Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study (Heiser)

Heiser, Michael. Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.

This book is written on the most basic level. It is designed for the brand new Christian, though there are insights that experienced bible readers can take home. The goal is not to learn a method or a series of steps but to learn how to think critically. You must learn to develop insightful questions.

Study Habits

Memorization isn’t bible study. It is good, perhaps even necessary. Bible study involves thinking and thinking is work. It isn’t a ritual event. And if time is a commodity, Heiser recommends, and I think this is quite good, devoting small increments to thinking about what we have studied.

In chapter 5 Heiser admits we can never have pure objectivity to the text. We can still ask whether our precommitments are impeding our knowledge of what the text is saying.

Geography is important, too. If something happened at a place, look it up on a map. For example, it makes a big difference if the Transfiguration happened around Mt. Herman rather than Mt. Tabor.

Read Journal Articles

Journal articles are published several times a year. They are more up-to-date and cutting edge than commentaries. While not objective, they give you access to a wider range of experts in the field. The average lifespan of a critical article is about twenty years. Think of scholarship before the discovery of Ugarit or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He then covers linguistic issues in the text: there is no Holy Ghost Greek, the Masoretic Text didn’t fall from heaven, and the books in the canon are not necessarily in chronological order. Per the Masoretic text, this means you can entertain alternative textual readings if you have good warrant to do so.

Heiser points out that the cultural milieu of the bible is not that of late Western Europe. This seems like a truism, but it’s not. People get nervous when the term “Second Temple Judaism” is mentioned, if only because of what NT Wright has done with the term. Be that as it may, what is more likely to be understood by a first century Jew: the writings of that time period or 19th century theology?

Also, don’t worry too much about doing word studies. Most people at the beginner level commit more fallacies on this point than anywhere else (scholars, too). For example, is a butterfly a fly that is made out of butter? That’s what doing word-studies looks like. It’s more profitable to trace concepts throughout the bible than word studies.

Bible Study Tools

Strong’s Concordance is good, but online search engines have rendered it somewhat obsolete. If you are going to use an interlinear bible, use a reverse one. If it is in a bible software it can directly link the words.

I do wish Heiser had gone a bit deeper at times, but this makes a perfect graduation gift for the brand new Christian.

God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

Kline, Meredith. God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

While containing brilliant insights into biblical symbology, Kline felt obligated to include every one of his unique (and often controversial) positions into this book.

He begins on a promising note. There is a “meta” reality to heaven, as it exists beyond our dimension. It is a holy location and contains sacred architecture. It is a palace/royal court (Deut. 26.15). Heaven is a temple that names God’s throne-site (Psalm 11 and 47). It is even identified with God in Revelation 21.22. “Heaven is the Spirit realm and to enter heaven is to be in the Spirit, Rev. 4.1” (9). Quite good.

He notes that in the biblical story we see a parallel warfare between two mountains, the mount of the Lord (usually, though not always Zion) and Mt Zaphon. Further Armageddon is Har Magedon and is not to be confused with the plain of Meggido, but that the Hebrew actually reads Har Mo’ed, the Mount of Assembly. And this is the part of Kline’s argument that is truly good and noteworthy. Assemblies are “gathered together” throughout the Old Testament, and Rev. 16.16 points out the act of gathering.

Whenever Har Moed appears in the Bible (Isa. 14.13) it is sometimes paired with its opposite, Hades or Sheol. Revelation pairs it with the pit of Abbadon (Rev. 9.11).

At the end of the book Kline identifies Har Magedon with Mt Zaphon in the North (251ff). This is a promising line of thought. Zaphon was the domain of Ba’al and can be seen as the center of wickedness. This makes sense if Gog is the Antichrist figure and comes “from the North.”

Zaphon was the Caananite version of Mt Olympus. This makes sense when we remember that Zaphon is paired with the Abyss. In Revelation 9 Apollyon (Apollo) is from the abyss. Apollo is the demon lord of the Abyss. (That’s my argument, not Kline’s). Kline also notes that when Har Mo’ed is mentioned, it is sometimes paired with the Abyss (Isa. 14:13-15Rev. 16:16).

Exegesis of Revelation 20

Background is Isa. 49: 2424. He is a Warrior who binds the Strongman (Matt. 12:29). Kline elsewhere identifies Jesus with Michael the Archangel, so Revelation 12:7-8 = Revelation 20: 1-3 (162).

