An Unbelievable faith? An interview with Justin Brierley

I recently had the immense privilege to interview Justin Brierley who hosts the British show Unbelievable? bringing together Christians and non-Christians for fruitful conversations. Since the sound of our conversation is of very low quality, I transcribed it.

JustinVriel

Hi Justin, thanks for accepting this interview. Could you please tell us your own background?

Certainly. I was raised in a Christian family and so I really grew up going to Church and during my early teens Christianity was kind of an experiential thing to me. It was only in my later teens that I began feeling an intellectual curiosity and I read people like C.S. Lewis and others. I was also involved in sort of creative things in the university in relation to my Christian faith and so yeah it was how it began. I was accepted to Oxford university and several Christian activities there strengthened my faith. And so yeah, it was my background. After a subjective emotional experience I saw the rational foundations behind my faith.

Thanks! Would you say you’re an Evangelical Christian?

Yeah…I mean…like many people I tend to call myself merely a Christian. I’m orthodox in the sense that I believe the historical creeds of the Church, in the Incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelical is a label I’m happy to go with. I might not be the same kind of Evangelicals as others. Maybe if you want to nuance that, I might call myself a “liberal Evangelical” which might be more accurate.

Okay. Do you believe, for example, in Biblical inerrancy?

Again, that’s a really interesting area. My thinking developed over the year, especially through Unbelievable?, the show that I hold. Now, instead of “inerrancy“, I’d prefer to talk about the Authority of Scriptures. For inerrancy itself is a label which has a certain amount of baggage on it. If inerrancy means that the Bible should be viewed as a 21-st century science textbook, then I reject it. The Bible uses metaphors appropriate to an ancient Jewish context which would have been accurate for that time. So I’d prefer to say that the Bible is authoritative and reliable in that way. I don’t think that inerrancy is required to get what we need, which is the facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claims of Lordship in our lives. Having said that, I would stand up for the Bible’s reliability in all kinds of areas because I think it’s incredibly well founded in all types of different ways. Many difficulties in Scripture that Sceptics point to can be overcome relatively easily by considering them as literature of their days and not necessarily expecting a twenty-first century biographical precision. I’m thinking on examples in the Gospels where there appears to be differences in the time line of events. We’re learning more and more that the Gospel writers adopted the standard biographical methods of their days. Why should we expect that they should not use the same elasticity found in other documents of that time period? It does not mean they’re not reliable. It’s complicated, but in the end I prefer to use the terms reliable and authoritative rather than inerrancy.

Yeah. What is the spiritual background of Premier Christian Radio?

Well Premier radio is full of people with lots of different Christian backgrounds. So we’re pretty much a multi-denominational station and we seek to serve here in the UK as part of the Christian Church. Some people might be surprised to learn we’ve Protestant Charismatic programs and some Roman Catholic teachings as well. So we’re quite broad in the community we’re seeking to reach here in the UK. Having said that, you can characterize most of the content as being broadly Evangelical. The station was founded 20 years ago. At the time we were the only Christian broadcaster in the whole united Kingdom. We’re still one of only few. So the situation is very different to the US where you’ve plenty of Christian TVs and radio channels.
So our mandate has been to be representative of the entire Church and we’ve always tried to do that.

What are the main aims of Unbelievable?

Unbelievable? is really a show where I wanted to break out of the Christian bubble. Premier Christian radio is very good at speaking to and resourcing Christians for their daily life and worship, ministry and work. But at the time I began with the program, we didn’t have specific things which speak to non-Christians. So I went to a chief-executive and asked if I could start a specific program which would bring people of faith or no faith into the studio and so we had a discussion. It started out as a live-show. Not everyone was in favour of it. Some of the listeners felt that, you know, atheists and agnostics have plenty of time on public shows and on the BBC, so why should we have them on a Christian radio? But to his credit the chief executive stood by the program. Eventually those who liked the program learned to listen, those who did not appreciate it learned to turn off the radio at that hour of Saturday. Over time the program went online and the podcast became quite popular since we have many pretty interesting guests and touch on many topics. The main aim is an Evangelistic one and I don’t make any apology for that. We want to show, through good dialogues with people from various perspectives, that Christianity is a reasonable faith and that you don’t have to throw your brain in a bin in order to be a Christian. That’s not to say there are no difficult areas, that is to say areas where I don’t have a real answer. Still, over the years I heard pretty much every possible objection to Christianity but I still feel that Christianity is the best narrative, the best way of approaching life. So I hope that the program is doing that for other persons too. I’m not expecting the program to do that for everyone.

The second thing that the program does is creating a space of dialogue within the Christian community. So we often have had lots of programs over the years. We hope people view it as place where disagreements are allowed. They also should realise that once you become a Christian you don’t automatically get a set of absolute rules and regulations. There is room within the Christian community to hold different views while still managing to call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ. We sincerely hope we’re providing people with this space for making up their own mind while having these sorts of discussions.

Thanks! I find that great. What’s your take on the American culture war?

