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Does he directly respond to any of the historical claims? (No empty Tomb, No Joseph of Arimethea, No Virgin Birth, etc.) or does he mainly focus on methodology?

I'll second both the recommendation to read Johnson's book and the illumination into the LDS situation it provides.

Thanks, Mogget. I did a short chapter-by-chapter commentary, but there really is much more for any interested reader, even given how short the book is. I really need to do another post on the "history is not normative" point, which is a critical point for LDS faith claims, given that the foundational LDS faith claims are so historical. At what point do they stop being faith claims and become just historical assertions?

Matt W., in the book he's more concerned with methodology than with particular historical questions. I think his main point is that the historical-critical method alone is insufficient for examining religious faith claims and the roots of religious belief.

It's utterly preposterous to defend the resurrection by calling the naturalistic approach "epistemological imperialism." This leads me to wonder whether Luke Timothy Johnson has any useful historical training at all.

I remember the scene from Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 3):

Cicero: Good evening, Casca. Did you take Caesar home? Why are you out of breath? And why are you staring like that?

Casca: Doesn't it disturb you when the natural order of things
Shakes like something that is unstable? O, Cicero,
I have seen storms when the scolding winds
Have torn the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam
To raise itself to the level of the threatening clouds;
But never till tonight, never till now,
Did I go through a storm dropping fire.
Either there is a civil war in heaven,
Or else the world, too disrespectful of the gods,
Makes them angry enough to destroy it.

Cicero: Why, did you see anything that was strange?

Casca: A common slave--you know him well by sight--
Held up his left hand, which gave off flames and burned
Like twenty torches put together; but his hand,
Not feeling the fire, remained unscorched.
Also--I haven't put my sword away since this happened--
At the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glared at me, and walked by in a bad temper
Without bothering me. And there were huddled together
In a heap a hundred pale women,
Changed by their fear, who swore they saw
Men, covered with fire, walk up and down the streets.
And yesterday the owl, a night bird, sat
At noon in the marketplace,
Hooting and shrieking. When strange events like these
Happen at the same time, no one should say,
"There are explanations, these are natural events,"
For I believe they are bad omens
For the place where they happen.

Cicero: Indeed, the times are strange.
But people can interpret events the way they want to,
No matter what actually causes the events.
Is Caesar coming to the Capitol tomorrow?

Casca: He is, because he asked Antonius
To give you the message that he would be there tomorrow.

Cicero: Goodnight then, Casca. It is not a good idea to walk
Under this disturbed sky.

Shakespeare didn't make this garbage up. Historical accounts of the time actual record supernatural indicators predicting the assassination of Caeasar. Historical accounts of the time -- ones far more credible than the purported history of the New Testament -- are littered with this kind of rubbish. Nobody thinks twice about leaving it out of modern historical analyses of what "really" happened. There's no sense in which anyone considers themselves obliged to actual believe such things.

But according to this Luke Timothy Johnson, if we treat the New Testament accounts of the resurrection the same way intellectual honesty dictates that we treat all the other dime-a-dozen supernatural fables, it's epistemological imperialism?

Too bad for Luke Timothy Johnson that when I read the scriptures, I do not check my brain at the door.

DKL,
Why not? If we weren't there then how do we know there weren't signs in the stars. Isn't only our prejudice that the idea is preposterous that makes us even argue the account. That is an assumption. Unbiased history is a fantasy. Skeptical history in particular has profound shortcomings in matters of the spirit but works very well when reason is your ultimate determination of what truth can be known (i.e. Logos is your God).

I think the big difference between what goes on especially with some Protestants and "historicism" and Mormonism is big. Some Protestants need the history to ground their faith since they install a distrust of religious experience to ground things. (After all that might introduce difficult topics like prophets and giving LDS missionaries a degree of plausibility)

In LDS circles while I think historicity is important it is for different reasons. Fundamentally for LDS testimony is tied not to historic testimony but to personal testimony of an individual experience. Big difference.

This isn't to deny in the least that historical issues are a trial of faith for many Mormons. But I think that the way they are a trial of faith is fundamentally different.

Sounds like a good read. Have to check it out some time. BTW, love the Ent quote. Best part of the post really.

I am having problems at my Jesus in history thread trying to explain why it is important to study the history. For me it is about illumination, but seems that the response I got was that Timothy Johnson was right the only thing important is Christ's power in the present. I don't agree with that, but am not sure if my curiosity on the subject has given the exploration of history more prominance than it deserves.

Thanks, DKL; I always enjoy comments with long blocks of Shakespeare thrown in.

I don't dispute that a preference for natural causes is the proper perspective for scientists and historians. But adopting the inflexible perspective that there are and can be no supernatural events seems inappropriate for religious inquiry. That approach presupposes fixed conclusions about what (at least from an apologetic religious perspective) is the subject of inquiry. And it leads some people who adopt it as their personal philosophy to label all religious believers as fools, the sort of attitude that rubs some people (even other skeptics) the wrong way.

