Friday, May 21, 2010

How NOT to Answer those you disagree with

It amazes me how many people in our post-modern culture take everything personally. Instead of saying "I disagree with you," or "you're wrong", the first answer some give is along the lines of, "You're being mean," or "You're lying!"

And this seems to crop up even in conservative Christian circles. James White has posted an e-mail received from a Caner defender that is sadly all too typical of a certain sort of person. Instead of replying to White's arguments, he attacks White personally. The amazing thing is that in the course of this diatribe he describes White as a "fraud". Now, the reason I am amazed by this is simple. The Caner Controversy is over the allegations that Ergun Caner is a fraud by some measure, as he has fabricated a back-story for himself that does not fit the facts. Yet instead of answering the charges, Caner has been silent, and those who are "defending" him, having no real answers (since Caner has not deigned to give us any), are therefore left with the temptation to resort to insults.

This is very much what "the Puritan" has done with my criticisms of Gail Riplinger. Instead of showing where I am wrong, and how Mrs. Riplinger's flagrant dishonesty in abusing the words of a dead man is really justified, he accuses me of "defending the devil", as if the worst sin in the world was daring to defend Westcott from flagrant lies. Gail Riplinger herself prefers to abuse her critics rather than engage with them. In her latest rant she suggests that the only reason anyone disagrees with her is pride - not the fact that her research is piecemeal and shoddy. To say that C.J. Vaughan sat in the House of Lords as "First Baron of the Realm" is incredible, and I am literally at a loss to think where she could have got such a ludicrous idea!

Both Mr. Daliessio and "the Puritan" have in common is this - they are attached to a leader in such a way that they take any criticism of that person very personally. Rather than attempting to show that the criticism is wrong, they attack the critic. Yet in both cases they do so with a double-standard. "The Puritan" criticises me for noting details in Riplinger's books, yet Riplinger herself majors on the details in the books of others! (What is more, how on earth can you criticize poor research without giving examples of individual problems?). Mr. Daliessio calls James White a "Fraud", when Ergun Caner is a documented fraud.

Neither actually helps. I have no anger towards Mrs. Riplinger, or Ergun Caner. They have both done things they should not have done, both have lied to the people of God in order to sell books and make a name for themselves. But what they need is prayer. They must come to repentance for what they have done. However, the manner of bringing men to repentance is not an easy one, and may require excommunication, not in a censorious spirit, but "in a Spirit of gentleness."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My bit on Caner

I have hitherto refrained from commenting on the Ergun Camer saga as it plays itself out. Not because I am not convinced by the documentation that has been presented, but because I was not sure what to say. Tom Chantry has written a good piece on the use of exaggeration in the pulpit. however, that finally brought me to say something.

Chantry is quite right that there is an over-use of anecdotes in some preaching. What is worse is the mentality that thinks it is better to represent these anecdotes as having happened to me. This is just plain wrong. Now, I am not against the use of stories in preaching, but I believe that we must always be utterly truthful in what we say - I am reminded of the story of the British preacher who was preaching American sermons on the sly and was found out when he began a sermon by saying something along the lines of "As I looked out of my study window this morning at the Rocky Mountains..."

First of all, nothing justifies making out that something happened to you when it did not, nothing at all. That is not exaggeration, it is lying. Exaggeration is when you say that the fish was this big, when it was a great deal smaller, or when you refer to a trip that took an hour and a half more than it should have as taking "hours." If, however, I were to talk about my trip to Australia, I would be lying. I have never been to Australia!

So let me suggest that anecdotes must be told truthfully, predicated with "I heard of a man who..." or "the story is told that..." or some such phrase indicating that this is someone else's story! That will in no way reduce the ability of the anecdote to communicate meaning, and it will certainly improve honesty. Spurgeon, who had many interesting experiences himself, more often than not told stories that he had heard, and told them as stories he had heard. No-one ever complained that it lessened the impact!

