CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Sometimes I'm asked to try to explain the Trinity simply -- sometimes for the humor of watching me try it! {wry g} And sometimes for the perceived apologetic value in my acknowledgment that the doctrinal set of trinitarian theism isn't simple, as if simplicity of a doctrinal set was itself evidence of truth (tell that to an astrophysicist of any flavor), or as if the complexity in itself should be regarded as evidence of unnecessary (and thus false) over-complication.

There are only distant analogies to the Trinity in Nature, and that doesn't help, although that ought to be expected since we're supposed to be talking about the one and only self-existent ground of all reality. The Latin phrase sui generis is sometimes used here; that just means it's one of a kind and so every analogy to it for illustration will bring built-in differences from it.

But one of my nieces (not yet ten years old) started catechism training this year, with some portions of doctrine (regarding original sin) that sounds at least as technically detailed to me as anything to do with trinitarian theism per se! (Don't ask me why the school didn't start with the Trinity or even only with God; I have no idea, but I suppose they have procedural reasons that make sense to them somewhere.)

So I thought I'd post up an account I attempted on another forum a couple of years ago, simplifying as far as possible, yet with as much pertinent detail as possible, the doctrines of trinitarian theism per se.

By "per se", I mean I'm not counting the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, etc., since technically a person could come to believe trinitarian theism is true, without agreeing that Jesus of Nazareth was the 2nd Person of the Trinity, and that adds a lot more to the doctrine set. Call it "mere" trinitarian theism, short of "Christian" trinitarian theism if you like.

Granted, I was a pretty intelligent 10 year old, but I wish someone at my church (a Baptist one which thought catechism was some kind of Romish popery of the antichrist or whatever) had sat me down by then to spell out the following (after the jump):


Over at the great Apologetics 315, Donald Johnson has posted a very good piece of advice entitled The Most Common Mistakes when Talking with Skeptics which a Christian may ust to better address or approach his or her skeptical friends. Donald's most basic piece of advice is that the Christian should not immediately launch into a response to the doubts or accusations expressed by his or her skeptical friends about Christianity. Rather, he argues that it is better to ask questions to learn more about the skeptic's own worldview as it deals with matters of religion. In other words, a cold, sterile, logical argument is not nearly as effective as responding to the individual's underlying concerns. 

Instead of jumping right in to address some objection or present an argument, Christians would be much better served by asking a few important questions and then listening carefully to the answers.
What Donald is suggesting is, at least in part, based on Greg Koukl's "Columbo Tactic" -- a very good tactical approach which Greg has recommended for years at one of my favorite sites, Stand to Reason. Essentially, Greg Koukl says that when you are puzzled about how to respond to a particular claim, you should ask a question. Asking a question allows the Christian to understand better the nature of the objection being offered. In fact, asking a question provides at least three important benefits: it allows the Christian to gain more information that can be used to respond to the person's actual objection, it opens up flaws in the skeptic's worldview, and it can be used to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic. 

What Donald Johnson suggests in his post at Apologetics 315 seems to be a bit more of a relational use of the Columbo Tactic. Rather than asking questions to simply learn more from a tactical standpoint, he suggest (even citing Koukl's book) that we use the questions to build a rapport with the person raising the objection. 
First, it builds relationship and defuses animosity. As Hugh Hewitt writes: “When you ask a question, you are displaying interest in the person asked. Most people are not queried on many, if any, subjects. Their opinions are not solicited. To ask them is to be remembered fondly as a very interesting and gracious person in your own right.” (In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition, p. 172).  Greg Koukl adds “[Questions] invite genial interaction on something the other person cares a lot about: her own ideas.” (Tactics, A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions p. 48)
I suggest that Donald is absolutely right, but by quoting from Hugh Hewitt's book, he has given an impression that asking questions is merely a tactic. It is not that we want to "display an interest in the person asked" as stated in the Hewitt quote. Rather, we want to have an actual interest in the person asked. If we don't actually care – I mean, truly care with the love of God – about the skeptic, we are being Paul's “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1). We are making a noise but having no impact because we are not speaking to the skeptic with the heart of God – a heart that loves the skeptic as much as the Christian and longs for the skeptic to turn from her rebellious life back to the God who loves her. 

You see, I think that asking questions is great. But asking questions merely to gain a tactical advantage will never succeed unless the underlying motivation is love for the skeptic. And from what I see, many, many apologists are online looking for intellectual victory -- a spiritual notch in their sword of the Spirit. I don't think God is pleased with that. I really don't. 

