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Why Do We Have This Problem In The First Place?: Evolution, Creation, and Divine Hiddenness, Part 2

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March 4, 2014 Tags: Creation & Origins, Divine Action & Purpose, Evolution & Christian Faith project
Why Do We Have This Problem In The First Place?: Evolution, Creation, and Divine Hiddenness, Part 2

Today's entry was written by John T. Mullen. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

I would like to suggest that when the elephant (as discussed in Post 1 of this article) is so unabashedly pointed out, the discussion must turn to the problem of divine hiddenness and possible solutions to it. It may be that the best solution is to turn hiddenness itself from an apparent liability into an enduring asset by learning to regard it as something we should expect from God, not something that should surprise or confound us. The idea is that God may actually want to remain hidden to a significant but non-debilitating degree, and that his desire to remain hidden constrains the manner in which he creates. A non-gradual creation, once it is detected, would make it obvious that we do not live in a purposeless, unplanned universe, and God does not want the fact that we do not live in such a world to be quite so obvious to everyone. So we should expect him to create gradually, and we should not be surprised when we find, through scientific inquiry, that he has. This has the effect of neutralizing any attempt to use evolutionary biology as support for atheism.

But it will now occur to just about everyone to ask precisely why would God want to remain so hidden. It is a difficult problem, but we may remain open to a variety of possible reasons. The preservation of conditions that enable the expression of human freedom is presumably crucial, and it is easy to think that something very valuable is lacking in a faith that is formed under the force of rational compulsion. But there is no need to specify God’s reasons precisely here.

Also, we are not lacking in traditional resources. There is important historical backing for the Deus absconditus (hidden God) coming from the likes of Pascal, Kierkegaard, Luther, Aquinas, and Scripture itself (see Isaiah 45:15, 1 Cor. 13:12, and John 20:29)! It is, indeed, a theological tradition in its own right, but it is an intriguing and perhaps startling fact that it is common to the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions alike.

Divine hiddenness can be invoked to explain why God might want to create gradually. But the question raised by the children’s Bible teacher was slightly different, and possibly even more vexing. “Why do we have a problem of origins in the first place?” Or, “Why is it at all difficult to reconcile divine revelation regarding origins with our rational investigations into origins?” This issue simply should not be so hard to understand, one might think, even if we do think that we have a plausible explanation for God’s decision to create gradually.

It is but a small step, at this point, to at least wonder whether the appeal to divine hiddenness can help explain both the fact of a gradual creation and the confusion about origins. We have a significant problem of origins because, again, God wants to remain significantly hidden. The problem is not intractable and the confusion is not debilitating, but God himself may indeed be taking active steps to ensure that his presence and activity are not overwhelmingly obvious to us. Can we say that? Reasonably? And faithfully?

I think so. If God really wants to remain hidden to the general human population (but of course allow for certain exceptions where individuals may be granted overwhelming private evidence), it will not be a hiddenness that appears in one place but not another. It will be a pervasive hiddenness that applies to all our publically available evidence, or it will be useless. If there remains even one way in which publically available evidence rationally compels us to acknowledge God’s presence or activity, then he will have failed to remain significantly hidden. So, if it makes sense to expect that God will not make his creative activity overwhelmingly obvious to us, then it also makes sense to expect that he will not allow there to be any overwhelmingly obvious matches between ancient Scriptures and our best biological science. Any such obvious matches would make it far too obvious that Scripture has a supernatural origin. There will not be any insurmountable mismatches either of course, and there would be enough consonance between them to make it reasonable to think that the Scriptures do have a supernatural origin. So we should expect to find ourselves in a state of ambiguity, very much like the one in which we actually find ourselves.

At this point, reasonable objections will be made by reasonable people. For example, it might seem that the “strategy” of invoking divine hiddenness is a lazy-person’s panacea, i.e., an all-purpose explanation that can be brought in at any time to explain any difficulty at all, but only when everything else has failed. I doubt very much that the appeal to divine hiddenness can be used as a universal solvent for any theological problem one might have. However, even if it could be so used, that would be no reason to think that God does not hide himself, or that his hiddenness does not have important consequences (one of which is that we should expect him to create gradually). In fact, for Christians, it is beyond doubt that God does conceal his presence to some degree (see the above “proof-texts”). The questions before us, then, are why he does this, to what extent he does it, and what follows from it.

Dr. John T. Mullen earned his doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 2004. He also holds a Masters degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from Notre Dame, and a Master's degree in Philosophy from Texas A&M University. He specializes in Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Science, and has extensive teaching experience in Ethics, Logic and the History of Philosophy. He has previously taught at St. Gregory’s University, the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Valparaiso University. Dr. Mullen began teaching at Bethany College (Kansas) in 2012. He and his wife Rhonda have two children, Amy and Christopher. Dr. Mullen is also a retired U.S. Naval Reserve Commander, and a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #84728

March 12th 2014

There is one huge difference between the Bible and any other “holy” book including the Quran and that is the Bible is based on Covenant, while the others are not.

I believe, based on the Bible, that their Covenants are the bases of the respective Jewish and Christian faiths.  The mode that you and others are acting in is theological, rather than covenantal or ethical. 

What we need is to bring theology and covenant, theory and practice, together.  In my opinion the Democrats have done this much better than the Republicans, so this makes them much better theologians and ethicists than the Republicans.

The problem from a theological perspective is that the story is not over.  The Messiah has not yet come (again.)  We know generally how the story ends, but not haw God will end it. 

We need to look to what God is doing now, rather than to how we think what God will do.  God is still in the liberating business as God was some 3,000 years ago at the Red/Reed Sea and 2,000 years ago during Holy Week. 

We need to call people to Covenant with God to liberate themselves from the narrow ideologies of Creationism, Scientism, and Liberatarianism       

Eddie - #84730

March 12th 2014


Again you make comments about Democrats and Republicans which I consider inappropriate on this forum.  They could lead to endless religious and moral debate unrelated to the purposes of BioLogos. 

For example, I could say that Democrats have hardly succeeded in bringing religious theory and practice together, since they support mass foeticide and now are leading the charge toward same-sex marriage.  They also support reverse discrimination, which has led to thousands of cases where more qualified males have been denied jobs in order to meet quotas for females, or where more qualified whites have been denied jobs in order to meet quotas for “people of color” or “visible minorities.”  I consider reverse discrimination every bit as immoral, and un-Christian, as the original discrimination it allegedly seeks to redress.  (I say, “allegedly” because such policies frequently aren’t motivated by a desire for justice in employment at all, but by the desire for revenge of one sex or ethnicity upon another.)  And on a lower level of discourse, I could bring up the tendency of churchgoing Democratic Presidents to commit adultery with pretty young interns and movie stars and so on, and raise the question of theory and practice in matters of sexual morals.

Do my views expressed above irritate you, make you indignant, make you want to come back with a political counterattack?  Then you should see my point.  I don’t think anyone here wants us to start up debates along those lines.

Roger, I say to you again—please keep your politics out of these discussions.

PNG - #84745

March 12th 2014

I agree that we should leave off any connections to politics. I did however love Hanan’s remark about Reform and Conservative Jews as Democrats with holidays. That I’m going to remember.

Hanan D - #84747

March 12th 2014

 did however love Hanan’s remark about Reform and Conservative Jews as Democrats with holidays. That I’m going to remember.

As you should . 

Most Jews in the US are secular, therefore most Jews are Democrats. But they weave social justice within their theology. Immigration Reform? Tie it into the story of Ruth, an outsider? Redistrubtion of wealth? Tie it into some Talmudic discussion about fairness to workers. 