Well, I think that the UK is inevitably a very different kettle of fish to America. America has its own unique issues and its separation of Church and State. Obviously, the powerful Religious Right there does not exist in the UK. There are far less tensions here between politics, culture and Christianity than in America where there is a far wider dichotomy, if you like, between politics and the average Christian. As for me, I’m saddened in a way by the American culture war because so many of the atheists from America that I do encounter are atheists not necessarily because of intellectual objections to Christianity but because of what they perceive to be an illiberal agenda on the part of the Christian Right. That is what is parking their vehement reaction to religion. I think that’s a great shame. It is when Christianity is merged with the political power that the problems usually emerge. During the history of Christendom, we can see that things go wrong when our faith is used as a political force. Christianity is most compelling while working, to some extent, from the margin and that’s the situation we find ourselves in here in the UK.
Some people have been lamenting the fact that the British Church is declining. But I think this might be a good thing for the UK Church. People go to Church in the United Kingdom because they want to go to it. That wasn’t the case, you know, fifty years ago. The State used to have a huge amount of cultural Christianity within it. In the end, this part of Christianity is doomed to die off and that’s not a bad thing since I believe it is where all these culture wars come from. In a way it can be a more healthy expression of our convictions and have a more positive impact on culture which doesn’t stem from the power structure. So, these are some thoughts on how things are going on in that respect.

I totally agree with you! How does the modern British religious landscape look like nowadays?

Archbishop of York claims fall of Empire and rise of multiculturalism has destroyed Britain's 'big idea'

Well, here in the UK, as I mentioned, there has been a steep decline in Church going for several decades. As I said, I don’t see this as being a real cause for concern. What you’re seeing is that the Christian revivals of the nineteenth century and before (people like Wesley, Spurgeon and others) produced a generation of passionate Christianity. Yet that faith was not necessarily passed on or inherited in a living way. And so we’re inevitably seeing this sort of Christianity decline. Interestingly enough, we are currently seeing the emergence of many multicultural Churches. Owing to immigration, Christians from Africa, south America and from the West Indies are founding great communities and that’s shaping the British Church. It means that Christians with different backgrounds must work together. In the United States, many Churches don’t mix together. I think that here in the UK there is more of a cohesive field of Christianity because it’s a smaller community. That’s not to say that Christianity is in any way dead or dying in the UK. I think there are very exciting shifts of life within the British Church, there are some truly fantastic projects going on. Holy trinity Brompton, an Anglican Church is the centre of the Alpha courses, which many Churches all over the world use. It has been tremendously successful in introducing many people to the Christian faith. There are all sorts of other exciting projects within the Church which you don’t often see while looking at the headlines. When the Church get into the headlines here in the UK, it’s usually about Gays or about whether women should be allowed to become bishops and that sort of things. The reality is that there is much more going on than the things the newspapers pick up.

Yeah, of course! And how is the situation of Muslims in modern Britain? I mean that especially with respect to the terrorist attacks which have been going on during the last decades.

I think that multiculturalism naturally leads to many new communities springing up in the UK, many of which being Islamic. Britain has a nice history of welcoming and integrating diverse groups. There are different types of Islam out there. I think it has been a challenge to the UK because they tend to be more insular than other communities. The government has some troubles understanding and communicating with them. There are some great initiatives, here in the UK, for bringing different faith groups to talk to each others. Sadly, I think this doesn’t often have a massive influence on the mosques across the country…Some reports can be sensationalised. But there have been reports over the years of quite radicalised teachings in some mosques. They showed a fairly open stance to the public. But behind the closets you can find some quite worrying teachings going on. There has been, unfortunately, a number of Muslims from the UK who joined ISIS warriors in Syria and so on. So I think there are grounds for feeling worried. We need to do everything in our power to continue to communicate with these communities. We should not treat them as a monolithic ensemble. The British government ought to understand Islam and to not treat it as a blanket religion. There is a huge variety of different groups. They’re not all the same and they’ve different aims and objectives. It is a very tricky time in that sense here in the UK.

https://i1.wp.com/sheikyermami.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/london_bus_2.jpg

Yeah I completely agree. The Islamic world is extremely diverse. Not all of them advocate violence against unbelievers. We should not punish peaceful Muslims for the misdeeds of extremists they themselves view as appalling and abhorrent.
To conclude this interview, could you please tell us what you’re up to?

What’s coming up? The show continue, we’ll have new exciting discussions and debates. I’ll do some shows interviewing people who had a Near Death Experience, which is quite an interesting phenomenon. There has recently been a major scientific study on that and we’ll be interviewing people who have been involved in it. We’re preparing the new Unbelievable for next year. That’s been an exciting part of what is being developed for the show. It’s a conference where everyone can come to see the reasonable and intellectual value of Christianity with top-speakers. I myself have been increasingly involved in another aspect of Première’s work which is Premier Christianity magazine. It has been formerly just called Christianity magazine. I became the senior editor of that fairly recently.

Great!

Yeah, and although I’ve been writing for the magazine for a number of years, this has been quite an interesting and challenging step, but I’m really enjoying it and I’m really bringing more and more of what I do on air into the magazine as well.
So, balancing these two things is my challenge at the moment. I want to keep the show fresh and interesting while upholding the standards of the magazine as we produce it each month.

Okay, so thank you very much for this interview! I wish you all the best.

Well, thank you very much for having me, Marc, and I wish you all the best too.