So why do so many preachers today tell these stories about themselves? As I see it, there are two reasons:
1. This will increase the impact of the sermon. The idea is that a first-person anecdote is more effective. It seems to me that this is what is behind Caner's thinking. Instead of talking about other people being trained in Jihad and coming to America thinking all Americans hate Islam, he claimed that this was the way he had been. The trouble is, it's not true. How can we, who serve Him who is The Truth, possibly think that a lie, which is of the devil, can serve God's cause? The ends can never Justify the means, and indeed attempting to use means incongruous with the ends will never work! Chantry points to many people who have been so disgusted with this falsehood that they have left the church they were attending when it happened.

2. The preacher wants to be a star. Sadly I suspect that the reason anecdotes previous generations would have introduced as "I read of..." are now retailed as "This happened to me" is simple egotism. The preacher has become a star, it's all about him, and so he holds himself up as the example to everyone. Now, since many of us have rather unexciting lives, and may well have men and women in the congregation who lived very exciting lives, the only way I can make myself a star is to exaggerate, to embellish and even to lie.
Undoubtedly part of the problem here lies in the Victorian era's glorification of noted preachers. Joseph Parker, for example, was a star, his authorised biography is frankly terrible. One reveiwer described it as "a four hundred page essay in incense-burning", and this witness is true. What is far worse is when the one doing the incense-burning is the preacher himself!
It is not wrong for the preacher to refer occasionally to himself and his own life from the pulpit, but never is this to be done in such a way as to draw attention to the man in the pulpit. Our emphasis, to refer to an anecdote I believe I read in a Spurgeon sermon, is to be "not the man in the pulpit, but the Man in the Bible." The celebrity preacher mindset totally reverses this. Brothers, we are not stars, not celebrities, we are ministers, servants of Christ and the Gospel. We are but the instruments, like a pen in God's hand, and as Baxter put it, "What praise is due to a pen?"

God does not need falsehood, for He is Truth. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." For His sake, I think Caner should resign - but I pray that he will be restored, and that this will be a good discipline for him.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Reiew: "Cleaning-Up Hazardous Materials" by Kirk DiVietro

When I received my copy of Riplinger's Hazardous Materials, my first impression was that this is a huge book. My second was that most of the matter was actually irrelevant, consisting in ad hominem attacks against a wide variety of people. Having read the book, I concluded that much of it was poorly researched, and guilty of the triple fallacies of ad hominem (Against the Man, attacking the writer, not the argument), Petitio Principi (Begging the Question, that is, assuming one's conclusions), and Non Sequitur (It Does Not Follow, the conclusion does not actually rest on the premises, but on an unstated premise). Kirk DiVietro, in his new book Cleaning Up Hazardous Materials (Dean Burgon Society, 2010), comes to essentially the same conclusion.

DiVietro is a King James Only writer who is cited favourably by Riplinger, and it may be that his being linked to Hazardous Materials in this way has moved him to write this book. What concerns him is not that Riplinger defends the use of the AV, but that Riplinger has attacked all study of the original languages, and basically declared that God no longer uses the original languages, but vernacular versions. He disagrees strongly with her view of inspiration as an ongoing miracle that periodically produces new inspired vernacular Bibles from a line of inspired vernacular Bibles that reaches back to Pentecost.

It is DiVietro's contention that lexicons and language study aids are useful tools, and should be used as such. They were not intended to be the final authority for us, and a tool is only as good as the one who uses it. Clearly, if we make improper use of a tool the result will be bad. The purpose of studying the original languages, he says, is not to correct the Bible, but to make sure we actually understand what a passage means. It helps to prevent preachers making fools of themselves (DiVietro gives examples).

He notes that Riplinger's reasoning logically leads to the conclusion that no language can be translated into an unrelated language - which is plainly absurd. We can know what the Greek and Hebrew words mean, in context (Hebrew in particular is a very context-bound language, and has a relatively small vocabulary, certainly compared to Greek). There is, he points out, no evidence at all to support Riplinger's idea that the gift of tongues led to the creation of written documents - in all Biblical mention of tongues it is referred to as spoken (check the AV). Thus it is merely a baseless assumption that Bible translations were produced at Pentecost. This, he quite rightly says, is a huge problem for Riplinger.

