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An Unexamined Assumption: Can Discrimination or Bias Be Inferred from Statistical Inequalities?

Feb 10, 2016 | Justin Taylor

Thomas Sowell on a question many answer with confidence but may have never examined:

Virtually no one has seriously denied that discrimination and bias have resulted in various inequalities.

It is the converse proposition—that discrimination or bias can be inferred from statistical inequalities—which is the reigning non sequitur of our times, both intellectually and politically.

To prove statistically that the observed patterns of representation or reward are not due to random chance is considered to be virtual proof that they are due to discrimination—not to performance differences.

The implicit assumption is that a more or less even or random representation or reward for performance could be expected, in the absence of institutional or societal policies and practices which disadvantage one group compared to others.

Yet there has never been an even or random world, even in matters not controlled by the biases of others. Not only performance differences but also differences in luck and in many other factors wholly disrupt the simple picture of an even, regular, or balanced world. . . .

What is wholly unsubstantiated is the prevailing assumption that the world would be random or even, in the absence of discrimination or bias by individuals, institutions, or “society.”

—Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice (New York: Touchstone, 1999), 62-63.

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D.A. Carson’s FAQ (with Answers) on Scriptural Authority in the History of the Church

Feb 10, 2016 | Justin Taylor

download (1)Yesterday I mentioned the publication of The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, a 1,248-page tome edited by D. A. Carson (Eerdmans, 2016). I included the full list of contributors with their chapter titles and the questions they answer.

Following an orienting chapter by Carson, the first part covers historical topics across nine chapters:

2. Scripture in the Patristic Period to Augustine
3. The Bible in Reformation and Protestant Orthodoxy
4. Natural Philosophy and Biblical Authority in the Seventeenth Century
5. German Pietism and Scriptural Authority
6. Wesleyan Theology and the Authority of Scripture
7. The “Old Princetonians” on Biblical Authority
8. Accommodation Historically Considered
9. Karl Barth on Holy Scripture
10. Roman Catholic Views of Biblical Authority from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present

Below are D.A. Carson’s summarizing FAQs from each of these chapters.


1. D. A. Carson, “The Many Facets of the Current Discussion”

1.1 Why is the authority of Scripture so hotly debated today?

We live in a time when many competing voices scramble to impose their own understandings of life, culture, spirituality, and much else — the “age of authenticity,” in the words of Charles Taylor, when what makes us “authentic” is that we adopt an intrinsic suspicion of authorities so that we can be free to be ourselves. From the Bible’s perspective, this is, in part, a reprehensible flight from God, a form of idolatry.

1.2 Why are the issues surrounding the Bible’s authority so complicated?

A good deal of the complexity is bound up with the range of disciplines that affect how we understand biblical authority. These include disputes about how the Bible’s authority has been understood at various points in church history, what truth is, the nature of revelation, principles of interpretation, how different literary genres in the Bible have different ways of making their own rhetorical appeals, text criticism, epistemology, and much, much more.

1.3 Isn’t the word “inerrancy” pretty useless, since it has to be defined very carefully and technically for it to be deployed at all?

There are very few words in the pantheon of theological vocabulary that don’t have to be carefully defined if accurate communication and serious discussion are to take place. Consider, after all, “God,” “justification,” “apocalyptic,” “Spirit,” “regeneration,” “sanctification,” and many more. That a word, to be useful in theological debate, must be defined carefully (e.g., inerrancy has nothing necessary to do with precision, and certainly understands that the sacred Scriptures are written in a wide diversity of sentences and clauses, not all of which are propositions) is no reason not to use it.


 

2. Charles E. Hill, “‘The Truth Above All Demonstration': Scripture in the Patristic Period to Augustine”

2.1 What role did Scripture play in the writings of the patristic period?

Scripture lay at the very center of the intellectual and spiritual life of the Christians of the early centuries of the Christian church.

2.2 Wasn’t the formation of the New Testament canon a rather late development?

A careful reading of the primary sources shows that the notion of canon, as a given set of inspired and authoritative writings, was well established in the second century.

2.3 Didn’t the fathers apply the term “inspiration” to writings other than the writings of the New Testament?

Yes, once in a while they did — but then they deployed other terms to show that only the biblical writings were authoritative and free from error.


3. Robert Kolb, “The Bible in the Reformation and Protestant Orthodoxy”

3.1 Did Luther and Calvin provide substantial innovation as they worked out their doctrine of Scripture?

Both Reformers were heirs to the high view of Scripture they received from the early church and from medieval scholars. Their contribution, so far as their understanding of the nature of Scripture is concerned, largely lay in freeing up the Bible from its domestication by certain ecclesiastical traditions and by scarcely constrained allegorizing. Theologically, there is a Christ-centeredness and a justification-centeredness in their handling of Scripture that sets them apart, but such exegesis did not exclude attention to the Bible as the authority for other matters in the church’s and believer’s life.

3.2 Doesn’t Luther’s well-known comment that James is “an epistle of straw” demonstrate that he was prepared to dismiss Scripture when it didn’t suit his theology?

On the contrary. In the same Prefaces, Luther insists that James is “a good book because it sets up no human teaching but vigorously promulgates the law of God.” But Luther tended to evaluate the weight of any biblical text by the clarity with which it expounded Christ and justification. Hence his characterization of James as an “epistle of straw.”

3.3 How similar are the views of Luther and Calvin on the doctrine of Scripture?

Both of these Reformers embraced the absolute authority of God’s Word, from which the Holy Spirit, who brought the texts into being through human authors, still speaks. Slight differences emerge in their formulations: Luther, for instance, was significantly influenced by Ockham, and Calvin was not. Again, Luther does not use the word “inspiration” as much as Calvin, but he does insist that the Holy Spirit was truly present in the origin and is truly present in the use of Scripture.


4. Rodney L. Stiling, “Natural Philosophy and Biblical Authority in the Seventeenth Century”

4.1 Weren’t the scientists of the seventeenth century, such as Kepler, Galileo, and Newton (like Copernicus a century earlier), essentially an early species of secularists whose scientific methods left them free to challenge the authority of Scripture?