 

 

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38 thoughts on “An Unbelievable faith? An interview with Justin Brierley

  1. Christianity is most compelling while working, to some extent, from the margin and that’s the situation we find ourselves here in the UK.

    I wonder how much of this is due to an explicit rejection of Jesus’ words in Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. From Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity:

        And what about another concept that seems to be essential in the life of Jesus Christ, that of weakness, which is linked with anti politics? What can be more the opposite of what we are? Is not the spirit of power at the heart of all our actions? I concede that it may not exist among some so-called primitive people in tribes that know no violence and seek no domination. But these are such an exception that we certainly cannot take them as a natural example of what humanity is in general—if there is such a thing as “humanity in general.” (164–165)

    It is easy not to fall prey to the lust for power when you are the underdog. When you yourself have the reins of power? Then it is not so easy. Earlier, Ellul describes the RCC as not so much lusting for power as needing to establish order, of moralizing Christianity in order to do so—the immoral and unjust situation was terrible beyond belief beforehand (86). Before too much criticism of the use and abuse of power is done, we ought to, you know, actually employ science. Bent Flyvbjerg did precisely this in Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice; here’s what he found:

        In the Enlightenment tradition, rationality is typically seen as a concept that is well-defined and context-independent. We know what rationality is, and rationality is supposed to be constant over time and place. This study, however, demonstrates that rationality is context-dependent and that the context of rationality is power. Power blurs the dividing line between rationality and rationalization. Rationalization presented as rationality is shown to be a principle strategy in the exercise of power. Kant said that the possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason. We will see that the possession of more power soils reason even more, that the greater the power, the less the rationality. The empirical study is summed up in a number of propositions about the relationship between rationality and power, concluding that power has a rationality that rationality does not know, whereas rationality does not have a power that power does not know. I will argue that this asymmetry between rationality and power forms a basic weakness of modernity and of modern democracy, a weakness that needs to be reassessed in light of the context-dependent nature of rationality, taking a point of departure in thinkers like Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Foucault.[2] (2)

    Ahhh, yet another Enlightenment delusion which has brought untold misery and failure upon our heads.

  2. Reasonable and intellectual?

    ” If inerrancy means that the Bible should be viewed as a 21-st century science textbook, then I reject it. The Bible uses metaphors appropriate to an ancient Jewish context which would have been accurate for that time. So I’d prefer to say that the Bible is authoritative and reliable in that way.”

    Ah. That way.

    But,

    “I’m orthodox in the sense that I believe the historical creeds of the Church, in the Incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

    Right. Not metaphor. Historical. Not authoritative and reliable in that way but believed and with great confidence nevertheless.

    Now, the reasonable and intellectual question:

    How do you know which is historical and which is (authoritatively) metaphorical? More importantly, how is this differentiation reasonable and intellectual for the confidence granted to the supposed ‘authority’ from these different categories?

    • A lot of it is just using the same methods we use in everyday language.

      I take songs on the radio to be more likely to contain metaphors than the terms and conditions booklet for an ISA that I’m perusing at work. Likewise, when the Psalmist says he flooded his bed with tears, I don’t spend time trying to work out how large his tear-ducts are, and how much strain that amount of liquid puts on his bladder.

      Luke is clearly writing history. Ezekiel clearly isn’t, at least in any conventional sense.

      • Yeah, I understand the obvious differences but what I’m asking is how one determines the historicity of, say, Jesus’ resurrection (a ‘miracle’ by definition that is neither reasonable nor intellectual but a matter of faith from many contradictory reports) yet assumes the story of Adam as a metaphor about origins. By what ‘reasonable’ and ‘intellectual’ method can one demonstrate this difference? I suspect none… outside of individualized selection on the basis of highly subjective revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote – none of which are poster children for ‘reasonable’ or ‘intellectual.

        • For Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants, the Lord Jesus Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-13) refers to things like the ecumenical Councils.
          See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_seven_Ecumenical_Councils

          So that’s one reason why many Christians will strongly defend ideas like the Resurrection, and the Son being uncreated, as being essential to the faith, while allowing for latitude on points like whether, say, Zechariah 14:4 refers to a literal splitting of the Mount of Olives.

          • That just passes the question backwards to an earlier authority. By what reasonable and intellectual method did they determine how to know which parts were which?

          • That just passes the question backwards to an earlier authority. By what reasonable and intellectual method did they determine how to know which parts were which?

            Define “reasonable and intellectual method” such that it can deal with (a) Gödel’s incompleteness theorems; (b) Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability. I can articulate what problems each of those presents, but since you may have given up (because “I can’t help you.”), I won’t belabor the points unless someone requests.

            The general belief, I’ve observed, is that people like you believe that we have this magical faculty called ‘reason’, which never really needs updating by an authority outside of itself (that’s the magical part). It starts out sufficiently correct such that it can always and forever self-correct. Why should evolution possibly make this the case? And if you truly accept an authority outside yourself, which is not 100% verified by your own reason, then how the hell is doing so a “reasonable and intellectual method”?

            Either you sometimes accept outside authorities, not based 100% on your reason, or you never do. If you sometimes do this, then why is it wrong for Christians to do so, as well? We just choose to respect a different authority than you [apparently] do.

