Monday, January 17, 2011

Joel E. Kim: Machen and the Bible


The first talk on Saturday morning, the second day of the conference, was by Prof. Joel E. Kim. I have gotten my free registration for the conference by volunteering as a student volunteer to help out in the event, so I was about 5 minutes late for this talk.

What was Machen's view of the Bible, and what relevance does it have today? In his talk, Prof Kim starts by outlining the academic conditions of that time. As knowledge increased in light of the Scientific and Industrial Revolution, there has been an increasing specialization of all fields of knowledge, even in theology. The idea of academic theology as being divorced from the church and from dogmatism (i.e. creedal and confessional formulas), and the idea of the academic circle came into being. The historical-critical method was being increasingly embraced by theologians and schools studying theology, a development that led to uneasiness among conservatives in the church.

The discipline of academic theology came to embrace certain core values, namely 1) the idea of probability, 2) the idea of analogy, and 3) methodological naturalism.

The first idea of probability is defined as that everyone must begin with methodological doubt. Nothing can be taken as certain and everything must be proven before it can be embraced as truth. This extends to everything, including the Bible, doctrines and creedal formulas.

The second idea of analogy is that all historical events must be analogous to present modern day events and therefore scientifically testable. This in other words is the philosophy of Uniformitarianism applied to the field of theology. Whatever happened in previous times must happen by the same processes that happen in present times, and therefore we can scientifically test the truth claims in the Bible.

The third idea is that of methodological naturalism. Everything that happens must happen through natural processes. The supernatural is therefore by default ruled out as being not possible.

Against the growth in such apostate "theology", Machen challenged Liberalism and the historical-critical method. This is done through the following: Machen defended the Bible as supernatural history and states that the Gospel as history is foundational. Against the Liberals, Machen questioned why is there doubt that the New Testament is a historical document. It seems strange that a supposed historical method fails to take into account the historical value of the New Testament as a strongly validated historical document. In this light, Machen charges that his critics are not the unbiased seekers of the truth that they claim to be. Rather, they are blinded by their presuppositions and are not using the historical method in their research, instead they are letting naturalism dictate their research. Machen claimed that using the historical method without preconceived philosophical bias would show that a supernatural account of events in Scripture is much more likely than naturalistic ones. As an example, Kim used the event of the conversion of Paul. The naturalistic explanations all fail to adequately explain how someone who is well-trained in Judaism and who breathed out murder threats against Christians could suddenly make a 180 degree in life and outlook. Another example was the boldness of the apostles. None of the naturalistic explanations could explain why the disciples of Jesus could suddenly become so bold in proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ to the point of dying for it. The mass hallucination explanation is insufficient to explain the event, as if hallucinations are strong enough to turn cowards into those willing to die for them.

In his opposition to modernism, Machen was rather unique in his time—an anomaly. Most Fundamentalists were anti-intellectual and show little understanding of the issues. Machen however understood Liberalism, had a sharp mind and yet oppose it.

In his controversy with the Liberals, we can see Machen's view of Scripture. Scripture is both divine and human, and both aspects of Scripture must be taken seriously. Fundamentalists tend to so emphasize the divine that there is little if any human element stated to be in Scripture. Yet Scripture is clearly written by humans with their own characteristic styles and at times no overt guidance of the Holy Spirit can be seen as they write it. The human writers of Scripture are thus not amanuenses of the Holy Spirit! It cannot be overstated that Luke when writing both Luke and Acts did not sit in his room waiting for the Holy Spirit to suddenly and mystically impart Scripture into his mind, but he got out, did his historical research and then put his research findings into what we come to know as the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

Scripture as supernatural history, both divine and human — Machen's relevance to us in his view of Scripture can be summed up in this. We must continue to have this view of the Scriptures, and therefore treat the text of Scripture as what it is—supernatural history.

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