Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Some Brief Thoughts Regarding Liberal Scholarship, Redaction Criticism, and Islam (Part 2)
03/30/2012 - James WhiteMuch of the Muslim apologetic against Christianity today is based upon what took place in Agra, India in 1854. A man named Ramat Allah broke with preceding tradition and attacked the reliability of the Bible using the modern, destructive forms of redaction criticism prevalent particularly in European, and especially German, scholarship. Going against the views of popular Islamic writers of his day, such as Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), both of whom saw the Qur'anic charges of corruption as primarily relating to interpretation, not the alteration of the actual written text, Ramat Allah popularized the use of liberal European criticism as the means of defeating the Christian missionaries operating in India. Undercut confidence in the text of the Bible and you mute Christian witness. Ramat Allah (his name is also spelled Ramatullah) wrote a vitally important work, Izhar ul-Haqq, a work that even Ahmed Deedat admitted influenced him greatly. Today every Christian seeking to present the gospel to Muslims deals with the result of these events from over 150 years ago (Zakir Naik would have next to nothing to say were it not for this source). The problem is, Ramat Allah was just as inconsistent in going down that road as his modern followers are. He borrowed from a world view that is essentially antithetical to his own to prop up the Qu'ran's denials of biblical teachings. If a Muslim were to consistently apply that methodology to his own scriptures, he would have to abandon belief in the inspiration of the Qur'an. Of course, few and far between are the Muslims who self-consciously seek this level of consistency when it comes to their refutations of Christianity. When you meet one, honor him and pray for him, to be sure.
I should note, in passing, that Izhar ul-Haqq is a horrific work, a scatter-gun example of "utterly ignoring context" and grasping at the most contradictory conclusions possible, all with the goal of producing confusion and distrust in the mind of the reader. Which explains Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik, to be sure (though I do not think it, or anything else, could possibly explain Nadir Ahmed). Izhar ul-Haqq is as gullible in its citations as any medieval Roman Catholic monk who grabbed any forged statement of the early church as having relevance to the rise of the Papacy, or transubstantiation. It is wild-eyed in its arguments and in its conclusions, but, it continues to find an audience amongst those who truly desire to disbelieve. Just as the horrific forgery, the Gospel of Barnabas, continues to find supporters for the same reason.
Throughout Shabir Ally's presentations over the past decade and a half or so he has assumed the position that for the gospels to be true, accurate, and reliable, they must be what I would call mp3-level recordings of the words of Jesus. Rather than seeing each gospel as the work of an individual seeking to craft an accurate presentation of the teachings and actions of Jesus for a particular group, Shabir, and those who would use his method of gospel criticism, reduce the gospels to the level of the reporter at the local news station standing outside city hall trying to get a quote from a politician. This involves a fundamental misapprehension of the genre of the gospels, their purpose, and their historical setting. Of course, I cannot completely fault Shabir for this: most Christians have likewise put very little thought into the matter, and, when they look at a synoptic parallel, are just as befuddle as anyone else, having never thought through where the gospels came from, how they were written, what their relationship might be to one another, the oral tradition, etc. But in any case, the reality is that the gospels do not pretend to be a dry, word-for-word recording that could be submitted as an unbiased news report. They have a purpose, an author, and audience, and a message. And when you get multiple authors with multiple purposes and styles writing to multiple audiences at different times, they will choose their material differently, and they will phrase things differently.
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Muslim By Choice Refuted En Toto
03/29/2012 - James WhiteMuslimByChoice, a channel on YouTube, often attempts to respond to my materials. Unfortunately, he (they?) have provided far too many examples of bad argumentation, poor research, and simply erroneous reasoning. Here is an attempt to respond to only a tiny portion of my opening remarks from last week in Toronto.
Some Brief Thoughts Regarding Liberal Scholarship, Redaction Criticism, and Islam (Part 1)
03/26/2012 - James WhiteBetween 1985 and 1989 I studied through Fuller Theological Seminary. While some of my professors were conservative, most were far to my left, and the reading assignments exposed me to the full range of form and redaction criticism that is the "given" in today's realm of Christian scholarship. I can tell you, without hesitation, that the vast majority of those who embrace form and redaction criticism in all of its flavors and kinds do so out of tradition, not out of having examined the case set forth in defense of these methods. In fact, very, very few of those who glibly repeat the party line have ever even given thought to any other viewpoint. Anyone who thinks there is a fair, open dialogue in "the academy" over these topics is simply misinformed. To "get ahead" in Christian scholarship you must---not should, MUST---toe the line when it comes to the acceptance of form and redaction criticism, along with its underlying presuppositions, presuppositions that are almost never explained, let alone debated, today.