In the end, one thing they can’t respond to is that inevitably, none of their values differ from progressive leftists. The Judaism comes after as a sort of ad hoc justification.  

Just look up “Tikkun Olam.” Reform Jews have taken it out of context which should be “Tikkun Olam B’ Malchut Shaddai” which means restoring the Earth under the kingdom of God. Now, they just took out the “God” part out and rely on Tikkun Olam for any new social issue they wanted addressed. Hence, they are simply the Democratic Party with holidays. 

Eddie - #84749

March 12th 2014

Hanan, PNG:

I don’t mind humorous political asides.  I enjoyed Hanan’s remark as well.  But a playful political remark is one thing, a partisan pronouncement that one party best represents Christianity is another.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84731

March 12th 2014


I guess it evaded your sharp eye that politics has already come into our conversation.

The issue is covenant and it is clear that the two parties understand the American Judeo-Christian covenant very differently. 

Maybe you cannot discuss sensitive topics rationally and feel drawn to attack, but I feel called to discuss them.  After all, of what good is faith if we cannot discuss important issues in a Christian manner.        

Eddie - #84748

March 12th 2014


I’m all for discussing important issues in a Christian manner.  But if it is the politicization of Christianity that you are worried about (as you indicate below to PNG), I have the solution for you.

The solution is to get basic Christian doctrine straight before trying to make it “relevant.”  If we could establish common ground on what Christianity teaches, then we could discuss the application of Christian principles to family life, social life, economic life, the preservation of the environment, etc.  The problem is that a good number of modern Christians aren’t really interested in what Christianity teaches, but rather rewrite Christianity in order to suit their own political and social agendas.  The Right and Left are equally guilty of this.

Example: the typical “left” person of today is anti-capital punishment, and pro-abortion-on-demand, whereas the typical “right” person of today is pro-capital punishment, and anti-abortion-on-demand.  But what is the Christian position on these things?  It would seem to me that a Christian would try to establish that first, before signing on to the “right” or the “left.”  Suppose, for example, that Christian principles should lead one to be against both capital punishment and abortion.  That would be equally vexatious to the right and the left.

But have modern Christians of both the right and the left the courage to surrender their “left” and “right” membership cards and live their lives by Christian teaching?  Are they willing to invest the time to study Christian teaching?  How many of them are willing to take the time to read what the tradition has said, or even read the Bible in a more than cursory way?  How many do anything more than “proof-text” from the Bible for positions they already accept on non-Biblical grounds?

From what Hanan is telling us, the same thing happens in Judaism.  Reform Jews frequently adopt secular humanist values and then read them back into historical Judaism.  And if that approach makes a difficult fit with the Tanak and Talmud, well, that doesn’t bother the Reform Jew too much, because they don’t think that either the Tanak or the Talmud come from God.  It’s plain that the same thing happens in the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, etc.  The typical Episcopalian or UCC clergyman or professor really couldn’t care less what Calvin thought, what the Thirty-Nine Articles say, what the Reformed confessions say, what Augustine said, etc.  Such people care little even for large parts of the Bible.  And they aren’t even sure they always agree with what Jesus had to say.  Which isn’t surprising, since most of them aren’t sure whether he was God, a prophet, or just a kind secular humanist.

I don’t mind someone pointing out that certain policies of the Republican Party do not exemplify a Christian approach.  What I can’t tolerate is a partisanship that pretends that the Democratic Party does exemplify such an approach.  Both parties fall very far short of Christian teaching in their policies, and even more in the daily political and moral practices of their elected members and leaders.  This is not surprising, since both parties are captured by Enlightenment philosophy, the Republicans by the right wing of the Enlightenment (Locke etc.) and the Democrats by the left (Rousseau, Marx, etc.)  But America being what it is, both parties will try to give the appearance of espousing Christian values.  This appearance cannot be trusted.  Both parties need to be constantly monitored by Christians and subject to rigorous Christian critique.  They will not reform themselves.  Too much big money, too much institutional power is involved.

So if commenters here are going to start criticizing political parties for not being Christian enough, I want them to dish out the criticism fairly, and spread it over all the guilty parties.  If they cannot be non-partisan enough to do that, then I would beg them not to mention Democrats or Republicans at all.


sy - #84751

March 12th 2014

I strongly agree with Eddie about the problematic mixing of political with religious discussion. From my own perspective, one of the more unpleasant political issues in modern America is the (to my mind, false) conflation of Christianity with conservative politics, by many liberal atheists. I think we need to understand the Gospels (not to mention the rest of scripture) in its own context, relying on theological, not modern political, realities. Otherwise we will be in danger of going down the road that Eddie describes. The truth of Christ as savior and redeemer, the miracle and beauty of the resurrection, and our life in Christ must always trump (meaning take precedence over) any political agenda. 

melanogaster - #84976

April 1st 2014

What I can’t tolerate is a partisanship that pretends that the Democratic Party does exemplify such an approach.”

What you can’t tolerate is that the Democratic Party comes far closer to the teachings of Jesus Christ by a secular approach. The GOP runs away from Jesus’s teachings while claiming to exemplify Christianity. Take Paul Ryan’s devotion to atheist Ayn Rand as a representative example. 

Or the fact that most evangelical Christians voted for a Mormon in 2012 instead of the candidate who doesn’t look like he’s a member of their tribe.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84736

March 12th 2014


The mind of Christ based on the New Covenant is very important to Christians.  This is because the Covenantal aspect of Christianity allows us to test what is right and wrong.

You are right that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ does not apply to a generic god vs no generic god.  I would avoid all such discussions unless you make it clear that you are speaking about the One Trinitarian God, rather than a generic god.

I am not putting down the God of the Jews, but I try to speak for myself and not for others. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84746

March 12th 2014


It is very sad that Evangelicalism has become politicized in the worse manner and many people use this abomination as an excuse to avoid coming to grips with it. 

This joke is not a joke.  

PNG - #84753

March 12th 2014

I’m sorry, Roger, but you don’t get to declare with divine authority was is and isn’t a joke. You can go with Victoria and not be amused if you like - that’s up to you. And I still agree with Eddie that it would be best if we left politics out of it here on Biologos. For everything, there is a blog, but this isn’t it.

GJDS - #84754

March 12th 2014

One ot wo points that I find puzzling in the discussion between Eddie and Hannan: (1) my understanding is that God spoke directly to Moses on one occassion, when Moses went to the mount. The OT speaks for God through those He chose, but not directly. (2) on various matters regarding the Law, Christians are taught that certain parts of the Law were writen because of the weakness displayed by Israel (and us) and thus should be understood in this way, and (3) the Sabbath was made for man, even though it is included in legalistic language for Israel (part of their Governing rules for tha Nation).

So when we speak of reliability - just what is this? Should this mean we need to authenticate the writen information before us? Should htis mean we may not believe the rules were put in place for that purpose? If Moses is said to have added rules because of what he felt about Israel as a young nation, should we not evaluate the wisdom of his rules?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84757

March 13th 2014


If you do not respect what I say, then how about Jesus, “Judge not that you may be not judged.”

Have you paused to really think about what this comment is saying and why you “love it.”  It is saying that certain forms of Judaism are not really a faith in God, but a form of politics.  Are you or Eddie or even Hanan in a position to make that judgement?

This is the problem in the the world today.  Everyone is judging others for their false beliefs so that they fail to see that they are doing the same thing, perhaps worse as Jesus said of the Pharisees.

“What good is salt if it has lost its saltiness?”  Do not allow your conscience to become seared.  God calls to us to reach out in love, not in ridicule. 

The problem is primarily not science vs faith, but people who are determined to create their own Reality under the guise of religion.           


