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This chapter from the Secular Web begins most inauspiciously:
If anyone needed further proof that apologetics as practiced by Josh McDowell is merely an exercise in after-the-fact rationalization of beliefs held on prior emotional grounds, I welcome him to Chapter 8 of Evidence That Demands a Verdict. One can only say again that McDowell is the worst enemy of his own faith: with defenders like this, who needs attackers? The more seriously one takes him as a representative of his faith, the more seriously one will be tempted to thrust Christianity aside as a tissue of grotesque absurdities capable of commending itself only to fools and bigots. Before I turn to the smorgasbord of fallacious arguments, let me point out the massive irony of the chapter as a whole. McDowell is concerned here to answer the question, "'If God became man THEN what would He be like?'" Since McDowell is in great danger of losing sight of the enchanted forest for the trees, an initial look at the whole approach will be helpful. Here is his thumbnail sketch for recognizing God next time you see him in the Burger King line next to Elvis...
(McDowell) shows himself as heedless of the original context of biblical prophecies as his colleague in charlatanry Hal Lindsey (you know you're dealing with real scholarship when your authorities go by names like "Josh" and "Hal").
At this point McDowell's argument is simply moronic, unworthy of a pimply adolescent Hi-BA member...
...(McDowell) just ignores the context and pretends Isaiah was an ancient Jeanne Dixon...
With arguments like this, one is forced to conclude that McDowell is either just plain stupid or a damn liar.
These comments were brought to us under the auspices of Jeff Lowder, who, in spite of his admonition to his fellow secularists to practice gentleness and reverence in their version of apologetics, nevertheless published the above. I believe that speaks for itself. Bypassing such rhetoric, however, let us turn to the matter at hand.
McDowell's chapter here is entitled "The Great Proposition" - and within it is asked, "If God came to earth as a human, what would we expect Him to be like?" To set the stage, here are the eight things that McDowell believes that we would expect God to be or do in said situation:
- Have an unusual entrance into life.
- Be without sin.
- Manifest the supernatural in the form of miracles.
- Have an acute sense of difference from other men.
- Speak the greatest words ever spoken.
- Have a lasting and universal influence.
- Satisfy the spiritual hunger in man.
- Exercise power over death.
It shall not be my purpose here to defend the veracity or validity of this argument. As an analogy, and as a tool to understanding, it serves its purpose well; but for reason of personal preference, I would scarcely use it as an apologetic for Christianity.
Noting these eight criteria, Price replies -
And of course we have to conclude that God did become incarnate. His name was Apollonius of Tyana. And Gautama Buddha, and Caesar Augustus, and Moses, and Pythagoras, and Empedocles, and Alexander the Great, and Muhammad.
To the particulars:
- First, it is quite obvious here that Price has misapprehended McDowell's material from the outset. The eight criteria operate as positive identifiers for candidates under the assumption that God became incarnate as a human being. Thus, McDowell's focus is NOT to exclude others, but to demonstrate that Jesus does indeed meet the criteria he has laid out...and this is related to our second point, which is:
- ...how well do Price's other candidates match up on the eight criteria? He would perhaps have us believe that these eight other candidates fit hand-in-glove with the eight criteria; but let's take a close look at these eight candidates for God incarnate. For the sake of argument, we will even allow in some places for attributions that are probably legendary and secondary accretions.
- Apollonius of Tyana. If you've already read the relevant essay, you know that Apollonius fails on some of these. Let's look at the ones he misses on for sure:
- Speak the greatest words ever spoken. - Does Price have in mind here Apollonius' theory of elephant emotions, or his universal condemnation of taking hot baths?
- Have a lasting and universal influence; Satisfy the spiritual hunger in man. - This seems unlikely, since Apollonoius has hardly persisted as a religious leader.
- Exercise power over death. - Not quite. He did appear to one of his followers after his death as an immortal soul - but he did NOT defeat death itself.
- Gautama Buddha. For this one, I asked a Buddhist.
- Be without sin. - They said, no, this is not taught of the Buddha.