Dave,

Johnson pigeonholes me well as a Christian fundamentalist (minus all the bizarre connotations out there). I do stake all my Christian faith on the literal, historical accuracy of the Scriptures. :)

Clark, I threw out a few thoughts on my blog today. Yes, you will readily see my distrust in experience even as I watched a recent LDS DVD. But I would eagerly, hungrily trust the history of what the O.T. prophets said for giving me confidence about the Christ.

Didn't Christ repeatedly point people to the history of the Old Testament as the very argumentation for His status as Messiah. I remember a story He told about the rich man and Lazarus. And remember the response that Abraham gave to the rich man in hell? Look at what power of influence is given to historical propositions.

Thanks for the interesting entry. I have not read anything by Johnson.

(btw, Dave, I hope to link one of your past articles to one of my entries on Monday)

This comment is for commentor #5. Relying on ouur own feelings is utterly folly, as the Holy Scriptures tell us.

Can you trust the feelings of your heart to tell you whether or not you are saved? The Bible says "No!" "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Prov. 28:26), for "the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov.14:12). Feelings are subjective; they change from person to person and even within the same person. Truth is objective; it remains fixed and does not change, regardless of the person or the year.
The way you feel about salvation does not change God's truth concerning it, just as the way you feel about math, does not change the truth of it. Whether or not you are saved is an objective fact, not subject to the whims of how you feel from moment to moment. So how can they know they are saved? The Scripture says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5).

Interesting that the whole "religious experience" vs. feelings and how that all relates to religious knowing is being discussed at my blog. (Future posts coming) So that's my shameless plug.

Personally I don't think a feeling establishes anything. Things are much more complex than that and demand repetition, correlation, hypothesis, and testing of hypothesis. So to me the whole appeal to a mere feeling is false. But I also think it a caricature of the LDS position of testimony. I don't know anyone with a testimony purely because of a feeling. Rather it is a whole slew of experiences (many not involving feelings) and how they allow us to deal with the kinds of experiences we have and will have in the future.

Yes, Clark's thread really grapples with the "feelings" issue nicely.

John, you do realize that the sort of homilies that are collected in Proverbs were quite widespread in the ancient world? They're not really "biblical" except for the fact that they were collected by Jewish wisdom writers. They're about on par with "early to bed, early to rise" and "fish and visitors smell in three days." If you are seriously basing your approach to truth on random quotes from Proverbs, you probably need to read a few Bible books and get a grip on the strengths and weaknesses of each book.

When Jesus said, "Follow me," and some did, they were reacting to a feeling, not to quoted scripture. Feelings aren't infallible, but no one actually makes religious determinations in the robot-like way you describe.

Dave,

I do not approach God's Word and will in a robot-like manner. The Word of God is innerant and not for me to try and dissect. What God authored is perfect for me, for you, for the world. Too many people try and ostracize the Holy Scriptures, to interpret them to suit theit whimsy. This is folly. If it's in the Bible, it's there for a reason. The Holy Spirit calls some and not others. The Bible is chock full of the doctrine of the Elect and the reprobate. Jesus Christ died for the world, but not all men will be saved. God gives us free will. Our feelings do not make us saved, or sit well with God. God hates the vast majority of what men think about, because it is not Christ-centered and cross-focused. The hearts of men are corrupt and evil. This is the reason why only Jesus Christ can save us through His grace alone, through faith alone. We are sanctified by His grace and justified by faith in Him.

John,

It's obvious that your own "spirit feelings" are the source of your own rather rigid convictions, which is quite inconsistent with your earlier position (itself rather strained) that people shouldn't rely at all on feelings or intuition or spiritual enlightenment or whatever you want to call it.

What was robot-like was the way you depicted how people should supposedly form their religious convictions from Bible passages with emotionless logic. That's just not how real people work, John, yourself included.

I think you need to read "Misquoting Jesus," found on my left sidebar. Really. The Bible is just words on paper, written by men. The better you understand how the Bible came together, the more informed will be the religious beliefs you derive from the Bible.

Dave,
It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that we have extremely different tastes. I found LTJ's book to be one of the most disappointing books I ever read on the HJ. I found his complaints against "headline grabbing" media hounds a bit hypocritical... Basically, I saw his methodology as a cheap use of post modernism to sneak in positivism in the end. He argues that we can't really do history about Jesus, so we should just accept the canonical view. He never really reveals an alternative methodology to his critique. I just got the feeling that he wanted to return to a pure time before anyone questioned the Bible. Plus, he rails on all the Protestants, but is totally nice to Meier (a fellow Catholic) even though Meier is one of the worst offenders for what he is critiquing. In the end, he just offers another boring theology of the synoptics.

Todd Wood said: "Didn't Christ repeatedly point people to the history of the Old Testament as the very argumentation for His status as Messiah[?]"

no.

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