PNG - #84761

March 13th 2014

Roger, I didn’t intend to judge anyone, which I would think was fairly obvious, and I don’t think Hanan did either. You can ask him about that. Eddie perceived it as a “playful remark”, as did I. Frankly, it seems to me that you are the one who determined to pass judgement. That’s all I have to say on this non-subject.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84760

March 13th 2014

Sy wrote:

(to my mind, false) conflation of Christianity with conservative politics, by many liberal atheists.

I appreciate what you wrote about Christianity in context.  What do you think about gospel in the context of President Barak Obama as the Anti-Christ?  Check out the Websites for yourself. 

This is not liberal atheists putting Evangelicals in a box.  This is Evangelicals putting themselves in a box.

Clearly most Christians do not believe that President Obama is the Anti-Christ, but there seems to be a vocal group of Evangelicals who do and this feeling of endtimes seems to overrule everything else including their concern for others.  


Roger A. Sawtelle - #84774

March 14th 2014


Yes, I do take things seriously as much “truth” is said in “humor.”

From what I read Hanan’s zinger was meant to be a serious comment on the nature of liberal Judaism.  Eddie read it as a serious commentary on liberal or Enlightenment Christianity.

As I said these “feel good” comments tend to deepen our prejudices, rather than bring reconciliation.  I am not trying to judge you, but draw your attention to something that Jesus thought was a problem in His time and I think that it is in our time also.   

Eddie - #84776

March 14th 2014

First of all, Hanan is a Jew and knows something about the current state of the various branches of Judaism.  He has every right to make a “serious comment” about that if he wishes.  And if Roger thinks that Hanan’s comment reflects “prejudice,” Roger had better trot out his knowledge of contemporary Judaism and explain what is “prejudiced” about it.

Second, witty characterizations are not “feel good comments.”  Hanan made no “feel good comment.”  He called a situation as he saw it.

Third, the rise of liberal Judaism and the rise of liberal Christianity are part of the same general phenomenon of the secularization of religious tradition.  So my application of Hanan’s remarks to the Christian situation was perfectly legitimate.

Fourth, there can be no “reconciliation” between the secularizers of a tradition and those who want to retain the tradition in its original religious form, any more than there can be “reconciliation” between a cobra and a mongoose.

Fifth, Jesus would not have thought it a “problem” to criticize liberal religion.  Were he alive today, as an orthodox Jew, he would have denounced liberal Judaism in the most strident terms; and when he turned his prophetic attention to the Christians, I can imagine what he might have said about no-fault divorce, easy access to abortion, homosexual bishops, etc.  I don’t think his tone on these issues would have been “reconciliatory.”  I can also imagine what he might have said to those Christian scientists who teach that God can’t be in control of the specific outcomes of the evolutionary process because nature has a right to its “freedom.”  I would not want to be in those scientists’ shoes when Jesus walked into the room.

But of course, not caring in the slightest what the actual historical Jesus would have thought about anything is part and parcel of liberal Christianity.  For liberal Christianity, Jesus has been reduced to a smiling mascot.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84777

March 14th 2014


If Jesus did not denounce the Samariatans, the tax collectors, and the sinners, what makes you think that He would denounce the liberals and T. E.‘s of today.

The only people he criticized were the Pharisees and he criticized their attitudes, not their theology.  Do you really think that liberals are like the Pharisees or the Sadducees for that matter? 

Eddie, you like many, are making a serious mistake.  You are recreating Jesus in your own image instead of allowing Jesus shape you into His Image.

“God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” 


Eddie - #84778

March 14th 2014


You clearly don’t understand the close relationship between theology and law in Judaism.  To criticize the legal judgments of the Jewish authorities was also to criticize their theology.  Speculative, philosophical theology, which is so important in Christianity, is a sideshow in Judaism.  Jewish theology is heavily integrated with the interpretation of the Law.  Take a look at the Talmud some time.  It doesn’t read like Thomas Aquinas.

If you read the Gospels with intellectual attention, Roger, and unclouded by your typically modern American sentimentality, you will find that Jesus harshly criticized not only Pharisees but also scribes and Sadducees; he harshly criticized the money-changers in the temple; he in fact spoke quite sharply and corrected many people, including his own disciples and even well-meaning strangers in an abrupt way, a way that would not be thought “nice” by modern churchgoing Protestants in the USA with their emphasis on gentleness and respectful dialogue etc.

Of course Jesus’ anger at modern liberal Jews would be for different reasons than his anger at the Pharisees.  But it would nonetheless be visible anger.

I am not recreating Jesus in my image.  I’m challenging the sappy image of Jesus which mainstream Protestant clergy and Sunday school teachers have pushed for about 100 years now—Jesus as a combination of Walt Disney, Ward Cleaver, and a Boy Scout with lots of merit badges.  Jesus was not always a pleasant man by American folksy standards.  Nor were the Hebrew prophets.  In Hebraic religion, both in the case of ancient Israel and in the early Church, people didn’t mince words; they called good good and evil evil.  They were less worried about appearing “nice” or “accepting” or “inclusive” or “respectful” and more worried about standing up unambiguously for the truth.  What we need to recover is a more direct, forceful, and masculine Biblical religion, to replace the saccharine sappiness that pervades mainstream-church Protestantism in America (and increasingly is infecting the evangelical churches).

I stand by my claim.  If Jesus were alive today, he would denounce liberal Judaism in very strong language.  And liberal Christianity.  If that bothers you, Roger, perhaps you should ask yourself whether your commitment is really to Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, or to an un-Biblical, gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild construct of your own imagination.  Look at the Gospels again, Roger.  Read what is there, instead of what you would like to find there.  What was the real Jesus like?  Not the floating, glowing, translucent, ethereal Jesus who “saves” you, but the Jewish carpenter who walked the soil of Palestine.  What was he like?  I submit that he was nothing like the Polyanna portrait of him that you carry around in your head.  And the Gospels bear me out.  Jesus appears there frequently as hard, stern, uncompromising, and at times even supercilious.  (And I haven’t even started to list his even better qualities.)  Such a man would tear into liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity like a tornado, leaving a shambles in his wake.  And I would be applauding him all the way.

Eddie - #84788

March 16th 2014

Roger, I would like to correct a misrepresentation of my argument that you wrote above:

“If Jesus did not denounce the Samariatans, the tax collectors, and the sinners, what makes you think that He would denounce the liberals and T. E.‘s of today.”

I did not say that Jesus would denounce TEs.  I implied that he would denounce Christian liberals regarding issues of marriage and sexuality.  TE is not about those issues, and in any case, not all TEs take liberal positions on those issues.

I also implied that Jesus would take a dim view of “those Christian scientists who teach that God can’t be in control of the specific outcomes of the evolutionary process because nature has a right to its ‘freedom.’ ”  However, such a view is not held by all TEs, but only by some TEs.  Therefore, I implied no opposition of Jesus to TE per se.  The opposition of Jesus would be to those who deny the omnipotence, sovereignty and providence of God, regarding the outcomes of evolution or any other matter.  If some TEs fall under that category, then so be it; but then they would be denounced not for being TEs, but for theological errors they uttered in the course of defending TE.

You need to read more carefully, Roger, before you object to what people write.

I would also point out that, once again, you read the Bible selectively.  In this particular case, you point out that Jesus did not “denounce” sinners.  Well, if by that you mean that he did not condemn them to eternal flames for their sin, that is generally true.  But if by that you mean that Jesus did not care about the sinners’ sin, or condoned it, you would be dead wrong.