- Exercise power over death. - The Buddha's body is still in the grave, according to the Buddhists, although one branch of Buddhism (Mayahana) does believe in a "heavenly Buddha" that emerged in Gautama Buddha, and emerged elsewhere before, and will do so again - sort of a repetitive incarnation. But that's not quite the same thing as conquering death.
- Caesar Augustus.
- Be without sin. - I have yet to see any indication of this, anywhere.
- Manifest the supernatural in the form of miracles. - Nor of this.
- Have an acute sense of difference from other men. - Or of this.
- Speak the greatest words ever spoken. - In political terms, you could make an argument in this direction, but not in spiritual terms.
- Have a lasting and universal influence. - Perhaps in the same sense as all of the other Roman Emperors, but not in spiritual terms.
- Satisfy the spiritual hunger in man. - Not at all.
- Exercise power over death. - Haven't seen this, either.
- Moses. Just check the OT:
- Have an unusual entrance into life. - According to Exodus, things were 100% on par, considering that every male Hebrew baby was in big trouble.
- Be without sin. - He murdered an Egyptian, and his unbelief kept him out of the Promised Land, to name just two. Sinless? Hardly.
- Speak the greatest words ever spoken. - How, when he had his brother Aaron do most of the talking, and all of the best stuff came to him through God anyway?
- Exercise power over death - No, he's still dead. There are some later stories about him being assumed to heaven, but they date about 1500 years after his lifetime.
- Pythagoras, Empedocles, Alexander the Great. Let's do the three Greeks together.
- Be without sin. - I have yet to see this claimed of any of this triad, anywhere, and in fact, Empedocles described himself as a sinner, "a fugitive from the gods and a vagrant," so that lets him out for certain. [HL.E, 20]
- Speak the greatest words ever spoken. - It depends what you mean here. Lambridis writes that Empedocles "can be called the greatest philosopher poet of the ancient world" [HL.E, 1] but that is not exactly what we are looking for. Pythagoras was a metaphysicist, possibly a candidate if you care for that sort of thing. Alexander was a renowned military leader, but not much in the way of a speaker.
- Have a lasting and universal influence. - You can argue this for all three to some extent, although with Alexander, it is again a military matter, which is not what we are looking for.
- Satisfy the spiritual hunger in man. - Hardly, since none of these have persisted as religious teachers to this day.
- Exercise power over death. - The closest we get is a story surrounding Empedocles that says that he disappeared one night after a party, and then his friends found one of his sandals at the top of the volcano, Mt. Etna. His friend Pausanias declared that Empedocles must have jumped into the volcano and become a god - although we have no shrines to him anywhere, and Pausanias, if he really believed such a thing, was certainly wealthy enough to build one.
Other reports say that he died either of old age or after falling from a chariot; but we have no record of him conquering death. [HL.E, 16-8; PK.APM, 1n] (1)
Other than that, Pythagoras had the usual type of death [PG.PAL, 90], although he did believe in transmigration of the soul; and Alexander, in an account written 600 years after his death that portrays him as the divine product of the god Ammon, nevertheless dies a perfectly natural death. [PB.ATG, 166-7; PC.AMN, 16, 135]
- Have an unusual entrance into life. - There was nothing unusual about his birth at all.
- Be without sin. - A Muslim I asked about this was horrified at this idea, and indeed, rather offended that Price even suggested that Muhammad qualified on this.
- Manifest the supernatural in the form of miracles. - According to traditional Islam, there was only one miracle: The recitation of the Koran. (A reader specializing in Islam has noted that some Muslims are accepting the Hadith -- somewhat apocryphal stories of Muhammend doing miracles -- as genuine.)
- Exercise power over death. - I am likewise assured that Muhammad's body has not been reported missing.
So the net of this is: Price's eight candidates for godhood simply fail. And, not one of them made any claim to be the Creator God of the universe - which I would add as a ninth criteria. Empedocles did assert himself as "a" god, and Augustus was thought of as a "god" in the same manner as the other Roman emperors - but there is no claim that comes close to those of Jesus.
