As many of you know my Ph.D. is in Christian Apologetics. I love Christian Apologetics. I love meeting people where they are and helping them see the person, power, and work of Jesus Christ. I will talk to anyone at any time about their worldview, it’s explanatory force and scope, and whether their worldview stacks up against the Christian worldview. The only thing that can make the apologetic experience better is a hot cup of coffee to facilitate long discussions into the night and a slice of blueberry or pecan pie to keep the carbs flowin’.
So I asked myself this morning whether Confessional Bibliology is a better apologetic, a better defense of Scripture on the world’s stage when compared to the modern evangelical textual approach. To make the comparison I watched the following debate between James White and Adnan Rashid which took place in 2013.
This debate is actually a double-header. The first part of the debate [linked above] concerns whether the NT was reliably transmitted. The second part of the debate [not shown] concerns whether the Quran was reliably transmitted. My interest was to see how James White a noted debater, self-proclaimed Presuppositionalist, Reformed Baptist minister, published author, graduate with an unaccredited Ph.D., and staunch supporter of textual reconstruction would employ Christian Apologetics in defense of the Christian Scriptures.
I take James White’s approach to be representative of the standard Christian apologetic offered in defense of the Christian Scriptures, and after giving it a careful hearing I find White’s apologetic and those like it to be largely bereft of spiritual life and good sense. Allow me a few observations.
1.) White, who boldly claims the banner of Presuppositionalist, no where, not once quotes Scripture to defend his position i.e., no spiritual life. He make exactly zero attempts to being his argument from a position of belief in the Triune God and the authority of Scripture. White’s apologetic on this point is wholly secular in his approach. He sought to meet Rashid on the common ground of textual evidence. White never once made an theological argument to support his position nor did he attempt a theological rebuttal of Rashid’s position. All was evidence. Evidence was king. To this day, White retains the Presuppositionalist moniker but on the subject of textual transmission is an Evidentialist to the core.
2.) Because White is an Evidentialist on this point of Bibliology, it should be no wonder that time and time again in the debate his main authoritative referent was “scholars”, and if not “scholars” then “editors”. Perhaps his greatest use of this authoritative referent was when he asserted that free transmission is to be preferred to controlled transmission of a text. No where is this established. It is largely asserted. What is more, the theologically interesting question of immediate inspiration and whether it was transmitted freely or in a controlled way seems to have bearing on what scholar’s say is best. It seems that the standard Pre-Critical understanding of “immediate inspiration” being dictation would call into question whether “scholars” believe free transmission is preferred to controlled transmission and that in an ultimate sense.
3.) At no point did White confirm any of the words of the New Testament as being THE words of the Original. Rather, it seemed that his emphasis lay on the presence of the Original words being in the manuscript tradition. Which words White believed to be the Original words of Mark or John was unclear. White’s argument then seems to be something like, “Yes, the NT was transmitted reliably…somewhere and we’re pretty sure we have it now.” Such a NT cannot be grounds for life giving faith and as such is bereft of spiritual life and good sense regarding the nature of Christian faith.
Confessional Bibliology on the other hand would treat the whole interaction with Adman Rashid from a wholly different perspective, a theological perspective. The evidence would only come in to play a secondary role. My argument would go something like this.
Positive 1: The Triune God has promised to preserve His words in the mouth of His people [Isa. 59:21; Psalm 12:6-7] and that preservation extends to the very letters and parts of letters [Matt. 5:18]. Now this does not mean that every person always had every word between two covers, but it does mean that God has kept every word and kept each word pure from corruption.
Positive 2: Because God has promised to preserve ever letter of His revealed word I am compelled by Scripture to believe this about the Scriptures in my hand and I can believe this because God cannot lie nor can He tempt any man to lie therefore what God says is true and I must believe it.
Negative 1: The Quran states in Surahs [chapters] 3:54, 7:99, 8:30, 10:21, 13:42 that Allah is a deceiver indeed the “best deceiver”. Seeing this is the case, based on the teaching of the Quran how can a Muslim know that the Quran itself is not in part or in whole a revelation of Allah’s power to deceive? How can a Muslim know that the text of the Quran had been reliably transmitted when the original may be a deception meant to engender absolute trust in Allah even to the exclusion of the Quran.
Objection: Because Allah is the source of truth the Quran must be truth.
Response: Because Allah is the best deceiver your objection may be evidence that Allah has done exactly the thing He is best at – deceiving. You may be believing a lie.
Negative 2: Muhammad, the supposed greatest of prophets, allowed for lying as recorded in the Hadith. Observe, narrated by Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes,” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.” (Sahih Bukhari, Book #59, Hadith #369)
Conclusion: Both Allah the Great Deceiver and his prophet Muhammad are in the business of telling lies, how much more the men who came after Allah’s prophet? The point being that reliability of Quranic transmission is compromised from the beginning.
If a Muslim where to question the manuscript tradition and the myriad of variants, I would acknowledge the variants but conclude that it was not the Church Fathers [as the TCC seems to assert] nor is it the scholarship of the academy that assembled the Canon for us or decided what words were God’s and what were were not. Rather I would assert a interpenetration of the Spirit of God working through the words of God in the people of God who received those words by faith. Followed by an argument from the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of the average believer to recognize the words of God all while quoting from John 3 regarding the movement of the Spirit.
Should the Muslim question the trustworthiness of the Christian community I would admit that we are all sinners per Romans 3:23, share the Gospel with the Muslim, and then point out that while we are all sinners the Spirit has indeed moved His people throughout time to more sanctifying belief in doctrines like the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and the deity of Christ. So also the Holy Spirit does the same in moving His people to accept the words of God as the words of God.
Thus ends the lesson.
So while White and the TCC are all hung up on manuscripts and evidence and subjective judgments of oldest and best all while lacking any distinctively Christian argumentation and worldview, the Confessional Bibliology position can and does regularly employ Scripture to makes it arguments, lean heavily on orthodox Pre-Enlightenment theology, all while presupposing and expressing a distinctively Christian perspective and worldview in our argumentation and rebuttals.
If you want to do Christian Apologetics right it’s time to abandon modern evangelical text-critical approach and embrace the robust historic Christian apologetic of Confessional Bibliology.
4 thoughts on “Confessional Bibliology: The Stronger Apologetic”
Great points, you’ve highlighted points of grave hypocrisy on the part of James White and the TCC. White claims to be a presuppositionalist, but refuses to use Scripture in his apologetic for the modern critical text. The TCC professes to believe in young earth creationism, despite opposition from secular science (so-called), because the Bible teaches it—but refuse to believe God’s promises of preservation because of the opposition of modern textual critics. I think the response of Jesus to them would be something like, “Woe unto to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
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Indeed, the hermeneutical inconsistency on these points seems quite clear. I would be interested to hear why these shifts are made at the point of Bibliology and not Cosmology or Theology Proper.
It is baffling to me that White and others like him do not see they’re not presuppositional. I just attempted to point this out in his differing approaches to the canonicity of books of the Bible versus the canonicity of words. That side does not require coherence in their theology. I think there are a lot of reasons, but one of them relates to the proposition of Nancey Pearcey’s book, Total Truth. She’s not all coherent either, but she highlights a problem. They bifurcate truth with faith just not as reliable as sight, the top story religion on the Art side of the campus divides from the engineering and science side (textual criticism), where you can really know something. This is also seen in his embrace or acceptance of postmodern art such as his tattoos. The abandonment of objective beauty almost always precedes the abandonment of objective truth.
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Excellent observations. I’ve read Pearcey’s Love Thy Body. Now I’m going to have to read Total Truth.