Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'Hazardous Materials' - First Impressions

I have received and begun to read Gail Riplinger's Hazardous Materials (see previous post). The first impression is that this is a big book - over 1000 pages. Opening it at random, I found page 845, and was instantly confronted with an egregious historical error about the Knights Templar. Turning back to the beginning of the section, I was amazed to find that Gail Riplinger actually believes The Da Vinci Code (better called the Da Vinci Codswallop) to be of some merit in its historical statements! Thus, on the basis of a work which contains no historical fact worth mentioning, we are told that, "The temples erected by the Knights were used for bizarre rituals of a Satanic nature" (P. 843). Not that she uses The Da Vinci Code as her only source. She also quotes Templar fantasists Laurence Gardener, Eliphas Levi, , Knbight and Lomas, and of course the work of Leigh and Baigent, as if these men had anything useful to say about the Templars. A leading British Historian has described Leigh and Baigent (and by extension all who hold their views) as "Fabulists", and this verdict is true! Missing are references to any credible work on the Templars, such as Helen Nicholson's The Knights Templar (Stroud, Sutton, 2001), Piers Paul Read, The Templars (London, Phoenix, 2003), Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), and Michael Haag, The Templars: History and Myth (London, Profile, 2008). Each of these books exposes the fantasies of the works cited by Riplinger, and shows that the idea of the Templars as occultists is simply the product of over-active imaginations.

First of all, the charges against the Templars were not believed outside of France, and the Templars outside of France did not confess to the same charges that the French Templars did. Secondly, the Templars in France only confessed after hours, maybe days, of severe torture. Third, the Pope himself did not believe the accusations made by the King of France, accusations made, as all reputable historians now seem to agree, with the aim of seizing the assets of the Templars, who functioned as international bankers. 

As for the fantasies Riplinger retails, Read tells us that they are only the products of 18th-century imagination. The 'Masonic history' that Riplinger also quotes is pure fantasy. He quotes Peter Partner:
"The transformation of ideas about the Templars during the eighteenth century shows how far from stern scientific rationalism the men of the Enlightenment could wander. In the very body of Church history which was the prime target for rationalisation and demystification, eighteenth-century men found the Templars, and turned them into a wild fantasy which for mystagogy and obfuscation equalled anything that the old Catholic historiography could offer. So successful was the enterprise that to this day it is impossible to approach the Templars without encountering the remnants, or even the full and gaudy robes, of eighteenth-century prejudice." (Quoted in Read, P.303")
In other words, don't get your ideas about the Knights Templar from the Freemasons, or from the books at the railway station bookstall. Get them from real scholars and historians.

Rilpinger (or rather the fabulists she draws on) finds something sinister in the fact that, in the Temple Church in London, "The floor is frequently interrupted with effigies of the ancient Knight;s [sic.] Templar lying prostrate on the floor, rather than standing erect, as statues usually do" (Pp. 849-50). This is screamingly funny because, as anyone who has ever been to any number of English Medieval Churches knows, Medieval funerary effigies are always recumbent. So Ingham Priory (pictured), also contains several effigies of crusader knights in a recumbent position. But what does that matter to the conspiracy theorist? Umberto Eco wrote of a lunatic:
"For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars."
Bravo, this witness is true.

Joking aside, how am I to trust a woman who believes such arrant nonsense about the Templars? I had hoped that the fantasies of Leigh and Baigent were their own refutation to Christians, and that the way Dan Brown (or rather the works he draws on) distort the history of the Bible would alert readers to the probability that they distort all the other history they meet - but obviously not. And this brings me to my main criticism of Riplinger's book. I can think of no book more likely to undermine the faith of the reader. In the name of defending the Bible she systematically undermines Greek and Hebrew study, telling us that, in effect, the Bible has been preserved instead in vernacular translations, some of which are secondary (i.e. translations of translations). A shallow, thoughtless reader might stop where she does, but a more thoughtful reader will go on thus: "If all Greek study tools today are faulty, then the tools available in the 1600s were still more faulty, therefore the AV is even less trustworthy than the modern versions, and we really have no idea how to translate the Bible. If we have to rely on translations of translations, then how can we be sure we do not end up with something like Chinese Whispers, with the final translation in fact bearing no relation at all to what was originally written?" Secondly, by quoting parts of books by Leigh and Baigent as if they contained fact (they do not), she encourages undiscerning Christians to read these works, which will plunge them into a morass of wild fantasy about Jesus, all denying His deity and the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible. Thus the thoughtful Christian may be led into atheism by this book! It does indeed contain 'Dangerous Materials'.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oh Brother...