No. All these men were Christians or Deists who continued to reverence Scripture. But hermeneutically they tended to argue that when it comes to the natural order the Bible tends to speak phenomenologically (to use the word we prefer today). And some of these scientists cited Scripture, with all its authority, to justify learning about God and his ways by studying the natural order God had made.

4.2 Didn’t theologians systematically try to marginalize the scientists?

In the seventeenth century, the Westminster divines were themselves moving in the direction of recognizing secondary causes in nature. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 5 (on Providence), God is identified as the “first cause”; indeed, the divines affirmed that while “God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, . . . yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.” The supporting footnote cites half a dozen biblical texts that depict ordinary cause-and-effect relationships in the natural order. In other words, they went out of their way to incorporate the findings and foci of scientists within a larger theological framework.

4.3 So when did a more skeptical approach to the Scriptures begin to surface among scientists?

Well into the eighteenth century — and even then the evidence is quite mixed.


5. John D. Woodbridge, “German Pietism and Scriptural Authority: The Question of Biblical Inerrancy”

5.1 Is it not the case that many Christians in the Pietist-Methodist-Holiness-Pentecostal traditions trace at least some of their roots to Spener and other German Pietists? And that includes their views on Scripture?

Yes, that much is certainly true.

5.2 Is it not the case that Spener and other early Pietists rejected inerrancy, owing in part to their reaction against Lutheran orthodoxy?

It is true that this position is often asserted, not least in the writings of Donald Dayton. But careful perusal of the primary sources themselves shows it simply isn’t the case. The early Pietists, by their own testimony, were solidly in the inerrantist camp. They did not reject Lutheran views of Scripture; rather, they constantly criticized Lutherans for not living up to their own theology.


6. Thomas H. McCall, “Wesleyan Theology and the Authority of Scripture: Historic Affirmations and Some Contemporary Issues”

6.1 Is it not true to say that the Wesleyan tradition on Scripture descends from Pietism, such that Pietist views on Scripture controlled the stances of the early Wesleyans?

There was much more crossover of traditions than is sometimes envisaged. In other words, early Wesleyans were shaped not only by Pietism but also by Scholasticism and other traditions — and all of those traditions were committed to the classic traditional understanding of the nature of Scripture.

6.2 Why then do many Wesleyans explicitly reject the traditional stance on inerrancy?

Some do so because they misread the primary documents of Pietism (see FAQs 5.1 and 5.2 above), or because they distance themselves from the mainstream Wesleyan heritage on this subject. Others reject the traditional Wesleyan stance on Scripture because they think it is incompatible with the Free Will Defense. William Lane Craig has demonstrated, however, that their logic is not unassailable.

6.3 Haven’t some Wesleyans (especially William Abraham) argued that, since the Bible has been given for purposes of transformation rather than information (which seems to be the focus of attention in inerrantist formulations), the emphases of the traditional position on truth are fatally misdirected?

Indeed, that is one of the arguments sometimes deployed. The argument expresses a legitimate concern, but it does not undermine the traditional view in any way. On the contrary, it encourages us to appreciate the classical view even more. A small analogy helps: a physician acquires a body of knowledge in order to heal people — but it is altogether desirable that that body of knowledge be true and reliable if real healing is to take place. One cannot legitimately sideline the importance of the truthfulness of Scripture by observing, rightly, that the purpose of Scripture is more than truth-telling.


7. Bradley N. Seeman, “The ‘Old Princetonians’ on Biblical Authority”

7.1 Who are the “Old Princetonians,” and why are they brought up in connection with debates over the nature of Scripture?

The expression “Old Princetonians” refers to the remarkably learned and influential theologians and biblical scholars at Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth century (including Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin B. Warfield — the latter working into the beginning of the twentieth century). It is commonly alleged that in their defensive stance against the inroads into the doctrine of Scripture in their day, they ended up introducing innovations into the doctrine, including the affirmation of inerrancy, that were unknown before them.

7.2 What, more precisely, are the Old Princetonians alleged to have done?

Under the influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism and a Baconian view of science, the Old Princetonians allegedly viewed the Bible as a repository of inerrant truths, which simply needed to be carefully gathered together in a scientific fashion so as to compile a reliable systematic theology.

7.3 Are the charges against the Old Princetonians justified?

While they were men of their time who undoubtedly made mistakes, the Old Princetonians rightly understood their defense of inerrant Scripture to stand within the classic and common heritage of the church. In their day, novel critiques of church teaching were being consolidated on Kantian or Hegelian foundations. Their defense faithfully restated church teaching and included pointed critiques of Baconianism and Scottish Common Sense Realism. As Seeman puts it, “The Princetonian reaffirmation and defense of the church’s teaching on biblical authority is not beholden to an indefensible epistemological stance.” Not only so, but both Hodge and Warfield display remarkable profundity in sorting through how systematic theology is responsibly constructed — a far cry from seeing it as mechanical compilation of facts.


8. Glenn S. Sunshine, “Accommodation Historically Considered”

8.1 What is meant by “accommodation”?

In the fathers, the Middle Ages, and Calvin, the topic of accommodation arose partly out of reflection on the ways in which an infinite and holy God could communicate with his finite and sinful image-bearers (he could do so by “accommodating” himself to their limitations), and partly as a way to explain apparent contradictions in the text of Scripture (the language is frequently accommodated to the understanding of common human beings — e.g., by describing some things in phenomenological language, which of course we still do today when we say things such as “The sun will rise this morning at 5:39 a.m.”).