It also leads to a misrepresentation of the AV or King James Bible, for it means that, instead of having been translated from the Greek, Riplinger's theory requires it to have been based on a line of vernacular Bibles from the Gothic through the Saxon, through Middle English, and finally to the English of the AV. It means Tyndlae must be understood not as the man who translated the New Testament from Greek to English, but as the updater of an older vernacular version.

DiVietro points out a number of places where Riplinger has misunderstood words and given false etymologies. One statement I puzzled over is the incorrect statement that Scrivener back-translated the AV. He did not, but I knew there had to be a basis for the statement. Riplinger cites D.A. Waite Jr. as the source. It seems from DiVietro's book (endorsed and edited by D.A. Waite) that she misunderstood a statement of D.A. Waite Jr. that in places where the KJV text had no known Greek support, Scrivener "Refused to backwards translate from Latin to Greek" to mean that in other places he back-translated from English to Greek (Pp. 202-8). She is mistaken (please note that I am NOT saying she deliberately misrepresented either Waite or Scrivener, but misundersttod what she read). In other places Riplinger gives false etymologies (probably not her own) for Hell (deriving it from Helios, the Greek word for sun, of all things, when it is fact derived from the Norse Hel, the underworld and the goddess of the underworld), and Ball (deriving it from Baal, when it is in fact derived from a Saxon word meaning a spherical object), neither of which are supported by any scholar at all. On P. 230 DiVietro shows that Riplinger's Greek etymology is apparently no better than her English, as she derives huiothesia from huios, a son, and then bizarrely states the second part comes from "thespian, from theo, means "adoption of." Like DiVietro, I can only hope this is a typographical error! A Thespian is an actor, and the Greek compound word huiothesia is in fact the Greek word for "adoption", derived from huios and thesis, which is related to tithemi, to place (Thus literally "to place as a son, to adopt"). Thesia does not mean to adopt, the whole word does. There is of course nothing wrong in translating the word "the adoption of children" as in Ephesians 1.5 in the AV. Riplinger has in the past admitted that she does not know Greek, and this may simply be an example of someone struggling with matters beyond her expertise. When I try to mend my own bicycle, I make a mess of it, because I am not trained in cycle repair. This does not make me morally wrong, just misguided in thinking I can fix my bike on my own.

Riplinger's defenders like to say that answers to her often pick up on little things. This is true, but then this is the woman who majors in picking up on little things in the works of others, including Archbishop Trench's badge of office and the number of pages in the Old Testament portion of Berry's interlinear! If a writer sees sinister meaning in little details, she should expect to be corrected when she makes mistakes in her own little details.

There are a couple of disappointments about this book. Firstly, it has the feel of having been rushed into print to answer Riplinger. I grant that the rambling nature of Riplinger's book makes it hard to construct a coherent reply, but a little more work on the clean-up would have been appreciated. Those who are not King James Only, and who do not use the TR, will obviously fault DiVietro on these matters, but as a New King James user with a couple of reservations about that Bible (1 John 5.7 and Acts 9.5-6, both of which have very little Greek support, the extra words in Acts having the support of a grand total of NO Greek manuscripts), I found this a very helpful book. Secondly, I do think that in a few places DiVietro is too harsh about Riplinger, finding deliberate deception where I saw only ignorant error, and I would caution against seeing sinister motives where there may be an innocent explanation.

Finally, it seems to me that the explanation for many of Riplinger's errors is that she forulated a thesis and then set out to prove it, quote-mining for that purpose, without taking sufficient care over the actual intent of the author. Anyone who has ever written a paper or an essay has probably done the same, of course! I know I have, and having re-read the section in context I have been deeply embarrassed to see my mistake! I saw what I wanted to see - and I suspect Riplinger has done the same in Hazardous Materials. The only thing that causes some pause for thought is that New Age Bible Versions is still in print, with knowingly doctored quotes. But where charity can lay the blame at the foot of error, she does so. And so do I.