Against premillennialism he argues that the chiastic structure of Revelation 12-20 favors Gog/Magog happening before the millennium.

a. Rev. 12.9. Dragon
B. Rev. 13:14. False Prophet
C. Rev. 16:13-16. Dragon, Beast, False Prophet
B’. Rev. 19.19-20. Beast and False prophet
A’. Rev. 20:7-10. Dragon.

And since they all refer to the same time period, and to the same event, this means premillennialism is false. Maybe. The chiasm is good but chiastic literature doesn’t always refer to the same event (many of the historical books form one whole chiasm, yet refer to various events).

Kline admits that the biblical evidence supports premillennialism as well as amillennialism (170). Nevertheless, he argues that the millennium is the church age (171ff). Kline identifies the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as….I’m not quite sure. It seems he says “opposite of the second death” (176), so is it conversion? I think he is saying it is “the intermediate state of believers.”

Sed contra:

1* There are numerous premil responses to the claim that the binding of Satan = Jesus’s ministry. If the events refer back to Rev. 12, and Satan is bound and can’t deceive the nations, then what exactly was Satan doing in Rev. 13?

Response to 1*

Satan is not bound with respect to deceiving the nations. No reading of the text can support that. Satan is bound, however, in that he cannot lead the nations in an assault against the final Mount of Assembly until the last day.

2* He says the two resurrections, if interpreted literally, would confront us with a bizarre scenario (175). Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it is logically or textually false. And biblical supernaturalism is strange.

3* Interestingly enough, Kline doesn’t deal with the conclusion of Christ’s argument. If Christ has bound the strongman, then he is plundering his house. This is why the binding argument often fails.

Kline argues that postmillennialism is wrong because it cannot account for the final apostasy at the end (186). That is true. The only way postmillennialism can seriously get around that is to opt for some from of preterism, which has its own problems.

A Discussion on Common Grace

Kline tells us that we live in the common grace age, but he never gives us a detailed discussion of what is the content of common grace. Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice. Well, yes and no. True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. However, we do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace. Is this a time or sphere of common grace? But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel.

What does it mean to rule according to common grace? How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one? General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

As Klaas Schilder notes, it is true that sin is being restrained. But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced. Apparently, it is restrained. (and this is true. So far, so good) If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.” Kline’s position falls apart at this point.

Longing to Know (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  Longing to Know.

(This review is from the audiobook version.)

This book is wonderful, but I would not approach it as a philosophical account of knowledge. It is almost like a meditation on the knowing act. It is best seen as asking one to know from a different angle.

Main idea: What is knowledge? Knowledge is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality. With this definition she upholds the traditional view of knowledge as correspondence and justified, true belief.  Such views, necessary as they are, are inadequate.  Applied strictly, very little of our knowing would count as knowledge, and that would exclude most bodily acts of knowing. On the other hand, coherence models, while purporting to embrace the bodily dimension of knowledge, often fail to provide any knowledge.  Esther Lightcap Meek goes beyond both models with her vision of integrating clues into a larger pattern.

We can look at the problem another way.  We all know of those “Aha!” moments in our knowing.   That is when we make the leap from the unknown to the known (a problem that Plato’s Meno could not solve). For Meek, that seems to be knowledge.  My only quibble is that much of our knowing does not have this “Aha!” moment, but the idea itself is sound.


Thesis: the act of knowing as traditionally understood implies success.  It means I have achieved truth by meeting certain conditions for knowledge and/or certainty.  

Week has a colorful way of summarizing Western philosophy: if Western civilization was born in Athens, then skepticism was its cradle. We tend to think of Plato as promoting eternal truths.  He certainly did.  The way he did so, however, presupposed skepticism.  If knowledge is justified, true belief, then in order for someone to know something, he or she has to prove he knows it.  As Meek says, “We don’t simply want to be sure, we also demand to be shown.”

As Week has elegantly said in other works, knowing is a “coming-to” reality. It involves the “Aha!” moment. It has a “from-to” structure.  This “from-to” is the subsidiary or particulars.. We move from the subsidiary to the focal.  She illustrates this by one of those “3-D” pictures where you have to look at it for a while before the image appears.

