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April 2018 Archives

April 4, 2018

Minimal Facts vs. Maximal Data

This Saturday, April 7, I will be doing a webinar called "Minimal Facts vs. Maximal Data" for Apologetics Academy, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. The Zoom Room will open at 2 p.m. Go here to join the meeting at that time or drop in whenever you like. Generally the whole thing goes until about 5:30 or even a bit later. There will be live Q & A.

The video will be available not long after on the Youtube channel if you want to catch it there. I will be discussing an important weakness of the "minimal facts" approach to defending the resurrection and advocating an alternative approach. I will argue that this alternative approach can be used in public presentations and debates as well as in more leisurely settings. Two blog posts on these same topics are here and here.

April 8, 2018

Blessed are Those Who Have not Seen and Yet Have Believed

Something to note about today's Gospel passage:

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Continue reading "Blessed are Those Who Have not Seen and Yet Have Believed" »

April 11, 2018

Vincent Lambert in danger once again

For several years I have been watching the case of Vincent Lambert, a disabled man in France. He was injured in a car accident in 2008. See a partial time-line here. (It doesn't include the latest events.) Beginning in 2013, his wife and some other relatives, with the cooperation of doctors, began a series of attempts to kill him by dehydration. These were stopped in 2013, when he was taken off of food and water for a long time but survived, and in 2015.

In 2015 it was unclear precisely why he was not killed, but apparently it was because of the publicity surrounding the case. In that same year, unfortunately, some pro-lifers in the United States apparently decided the case wasn't worth following or reporting on, one leading pro-life reporter even going so far as to say that it was "like trying to refight the 1968 election"--a most unfortunate remark seeming to indicate that Vincent's killing could be regarded as a "done deal," as unchangeable as the past.

I'm inclined to think that some of the neglect of Vincent's case arises from the mere fact that it is occurring in France, not in America. American pro-life media need to cover this case in English-language forums.

Fortunately, his parents have never given up, and here we are, three years later, and ten years after his accident. Since at least 2013 those years are the gift of his tenacious parents and friends who have been vigilant and have stopped the attempts to dehydrate him quietly to death behind closed doors in a French hospital. Vincent breathes on his own and is apparently in a "minimally conscious state." At one point he could eat by mouth. I don't know if that is still possible, because if mouth feeding is discontinued, the muscles of the throat will atrophy. For years he has not received any therapy that might help him to retain or regain function.

Now his newest doctor has once more made a decision to discontinue his food and water so that he will die. His parents have immediately contested the decision.

You can pray and, if you haven't yet, sign the petition to support Vincent Lambert's life.

April 12, 2018

Book Banning in California

A facially unconstitutional law is under consideration by the California legislature. See analysis here. Under the aegis of the consumer protection powers, the act would ban all exchange of money for "orientation change efforts" with any individual. On its face this would amount to the outright ban on the sale of any books, courses, or other materials that can be seen as trying to help or induce someone to change his sexual orientation or overcome gender confusion. As Robert Gagnon has pointed out, it would also facially ban charging fees for conference attendance or college classes in which such material is presented.

Continue reading "Book Banning in California" »

April 13, 2018

Tom Gilson endorses scholarly dialogue on Gospels theories

I'm pleased to say that Tom Gilson, senior editor for The Stream, has endorsed on his personal blog the proposition that Mike Licona should be willing to engage in scholarly dialogue with me about the topic of literary devices in the Gospels.

One might think such a proposition is uncontroversial, but one might be surprised. Tom is extremely evenhanded and does not even stake out a side on the object level topic, but he says that I have "mounted a criticism that needs a response" and also points out that "the position Lydia is defending is much closer than [Licona's] to the traditional and natural reading of Scripture." He also notes that the matter is important:

Where the text says Jesus says, “It is finished,” can we we be confident he actually said that? Lydia’s position is to say yes; Mike’s position takes that as a possibly a redaction or summary of some other saying, for example “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Now, I’ve heard plenty of sermons on “It is finished.” If Jesus didn’t actually say that, then a whole lot of conservative pastors and churches need to know that their sermons on this — in which they confidently claim Jesus spoke these very words — are uninformed, incorrect, and misleading. They are wrong, that is, to the extent that they attribute those very words to Jesus. But this is really quite important, isn’t it? It’s too important to pass by.