Let’s take one example of a sinner, to show what you are leaving out.  Jesus saved the life of the woman taken in adultery from the anger of the executioners; but he ALSO told her to sin no more.  That constitutes a quiet “denunciation” of her sin, in my books.  If you want to call it something else, go ahead.  The point is that he implicitly condemned the sin, even though he did not condemn the sinner.  By leaving that out, you have in effect proof-texted, trying to win an argument by suppressing half of the relevant Biblical material.  The fact is that Jesus did not like sin and wanted people to stop sinning, and criticized them when they sinned.  As any religious leader should.

What would YOU have had Jesus say:  “Don’t feel bad about the fact that you committed adultery, because I am going to die to save you from your sins, so you’re covered”?  Maybe you’d have thought that a less “judgmental” and more “Christian” thing for Jesus to have said?  But the fact is, that’s not what he said.  He took a stern Hebraic attitude toward sin.

The case is the same regarding bad theological doctrine.  I don’t think that Jesus would say that the Pharisees would go to eternal punishment merely for misinterpreting a passage from the Law; but he certainly did not let wrong interpretations of the Law go unchallenged.  He stood up in public, as a country hick from Galilee, challenging learned doctors from Jerusalem, and told the teachers of the people that they were misreading the Scriptures and that they were blameworthy for doing so.  I call that denunciation of bad theology.  

And of course, YOU denounce bad theology—or what you take to be bad theology—almost daily on this site.  There isn’t a day that goes by, it seems, where you aren’t accusing someone of holding a dualistic theology, or failing to hold a Trinitarian view of things, or of wrongly putting the Bible ahead of Jesus Christ, etc.  You tell people off for bad theology all the time.  For you to imply that it is right for YOU to do this, but that it would be wrong for Jesus to do it (and hence, he didn’t do it, according to you), is presumptuous in the extreme.  Any right of speaking against error that you possess, Jesus would possess in still higher degree.

Your double standard, by which you chastise me for not being Jesus-like because I criticize the theology of others, while you give yourself a license to criticize the theology of others, is nothing but chutzpah (Hanan can translate the term if you don’t know it), and I don’t acknowledge your right to make such arbitrary rules for your own argumentative advantage.  Either we are both un-Jesus-like for criticizing the theology of others, or neither of us is.  Take your pick.  There is no third position.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84779

March 15th 2014

(Mat 7:1 NIV)  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

(Mat 7:2 NIV)  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

(Mat 7:3 NIV)  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

(Mat 7:4 NIV)  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

(Mat 7:5 NIV)  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.


1) Why doesn’t this passage apply to you as well as others?

2) You say that Jesus was criticizing the theology of the Pharisees, weven though He was not speeaking in theological terms.  Please explain.  What was the theological position Jesus was attacking and why?

3) Why would Jesus denounce liberal Judaism today and not conservative Judaism?  Were the Pharisees the “liberals” of their day?  Are conservative Jews today closet Christians?

4) You have a bad habit of believing false stereotypes.  If there was one thing Jesus did denounce, that was it. 

5) I repeat, do not make the serious mistake of recreating the Jesus of the Bible over into your imaqge.

6) If you want to discuss as particular passage instead of making your wild generalizations, be my guest. 


Eddie - #84780

March 15th 2014


You constantly yank Biblical phrases out out of their governing context, and you’ve done it again here.  No one could disagree with Jesus’s words, understood in their original context.  But your employment of those words to oppose my point is a travesty.

When Jesus speaks of not judging, etc., he is reminding us that we are all sinners, and that we are quite often guilty of the very sins we harshly condemn in others.  If we want to be treated with a degree of gentleness for our sins, we must extend the same gentleness to others.

Thus, before I vote to stone your hero Martin Luther King for his adultery, I have to remember that I have had adulterous thoughts, even though I have never put those thoughts into action, and that those thoughts in themselves are sinful.  That self-knowledge should be a check on my righteous rage.  It should cause me, not to stop criticizing Martin Luther King, nor to stop criticizing you for failing to censure him (and you have failed to censure him, despite the repeated opportunities I gave you to do so), but to stop feeling vindictive towards him.  And this applies across the board; if I am inclined to condemn someone to perdition for any evil action, I have to remember always the weakness of my own flesh, and moderate my anger and my desire to punish.  This is good spiritual advice, and I try to live by it, though, being imperfect, I doubtless fail to live by it consistently.

You grossly misuse this very good teaching of Jesus, by trying to make out that Jesus would not be actively opposed to bad theology, i.e., theology which says false things about God or the duties of man toward God.  What you fail to see is that bad theology involves intellectual errors about important matters, intellectual errors that can lead to bad practices of worship and bad ethics, and that it is therefore necessary to root out such intellectual errors with zeal and at times with anger.

(Of course, I am speaking of theological errors that are at the heart of faith, not errors that are purely about technical formulations, e.g., transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation.)

Of course “condemnation” here does not have anything to do with condemning individuals to eternal punishment.  I am talking, as should be obvious, about rejection of the error, not rejection of the person.  For example, I think that Thomas Aquinas was wrong about transubstantiation and that the doctrine is a theological error; but I do not condemn Aquinas as a Christian or as a person for coming up with it.  I think he made an intellectual error.  That error should be opposed, but it need not be opposed in anger, as it is not an error which touches on the heart of faith.  Aquinas still rightly reveres the sacrament, and our knowledge of exactly how the body and blood of Jesus are present is not important for Christian life.  It is a matter for scholars to argue about, and differing views can be tolerated.  As for Aquinas himself, I take it that he was a much better Christian than I am, and I do not question the authenticity of his Christian faith merely because I think he misformulated a doctrine.

But the doctrines of liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity are not simply errors of technical formulation about how some supernatural operation works.  They strike at the very heart of Judaism and Christianity.  They therefore have to be opposed, and defeated; and sometimes, where it is clear that willfulness is involved in maintaining the errors, prophetic anger against the errors is justified.  You can’t try to “reconcile” with those who worship Baal.  You must simply smash the idols.

Regarding the Pharisees, you made a clear factual error.  You said that the only people Jesus criticized were the Pharisees.  I showed that you were flat-out wrong, that he criticized several others that I named, but apparently you are unwilling to concede an error.  (Which is not surprising; I have never known you to do so.)  What is shocking to me is that a Protestant clergyman could make such an error, since even untrained people pick up very quickly that Jesus criticized many different individuals and groups.  It is as if you have never actually read the Gospels, and do not know their contents.

Roger, I have done a much better job of characterizing the Biblical Jesus than you have.  Your Jesus is the Jesus of modern liberal Protestantism.  He has all the Hebraic guts taken out of his character; he is all forgiveness and no judgment.  And when you rage against the idea of ever judging anyone, you seem to forget that according to Christian theology, Jesus is God; are you denying God the right to judge us?  Or is the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus one of the many things—like most of the Old Testament—that you wish to jettison from Christian theology?

Roger, we are not going to agree.  You will not submit your theological views to the judgment of either tradition or Biblical text.  You accept only the theology that makes you personally comfortable, the kind of God and Jesus in whom you would like to believe.

And indeed, this is a major point of dispute between liberal and conservative Christians today.  Conservative Christians say that we should adjust our own personal views of what God and Jesus are like in light of Biblical teaching; liberals say that we should accept only those views of God and Jesus that accord with the modern conceptions of morality derived from non-Biblical sources.  

Roger, I don’t personally like everything about the Jesus of the Gospels.  The difference between us is this:  I feel badly that I don’t like everything about Jesus of the Gospels, and take seriously the possibility that something may be wrong with my faculties of spiritual judgment, and that I may have to adjust my conception of both Jesus and of God to harmonize with the Gospel teaching; but you, when you see the passages indicating that Jesus can be harsh, judgmental, etc., either pretend those passages don’t exist, or try to bring them into harmony with your “Mr. Nice Guy” personal portrait of Jesus.