8.2 Is that how accommodation is commonly understood today? 

In the late Enlightenment, while some followed Spinoza and simply rejected biblical authority, many scholars maintained some sort of notion of biblical authority but under the influence of Socinus, whose views of accommodation included the assertion that the many ostensible errors in Scripture were no more than God’s “accommodation” to flawed human beings. Those who presuppose this more recent view of accommodation, with its ready embrace of many kinds of error, are misleading when they say that accommodation has always been part of sophisticated treatments of Scripture. Although formally true, the statement hides the way the notion of accommodation has changed in recent centuries. Discussion of the topic has become complex. Arguably Calvin saw accommodation as a theological category tied to God’s grace toward us, and exemplified in some ways in the incarnation. That is a far cry from seeing it as a merely rhetorical and exegetical device.


9. David Gibson, “The Answering Speech of Men: Karl Barth on Holy Scripture”

9.1 How come Karl Barth’s views of Scripture have come back to be the focus of so much attention today?

There are at least three reasons. First, Barth was certainly the most prolific and perhaps creative theologian of the twentieth century, so it is no wonder that people study his writings. Second, Barth’s thought is profoundly God-centered, profoundly Christ-centered, profoundly grace-centered. And third, his view of Scripture, though not quite in line with traditional confessionalism, is reverent, subtle, and complex, so scholars keep debating exactly what he was saying.

9.2 Doesn’t Barth say that the Bible isn’t the Word of God, but becomes the Word of God when it is received by faith?

In fact, he can affirm both; the question is, What does he mean? The “becoming” language is for Barth tied up with his insistence that the initial revelation of the Word and its revelation to the individual believer are tied up together in one gracious whole. The same is true with Barth’s treatment of inspiration. He refuses to speak of the Bible as itself inspired, but links together what is traditionally called the inspiration of Scripture and the illumination of the believer into one whole.

9.3 Doesn’t Barth claim to stand in line with the Reformers, so far as his view of Scripture is concerned?

Yes, he does, but he is clearly mistaken. Comparison with Calvin, for example, casts up not a few instances where Calvin happily speaks of the inspiration of Scripture, the text itself being God-breathed, regardless of whether or how believers receive it. Barth prefers to speak of the out-breathing of the Spirit of God in both the text and the believer, thus distancing himself both from the exegesis of Scripture and from the Reformed tradition. He appears to recognize his distance from Calvin in CD II/2, §3e. 9.4 Does Barth allow that there are errors in Scripture? Yes, he does, though he refuses to identify them (but cf. his treatment of the fall of angels in 2 Peter and Jude, CD III/3, §51, where he finds a theological error in Scripture). For Barth, this seems to be part of the humanness of Scripture, though he insists that God’s revelatory authority encompasses the whole, errors and all. That in turn inevitably raises questions about how passages of Scripture that include errors (not identified) can be said to carry the revelatory authority of God.


10. Anthony N. S. Lane, “Roman Catholic Views of Biblical Authority from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present”

10.1 Does the Roman Catholic Church share the same view of Scripture that you have been describing as “classic” or “traditional”?

Yes. Indeed, across many centuries and until quite recently, Catholicism has been one of the mainstays in holding that the Bible is uniquely inspired by God, and inerrant. But that is not the whole picture. Catholicism has also held that tradition has an authority comparable to that of Scripture, and in any case the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the church, alone determines what Scripture and tradition mean. Thus, so far as understanding the nature of Scripture goes, the Reformers’ argument with Rome was not so much over the nature of Scripture as over its exclusive sufficiency.

10.2 What do you mean by “until quite recently”? Have the views of Catholicism as to the nature of Scripture changed?

For the last century or so, Catholicism has gradually recognized more of the human dimensions of Scripture than had formerly been the case. Vatican II, however, signaled a more dramatic shift. Influenced in part by liberal Protestantism, the Catholic Church in Vatican II (1962-65) tended to preserve much of the traditional language, while allowing to stand in Scripture a lot of things that an earlier generation would have understood to be errors.

10.3 Is this proving divisive in the Roman Catholic Church?

Arguably not as divisive as in various forms of Protestantism, in part because the Magisterium preserves its voice of authority as to the teachings of the church, regardless of changes in the way Scripture is perceived.

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A Massive New Book on the Authority of Scripture, Edited by D. A. Carson

Feb 09, 2016 | Justin Taylor

download (1)Years in the making, Eerdmans has now published The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, a 1,248-page tome edited by D. A. Carson, which grew out of funding from the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Here is their description:

In The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures thirty-seven first-rate evangelical scholars present a thorough study of biblical authority and a full range of issues connected to it. Recognizing that Scripture and its authority are now being both challenged and defended with renewed vigor, editor D. A. Carson assigned the topics that these select scholars address in the book. After an introduction by Carson to the many facets of the current discussion, the contributors present robust essays on relevant historical, biblical, theological, philosophical, epistemological, and comparative-religions topics. To conclude, Carson answers a number of frequently asked questions about the nature of Scripture, providing cross-references to the preceding chapters. This comprehensive volume by a team of recognized experts will be the go-to reference on the nature and authority of the Bible for years to come.

The chapters are broken down as follows:

  • Part 1: Historical Topics (9 chapters)
  • Part 2: Biblical and Theological Topics (14 chapters)
  • Part 3: Philosophical And Epistemological Topics (6 chapters)
  • Part 4: Comparative Religions Topics (4 chapters)
  • Part 5: Thinking Holistically (1 chapter)
  • Part 6: FAQs (1 chapter)

At the end of the book, D. A. Carson provides a summarizing FAQ, where he provides summary answers to the questions raised in each chapter.

I have outlined below the contributor, the chapter title, and the questions addressed. Tomorrow, I will provide Carson’s answers for the historical section.


1. D. A. Carson, “The Many Facets of the Current Discussion”

1.1 Why is the authority of Scripture so hotly debated today?

1.2 Why are the issues surrounding the Bible’s authority so complicated?

1.3 Isn’t the word “inerrancy” pretty useless, since it has to be defined very carefully and technically for it to be deployed at all?


