The Tentative Apologist
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Randal Rauser

Randal Rauser is associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada and was granted Taylor's first annual teaching award for Outstanding Service to Students in 2005.

Posted 10/10/11 at 11:13 AM | Randal Rauser

Worldviews: A Conversation with Barry

I have enjoyed having a convesation with Barry Bowen about the concept of worldview. Unfortunately extended comments in the threads at the Christian Post are very hard to follow since paragraph breaks are not allowed and thus everything gets mashed together. So I have reproduced my response to Barry here: 

Barry: "if Christian convictions cannot contradict scripture, then there shouldn't be anything wrong with using the term "biblical worldview" because then the Bible is our standard for right and wrong."

Randal: "I don't understand your reasoning here. The second part of your statement doesn't follow logically from the first part. Your statement that the Bible is our standard for right and wrong is actually falsified by the Bible itself. Read what Paul says about natural law in Romans 1 and 2 for example. And read how he engages the Athenians in Acts 17. He actually affirms the wisdom of the Stoics by quoting from Epimenides and Aratus."

Barry: "germ theory of disease and plate tectonics have nothing to do with morality, do they?"

Randal: "No, they don't. But scientific theories form part of our worldview and we don't know them from the Bible." FULL POST

Posted 10/9/11 at 12:46 PM | Randal Rauser |

1 comment

The problem of irrelevant comments explained

In my last article, "Commenting on the Tentative Apologist" I explained that I will be deleting two types of comments: those that are ad hominem attacks on my person and those that are non sequiturs. In this article I am going to explain further what a non sequitur is by using a recent example.

In my article "Why Christians shouldn't seek a biblical worldview" I explained why Christians ought not talk about having a "biblical worldview". Instead, they should aspire to have a Christian worldview or a worldview consistent with Christian convictions. I gave several reasons for this. To begin with, the very concept of "biblical worldview" is inherently indeterminate since there are many worldviews represented in scripture. A worldview is a set of presuppositions about the nature of reality, including one's understanding of science and natural history, theology and ethics. And the worldviews of Abraham, Moses, David and Paul were all different in critical respects. Abraham, for example, was a monolatrist (he worshipped one god whilst recognizing the existence of other ancient near eastern gods). It is not until the book of Isaiah (more specifically Deutero-Isaiah) that we find Hebrew prophets clearly siding with monotheism. (Christians analyze this doctrinal development in the terms of progressive revelation.) Paul was not only a monotheist but, it would appear, a proto-trinitarian. So if we focus on theological beliefs alone we find various incompatible sets of beliefs or worldviews among the writers of and characters in the Bible. Which of these should we hold? FULL POST

Posted 10/9/11 at 2:42 AM | Randal Rauser |

6 comments

Commenting on The Tentative Apologist

There has been some discussion recently at The Christian Post blogs about the ongoing problem of decorum. A good example of the problem is found in the comments at my blog from individuals who choose not to engage the topics and arguments of my articles but rather to post non sequiturs and ad hominems.

 For example, in my recent article "Does God punish people through natural disasters?" I raised the problem of natural evil, and in particular the biblical passages that God punishes individuals -- including infants -- for the sins of others. I raised this issue against the backdrop of Pat Robertson's claim that God punished Haiti through its 2010 earthquake.

A number of commenters simply ignored the argument of the article and the theological and philosophical issues raised by the article and instead attacked me personally. For instance, a commenter who hides behind the moniker "lpepperw" wrote as follows:

not surprising that Rauser would jump on the favorite anti-Christian bandwagon, the Pat Robertson express. Thankfully their are groups like Samaritans Purse, Hands and Feet Project and many others who are in places like Haiti, ministering to the needs, not playing to the atheist crowd, Rausers comfort zone. FULL POST

Posted 10/8/11 at 1:43 PM | Randal Rauser |

2 comments

Why Christians shouldn’t seek a “biblical worldview”

Yesterday morning I set out to deliver two workshop sessions at a Christian conference in another city. It was a round-trip journey that would have taken months by wagon. But such are the wonders of modern technology that I flew out in the morning and arrived home again late last night. Over the years I have spoken at many conferences of this type – for non-academic Christian professionals — and I continue to see the same themes present in the plenary speaker and many of the sessions. In the next two posts I'll focus on two of those themes: "biblical worldview" and "truth".We begin in this installment by critiquing the perennial call to have a "biblical worldview". This is hugely problematic for many reasons.

For starters, the very meaning of the term "biblical worldview" is vague if not vacuous. What, in short, is it supposed to mean to have a biblical worldview? Abraham, Moses, David, and Paul all were from radically different cultural contexts, with different understandings of the workings of the natural world (what we can call ancient science) and of history and definitely of theology. Just consider, for example, Paul's radically different understanding of "Messiah" from that of the first three individuals mentioned. So what does it even mean to adopt a "biblical worldview"? Does that mean Paul's worldview? And what about the fact that there famously seems to be tension between Paul and James, a tension that can be seen in Galatians 1-2 or a reading of the letter of James contrasted with those of Paul (assuming, of course, no pseudopigraphic authorship)? There is ample evidence that there was not unanimity in the early church on various matters like Torah and temple, so with whom do we side in those matters? FULL POST

Posted 10/5/11 at 10:48 PM | Randal Rauser |

3 comments

Does God punish people through natural disasters?

By some counts more than three hundred thousand people were killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while an additional three hundred thousand were injured and one million rendered homeless. The scale of human suffering is truly unimaginable.