My deepest thanks to Tom for endorsing the ideal of vigorous dialogue on an important topic and also for making my work on this subject known more widely.

April 20, 2018

The very voice of a fictional Jesus

Blogger Steve Hays at Triablogue has posted and commented on some quotations from a 1999 paper and from a 2000 paper by usually-assumed-to-be conservative NT scholar Dan Wallace.

These are unpublished papers, but the contents of the 1999 paper came to light briefly in 2006 (I may post more later about the kerfuffle in 2006) and the contents of the 2000 paper came out to some degree in 2017, for those who actually read Mike Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? In that book, Licona takes from Wallace and adopts the view that Jesus did not say either, "I thirst" or "It is finished" from the cross but rather that these are "adaptations" by John of completely different sayings--respectively, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" and "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Wallace, who is thanked and cited frequently throughout Licona's 2017 book, apparently didn't mind this citation of his views from 2000, though he has not published either that paper or the 1999 paper.

In both of these papers, and in Licona's usage, the term used for such extreme fictionalization of Jesus' words is the highly misleading term "ipsissima vox." Used by a more conservative scholar, such a phrase ("the very voice") merely means moderate and normal paraphrase, as in the differences between the Father's words at Jesus' baptism--"This is my beloved son" in Matt. 3:17 vs. "You are my beloved son" in Mark 1:11. Used by Wallace and Licona, it means more or less anything, including changing "My God, why have you forsaken me?" to "I'm thirsty" and even inventing people bringing Jesus wine in response to his fictional, literal cry of thirst. To say that this is the "very voice" of Jesus is an joke. To call this sort of thing "paraphrase" (as has been done) is utterly misleading.

Continue reading "The very voice of a fictional Jesus" »

April 21, 2018

The Undeath of Cinema

An engaging essay in The New Atlantis raises important questions that, frankly, hadn’t even occurred to me. Whether that speaks to my denseness or my innocence of cutting edge filmmaking, I cannot say. In any case, “The Undeath of Cinema,” by the young editor and playwright Alexi Sargeant, is well worth reading.

In brief: Disney’s 2016 standalone Star Wars film Rogue One, contiving to capture the popularity of the original 1977 classic, set out to revive several iconic villains. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll confine myself to saying that one such villain was easy to revive, and the revival carried off brilliantly, in a concluding scene that crowned a movie whose final act saved an otherwise uneven and mediocre production. Reviving the second villain, however, proved a much heavier lift. The actor who played him, you see, is long deceased. So Disney experimented with a novel CGI technology to “resurrect” the likeness of the late actor Peter Cushing and insert this digital chimera into several scenes. The result may well have inaugurated a new and disturbing trend in cinema, whose lineaments it is the business of Mr. Sargeant to examine with a wise and critical eye.

Grand Moff Tarkin appears throughout Rogue One, to outward appearances as if the Peter Cushing of 1977 had agreed to step through time for this 2016 film. But Cushing himself could not . . . approve of the studio’s use of his likeness. Instead, his estate gave Disney the go-ahead. How confident can we be that the studio and Cushing’s heirs — actually, his former secretary Joyce Broughton, the overseer of his estate — correctly discerned the wishes of an actor who died more than twenty years ago, about his apparent resurrection using a technology that didn’t exist during his lifetime? And, leaving aside the question of consent, what would the ethical and artistic fallout be should the use of this technology become widespread?

. . . Disney made Cushing a test case for a digital resurrection freely chosen by the filmmakers. There was no overwhelming narrative need to include Grand Moff Tarkin in this Star Wars story. The script has its own cast of bickering Imperial antagonists who could have lost command of the Death Star by the film’s end without the Grand Moff appearing in person to requisition it. The reason Tarkin is in the movie is to serve as an experiment in filmmaking technology. Let us see, then, what the Cushing experiment reveals about the merits of digitally resurrecting the dead.

Sargeant then lingers a bit on the actor Cushing, an English gentlemen of grace and professional perseverance who has the ironic distinction, in light of subsequent cinematographic developments, of having played portrayed Baron Victor Frankenstein, and from that role, having launched a successful career in the horror genre, which included other noteworthy depictions of necromantic roles.