Part 1: Historical Topics

2. Charles E. Hill, “‘The Truth Above All Demonstration': Scripture in the Patristic Period to Augustine”

2.1 What role did Scripture play in the writings of the patristic period?

2.2 Wasn’t the formation of the New Testament canon a rather late development?

2.3 Didn’t the fathers apply the term “inspiration” to writings other than the writings of the New Testament?

3. Robert Kolb, “The Bible in the Reformation and Protestant Orthodoxy”

3.1 Did Luther and Calvin provide substantial innovation as they worked out their doctrine of Scripture?

3.2 Doesn’t Luther’s well-known comment that James is “an epistle of straw” demonstrate that he was prepared to dismiss Scripture when it didn’t suit his theology?

3.3 How similar are the views of Luther and Calvin on the doctrine of Scripture?

4. Rodney L. Stiling, “Natural Philosophy and Biblical Authority in the Seventeenth Century”

4.1 Weren’t the scientists of the seventeenth century, such as Kepler, Galileo, and Newton (like Copernicus a century earlier), essentially an early species of secularists whose scientific methods left them free to challenge the authority of Scripture?

4.2 Didn’t theologians systematically try to marginalize the scientists?

4.3 So when did a more skeptical approach to the Scriptures begin to surface among scientists?

5. John D. Woodbridge, “German Pietism and Scriptural Authority: The Question of Biblical Inerrancy”

5.1 Is it not the case that many Christians in the Pietist-Methodist-Holiness-Pentecostal traditions trace at least some of their roots to Spener and other German Pietists? And that includes their views on Scripture?

5.2 Is it not the case that Spener and other early Pietists rejected inerrancy, owing in part to their reaction against Lutheran orthodoxy?

6. Thomas H. McCall, “Wesleyan Theology and the Authority of Scripture: Historic Affirmations and Some Contemporary Issues”

6.1 Is it not true to say that the Wesleyan tradition on Scripture descends from Pietism, such that Pietist views on Scripture controlled the stances of the early Wesleyans?

6.2 Why then do many Wesleyans explicitly reject the traditional stance on inerrancy?

6.3 Haven’t some Wesleyans (especially William Abraham) argued that, since the Bible has been given for purposes of transformation rather than information (which seems to be the focus of attention in inerrantist formulations), the emphases of the traditional position on truth are fatally misdirected?

7. Bradley N. Seeman, “The ‘Old Princetonians’ on Biblical Authority”

7.1 Who are the “Old Princetonians,” and why are they brought up in connection with debates over the nature of Scripture?

7.2 What, more precisely, are the Old Princetonians alleged to have done?

7.3 Are the charges against the Old Princetonians justified?

8. Glenn S. Sunshine, “Accommodation Historically Considered”

8.1 What is meant by “accommodation”?

8.2 Is that how accommodation is commonly understood today?

9. David Gibson, “The Answering Speech of Men: Karl Barth on Holy Scripture”

9.1 How come Karl Barth’s views of Scripture have come back to be the focus of so much attention today?

9.2 Doesn’t Barth say that the Bible isn’t the Word of God, but becomes the Word of God when it is received by faith?

9.3 Doesn’t Barth claim to stand in line with the Reformers, so far as his view of Scripture is concerned?

10. Anthony N. S. Lane, “Roman Catholic Views of Biblical Authority from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present”

10.1 Does the Roman Catholic Church share the same view of Scripture that you have been describing as “classic” or “traditional”?

10.2 What do you mean by “until quite recently”? Have the views of Catholicism as to the nature of Scripture changed?

10.3 Is this proving divisive in the Roman Catholic Church?


Part 2: Biblical and Theological Topics

11. Stephen G. Dempster, “The Old Testament Canon, Josephus, and Cognitive Environment”

11.1 Is there scholarly consensus on when the Old Testament canon was more or less stable?

11.2 What is the nature of the evidence that these two positions are fighting over?

12. V. Philips Long, “‘Competing Histories, Competing Theologies?’ Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Old Testament(s’ Readers)”

12.1 Why do the substantive differences among scholars regarding the history of Israel matter to our Christian faith?

12.2 Then the more pressing question becomes, Why do these substantive differences regarding the history of Israel exist? Why can’t scholars agree on such matters?

12.3 In order to preserve discussion, might it not be a good thing for the supernaturalists to engage in some discussion on a kind of “as if ” basis — that is, to play by the rules of the philosophical naturalists, not because they espouse them, but “as if ” they were right in order to see how far the study of the texts can take us on this reduced basis?

13. Peter J. Williams, “Ehrman’s Equivocations and the Inerrancy of the Original Text”

13.1 Does it make any sense to affirm that the Bible is inerrant in the original, when we do not possess the autographa?

13.2 What do you mean by the “multivalence” of these expressions?

13.3 What difference does this make for discussions about inerrancy?

14. Simon Gathercole, “E Pluribus Unim? Apostolic Unity and Early Christian Literature”

14.1 Haven’t many scholars demonstrated that in its origins Christianity was highly diverse, theologically speaking, and that unity of doctrine was gradually and rigidly enforced by the group that viewed itself alone as orthodox, a process that took three or four centuries?

14.2 What evidence supports your claim?

15. Graham A. Cole, “Why a Book? Why This Book? Why the Particular Order within This Book? Some Theological Reflections on the Canon”

15.1 Isn’t the “canon” of biblical books a rather arbitrary collection?

15.2 When was the present order of the books in our canon established?

16. Peter F. Jensen, “God and the Bible”

16.1 How should we think of the relationship between God and his Word?

16.2 Isn’t it possible to believe the gospel without being too fussed about believing everything in the Bible?

16.3 Aren’t such demands a bit out of favor with contemporary demands for authentic freedom?

17. Henri A. G. Blocher, ‘God and the Scripture Writers: The Question of Double Authorship”

17.1 The notion of two authors, divine and human, standing behind the Scriptures is intrinsically difficult. How should we begin to think about these things?