In other words, you think it’s right to subordinate the Bible to a pre-established theology.  I can see how someone from the Catholic or Orthodox tradition might (though only with careful qualifications) take that position; but no Protestant can in good conscience do so.  For a Protestant, all theological notions are subject to veto based on what the Bible says.  So if Jesus, who is held by Protestants to be the incarnation of God, is sometimes downright angry and judgmental, then I think Protestants have to be willing to dump their “gentle, inclusive, never judgmental” view of Jesus.

I think it’s completely wrong, both theologically and academically, to sanitize Jesus so that he becomes a sort of loving father from a 1950s or 1960s family TV show.  And that is essentially what liberal American Protestantism has done, with Jesus, with God, and with the prophets, for the last 60 years or more.  It has emasculated Jesus and God, and replaced an awesome God—a God whom you don’t mess with—with a pale do-gooder God whose main concern is that no one, not even a very evil person, ever feels lonely or excluded or criticized.  It has replaced a theology of serious metaphysical propositions with a theology of warm and fuzzy personal feelings.  When I read some Protestant clergymen (and some TEs), I feel as if I’m getting the theology not of the Bible but of Lassie or of Ozzie and Harriet.  And you’re old enough to remember those shows, so you should grasp the bearing of the references.

You want to discuss particular passages?  You start out.  What did Jesus say, think, and feel as he turned over the tables of the moneychangers?  Was he not standing in judgment upon their behavior?  Was he not right to do so?  And when Jesus called some of his opponents “vipers,” was he in your view violating his own teaching about not “judging”?  If he were alive, would you chastise him on a blog site for using such strong language?  Would you dress down Jesus?  Is that what mainline Protestant American theology has come to, that Methodist clergymen think they have a higher morality than Jesus?

I of course by now expect modern Protestant clergymen to denounce, by knee-jerk intellectual reflex, the “savage” God of the Old Testament; but I would think that even the boldest liberal pastor would have some hesitation to correct Jesus.  But let’s hear your exegesis of these passages.  Why is Jesus so angry with some people?  And why does he so frequently utter words that are undeniably judgmental?  

And finally, why do you so often become extremely defensive when Jon and I criticize liberal theology?  If you aren’t a liberal yourself—and you say you aren’t—there is nothing to be defensive about, is there?  Yet your behavior suggests that the criticisms have found their proper target.  Perhaps you could clarify.  Do you agree that the touchstone of truth for Protestant theology—including Methodist theology—must be the teaching of the Bible?  Or do you think that there are higher religious beliefs by which the Bible itself must be judged, and in light of which parts of the Bible fall short?  And if so, what are those guiding higher beliefs, and where do you get them from; and what are the lower and false beliefs found in the Bible that you reject?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84783

March 15th 2014

Was he not standing in judgment upon their behavior?  Was he not right to do so?  And when Jesus called some of his opponents “vipers,” was he in your view violating his own teaching about not “judging”?

First of all, yes Jesus was right to denounce the behavior of the money changers.  The problem is you said He would denounce a large group of people, not for their behavior, but for their theology, that is Liberal Jews and Christians. 

Second, Jesus was hardest on religious leaders because they did not help and lead, but only criticized and judged.  This is the same mode of operation you employ.

Third, if you do not understand the New Covenant you cannot understand Jesus.   

This is your problem.  Yes, you and Jon can go around denouncing all sorts of people for their bad theology and feel very good about ourselves because you have done your Christian duty, but nothing has changed.

I am not defensive when liberal theology is criticized.  I am concerned when Christians of whatever stripe do not act like Christians and say that bad theology is good theology. 

It seems that you are so much a legalist that you do not understand good theology and Christian ethics when you see it.  That is very unfortunate and sad because it breeds selfrighteousness.        

Eddie - #84785

March 15th 2014

1.  You never answered the question whether the language of “vipers” was appropriate.  Was Jesus wrong to use it?

2.  You never retracted your error in saying that the Pharisees were the only group that Jesus criticized.  Why not make this the first time you have ever retracted an error?  It will make you feel better inside, I promise you.

3.  You impute a motive for Jesus’ anger against the Pharisees (that they did not help and lead, but only criticized and judged) for which you provide not a shred of textual evidence.  Where does Jesus say that this is what he is angry about?  Chapter and verse, please.

4.  Even if Jesus had said that about the Pharisees, it would have been false, since the real Pharisees—the ones we now know a great deal about, due to long-postponed but much-needed Jewish-Christian co-operation in historical scholarship—were not people like that.  In fact, they did help and lead the Jewish people, and were often beloved for it, unlike the Sadducees.  Individual Pharisee leaders might have been guilty of spiritual pride and legalism etc., but the Pharisees overall were the most compassionate and socially conscious in their application of the Law of all the Jewish sects.  

5.  You are in fact very defensive when liberal theology is criticized.  And this is understandable, as your theology is extremely liberal.  You ditch large parts of the Bible, and virtually the whole Christian interpretive tradition, in order to maintain your views.  And when you are directly challenged by a fellow-Christian on this, when you are asked on what basis you pick and choose from the Bible and on what basis you set aside the wisest minds of the Christian tradition and improvise your own personal theology, you refuse to answer.  And only liberals refuse to answer all questions, because only liberals have something to hide, i.e., the fact that they do not believe a good part of the religion they espouse.

6.  I am not defending legalism, but insisting that liberals refrain from deliberately distorting the teaching of the Bible, whether by omission, addition, or forced interpretation.  If they disagree with the Bible, they should have the spine to say so, instead of dishonestly manipulating the text to make it teach something it never intended to teach.

7.  You say I don’t understand Christian ethics when I see it.  This is amusing, given that I am defending the judgmental behavior of Jesus which you deplore, whereas you have implicitly defended the serial adultery of Martin Luther King (by refusing to concur with my denunciation of it).  This paints an instructive picture of the difference between the Chirstian ethics of a conservative and the Christian ethics of a liberal.  Christians must never get angry with or judge anyone, even Christians who openly deny God’s omnipotence, providence, sovereignty, etc., and openly flout God’s commandments; but Christian sexual morality needs to loosen up to take into account the needs of socially liberal religious leaders who can’t control their lust.  I’ll stick with the conservative position, thank you.  The model of Hebraic spirituality isn’t the man who never gets angry with the ungodly, but the Hebraic spiritual leader is expected to be capable of the self-control needed to plough only with his own heifer.  (If as an urban Bostonian you have trouble with the homespun rural metaphor, just ask and I’ll spell it out for you.)

7.  You accuse me of self-righteousness, but by the criteria you are employing to detect self-righteousness—i.e., intolerance of wrong views about God—Jesus, Moses, and all the prophets were self-righteous.  So you would be better off as Unitarian Universalist than as a Christian.  

8.  I’m in fact not big into self-righteousness, but I am big into righteousness.  And the liberal Protestant churches today have no righteousness in them.  They have only weak-kneed accommodation to the ruling ideas and sentiments of the modern age.  Jesus would have have call their leaders much worse than vipers.  Of that I am certain.

If Jesus came back today, and stuck to the same views and attitudes he had before, he would be denounced as backwards and unenlightened by virtually all the clergy and theologians of the mainstream Protestant denominations.  They would probably recommend that he take therapy sessions with a good secular psychiatrist, to get rid of his delusion of divinity, his reactionary social and political attitudes, etc.

