Al Mohler goes further than scripture?

I’m a big fan of Al’s writings, but this time, I think he’s gone too far: Not All Christians Believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

This time it’s N T Wright that is in his sights. Wright believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but that is not his crime. Rather, his crime is that he believes it is possible to be a Christian even if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection, and he cites Marcus Borg as an example of that.

Let’s be clear. Wright is not saying that it doesn’t matter – far from it. As Mohler quotes, he says of Borg: “I actually think that’s a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher…”. But can you be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection? You can, and scripture makes it clear that you can, for three reasons:

  1. Firstly, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15. In Corinth there were people in the church (“some of you say”) who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of believers. Paul says that must mean they do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:12). Paul tells them to sort their beliefs out, he doesn’t tell them they’re not converted.
  2. Second, Mohler is wrong when he claims that the alternative to a physically resurrected Christ is a dead Christ. I have many friends who have died, and who are not yet bodily resurrected. But they are not dead.
  3. Mohler quotes Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. But Mohler goes on to assume that the verse actually says unless you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will not be saved”. But that’s not what the text says, and to assume it does is going beyond Scripture.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s acceptable not to believe in the resurrection. I’m not saying the gospel makes sense without the doctrine of the resurrection – it doesn’t. I’m simply saying that fallen creatures (even saved ones) sometimes make big mistakes – usually as a result of continued sin. But to try and determine the “irreducible minimum” of the gospel is not a task that the apostles indulged in. They simply wanted to explain as much of the truth that they could – often far beyond the irreducible. Many of us became a Christian without understanding very much at all – then by God’s grace our understanding grew. What mattered to God was whether we had realised that we could never get to heaven through our own efforts, and were therefore willing to throw ourselves upon His mercy, and trust only him for our salvation.

So can we recognise Borg as a Christian teacher? Certainly not – his teaching is clearly contrary to scripture in foundational areas. Can we recognise him as a Christian? It’s doubtful, but not impossible. If he is a Christian, then he is a very weak one. But if that’s the case, then he won’t be the only person with weak faith who is praising Christ on the Last Day.

Comments

  1. Hi Mark,
    Don’t blame me, you did ask.
    Paper 2

    1)Bertrand Russell was once asked what his reply would be if after death he was asked why he had been an unbeliever. His said he would say that the evidence for belief was simply not strong enough. Now whether he is right or wrong doesn’t matter for the moment. My question is this. If Russell was being honest, as he usually was, was his unbelief a moral decision? (certainly to believe otherwise would seem to be immoral). If it isn’t a moral decision is it deserving of punishment? And by extension…

    2)Can we know things we can not say? In other words is knowledge tied to language? Is language omni-competent?

    3)What is the relationship between feelings and propositional knowledge? Do feelings ‘rest’ on propositional knowledge? (as in the song ‘pub with no beer’?). Or are feelings prior and a ‘guide’to our propositional knowledge?

    4)Are feelings more than hedonic tone? If so in what way? Are they a guide to reality? (Whatever ‘reality’ might be.)

    5)Can morality be codified? If human beings follow a code (based on Biblical ethics if you like) are they being moral? In Humean terms, can you get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’?

    6)At what level do our values come to us? How do we acquire them?

    If we are to discuss the human condition I think these questions and many others are prior.(In your terms foundational). Number 6 is deliberately last. I don’t expect answers to any of them but try to say something about this one. There is not the scope to be more than brief here; neither are the answers clear. Some thoughts, however brief, would be welcome, but I pose them as an indication of what a difficult area we are in and to illustrate why I think there are no knock-down answers to the human condition question. I also hope that they might be stimulating.

  2. Presented 24 hrs ago and already relegated to ‘Older Comments’. Was it that irksome? What is going on here? Is it automatic tidying up? Surely not deliberate. I really was looking forward to your responses.

  3. @wigrd: Every page has a maximum of ten comments. So if there are 11 comments, the previous ten will automatically be listed under ‘old comments’. There seems to be an annoying bug that the 11th comment disappears when you first post it (that’s what happened to you – except it was the 41st comment), but it has reappeared, as you can see. Now to your major point.

    I asked you to explain some of what I considered to be foundational beliefs (regarding the problem of the human condition). If I’ve understood you correctly, you’re now asking me to take a further step back, and deal with epistemology, rather than hamartiology or soteriology. Fair enough.