The following argument is rather dated, and does not comprehend the typical evangelical scholarly position:
What McDowell has unwittingly done is to list off the basic outline of the Mythic Hero Archetype as described by Joseph Campbell, Lord Raglan, Otto Ranck, Alan Dundes, and others. He is quite right that people would expect an incarnate god or divine hero to conform to the job description he has outlined. What he does not seem to see is that his very apologetic recapitulates the mythopoetic tendency of the human imagination to flesh out the outlines of the Hero Archetype by lending it a concrete form and name, in McDowell's case, those of Jesus of Nazareth...In fact, the conformity of the gospel portraits of Jesus to the Mythic Hero Archetype (though McDowell obviously wouldn't want to call it that) is one major reason that some scholars have questioned the historical existence of Jesus. The more a character's life conforms to familiar myth-patterns, the more likely it is that the character's biography has been subsumed into myth.
Actually, if Price had read McDowell's later book, He Walked Among Us, he would have found that McDowell would have no problem with the Mythic Hero Archaetype concept in this regard. McDowell, like myself and other Christian writers (notably Peter Kreeft) recognize that "it may be that God has actually used some of the pagan myths" as a teaching process to define a relationship with Him. On this matter, McDowell quotes Pinchas Lapide (HWAU, p. 192):
...would it not be possible that the Lord of the universe used the myth of the resurrection (which was well known to pagans) in order 'to eliminate idolatry in the pagan world' through the true resurrection of a just person and to carry 'the knowledge of God' to the four corners of the earth by means of the Easter faith?
This view, then, recognizes the eight criteria - what Price deigns the "Mythic Hero Archetype" - as pointers towards the true God and His Son.
Now the assertion that the more a character's life conforms to familiar myth-patterns, the more likely it is that the character's biography has been subsumed into myth is simply unwarranted; it is an illogical leap. One is well advised to "check out" the credentials of the candidates, as we have done - and as Price evidently failed to do. We may also point out that there are too many aspects of Christ that the human would not anticipate at all -- these cannot be said to originate from image-projection capabilities of humans.
For more related to this subject, please see Glenn Miller's continuing works - click here and here - on the question of whether the NT was influenced by pagan myths. Miller notes that the Divine Man stereotype was (1) not really defined as a type and (2) was not operative in the time of Jesus.
The Ant Analogy
The next section concerns McDowell's "ant analogy" to explain the reasonableness of the incarnation. Price objects to this analogy on the grounds that God's ways would be incomprehensible to us. In his words (and we must quote extensively here):
...the infinite qualitative distinction between God's mind and the human mind can never really be bridged, any more than you could ever succeed in explaining your ideas to an ant even if you had a set of their antenna.
This is why there can never be genuine translation of the word of God into the words of men. "No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received... the Spirit which is from God" (1 Corinthians 2:11-12). So doesn't Paul think it is possible to tap God's phone? To speak his language? Yes, but then one ends up like the Oracle of Delphi again: speaking in tongues, things it is not lawful for a man to utter, unutterable utterances, the tongues of angels, speaking in the spirit. One experiences the mystery as mystery, as Tillich puts it, one does not crack some code, solve some problem. If it is a word, it cannot be from God. Conversely, if it from God, it cannot be a word.
For this reason, the fundamentalist doctrine of propositional revelation is so much idolatrous nonsense. Any human word which purports to interpret God's word is really only playing charades. It is only pointing, symbolizing, and finally deceiving anyone who forgets for a second the ambivalent, ambiguous character of that word. It is something like trying to translate the Chinese Tao te Ching into English. The Taoist epigrams are so terse, and the two languages so different, that translations differ wildly. All are edifying, but one would be intemperate to quote any one version and say one had grasped the intent of the author.
Aquinas understood the problem here, though one may wonder whether the great philosopher really came to grips with it. He knew that God's ways and words must be so vastly different from our own that human words about God could never simply be univocal in their reference to God. Love, for instance, is all bound up with human associations and limitations that could not touch the infinite God, He Who Is. But if by saying "God is love," we use the word equivocally, so that God's love bears no similarity to human love, there is no point in using the same word at all.
A few points in reply:
- First of all, for a person who has decried cognitive revelation, Price is surprisingly well informed about God and what His mind is like. One must wonder where Price got this information, and how he has achieved such a privileged epistemic position.