So, I certainly agree that failing to ask questions is a common mistake, but it seems to me that the most common mistake is not fully looking at the skeptic through the loving eyes of God. And it's not always easy -- many skeptics (the hardened atheist types) go out of their way to be offensive and unloving in response. But God sees through that, and those of us who want to share the Gospel must start with that viewpoint, too, or we almost certainly will be ineffective in our arguments. To me, that's the most common mistake when talking with skeptics.

Those who are familiar with C.S. Lewis (and who in the area of apologetics is not familiar with C.S. Lewis) may know that one of his favorite authors was George MacDonald. In fact, George MacDonald serves as the guide to heaven in The Great Divorce. Recently, I started reading a collection of three of MacDonald's novels entitled The Parish Papers. I understand why Lewis appreciated MacDonald because I wasn't even thirty pages in when I came across a nugget of wisdom on how to approach apologetics. 

In chapter four of the first novel, A Quiet Neighborhood, the protagonist, a pastor to a small church, runs across a carpenter who doubts that God may not have created the earth because it is so flawed. The pastor makes a point by referencing a coffin that the carpenter is constructing that the coffin is not well made either -- at least, not until the carpenter has actually finished the coffin. Something that is being made but not yet completed will naturally not work as well as the finished product. Likewise, the pastor then makes the point that God is in the process of making the world, and so it is wrong to say that God has created a defective product when He hasn't finished his labor. (Personally, I think it is more accurate to say that God is in the process of re-making the world after we broke it, but that's nitpicking). 

After the conversation, MacDonald makes the following point through the eyes of the Pastor -- a point that apologists should well take to heart. 


It is a principle of mine never to push anything over the edge. When I am successful in any argument, my one dread is of humiliating my opponent. When a man reasons for victory and not for the truth in the other soul, he has just one ally -- the devil. The defeat of the intellect is not the object of fighting with the sword of the Spirit, but rather the acceptance of the heart.  

The other day, my wife asked me why I have so many books written by atheists on my nightstand where I keep my reading material. I told her that I like to read through the atheist materials to better understand what they think. After all, I reason, how can one counter an argument effectively if you don’t understand it?

Yet, the opposite is exactly what I find on the atheist side. I’m not saying that they haven’t read the Bible. Many have read the Bible. Many are well versed in what the Bible verses say. They can sometimes find Bible passages quicker than I can. The problem with these atheists isn't that they are not reading the Bible, it's that they lack understanding of the material.

For example, one of the atheist books I am presently reading (although I am about to put it down because it is so bad) is a book by David Mills (who has no accomplishments in his bio other than authoring atheist books) entitled Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism. Now, I could tell by the title of the book alone that this was not going to be a worthwhile read. Anyone who conflates Christianity with fundamentalism as Mr. Mills apparently decided to do is not being sufficiently careful to draw appropriate distinctions in his thinking.

Regardless, in Atheist Universe Mr. Mills opens chapter one with the ultimate softball interview between himself as interviewer and himself as atheist-interviewee. Of course, this is merely a literary device attempting to keep the reading interesting (which seems to be a clear indication that the material being presented really isn't all that interesting), but it results in easy questions without any difficult follow up (at least, nothing more difficult than the interviewee can handle).  In the course of this discourse, Mr. Mills spells out the following spellbinding exchange:

Interviewer: In looking at all the wonders of the universe, how can you possibly say there’s no God. Even the Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.”

Mills: Whenever someone quotes that Bible verse to me, I usually recite to them another Bible verse, Matthew 5:22 – “But whoever shall say ‘Thou fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

Interviewer:  And what do Christians think of an atheist quoting the Bible?

Mills: They’re unprepared. Christians imagine that I, and other atheists, know nothing about the Bible or its history. When you respond in kind they tend to be taken aback. I was on a talk show in the 1970s and a woman stood up in the audience and quoted the verse, “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’” When I humorously quoted Matthew 5:22, which threatens eternal damnation for calling someone a fool, she angrily resorted that “Even the devil can quote the Bible, and I think you are the devil.” The fact is that most Christians know next to nothing about the Bible which they carry proudly to church ever Sunday. I would be happy and confident to take a standard Bible-knowledge test against any churchgoer you might arbitrarily pluck from a pew next Sunday morning.”
Rhetorical point to Mills. He obviously has rocked this poor woman back on her heels because she didn’t know how to answer his question. But wining a rhetorical point is not the same as winning the argument, and Mills falls well short on this latter ground. Many careful thinking Christians have also noticed this same little inconsistency that Mills uses to make his rhetorical point, but a mere inconsistency is not the equivalent of a contradiction. In this case, one can look to Answers in Genesis, for an answer to Mills' challenge.
When studying Scripture, one of the first principles to keep in mind is the context. Therefore, let us consider the entire context of what Jesus said while considering this alleged contradiction.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22)
Jesus referred to the generally understood fact that murderers will be judged; however, He revealed the deeper issue by saying that not just murderers but anyone “who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Furthermore, Christ continued by mentioning that those who insult their brother or call their brother a fool would be held liable for those words.