Gail Riplinger has a new book, and what does it argue? All Greek and Hebrew texts are faulty. Yes, all, including the Textus Receptus. Scrivener was a heretic, apparently, as bad as Westcott and Hort. TBS are denounced as promoting heretics. Lest any think I am over-egging the pudding, Part 3 is titled: All AVAILABLE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT TEXTS ARE FAULTY, and part 5: ALL CURRENTLY AVAILABLE HEBREW OLD TESTAMENT TEXTS ARE FAULTY. Chapter 29 is The Occult & Catholic Origin of Greek & Hebrew Focus. Yes, that's right, even though the Council of Trent declared that the Latin Vulgate was the standard (Fourth Session), a focus on the original languages is Catholic. Why? Because the men who revived the study of the original languages were members of the Roman Catholic Church!

So what are we to do if God's Word is not preserved in the original languages? Simple, God inspired the King James Bible. Never mind that she would probably regard some of the teachings promoted by the King James translators as heretical. Lancelot Andrewes, for example, was an Anglican Bishop, a high churchman (his writings were published in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology), and a promoter of forms of prayer. Hadrian Saravia was an advocate of the Monarchical Episcopate, the ruling Bishop. Thomas Ravis was a pluralist, a man who at one point held nearly half-a-dozen church posts, being Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford (whose main function was to train ministers), a Canon of Westminster Abbey, Rector of Islip, Oxfordshire and Vicar of Wittenham Abbey Church in Berkshire. He was made Bishop of Gloucester, then of London, where he was a determined persecutor of the Puritans. These are only three of the 'worst', of course, and there were many good men among the translators, including George Abbot, Thomas Holland and John Reynolds - who were all Calvinists.

Of course, the King James Translators were all students of the ancient languages (Henry Savile, another of the translators, significantly shortened his life by the efforts he made in editing the complete works of the Greek Father John Chrysostom), and relied on the very texts that Gail Riplinger's new book deprecates. The only people at the time of the Reformation who taught that all Greek and Hebre texts were faulty and that we should instead rely on a translation that had been divinely inspired were... well, the Romanists. Not that I am accusing Ms. Riplinger of being a Romanist, I know she isn't one (otherwise she'd be promoting the Latin Vulgate), but that she is thinking like one at this point. Surely the crowning irony!

This is all rather silly. It's one thing to say that the AV is the most accurate English translation in existence, but to basically spend a thousand pages rubbishing all study of the original languages is surely over the top!

This is a silly book, and belongs with the works of the Jesus Seminar.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Wit of the Irish Methodist - C.H. Kelly. Candidates for the Ministry

Charles H. Kelly was for fourteen years the Secretary for the Committee for the Examination of Candidates for the Wesleyan Ministry. In this role he had many interesting - not to mention amusing - experiences. Here is one:
"A minister once told me, after his son had failed twice, that the July Examination Committee 'might be composed of men of good intention, but they were not men of dicretion; they did not know when they had a young man of remarkable, exceptional ability before them. The idea of rejecting my son! Why, he fills the chapels when he preaches; crowds go to hear him!'
"I assured him that I was not surprised to be told so; and that, if he was within reasonable distance, I would go myself to hear what he would say next.
"'What has he said?' the father asked.
"'Well, he told us that the Epistle to the Hebrews was remarkable for its account of our Lord's transfiguration on Mount Horeb, and for Peter's exclamation, 'Let us build here three tabernacles.' He also said, 'the Apocrypha is an amarous Jewish poem,' and that 'rivers flow from oceans to interiors,' illustrating this by the river Thames, which rises in the German Ocean, flows through the Isle of Thanet, past the city of Rochester to London.' Yes, he gave his examiners much wonderful information; very interesting, quite new and original."
Needless to say the young man was not accepted for the ministry.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: 'Recovering the Reformed Confession'

Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark (P & R, 2008)

What does it mean to be Reformed? The answer given will vary from person to person, with many identifying predestination as the identifying doctrine. In Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark argues that this is a mistake. 'Reformed', rather, should be defined in reference to the Reformed confessions. This stimulating book is in two parts, part one describes the crisis in Protestantism, part two the recovery. In part one the crisis is described under two headings, the quest for illegitimate religious certainty and the quest for illegitimate religious experience. The author comes from a continental Reformed background, so some readers will question whether in fact 'Reformed' for Professor Clark is perhaps more a denominational title than a description of a stream of Christian thought, as the term means in a British context. Readers may also take issue with his view that Dr. Lloyd-Jones' teaching was more Pentecostal than Reformed. Nevertheless, this is a book that will stimulate thought, perhaps in part because it is a book that most readers will not agree with completely.
The two illegitimate quests that Professor Clark identifies are real. Under the quest for illegitimate religious experience (which he abbreviates as QIRC), he suggests that a conservative Christian identity has been defined in some circles by doctrines that are historically unimportant, and confessionally absent. While some will no doubt bristle at his suggestion that young-earth creationism is in this category, he makes a good point - just because someone disagrees with us on this point does not automatically put them outside the pale of orthodoxy. One thing that really irritates me is the claim made by some Dispensationalists that those who are not dispensationalists are somehow 'closet liberals', and that amillennialism is the source of all evil! (the JWs are pre-millennial, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!).
The quest for illegitimate religious certainty is a product of modernism, in that it is the result of a desire, in a changing world, to have everything fixed firmly. To have a system with no points at which there is any uncertainty at all. It is understandable. It is also wrong. A prime example of QIRC in many conservative British Reformed churches is the King James Only movement, the insistence that the King James Bible alone is the Word of God. Certainty. The most common criticism of modern versions is the textual notes that most have at the bottom of the page. This, we are confidently told, undermines the Word of God. Why? Ironically many American King James Only advocates (such as the notorious Gail Riplinger) are rabid anti-Calvinists, yet Reformed people lap this stuff up. We are told that modern Bibles 'omit' certain passages, yet this is pure question-begging - could it not be said with equal authority that the AV 'inserts' them? Who made the AV the standard? And what doctrine is removed from the ESV, the NASB and the NKJV? No, the reason people embrace this position is a desire for a certainty above what God has given.
Under the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE), Clark pinpoints the desire for experience of God outside of the means He has given (the stated services of the Church, the Scriptures, prayer, the Ordinances, etc.). Most Reformed people will instantly think of Charismaticism in this category. Clark's opposition to any sort of revival is worrying here - again perhaps a result of the excesses of American revivalism, and a Continental Reformed affiliation, where the category does not exist the way that it does in Wales. He does however make a valid point, that we tend to place far too much emphasis on an unmediated experience of God and not enough on the means God has given us.
The second section on the recovery points to a way back to a genuine Reformed identity. Clark begins by emphasising the Reformed distinction between God and man, and the difference between our knowledge and God's knowledge. He argues for honest subscription to the Reformed confessions because they are Biblical, not insofar as they are Biblical. Chapter six is on 'The Joy of Being Confessional', and chapter seven on 'Reformed Worship', namely the Regulative Principle. Clark agues for the singing of only inspired Scripture in worship, a position that is of course contentious - but the great value of this book is that it stirs you up to think.
Despite the points at which I disagree with Professor Clark, I found this a stimulating book, and would recommend it to anyone who has the maturity to read books with which they may disagree.