Given his argument in its entirety, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has simply assumed this purely philosophical ontology as being the "way things are." Such sweeping claims about God's mind, and God's words need some authentication -- other than that it was theologically vogue in the early-to-mid 20th century.
If one accepts his unfounded assumptions, then yes, propositional communication is impossible, but Price has simply inserted this metaphysical dualism into the argument without justification.
Tillich is no help, because he is starting from the same arbitrary point as is Price.
- Price has not even mentioned Aquinas' solution to the scenario: Univocity is impossible between humans also, and it is not ndeeded to have extremely meaningful and major content overlap between communicators. All that is need is analogical language -- the kind all humans use, even today, anyway.
It is really disappointing that Price has tried to use Aquinas to support the alleged impossibility of communication from God to man; either Price has misunderstood Aquinas or is misusing him in this argument.
And his quotation of Paul has an interesting omission -- "combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words". For Paul, communication from God had a lexical component--the building blocks of propositional revelation. The numerous passages in which Paul speaks of audible messages from God to him, should alert the reader that Price is not representing Paul fairly. Regarding tongues, let us remember that Paul required INTERPRETERS in such cases; and although Price undoubtedly does not accept such testimony, there is no indication that the prophecies received thusly were as vague as those of the Delphic oracle. Moreover, there were also perfectly clear prophecies delivered [i.e., Agabus' prophecy of famine in Acts] - audible messages.
- Unlike someone trying to translate the Tao te Ching, God, with infinite knowledge, would know exactly how to communicate to us. If we had someone who was perfectly versed in the original language and culture of the Tao te Ching, and also in our own language and culture, there can be no doubt that a perfect or near-perfect translation and acquisition of the authors' intent could be rendered - especially if we happen to have the author himself at our disposal.
We are without such expertise for communicating with God; but God does not lack knowledge, and He is the author who communicates with us. Also, regarding "propositional revelation" being "idolatrous nonsense" - not only Christian theologians, but also Jewish and Muslim ones, and many others, would be quite surprised to hear this.
- Regarding "love": That is not hard to define out.
- Recall that it is written that humans are created in God's image, to act on God's behalf, and a little lower than the angels. Therefore, it is appropriate to suggest that while the gulf between man and God is vast indeed, it is not quite so vast that there cannot be SOME degree of mutual understanding. [NA.MI, 150]
- Price's argument also fails to take into account that God encompasses both the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, and that that which is the comprehensible part of God's nature, may be understood by us. To use the ant analogy: McDowell posits a situation where the ant hill is about to be plowed under by farm machinery; we could easily, as an ant-man, communicate that danger is afoot (for even ants have communications amongst themselves for such things, basic though they are) and thus encourage flight to safety. Whether the ants would listen is another matter...which is a way that the ant analogy does work nicely.
On the other hand, there is obviously no holding place in an ant's mind for the design and workings of the gasoline engine which powers the tractor that is about to flatten the hill, so we obviously cannot communicate that aspect of the situation successfully.
Similarly, here is an illustration once used by theologian R. C. Sproul that will make the point even clearer. Sproul, speaking from his studios in that city, cited the phrase, "Orlando is a city in Florida." God's knowledge of each subject noun listed (Orlando, city, Florida) is more complete, more accurate, and much more detailed than our own knowledge ever will or can be - even if we live in one of those places our entire life!
Nevertheless, God can certainly communicate with us on those topics, and His over-arching knowledge of them, superior in every way to ours, is no barrier to communication at all.
Now Price is aware of this sort of answer, for he notes:
...Aquinas sought to settle down in the middle, saying our God-language is analogous. In other words, as Francis Schaeffer said, it is true enough without being exhaustively true.
Does Price have an answer for this?
Pardon me if I think this is a case of trying to have one's cake and eat it too. "I'll just take the best of both! Wrap it up for me, will you?"
