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October 2019 Archives

October 12, 2019

Getting Dr. Geisler right

Dr. Norman L. Geisler was one of the foremost defenders of the doctrine of inerrancy in the 20th and early 21st centuries. A tireless and prolific author, he was also an advocate of a rapprochement between evangelicalism and Thomistic philosophy. He passed away just this summer, on July 1, 2019.

One of the things that Dr. Geisler was known for in the years before his death was his set of serious objections to the literary device theories and genre criticism of evangelical apologist and scholar Michael Licona. Geisler held that Licona's views were incompatible with any doctrine of inerrancy worth the name and was alarmed by the redefinition of the term in a way that he believed rendered it meaningless. He wrote many articles on the subject and in fact got a bit of a name for himself as (allegedly) a witch hunter with a personal vendetta--a reputation that he (not surprisingly) disputed.

On Friday, October 11, Southern Evangelical Seminary hosted a dialogue between Michael Licona and Richard Howe (the latter being what one might call an old-fashioned inerrantist) on the question of what constitutes inerrancy. The video is available here. I make no claim whatsoever to have watched all of it, or even close.

At one point (about 23 minutes in), my name comes up in Dr. Licona's presentation, with a bit of snark about my not being an inerrantist--as, indeed, I am not and have made no secret of not being. Interestingly, this fact seems not to bother the inerrantist hard-liners nearly as much as it seems to bother Dr. Licona. The reference to my alleged "flat-footed literalism" is an unfortunately typical bit of rhetoric in lieu of answering my arguments. I've argued that Licona is wrong about the existence and the evangelists' use of fact-changing literary devices. Some of these arguments have existed for well over a year and a half in blog post form, but as a matter of public record, Licona refuses to engage with them. But I don't intend to talk about Licona's mention of me except extremely briefly. I'm more or less willing to regard it as free publicity. I will note further only that Licona continues to ignore my careful definition of the term "fictionalization." As I have said over and over again (see here and here), that term as I define it does not per se entail deceptiveness, though I do think that in fact the Gospel authors would have been deceptive if they had engaged in invisible factual change. That is because I also disagree (and have argued in detail for my position) with Licona's claim that the Gospel authors were writing in a genre like our biopics in which audiences expected invisible factual changes, though they couldn't tell where they arose. The term "fictionalization," however, is intended to include such movies, books, etc. See my many posts on this topic and read my forthcoming book, The Mirror or the Mask. And indeed we would unhesitatingly call such artistic productions in our own time "partially fictionalized," without necessarily intending any disparagement. I use the term "fictionalizing" as synonymous with "fact-changing." It refers to the fact that the alleged alterations in question are 1) invisible (the narratives appear realistic), 2) deliberate, 3) contrary to fact.

But that's not what this post is about. Instead, this post is about an eyebrow-raising representation of the views of Dr. Norman Geisler himself concerning chronology, which Licona uses to try to catch Dr. Howe. I'm glad to say that Howe patiently makes the relevant distinction and says that he would have to see the context of the quote from Dr. Geisler, thus avoiding any appearance of falling for a "gotcha."

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October 21, 2019

Commander Fravor on Joe Rogan

Retired Navy Commander David Fravor sat down for two hours with Joe Rogan on his podcast earlier this month. While it is too much to say that this appearance settled forever the question of the existence of UFOs, we can certainly say that it came very close.

To declare with finality that UFOs do not exist, one must perforce label Fravor a liar, a fool, or a lunatic. Given his credentials, such a declaration opens the declarer to the same triad of reproach.

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October 24, 2019

The evil of the zero-sum game knows no bottom

One thing that we have to realize is that the homosexual and transgender agenda doesn't really have a bottom line to its evil. It's not like it's going to get "so bad and no further." It just keeps on getting worse and worse. I believe metaphysically that evil cannot create, but that doesn't mean in this practical world that evil people cannot get creative with evil.

This is why I really have very little patience with attempts to tone police talk about homosexuality and transgenderism. I can feel pity for perverts and gender-confused individuals. I feel more pity when they don't want to have these feelings and are attempting to affirm their normal identity rather than glorying in their abnormal identity. But I have no illusions about the activists among them and their "allies" who are trying to change society. And there are going to be many, many victims.

Social media has been keeping us informed about this horrific story about a 7-year-old boy, James Younger, whose mother wants to give him drugs to block puberty and, later, other drugs for his "transition." The poor kid is obviously deeply confused by his mother but not by his father.

Obviously, petitions have no legal force, and I have no idea whether the governor's investigation can do anything either. Family law courts have enormous power.

This would certainly be a case where parental "kidnapping" would be morally justified, as in the Lisa Miller case, but it would be very difficult as the custody is already at least shared, whereas Lisa Miller physically had Isabella with her. Plus there are two boys involved--twins, though I gather they may be fraternal twins? And of course travel is even more closely monitored than it was when Lisa took Isabella out of the country. Her odds of getting away were low. The father's odds here would be even lower, which means the odds of his being caught and sent to federal prison even higher. And as we know from the Miller case, anyone who helps them will be pursued with Javert-like obsession to the ends of the earth (literally) and brought back to be imprisoned as well. So it's unlikely that Mr. Younger can get away with it.

There is little to do but pray for him and for his son James.