Meek suggests this form of knowing is “embodied.” That is true for many aspects of knowing, but it is hard to see (no pun intended) how knowing God would be embodied.

Knowledge as Vector

“Knowing vectors us through the world and also vectors us through time.  Call it ‘being on the way to knowing.’ Knowing is a longing, a leaning into the world.”  Indeed, earlier she says, “If a statement is a dot, the act of knowing is a vector to and throw the dot.”  We can also see the dots as subsidiaries.  The act of knowing gets us through the subsidiaries and into the focus.

Integration > coherence

Coherence models of truth cohere like flour in a measuring cup.  They might fit, but they tell you nothing about knowledge.  Integration is like flour as it is in rising yeast.  Integration is knowledge transformed.

Doubting the Doubts

Going through doubts is akin to going through a batting slump in baseball.  The goal is to get beyond the subsidiaries and back to the focal. Many, but perhaps not all, of our doubts are when we get stuck in the subsidiaries and never see the picture. I do not mean this in a cliched sort of way. For one reason or another, a doubter is not able to focus on the key picture.  

As some reviewers noted, Meek’s comments on “certainty” are a bit unguarded.  I agree with her that a God’s-eye certainty is neither possible nor desirable.  Indeed, as one Reformed author cogently argued, it is also illegitimate. That kind of certainty is not what God promised his children.  On the other hand, a finite sort of certainty is certainly commendable.  With that aside, this is a wonderful, even healing type of book.

Roswell and the Reich (Farrell)

Establishing the Problem

The Roswell investigation functions as a dialectic. Either the event is so extraordinary that it could only be from outer space, or it is so terrestrial, and hence ordinary, and so should be dismissed. Farrell attempts (successfully, I think) to break the dialectic by arguing “that the technology, while extraordinary, is within the possibilities of human achievement” and is tied to a wider international context (Farrell 328).

Saucer or Weather Balloon?

The First Articulation

The first news report explicitly stated that a disk, and not debris was recovered at the crash (Farrell 3). No mention of bodies.

The Second articulation

Even the later reports that mention bodies only mention one crash site, not two (13).

Problem (ET1): The problem with any ET explanation of Roswell: “If, as is so often alleged, ET’s technology was so far superior to our own as to allow such interstellar reconnaissance, then why would they bother with such antiquated technologies as atom-bombs and rockets” (17)?

Problem (B1) with the balloon hypothesis: Are we to believe that the 509th’s base intelligence offer, Major Jesse Marcel, of the world’s only atomic bomb group could not tell the difference between a weather balloon and a flying saucer (26)?

Problem (ET2): by all accounts the strange writings on the “recovered debris” were recognized as numerals. Is it likely that aliens would have been using Roman or Arabic numerals (32)?

Summary of Timeline: 56ff.

The Third Articulation

Problem (B2): How could a flimsy weather balloon’s crash have come to earth so violently and strewn debris over a quarter of a mile (60)?

Fourth Articulation

Problem (B3): What sort of experimental aircraft was being tested in New Mexico…at night…during a thunderstorm” (137)?

Those questions more or less destroy the original “It was a weather balloon” claim. I think the govt suspected that also, which is why they officially changed the story to a Mogul Balloon (an aircraft that was to track Soviet nuclear tests. The technology wasn’t all that impressive, yet it was top secret in that its mission was important). But it, too, is open to a damaging criticism:

Problem (B4): “If the debris was from a crashed top secret balloon project, why draw the world’s attention to it with a crazy story about flying saucers” (171)?

The Hot Air Force, The Balloon Hypothesis, and the Skeptics
The govt officially changed its story in June of 1997.

Majic-12 Documents

Short definition: simple photographs of a top secret meeting by the Truman administration for the incoming-Eisenhower. The “document outlines the crash and recovery of a flying saucer, its occupants, its technologhy” (254). This is the original set.

Another set of documents released were the “Cooper-Cantwheel” set.

Problem of Verification

All the documents came on film. No provenance to determine authenticity (258).
Only way to tell is from internal evidence (259). Several members of the Majic-12 group had Nazi/CIA connections, including one with the ability to read Japanese (which makes sense given some of the symbols on the recovered crash).

If it were Nazis….