17.2 But are not some models for thinking about this “dual authorship” better than others?

18. Bruce K. Waltke, “Myth, History, and the Bible”

18.1 Aren’t the “pre-history” chapters of the Bible — Genesis 1-11 — cast as myths?

18.2 Doesn’t the creation account in Genesis sound very much like (for instance) the Babylonian Enuma Elish and other ancient Near Eastern creation myths?

19. Barry G. Webb, “Biblical Authority and Diverse Literary Genres”

19.1 In their treatments of biblical authority, haven’t Christians paid too little attention to the Bible’s diverse literary genres?

19.2 How is the authority of Scripture related to Scripture’s diverse literary genres?

19.3 Are there any advantages bound up with the Bible’s highly diverse literary genres?

20. Mark D. Thompson, “The Generous Gift of a Gracious Father: Toward a Theological Account of the Clarity of Scripture”

20.1 What is meant by “the clarity of Scripture”?

20.2 But can’t the clarity of Scripture be abused? Don’t we need some sort of authoritative office, like the Catholic Magisterium, to teach us what is clearly being said when there are so many differences of opinion?

21. Osvaldo Padilla, “Postconservative Theologians and Scriptural Authority”

21.1 Do some of the postconservative theologians offer a helpful way forward?

21.2 Yet is it not the case today that most philosophers reject foundationalism?

22. Craig L. Blomberg, “Reflections on Jesus’ View of the Old Testament”

22.1 Isn’t it a bit circular to try to establish Jesus’ view of the Scriptures by appealing to the Gospels, which are part of the Scriptures?

22.2 So among the countless opinions regarding the reliability of the Gospels, how can you construct a historically credible approach to finding Jesus’ views on the authority of (antecedent) Scripture?

23. Douglas J. Moo and Andrew David Naselli, “The Problem of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament”

23.1 Do not many scholars dismiss any notion of inerrancy, or even inspiration, on the ground that the NT writers use the OT very (shall we say) “creatively” — that is, with no apparent respect for the OT context?

23.2 Their argument seems like a good one. How would you respond?

24. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “May We Go Beyond What Is Written After All? The Pattern of Theological Authority and the problem of Doctrinal Development”

24.1 What are the dangers in trying to move from Scripture to the construction of systematic theology?

24.2 But how should we move from Scripture to theology?

24.3 Do you have a name for this approach?

24.4 So are we supposed to go “beyond what is written” or not?


Part 3: Philosophical and Epistemological Topics

25. James Beilby, “Contemporary Religious Epistemology: Some Key Aspects”

25.1 What are we to make of the widespread cynicism over the ability to know anything about God?

25.2 What is the value of epistemology?

26. R. Scott Smith, “Non-Foundational Epistemologies and the Truth of Scripture”

26.1 Isn’t it possible to reject foundationalism utterly and still hold to inerrancy?

26.2 Should we then defend foundationalism as an epistemological stance that makes the defense of a high view of Scripture more coherent?

27. Michael C. Rea, “Authority and Truth”

27.1 Do the authority and truth of any text stand or fall together?

27.2 Is there no connection between authority and truth?

28. Paul Helm, “The Idea of Inerrancy”

28.1 Doesn’t a word such as “inerrancy” lose its attractiveness and utility if it has to be buttressed by endless qualifications, distinctions, and definitions?

28.2 So what simple definition of “inerrancy” might be advanced?

29. Richard Lints, “To Whom Does the Text Belong? Communities of Interpretation and the Interpretation of Communities”

29.1 Today there is increasing talk of “interpretive communities.” What does this expression mean?

29.2 So, then, are all interpretations by diverse communities equally valid, equally faithful?

30. Kirsten Birkett, “Science and Scripture”

30.1 Isn’t it true that Christians who defend the truthfulness of Scripture are in a long and losing conflict with science?

30.2 When science and the Bible seem to be in conflict, how should Christians proceed? How should they think things through?


Part 4: Comparative Religions Topics

31. Te-Li Lau, “Knowing the Bible Is the Word of God Despite Competing Claims”

31.1 At a deep level, aren’t the holy books of scriptures of various world religions really saying the same thing?

31.2 Aren’t the Bible’s self-attesting claims a form of circular argument that is essentially self-defeating?

31.3 Since the holy books of other religions make self-attesting claims in a fashion not dissimilar from the claims the Bible makes, how can one legitimately claim exclusive authority for the Bible?

32. Ida Glaser, “Qur’anic Challenges for the Bible Reader”

32.1 Do Muslims view the Qurʾan, their holy book, in much the same ways in which Christians view the Bible, their holy book?

32.2. At least both sides have one set text, one holy book each, don’t they?

32.3 How, then, are Christians and Muslims to converse freely and knowledgeably with one another?

33. Timothy C. Tennent, “Can Hindu Scriptures Serve as a “Tutor” to Christ?”

33.1 In Hindu belief, where is revelation located? Do not Hindus have holy books?

33.2 Is it appropriate for Christians to view the Hindu sacred writings as a sort of Hindu equivalent to the Old Testament — a kind of preparation for Christ and the new covenant?

34. Harold Netland and Alex G. Smith, “Buddhist Sutras and Christian Revelation”

34.1 Do Buddhists possess their own “Bible,” their own sacred writings?

34.2 Do Buddhists hold that all these sacred writings convey revealed truth?


Part 5: Thinking Holistically

35. Daniel M. Doriani, “Take, Read”

35.1 Doesn’t a collection of essays like the ones in this volume sport the risk of making the Bible something that we examine, that we study, that we master, that we defend — instead of being God’s revelation to us, something we must understand and trust and obey, something to which we submit as we submit to God himself?

35.2 Then what is the way ahead?


Part 6: FAQs

36. D. A. Carson, “Summarizing FAQs”

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David Powlison: “Depression and Suffering: Finding Hope and Healing for Ourselves and Others”

Feb 08, 2016 | Justin Taylor

David Powlison, executive director of CCEF, gave a public talk at RTS Charlotte on January 18, 2016, addressing the topic of depression and suffering, offering counsel on finding hope and healing for ourselves and others.