    That being the case, it’s far more appropriate to respond to your post of 31 December (3:57pm) than the earlier one (although with regards to the earlier one, I don’t recall ever mentioning Kant). Before I can answer your questions, we need to establish some common ground. So let me take one more step back, and say:

    IF this universe was created by an omnipotent, personal, self-revealing Sovereign, who defines by his character what it means (for example) to be righteous and loving THEN our discussion of epistemology is going to be entirely different than if this is not true.

    So, two questions. (1) Do you agree with the statement above (i.e. do you agree that if such a God exists it will radically affect our discussion)? (2) Does the description of God I have given match your conception of God as mentioned in your creed? If not, which attributes would you delete or add, acknowledging that any description will inevitably be incomplete.

  4. Please just answer the questions! Any way you like. Any 10 will do. You raise the dust and then complain you can’t see!

  5. @wigrd: I’m trying to answer ‘paper 2’. If you’re interested my answers would be (1) Yes, (2) No, (3) N/A, (4) N/A, (5) Yes, but there’s clearly more to it than that, (6) That’s precisely what I’m trying to get at in my last question to you. But I’m fairly sure you’ll find none of those answers helpful.

    But your question six is the most important in my view. Surely you can see that if the evangelical concept of God is correct than it fundamentally alters the basis of our discussion. That being true, you surely cannot expect to have such a discussion with an evangelical apart from a discussion of God. All things come from him, even epistemology.

    Oh, and I’m not complaining I can’t see. I’m simply trying to understand you.

  6. You may be trying to understand but without much success.

    You have completely failed to understand question 6) It follows logically from the others. The point at issue is not where do our values come FROM but how we GET them. Do they essentially come at the level of ‘feeling’ or at an intellectual level? Feelings as guide to reality?

    Russell may have been incorrect but what precisely was IMMORAL about either his conclusion or his unbelief? If nothing then why moral punishment?

    That feelings ‘rest’ on knowledge is rather an odd point of view for someone who believes in God. The ‘heart’ figures quite prominently in all religions and especially in Christianity. I think that the majority of philosophers might agree with you, but then again they tend to be atheist. Mackie, Hirst, all the Logical Positivists, Russell et al, Hare, Quine…..) Surely however, as well as some big names on the other side,(Arnaud Reid, Strasser and Schopenhauer….) the Bible supports ‘the intelligence of feeling’ (Psalms generally, Romans 10:9 and the whole accent on love and grace throughout the Old and New Testaments). The ‘Arts’ are actually based on the notion that music and poetry for instance, bring with them a unique sort of intuited knowledge.

    You really don’t think we know more than we can say? Why do we resort to metaphor so frequently? Don’t we get frustrated when we can’t quite say what we KNOW we mean? Why after 9/11 were hundreds of thousands of pieces of poetry pinned to Ground Zero? Again I ask you what you think Emily Dickinson was trying to do. Why choose poetry?

    You think morality can be codified! Let me put it another way. Apart from all moral codes being internally inconsistent – the values conflict – if we live by following a moral code, ARE WE BEING MORAL AT ALL? We could easily get back to Russell here! This is one of the main thrusts of Jesus’ (supposed) argument with the Pharisees isn’t it? (‘You have heard it said….but I say….’) You REALLY don’t think it has a bearing on how we should live, or have you simply not connected the two? Actually Hillel said that the important thing was love and the ‘rest of the law is commentary’

    Have a go at paper 1. It is much easier. Or is it? At least some of the answers can be ‘one word’. In fact some of them MUST be one word. Sorry about the caps. It is a bit tabloid but …

  7. @wigrd: Yes, I understand your point, but I’m trying to suggest that it is a non sequitur for two reasons.

    (1) As far as we are able to tell, every ‘feeling’ and ‘intellectual thought’ is processed by our brain. In that sense feelings and thoughts are both entirely rational. Even admitting a soul into the equation does not change things, as body/mind/soul we are sufficiently ‘integrated’ for them to be inseparable in life.

    (2) You are talking about ‘our values’. I am talking about ‘values’. Those are two entirely different conversations. I am asking “what is right and wrong”. You are asking “how do I decide what is right and wrong”. IF God defines by his character what is ‘immoral’ and ‘moral’, then what I feel about morality is frankly irrelevant. I might feel safe crossing the road, but that won’t help me if a number 29 bus runs into me.

