Liberal Pastors and Liberal Scholars and Muslims using them

Liberal Pastors

I grew up going to a very liberal United Methodist Church.  After the Lord converted me when I was sixteen year old, through the witness of some other Evangelicals; and I learned about what true faith and doctrine is from people that really believed in the OT and the NT, I went to talk to my liberal pastors over a period of several years.   My mom did not want me to leave the Methodist Church, so I endured it for several years, but at the same time, read good books by evangelicals that sustained me while I waited to go to college and my mom promised that she would let me go to an Evangelical church after I graduated from high school.  I did not enjoy the liberal church, it was spiritually dead and very dry; but I endured it out of respect for my mother.   When I went to talk to the liberal Pastors, by respectfully asking specific questions, I discovered that they did not really believe in any miracles in the Bible, and they denied truths like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.  They gave me answers that seemed like intellectually sounding statements, but their statements were lacking in specifics or content; or their answers sounded like symbolic jargon.  They would use phrases and sentences like “the existential longing of the human spirit gives rise to belief in the resurrection” and the “human heart and desire for a Savior causes the symbols of the virgin birth to be developed in church history later”, etc.;  I thought, “wow, these Pastors (I remember talking to at least 3 of them on these issues) have been lying to the congregation and the poor elderly ladies (and a few elderly men) that give their tithes and offerings for years”.

Later, I left the liberal United Methodist Church for an Evangelical Baptist Church that actually believed the Bible and I continued to grow in my faith while studying at Ga. State University.

Liberal Scholars like James D. G. Dunn

Paul Bilal Williams, director of the Muslim Debate Initiative

http://thedebateinitiative.com/  (Paul Williams left the Debate Initiative sometime later, but was the director of this Muslim Da’wa group at the time I first wrote this article.)

and a British convert to Islam, who claims to be a former Evangelical, likes to recommend and quote from James D. G. Dunn, a Methodist scholar and preacher.  Williams also likes to use James Barr, Bart Ehrman, and E. P. Sanders.  I asked Paul Williams in some com-boxes if James D. G. Dunn believed in the virgin birth, since he quoted from Dunn extensively and recommends several of his books.   See Paul Williams recommended books at his own “blogging theology”  [ no longer there; as Williams has deleted his blogs several times and now has a new one, bloggingtheology.net ]

After I asked Paul Williams, the first time, “Does Dunn believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Al Masih?” As I recall, Williams said, “I don’t know”.   (we have debated in his com-boxes a lot since June or July of 2011 (?), and I cannot find the first time I asked him this.) I was amazed at that, after all the quoting and recommending that he did of Dunn, that Williams indicated what seemed like to me that Dunn never even talked about the virgin birth of Christ.    Williams kept chiding me for “not being up on the latest scholarship” and claimed that Dunn is not a liberal and not an “anti-supernaturalist”.  It is true that Dunn is not as liberal as others like Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, but it seems to me that he is still pretty liberal in the way he treats the New Testament.

Since I couldn’t find the first conversation we had, I recently asked him again, “Does James D. G. Dunn believe in the virgin birth?” (at his recommended reading list blog article)

“I have no idea and it is completely irrelevant.”  Paul B. Williams

Well, I found material on Dunn in a local seminary library that shows my suspicions were right – Dunn does not believe in the virgin conception/birth of Jesus Christ. (Charles Quarles documents Dunn’s lack of belief in the virgin birth extensively in chapter 9 of Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered.  Edited by Robert B. Stewart and Gary R. Habermas.  Nashville:  B & H Publishing Group, 2010, especially pages 188-196.)

I am still working through this book, trying to understand accurately where Dunn is coming from; and also working through another book, The Historical Jesus:  Five Views (IVP, edited by Beilby and Eddy, 2009) where Dunn writes one of the chapters and interacts with the other scholars.  [ other chapters are by Robert Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, Dunn, and Darrell Bock.]  I will probably put more posts up on these issues as I see fit and learn more about Dunn.