I do not think Price is coming to grips with the argument in question. All we have here is a dismissive jocularity, and then this Eastern-flavored appeal which merely repeats the same points preceding:
As the Zen masters teach, human talk pretends to convey Reality but is wholly inadequate to the job and always inevitably ends up substituting for that which it claims to convey, thus cutting us off from it! It was brilliant theology for the Old Testament to forbid any image of God. There can be no image of an invisible God. Christian incarnationism risks (to put it mildly) losing this essential insight by calling Jesus the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), by having Jesus say, "He who has seen me has seen the father" (John 14:9). What winds up happening is perfectly summed up by Albrecht Ritschl, who said that for liberal Protestants like himself, "Jesus has the value of God for us." In other words, Jesus has become an idol usurping the place of God. And that, to my mind, is the confusion of the "idea" of the Incarnation. Theologians only admit this when they obsequiously pronounce the incarnation a "mystery of the faith." This, too, is no real admission, only a rhetorical diversion, since they will talk quite confidently about the incarnation and its importance, as if they knew quite well what the doctrine meant--until they get pinned down on it, and then it's time to hide demurely behind the petticoat of "mystery."
Price here has stepped into a strange no-mans-land for his position. Apart from misunderstanding (as even the Mormons do) that the word "image" in itself connotes some physical representation (see Chapter 1 of The Mormon Defenders -- remember, making an image is forbidden, but men are made in the image of God, so they do exist), and using language to convey the "reality that language cannot convey reality", he has adapted an extreme minority view of the nature of language. Contemporary philosophers of language would radically disagree with the Zen position that language is "wholly inadequate" to its task.
- Notice also that this whole position also assumes (without justification) that someone can step outside of language and experience "reality as it really is" and "measure" how inadequate language is/ We know from cognitive psychology today that large amounts of raw experience is perceived semantically, and we know that most (if not all) of long-term memory is stored semantically.
- Again, notice that -- without the benefit of revelation from God -- Price has decided that some aspect of OT theology was "brilliant" and essentially correct in its "insights." I wonder why he didn't select the insight that God wrote the Decalogue with His "finger" in words (Ex. 31:18), or the dictation of the levitical laws God issued from the tent to Moses?
- As for not knowing what it "meant", Price has confused "meaning" and "method". Like Paul, we know what the incarnation meant: "all the fullness of the godhead bodily dwelt in Christ" and "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself". This is not an issue of whether we "get the idea or not"; the issue is how much precision we can have on this notion.
But we have adequate content of meaning (to hold us accountable); what we do NOT know is the method -- "how" God did this.
I frankly do not see what the "mystery" is in the incarnation. Between the Trinity-compatible concepts in first-century Judaism, and the explanation of Jesus as God's Word incarnate, it seems to me we have an adequate explanation. However, as we have yet to even solve the "mystery" of the relation of our own minds and bodies I would suggest that the so-called "rhetorical diversion" is simply an honest admission that our understanding is limited - not a way to get out of a tight spot. And isn't this the sort of honest attitude that, according to the previous segment by Price, we should be having?
Anderson explains that he uses the word "mystery," because "...it expresses, better than any other term, the fact that we are here face-to-face with a subject which, by its very nature, the human mind can never fully fathom." [NA.MI, viii] And this is what the point is: Not that we cannot understand the issue and discuss it meaningfully, but that we will not be able to fathom it completely.
Along the same lines - it is an unwarranted leap, all too often made by Skeptics in this arena, that "unexplainable" or "inconceivable" equals "impossible".
- Re the verses in Colossians and John: These are not a directive to idolatry. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
In other words, what is being said here, in Colossians, and in John is not that Jesus is an idol, but that being God's Son (keeping in mind the tenets of the father/son relationship in Judaism, and the true meaning of being in God's "image and likeness" and meaning we are vested with God's authority), Jesus' actions reflect those of the Father. Jesus was in perfect obedience to the Father; hence, He was the very likeness of the Father - not physically, but in deed and word and authority.
Now allow me to diverge a moment to general arguments against the incarnation concept. I have found very little in the way of substantiative objections in this matter. Even the forebodingly-titled Myth of God Incarnate [JH.MG], and the subsequent essays in Incarnation Myth: The Debate Continued [MG.IMBC], spend a great deal more time assuming that the incarnation is a falsehood and explaining how the idea came about than actually explaining WHY the incarnation is a falsehood in and of itself. The authors repeatedly assert that the incarnation concept is "unintellgible" but more often than not fail to explain why; when they DO attempt an explanation on the rare occassion, it is marred by fundamental errors of understanding and logic, often descending into the very anthropomorphism they so decry among incarnationists.