He wound up a screen horror icon. For twenty years he was a mainstay of horror films, frequently playing the Baron in Hammer Horror’s Frankenstein films and Professor Van Helsing in their Dracula films.

Cushing had a particularly interesting relationship with undeath between these two famous recurring roles. As Frankenstein, he imbued corpses with a mockery of life; as Van Helsing, he put down the undead with a stake through the heart. Cushing himself pointed out this cyclical pattern in a 1964 interview: “People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can’t think why. In my macabre pictures, I have either been a monster-maker or a monster-destroyer. But never a monster. Actually, I’m a gentle fellow.”

Gentle he might have been, but thanks to Hammer and many other horror studios, Cushing’s filmography was full of technicolor gore and Gothic excess. He had the gaunt face and tall frame for it, though perhaps sometimes more of a twinkle in his eye than you’d expect from a master of horror.

These qualities of hale, imperial menace appealed to George Lucas when he set out to cast the secondary villain for the original Star Wars in 1977, and desired “a face to share the antagonist role with the masked Darth Vader.”

Continue reading "The Undeath of Cinema" »

More on engagement: Begin by reading

Dr. Licona has asked Tom Gilson to publish his response to Tom's call for engaging with my ideas--which is to say his reason for refusing any engagement with my critique. It is here. Tom asked me if I would like to respond in my own blog venue, so herewith a few brief points.

1) It is interesting to me that Dr. Licona appears to be indicating that he has not even read my critique of his work. In describing the amount of time that would be required to engage and indicating that he has no intention of taking that time, he says, "Since her blogs on my book are very long, I would begin by reading them, which would take a few hours." This is really striking, especially given that Licona doesn't appear to think that this is in any way an embarrassing admission.

Continue reading "More on engagement: Begin by reading" »

April 22, 2018

Reprieve for Vincent Lambert

In what his supporters are calling a "magnifique victoire," an administrative court has ordered further medical review of Vincent Lambert's condition. That at least means that he will not be dehydrated to death immediately.

I'm not as sanguine as his parents are about whether or not this is a "magnifique victoire." For one thing, the committee of experts has been told to find out whether he could be re-educated to eat and drink by mouth. While this was possible several years ago, because he hasn't received any rehab., it may no longer be possible. The muscles for swallowing may have atrophied too much because they haven't been exercised. Moreover, many adult patients simply can't get enough food and water by mouth when they are weak, in a minimally conscious state, or have to be fed by spoon. It takes a lot of spoonfuls to get an adult enough food and water. And the staff at a full-time care facility only has so much time. So even many patients who can eat by mouth also need to receive supplementary tube feeding.

Vincent's life and death shouldn't hang on whether he can be re-educated to eat by mouth.

Continue reading "Reprieve for Vincent Lambert" »

April 23, 2018

The real Elizabeth Jennings

Dana Gioia, writing in First Things, introduces us to Elizabeth Jennings. No, not the Soviet deep-cover agent brilliantly portrayed by Keri Russell in the FX show The Americans: the real Elizabeth Jennings was an English Catholic poet of considerable talent, tragedy and accomplishment.

[She] had the peculiar fate of being in the right place at the right time in the wrong way. Her career began splendidly. Her verse appeared in prominent journals, championed by Oxford’s new generation of tastemakers. Her first publication, Poems (1953), launched the acclaimed Fantasy Poets pamphlet series, which would soon present the early work of Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Thom Gunn, and Geoffrey Hill. Her first full-length collection, A Way of Looking (1955), won the Somerset Maugham Award and became the Poetry Book Society recommendation. She was the youngest poet featured in the first Penguin Modern Poets volume (1962). Meanwhile Jennings achieved enduring notoriety as the only female member of “The Movement,” the irreverent and contrarian group that dominated mid-century British poetry. By age thirty, Jennings was a celebrated writer.

“To be lucky in the beginning is everything,” claimed Cervantes, but Jennings’s luck did not hold. In the great expansion of universities and literary publishing following World War II, her Movement peers gained academic appointments, lucrative book deals, and critical esteem. Jennings’s career stalled. Her fame as a Movement poet proved a dead end. She never belonged in that Oxbridge boys’ club. She shared The Movement’s commitment to clarity and traditional form, but her politics were to the left of their mostly conservative stance. Deeper than politics, however, were two fundamental differences between Jennings and her peers. “I was a woman and also a Roman Catholic,” she later observed, “which meant that I wanted to write about subjects which were simply uninteresting to most Movement poets.” Her emotionally direct verse, which pondered love, art, and religion, had little in common with their detached and ironic attitude toward experience.