There are three possible scenarios for what happened at Roswell:

Operation Paperclip (284-285). A research project by Nazi scientists in America after WWII. Everyone rejects this option. What crashed at Roswell was not German WWII technology.

Independent Nazi scenario (285-286). It was a continuation of Nazi technology, but not from America. This would explain how the US Army was caught flat-footed and issued the response it did. It would explain how it was able to penetrate US airspace. It also accounts for the extraordinary hieroglyphics found on the debris.

ET-Nazis. Suffers from other criticisms.

Recap: if the documents are genuine, then aliens exist. However, on even the most charitable reading, we have no way of verifying that. Further, there are aspects of the documents which make no sense on the alien hypothesis, but make perfect sense on the Nazi hypothesis.

But Farrell takes it a step further. Roswell researchers make a good point: this isn’t a simple hoax, “for it contains too many details that only a very experienced forger would know” (287). This leads us to several possibilities:

a) It is a disinformation exercise to cover the tracks of an independent Nazi program.
b) it is calling attention to the Nazi program by leaving clues.

Kevin Randle’s argument:

The documents were on 8 ½ x 11 paper, whereas standard govt documents at the time were 8×10.

Notable Figures

Wernher von Braun: Hitler’s rocket scientist who was brought to the US in Paperclip (237). Rosin Affidavit.

Hans Kohler: invented a little coil that contained nothing but magnets in a hexagonal pattern. It contained no power source but was able to produce an electrical current (246).

Willy Ley: member of Vrill Society. Investigated properties of space-time medium (248).

Allen Dulles: OSS station chief and later CIA director.

Reinhard Gehlen. Head of Nazi military intelligence within Eastern Europe. Commanded Fremde Heere Ost. Gehlen notes the following about his arrangement with the Allies (346-347):

Clandestine German intelligence agency that would gather intel on the Soviets.

It worked “with,” not under the Americans.
It would operate exclusively under German leadership until a new govt was formed in Germany.
It would be financed by the Americans with funds that weren’t part of the occupation costs.

But here is the kicker: Gehlen made a separate peace with Dulles, resulting in the clean grafting of Nazi spy apparatus to the American clandestine sources. This was the birth of the CIA” (Jim Keith, quoted in Farrell 347-348).

Farrell explains: one member of the “American oligarchic elite–Allen Dulles–had negotiated a separate peace….with a member of the Nazi elite” (348).

General Gehlen also “traduced” (to use a theological term) a “vast network of emigre fronts,” whom Farrell will argue were influential in the Reagan and Bush administrations (348).

Arthur Rudolph. Principal designer of the Saturn V booster. Was noted as a “100% NAZI” and fled the US after the moon launch (352).

Ernst Steinhoff. Top rocket scientist of Von Braun’s Peenemunde rocket team (352).

LBJ and the Conspiracy to Kill Kennedy

Farrell, Joseph P. LBJ and the Conspiracy to Kill Kennedy.

Farrell argues there was a “coalescence of interests” in Kennedy’s murder.  There was no single group. This means that other Kennedy researchers are probably right but do not have the whole picture.  Kennedy analysis breaks down along the following lines:

Who wanted him dead?

How did they actually kill him (e.g., Spanky the Magic Bullet)?

Who actually had the means to pull it off?

Framing the questions this way lets Farrell show the conspiracy as layers within layers.  For example, the Mafia could easily be involved in wanting him dead, but they wouldn’t have had the long-term influence to cover it up.  The CIA, and LBJ, by contrast, could fit all three layers.

It is the genius of Farrell’s argument that he acknowledges the truth (and limitations) in each of the angles.  The trick is synthesizing them.  I think he comes close. What begins to emerge is a coalition–even very loosely formed–of anti-Castro Cubans, pro-Castro Cubans, the Mafia, the Deep State (think FBI, CIA, etc), and the Nazi International.

Towards the end of WWII Allen Dulles made a deal with Nazi general, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen would use his German intelligence network, Fremde Heer Ost, to spy on the Soviets in exchange, not only for immunity, but he would head the spy agency himself.  The OSS (later the CIA) got its intelligence from Nazis (56ff).

If Oswald was being run by the CIA, then Gehlen’s organization would be the natural point of contact in his getting out of Russia.  How else could a defector leave Russia with the daughter of a GRU colonel?

