Sunday, January 17, 2010

What not to tell a young inquirer about the evidences of the Christian faith

This post by Professor (of a named chair at Princeton) George Hunsinger was recently drawn to my attention by a friend. It is Hunsinger's answer to a letter--either a real letter or an imaginary letter, he does not say, though I suspect it's real--from a young person inquiring about the reliability of the Gospels. Evidently Hunsinger's correspondent is inclined to disbelieve Christianity because he does not think the Gospels are reliable. Hunsinger gives only a couple of quotations from the inquiring letter, because the inquiring letter is just a launching point for Hunsinger's own (dreadful) views about evidence, faith, and Christianity.

To be fair, Hunsinger gives a somewhat grudging tip of the hat to some good books, including several I have recommended myself--Bauckham, Bruce, and N.T. Wright. (See my post here where I mention several of these.) In a sense, he recommends them to his correspondent. But his treatment of them is extremely tentative, and he repeatedly issues caveats to the effect that they overstate their case, that the reader shouldn't think from his recommending the books that evidence is really what it's all about, and so forth.

Hunsinger's statements about the strength of the historical evidence are strangely contradictory, leaving the reader with the impression that Hunsinger doesn't think much of the evidence, even though in one place he says that there is a "strong case." If the post really was written originally as a letter to a real person, I cannot understand why Hunsinger did not read it over, even once, after writing it and say to himself, "He's gonna wonder what in the world I'm even saying." Viz.:
I think the Christian faith has to meet a minimal standard, but only a minimal standard.
In the end I think the historical evidence remains ambiguous and inconclusive, taken as a whole. There is not a lot of data to go on, which allows the evidence to be read either positively or negatively. Positively, certain lines of plausibility can be established for the "factual" claims of the gospel on historical grounds, but negatively, on the other hand, these lines of reasoning are always open to challenge and doubt. There is, again, not enough evidence to work with one way or the other that would allow us to come to unshakable historical conclusions.
Nevertheless, a strong historical case can indeed be made in favor of Christ's resurrection, for example, but not one that I think is beyond "reasonable" doubt. Reason, in any case, reaches its categorical limit here.
In his very intriguing book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2008, 540 pp.), Bauckham makes a strong case for the general reliability of the gospels. I don't think the case is as iron-clad as he does, but I do regard it as impressive. Bauckham presents a very strong and learned argument that, contrary to much modern scholarship, the gospels did not arise very long after the fact.
The point is rather that the historical claims of the gospel are susceptible to a respectable defense.
A more popular but still scholarly work would be Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (2008) by Craig A. Evans (290 pp.). I again have the same kinds of reservations. In other words, I don't reject his arguments out of hand but I take them with a grain of salt. [ME: Does he even know what the idiom "take something with a grain of salt" means?] They are impressive but inconclusive, though they show why the minimal standard that I set forth earlier has actually been met, and more than met.
It is finally not we who read the NT, but the NT that reads us. It calls us and our detached role as would-be authoritative, evidence-weighing spectators radically into question.
(Clarification: The above paragraphs are all separate block quotations, not a single long quotation. They do not come immediately after one another in Hunsinger's piece.)

What a mish-mash. It's pretty safe to say, though (and if you have any doubt, I encourage you to read the entire post), that Hunsinger doesn't think all that much of the strength of the historical evidence for Christianity.