Jesus did not focus just on an individual’s actions such as murder but also on the heart and attitude behind those actions. A heart full of anger toward someone can lead to insults, name calling, and even murder. In other words, murder is not the only symptom of a corrupted heart, which is the main point Jesus made.

Does this mean that calling people foolish is always wrong? Jesus emphasized the fact that not just murderers will be judged by saying that those who call people fools will also be judged. He demonstrated that sin is an issue of the heart rather than just the actions.

If you were to study each biblical example where God calls someone a fool, you will find a righteous reason behind it. When Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes fools in Matthew 23:17, He explained that they were satisfying themselves instead of giving glory to God. They glorified the gold in the temple rather than the temple of God that housed the gold, which is foolish.
You see, Mills knew the Bible, but he didn’t understand the Bible. He sees an inconsistency and stops reading. He's found what he's looking for: a reason to say that the Bible is "a jumble of fanciful myths" (as proclaimed on the back cover of Atheist Universe). I find this same problem to be true of a lot of atheists with whom I have sparred over the years. They've read the Bible. They can quote the Bible. They know where to find certain texts in the Bible. But what they lack is an understanding of the Bible. They read the words, but they lack insight into what those words mean. And they lack this understanding primarily because they don’t want to believe what the Bible says or because they don’t want to accept the ramifications of what the Bible says. You see, it took me fifteen seconds to do a web search to find the explanation from the Answers in Genesis article that I quote above.  Mills, who seems relatively bright, can certainly find the same answer if he would take the time to look for it; he simply chooses not to do so or (worse yet) chooses to disingenuously ignore the information because it fails to align with his thesis.

A second rather mundane atheist book I picked up entitled Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte, a past lecturer on philosophy at Cambridge University, suffers from the same malady. In his chapter on a logical crime that he calls “Prejudice in Fancy Dress,” Mr. Whyte claims that mystery is a way to avoid recognizing logical errors. In the process, he decides to use the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as his foil. In the book, he says:
The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct entities – as suggested by “Trinity.” Yet each is God, a single entity – as suggested by “Unity.”The doctrine is not that each is part of God, in the way that your FM tuner is part of your three-in-one home stereo. Each is wholly God.And there’s the problem. It takes only the most basic arithmetic to see that three things cannot be one thing. The doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity is inconsistent with the fact that three does not equal one.

It is also inconsistent with the fact that identity is a transitive relation: that if A is identical with B, and B is identical with C, then A is identical with C. If the Son is identical with God, and God is identical with the Holy Ghost, then the Son must be identical with the Holy Ghost. They are one and the same thing. But those who assert the Unity of the Trinity deny the implication; they deny that Jesus is the Holy Ghost.

The Catholic Church – its pope, cardinals and priest – agree that three does not equal one and that identify is a transitive relation. So, they have a problem. How can the doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity be true when it is inconsistent with these obvious facts?<

Well, it’s a mystery. That’s how. Indeed, it’s a strict mystery. Strict mysteries are those that are of the very nature of the thing, and which it is both hopeless and sinful to attempt to resolve.

This answer may satisfy the sheep of the congregation, but it should satisfy no one with their critical faculties intact. For it simply acknowledges the problem without solving it. The incantation “It’s a mystery” does not wash away the intellectual sin of contradiction. It remains impossible both that three does not equal one and that the Trinity is a Unity.  If you hold both beliefs, you contradict yourself. One belief must be wrong, and because it is necessarily true that three does not equal one, we know which it is. Cry mystery all you like, it won’t stop you being wrong.
There is so much wrong with this that it boggles the mind. The biggest problem is that Christian thinkers are very careful to distinguish between three gods (which is what Whyte is claiming) and three persons in one God (which is the Biblical teaching). When Christians speak of mystery, it doesn't mean that we are closing our eyes and ignoring basic mathematics.  It means that the teaching is difficult or nearly impossible to understand given our limited, human frame of reference. (Although, I do suggest that anyone wanting a visual tool to see how three things can be one thing should see my earlier piece entitled “A Simple Illustration of theTrinity.”)  

But while Christians aren't ignoring basic mathematics in accepting the Trinity, Mr. Whyte is ignoring what Christianity actually teaches. Why? Because he can make a rhetorical point. Although a footnote he sites suggests he has read material on the Christian understanding of the Trinity, he chooses to ignore what Christianity really teaches because it is so much easier to knock down a straw man.