          • “Where are the house keys?”

            “In the drawer.”

            “They’re not there.”

            “How do you know that?”

            Now, I understand the mental gymnastics about first comprehending the form of this question and what it might really mean, and the mandatory reading list you want to insert at this point for others to follow your line of reasoning about the need to allow for Oogity Boogity’s consideration. That’s what you do.

            But we understand what is meant. The question is asking us for something other that metaphysical considerations and, really, no metaphysical musings and additional readings are going to be of much help. What is being asked to provide evidence for the claim to deserve increased confidence.

            Consider the possible answers… from “Because that’s where I dreamed they were” to “Because I just put them there.” There are many answers but, what’s of importance here, some are better deserving of confidence than others.

            Now consider the authority granted on holding some (similar) biblical claims to be historically valid (my example was the resurrection) and other (similar) claims to be metaphorical (my example was the first man, Adam). My question was straight forward: by what ‘reasonable’ and ‘intellectual’ method can one demonstrate this difference?

            The answer ‘certain councils decided’ doesn’t answer this question. And it really is a question about method and why that method should deserve more confidence than others.

          • “I hope that the world’s hunger will be overcome in two centuries.”

            “Do you have evidence for this claim?”

            “Not really, but there is nothing forbidding us to think that way. And so I chose to be optimistic.”

            What’s wrong with this reasoning?

          • There’s nothing wrong with hope. There’s nothing wrong with wishing. But neither are grounds for any increased confidence that this will be the case. The purchase price of a cup of coffee is not altered by hopes and wishes.

          • There’s nothing wrong with hope. There’s nothing wrong with wishing. But neither are grounds for any increased confidence that this will be the case. The purchase price of a cup of coffee is not altered by hopes and wishes.

            The future, however, is. And it would help to engage in evidence-based reasoning everywhere, instead of only where it is comfortable. For example, we ought to examine why it is that predictions of Milgram experiment § Results were two orders of magnitude in error. That’s a lot of error, by those people who are supposed to understand human nature the best. Add to that Stanford prison experiment and The Third Wave: might it be the case that scientists are deluding themselves about truth? Yes, according to Douglas and Ney’s Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences:

            The Western cultural consensus based on the ideas of free markets and individualism has led many social scientists to consider poverty as a personal experience, a deprivation of material things, and a failure of just distribution. Mary Douglas and Steven Ney find this dominant tradition of social thought about poverty and well-being to be full of contradictions. They argue that the root cause is the impoverished idea of the human person inherited through two centuries of intellectual history, and that two principles, the idea of the solipsist self and the idea of objectivity, cause most of the contradictions.

            Douglas and Ney state that Economic Man, from its semitechnical niche in eighteenth-century economic theory, has taken over the realms of psychology, consumption, public assistance, political science, and philosophy. They say that by distorting the statistical data presented for policy analysis, the ideas of the solipsist self and objectivity indeed often protect a political bias. The authors propose to correct this by revising the current model of the person. Taking cultural bias into account and giving full play to political dissent, they restore the “persons” who have been missing from the social science debates. (dust jacket)

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. no wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like begin told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (10)

            If you want more, see Hilary Putnam’s The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, in which he briefly describes the utter collapse of Logical Positivism, and how that implies that the alleged fact/value dichotomy, that isought, is actually fallacious to the core. What happened was that scientists pretended they were being objective about human nature and getting it terribly, terribly wrong.

            What would you do, @tildeb, if you found out that scientists could have known what Hitler was doing while it would have been relatively bloodless to stop him? Would you think so highly of science? Oh, and we didn’t really correct much after Hitler. For evidence—for science—see Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (Google Books preface).

            “objectivity” ← LMFAO

            In case you have forgotten:

            Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            Furthermore, the affinity between intellectuals and socialism is clearly more than a matter of rational arguments. It is suffused with values, with moral passion, in many cases with profoundly religious hope—in sum, with precisely those characteristics which permit speaking of a socialist myth (in a descriptive, nonpejorative sense.) (Facing Up to Modernity, 58)

            The socialist myth promises the fulfillment of both the rational dreams of the Enlightenment and the manifold aspirations of those to whom the Enlightenment has been an alienating experience. Such a promise inevitably grates against its imperfect realization in empirical reality, frustrating and often enraging its believers. This is nothing new in the long history of eschatologies, which is inevitably a history of the psychology of disappointment. (62-63)

            Three cheers for @tildeb’s “science”!!!

          • I’m not lecturing. I am asking for the reasonable and intellectual method supposedly available to all used to differentiate which similar scriptural claims are justifiably placed into the ‘factual’ category and which ones are placed in the ‘metaphorical’ category. I’ve already pointed out that revelation, scriptural authority, and selected anecdotes do not qualify as either a ‘reasonable’ method nor ‘intellectual’. All are simply forms of very subjective confirmation bias. Because they are ruled out already by Justin, who claims that this differentiating is done ‘reasonable’ and intellectuals means, then I’m asking for a description of what these means are to answer the question, “How do you know that?”

          • I’m not lecturing.