The last thing liberal Christians want is the return of Jesus.  Jesus serves them much better if he never returns; remaining “spiritual” and never taking bodily form, his image can be controlled by liberal clergy and theologians, can be made to represent whatever set of opinions and values are currently fashionable in the Eastern and West Coast divinity colleges and universities.  If Jesus actually returned, his uncompromising Hebraism would upset their liberal agenda.  Indeed, if he actually returned, I wouldn’t put it past the liberal intelligentsia that controls the mainstream churches to kidnap him and keep him for life in a prison somewhere, like the Man in the Iron Mask—in order to keep the liberal system going.

Yes, I’m that cynical about human nature.  Unlike liberals, I take the Fall seriously; and modern church leaders are just as fallen as everybody else.  The liberals of today would try to muzzle Jesus just as the arch-conservatives of the first century tried to muzzle him.  They might do it today by getting him certified, rather than by killling him, but they would do it.  The dominant ideology of every age knows of no truth beyond the survival of the social class that it represents.  Every ideology, including liberalism, is “Pharisaical” (in the traditional Christian sense), and will put to death (literally or effectively) all true prophets.  “For the sake of the nation, this Jesus, must die, must die, must die, this Jesus must die…”  But of course, by “the sake of the nation,” the “Pharisees” of each age always mean “the good of our social class, which just happens to have the interests of the nation at heart.”  The ruling class today, both in social/political matters and in church matters, is liberal, and it will do whatever it needs to maintain power and influence, as conservative ruling classes did in the past.

The aggressive, table-overturning, judgmental, angry, prophetic, and sometimes even haughty and supercilious Jesus is a threat to the liberal hegemony in the mainstream and liberal evangelical churches today.  Therefore, all passages in the Gospels which frankly portray this Jesus will be silently passed over or interpreted away with the usual liberal sophistries.  But the text is there for all to read.  In the end, the theologically liberal reading of Jesus cannot be sustained.  He wasn’t nice by modern standards.  But he was great.  And contrary to the core belief of religious liberals, greatness is more important than niceness, just as truth is more important than peace.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84786

March 16th 2014


We begin and end with “the generation of vipers.”

There are 4 quotes in the NT.

(Mat 3:7 NIV) (Luke 1:7) But when (John) he saw (the crowds) many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

Interestingly enough it is John the Baptizer, not Jesus who first uses this phrase. In Matthew he uses it explicitly for the Pharisees and the Sadducees who come to be baptized and in Luke John uses for all of those who come for baptism.

So the question you might want to first ask is; Which quote is correct? Matthew or Luke? We know however according to the NT that the Jewish leaders were constantly trying to discredit John and Jesus because they saw them as a threat.

the Pharisees overall were the most compassionate and socially conscious in their application of the Law of all the Jewish sects.

I am glad that you have rehabilitated the Pharisees because demonstrates the real conflict between them and Jesus, which was the Law and not how it was applied. I know that you disagree with this, but it is the Truth.

(Mat 12:22 NIV) Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.

( 23) All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

(24) But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

(34) You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

Here in Mt 12 after Jesus heals a deaf and mute demon-possessed man the people suggest He might be the Messiah. The Pharisees say He was the Tool of the Devil, the Anti-Christ like Evangelicals are calling President Obama.

Does this sound like the Pharisees were good leaders truly concerned the well being of the people? Jesus did harshly criticize them to their face for what they did, told a lie against the Holy Spirit, rather than for their theological views as YOU would have He do!

However certainly many Christians use the Bible to falsely justify their ideas and their prejudices.

Matthew 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 14 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Mt 23: 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! 33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.

Here Jesus lays on the Pharisees the murders of the prophets, and foresees His own judicial murder and the persecutions of His followers.  It should also be noted that Jesus warned His followers not to participate in the terrible war of the Jews against the Romans led by the Pharisees.  This too would justify the guilt of the Pharisees, but there is much to justify our guilt also as we use theology to justify our selfishness.

You want us to criticize and reject people because they commit sins or we disagree with their theologically. That is not how Jesus worked. He knows that people are sinful because people are not saved. He wants us to save people and reconcile them to God and others, not to make up clubs of like minded theologians.

The New Covenant of Jesus Christ goes far beyond the OT covenant and often far beyond we choose to go today.

Jesus died for the sins of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Romans and the fickle crowds and the frightened disciples and you and me. We are all a part of the generation of vipers, including liberal and conservative Jews, liberal and evangelical Christians, Black and White, Red, Yellow, and Brown.

Jesus does not have to denounce us. The Word on the Cross to the wise is sufficient. For the foolish thousands of words are not enough. Sadly many are not wise.

Eddie - #84787

March 16th 2014


1.  I did not say that I rejected anyone as a human being because I disagreed with his or her theology.  

There is a difference between rejecting a theology and rejecting a person.

What I have said is that it is sometimes necessary to publically criticize bad theology.  Do you deny this?  How can you?  You are constantly criticizing the theology of commenters and columnists here!  So you must believe that it is your duty to subject bad theology to public criticism.

Would Jesus let bad theology go unchallenged?  Surely not.  For example, when certain Jewish leaders added merely human tradition to the Scriptural teaching, he lambasted them for it.  That is an example of correcting a theological error.

As I’ve said before, Roger, you are probably a nice guy, a good neighbor, etc.  I’d probably enjoy talking with you over the back fence.  It is not you personally I’m attacking.  It is certain theological views.  When you jump in to defend them, then naturally you receive some of the flak.  But it isn’t aimed at you.  It’s aimed at Van Till, Giberson, John Shelby Spong, Harvey Cox, Jack Haught, and a whole host of other liberals and secularizers.  If you choose to jump in the middle and tell me I have no right to criticize these people’s theology, well, it’s not my fault that you get it with both barrels.  I didn’t ask you to act as a human shield for liberals, heretics, and ex-Christian infidels.  You took that role upon yourself.

It is reasonable to infer that you expend so much time defending liberal and heretical theologians because you are sympathetic to some of their positions.  This is especially the case when you are on record as showing contempt for the masters of the older theological tradition, who were all—from the Apostolic Fathers through to Calvin, Hooker, and Wesley—conservatives.  But am not condemning you to perdition for your liberal sympathies; I am merely opposing them.  This is not personal.

2.  In Judaism, theology is closely connected to the interpretation of the Law.  In criticizing various interpretations of the Law offered by scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc., Jesus is in some cases criticizing their theology.  By “theology” here I don’t mean “Is God all-powerful, all-good, etc.”, or “Is God invisible, eternal, etc.”  By theology I mean “teaching about divine matters”—and the most crucial divine matter in Judaism is the Law.  By challenging the Pharisees etc. in the area of jurisprudence, he is often implicitly challenging their theology.  For legal judgments in Judaism usually concern “What God wants us to do” or “How God wants us to live”; they therefore often, if not always, have a theological dimension.

In Christian theology, the theologian is much more like a philosopher; in Jewish theology, the theologian is something much closer to a lawyer.  Until you grasp this distinction, much of the theological debate in the Gospels will be opaque to you.

3.  Your response about the Pharisees seems to treat the Gospels as the only source we can use to understand the Pharisees.  Modern study of the Pharisees, in several key research institutions, has brought together both Jewish and Christian scholars, and it is generally conceded that for a full appreciation of what the Pharisees were, one has to study Jewish sources as well as Christian ones.  This does not make the Gospel accounts invalid, but it does mean that someone who knows only the Gospel accounts is likely to come away with a one-dimensional picture of the Pharisees, and hence will misunderstand many of the conflicts mentioned in the Gospels.