George De Mohrenschildt: he might be the key to the whole thing.  He had connections with the CIA, the Nazis, and probably NASA.

The difficulty is that no country was sure with whom he was working (154).  After the war he returned to America and got a master’s degree in petroleum engineering, later being hired by the ONI (155).

It is unlikely, though, that he worked for the CIA.  He spied on CIA assets in the Bay of Pigs fiasco (155).

Even stranger, his petroleum connection brought him in contact with oil magnates Clint Murchison and HL Hunt (157).  Hunt himself had right-wing connections with the Fremde Heere Ost and R. Gehlen.  This places De Mohrenschildt in vicinity of Permindex Corporation.


Founded in 1958, it’s actual purpose was to fund and direct assassinations, etc (Torbitt document).  It used hotels and gambling casinos as fronts. Its donors included mafioso, NASA, fascists, and the like.  It is here that drug trafficking in South America takes off, and “these funds represented a virtually bottomless pit of money that could be kept off the books and used to fund their various black projects and covert operations” (167).\

Key argument: The goal of alchemy is to create, “via a magical operation, a transformation of consciousness in a group of individuals” (191).

Farrell draws heavily upon Michael Hoffman’s Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare.  There are at least three elements to this transformation of society’s consciousness:

The Creation and Destruction of Primordial Matter (the atom was split at Trinity Site, NM, which runs along the 33rd degree north latitude)

The Killing of the Divine King. (JFK was killed at the 33rd degree of north parallel latitude between the Trinity River and the Triple Underpass at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Dealey Plaza was the site of the first masonic temple in Dallas. This was also a televised slaughter in a sense).  

The Bringing of Prima Materia to Prima Terra (91).

The “Phoenix” lunar landing module, after its return to the orbiting mother ship piloted by Michael Collins, was jettisoned directly into the sun in fulfillment of one of the most persistent themes of alchemical lore and Rosicrucian poetry: the “sexual marriage” of the sun and the moon (98).

But if all this is a conspiracy, then why is it out in the open now?  It kind of works this way: if the elite (call them what you will) can reach the point where they tell you how they murdered JFK, and that they know you won’t do anything, then they completely own you.  

Ritual Symbolism

Dealey Plaza, dedicated to the first Masonic Grand Master of Texas (196).
When viewed from above, the Plaza forms a Trident (think Poseidon, olds gods).


The assassination transfered power from the elected front-man to the unelected invisible college capable of terminating him with impunity (quoting Hoffman).

Concluding Observations

Nodal points.  These are the complexes of facts that place most (or all) of the main factions at one time in one place.  There are several nodal points: The Permindex Corporation, New Orleans bars, etc.

It’s not so important as to who killed Kennedy? (I think we can safely rule out Oswald).  Where Farrell succeeds is outlining the existence of a structured, multi-national group who had the means to cover-up, including eliminating loose-ends, a murder of this caliber

I dare you not to bore me with the bible

Heiser, Michael. I Dare You Not to Bore Me With the Bible

This is a short introduction to Michael Heiser’s program. It covers slightly different ground than Supernatural, which is also seen as an introduction to his more scholarly Unseen Realm. This text works off the premise that “what is strange is probably important.”

If you’ve read Unseen Realm, there isn’t anything new here. But I think you should still get it. It’s only a few dollars on kindle and there are some neat exegetical insights which are perhaps easier to find here than in Unseen Realm.

Who is God’s Witness in the Clouds?

In Psalm 89 God swears by another, one who is presumably on the same level with God an in the clouds. Verses 35-37 form a chiasm:

A. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;

B.I will not lie to David.

C.His offspring shall endure forever,

C’his throne as long as the sun before me.

B’ Like the moon it shall be established forever,

A’ a faithful witness in the skies.”

Psalm 89 requires an equal to God who is distinct from God yet not another God. God’s holiness (A), which is the same thing as God given divine simplicity, means that his “faithful witness in the skies” (A’) is also God. We see something similar in Revl. 1:4-5.

The Eyes of Ezekiel 1

The whole scene is connected with Babylonian astronomy. No, it is not copying Babylon. It is trolling Babylon. Cherubim have four faces. Possible connection with four cardinal directions. What happens in heaven affects what is on earth. Also, in the Hebrew it reads as if the wheels are covered with eyes (ayin).

