Archive | September, 2006

Dan Wallace on Trial

 Some interesting things have been occurring on the web lately so I thought I would give my students an opportunity to learn from. It seems that some rather well-intentioned people have taken it upon themselves to turn what was at first a complimentary review of Dan Wallace, Ed Komoszewski, and Jim Sawyer’s book Reinventing Jesus into a trial of Dan Wallace’s orthodoxy. Specifically, the orthodoxy of Dan’s bibliology and hermeneutics were called into account. It started with a blog review put out by a certain unnamed group. The blog’s review and comments were all very favorable towards Dan and his book until a certain blogger chimes in with his “Dan Wallace warning.” Thus begins the trial in a back-alley virtual courtroom where the defendant, Dan Wallace, was not present. It was interesting to watch theology done in such a way. Not far into the proceedings, Ed Komoszewski (co-author of Reinventing Jesus) comes to serve as Dan’s “virtual lawyer.” He eloquently defended Dan at every turn. Sadly like the trial of the Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort, once the defense starts, it quickly becomes apparent that the accusers are not there to discuss, only to condemn (boy, was that hard for this Reformed Arminian sniper to say!—go Dort!…I mean Sooners! Down with USC! – sorry Dan). Now, please understand that I have conducted these back alley trials on people who were not present as well. We all do. We just don’t admit it. EmbarassedI did not consult Dan before I wrote this; I simply wanted to give the TTP students an opportunity to learn from this (especially those who have taken Bibliology and Hermeneutics).

Before I give you my take as a courtroom reporter, let me give you the first accusation as put forth by the blogger as well as the “evidence” he sites:

The blogger says,

 

“I don’t want to rain on all the love going around for Daniel Wallace here, but I do need to caution everyone from viewing him as an unqualified hero. His view of the gospels, while perhaps more conservative than some, still allows him to say that the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) made changes and additions to the words of Jesus, even though the Gospel writers are presenting them as words from Jesus’ lips. In “An Apologia for a Broad View of Ipsissima Vox,” a paper he presented at the 51st Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Danvers, MA: November, 1999, Wallace said the following things that most readers of this blog would take exception with:

1. If Luke felt certain liberties in the speeches he recorded, John may well have done so much more.
2. Matthew made changes in the words of Jesus.
3. Luke “has actually slightly altered the meaning of Jesus’ words here.”
4. However we regard Luke’s addition, that it is an addition is generally conceded.
5. It seems difficult to claim that ‘And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ really belongs to Jesus’ utterance.
6. To sum up, there seems to be evidence in the synoptic gospels that, on occasion, words are deliberately added to the original sayings of Jesus.”

I haven’t read the book that ******* has reviewed here, so I’m not making any comments about *that*. All I’m saying is to be careful with Daniel Wallace–you may end up places with him that you’d never go on your own.

 

First, before we get to the specific accusations, let me stand on my pedagogical (teaching methodology) soap box for a moment and . . . ummm . . . be irenically polemic. Let’s begin with the most basic warning. “Be careful with Daniel Wallace—you may end up [in] places with him that you would never go on your own.” What does the blogger mean by “be careful”? Well using a good historical-critical hermeneutic, I might employ the Eugene Peterson style of interpreting and see it as this: “Don’t go near such a person! He is like a shark that will lure you to into deep waters infested with his own kind.” OK, maybe the blogger would object, but in reality, it seems that he was essentially saying that Dan is theologically dangerous.