Here are some statements from Quarles’ chapter:

Quarles states that “Dunn rejects the virginal conception on several grounds.” (p. 188)

“He (Dunn) suggests that the virginal conception is not a necessary implication of birth from the Holy Spirit, but could have been “an elaboration of the basic information”.  (Quarles, p. 188, Memories of Jesus, footnoted to Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, p. 347)

“Dunn’s rejection of the virginal conception seems to be influenced by a certain skepticism regarding the very possibility of the event.”  (Quarles, p. 193)

“. . . Dunn adds,

Here we also need to be aware of the biological and theological corollaries of insisting that the virginal conception/birth was a historical fact.  E. g. Arthur Peacocke concludes his brief study, “DNA of Our DNA,” in G. J. Brooke, ed.  The Birth of Jesus:  Biblical and Theological Reflections (Edinburgh:  T & T Clark, 2000), 59-67, with the blunt statement:  “For Jesus to be fully human he had, for both biological and theological reasons, to have a human father as well as a human mother and the weight of the historical evidence strongly indicates that this was so – and that it was probably Joseph.  Any theology for a scientific age which is concerned with the significance of Jesus of Nazareth now has to start at this point.” (Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 66; quoted by Quarles, Memories of Jesus, p.  193)

“Any theology for a scientific age” sounds something like, “the miraculous virgin conception/birth of Christ is too incredible for anyone in our modern scientific world to believe in.”

Yet, Muslims accept the virgin birth of Christ (Qur’an Surah 3:45-48; Surah 19:16-33; 66:12), because of the Qur’an, and its dependency on the previous Scriptures.   The Qur’an says that Allah revealed the Torah to Moses and the Injeel to Jesus and it confirmed the previous Scripture.  Muslims believe the Qur’an confirms the previous Scriptures, both the Injeel of Jesus and the Torah of Moses.  Yet, it contradicts the Injeel and the Torah in many areas.  On the issue that it does not contradict, the virgin birth, Muslim apologists use liberals who don’t believe in the virgin birth, to cast doubt on the Bible in other contexts other than the virgin birth.   That, is inconsistent.

Again, as Dr. James White said many times in his debates with Muslims on these issues, “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.”

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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8 Responses to Liberal Pastors and Liberal Scholars and Muslims using them

  1. 1. I apologize if I have misspelt your name – every time? one time? – I looked over the article several times and I cannot find the mis-spelling. can you point it out? I will be happy to correct that.

    2 – 3
    a. “an elaboration of the basic information”. is Dunn’s words, that Quarles quotes from Jesus Remembered, p. 347) – elaborating from “born of the Spirit” in some way to “virgin conception and birth”

    b. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 66 – the long quote that Dunn made from Arthur Peacocke

    4. You are inconsistent, because the very worldview and presuppositions and reasons that liberals use to doubt the gospels and Scriptures as actually accurate and eyewitness accounts and “God-breathed”/inspired, are the same reasons for their rejection of miraculous events like the virgin birth. Dunn is not as liberal as Ehrman or Crossan, and he is very subtle and nuanced, which I am learning. But after one works through what he actually means at the end of the day, he is liberal, since he casts doubt on the period between the actual historical reality of events of what happened, and the recollection of the disciples – I am still trying to understand Dunn – and I thank you for challenging me to read him – etc. – but he very subtly distinguishes between the reality of history and the recording and remembering of those facts later in the gospels and he implies that we cannot know much, accept that Jesus did make an impact on His followers. An “Impact” is not much of a non-liberal position. At the end of the day, it is the same as Bart Ehrman, who demands that we have 10 good manuscript copies of Mark that we can date to 50-64 AD, for example, before he might believe them as truly what the early church and Christians have believed – accurate, eye-witness, records of Peter’s preaching written down by Mark, and “God-breathed” ( God using Mark’s personality and gifting and friendship with the apostle Peter to accurately write down the gospel of action.)

    • You didn’t answer any of my substantive points. You didn’t show me where I mis-spelled your name. Quarles does quote from Dunn’s Remembering Jesus. Dunn is not as liberal as others, and I noted that. I am reading some of his stuff and trying to understand him, so I am not afraid at all. In the book Memories of Jesus, they are all very positive and give Dunn lots of scholarly praise, but they are carefully showing where he is wrong.