That’s the problem. Both of these authors appear to be relatively bright individuals. But they have a problem: they are what the Bible would call men of the flesh. They may be wise in the eyes of the world, but they demonstrate their lack of understanding of Christian teachings or an unwillingness to consider what Christianity actually says.


1 Peter 2:7-8 speaks of Jesus as the cornerstone of God’s kingdom, but He is a stumbling block to the world. Verse 8 uses a very interesting phrase to describe those who don’t accept Jesus: “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” As I read through these atheist works, I see one way this verse applies. These atheists disobey the word of God and are, in fact, in rebellion to God. This leads them to stumble in understanding Jesus and his work – it is what a person who is in rebellion to God is destined to do.  Mr. Mills and Mr. Whyte like all atheists are in rebellion. They do not understand because they are living a life away from God. They are destined to get it wrong. I guess I should expect nothing less.

A few days ago, Bill posted an article here on the Cadre (or just beneath this one if you're reading this on the index page) discussing the claim announced by some archaeologists earlier in June this year that they may have found the site of Dalmanutha on the shore of Lake Galilee, one of the few remaining Biblical references for the region that doesn't have at least a plausible archaeological identification.

Bill (BK's) article wasn't mostly about the details of this tentative possible identification, but about the subsequent rejection by a radical hypersceptic who thinks GosMark was merely literary fiction so there's no reason to go looking for Dalmanutha to begin with. Details of all this can be found (with further links) in Bill's article.

While we're on the topic, I thought I'd write up a slightly expanded (and corrected) version of a couple of footnotes I supplied to that scene in my "To The Puppies!" harmonzation entry in March of 2008, which can be found at this link. On this topic I currently follow a theory suggested more than a hundred years ago by Edersheim in his mammoth The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, such that I also doubt a town of Dalmanutha will be found -- though not for the same reason as the hypersceptic mentioned in Bill's article! Just as ironically, neither am I ideologically opposed to being wrong about this and the archaeology team being right after all.

To extend the providential irony further, the theory I'll be talking about has connections to observations long noted by scholars that Jesus, during this portion of GosMatt and GosMark, has been following a route later taken by Titus and Vespasian when entering Palestine on their campaign to put down the Jewish revolt of the late 60s (ending with Jerusalem's sacking and the destruction of the Temple in 70CE). Which is part of the case being proposed this month in a new book by a different hypersceptic, Joseph Atwill, arguing that Christianity as a religion (and Jesus Christ himself) was invented by the Roman government in a counter-propaganda campaign to pacify the Jews into submitting to Roman rule. (He previously argued this in 2005, in Caesar's Messiah, with a "Flavian Signature" re-release and update in 2011, but the sequel The Single Strand is on the way. News agencies have started running articles based on the promotional material created by JA and perhaps his publisher which can be found in its original form at this PRWeb link. If there is any "Ancient Confession Found" about this, per his article's title, he doesn't bother to talk about it.)

No doubt we can expect to see the same impact of that theory on the scholarly world across the board, among believers and unbelievers alike, as the last time he tried this (i.e. almost nothing), but the occasional ripples of discussion should prove amusing and illuminating in their own ways. Meanwhile, for a far less sensationalistic and nuanced discussion of a far more boring topic, feel free to click on the jump and proceed!


In Mark 8, Jesus feeds the 4,000 with seven loaves and a few small fishes. Then Jesus climbs into a boat and goes to...Dalmanutha?

And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:10)

There is a problem with this: no one seems to know where or even what Dalmanutha is. According to Jamieson, Faussett and Brown's fine Commentaries on the entire Bible, “Dalmanutha may have been a village, but it cannot now be identified with certainty.” 

The parallel verse found in Matthew 15:39 gives us a bit of an idea where and/or what Dalmanutha may have been when it says, “And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.” Now, the coasts of Magdala must be close to the city of Magdala, and this city has been pretty positively identified. According to the Jewish Virtual Encyclopedia,

MAGDALA (Migdal), a city on Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee) in Galilee, about 7 km. north of Tiberias. It is overlooked by a high escarpment near the Wadi Hamam (the Valley of the Robbers). "Migdal" is an Aramaic word meaning "tower" or "fortress." The Greeks called the village Taricheia, a word meaning "pickling," because of Magdala's fish salting industry, one of the mainstays of its economy. The other important element of its economy was its boat-building.

