Search This Blog

Monday, November 23, 2009

Observations from 2009 Apologetics Conference

I just arrived back from the 2009 Apologetics Conference at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. I was very impressed with the Seminary campus. It is one of the more beautiful campuses that I have ever seen. Of course the Southern Baptists do have a lot of money. The campus was damaged by Katrina and was closed for an entire year but there are no visible signs remaining of any damage. One of the more famous NOBTS graduates is Paige Patterson who is currently the President of the largest of the SBC Seminaries--Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. (Patterson is, more than any other single person, responsible for driving the liberals out of the SBC seminaries and reinstating conservatives who would defend the inerrancy of Scripture).

The Seminary also sponsors every year the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum which involves an evangelical scholar and a non-evangelical scholar dialoguing over a specific issue. Last year they had N.T. Wright and Dominic Crossan discussing their different viewpoints on the resurrection. Each man presents his case and then they sit down and informally ask each other questions. The next day they have two evangelical scholars and two non-evangelical scholars respond to the previous day's dialogue. I like this format. Sometimes in a debate format, people talk past each other. I purchased the book of last year's discussion and look forward to reading it.

I will be making some random observations as time goes forward on the various presentations that I attended.

The conference was opened on Thursday night by J. P. Moreland speaking on Why Christian Knowledge Matters for your Mind, Your Heart and Your Life.

Dr. Moreland is Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in Southern California and a prolific author. One of the more interesting things Moreland said was: You can know something without certainty. He admits that he is not 100% certain that God exists. He says he has a true belief based on good reasons but not certainty.

I find it significant that Moreland honestly admits that he cannot be 100% certain of Christianity. This is my whole point and why I continue to be agnostic. He believes in historic Christianity and I don't believe; but, neither of us know with certainty.

Another thing that surprised me was that Moreland said that God had spoken to him directly and internally (on more than one occasion). He related an incident in Korea where God revealed to him that a certain man named "Mike"needed to call his Pastor. He had no idea who "Mike" was but he mentioned it during his lecture and, sure enough, a man named Mike came up afterwards and asked Moreland how he knew there was an issue between him and his Pastor. Moreland said that God told him.

I found it unusual that he would claim to have direct revelation from God. Historically, his institution (Talbot)would have opposed such a position. The historic fundamentalists were adamant about revelation having ceased with the canon. I am sure that Moreland doesn't place God's speaking to him on the same level as canonical literature but it seems to ultimately minimize written revelation. If one can hear from God directly and internally, that seems superior to interpreting an ancient revelation given to someone else.

I will comment on other presentations as time goes forward, but let me say in advance that nothing new or revolutionary was put forth. I left being more convinced than ever that evangelical Christianity is false.


  1. I found it unusual that he would claim to have direct revelation from God. Historically, his institution (Talbot)would have opposed such a position.

    I grew up evangelical/fundamentalist (more the former than the latter). Moreland came up in conversations and I'm pretty sure I knew people who went to Talbot, so my church's theology was probably pretty close to his. This doesn't really surprise me. There's been a strange move towards a sort of direct revelation in evangelical Christianity and when I went off to college I had no problems getting along with the predominantly Assembly-types that I hung out with. I still didn't speak in tongues or blurt out prophecies in church, but the idea of god speaking directly to believers wasn't all that crazy.

    We used to do this thing during prayer and worship time, usually on retreats or something. We'd get all quiet and prayer-like and the person leading the group would tell us to get real quiet and ask god to speak to us. It was a little voice in the back of our heads. I "heard god speak" on several occasions. The second-to-last time that happened it was "god" telling me something I knew to be impossible, but the need to have faith basically nearly drove me crazy. The last time it happened I realized I'd been listening to myself all those times. I learned all that stuff at a pretty theologically conservative Bible Church.