Moreover, it's safe to say that he thinks that's a good thing. Because it's when he gets up on his semi-Barthian high horse that Hunsinger really gets going and that we really find out where he's coming from. In brief, he likes what he takes to be the "inconclusive" and "ambiguous" nature of the historical evidence for Christianity, because the weakness of the case makes it possible for us to take a leap of faith, and that's really, in his view, what it's all about. For example,
The Christian faith is far more a matter of radical conversion than it is of rational persuasion. The claim that a marginal Jew who was put to death on a cross should have been raised from the dead so that he now reigns as Lord and Savior is never going to be plausible to rational or evidential considerations. It is always going to be foolishness...
The NT cannot be read intelligently unless it is read as a spiritual book, as opposed to a merely historical document. The truth to which it bears witness necessarily transcends every ordinary rational mode of perception. Unless the doors of perception are opened, and we begin thinking in a whole new framework, it will never make any sense.
This is all standard modernist fare, and God knows, it's been around poisoning seminaries, Protestant and Catholic alike, for far too long. But I ask you to think: When we say this sort of thing to our young people, I will tell you what we are saying to them. "The God I believe in asks of you that you show yourself truly abject by being willing to give up normal standards of evidence, being willing to believe the claims of Christianity on evidence that is not really all that good, evidence that is shaky and questionable. He asks, to at least some extent, that you check your mind at the door. That's a really radical commitment, and it's what God glories in and hence what we Christians glory in." Which is a recipe for driving away every thinking person who hears you.

A centerpiece of Hunsinger's position is the downplaying of the historical nature of the Gospels. For example,
What I am trying to suggest is that everything finally depends on what kind of documents the gospels and other NT writings are. They are not really historical reports. They do not fall into the category of report but rather into the category of witness. They all present themselves, in various ways, as witnesses to the Risen Christ. The picture of Jesus in the gospels, for example, represents an overlay of the Risen Christ upon the "historical" Jesus, because the point is that the historical Jesus and the Risen Christ are finally one and the same.
This is weaseling. Hunsinger carefully doesn't actually say that the Gospel writers inserted accounts of things that didn't really happen, in the prosaic sense of, you know, really happening, in order to show us the Risen Christ (note the heavy capital letter on "risen"). He doesn't, in fact, make himself very clear at all. What the dickens does it even mean to say that "the picture of Jesus in the gospels, for example, represents an overlay of the Risen Christ upon the 'historical' Jesus"? Why the quotation marks around the word 'historical'? Why, for that matter, does he put quotation marks around the word 'factual' in one of the quotations I gave above? What does this stuff about the capital-R Risen Christ have to do with the claim that the Gospels aren't really historical? That claim is, in any event, absolute balderdash, and dangerous balderdash at that. The Gospels most certainly are historical in genre, that specific sub-genre known as memoirs. They focus, to be sure, on a particular person. They are not meant to be chronicles of the general events of their time. But they are, indeed, meant to be reports of things that really happened in that boring, prosaic sense to which Hunsinger seems to have an allergy.

In contrast to Hunsinger's piece, and to show you by contrast just what feeble, confusing, and unsatisfactory fare Hunsinger is offering, I present you with two far more manly pieces of prose. The first is from C. S. Lewis, precisely on the question of whether the Gospels are historical reports (which Hunsinger expressly denies) or instead are "spiritual."
In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the Book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress’. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass–Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable en de nux (xiii, 30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage–though it may no doubt contain errors–pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.

C. S. Lewis
, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 154-55.
The other, older still (mid-1800's) is Simon Greenleaf:
All that Christianity asks of men on this subject, is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth. In the course of such an examination, the undesigned coincidences will multiply upon us at every step in our progress; the probability of the veracity of the witnesses and of the reality of the occurrences which they relate will increase, until it acquires, for all practical purposes, the value and force of demonstration.

Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists
What is really radical--in the sense of being countercultural and shocking to many--is an evidentialism like Greenleaf's that insists that the Gospels not be treated with kid gloves. No contrast could be greater than that between Greenleaf's challenge to men to be "consistent with themselves" when they read and judge the Gospels and to judge them as they would judge the "evidences of other things" and Hunsinger's attempt prophylactically to ward off judgement from the NT by telling us that it "calls us and our detached role as would-be authoritative, evidence-weighing spectators radically into question," that it "transcends every ordinary rational mode of perception," that the claims of Christianity are "never going to be plausible to rational or evidential considerations." Whence comes the great difference between these writers? It comes from the fact that Greenleaf, unlike Hunsinger, has confidence in the historicity of the Gospels and therefore in their ability to bear such scrutiny. It comes, in short, from the fact that Hunsinger represents a theological establishment that has lost its nerve.