4.  I’d say that when you call someone a viper, you are criticizing him/her not merely for his theology, but even as a person.  One of your quotations from Jesus has him saying:  “You who are evil ...”  Really?  Not, “You who are unfortunately misguided by an evil theology” but “You who are evil.”  That sounds a lot like attacking the person to me.  Yet you say we shouldn’t be attacking the person?  When Jesus did?

Your protest is strange, Roger.  I haven’t called liberal Christians and Jews evil, or vipers, or baby-eaters, or murderers of the prophets, etc.  I’ve simply said that their theology betrays their traditions.  I’ve said that Jesus, were he alive, would denounce them for that betrayal (denounce them, not send them to eternal torment).  Obviously he would do this with a view to shaming them into coming back into the fold, not out of personal spite on his part.    

So how do you think we should respond to theological error, Roger?  Especially theological error that is clearly held, not simply as an error of the intellect, which any person might innocently make, but as a fixed decision of the will?  Do you not think that we should denounce such errors (not condemn the persons, but denounce the errors) in no uncertain terms?

For example, you have said that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding upon Christians.  I showed you that this was false, with reference to Scripture, with reference to a theologian you claimed to admire (Luther), and with reference to the formal constitution of your own religious denomination, of which you are an ordained minister.  Yet you hold to your view.  Since you have been informed of your error, it cannot be any longer a matter of intellect that you still teach what you are teaching.  It now must be caused by a stubborn will, i.e., you will not acknowledge your obligation to obey the Commandments, even after it has been shown to you.  So my response, denunciation of your position (not your person, your position) as un-Christian, seems quite appropriate.  Reason does not work with you; evidence has no weight with you; you spurn all tradition.  So it comes down to your will against the will of the tradition.  Those representing the tradition, then, must try to break your will, by denunciation.

It should not have to be that way.  You should be spiritually open enough to give in to gentle persuasion, based on the textual evidence.  But you aren’t.  You plant your feet, refuse to give up the theology you personally like, even after it is shown to be false Christian theology.  So you get criticized.  And then you tell me that I am being un-Christian for being so critical.  Yet you don’t lambaste Jesus for being much more critical, and for employing much harsher and more personal language, in the case of the Pharisees (whose deviations from good Judaism were not nearly so frequent, or so great, as your many deviations from historically orthodox Christian theology).  So Jesus is allowed to blow his stack, but I’m being un-Christian for criticizing in a much more measured tone?  That doesn’t add up, Roger.  If we are supposed to imitate Jesus, why can’t we imitate him in his anger against untruth, as well as his kindness to children, compassion toward sinners, etc.? 

Again, if you would read theology other than very recent and liberal Wesleyan theology, you would find that most of the great historical Christian theologians used very strong language against theological errors (or what they considered to be such).  And they saw themselves as very much in the Pauline and Gospel and prophetic traditions when they did so.  Indeed, my language against liberal Jews and Christians is the sweetest imaginable diplomacy in comparison with Luther’s self-righteous accusations against Erasmus, Jerome’s vindictive campaign against Origen, Calvin’s inflammatory language against the Roman Popes, etc.  You seem to be oversensitive to theological criticism.  With that oversensitivity, you could not have survived in earlier Christian eras, when theological debate was much rougher, and with much more serious personal consequences (sometime including death) for the losers.  You should be glad that your opponent is myself, and not some Christians of the past.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84790

March 17th 2014

The New Covenant of Jesus Christ goes far beyond the OT covenant and often far beyond we choose to go today.

Jesus died for the sins of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Romans and the fickle crowds and the frightened disciples and you and me. We are all a part of the generation of vipers, including liberal and conservative Jews, liberal and evangelical Christians, Black and White, Red, Yellow, and Brown.

Jesus does not have to denounce us. The Word on the Cross to the wise is sufficient. For the foolish thousands of words are not enough. Sadly many are not wise.

Eddie - #84794

March 17th 2014


You have again ignored the vast majority of my arguments and questions, and have again responded to articulate, well-crafted, thoughtful, scholarly answers with a mere repetition of moralizing and ultimately trite pastoral themes.  If I wanted to hear a homily, I would go to a church, not a blog site.  I want to hear the reply of someone who can follow an exposition written in orderly prose, remember what he has read just moments earlier, and stay on topic while answering an argument.  Since I’m not getting such a reply, I’m taking my leave of you.  However, I will continue to forthrightly criticize liberal Christian theology on this site, with or without your blessing.  The only adjustment I will make is to ignore your non-constructive and unedifying interventions. 

As I was saying, Jesus would tear into today’s liberal Christianity like a tornado.  And it would be the best thing that has happened to Christianity since Luther nailed the 95 theses upon the Wittenberg door.  It would also be the most liberating gift possible for those loyal rank and file mainstream church members who have tried to be faithful to the faith transmitted by the saints, but since the 1960s have groaned under the arrogance and tyranny of their liberal leadership.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84797

March 17th 2014


Please forgive me for offending me.

I thought that theology was supposed to be about salvation, rather than who is the most sanctimonious.  My bad.

I am sorry if you did not understand what salvation has to do with the Bible and how God wants us to work together. 

Farewell and Godspeed.

Do not worry, though.  Jesus is coming back again.  I will be waiting to see if your great prophecy comes true.  (My advice is don’t bet on it.)   

Eddie - #84798

March 17th 2014


Going back to an earlier discussion, see my correction of your misrepresentation of my position in 84788 above.

As for your remarks above, you clearly don’t grasp the distinction between “salvation” (which one can have without the intellectual capacity to do theology—a God-rearing washerwoman or bus driver who has no education and cannot even read can be saved) and “theology.”  Theology is the intellectual articulation of the Christian faith.  There are better and worse articulations of that faith; and some articulations are so wrong, so misleading, that they are dangerous and must be publically opposed.

I have never denied that you are “saved”—nor would I wish your salvation to be taken away from you merely because you offer inadequate theology.  I wish you eternal bliss.  But I consider you a very unreliable guide when it comes to many aspects of Christian theology and I say that many of your verdicts are unsound.  You may well be a very good Christian—I have never challenged that—but in my estimation you do not have enough knowledge, either historical or systematic, to be a teacher of theology.  I do not say that you know nothing about theology, nor do I say that all your theological ideas are false or misleading, but I do say you do not know enough to qualify as a teacher of the subject. Yet you pose as such a teacher here.

And further, you denounce the theology of others here on a daily basis, but then lecture me on why Christians should never denounce the theology of others!  Come on, Roger!  Who is being sanctimonious, the person who simply states a theological critique of liberalism, or the person who says that it is not nice and not Christlike to criticize the theology of others, but then does so himself?  Have you not read the passage about the mote and the beam?  Do you not see how it applies to you here?  I leave you with that thought.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84801

March 17th 2014


Where did you get the idea that ordinary people do not know theology? 

Why do “ordinary” people read the Bible? listen to sermons? sing and listen to music?

It was ordinary Christians who converted Rome.  It was ordinary Christians who made the Protestant Reformation.

That is a terribly snobbish attitude. 

We need good academic theology, so we have good theology for ordinary folks. 

Now the problem is not my problem, but what Jesus said and what He did.  Jesus did not criticize people because they had wrong ideas, but because their wrong ideas produce wrong results. 

The fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to kill the Messiah points that something was wrong with how they were thinking and acting.  Jesus sought to show them how they were wrong so they could change. 

He did not denounce Nicodemus because he was a Pharisee, but discussed theology with him se he could change his mind.  Jesus did not just dismiss the question of the Rich, Young Ruler. 

When I offered to share my book with you, you could have said yes, and then have been critical.  You could have said politely no, but instead you said no in the most insulting manner possible. 