Here is what I want to do. Let’s give the blogger the benefit. Let’s say I don’t know Dan and I believe that what the blogger wrote is true in all its nuances and intentions. Let’s say all I know is that Dan is a “confessing” evangelical and respected teacher of Greek. As a teacher of theology, do I tell my students to stay away from people who do not agree with my teachings and refined views of theology—even if these people are confessing evangelicals? Do I say, “stick with me and my few friends at our round table and we will always lead you right”? Absolutely not! Those who know me know that I don’t even tell people to stay away from those who are not evangelicals (so long as their work represents something that has contemporary or historic significance). If I were to do this, I would be representing the old magisterial authority that the Reformers sought to do away with, more than that of the Reformation principle semper reformanda (“always reforming”). I never tell people to outsource their theology to me and my bunch. Ironically, this type of “warning” evidences much uncertainty in the position held. The more comfortable we are with a position, the more we are released for discovery. Now I realize that this blogger is not a teacher (that I know of) and the readers are not his students, so I will cut him some pedagogical slack. But given this warning was his first entry and was out of context with the rest of the blog, he did undoubtedly take up the pulpit for a short time—and his balance was lacking. I may be overstating the case here, I admit, realizing that there are times for legitimate warnings to be given from a pastoral voice. But here is how I would have worded the “warning” if I were him (important note: I do not agree with this warning personally; additions in italic): “I haven’t read the book that ****** has reviewed here, so I’m not making any comments about *that*. I would say that I don’t agree with Dan Wallace’s nuanced stance on inerrancy. I believe that it can lead people in the wrong direction on some important issues. Having said that, his view is held by many well respected evangelicals today and it needs to be interacted and wrestled with.” (This would replace the blogger’s “All I’m saying is to be careful with Daniel Wallace—you may end up [in] places with him that you’d never go on your own.”) This would be a more intellectually honest way to put it.

Methodological soap box over.

Now, forgive me as I step out of courtroom press box editorial section and make a slick move into the defendant’s corner as an unauthorized defense attorney along side Ed “Cochrane” Komoszewski. My views here, while in defense of Dan’s views, do not represent how he would necessarily respond to the individual accusations levied against him. While I did read Dan’s paper that the blogger refers to a few years ago, I don’t remember the exact context from which the accusations were lifted. However, I am well familiar with this type of hermeneutical approach and am a current advocate of a great need to wrestle with the issues that Dan raises. I also hold to Dan’s particular view of inerrancy and am saddened by the well-intentioned yet over-zealous approach of some to protect God’s word (explanation will follow). Dan has dealt with many of the issues in his excellent paper referred to below, so I will try not to have too much overlap. I will address the six individual pieces of evidence (that supposedly implicate Dan as being someone we need to be afraid of, at best, or a bibliological heretic, at worst) as a whole.

1. If Luke felt certain liberties in the speeches he recorded, John may well have done so much more.
2. Matthew made changes in the words of Jesus.
3. Luke “has actually slightly altered the meaning of Jesus’ words here.”
4. However we regard Luke’s addition, that it is an addition is generally conceded.
5. It seems difficult to claim that ‘And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ really belongs to Jesus’ utterance.
6. To sum up, there seems to be evidence in the synoptic gospels that, on occasion, words are deliberately added to the original sayings of Jesus.”

 

These cumulative pieces of evidence all seek to demonstrate most basically that Dan does not believe the Gospel writers accurately recorded the words of Christ. Therefore, by implication, Dan does not believe in inerrancy. At face value they seem “shocking” (as **** put it in the blog); I agree. But when understood properly, I believe they make perfect sense. We must think carefully about the presupposition that is implied in the argument.

The presupposition is this: All writers of Scripture, by virtue of divine inspiration and inerrancy, must have recorded everything in a technically precise way. I take issue with this presupposition. I do not believe that inspiration and inerrancy require technical precision. Why would it be so difficult to believe that the authors of Scripture would take liberties in their recording of the Gospel narrative? Does taking “liberties” in the way someone recounts an event mean that they are stating fabrications or lies? Can’t people tell the same story different ways and nuance that story according to their purposes and still be true? We would never place these types of restraints upon people today. The Gospel writers were simply telling the story of Christ as enthusiastic reporters of good news who were emotionally committed to the truths upon which they were reporting. This happens every day in our own news reporting system and we don’t hold their feet to the fire of technical precision.

Let’s do a test. Let’s have two reporters report the news. We will take two reporters’ accounts of the president’s recent warning to Iran concerning its nuclear program and see how they fare.

Original statement from the president (not actual):
”We are winning the war on terror. The terrorists are on the run. We are dealing with each new threat in a decisive yet unique way. We have warned those regimes that seek to produce weapons of mass destruction that their time is short and they better comply with the will of the coalition or face serious consequences.”