No less than a rigid fundamentalist who would be terribly shaken if he discovered the world to be more than 6,000 years old, Hunsinger wants the Bible to be protected from the possible buffeting of unyielding facts by being shut up in a locked box marked "Faith." The rigid fundamentalist locks up the Bible (and his interpretation of it) to protect it from possible refutation by not allowing its interpretation to be influenced in any respect by facts discovered independently. The fuzzy-headed modernist theologian locks the Bible up to keep it safe from refutation by insisting that it isn't really historical at all. Each of these asks for a double standard in his own favor, because he is not really confident that these sacred texts can meet the challenge of being treated like ordinary documents.

The reality (surprising to some) in New Testament studies is that the Christian can only benefit from a "no double standard" approach, for it is the secularists who prefer to remain ignorant of the normal standards of historiography and to treat the Gospels as unreliable if, for example, they do not coincide with one another in every detail (though of course if they did so coincide, the secularists would be the first to point out the evidence of entire collusion and copying).

As a bonus, here is Thomas Chalmers on the historicity of the Gospels. His point is that the evangelists were not afraid to submit their account to historical judgement, precisely because their story was historically true.

Had the evangelists been false historians, they would not have committed themselves upon so many particulars. They would not have furnished the vigilant inquirers of that period with such an effectual instrument for bringing them into discredit with the people; nor foolishly supplied, in every page of their narrative, so many materials for a cross-examination, which would infallibly have disgraced them.

Now, we of this age can institute the same cross-examination. We can compare the evangelical writers with contemporary authors, and verify a number of circumstances in the history, and government, and peculiar economy of the Jewish people. We therefore have it in our power to institute a cross-examination upon the writers of the New Testament; and the freedom and frequency of their allusions to these circumstances supply us with ample materials for it. The fact, that they are borne out in their minute and incidental allusions by the testimony of other historians, gives a strong weight of what has been called circumstantial evidence in their favour. As a specimen of the argument, let us confine our observations to the history of our Saviour’s trial, and execution, and burial. They brought him to Pontius Pilate. We know both from Tacitus and Josephus, that he was at that time governor of Judea. A sentence from him was necesary before they could proceed to the execution of Jesus; and we know that the power of life and death was usually vested in the Roman governor. Our Saviour was treated with derision; and this we know to have been a customary practice at that time, previous to the execution of criminals, and during the time of it. Pilate scourged Jesus before he gave him up to be crucified. We know from ancient authors, that this was a very usual practice among the Romans. The account of an execution generally run in this form: He was stripped, whipped, and beheaded or executed. According to the evangelists, his accusation was written on the top of the cross; and we learn from Suetonius and others, that the crime of the person to be executed was affixed to the instrument of his punishment. According to the evangelist, this accusation was written in three different languages; and we know from Josephus, that it was quite common in Jerusalem to have all public advertisements written in this manner. According to the evangelists, Jesus had to bear his cross; and we know from other resources of information, that this was the constant practice of these times. According to the evangelists, the body of Jesus was given up to be buried at the request of friends. We know that, unless the criminal was infamous, this was the law, or the custom with all Roman governors.

These, and a few more particulars of the same kind, occur within the compass of a single page of the evangelical history.

Thomas Chalmers, The Evidence and Authority of the Christian Revelation, 6th ed. (Andover: Flagg & Gould, 1818), pp. 55-57.

I find that I see so little rip-roaring evidentialism being written these days that quotations like these have something of the invigorating quality of cold water splashed in the face. These men were not afraid of objective evidential judgement. Nor should we be. I encourage all of you who teach or who work in any pastoral capacity: Teach those under your care and influence that the Gospels don't need affirmative action. The Christ of history vs. Christ of faith shtick has run its course, and we will be much, much better off if we leave it behind, permanently.

(Another post that might be of interest is here. Don't forget the post already linked on "Evidential Ammo For the Christian Soldier," here.)

An annotated bibliography with more material, written by Esteemed Husband, is here.