You can watch it below:

Here is a brief outline of the talk:

1. Katharina von Schlegel, “Be Still, My Soul”

2. Five Questions on the Experience of Depression

  • Is “depression” the best word to use?
  • Is the experience essentially biological?
  • Is the experience essentially sinful?
  • What are the various factors that can come into play in this experience?
  • If there is no neat explanation or simple fix, then where is our point of contact for understanding this experience?

3. Psalm 25 and the Questions Strugglers Face

  • “Do I need help?”
  • “Do I trust you?”
  • “Will I be honest with you?”
  • “Do you understand me?”
  • “Will I consider what you say to me?”
  • “Will I take to heart what you say?”
  • “Will I act?”
  • “Will I persevere?”

4. The Heart of People Helping People: 2 Corinthians 1:4

  • The surprise of humility
  • The surprise of caring
  • The surprise of good questions
  • The surprise of careful listening
  • The surprise of relevance
  • The surprise of grace
  • The surprise of small obediences
  • The surprise of patient process

5. Edith Cherry, “We Rest on Thee”

For more resources on Christians battling depressions, go here.

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Ken Myers: “What Is Culture?”

Feb 04, 2016 | Justin Taylor

Ken Myers, founder and proprietor of Mars Hill Audio Journal:

Most anthropologists and sociologists define a culture as a way of life informed by and perpetuating a set of assumptions or beliefs concerning life’s meaning. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz, for example, offers a typical definition of culture as

an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes to life.

A culture is a system or network of abstractions (beliefs or attitudes) as well as specific things (e.g., books, songs, buildings, schools), which are sustained by conventional practices and institutions. Just as a garden is an ecosystem that includes soil, plants, insects, rainfall, patterns of sunlight, the effects of heat and cold, and weeding and fertilizing procedures, so a culture is a complex whole comprising elements that interact and influence one another.

But there is also, Myers claims, an irreducible incarnational aspect to human cultures:

Human cultures are more complex, since they also include beliefs, ideas, and the spiritual aspects of human personhood. But those intangible elements are only sustained by taking form. Cultures may be said to be inherently incarnational, the spirit necessarily taking flesh for a culture to be present.

Myers goes on to explain how cultures take shape in space and time:

Cultures take shape in space (through artifacts and practices) and also in time, through the transmission and perpetuation of a kind of legacy or inheritance. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin writes that a culture is

the sum total of ways of living developed by a group of human beings and handed on from generation to generation.

Cultures may be said to exist for the sake of passing on from one generation to the next a vision of life well lived, a set of loyalties, a body of wisdom. Cultures cultivate the hearts, the minds, and the embodied actions of their current and their future members. They convey explicit beliefs through teaching and ritual, but at a more subtle level they convey a way of being in the world that renders some beliefs more plausible than others.

He then makes a theological turn:

Speaking more theologically, we may think of culture as what we make of Creation. Cultural artifacts from primitive tools to fine art are manufactured from the physical stuff of Creation. Such artifacts—together with the institutions, practices, and beliefs that call them forth—are often expressions of what we make of Creation in a figurative sense. Forms of cultural expression contain and convey assumptions about what kinds of beings we think we are and what we believe about the world that we inhabit.

What is most fundamentally cultivated by a culture is a posture or orientation to Creation, and thus to the Creator. This gives us a standard by which to evaluate cultural forms: Do they represent well the kinds of creatures we are and the kind of world in which God has placed us?

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Don’t Have Time to Read Books? Try This One Weird Trick

Feb 02, 2016 | Justin Taylor

book chair 2Sorry for the clickbait headline. I’ll keep this short.

Here’s my suggestion: if you don’t have time to read books, start reading chapters instead.

Almost every time I read from a book—whether a novel or a biography or a non-fiction book—I have two things with me: a pen and a bookmark.

I use the pen to underline or circle phrases or make notations in the margins. This makes finding things easier, and I tend to remember things better when I mark them.

I then place the bookmark at the end of the chapter. That creates a small goal: I simply want to finish the chapter. It’s motivation when I’m tired and I see there are just a few pages left—I can press on and get it finished. It allows me to hear the author’s coherent argument (or with biography or fiction, to see the picture that the author wants me to see). It doesn’t give me the entire argument or picture, but it gives me a coherent part of the whole.

If the average person readers 250-300 words a minute, and if the average book page has about that many words, then you can use that as a rough calculation. If you can find 10-15 minutes in your day to read, you can often get through a chapter.

Not every book needs to be finished. But I suspect if you think in terms of reading chapters, rather than reading “whole books” or reading “just a few pages,” you’ll end up finishing more books by thinking this way than the other ways.

Just a suggestion.

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Is C.S. Lewis’s Liar-Lord-or-Lunatic Argument Unsound?

Feb 01, 2016 | Justin Taylor

poached-eggC. S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or the Lord. But, as Kyle Barton has shown, he didn’t invent it.

In the mid-nineteenth century the Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan (1796-1870) formulated what he called a “trilemma.” In Colloquia Peripatetica (p. 109) we see Duncan’s argument from 1859-1860, with my numbering added:

Christ either [1] deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or [2] He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or [3] He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.

In 1936, Watchman Nee made a similar argument in his book, Normal Christian Faith. A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:

First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.

Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie.

Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.

You can only choose one of the three possibilities.

If you do not believe that he is God, you have to consider him a madman.

If you cannot take him for either of the two, you have to take him for a liar.

There is no need for us to prove if Jesus of Nazareth is God or not. All we have to do is find out if He is a lunatic or a liar. If He is neither, He must be the Son of God.

C. S. Lewis, speaking in 1942 (and published in Mere Christianity in 1952), gave the argument its most memorable formulation:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)

Is this a good argument?

The argument can be formulated as follows:

  1. If Jesus were not Lord, he would be a liar or a lunatic.
  2. Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is Lord.