            Well, when I ask for a definition of a phrase you use, and your response does nothing of the kind, I get the impression that you’re lecturing and not interested in any sort of Q&A or cross examination.

            I am asking for the reasonable and intellectual method supposedly available to all used to differentiate which similar scriptural claims are justifiably placed into the ‘factual’ category and which ones are placed in the ‘metaphorical’ category.

            But that’s not all you’re doing. Specifically, you are claiming that there really do exist these things:

            tildeb: By what reasonable and intellectual method did they determine how to know which parts were which?

            It seems only fair that when you ask someone for something, you tell them what it is you’re asking for, and admit whether or not you utilize something similar. See, one of my criticisms of atheists is that they demand standards of theists, standards to which they themselves do not adhere! It’s ok, scientists have done this for a long time; see F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason for some examples on this (for example: how scientists claim to do science sometimes isn’t how they do science, especially when it comes to how to do economics). Anyhow, I asked this for clarification:

            labreuer: The general belief, I’ve observed, is that people like you believe that we have this magical faculty called ‘reason’, which never really needs updating by an authority outside of itself (that’s the magical part). It starts out sufficiently correct such that it can always and forever self-correct. Why should evolution possibly make this the case? And if you truly accept an authority outside yourself, which is not 100% verified by your own reason, then how the hell is doing so a “reasonable and intellectual method”?

            You declined to give a direct answer. So, I am left wondering whether you actually employ something that can possibly be called “reasonable and intellectual method”, which truly avoids terrific wrongness like I recently outlined, and which never makes appeals to sources outside the self as authorities. The instance you do make an appeal to a source outside yourself as an authority, you’ve instantly become similar to many religious people in an important way: the outside authority bit. But I suspect you don’t want to admit that you do this.

            I’ve already pointed out that revelation, scriptural authority, and selected anecdotes do not qualify as either a ‘reasonable’ method nor ‘intellectual’.

            You have to argue, not just “point out”. For example, if it is the case that heeding passages like Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 prime one to give better predictions for Milgram experiment § Results, then that is important and it would be reasonable to heed such passages. This is directly contrary to what you allege to have “pointed out”. We could also talk about The Third Wave, and what the Bible says about the “unexpected results” of that experiment. Perhaps the biblical model of human nature is much better than what exists, even now. But no, according to @tildeb, it would be irrational to trust what the Bible has to say!

            All are simply forms of very subjective confirmation bias.

            Where is your most convincing source for this claim? Shall I talk about the “confirmation bias” which was involved with this stuff? See, it doesn’t matter if religious folks are subject to a lot of confirmation bias, if scientists are no better. And when it comes to issues of modeling human behavior well? It’s not clear that scientists are any better!

          • You haven’t given me enough information to know what it is you’re asking for. You won’t let me ask clarifying questions. Your level of vagueness and refusal to answer questions is similar to how cult leaders operate, FYI. They thrive on vagueness. I have no idea if you have a method, yourself. So maybe you’ve given me an impossible task. And no, “science” is not an acceptable response, for reasons I’ve already outlined.

            >

          • I find the double standard interesting but not unexpected. Whereas you have no problem allowing believers some latitude in deciding which bits of scripture belong to which category without erupting in self-righteous dictates and demands about first establishing philosophical definitions and covering mandatory reading lists, for moi you insist these be done when all I am asking for is some reasonable and intellectual method for this differentiation. What I’m reading seems to be a form of a very great deal of frustration and angst covered up by typical ploys to divert from simply answering what should be a simple question: how does anyone know with some degree of commonly available reasonableness and justifiable intellectual honesty which bits belong where. It seems to me that deciding really comes down to a very arbitrary and subjective method that is neither reasonable nor intellectually honest. I think it really is a matter of faith… in which case I think Justin is not being accurate or particularly honest when he says this differentiation is based on being reasonable and intellectual. I think the more accurate term is ‘false advertising’.

          • Back to avoiding the question, I see.

            Oh, I learned that from you. See:

            tildeb: That just passes the question backwards to an earlier authority. By what reasonable and intellectual method did they determine how to know which parts were which?

            labreuer: The general belief, I’ve observed, is that people like you believe that we have this magical faculty called ‘reason’, which never really needs updating by an authority outside of itself (that’s the magical part). It starts out sufficiently correct such that it can always and forever self-correct. Why should evolution possibly make this the case? And if you truly accept an authority outside yourself, which is not 100% verified by your own reason, then how the hell is doing so a “reasonable and intellectual method”?

            Either you sometimes accept outside authorities, not based 100% on your reason, or you never do. If you sometimes do this, then why is it wrong for Christians to do so, as well? We just choose to respect a different authority than you [apparently] do.

            tildeb: [avoided the clarifying questions]

            Have you stopped beating your wife yet, @tildeb? If you won’t answer that with a simple “yes” or “no”, then I refuse to let you embed unstated presuppositions in your questions. If you cannot handle that, you could just admit it. You could say that when you ask questions, you have no intention of letting them be cross-examined and clarified. This would be more intellectually honest of you.

          • Still no method, I see.