HT to Esteemed Husband, Tim McGrew, for the quotations from Lewis, Greenleaf, and Chalmers and for the links to them.

18 comments:

TomH said...

I smell the stench of fideism in Hunsinger's post. I left Christianity in my teens due to a fideist when I asked him how we know that Christ rose from the dead and the fideist replied, "We just believe it." Fideism is one of the most abominable heresies as it removes all evidential, persuasive power from the gospel, despite the fact that Paul relies heavily on evidences in his statement of the gospel in I Cor. 15:1-11. Take out from Paul's gospel the evidence for Christ's resurrection and his office as messiah and what you have left is the false (due to impotence) fideist gospel.

"The Gospels most certainly are historical in genre, that specific sub-genre known as memoirs."

I think that the non-Lucan gospel accounts are too internally disconnected to serve as memoirs. Rather, I think that they are intended to be viewed as the compilations of bench notes (with the possible exception of Luke) taken from the hearings where the apostles gave their testimony. This view accords with their jewish context, which heavily influenced the epistemology of the early church. The apostles were designated by Christ as his witnesses, and in the 1st century jewish context, this would have had overwhelming legal overtones rather than our current idea of "witnessing" as "telling about our spiritual experiences as Christians."

From Acts 4:33 and 8:25, we have reason to believe that both the early church and the Samaritans questioned the apostles as witnesses in some sort of formal hearing.

We know from Luke that there were many attempts prior to Luke to create accounts about the events of Christ's ministry. These many attempts indicate some discrepancies about details and attempts to reconcile those discrepancies. Why were the details needed? Perhaps because others besides the apostles were doing evangelism and needed to answer questions from inquirers about the details of Christ's ministry.

This leads naturally to speculation about the creation of "Q" documents which the evangelists would have used and which the church would have had to have provided. Of course, these "Q" documents would strongly support the historicity and reliability of the gospel accounts, assuming that the gospel accounts rely heavily upon them, since the "Q" documents would have likely been written within a year of Christ's resurrection while the events were firmly fixed in the apostles' memories. Of course, retelling the events would have served to fix them even more firmly and the early note-taking by hearers that would have occurred would have served to act as a corrective to embellishment later. This doesn't even rely on the influence of the Holy Spirit, which would have served to improve if not guarantee accuracy. I think that we can infer that the accounts are incomplete, as John states about his. Incompletion doesn't harm the accuracy of the incomplete content, however, as far as it goes (pro tanto).

Lydia McGrew said...

Tom, I'm not sure I'm convinced by your intriguing suggestion about bench notes, but it is certainly an interesting one.

I very much appreciate your anecdotal evidence about the dangers of fideism. You are, of course, one of many who have been led away from Christianity in a crisis of faith by receiving unsatisfactory answers. I doubt that Hunsinger's version of "We just believe it" would have helped you much more in your teens! The interesting thing is that fideism is often associated with anti-intellectualism, but there are a number of intellectual versions as well. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that in many a seminary, anti-evidentialism is considered far more intellectual than evidentialism, which is thought naive and un-scholarly.

Tim said...

Tom,

You write:

"I think that the non-Lucan gospel accounts are too internally disconnected to serve as memoirs."

The term "memoirs" (apomnemoneumata) is an old one, being used by Justin Martyr for the gospels in a manner that suggests he expects it to be recognized.

If, as seems likely, John alone accompanied Jesus on most of his journeys down from Galilee to Jerusalem, that fact accounts for quite a bit of the "disconnectedness" you are noticing.

TomH said...

Lydia: "Tom, I'm not sure I'm convinced by your intriguing suggestion about bench notes, but it is certainly an interesting one."

Someone else came up with the idea first. I can't find the reference now. However, as I explained on Prof. Hunsinger's blog, one must take into account the early church's epistemology of phenomena when one reads the New Testament. For example, when we read Matthew 18:16 or similar verses, Luke 7:18-22, Acts 1:3, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:20, and especially I John 1:1-3, we see the Jewish epistemology of phenomena from the Law of Moses being expressed. In John's account, Jesus sometimes takes quite a few unique liberties with the Jewish idea of witnesses which He alone is qualified to do.