Satan’s Fall

Similar material found elsewhere. When Jesus said he saw Satan fall, it wasn’t in the context of a Miltonian pre-history, but as a result of his sending the 70 (The New Table of Nations, Genesis 10) out to get rid of demons. This event is connected with the kingdom. If this happened in the past, then why wasn’t the Kingdom established then?

There is nothing new in this book but it is a good primer to his work. Each chapter is only a few pages long. My only qualm is that sometimes Heiser avoids giving his own conclusion.

On Guard (Craig)

Craig, William Lane. On Guard.

Although I recommend this book, I in no way endorse Craig’s other works that promote Middle Knowledge or Apollinarianism.

William Lane Craig covers familiar ground in this book, but he presents the material in a way that translates “directly to the streets.”  His arguments themselves are not new, but he has placed them in flowcharts and shorter premise-based arguments.  If you memorize these syllogisms, you will be able to engage unbelievers and friends.

Throughout he tells his own story of how he came to faith and his various doctoral studies in Europe.  

Note: I am not debating whether these arguments prove the Triune God of Yea Reformedom.  What matters below is the soundness and validity of the arguments.

Why Does Anything Exist at All?

Shorter version:

(1) Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (Leibniz)

(2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

(3) The universe exists.

(4) The universe has an explanation of its existence.

(5) Ergo, God.

I’ll admit. This isn’t my favorite one, and I really like Leibniz.  It does raise some important issues, though, concerning abstract objects, meaning, etc.  The important point is that Leibniz forces us to distinguish between contingent and necessary existence.  I’ll leave it at that for now.

Cosmological Argument

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The great thing about this one is that atheists cannot attack premise (2) without giving up Big Bang cosmology.  I am not saying that the Big Bang proves God.  (2) is even more interesting.  Al-Ghazali “argued that if the universe never began to exist, then there have been an infinite number of past events prior to today” (Craig 78).

Further, you can’t pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.  Before any number can be counted, an infinity of numbers will have to have been counted first.

The Design Argument

Craig’s argument isn’t “Look at a watch. That kind of means there is a God.”  Rather, he is saying there is fine-tuning and irreducible complexity in the universe.  What accounts for that?

(1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

(2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

(3) Therefore, it is due to design.

In some ways this might be the most popular argument.  I just lay it out before you. I want to spend more time on New Testament arguments.

Who Was Jesus?

Those who insist we ignore evidence from the New Testament are asking us to ignore the earliest and most reliable sources and go to sources which are often hundreds of years later and notoriously unreliable (186).

Basic argument:

(1) The gospels were written less than two generations after events. This means legendary aspects did not have time to creep in.

(2) The gospels employ criteria of embarrassment (e.g., Peter’s failings), historical fit, and coherence.  The Gospels also record Jesus’s ignorance about the date of his return, which doesn’t seem like something a start-up group would include.


Three independently established facts:
(1) Empty tomb

(2) Jesus’s live appearances after his death.
(3) The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

(1’) The disciples assume the public location of his tomb, thus opening themselves to falsifiability. The story of the chief priests saying the disciples stole the body assumes “from the other side” that the tomb was empty.

(2’) List of eye-witnesses. The witnesses are there to be questioned.

Berkouwer: The Return of Christ

Berkouwer, G. C. The Return of Christ. Trans. James Van Oosterom. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

The book begins with a summary of then-current views on eschatology in general, along with needed rebuttals. There is nothing new or profound on that point, except that Berkouwer is rightly skeptical of any attempt to play off “apocalyptic” as a genre against whatever John was writing. Apocalyptic is kind of like “fulfill” or “already/not yet.” It usually doesn’t mean anything.

The book picks up the pace when Berkouwer surveys Dutch Reformed thought on the intermediate state. The problem is that all of the Reformed (and other Christian) confessions affirm that after death man is more or less conscious as a soul yet still awaiting the final resurrection. Most usually object to this doctrine because it seems to be a Greek dualism. Whether that is true or not, Revelation 6 presents souls under the altar–quite conscious–and praying to God.