  8. STILL NOT A SINGLE ANSWER

    ‘feeling and intellectual thought are processed by our brain’. Are you quite sure of this!! How did the philosophy of mind manage so long without this little gem? (Initially you said feelings rested on rationality: now you seem to be saying they are the same thing – ‘both rational!)

    I said NOTHING about a soul! I’ve said several times the Cartesian split is unhelpful even though it figures large in historical and contemporary Christianity. (Ironically in evangelical Christianity in particular!)

    STILL NOT A SINGLE ANSWER!

    ‘You are talking about “our values” I am talking about “values” ‘
    Where DO you get them from? (I mean these sorts of statement not ‘values’) How has the philosophy of ethics managed without this distinction for so long?

    I understand ‘justice’ to be one of ‘our’ values. I assume it is a value that you (and I) would attach to God. Now of course the ability to ‘arrive’ at a ‘just’ outcome is hampered by all sorts of things and is almost always imperfect. But this has nothing to do with the value, qua value! This is almost pure Platonism. Good enough for St Augustine, Murdoch and Tillich but not for Mark Barnes!

    You saved the best one for last!

    Please tell me how you can separate ‘What is right and wrong?’ from ‘How do I decide what is right and wrong?’ Now this really is a gem! Do you still think morals can be codified? Please answer this if nothing else.

    Any answers at all will be welcome. Still haven’t had one about Russell. I wonder where you think he is now? You don’t do you?

  9. Hi Mark,
    Rather than spend time not answering my questions, perhaps you might address Jeannie’s comment. I think an unconditional apology at least is called for. I hoped you would have picked this up yourself. I don’t mind waiting.

  10. Hi Mark,

    I haven’t got answers and Jeannie didn’t get an apology. Although you did say you were ‘sorry’ that she felt the way she did and that your comments could have been clearer. You say also, that along with others, the fault is with her. She has misunderstood you. Further that should she wish to explore this vitally important and highly technical point, she should consult another website! Great advice for someone who has just told you that she ……well read her comment again. As Jeannie points out, ‘clarity’ was never the problem: hubris was.

    Now let’s have a careful look at the analogy you used in response to my question about Russell. Analogy as we know rarely works well but I really can’t understand why you chose this one. It seems to illustrate my point rather than the one you make. (Though I’m not quite sure what your point is. Is it the Job story of incoprehensibility? If so, then like Job, Russell is certainly not culpable)

    Let me try to explain why I think your analogy is badly chosen.

    If I believe I am safe to cross the road and I have taken some steps to ensure that indeed it does seem safe for me to cross, (looking both ways, taking due care, not running – otherwise I have no basis for my belief), then indeed I may cross the road. This seems reasonably close to Russell’s position. Actually even if I am preoccupied, or dreaming or depressed (..oops!) it doesn’t alter the argument. Morality simply isn’t involved. I think you must agree that Russell’s judgement was made after a great deal of careful thought. As far as we know Russell seems to have been a just, compassionate and loving person. Certainly people who knew him testify to that and ironically the only immorality would have been in his pretending to believe.

    If whilst crossing the road, the bus runs into me, it seems that I might have been wrong. I might have made a mistake. Whatever has happened I am not MORALLY culpable. There is nothing MORAL about crossing the road. Neither, by analogy, is Russell MORALLY culpable. This is why, weak that it is, your analogy helps my argument not yours. We would never say people knocked down by a bus DESERVED it would we? We just couldn’t say that somehow they had been ethically or morally wrong. Well most people wouldn’t, even if the person concerned was intending to get hurt or worse. Much less would we go on to punish them or think it right that other people should.

    The real weakness of the analogy is that it allows for other reasons for the accident. These could be the state of the bus (eg brake failure) or the state of the road, blind bends, faulty streetlighting, weather conditions, parked cars or obstructions causing poor visibility. It could be the fault of a deranged driver! None of these has anything to do with me. I’m just the one who has been hit. (I’m warming to this analogy. In fact I’m beginning to like it a lot!)

    Generally analogies aren’t used very well, though I know they are much-loved, are over-used and over-stretched (as I have just illustrated.) Preachers of all persuasions seem do it all the time. They are best avoided!!

    Looking forward to the answers for paper 1