Lydia: "The interesting thing is that fideism is often associated with anti-intellectualism, but there are a number of intellectual versions as well."

I'm aware of Gordon Clark. What are the others?

Tim: "The term "memoirs" (apomnemoneumata) is an old one, being used by Justin Martyr for the gospels in a manner that suggests he expects it to be recognized."

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The books quoted by Justin are called by him "Memoirs of the Apostles". This term, otherwise very rare, appears in Justin quite probably as an analogy with the "Memorabilia" of Xenophon (quoted in "II Apol.", xi, 3) and from a desire to accommodate his language to the habits of mind of his readers. At any rate it seems that henceforth the word "gospels" was in current usage; it is in Justin that we find it for the first time used in the plural, "the Apostles in their memoirs that are called gospels" (I Apol., lxvi, 3). " http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08580c.htm

The key in understanding Justin seems to be his intention to accomodate his thoughts to the minds of his greek readers. However, if we are to understand the New Testament, we must understand its underlying epistemology, including its epistemology of phenomena.

真的是唷 said...
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Lydia McGrew said...

Tom, when I spoke of intellectual versions, I was really thinking of Hunsinger's version.

Here's another example. (Whether Hunsinger would agree across the board with this person, I don't know. I hope not.) I read recently an interview with a Catholic theologian named Haught. He spieled this whole "Christ of faith" thing, and when the interviewer asked him outright if you could have taken a picture of Jesus after His resurrection with a camera, Haught said that if you had been there with the disciples you wouldn't have seen anything. (I guess the hypothetical "you" was assumed not to have the requisite eyes of faith.) This is definitely the kind of thing I mean by intellectual versions of fideism.

Avery Dulles has some dreadful things to say in his massive history of apologetics. I'm not sure I want to get them out and re-read them. They were bad enough the first time. He hates evidentialism. Thinks (pretty obviously) it's misguided, un-theological, and naive.

Robert Kunda said...

Wowza. I was tempted to reply over at his blog, but I refrain. I don't know if I can add much that has not already been said. I did enjoy the comment over there saying that his blog post, if turned in as a philosophy 101 essay would have been shredded.

Check your mind at the door is right.

Robert Kunda said...

Actually, I had some more thoughts on this. With his multiple distinctions between 'historical' or 'factual' (spooky scare quotes!) and the spiritual, I'm curious just what he actually believes, were he to speak openly and plainly, emphasis on the latter.

I don't know how parallel their ideas are, but it sounds frightfully similar to position taken by Bishop Spong in his debate vs. Bill Craig on the historicity of the resurrection.

While wanting to take the title of Christian for his own, Spong is on the platform challenging that a historical event happened, or minimally that it could be known at all. Instead he attacks the historical evidence, not simply to make sense of it, but to remove it from the the table of evidence.

Spong then presents a 'resurrection' (intentional scare quotes) that is not just historically ambiguous but one that is not historical at all (as in actually happening) but strictly a 'spiritual' event that, as it seemed to me, to be strictly an event that happens /inside/ the 'believer.'

As the dialogue goes on it becomes unclear if Spong believes at all that either miracles are possible or that a personal God even exists.

Like I said, I don't know how alike Spong or Hunsinger see 'faith,' but even if it's very different, I don't see it unreasonable to think that Hunsinger's take on faith, evidence, history and the whole lot of it cannot, will not and has not led to a generation of Spongs that turn out to think little, if at all on anything grounded in reality.

Lydia McGrew said...

Rob, I have several things I'd love to write in response but time for only one:

I don't think Hunsinger is as far gone (or as far to the left, or whatever term one wants to use) as Spong, but I think all this "spiritual" talk and downplaying of the historicity of the resurrection _definitely_ conduces to sheer infidelity (to use the old-fashioned term). There's an analogue here to what Flannery O'Connor said about Communion, and while I don't entirely agree with her statement about Communion, I'm inclined to borrow her perspective for the resurrection: "If it's just a spiritual resurrection, the hell with it."