We have already seen that Price argues that God is so utterly transcendent that no word may be received from Him. This, according to Thomas Morris, fits right in with a rejection of the incarnation as absurd or incoherent; but the core premise is itself fundamentally flawed. Morris [TVM.LGI, 19] deduces that:
...such a view of God itself falls to the same charge. For if, per impossibile, God and man shared no properties due to their difference in ontological status, they would have to share at least the following property: the property of having a set of properties not shared by some being with a different ontological status. Likewise, if no human concepts apply to God, at least one human concept would apply to him - the concept of being such as to escape characterization by human concepts.
The "utter transcendence" argument shared by Price and the authors of The Myth of God Incarnate is, then, "logically self-defeating and thus incoherent" - and even if we object that these objections can be circumvented, the argument "would still be such that no one could possibly have any evidence, argument, or rational justification of any kind for thinking it correct." (ibid.)
For material on the virgin birth, click here.
Price then turns to the criteria of sinlessness. Other than claiming that the Gospels are no more than tendential pro-Christian propaganda and objecting (indirectly) that since Jesus' words were not recorded on videotape we cannot be sure that He said what the Gospels attribute to Him, or for that matter that Jesus was really sinless, Price attempts three points here answered in these two links:
How do you suppose it is possible, in view of Jesus' own repudiation of evidential miracles in Mark (8:12) and Luke (16:31) that apologists like Bernard Ramm, C.S. Lewis, and McDowell can elevate paranormal phenomena to epistemological centrality?
In the Scriptures cited, Jesus is repudiating miracles on demand as a sign - not evidential miracles per se; and indeed, Jesus points John the Baptist to the miracles as proof of His Messiahship, and in the Upper Room with His disciples appealed to them to believe in Him, at least because of His miracles.
For McDowell and those he quotes to point out that Jesus' enemies and the enemies of Christianity did not deny his wonders but ascribed them to sorcery is futile for the purpose for which they are cited. McDowell implies that Celsus, the scribes, etc., would have denied the reality of the miracles if they could have. They were skeptics, after all, weren't they? Yes, but not of the type McDowell is trying to refute/persuade. They were skeptical about Jesus, not about the supernatural. They had no problem with miracles in general. They preferred to depict Jesus as a miracle-worker because this enabled them to paint him as a false prophet and a magician. The miracles could be turned into negative testimony of a miraculously evil Jesus. It's not as if McDowell can cite Bertrand Russell or Robert Ingersoll admitting that Jesus performed miracles. That is something quite different.
So the argument is: We can't accept pagan testimony of Jesus' miraculous powers, because the pagans were just as credulous as the Christians were. Well, true enough, they had a more open-minded view of the subject than Russell et al., but on the other hand, they were not gratutious accepters of this sort of thing. Glenn Miller has made several points concerning the critical capabilities of ancient historians; we have also noted a passage from Josephus, who was very careful to stress that he knew that certain miracles that he was about to report were unbelievable. Likewise, Tacitus reports healing miraces performed by Vespasian in a way that suggests that he cast a critical eye towards such things. Is there any other evidence that we can draw upon?
Thiessen, in Miracles Stories of the Early Christian Tradition (pp.269, 274-5), observes that:
This period (Hellenistic up to Imperial times) may well have been the least superstitious period of antiquity, even if we have to allow for the continued existence in concealment of an undercurrent of the usual superstitions and belief in miracles. However that may be a sea change sets in with the beginning of late antiquity. Popular belief in miracles and superstition revived. Whereas in Hellenism belief in miracles was permeated with rational elements, now the relationship was reversed...And increasing irrationalism began to flood in to Romano-Greek culture...
The end of the 1st century BC is marked by a general increase in the intensity of belief in miracles. The belief takes on a few form. The balance of rational and irrational elements in Hellenistic belief in miracles tips towards the irrational.