What is even more interesting is that critiques of the intermediate state operate on the very time-eternity dialectic that they attack (40). Berkouwer footnotes Klaas Schilder as attacking the intermediate state (Schilder, “Is er een ‘tussentoestand?,’” De Reformatie, XXI (1947), 18-45). It is true that Schilder rejected the beatific vision. I would like to have seen actual footnotes, since Berkouwer hasn’t always interpreted Schilder correctly.

There is a neat discussion on Pope John XXII’s teaching on the intermediate state. John correctly noted that the departed saints could not have yet received the beatific vision, since they are praying to God–and somewhat upset–for God to judge and act. Unfortunately, both John and his medieval counterparts interpreted the white robe as the beatific vision, which led to the bizarre conclusion that the saints in heaven could fall. We will come back to this point in Berkouwer’s chapter on the beatific vision, since he notes several problems but doesn’t develop them.

With all of that said, Berkouwer is not always clear on whether he agrees with a personal, consciousness existence with Christ after death. He notes that the “nakedness” in 2 Cor. 5 does not refer to the separation of body and soul. Rather, given Paul’s Hebraic worldview, it refers to sin and guilt (58). We don’t want to be found wanting in that regard. That certainly makes sense.

With the plethora of solid materials today on the resurrection, we will only note a few highpoints from Berkouwer. When Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), he doesn’t have in mind a New Age escape from the flesh. Rather, it is a body energized by the Spirit (Berkouwer 191).

Kingdom signs: they occur precisely where the bodily existence of man is threatened (200).

In his discussion of the New Earth, he points out how Reformed and Lutherans were always hung up by the limitations (but not illegitimacy) of substance language. Is the earth renovated or thrown away? “In the distinctions of eschatology in Reformed theology the reverse is the case: the accidents vanish, but substance remains” (221). Nonetheless, Reformed theology with its idea of the covenant saw a judicial aspect: “it is not a matter of annihilation, but a judgment in which something will remain.”

Regarding the more popular elements of eschatology–signs, antichrist, the millennium–Berkouwer doesn’t add anything new.

He returns to a problem in the beatific vision. Granted God’s simplicity, how can we see the essence of God? Before we answer that question, Berkouwer points us in the way of more biblical categories: “It is clear that when the Bible talks about God, it does not suggest abstract, metaphysical properties imparted to us in isolation from his relationship to man and from the mode of his revelation” (363).

When the Bible does talk about “seeing God,” it avoids empty categories like “seeing him as he is in himself.” Rather, “the beatific vision is correlatively joined to purity of heart” (379). In fact, it’s hard to even fathom a relationless “as He is in himself,” especially for the Thomists who see persons as relations (or the other way around).

The Bible does talk about seeing God “as He is.” Let’s just leave it at that. God gave us those words for comfort.

As with all of Berkouwer’s material, we get an amazing survey of church doctrine combined with astute analysis.

The Science of God (McGrath)

McGrath, Alister. The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology.

Alister McGrath defends the idea that creation (or “nature”) is a real entity that discloses knowledge in such a way that shapes the knowledge it discloses. In other words, ontology structures epistemology without negating the latter. Echoing Thomas Torrance, we know “kata physin.”

He begins with his own life-journey from studying chemistry at Oxford to studying theology–and becoming a Christian along the way.

Contra Hellenism and Orientalism, since creation is contingent, the real can be found by acknowledging nature’s contingency (McGrath 51). For Greeks, to get to the real was to get beyond appearances and nature. For the creation-tradition, however, the opposite was the case. The natural order possesses its own goodness and rationality.

Creation (or “nature”) finds itself within an interlocking network of divine and human rationality (62). Following the Hebrew writers, particularly Job (38ff), creation is linked with the idea of God’s “ordering.” This ordering is not the result of God’s being under necessity, but is rather contingent.

McGrath defends natural theology but in a new way. Natural theology isn’t looking at a squirrel and then deducing God’s simplicity. Rather, it begins with revelation and sees the natural world as disclosing real truths.

The book then moves from “nature” to “theory.” McGrath criticizes communitarian approaches like Lindbeck and to an extent, Barth. He also interacts with John Milbank and Alasdair McIntyre.

This book is a summary and popularization of his larger Scientific Theology. It succeeds in channeling key aspects of Thomas Torrance (on epistemology and ontology) while leaving Karl Barth behind

The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.


The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.