Robert Kunda said...

Yeah, my intent wasn't to paint them into the same category, but simply that I can see how the thinking of someone like Hunsinger can produce the thinking in someone like Spong. More likely than not, I'd think though, Hunsinger's thinking would lead people not towards Spong, but away from all of it.

I don't want an emotional, internal resurrection. I want a real resurrection. If it didn't really happen, why in the world should I care?

TomH said...

Lydia,

Thanks for clarifying your statement about fideism. There is a version that says that the Bible is true, but it cannot be justified. Another version says that the Bible isn't true as regards phenomena, but it doesn't matter since it is true as regards meaning. I find both to be detestable.

Hunsinger, it seems, isn't rejecting historical evidence in toto, but only the idea that historical evidence is compelling as regards the resurrection. Hence, Hunsinger isn't a total fideist, though he leans in that direction.

I think that he's right that historians are inadequately skeptical about their historiagraphy, which attacks the resurrection, but I think that he gives too much away--the gospel--since he gives insufficient credit to the evidence of the apostolic witness.

I first thought that Hunsinger was totally wrong, but I now back off from that a little and say that he was only critically wrong. Without compelling evidence, there is no gospel.

Perhaps Hunsinger might have phrased the question as, "What evidence is sufficient for faith and what is sufficient for apologetics?" He also would have needed to address what makes evidence compelling.

I think of a catch-22 argument used by some atheists--that evidence for the resurrection can only be compelling if there are non-Christian witnesses of the resurrection. Of course, if there are non-Christian witnesses of the resurrection, then how can the evidence be compelling? The "compelling non-Christian witnesses" criterion fails since it sets up an impossible condition.

Lydia McGrew said...

TomH, on the non-Christian witnesses, the problem is not solely that it sets up an impossible standard to meet but that it does so without any adequate reason. Since it is probable that anyone who was a witness to the resurrection would become a Christian (as apparently happened to James the brother of Jesus), it is not only highly improbable that one would have non-Christian witnesses to the resurrection but also unreasonable to ask for them. There's no reason to think that because someone took the obvious step of becoming a follower of Christ when convinced of his resurrection he is therefore an unreliable witness to the resurrection. So the skeptics who set up such a standard are just irrationally considering Christians to be unreliable.

This is something one sees among skeptics as well when it comes to general events recorded in the NT. For example, they will seek non-Christian testimony to the life and works of Jesus, specifically, without having any idea of a) how few manuscripts of history we even _have_ from the relevant period and b) how unlikely it would be that a pagan historian would have cared to write about Jesus. That the people who had the most reason to write about him were those who did so (Luke, for example) in no way impugns their reliability.

Of course, I know I'm preaching to a choir, here. I'm just saying more about why the "specific confirmation from non-Christian sources" argument is so poor.

By the way, I would add that the _kind_ of confirmation we could reasonably expect to find from non-Christian historical sources is in fact to be found amply. I'm talking here about small details regarding things like the assignment of the high priesthood by the Romans, names for units of money, the architecture of the fortress of Antonia or the Pool of Bethesda, and so on and so forth. The evidence there is precisely what so overwhelmingly confirms an early date for the documents, particularly when one realizes how much the whole landscape--physical, legal, political, and religious--was changed by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70.

John Farrell said...

Outstanding post, Lydia. I've read Bauckham once but need to read him again.

One of the first books that got me fascinated with the question of dating the Gospels was a slim volume by a French specialist on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jean Carmignac, called The Birth of the Synoptics (1986). He died shortly after his book came out, but he examined the Gospels closely in light of what he had learned from the scrolls and made a strong case that Mark--at least-- was probably written as early as 40.

What I'd like to dig more into though are precisely those other details from non Christian sources you mentioned.

TomH said...

I thought that I'd post my syllogism of the self-refuting atheist argument that I mentioned previously. Perhaps someone will find it helpful.