To determine whether this argument is sound, we have to ask three questions:

  1. Are the terms clear?
  2. Is the logic valid?
  3. Are the premises true?

I would give the following answers:

  1. Yes, the terms are clear.
  2. Yes, the logic is valid; premise 3 follows from premises 1 and 2 based on the rules of logic (Modus Tollens: the negation of the antecedent of premise 1 can be inferred by the negation of its consequent).
  3. But no, the argument is unsound, because not all of the premises are necessarily true. As William Lane Craig points out in Reasonable Faith, the first premise leaves out other possible options and is therefore false. There is another alternative: perhaps the Jesus presented in the Bible is not the true Jesus of history. The Jesus of the Bible may not be a liar or a lunatic or a Lord but rather a legend. In other words, the Jesus of the Bible is not the Jesus of history, so your claims about what must be trust about the Jesus of the Bible do not lead to conclusions about the actual lordship of the Jesus of history.

But C. S. Lewis can help with the rebuttal here.

In a 1950 essay, “What Are We to Make of Jesus?” Lewis works through some of Jesus’s startling claims about himself in Scripture, repeating his insistence that you can’t conclude that he was simply a “great moral teacher.” If what he said is true, Lewis says, then they are the sayings of a “megalomanic.”

In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion, which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.

It’s here that Lewis addresses the rebuttal that Jesus did not really say these things; his followers exaggerated the story and the legend grew that he really said these things. Lewis shows how unlikely it would be for the Jews to invent God become man:

This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, they belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God—that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.

The other option is that the accounts of Jesus were written as legends. Here Lewis draws upon his scholarly expertise:

Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there is no conversation that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence.

So Lewis thinks it implausible that monotheistic Jews would have invented an incarnate Messiah and he thinks that the genre of the gospels bears none of the typical marks of legends—based upon a lifetime of scholarly and leisure reading of ancient legends. Therefore, the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of history. And if this one Jesus were not Lord, he would be a liar or a lunatic. But he is truthful (not a liar) and sane (not a lunatic). Therefore he is Lord.

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Picture Two Jews the Day Before the First Passover

Jan 30, 2016 | Justin Taylor

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D. A. Carson on Whether Acts 17:23 Can Be Used in the Muslim-Christian Same-God Discussion

Jan 29, 2016 | Justin Taylor

mars-hill-header-960x350
When the Apostle Paul visited Athens and addressed their pagan philosophers in the Areopagus (“Mars Hill”), he said: “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

At the recent Bethlehem College & Seminary Pastors Conference I led a panel interviewing Joe Rigney and Don Carson. I asked Carson about this text being used to defend the notion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Here was his response:

The argument that some have put forward is that Paul does not in that address say, “We’re worshipping entirely different gods here,” but, “What you ignorantly worship, that I declare to you.”

But put it in context. A text without a context becomes a pre-text for a proof-text.

When they are speaking of an “unknown god,” it’s in a polytheistic context, not a context of monotheism. And the reason why they have an altar to an unknown god is because they live their lives in fear with respect to what the various gods can do. You propitiate the gods with appropriate sacrifices so that you can have a fat baby or a safe trip to Rome or whatever it is you’re asking for. And there might be some god out there who’s really quite nasty tempered so you offer a sacrifice to him, too (or her, as the case may be—there were goddesses as well as gods).

None of that is relevant to what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying, “This particular god is the God that I’m talking about.”

And even if it were, it scarcely applies to the Muslim world, where the Muslims do not say, “We don’t really know much about God, why don’t you fill the content for us.” Allah is not to them an unknown god. He is very known. And when I converse with my most serious Muslims friends—and I have some—they resent the notion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. They think it’s a terrible distortion for Christians to say things like that. They think it’s an abomination, in fact, because you actually believe things like God having a Son—things like that. In fact, one Muslim country, Malaysia, had made it illegal for Christians and Muslims to use the same word, Allah, for God.

So this use of Acts 17:23, ripped out of its context, reflects a sold-out commitment to a kind of muddle-headed Western notion of tolerance that is not thinking clearly about what Paul is saying in the context. He is saying that “what you ignorantly worship this I declare to you,” not because he is making an ontological statement of identity but because he is stressing their ignorance.

You can watch or listen to the whole hour-long discussion here, where we covered a number of topics (including voting for presidential candidates).

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How Donald Trump Uses Language

Jan 28, 2016 | Justin Taylor

Evan Puschak, the “Nerd Writer,” has put together an excellent video analyzing a single answer by Donald Trump to a single question by Jimmy Kimmel:

HT: @JoeCarter

Barton Swaim, author of The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics, made a number of these points in a September 15, 2015, piece for The Washington Post.

To get at what makes Trump’s language different, take a look at the shape of his sentences. They don’t work the way modern political rhetoric does — they work the way punchlines work: short (sometimes very short) with the most important words at the end.

That’s rare among modern politicians, and not simply because they lack Trump’s showmanship or comedic gifts. It’s rare because most successful modern politicians are habitually careful with their language. They are keenly aware of the ways in which any word they speak may be interpreted or misinterpreted by journalists and partisan groups and constituencies and demographic groups.

And so in important situations — situations in which they know a lot depends on what they say or don’t say — their language takes on (at least) two peculiar characteristics. First, their syntax tends to abstraction. They speak less about particular things and people — bills, countries, identifiable officials — and more about “legislation” and “the international community” and “officials” and “industry” and “Washington” and “government.”

Second, their sentences take on a higher number of subordinate clauses and qualifying phrases — “over the last several years,” “in general,” “in effect,” “what people are telling me,” and so on. This is the kind of language you use when you’re aware that your words might be misinterpreted or used against you.

When used well, it conveys competence and assures listeners that the speaker thinks coherent thoughts and holds reasonable positions. It suggests that the speaker cares about the truth of his claims. But politicians are frequently too careful with their language, and this conscientiousness can begin to sound like deceit or cowardice. When they rely too heavily on abstractions, when they avoid concrete nouns, when all their statements seem always hedged by qualifying phrases, they sound like politicians, in the worst sense of the word. To my ear, anyway, Hillary Clinton sounds this way almost all the time.

