Sunday, April 09, 2017

Magnificent Obsession by David Robertson (a response, Part 4)

Dear D.,

Following my comments on the first five chapters of your book [here, here and here], I now get to Chapter 6: Meaning. It is a strange beast, touching on a number of different topics, not as focused as the previous ones.

You start with the 'eyewitness testimony' of the disciples and the old claim that people don't die for a lie, again. Furthermore you claim that if Jesus had remained dead in the tomb, then the authorities could have just dug him up and demonstrated that the stories the disciples were preaching were false.

Once again, you are using a story told in one part of the Bible to 'prove' the historical accuracy of a story told in another part of the Bible. We have no secular evidence that the disciples preached anything at all about the death and resurrection of Jesus in the vicinity of the supposedly empty tomb, in the weeks or months following the alleged resurrection event. No, the only evidence that such events ever happened is contained in the book of Acts.

Of course, you believe the book of Acts is accurate reportage. To counter that assumption, may I mention that the "Acts Seminar" - a bunch of proper Bible scholars who spent years studying and debating the book of Acts - gave as the primary conclusion of their study that the book of Acts was a work of fiction, most likely written in the early 2nd century? Conservative evangelicals disagree of course, but I think the impartial observer has to at least consider the possibility that Acts is - or contains - fictional elements.

If the gospel was not preached until years or decades after the supposed event, and perhaps then not by the supposed eyewitnesses, who could dig up a body to prove anything?

From here you go off on a rant about some of the usual 'new atheist' authors and arguments. Fair enough. But you don't really present your own case, you merely attack their weaknesses. Eventually you get to your point, that Jesus is God, and we finally get to the Trinity. You call this the 'cornerstone of Christian thinking' but, of course, can't explain it, because nobody can. It is literally a mystery. Or possibly a nonsense. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. How can you believe something you can't explain?

You then touch on the 'but who made God?' question and don't really get anywhere. This discussion never gets anywhere because it is obvious to the believer that nobody made God and it is obvious to everyone else that the chain of cause and effect can't go back to something as complicated as an eternal and infinite triune Godhead. You can solve almost every finite problem by invoking an infinite and unseen solution, but you can't solve the problem of an infinite and unseen thing by invoking anything else.

You go a bit preacher for a while, revelling in the claim that Jesus is God, and then come back to some semi-apologetics questions, like why the Trinity isn't in the Old Testament (your answer: it is), and why did God have to become man to become our redeemer. 

Finally you get to the question of where Jesus is now and why could he not stay on earth. You don't actually address the first of those that well, considering that there are some biblical passages that imply that Christ remains in his human (perfected) body even now, i.e. he remains localised, while other passages speak of him 'filling all things' and the like, implying that he is anything but localised. I've heard your answer to the second of those before, and heard it from others than you. Of course Christ had to leave the earth, because if he didn't go, the Spirit could not come. Huh? So the Spirit and the Son are two distinct persons, but they can't both be on earth simultaneously? Why?

Through all of this you imply that the Trinity is the clear teaching of the Bible. It isn't. Sure, you can read the Trinity into the Bible in a good many places, but it is far from clear that all the Bible authors would agree with such a concept if you presented it to them. So at the end of this chapter I remain unconvinced that the Trinity actually makes sense. Oh well.

On we move to Chapter 7: Mission in which you defend the Church, by pointing out that it is made of flawed human beings. Yes it is. I don't really have much to comment on here. 

The only thing I really want to mention here is when you attack the straw man of "The Bible was compiled by the council of Nicea". While I have heard this claimed by Dan Brown and the like, this is a bit of a red herring. I'm far more convinced by David Trobisch's claim that the original NT was compiled and edited by Polycarp, and then widely distributed. But anyway, that's enough for now. I'll move on to Chapter 8 next time.



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