Reporter: Bill O’Reilly
Context: Debate concerning whether or not we should turn our attention from Iraq to Iran.
Nuance: O’Reilly is defending the president to a leftist who believes that Bush is not focusing on the right war.
Statement: “You are not being fair. The president said today that we are dealing with each situation individually and that serious consequences will befall all the defiant even if this is in a different manner.”

Notice, O’Reilly represents the president’s speech truly, but in a particular nuanced fashion that is expedient to the moment. O’Reilly chooses to focus on the fact that the president says the threat will be dealt with in different ways. There is no untruth in the O’Reilly comment although it, technically speaking, is not exactly what the president said and it is nuanced according to the intent of O’Reilly.

Reporter: Sean Hannity
Context: Arguing with Allen Colmes concerning the president’s involvement of other nations in what Colmes believes to be American maverick tendencies to arrogantly make threats without the backing of other nations.
Nuance: Hannity is disagreeing with Colmes and is an avid Bush supporter.
Statement: “You don’t even listen to the president himself. He said today that there is a coalition of forces that are going to bring swift destruction upon the enemy.”

Once again, we do not have a technically precise statement from the president, but it is true nonetheless. Hannity, in this case, like O’Reilly, only focuses in on the issues that are expedient to his cause and then nuances the statement to his own purpose. Yet his purpose, while more focused than the president’s, could not be said to have strayed from the president’s original intent. Notice particularly that Hannity changes “serious consequences” to “swift destruction.” Some may say that you cannot turn the ambiguous “serious consequences” to a more definite “swift destruction.” In some cases this may be uncalled for, but what if Hannity had recently heard the president say in other contexts that all in this coalition were prepared to do whatever is necessary in a timely fashion? What if in other speeches he had heard the president say that all those who seek weapons of mass destruction will share the same fate as Iraq? You see, Hannity may know the president well enough to read into his statements the fuller intent. He is at liberty to do so as long as it is accurately representing the president’s intent.

This is the same when it comes to Scripture. We must allow the biblical authors this right. We must allow them to have a particular purpose in writing. We must allow for this type of freehanded, yet all-together accurate (inerrant), nuanced method of recounting the events. This liberty is part of inspiration. We believe that the Bible is a product that involves 100% man’s input and 100% God’s, don’t we? If we don’t, then we might as well take man out of the picture all together and admit we hold to mechanical dictation (that God simply used the human authors’ hands in writing the Scripture, not their head—sometimes called biblical docetism). If mechanical dictation is true, then we should not care who the authors were writing to and we certainly should not care why they are writing since their motives do not influence the interpretation. I take it that this is all Dan is doing when he makes such statements. He is trying to help people understand that in order to discover the divine purpose of Scripture, we must first take into account the human purpose. I do understand that people have taken this type of redaction criticism too far. Some have gone to the point of denying the truthfulness of the event based upon the expediency of the moment. But this is not in any way what Dan is doing. He is just giving the authors liberty to write an accurate account of the events, while not having to be technically precise with the wording or structure. Scholars refer to this distinction as the difference between ipsissima verba (the very words) and ipsissima vox (the very voice). Did the writers record the very words of Christ or the spirit of truth that his words represent? I would say any inductive approach to arriving at a hermeneutical method demands the latter. Only if we deductively deduce that our theology of inspiration demands a strict level of preciseness within Scripture in order to be true, will we adopt the former. I believe that I have demonstrated that this is not only all-together unnecessary and naïve, but misleading and dangerous.

Now, having said all of this (even using the “D” word for the alternative position), it is important for me to allow the same fairness that I expected from others. There are good scholars who disagree with me and are well able to defend their position. I encourage you to wrestle with their views as they have important representation within evangelicalism.

Although I have not covered all the issues that were levied against Dan, I do rest my case with regards to the methodology of the accusers and the specific accusations they brought forth.

What is the verdict? You decide.

To read Dan’s unavoidable response to these events see here http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=4200 (a must read).

Understanding the Postmodern Mind and the Emerging Church

For the last six years I have been studying, wrestling with, evaluating, and teaching what has become popularly known as the “postmodernism” movement. Recent events have led me to write this plea in response to the reactions that the Christian Church is having with regards to this movement, both positive and negative. Continue Reading →