Atheist Assertion: The argument for the resurrection of Christ can only be compelling if it relies on the testimony of non-Christians.

1. Non-Christian testimony for the resurrection can exist.

2. Only non-Christian witnesses provide non-Christian testimony.

3. Non-Christian testimony for the resurrection is compelling evidence.

4. Compelling evidence for the resurrection causes all non-Christian witnesses to become Christians.

5. Assume that non-Christian testimony for the resurrection exists.

6. From 3 and 5, then compelling evidence for the resurrection exists.

7. From 4 and 6, then all non-Christian witnesses will become Christians.

7a. From 7, then there will be no non-Christian witnesses.

8. From 2 and 7a, then non-Christian testimony for the resurrection cannot exist.

C. 8 contradicts 1.

TomH said...

I think that Hunsinger makes a major mistake in the following assertion:

"The Christian faith is far more a matter of radical conversion than it is of rational persuasion."

In the New Testament, there were very few radical conversions--all of which involved miracles. Have seminaries all of a sudden taken to endorsing miracles as an evangelism technique? I think not, so Hunsinger's point about radical conversions falls flat. Also, in reading Acts, it seems that most conversions involved reasoning with individuals, as exemplified by Paul, who was daily reasoning in the marketplace.

One of my daughters seems to have a gift of evangelism, which manifests in her reasoning with individuals. One of her "converts" is from Germany and is quite enthusiastic about her orthodox (as opposed to modernist) faith, having decided to go into youth ministry in Germany. I expect that the young lady will also reason with young people just like she learned from my daughter.

Just tonight my daughter reasoned with a young man about the gospel and he was overwhelmed and said that he needed to talk about it with his rector. The last part concerns me. Pray for him, please.

Lydia McGrew said...

John, I told my resident expert guy that you said you are interested in those historical details confirming the Gospels, and he said, "Send him to me." I'll send you his e-mail address. He did a two-day seminar for local home schooled high schoolers, and I picked up a lot of this there. I also picked up more of it by reading Blaiklock. I recommend one thing by Blaiklock in my post called "Evidential Ammo for the Christian Soldier" at W4. He was a classicist and a really great writer on the New Testament. He used to shake his head (figuratively speaking) over the New Testament studies "guild" and the way they didn't seem to know how to recognize authentic 1st century history when they saw it.

TomH, I would go so far as to say that a radical conversion by seeing a miracle or seeing overwhelming evidence of a miracle is a kind of rational persuasion. For example, Nicodemus says to Jesus, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man could do these miracles unless God were with him." It's interesting to me to get a feeling for the _coolness_ with which Nicodemus says that. To him this is a matter of reasonable inference. It's an inference a good Jew was supposed to make about whether someone was a prophet or not.

TomH said...

Lydia,

I'm not sure what you mean by "radical conversion." I don't think that any of the disciples were truly Christians until they believed that Jesus is the Christ and that he rose from the dead, which would have occurred after Nicodemus' visit.

The gospel is a message rather than an ostentatious miracle like the healing of a lame man. Even Paul likely didn't comprehend the gospel even when he was struck blind on the road to Damascus until he had heard the gospel. It takes a bit of explanation to present the gospel, which, as Paul wrote, includes the messianic passages from the OT and the evidence of the witnesses concerning Christ's resurrection, along with the message of redemption consisting of the payment of Christ's death for our sins.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, as Hunsinger uses the phrase "radical conversion," he intends it to be in tension with "rational persuasion." Of course I'm not going to adopt that connotation. I meant simply the unobjectionable parts of it which include committing your whole life to Christ, loving and following Him, etc. And my point is simply that if a person came to be a follower of Christ as a result of being convinced that a miracle had happened, on the assumption that there really was strong evidence for the miracle, then the rational persuasion (of the occurrence of the miracle validating Jesus and His teaching) was the occasion of the "radical" conversion, where "radical" just means a complete turnaround of life, a total commitment, willingness to live and die for Christ, etc.