            You’re in luck. I happened to be reading Charles Taylor’s Explanation and Practical Reason:

                MacIntyre argues very convincingly that the superiority of one scientific conception over another can be rationally demonstrated, even in the absence of what are normally understood as criteria. These are usually seen as providing some externally defined standard, against which each theory is to be weighed independently. But what may be decisive is that we be able to show that the passage from one to the other represents a gain in understanding. In other words, we can give a convincing narrative account of the passage from the first to the second as an advance in knowledge, a step from a less good to a better understanding of the phenomena in question. This establishes an asymmetric relation between them: a similarly plausible narrative of a possible transition from the second to the first couldn’t be constructed. Or to put it in terms of a real historical transition, portraying it as a loss in understanding is not on. <13>
                What I want to take from this is the notion that one can sometimes arbitrate between positions by portraying transitions as gains or losses, even where what we normally understand as decision through criteria—qua externally defined standards—is impossible. I should like to sketch here three argument forms, in ascending order of radical departure from the canonical, foundationalist mode. (7–8)

            In other words: your demand for a rational, explicit, articulatable method that universally works is unavailable for science (and perhaps impossible), as is shown by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and probably Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge. Instead, all you can ever find is some method that works in some regime—like some time period of science. But what you seem to be pretty clearly looking for is a method that works across all time. Well: you’re asking for something that may well be possible. So until you show yours, I accuse you along with Feyerabend:

            Kuhn’s work largely called into question Popper’s demarcation, and emphasized the human, subjective quality of scientific change. Paul Feyerabend was concerned that the very question of demarcation was insidious: science itself had no need of a demarcation criterion, but instead some philosophers were seeking to justify a special position of authority from which science could dominate public discourse.[15] Feyerabend argued that science does not in fact occupy a special place in terms of either its logic or method, and no claim to special authority made by scientists can be upheld. He argued that, within the history of scientific practice, no rule or method can be found that has not been violated or circumvented at some point in order to advance scientific knowledge. Both Lakatos and Feyerabend suggest that science is not an autonomous form of reasoning, but is inseparable from the larger body of human thought and inquiry.

            Whelp, I’m not playing your game, @tildeb. Instead, I’m calling you on it. You’re attempting to irrationally remove religion from public discourse. Sorry, but that would be special pleading for the not-perfect-rationality that is the real practice of science—in comparison to perhaps some idealized form in your head which does not match reality.

          • tildeb says : October 22, 2014 at 6:46 pm
            “Where are the house keys?”

            “In the drawer.”

            “They’re not there.”

            “How do you know that?”

            Now, I understand the mental gymnastics about first comprehending the form of this question and what it might really mean, and the mandatory reading list you want to insert at this point for others to follow your line of reasoning about the need to allow for Oogity Boogity’s consideration. That’s what you do.

            But we understand what is meant. The question is asking us for something other that metaphysical considerations and, really, no metaphysical musings and additional readings are going to be of much help. What is being asked to provide evidence for the claim to deserve increased confidence.

            The Gospels provide 3 eyewitness testimonies of the account of the Resurrection. And 1 journalistic account of the Resurrection.

            Apparently, you’re asking us to convince you. But again, if you’re an atheist, you have many unexplained phenomenon that you believe by faith alone.

            Consider the possible answers… from “Because that’s where I dreamed they were” to “Because I just put them there.” There are many answers but, what’s of importance here, some are better deserving of confidence than others.

            The Gospels all say, “Because we saw the Risen Christ.”

            Now consider the authority granted on holding some (similar) biblical claims to be historically valid (my example was the resurrection) and other (similar) claims to be metaphorical (my example was the first man, Adam).

            First, your assumptions are in error. We consider both the Resurrection and the existence of Adam, historical.

            My question was straight forward: by what ‘reasonable’ and ‘intellectual’ method can one demonstrate this difference?

            I believe I’ve already answered the question. See my first response.

            The answer ‘certain councils decided’ doesn’t answer this question. And it really is a question about method and why that method should deserve more confidence than others.

            As for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe the evidence of Scripture.

            As for the historicity of Adam, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ proves to me that He is God. And He testified to the truthfulness of the Old Testament. Therefore, I believe in the historicity of Adam.

        • tildeb says : October 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm
          Yeah, I understand the obvious differences but what I’m asking is how one determines the historicity of, say, Jesus’ resurrection

          By the fact that there were four eyewitness accounts. And those accounts revealed that there were thousands of witnesses. And again, these are accounts written within a community and no one in that community denied these facts.

          (a ‘miracle’ by definition that is neither reasonable nor intellectual but a matter of faith from many contradictory reports)

          First, which “contradictory” reports are you talking about?

          Second, if you are an atheist, you believe in greater miracles than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          yet assumes the story of Adam as a metaphor about origins.

          That depends upon to whom you speak. The Catholic Church teaches that this is a historical fact with metaphorical aspects which help to relate the account in minimal space and make it more understandable at once.

          By what ‘reasonable’ and ‘intellectual’ method can one demonstrate this difference?

          By the reasonable assumption that one can’t relate the life of a man in three chapters without taking some poetic liberties. By the reasonable assumption that the crude writing implements did not lend themselves to lengthy book writing.

          I suspect none…

          You would be wrong.

          outside of individualized selection on the basis of highly subjective

          How is an account of the origins of mankind, subjective?

          revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote – none of which are poster children for ‘reasonable’ or ‘intellectual.