There were also personal impediments to her continued success. Physically and emotionally frail, Jennings was not able to sustain a practical career. She lacked the temperament for any employment but poetry. She drifted between failed jobs and impossible lovers. She was hospitalized for mental illness. By forty, she had sunk into poverty, rescued only by the occasional publisher’s advance or literary prize. Alone and destitute in old age, Jennings moved from one short-term lodging to another, a shabby eccentric haunting Oxford cafés.

What in a rock star or Communist celebrity would meet with indulgence — dissipation, poor comportment in public, eccentricity — was with the lady Jennings treated roughly: “When she was appointed to a British order of chivalry by the queen in 1992, the impoverished poet wore a knitted hat, duffle coat, and canvas shoes. The tabloids dubbed Jennings ‘the bag-lady of the sonnets.’ The epithet stuck.” “In her later years, reviewers often treated her with condescension and hostility. One young critic mocked her as a ‘Christian lady’ and ‘emotional anchorite’ inhabiting a world of ‘shapeless woolens, small kindnesses and quiet deaths’ — an odious remark even by the snotty standards of British reviewing.”

But Gioia ably demonstrates that Jenning was a poet of no mean quality, woman, Catholic, English, penurious, dissolute or otherwise. I have already ordered two of her volumes on his rec alone.

Continue reading "The real Elizabeth Jennings" »

April 25, 2018

Alfie Evans: Power hunger and the death of the innocent

As in the Charlie Gard case, so here.

In my post on Charlie Gard, I said this:

Since the culture of death adamantly denies the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary care, and since medical kidnap is occurring in the U.S...., it is as inevitable as anything political can be that eventually a minor child will be removed from his parents' or guardians' custody for their insistence that he receive food and water and that he will be dehydrated to death by the state.

I was speaking there of the U.S., but this scenario is happening now in England.

Continue reading "Alfie Evans: Power hunger and the death of the innocent" »

April 26, 2018

Update: Gracious Hospital starts feeding Alfie

I admit to being surprised: Alfie Evans's father now confirms that the hospital, after leaving Alfie for over 24 hours without food, has graciously started allowing him food as well as water and some oxygen.

How long he will live remains to be seen, but kudos to his parents for their tireless advocacy, which resulted in his getting at least some basic needs met.

Book giveaway drawing!

Enter to win by sharing a new lecture by Tim McGrew.

Tim has a new lecture called "Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?" delivered last month at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The video is now available. The Powerpoint slides are included with the lecture if you follow the links provided here.

Until April 30 we are holding no less than two book giveaway drawings, one for Facebook and on for Twitter, to promote shares of this new lecture by Tim, discussing alleged "literary devices" in the Gospels. By sharing or retweeting, you get the chance to enter a drawing for a free, signed copy of my book Hidden in Plain View. The link in question will also take people to a portal where they can click through to my post series on the same topic.

Here's what you do to enter: On Facebook, get this link and do a unique share of the link.

On Twitter, retweet this link and follow to be entered.

Or you can just click through the links to watch the lecture itself.

April 28, 2018

Going Chreia-zy

I've written at length about the problems with "literary device" theories concerning the gospels, theories stating that the gospel authors had a broad license to alter and expand Jesus' words, change facts surrounding incidents, and even invent whole incidents and sayings.

I have not previously addressed one strand of this type of theory that uses the Greek term chreia, a term that simply refers to an anecdote about an important person, to justify such a broad license on the part of the evangelists.

One proponent of this use of the term chreia is Canadian New Testament scholar Craig A. Evans. On April 10, Dr. Evans and I had a debate/dialogue on the British Unbelievable radio show on the historical reliability of John's Gospel and its portrait of Jesus. This debate is set to air on May 19, and this post will contribute some background information. I will not here be citing anything specific that Dr. Evans said in our discussion on Unbelievable but only what he has already said elsewhere about the term chreia, which he was also discussing in our debate.

Continue reading "Going Chreia-zy" »