So, where or what is Dalmanutha? Well, according to Ken Dark, Ph.D. lecturer at the University of Reading, a team of which he was a part was conducting a field study in the fields between Midgal and the coast and discovered a town that they believe to be Mark’s Dalmanutha. I found the news in an article published on the Huffington Post entitled “Dalmanutha,Biblical Town Mentioned In Gospel Of Mark, Possibly Discovered ArchaeologistsClaim posted on September 17. The news was earlier published on the Christian Origins website entitled “Dalmanutha Discovered? First-Century Fishing,Farming and Urbanization around the Sea of Galilee” posted on June 7, 2013.

Why does Dr. Dark and his team believe they have found Dalmanutha? The two articles are not particularly clear on that count. It seems that the conclusion is largely driven by (1) the location of “a very large, but previously-unrecognised, Late Hellenistic, Roman-period, and later, settlement between the modern town of Migdal (on the western side of the valley) and the coast, just south of Kibbutz Ginosar, (2) Jewish artifacts found in the area, (3) artifacts that suggest that the area was home to a prosperous fishing village, and (4) the fact that it is a relatively sizable location in the correct general area that is not already otherwise identified.

Can one really conclude based on the foregoing that the newly discovered village is that of Dalmanutha? In my view there is insufficient evidence presented in the article to determine whether this large, unnamed village can be equated with the missing Biblical Dalmanutha. Largely, the conclusion seems to arise that the village is in the correct place and is unknown so it is probably the place that Mark mentioned. However, while I hold the Bible to be inerrant, this isn’t enough to convince me. The Bible doesn’t say that Dalmanutha was a fishing village, that it was sizable or that it was even Jewish. Now, one can presuppose all of this from the fact that it appears to have been on the Sea of Galilee (else Jesus wouldn’t have gone there by boat) which would have had some Jewish inhabitants at the time.  

Still, it seems to me that there must be more that the article has left unrevealed or Dr. Dark is jumping the gun a little here. (But then, he does couch his discovery by acknowledging that the identification of the village with Dalmanutha is “not certain.”) And, the Christian Origins posting does state that more details about the discovery will be revealed in a forthcoming article entitled “Archaeological Evidence for a Previously Unrecognised Town near the Sea of Galilee” which will be published in Palestine Exploration Quarterly 141.3.  However, at this point and based upon what I have seen, while I am not sold that it is Dalmanutha, I cannot say that it’s beyond the realm of possibility that it could be Dalmanutha.

But the fact that Dr. Dark claims to possibly have found Dalmanutha is not nearly as interesting as the fact that a few days after Dr. Dark’s discovery was published in the Huffington Post, one of the Huffington Post’s religious bloggers, Joel L. Watts, was discounting the discovery. According to Mr. Watt in a post entitled "Dalmanutha has not been Found - It Doesn't Exist", Dr. Dark’s identification of the village with Dalmanutha wasn’t only wrong, it was not even possible. He reached this conclusion not because of something inherently troubling about the location of the village or any of the archaeological evidence mentioned, but because Mr. Watt concludes that Dalmanutha never existed.

I maintain Mark is not simply wrong or misinformed, but follows stylistic writing patterns developed shortly before the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt but Lucan, a Latin poet. If we understand this, we will have no need to search for non-existent towns or wonder how Jesus may have crossed the Sea of Galilee so often and in so short of time.

I find the type of analysis displayed by Mr. Watt shallow, at best. You see, Mr. Watt has apparently written a book which explains Mark’s stories and some of the difficulties involved in them which is entitled, “Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary" (Wipf and Stock, 2013). While I admit to not having read his book, I certainly concede that the thesis behind his book may be well-developed and detailed. It may be well-researched and cite good authority. But a thesis is only good if it corresponds with facts. If the facts don’t line up with the thesis, the thesis ought to be abandoned. And when the thesis dictates what may or may not be true, then the thesis is already taking the place of the truth. And that certainly seems to be what is happening here. Mr. Watt, having determined that Mark is wrong on his archaeology, concludes that Dalmanutha must not exist because it is only mentioned in Mark and Mark is wrong. This may seem to be a good conclusion – at least, until those pesky little facts show that Mark may not have been wrong after all.

I certainly acknowledge that Mr. Watt may be right (although based upon what little I have read on his blog I have strong reasons to doubt his thesis). However, by jumping to the conclusion that Dr. Dark is wrong based solely on his own thesis, Mr. Watt shows his unwillingness to consider that he may be wrong. If he were being intellectually honest instead of defending a thesis, he would not jump to the conclusion that his theory is dispositive of the question of Dalmanutha’s existence or non-existence. Rather, Mr. Watt should recognize that it is better to withhold absolutist-type judgment until more evidence is collected. Let’s wait and see what more is learned from the upcoming article and further research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions.

But I guess that’s asking too much of a blogger on the Huffington Post.

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