On the other hand it must be admitted that in the relatively peaceful and stable period of the first two centuries (AD) the irrationalism which first appeared at the beginning of the 1st century was unable to strike roots. There continued to be rationalist movements alongside it. In his dialogues Lucian mocked his contemporaries' belief in the miraculous. Oenomaus of Gadara mocked the oracles, and Sextus Empiricus once more brought together all the arguments of skepticism. Even where increased irrationalism was notable--for example in Plutarch's development--it remained within bounds, without eccentricity or fanaticism. There was no decisive change before the great social and political crisis of the 3rd century AD.
Robin Lane Fox writes [RLF.PC, 29] of the scepticism of the time (mostly in the educated classs), but says it was overcome by the emphasis on tradition. (Let us recall, of course, that Christianity grew in the educated class the fastest.) He also notes the broad spectrum of opinion on such matters - and it sounds remarkably like the spectrum of opinions available today!
Finally, Sarton, in Hellenistic Culture in the Last Three Centuries BC, notes the following concerning two particular writers of the time:
(257) On Cicero: "His main achievement in the tradition of Stoicism was the rejection of nonsense and superstition. This required lucidity and courage in a superstitious age..."
(272) On Lucretius: "Lucretius was an enemy of superstition in all its forms; he was not only anticlerical but also antireligious."
So Price's evaluation of ancient historians and writers is quite unwarranted; like us, they were quite able to think critically and make discernments.
The notion that Jesus' teachings are in any measure or sense unique is not the basis for a belief in his divinity but rather an erroneous inference from it. The belief in uniqueness cannot survive the slightest acquaintance with the ethical and spiritual traditions of other religions and philosophies. It is a simple matter of fact that virtually every saying of Jesus treating of morality or piety can be paralleled, often virtually verbatim, from the Mishnah...None of it is particularly unique. In the case of the ethical and pious teaching, this is no surprise. It only becomes an embarrassment to the incarnation doctrine: why should God become man in order to "reveal" what the wise of all the nations had already known for many centuries?
I do not see that McDowell is arguing that Jesus' teachings were in any way unique in the sense that Price is inferring; but let's leave that aside for now. As anyone who has read the most basic Christian material on the matter - in this case, probably C. S. Lewis' Abolition of Man - it is not argued that Jesus' ethical teachings were something brand new and unheard of; rather, they represented the highest moral ideals found by man - as we would expect if He were God incarnate. The only difference, really, is Jesus' teachings regarding His own divinity and the authority with which He expressed Himself. Ethical teaching was not the point of Jesus' mission, just an essential part of it.
Now Price, interestingly, is aware of this; but note his response:
Ancient apologists already had to come to grips with the problem. Their back-peddling strategy was called the Logos doctrine. They said Socrates, for example, was a "Christian before Christ." So the truth the "noble pagans" knew was still the unique possession of Jesus, but he had already begun sharing it with the human race some hundreds or thousands of years before he appeared in the flesh.
The Logos doctrine can actually be found rather farther back than the ancient apologists (it is in the Jewish roots of the first century, with links back to the Wisdom figure of intertestamental Judaism and Proverbs 8), so it is hardly "back-peddling" -- and note that NO ancient apologist is quoted in this regard. But even if it were a back-pedal, it would only be because these ancient apologists had previously made the same mistake that Price falsely attributes to McDowell - asserting that the ethical substance of Jesus' teachings were somehow unique.
Now again, this was part and parcel of Jesus' mission, but salvation was the true core, and Price is aware of this, but:
Then what was the urgency of his appearing? One can always shift over to the salvific death of Jesus as the reason for the incarnation, but that is not the point here. McDowell wants to have an incarnate God who comes to tell humanity what it could have learned in no other way. And this just does not work once we recognize the plain fact that nothing attributed to Jesus is unique.
Not the point? This is precisely the point -- nowhere does McDowell state that Jesus taught things that men could have learned in no other way. He does quote Ramm's opinion that Jesus' words were the greatest ever spoken (based on His authority and teaching style - NOT the content, outside of issues related to salvation); he quotes Romanes as saying that Jesus' teachings are superior to Plato (while noting that "in respect of philosophic thought," Plato was "greatly in advance" of Jesus); he quotes others on Jesus' authority in teaching (not the content alone)...but not once does he say or quote anyone as saying that Jesus' ethical teachings, in and of themselves, are unique.