      You are more obsessed with personalities and labels – calling me a “fundamentalist” and your other labels on people at your web-site – calling people “Islamophobes” (like the homosexual movement who calls anyone who disagrees with them and says that homosexuality is a sin and they should be allowed to be married, is a “homophobe”. You use that same kind of labeling many times in your articles.

  2. seems clear enough to me. The quote Dunn gives of Peacocke and the other one I showed does demonstrate this.

  3. ooops typo; should have been:

    like the homosexual movement who calls anyone who disagrees with them and says that homosexuality is a sin and they should not be allowed to be married, is a “homophobe”. You use that same kind of labeling many times in your articles.

  4. The “Dullness” of this Paul Williams guy is remarkable ! L.O.L

    First, Examining James Dunn’ own writing,(Jesus Remembered page 347)

    What the core tradition affirms( Matthew and Luke) is that Jesus’ birth was special -from the Holy Spirit (Mat 1:20) by the power of Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) that not itself imply virginal conception but a virirginal conception but a virginal conception could well have been an elaboration of the basic information.

    then Dunn gives more clarification on this matter through his footnote(no.48) in explaining those particular sentence as follows :

    Here we also need to be aware of the biological and theological corollaries of insisting that the virginal conception/birth was a historical fact. E. g. Arthur Peacocke concludes his brief study, “DNA of Our DNA,” in G. J. Brooke, ed. The Birth of Jesus: Biblical and Theological Reflections (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), 59-67, with the blunt statement: “For Jesus to be fully human he had, for both biological and theological reasons, to have a human father as well as a human mother and the weight of the historical evidence strongly indicates that this was so – and that it was probably Joseph. Any theology for a scientific age which is concerned with the significance of Jesus of Nazareth now has to start at this point.”

    Any who still has their rational intact can’t help to conclude that James Dunn is clearly skeptical toward the virgin birth.

    Another significant addition can be found as the sentence continues :

    “especially when Isa 7:14 was brought into play

    then Dunn clarifies what he meant by this in his footnote (no.49):

    As is well known the sense ‘ virgin’ in Isa 7:14 derives from LXX term parthenos used for the less explicit Hebrew ‘alma'(‘young girl).

    Here Dunn wanted to show the “special birth of Holy Spirit” tends to be more of a sign of ‘young woman’ bearing a child rather than the bearing of a virgin.

    I don’t know how in any way Paul W is able to define the term “conservative” when he substantially put this attribute on some hypothesis of 20th century scholar , especially regarding if this term (conservative) were applied toward his own religion Islam, for he couldn’t possibly address it the same way he addressed it to christian. Could he honestly define any “bidaah” or new invented hypothesis by 20th century scholar which had not based on 4 Sunni schools or established Shia’s school as conservative ? in simple way to say it , <strong.it's just ridiculous to claim a new hypothesis which come from a far later invented method on viewing christianity , as conservative.

    .Holding some foundational view doesn’t make someone as conservative, for instance Mutazilla Islam believed in Tauheed and prophethood of muhammad but no muslims want to consider Mutazila as “conservative”. Paul Williams is just showing his ‘fundamentalistic bigotry’ by blindly calling those who object Dunn as fundamentalist while in hypocritical way force christian to define a 20th century hypothesis as ‘conservative’, when he absolutely won’t apply the same definition toward islam.

  5. civitate_dei says:

    Seems Mr Williams thinks anybody who does not agree with him and his selected scholars is a fundamentalist what a hypocrite!

  6. Denis Giron says:

    The person writing “Dawah Refuted” already posted the relevant text, but to piggyback on his post, I’ll share a scan of the relevant portion of p. 347 of Dunn’s “Jesus Remembered,” along with the relevant foot note:

    On a side note, and with all due respect to Mr. Williams, I found his statement…

    “An intelligent argument would focus on the actual substance of an argument rather than name calling.”

    …to be rather ironic, in light of the fact that he himself, in many places, seems to think that merely waving someone off as a “fundamentalist” is refutation enough.

  7. Ken Temple says:

    Denis –
    Exactly.
    Thanks for your comment – and thanks for the copy of the page from Dunn. He does not seem to really believe in the virgin conception/ birth of Jesus, as Muslims do.

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