          The problem you are having is with your personal subjective feelings against the historical writings of the People of God.

          Everything written in the Scriptures is reasonable and intellectual.

          • How is an account of the origins of mankind, subjective?

            Because we don’t know anything about origins!

            Any claim that pretends that we do but offers no compelling evidence for its accuracy (and much evidence against it) isn’t anything more than a guess. We know from our shared DNA that we do not descend from a single couple. End of story. There is no quibbling about this brute fact… unless we start to insert claims of hope and wishful thinking.

            So when you tell me that some church has pronounced something about human origins and have a grand total of diddly squat to back it up outside of revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote, then I have every reason to call that claim unjustified and deserving of no confidence. That’s the only reasonable position I can take. It is NOT reasonable to start filling in my ignorance with my wishful thinking and claiming it to be what it is not: intellectual.

    • tildeb says : October 21, 2014 at 2:51 pm
      Reasonable and intellectual?

      Yes.

      ….

      Now, the reasonable and intellectual question:

      How do you know which is historical

      First of all, by the authority of the Church.

      Second, by the context of history. We can look at the books and compare them to historical data from other sources and confirm that they fit.

      Third, they are the written witness of an entire people. The authors were known by the people and none contradicted their account.

      Fourth, the religion which they practiced has a strict code of truthfulness.

      and which is (authoritatively) metaphorical?

      You can generally read the context of the story and tell if it is metaphorical.

      More importantly, how is this differentiation reasonable and intellectual for the confidence granted to the supposed ‘authority’ from these different categories?

      The differentiation is basically the same which we use in any other field of study.

      By the “supposed authority”, I suppose you refer to the fact that we claim they were inspired by God. That’s a long story, but for me, it starts with Jesus. And since you’ve got more posts which address that question more directly, I’ll explain it there.

      • “And since you’ve got more posts which address that question more directly, I’ll explain it there.”

        There might potentially be some confusion here. Tildeb is a commentator and I’m the author of the blog 🙂

        Or did you mean his own posts on his blog?

        Cheers.

      • De Maria, if the authority of the church were well founded because it stood on such merit as a well-rounded historical record and credible sources, then the spectacular failure to communicate this basis upon which the supposed authority stands belongs solely to the church. You’d think they should get some things right. Alas…

        Even simple history is factually and repeatedly wrong in scripture – again, both OT and NT. (See here, here, and here). Jewish scholars admit that the entire Pentateuch is metaphor. Archeologists know perfectly well that there was no exodus, for example. Clearly, your historical claims of internal consistency are beyond ‘reasonable’ when the evidence is plain. You just want to see only what you wish to see and then pretend that’s all that can be seen unless grossly distorted by some diabolical dedication to non belief.

        Ummm… no.

        Best of all, if scripture itself – OT and NT – were without doubt both consistent and reliable (especially if it offered ‘enlightened’ clues about unknown stuff later shown to be amazingly predictive ie. germ theory), then your assertions here might carry more weight than wishful thinking.

        It doesn’t so your claims don’t; they are claims of wishing things were different and then believing they actually are different.

        You’ll notice that I have already explained why revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote don’t answer the question I have posed. Your answer relies on exactly these and you attempt to school me in why they should be a source for authority by the circular reasoning that they are based on authority! I have also explained why these three methods are not reasonable and intellectual but matters that seem to me to be very much based on highly subjective faith claims backed up by belief in the unbelievable (ie. miracles… by definition).

        It is the method of determining which bits are historical and which are metaphorical outside of revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote that I’m requesting, so that I too can be reasonably and intellectually confident that the placement of these claims have been done reasonably and intellectually. Telling me they are doesn’t do the job.

  3. tildeb says : October 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm
    That just passes the question backwards to an earlier authority.

    That authority is still here.

    By what reasonable and intellectual method did they determine how to know which parts were which?

    You’ve got the cart before the horse. The Jews wrote the Old Testament. The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament and canonized them together in the Bible. They knew which parts were written literally and which were written metaphorically.

    What you mean to find out is how you determine which is which. The way you find out is to go to the Authority which wrote the Scriptures.

  4. tildeb says : October 23, 2014 at 2:41 am
    How is an account of the origins of mankind, subjective?

    Because we don’t know anything about origins!

    What you intend to say is that we don’t have any direct knowledge about origins. No one living today was there when it happened.

    True. But science infers many things about origins from the evidence it finds still existing today. And, those of us who believe in God believe that He revealed to us a great deal about origins.

    Any claim that pretends that we do but offers no compelling evidence for its accuracy (and much evidence against it) isn’t anything more than a guess.

    Simple denials of evidence are not compelling either. So far, all you are saying, with an excess of language, is, “I don’t believe it.”

    But we do. So, why should we abandon our logical and reasonable beliefs and adopt your unreasonable denials of anything which you can’t see?

    We know from our shared DNA that we do not descend from a single couple. End of story.

    Lol! You don’t know that. It is a matter which you take on faith. It is something which somebody told you and you believe it.

    There is no quibbling about this brute fact… unless we start to insert claims of hope and wishful thinking.