In fact, McDowell quotes Peake as allowing that the teaching of Jesus is NOT original - just more concise than that of Jesus' competitors. Price is simply reading intent into McDowell -- and again, if Price had read McDowell's He Walked Among Us, he would have found a clear citation by McDowell indicating that it was not the content of Jesus' teachings that was unique - other than His claims to divinity.A Real Death?
And yet, as Thomas J.J. Altizer (The Descent into Hell) has repeatedly pointed out, a "real" death of some two to two and a half days' duration is hardly more of a real death than the old Swoon Theory postulated. Did Jesus not actually suffer, as the Gospel of Peter had it? Was the cross actually empty, as in some Gnostic gospels? Was it someone else on the cross in Jesus' place, as one billion Muslims believe? Or did Jesus die only for the weekend? In any of these cases, it is what we would expect of an epiphany of the eternal Spirit whom death's pangs could not hold. But it has little in common with real humanity. People do not die just for a weekend.
We may note, of course, that the Gospel of Peter, the Gnostic gospels, and the Muslim assertions, are all far too late to be taken seriously as witnesses to what actually happened (John Dominic Crossan's ideas and those of the Jesus Seminar notwithstanding).
But let us be clear --there is a huge, huge difference between a swoon (of any length) and a death (of even 30 minutes). The power of God in resurrection was proven by a real death, and would not have been manifest in revival from a swoon. And as for us "expecting it" of an eternal spirit, he has missed the historical Jewish context again -- the evangelists and preachers in Acts refer back to Psalm 16:10 ("For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."), a resurrection of a dead "son of David".
It was expected, not by virtue of deity, but by virtual of a successful Messianic life, mission, and death. As an added note - having acquired Altizer's book referenced above, The Descent Into Hell, I see not one single place where it is pointed out - much less is it "repeatedly pointed out" -- that a "real" death of some two to two and a half days' duration is hardly more of a real death than the old Swoon Theory postulated. Even less do we see any medical or forensic evidence to back up this assertion.
Price would do well to take his OWN advice from his OWN book, Beyond Born Again:
If I may offer some friendly advice as to what a new ex-Evangelical might avoid, let me caution such a reader not to become an anti-evangelist. There is no point in carrying a vengeful chip on one's shoulder, looking for every opportunity to challenge and refute an Evangelical. What a pathetic irony this would be! Just picture the person who has repudiated the task of trying to save people by converting them to Evangelical faith, now trying to save people by converting them from Evangelical faith! A similar temptation is to negate completely one's Evangelical past as a "life of sin," i.e., "I once was blind, but now I see!" Once again we would have the mirror-image of the thing repudiated! No, I dare say the "ex-Evangelical" wants eventually to mature past the "anti-Evangelical," to become the "non-Evangelical." Then he will be able to appreciate the positive experiences of the past, however he may now want to explain them. He will be able to look at his former co-religionists simply as people with whom he happens to disagree, rather than as the unsaved "them," i.e., the same set of categories he used to see. As a full- fledged non-Evangelical he will not have to deny his past, nor let his past define all the issues for him.
So, then - are Jury Chapter 6 and 8 reflective of not being "anti-evangelist"? Are they, then, NOT samples of carrying a "vengeful chip" on one's shoulder, looking for every opportunity to challenge and refute, etc.? Is Mr. Price looking at McDowell as a former co-religionist "with whom he happens to disagree"? If so, I am afraid that it is not entirely clear from the content.
Note well that Price is quite able to write in more civilized tones - Beyond Born Again and Jury Chapter 9 indicates this...or else, together they indicate a conflicted soul whose assessments are hardly to be trusted.
(1) On a slightly ironic note - Kingsley refers to a critic who discounts the story of Empedocles jumping into Mt. Etna simply because the poet "had nothing to say" in his writings concerning volcanoes. It's nice to know that rationales like this are being used even outside the circles of Biblical criticism.
(2) Special thanks again go to Glenn Miller, for some really fantastic quotes and informational help.
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