My study at Fuller (and at times, I truly wondered why the Lord had closed all other doors and put me in that context, but, now I know) forced me to consider deeply why I could not in good conscience embrace the "status quo" of modern NT scholarship. My apologetic work pushed me to examine the presuppositions, the starting points, of the scholars I was reading, and I found, over and over again, the same kind of bald anti-supernaturalism at work, even amongst those who did not openly espouse such a view in their "religious life." That is, I found many schizophrenics who would stand in a pulpit on Sunday and still say "this is the Word of the Lord" while on Monday they would stand before a classroom of ministerial students and assure them that Paul contradicted Paul, Moses may not have actually existed, and that we have little more than a theoretical basis for knowing what Jesus actually said. This kind of double-mindedness was epidemic in Christian theology then. It is still quite prevalent, but in the past decade more and more have shed the religious trappings and are seeking to be consistent, not even bothering with the religious garb any longer.
During seminary I would challenge (respectfully, my professors will affirm) various assertions as they were made. When I heard men saying the gospels were quite late, post AD 70, for example, I would ask why they would date them so late (and, as a result, deny the eyewitness authorship of, say, Matthew). Most would simply say that such and such a scholar does, and they follow that person, but when I would press for a fuller answer, the worldview issue would come to the fore. Well, we would date them late because…of theories. Theories about how documents develop (in the natural world). Theories about how the early church developed (based upon, again, how such things happen in the natural world). And of course the big reason was…they had to have been written after AD 70 because, well, they couldn't have been written before otherwise they would contain…prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem! And we all know prophecy doesn't really exist, so there! For the vast majority of seminary graduates, the late dating of the gospels is just a given. Why they are dated so late was rarely discussed, and even more rare would be an open and upfront acknowledgment of the role of presuppositions (and the predominance of a naturalistic worldview in scholarship, yes, even in Christian scholarship, which has been deeply infected with a Lordship crippling desire to be admired in the eyes of secular scholarship) in the creation of the "scholarly consensus." I only learned later in seminary and after graduation how confident scholarship had been in the past in giving even later dates, German scholarship, for example, having dated John as late as AD 175, only to have those dates thrown to the wind by manuscript discoveries. In brief, I learned that simply "going with the flow" when it comes to the "consensus of scholarship," especially in a day when humanism and naturalistic materialism has become the religious dogma of the society, and of higher education, is not an option for the faithful follower of the teachings of Jesus the Messiah.
In my recent debate with Shabir Ally, this matter came up frequently, as I knew it would. Anyone listening to my opening statement who has a knowledge of the apologetic approach of Shabir Ally knows that I made my presentation specifically with the context I would be speaking in in mind. I firmly believe that Shabir did not respond to my presentation to any depth at all, for he gave the same presentation he has given many times before, and even in his rebuttal he did not engage the heart of the argument I made. I don't believe he did so because, with all due respect to Imam Ally, indeed, Dr. Ally, I do not believe he possesses either a full and accurate knowledge of the Trinity itself (his arguments show this) nor a sound or accurate knowledge of the field of New Testament studies as it bears upon the difference between approaching the text as a supernaturalist or doing so from another perspective. So while the weight of my presentation may have been lost on him as a result, that does not change the relevance of the argument I made.
Time does not allow me to go as fully as I would like into the subject, but I would like to touch upon a few items for the benefit of my readers. One of the issues that came up was a question I asked Shabir in our first debate at Biola in 2006. For years Shabir Ally had been making a presentation wherein he presents the "snowball" argument. It is a basic anti-gospel argument based upon a rather simplistic viewpoint of the origination of the gospels. Assuming a particular schema for dating the gospels, Shabir assumes that Matthew and Luke both possessed the text of Mark, and were editing the text to suit their own purposes. I would ask him how that would work, for, of course, if they possessed Mark, so did others, and, if they changed Mark's wording, wouldn't that cause obvious problems when they sought to make their resultant literary works available to the very same community? But that issue aside, Shabir thinks there is an over-riding impetus on the part of both Matthew and Luke to "grow" Jesus, assuming, of course, an evolution in the development of Christology (another assumption that is just accepted, never proven). So, Matthew and Luke are looking for ways to "improve" on Jesus---which puts them in the category of deceivers, really, at the very least from an Islamic viewpoint, but again, we will leave that aside for the moment.