So that is your manner.  You are right and everyone else is wrong.  You may think that you are entitled to that view, but not if you claim Jesus Christ is your Lord.   

It is your attitude which is wrong and that is what Jesus criticized in the S & P.  Even good ideas with bad attiitude is wrong.  You say that I should be strong like Jesus so here it is.          

Eddie - #84804

March 17th 2014

“It was ordinary Christians who made the Protestant Reformation.”

False.  The leaders of the Reformation—Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Osiander, Bullinger, and others—were educated beyond the standard of their day; most were gifted scholars, some of them with knowledge of Hebrew, which was rare at the time.  Without such leadership, the Reformation would have been dead in the water.  

I did not say that ordinary people cannot know any theology.  I said that it is possible to be saved with no knowledge of theology.  Someone who does not understand the meaning of the terms in the Nicene Creed can be saved.  Someone who cannot follow the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism can be saved.  

Some non-scholars know something about theology.  But to say that you know something about theology merely because you are saved, or because you love Jesus, or the like, is to speak nonsense.  That’s like saying you know something about music because you love to listen to Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo.  (I don’t know what kind of music you like, but I would guess that you know these musicians’ names from your youth, whereas if I said The Spice Girls or Chicago you might not know that I was referring to musical groups.)  There are people who love music but couldn’t tell a major third from a minor third to save their lives.  Similarly, there are people who love God but have no training in systematic theology or Biblical exegesis.  And I don’t believe that God cares if some fisherman from the Aran Isles doesn’t know much about omnipotence or predestination.  Salvation isn’t offered for cleverness, but for faithfulness.

So my position is the opposite of snobbish; when it comes to salvation, I’m a pure democrat.  Everyone has an equal chance, the uneducated the same as the wise.  But when it comes to theology, I’m a meritocrat; I think the learned should be listened to, and the unlearned ignored. 

I’m sorry that your amour propre has been wounded by my non-request for your book.  My lack of enthusiasm for your writing is not meant as a personal comment on your value as a human being—which is infinite, as you are a child of God like everyone else.  I certainly do not think I am any more important in God’s eyes than anyone else is.  But that does not mean that I have to pretend that every Christian who offers theological opinions on the internet has as much scholarly training in theology as I do.  Arrogance is bad, but so is false modesty.  Confucius said:  “When you know something, say you know it, and when you do not know it, say you do not know it.”  That is my policy.  It happens that I know a good deal about the history of Christian thought, and about Biblical translation and interpretation, because I have been trained by some of the best scholars in those areas, and I do not intend to display false modesty about that.

More people here would doubtless ask to read your book if the “free sample” of theological knowledge that you have given them here convinced them that you were an authority on the subject.  Also, I suspect, your intransigence in debate, your unwillingness to retract even the smallest point, even in the face of overwhelming documentation that you have made an error, leads people to suspect that you may be a dogmatist and that your book may reflect such dogmatism.  If you showed more dialogical give-and-take in the way you debate with people here, that would leave the impression that you were a reasonable person, and would probably lead more people to request a copy of your book.  So that is my advice to you: show more openness to learning about theology from others here, and show more dialogical flexibility.  

By the way, Roger, please note that the first few times you suggested I read your book, I asked you for the names of the scholars and theologians who had endorsed your book (and you would not answer that question), or I changed the subject, or I declined in a non-polemical way.  It was only when you kept pressing your book on me that I became a little bit sharp with you.  I treat telephone salesmen the same way, when the same company calls me about unwanted air-duct cleaning about five times in six months.  If you don’t want to be rebuffed, don’t be pushy.

Best wishes, Roger.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84807

March 18th 2014


Look, I know what is going on.  I know that you have nothing but contempt for my ideas.  That is very clear from the beginning.  That is why it is fun in a sense to poke holes in yours and see you run around in circles trying to justify yourself and patch the holes.

Of course it would have been nice to see you show a humble side underneath all the humbris, but that has not been.  You are still the same old Eddie.

If the book would have settled it, one way or the other, you have wasted much time chasing me over these pages when you could have used your fine honed philosophical skills to set the matter at rest a long time ago. 

Still if you chose to be a Legalist, that is your choice.  I do not have to like it or agree with it, but it is your life.  

Eddie - #84812

March 18th 2014

I do not choose to be a “Legalist” (term undefined). I choose to be a scholar.
I do not reject all of your ideas. I sometimes agree with your basic ideas, and reject only your overextension of them.
For example, I agree with you that Christianity is more than just the Bible. But you go overboard, insisting on pitting Jesus Christ against the Bible.
I agree with you that the New Testament supplements and goes beyond the Old Testament. But you go overboard, pitting the New Testament against the Old. Your view of the Ten Commandments is an example of this.
I agree with you that Christians should display personal humility. But you take this requirement completely out of its Biblical context, and draw the conclusion that any rejection of a Christian’s theological views by another Christian is an example of lack of Christlike humility on the part of the critic.
On this last point, two sub-points can be made:
1. The Apostle Paul was relentless in uprooting what he deemed to be theological errors, and he denounced them in no uncertain terms. I have not heard your reprimand to Paul. The Reformer Martin Luther, listed by you as among your theological heroes, was almost vindictive in his theological attacks on those he believed to be in error. I have not heard your reprimand to Luther. How do these men escape your little lectures on the need for humility?
2. You seem to believe that you have flawless insight into my motives, and your own. You seem certain that my motives for criticizing liberalism and heresy are selfish, carnal, and base, and you seem equally certain that your own motives when you criticize the theology of others are unselfish, spiritual, and lofty. It does not seem to occur to you that my own motives for criticizing others might be entirely sincere, or that your own motives might be tainted. This suggests to me a lack of spiritual stock-taking, a lack of introspection and self-criticism, on your part. I wonder if you have really achieved the imitatio Christi to the point where such introspection and self-criticism is no longer necessary for you. I wonder if you have really transcended the vulnerability of fallen human beings to intellectual and spiritual pride.
I have not tried to justify myself, Roger. I have tried only to justify my theological and scholarly arguments. In response, you have ignored 95% of those arguments, and have focused on chastising me for what you suppose is my “attitude” underneath the arguments. But that attitude is largely a construct of your imagination. No doubt, like all other fallen human beings, I from time to time let personal ego intrude upon my arguments. But I try to guard against that as much as possible, by focusing on contents. I try to respond to your statements point by point, focusing on the argument rather than the person. If from time to time, I have become exasperated—at your avoidance, your stonewalling, your refusal to answer questions, your refusal ever to retract an error, your refusal to read the texts containing the relevant evidence, your refusal to comment on direct quotations that I have provided which tell against your position, your sometimes sermon-like manner of writing when a more scholarly style is called for—and if I have given in to irritation, and made personal comments, that is not a good thing, but it ought to be understandable. You are at least sometimes deliberately employing the aforementioned dialogical tactics in order to shield your position from my legitimate criticisms, and you know that my ensuing frustration will raise the temperature of the discussion. You could lower the temperature by being a more co-operative and self-critical dialogue partner.
I will close with one example of one of your typical tactics, the tactic of avoidance. In a previous post I asked you:
“Do you agree that the touchstone of truth for Protestant theology—including Methodist theology—must be the teaching of the Bible? Or do you think that there are higher religious beliefs by which the Bible itself must be judged, and in light of which parts of the Bible fall short? And if so, what are those guiding higher beliefs, and where do you get them from; and what are the lower and false beliefs found in the Bible that you reject?”
I have not received an answer to any of these questions. Why not? Do you not want me to know your position on these matters? Why should you want to conceal your position from me? Are you afraid that any frank answer on your part would indicate you are in fact what you have denied being—a theological liberal? 
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