And then, even as people were still struggling for their next breath while buried in ten tonnes of concrete, along came the post hoc prophets making things worse by volunteering their opinion as to the workings of God's mysterious will. Chief among them was Pat Robertson who declared the unthinkable: the earthquake was in part the fault of the Haitian people.

And he didn't mean simply that legislators with their inept building codes and corrupt contractors with their shoddy workmanship carried some of the blame. That's a no-brainer.

On the contrary, Robertson's claim was that seismic plates rammed against one another, buckling, melting and shaking the earth, because of the actions of human beings walking around hundreds of feet above on the surface. FULL POST

Posted 10/5/11 at 9:07 AM | Randal Rauser

Quote others the way you would have them quote you

Martin Luther is a darling of the internet infidel community not least because he provided many quotable tidbits which can be invoked at will to marginalize Christians as being "irrational" or "anti-reason".

Take the case of Jag. In reference to the claim that faith is opposed to reason he noted "Martin Luther would have strenuously agreed." When I pointed out that Luther's rhetorical sweeps against "reason" should be read in historical context as attacks on late medieval scholasticism, Jag responded like this:

"Interesting. So when Luther wrote: "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God." and "Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God." and "There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason... " and "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians." and "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason." and "Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets." and so forth, what you're saying is, in its proper context, all those should be understood as merely an academic 'critique' of scholarly methods. I'm not saying you're wrong, but surely even you can see how Luther's words and tone rather lend themselves to a distinctly different impression." FULL POST

Posted 10/4/11 at 12:55 AM | Randal Rauser

What was in Jesus’ hand? Lessons on why you can’t take the Bible literally word for word

According to a 2007 Gallup survey "About one-third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word."

Now let's think about this. Would you please open your Bibles to Revelation 1:14-16:

*ahem*

"His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword."

"This is the word of the Lord"

"Thanks be to God."

But wait. Is it the literal word of the Lord? Did Jesus really have a shock of white hair, seven stars in his hand, and a sword protruding from his mouth? FULL POST

Posted 10/3/11 at 12:04 PM | Randal Rauser

A jerk before Jesus becomes a jerk for Jesus

The story behind "Machine Gun Preacher" is made for Hollywood. The film tells the (true) story of Sam Childers, a biker who becomes a Christian and then is deeply moved when he hears a missionary describe the plight of Sudanese orphans. So moved is he that he leaves his family, flies to Sudan, gets a gun, and begins defending those orphans.

There is something deeply satisfying about this basic premise. Whenever we hear of horrible stories like the plight of Sudanese orphans there is something in all of us that would like to grab a gun and start firing at the bad guys (or at least grab a lead pipe and start swinging). Nonetheless, after the initial crescendo of emotion subsides we are led to more reasonable and constructive solutions such as placing pressure on political leaders and foreign governments, letter writing campaigns, support for worthy NGOs, et cetera.

Sometimes.

But more often when that initial moral rage subsides it is replaced by apathy. We shake our head in dismay in what must surely be the most minimal display of solidarity possible, and then begin flipping the channels again. I am reminded here of the unforgettable scene in "Hotel Rwanda" where hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) thanks a film crew for capturing footage of the unfolding genocide. Now, he thinks, the world will listen. But the stoic journalist knows better: " I think if people see this footage, they'll say Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners." FULL POST

Posted 9/30/11 at 12:49 PM | Randal Rauser

Should you marry your theology to the latest science?

I've been slowly reading through Michael Shermer's How We Believe in my spare time. It is a pleasant enough read, but has many noticeable weaknesses. Perhaps the biggest weakness is that Shermer is an advocate of the separation or two worlds model of theology and science (what Stephen Jay Gould called the "NOMA" or non-overlapping magisteria approach). This is a dogmatic claim that religion and theology deal with "faith" and science with "fact". (The dogmatism of Shermer's stance shines through when, for example, he recalls a debate on the existence of God he had with Doug Geivett in which Geivett presented a number of arguments for God's existence. Shermer recounts that he wouldn't even engage the arguments because religion is about faith, not reason. In terms of lameness that rivals theologian Robert Webber who came to a similar debate but refused to do anything more than share his testimony.)

Shermer tries to make his view appealing to the theologian by claiming that it will lead to the long term health of theology, comfortably isolated from the world:

"the separate-worlds model is also better for religion because science is constantly changing and thus it is dangerous to attach religious doctrines to scientific theories, which may go out of date in a matter of years." (How We Believe, 134-5) FULL POST

Posted 9/29/11 at 12:09 PM | Randal Rauser |

1 comment

Is the church supposed to be “a place for you”?

In the late 1970s a young preacher named Rick Warren started going door to door asking people why they didn't attend church. He then took that data and used it as a basis to start his church. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I'm sure you could learn a lot of value from an exercise like that. "The greeter didn't look at me when he shook my hand." "The pastor always seemed angry." "There was inadequate security in the Sunday school drop off." Information that could hopefully lead to quick change.

The significance of other comments would be a bit more ambiguous. "The sermons were too long." "I don't like the offering getting taken up every Sunday." "I like more hymns." Perhaps these concerns could be addressed. But then again, maybe things are just the way they should be.

And then there are comments like these: "I want a more 'upbeat' service." "I want a 'traditional' service." "I want a service tailored to me and my tastes." How far are we supposed to go in meeting the market demands of the potential church community? FULL POST

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