For years Shabir would present the following two texts as one of his examples of where Matthew was "growing" Jesus:
"Therefore, be on the alert-- for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning-- (Mark 13:35)
"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42)
Shabir would tell his audiences that here is an example of how Mark has a "lower" term for Jesus, "master," while Matthew has "elevated" Jesus by calling him "Lord." You can find these presentations still all over the Internet, on YouTube, etc. During our debate I pointed out to him that in fact Mark uses the same Greek term Matthew did, as a comparison of the Greek text demonstrates:
γρηγορεῖτε οὖν· οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκίας ἔρχεται, ἢ ὀψὲ ἢ μεσονύκτιον ἢ ἀλεκτοροφωνίας ἢ πρωΐ,...
Γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑμῶν ἔρχεται.
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A Quick Report from Canada
03/23/2012 - James WhiteI have just a few minutes before I need to leave to speak at the Cambridge Reformed Bible Conference, but wanted to report on last night's debate. I intend to do a vlog (video blog) about it when I get back and address some of the key issues raised by Shabir Ally (esp. regarding his reliance upon liberal, destructive criticism in reference to denying the NT's teachings, but his continued rejection of the same kind of criticism of the Qur'an, though, he did make some interesting comments on the Qur'an's use of preceding materials, esp. in response to a question from Dr. Tony Costa). But till then I wanted to note that one video recording has been posted already, for those who wish to listen to the debate (the recording is fuzzy and difficult to watch).
My sincere thanks to the North American Muslim Foundation for opening up their mosque (Masjid Qurtabah) for the debate. I was surprised that we had a predominance of Christians in the audience (I would estimate it was 70-30 in favor of the Christian attendees). The folks had to break out extra rows of chairs to accomodate all those who came to attend the debate. I was treated kindly and with respect, and trust that should the opportunity for future discussions materialize (and we did discuss doing just that) that we would be able to return.
My opening was not a general defense of the Trinity or the Deity of Christ, but was focused upon the thesis statement, "Did Jesus Claim Deity?" Knowing Shabir's fondness for NT redaction criticism (i.e., the theoretical deconstruction of the text based upon the singular assumption that the text evolved over a very brief period of time---a window that keeps getting smaller as more manuscript finds push it back), I gave a presentation that demonstrated that the evidence for the deity of Christ does, in fact, go directly back to Jesus, and that He did, therefore, claim deity. Not only is that anathema to Islam, it is anathema to much of what calls itself Christian scholarship today, infected as it is with the spirit of the age, so I knew exactly what to expect in response. Shabir's presentation was almost identical to that which I had heard while doing a century ride on Tuesday of this week. The cross-examination period was way too short in this debate, unfortunately, but I was able to make most of my points when he asked me questions, or in my rebuttal. The audience questions were, in the main, at least acceptable, if not overly helpful to the determination of the thesis (this picture is of the line of folks waiting to ask questions). Dr. Tony Costa did ask Shabir an important question regarding Shabir's views about the Qur'an's use of antecedent sources, which, as noted above, was quite interesting.
I had great conversions with Christians and Muslims alike before and after the event, including talking to two former Muslims who greatly encouraged me in my work in this area, and one former Roman Catholic who said the Lord used A&O to bring about his embracing of Christ. All in all, a very encouraging evening, to be sure.
Once again, it is my intention to post a vlog going into more detail in response to the debate, esp. in reference to the discussion of "conservative" vs. "liberal" scholars. I think Shabir's confusion on the subject might be a useful means of explaining the issue both to him, as well as to others. Thanks to all who prayed for last night's event!
40 Arabic Words
03/16/2012 - James White
My sincerest thanks to Ivey Conerly, Marcus Pittman, and everyone else who assisted in putting together this spoken word presentation of the gospel for Muslims. Please pray the Lord will spread this video all through the Muslim world and that God, by His Spirit, will draw many to the glorious Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Many thanks to all those who contributed to make this video possible.
Update: many asked how they could get a shirt like Ivey's, so, Carla Rolfe to the rescue! Great way to start a conversation...as long as you know the two texts anyway! Every Christian should have Galatians 2:20 memorized, and it really does not take too long to memorize Surah 4:157. So click away on the graphic and it will take you over to Carla's AOMin webstore...and while you are there, look around at the other items she has done for us over the years! We really appreciate her partnership and support.