    I think there's a general sense that if I have a personal relationship with god and I speak to god, then god should probably talk back. So it's fairly easy to draw the conclusion that god does talk back, regardless of whether your theology says it should happen. Plus I think there's a desperation (at least there was in my case) to get evidence to prove that there is, in fact, a god who cares and is responsive. So that sort of incident counts as "proof," even though it really isn't.

    The whole "Mike" thing is easy enough to understand, too. Having been to enough altar call-type things I know that when the pastor says, "I know there's someone here who has something on his heart," there's a powerful urge to say, "Yes, that's me." Meanwhile, if you have a large enough congregation (with enough Americans or enough people who have been influenced by American culture) there will probably be a few Mikes. One or two of those Mikes may well have a beef on some minor or major point. So if you call out to Mike, Mike will come.

    Of course there could also have been a subconscious realization at some point in the past when Moreland ran in to Mike and something about it caused him to think, "This guy's got a problem with me." But it didn't really hit until later. And when his subconscious mind informed him that he needed to talk to Mike it did so in such a way that it was interpreted as god speaking. That's a far more likely explanation.

  2. Geds,

    thanks for your comments. I don't know the whole situation about the "Mike episode" so I can't speculate on exactly what happened. Moreland claimed that he never knew Mike before and that Mike's pastor was actually to follow him the next week as a special speaker at the Conference.

    Regardless, I find it interesting that evangelicals have over the last 20 years or so become much more open to the idea of personal revelation. I remember in 1988 when the book came out by Wayne Grudem of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled: The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. At the time, I was co-teaching First Corinthians in the Doctor of Ministry program at IBC and it fell to me to deal with 1 Cor. 12-14 (section dealing with spiritual gifts). Before that time, most conservative evangelicals and certainly all fundamentalists would have been "cessationists." IOW, they taught that the supernatural gifts ceased with the completion of the canon. As Wikipedia says, Grudem was one of the early pioneers in trying to "reunite Charismatic, Reformed, and Evangelical churches." While I don't think Grudem was ever officially connected with the Vineyard movement, I know he was used by them as one of their main apologists.

    Of course, there has always been a "pietism" element within fundamentalism/evangelicalism. Usually the theologians would distinguish between "the leading of the Holy Spirit" and "the speaking of God." The former was not infallible but the latter must be.

  3. I always found it funny how "God's revelation" was synonymous with "I want to . . ." And goodness, there are so many Mikes. My ex husband received a "call" to the ministry under similar circumstances. A pastor or youth minister preached and said "I know there is someone here who is being called into the ministry!" Now this was said to a bunch of teenagers who don't have a rational thought in their head (haha), so of COURSE some people thought "He's talking to ME!"

    I still have friends at NOBTS.

  4. Glad I could help. Also, once I remembered that Talbot is the Seminary attached to Biola I can say that yes, yes I did know people who went there. And it was definitely on the good school list at my old church. So, y'know...

    And that "leading of the Holy Spirit" v. "speaking of God" you mention is probably a key thought. One of the interesting things in those get real quiet and ask god to speak moments was that god rarely said anything interesting. It was usually stuff like, "I love you," or, "Keep trying," or, "Stop sinning." It rarely, in my experience, got to the point where it was an actual, "Go do this," situation. It was a pair of those that directly led to my explicit split with Christianity, however. I knew some people who had the same idea about the speaking of god who were less balanced and/or skeptical than I am and I worried about them often. They were usually Assembly or Vineyard types, however.

    The "leading of the Holy Spirit" was always a bit more wonky, though. It was mostly stuff like, "I was trying to decide whether to do this or this, then I turned on the radio and heard this song and knew what to do!" I did my fair share of that, too, and now I realize that it was totally crazy. Although, when it gets right down to it, if you've got two or three equally valid options to choose from it always comes down to some random factor.

    Right now I have to make a fairly major life and career choice and every once in a while I kind of wish that I could just turn on the radio or open the Bible to a random page and say, "Aha! This tells me what to do!" It would be easier...