Thus endeth the review, and my dealing with Riplinger for the present time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Cleaning-Up Hazardous Materials" - first impressions

Yesterday I received my copy of Cleaning-Up Hazardous Materials by Kirk DiVietro (Published by the Dean Burgon Society). I have thus far read to P. 88. I had some reservations about this book. First of all, when there are these debates, it often happens that there is a great deal of ad hominem argument. Gail Riplinger is expert at this herself, and Hazardous Materials is full of this method of argumentation. Thankfully DiVietro avoids ad hominem and engages with Riplinger's actual argument. Obviously P. 88 is not a very long way into the book, but it is apparent that the main target of his criticism is Riplinger's strange view of inspiration, which sees inspiration as ongoing, and sees the original languages as no longer relevant to modern Christians, who are instead pointed to inspired translations in their own tongues.

DiVietro helpfully points out the proper use of lexicons (as opposed to their abuse), which is not to correct the Bible, but to understand it. We have all heard someone say "the Greek really means...", followed by a translation that is followed by no English translation, not even the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses, in that place. The lexicon can only show the semantic range of a word (i.e. its various possible meanings), only one of which is actually valid for the context. To take an example from English, the word "Ball" may mean either a spherical object or a posh party. It cannot mean both, and to read both meanings into any single usage would be absurd (the fallacy of "illegitimate totality transfer").

DiVietro aso takes exception to Riplinger's view that all lexicons must be written by saved people, pointing out that this would also mean that all interpreters for missionaries must be converted - an impossible requirement for a missionary making contact with an unreached people group! He points out that lexicons are not above the Bible, they are fallible human works (and hence need revision at times) giving lists of the usage of words. I have pointed out before that, if you insist on proof positive that every lexicographer and translator on a modern Bible version is saved, logically you must be able to provide proof that every AV translator was saved. Can you? Can anyone? I doubt it, seeing as there was a drunkard and a number of persecutors among the AV translators! (for documentation see earlier posts).

There are errors in the book, and DiVietro apologises for these. He was badly injured during a mission trip to Iraq. Still, the statement on P. 65 that "When the world spoke Latin, the Roman Catholic Church continued writing in Greek. Once vulgar language developed and people no longer understood Latin, they continued writing in Latin" is not correct. The Roman Catholic Church (despite its claims) did not exist in the early centuries, and Greek writing was, by the fourth century, mostly restricted to those areas that today are the home of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Roman Catholic Church historically spoke Latin, which is why it regarded the Latin Bible as the only authoritative version.

Despite the odd error, I have rather enjoyed the book so far. I pray Dr. DiVietro will recover enough to issue a revised second edition. A full review will follow. DiVietro himself will have to answer his critics, not me. I'm far too busy being the pastor of a small inner-city congregation in the Midlands.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Clean-up Begins

Readers may remember last year's posts about Gail Riplinger, and Riplinger's defender "The Puritan". Well, a few minutes ago the postman delivered to my door a copy of Cleaning-Up Hazardous Materials by Kirk DiVietro. Published by the Dean Burgon Society, this comes out of moderate King James Onlyism, and is warmly commended by none other than D.A. Waite, who has written the blurb on the back. He tells us that this books is needed for four reasons, "Because of the false view of inspiration," "Because of the false view of the King James Bible," "Because of the false view of lexicons and textual aids," and "Because of the correcting of pastors and other leaders."

DiVietro is quoted favourably by Riplinger, but he obviously does not agree with her! And quite right too! According to the author profile in the back of the book, Dr. DiVietro has relevant earned degrees. The fact that he is King James Only in a mild way is in some respects a help, as it means that he is a relatively sympathetic critic.

I am looking forward to reading this book of about 400 pages, which seems much better written than Riplinger - which is not hard! Much of what will be dealt with I suspect to be false arguments and logical fallacies. Plus He notes that Riplinger refers to Dr. Maurice Robinson (P. ii) as an editor of Berry's interlinear. Given that Berry's was published in the 1890s, I find that hard to believe (would you believe that he read it once?).

A lengthy appendix (Pp. 285-377) contains letters dealing with Riplinger's errors and dishonesty, as well as facsimiles of original documents and a table of corrections made to the original printed 1611 AV in later editions (mostly printing errors).