also lack explanatory scope.

Feser also argues that the teleology that Aristotle says exists in reality is inescapable and the more we deny it, the more and more absurd that we become, including describing a couple known as the Churchlands. This is a pair of philosophers who are husband and wife and wish to speak of us as material beings entirely and I mean entirely.

““She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/02/12/two-heads

Feser does point out that as the article says, the Churchlands claim to have shared a lot of Oxytocin over the years, yet I’m guessing this is a claim that doesn’t exactly scream romance. Although, it is humorous to imagine being in a singles bar and going up to a lady and saying “Hey babe. How would you like to have a little Oxytocin tonight?

Feser says that this will be the end result of the thinking of the new atheists. In the end, we will lose morality, we will lose free-will, and in fact, we will lose science itself.

If the new atheists have been looking for a powerful opponent, they have found one in Feser and one who can roll with the punches just as good as they do, if not better. Feser’s sharp wit and powerful argumentation provide a powerful counter to the new atheist movement.

If you want to read the best response I have seen to the new atheists, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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