And oh, btw, trollish comments to the effect that women in general are evil and that that's why this is happening will be deleted summarily. The mother does, in fact, appear to be evil in this case. But that's an individual. I also happen to be a woman, and I would love to see "heads roll" (metaphorically and legally speaking) for all of those who are abusing James in this way.

October 27, 2019

The Recent Zoo Synod and the Infallibility of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

One of the troublesome things that has come up in the Amazing Zoo Synod in Rome over the past couple of weeks is the tired, foolish nonsense of ordaining women. Or, as they couch it, “considering” or “examining” or “reflecting on” the possibility of ordaining women.

Stupidissimus. The issue is closed. Pope John Paul II addressed it, and by his declaration settled it for all time. You can’t remain Catholic when you bring back for debate a question that has been definitively settled by the Church, settled at the highest level of authority precisely and expressly to remove all doubt.

When did JPII do this? In 1994, in the papal Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (hereafter, “OS”). He said:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

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October 28, 2019

What does it mean to say that John "tweaks" history?

My new book, The Mirror or the Mask: Liberating the Gospels From Literary Devices, will be available for pre-order very, very soon and fully "out" by December 10. In it, as readers of this blog know by now, I rebut claims that the Gospel authors knowingly and deliberately altered facts for literary or theological reasons. I also present and defend a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels' historicity that I dub the reportage model.

Another book, no doubt much more widely anticipated than mine, that was in press at approximately the same time and has recently come out is Christobiography, by eminent New Testament scholar Craig Keener. Because the two books were in press at overlapping times, I did not have access to the particular wording of his work that he put into Christobiography until after my own book was typeset. (I did give Dr. Keener the heads-up about my own work more than a year ago and urged him at that time to read it in blog post form.) The result of this partial overlap in the processing of the physical books is that my own research on Keener's work was based on a more scattered set of his many works--his commentaries on various books of the Bible and a 2016 anthology called Biographies and Jesus that he both edited and contributed to on the subject of the genre of the Gospels.

In Christobiography Keener has gathered up and summarized many of his views on these subjects, and I have now verified that he does not contradict his earlier writings on the topics I am discussing nor show a change in his views. I am also unable to find anywhere in this book where Keener anticipates my objections, answers them, or requires me to change my arguments. In fact, he repeats several of the points that I critique in The Mirror or the Mask, sometimes in similar wording. I just had to find them while writing The Mirror or the Mask by more arduous labor in his other works. He also expounds these views in more detail in the other works I have used for research. In Christobiography he also provides no new evidence for the claim that the Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi. Rather, as in the anthology Biographies and Jesus, Keener takes that genre as a given and seeks to place the Gospels' reliability within the range that he, Licona, and others believe was the normal range of historical reliability allowed by that genre. Christobiography also, even more than any of Keener's earlier works, defers explicitly to Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, with numerous footnotes that "punt" to Licona's claims. Hence my detailed critique of Why Are There Differences in The Mirror or the Mask is pertinent to Christobiography as well.

Because Christobiography is so new, interviews and posts about it are popping up around the Internet, and these usually take the form of implying that the emphasis of the book and of Keener's theories and statements is entirely a positive one for the reliability of the Gospels. This article by Dr. Keener himself in Influence is an example.

And indeed, like many of Keener's other works, Christobiography claims that the Gospels are reliable. What is odd, however, is the combination of that statement with the repeated deference to Licona's views that the evangelists (frequently, according to Licona) considered themselves licensed to change the facts. And Keener himself, though seldom giving specific examples, will frequently move back and forth between strong statements about how reliable the Gospels are and vague allusions to flexibility and freedom in narration. (See esp. his Chapters 5, 11, and 13.)

Occasionally he actually comes down to specifics, though this occurs more often in his commentaries. And these specifics are troubling. He does so most of all (though not, I want to emphasize, exclusively) for the Gospel of John. His most recent common word for what he thinks John did with history is "tweaking."

My concern is that the ambiguity of Keener's writing (often more ambiguous than that of Licona) may cause readers to be unaware of what he is getting at and to think that his emphasis upon reliability is entirely solid and is qualified only in ways that no one but the wildest extremist could possibly object to. That is simply not the case. I have given some concrete examples in this earlier post.

Continue reading "What does it mean to say that John "tweaks" history?" »

October 29, 2019

The Mirror or the Mask is available for pre-order

I'm pleased to announce that The Mirror or the Mask: Liberating the Gospels From Literary Devices is available for pre-order earlier than expected. Copies will ship after the physical launch date of December 10.

The book has blurbs by eminent British New Testament scholar Peter J. Williams, eminent American New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, international legal, biblical, and apologetics scholar John Warwick Montgomery, Old Testament scholar Jack Collins, and well-known Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland. More blurbs are forthcoming in the book from biblical scholars, scientists, philosophers, and apologists.

Here is the description on the order page:

In recent years a number of evangelical scholars have claimed that the Gospel authors felt free to present events in one way even though they knew that the reality was different. Analytic philosopher Lydia McGrew brings her training in the evaluation of evidence to bear, investigates these theories about the evangelists’ literary standards in detail, and finds them wanting. At the same time she provides a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels that she dubs the reportage model. Clearing away misconceptions of this model, McGrew amasses objective evidence that the evangelists are honest, careful reporters who tell it like it is. Meticulous, well-informed, and accessible, The Mirror or the Mask is an important addition to the libraries of laymen, pastors, apologists, and scholars who want to know whether the Gospels are reliable.

Pre-order your copy, and please share the link.