    First of all, it is not a fact. It is something which someone has postulated and you have swallowed hook, line and sinker.

    Second of all, it is you doing the wishful thinking.

    Third, we hope in our salvation, but that has nothing to do with the question at hand.

    So when you tell me that some church has pronounced something about human origins and have a grand total of diddly squat to back it up outside of revelation,

    We have plenty to back it up outside of revelation. Whenever you want to get particular, we can do so. So far, all you are doing is whining generically about everything and anything that has to do with religion.

    scriptural authority, and anecdote, then I have every reason to call that claim unjustified and deserving of no confidence.

    You can do what you want, but your blanket denials of everything that we believe are not compelling. I can just as easily deny everything you claim.

    That’s the only reasonable position I can take.

    Denying everything is not a reasonable position. But it is the only option for atheists. You believe in nothing and you have nothing to back it up.

    It is NOT reasonable to start filling in my ignorance with my wishful thinking and claiming it to be what it is not: intellectual.

    No it isn’t. And that is precisely what you are doing.

    Lets get to the nitty gritty, shall we. Produce one thing which is taught in Revelation which you claim contradicts true science. Or, have you even read the Bible?

    • There is so much unreasonableness imbedded in your comment that I cannot possible address it all in under 10,000 words so I’m not even going to try. What I will do go back to the original claim by Justin that placing certain similar claims in the category of history and other similar claims in the category of metaphor is false advertising. This short video tackles the ‘reasonable’ aspect of relying revelation, scriptural authority, and anecdote.

  5. tildeb says : October 23, 2014 at 2:31 am
    De Maria, if the authority of the church were well founded

    The authority of the Church is well founded.

    because it stood on such merit as a well-rounded historical record and credible sources,

    There are 2000 years of records for you to peruse.

    then the spectacular failure to communicate this basis upon which the supposed authority stands belongs solely to the church.

    Failure? The Catholic Church is the longest lived institution and has more members than any institution world wide. On what basis do you call its authority a failure? Wishful thinking?

    You’d think they should get some things right. Alas…

    The Catholic Church is the only infallible institution in the world. They get it all right.

    Even simple history is factually and repeatedly wrong in scripture – again, both OT and NT. (See here, here, and here).

    Pick one. Let’s discuss it.

    Jewish scholars admit that the entire Pentateuch is metaphor.

    That doesn’t ring true. See this website, Judaism.

    Archeologists know perfectly well that there was no exodus, for example.

    Show me the evidence that there was no Exodus from Archaelogy.

    Clearly, your historical claims of internal consistency are beyond ‘reasonable’ when the evidence is plain. You just want to see only what you wish to see and then pretend that’s all that can be seen unless grossly distorted by some diabolical dedication to non belief…..

    Obviously, all you want to do is make unsubstantiated denials. If you have something concrete, show it to me. Prove to me that you denials have substance.

    Otherwise all you’re doing is wishful thinking.

    • Show me the evidence that there was no Exodus from Archaelogy.

      Aside from everything else,there is what is called,the Settlement Pattern and demonstrates this fact quite clearly.

      • Arkenaten
        July 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm

        Aside from everything else,there is what is called,the Settlement Pattern and demonstrates this fact quite clearly.

        How is that proof? Sounds like a simple theory. Someone said to you, “Oh, the settlement pattern disproves the Exodus.” And since that is what you want to hear, you believe it.

        But I don’t. Try again.

  6. Interesting article!! Thank you for taking the time to write this up!

    Sadly, I think Justin, who I enjoy listening to on his show, “Unbelievable”, has taken way to many pointers from Rob Bell in evading questions.

    I was disappointed to read Justin’s response to the question about inerrancy. I kind of see where he is going with the Bible isn’t a Science textbook, but his comments in the end were evasive and his position isn;t very well thought through. From the article, he doesn’t hold to inerrancy, yet he thinks the Bible is reliable. I am not sure why he doesn’t hold to inerrancy then, if it is reliable?

    Like any text, the Bible needs to be read in context. These include the historical, literary and biblical contexts of any piece of writing found within God’s Word. When read in context, one may correctly interpret the authors intended meaning as opposed to the reader inventing their own twist on the text.

    Taking the variations in the timelines in the Gospels, for example, these need to be read in context. The Synoptic Gospels tend to hold to a linear way of thinking about time, where as John does not. Does that mean the Apostle John was not inspired as he wrote his Gospel? Absolutely not. Does it mean he is employing a different literary device to the authors of the synoptics? Yes.

    This is clear when reading Jesus’s interaction with Nicodemus (John 3). Nicodemus refers to Jesus as “One who has been sent by God”. He bases this on Jesus’s miracles. Yet, up to Chapter 3, Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles (bar the water to wine miracle – which was in-private). Point: Jesus had performed miracles, only they appear later in the text as the Gospel of John is ordered in a non-linear fashion.

    What’s my point? When the scriptures are read in context, they are more than reliable; they are inerrant. Prof Daniel Wallace wrote a great article on the issue: https://bible.org/article/my-take-inerrancy .

    Based on the above, if read in context, would Justin hold to inerrancy? Plus, I would love to know why else he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.

    Thanks again.

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