Whether used well or poorly, however, the language of a typical modern politician has a distinctive sound to it. It sounds complex and careful—sometimes sophisticated, sometimes emotive, sometimes artificial or over-scripted, but always circumspect and inevitably disingenuous.

Trump’s language is from another rhetorical tradition entirely.

You can read his analysis of the way Trump talks here.

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The 3 Phases of American History: Pursuing Hope Against the Strange Melancholy that Haunts Them

Jan 26, 2016 | Justin Taylor

downloadAfter visiting America in the 1830s, the observant Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville made the following comment:

Men easily attain a certain equality of condition, but they can never attain as much as they desire.

It perpetually retires from before them, yet without hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on.

At every moment they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes at every moment form their hold. They are near enough to see its charms, but too far off to enjoy them; and before they have fully tasted its delights, they die.

That is the reason for the strange melancholy that haunts inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of abundance.

download (1)Andrew Delbanco, in his book The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), originally delivered as the William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization, comments on this strange and haunting melancholy in American life:

Any history of hope in America must . . . make room at is center for this dogged companion of hope—the lurking suspicion that all our getting and spending amounts to nothing more than fidgeting while we wait for death.

Delbanco identifies three phases in the history of America:

[1. God]

In the first phase of our civilization, hope was chiefly expressed through a Christian story that gave meaning to suffering and pleasure alike and promised deliverance from death.

This story held the imagination largely without challenge for nearly two hundred years.

[2. Nation]

In the second phase, as Christianity came under pressure from Enlightenment rationality, the promise of self-realization was transformed into the idea of citizenship in a sacred union.

This process, which began before the Revolution and did not run its course until the 1960s, has been efficiently described by Conor Cruise O’Brien, who makes clear that it was by no means unique to the United States: “The Enlightenment removes a personal God . . . delegitimizes kingship, by desacralizing it,” and substitutes “the people—a particular people in a particular land . . . the idea of a deified nation.”

[3. Self]

Finally, in the third phase—our own—the idea of transcendence has detached itself from any coherent symbology.

It continues to be pursued through New Age spirituality, apocalyptic environmentalism, and the “multicultural” search for ancestral roots; but our most conspicuous symbols (to use a word considerably degraded since it appeared at the opening of the Gospel according to John) are the logos of corporate advertising—the golden arches and the Nike swoosh.

Though vivid and ubiquitous, such symbols will never deliver the dispensable feeling that the world does not end at the borders of the self. (4-5)

Delbanco, who does not write from a confessional Christian perspective, offers little solution in this slim volume. But it is a perceptive outline with genuine insights to glean.

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Rare Audio Recording of Dwight L. Moody Reading Scripture

Jan 25, 2016 | Justin Taylor

According to biographer Kevin Belmonte, there are only two surviving recording of D. L. Moody’s voice. One is of him reading the Beatitudes; the other is of him reading from Psalm 91.

I’ve only been able to locate the former. Recorded in 1898, Moody would have been 61 years old at the time. He died on December 22, 1899, missing the 20th century by just over a week.

The recording is of poor quality:

Moody Bible Institute also has a recording of an audio clip of Moody’s friend and song leader Ira Sankey singing, “God Be with You.”

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Free Training Session in Pro-Life Apologetics

Jan 22, 2016 | Justin Taylor

Scott Klusendorf—founder and president of Life Training Institute and the author of  The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture—argues that successful pro-life apologists present their case in four steps:

  1. They clarify the debate, clearing away distractions.
  2. They make a compelling case for life using science and philosophy.
  3. They answer objections convincingly.
  4. They teach and equip.

In the four-part session below from the Clarkson Academy (October 2-3, 2015) in Central London, Klusendorf makes the case for life and provides training on how you can do the same.

(Exhaustive notes of the sessions can be found here.)

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Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”: The Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong

Jan 21, 2016 | Justin Taylor

“I’ll bet not half a dozen people can tell who was hit and where he was hit by my Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost once wrote to his friend Louis Untermeyer.

David Orr, the poetry columnist for the New York Times Book Review, seeks to explain this in his book, The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong (Penguin Press, 2015).

The famous poem, Orr argues, “is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons.”

Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.

According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming “ages and ages hence” that his decision made “all the difference” only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance).

The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives. “The Road Not Taken” may be, as the critic Frank Lentricchia memorably put it, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But we could go further: It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

You can read a fuller excerpt of the book here.

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Why Reconstructing the Past Is So Hard to Do

Jan 21, 2016 | Justin Taylor

Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco:

If we try to approach history, in R. G. Collingwood’s phrase, by discovering “the outside of events,” we shall never grasp something as elusive as the shape of hope or dread. We shall never get hold of mental states by making inventories of numerable things.

It is possible to chart the acceleration of locomotion and communications since the industrial age, the growing percentage of households with indoor plumbing and central heating since the Second World War, the hump in life expectancy since the discovery of antibiotics.

But it is equally possible to graph rising rates of illegitimacy, divorce, juvenile crime, and the expanding disparity between the incomes of rich and poor.

Such taunting symmetries are what Norman Mailer had in mind when he remarked that the problem in understanding even the recent past is that “history is interior.” Getting at the interior thought of a friend, or a spouse, or one’s own child is hard enough; trying to catch the mood of strangers in the present, even with the help of pollsters, is harder. But retrieving something as fragile and fleeting as thought or feeling from the past is like trying to seize a bubble.

One reason it is hard is that most of the voices still audible to us come from a tiny minority who left written accounts of their experience; and the relation is often mysterious between these few and the many more whom time has rendered silent. . . . .

In the face of such obscurities, the best we can usually manage is to take the scraps left by witnesses and try to assemble them, as if they were fossil fragments, into a reconstructed skeleton. The result will always be incomplete, and we can only guess at the missing parts.

—Andrew Delbanco, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope (Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 1999), 6-8.

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