Review: All that the Prophets have Declared

A few months back, I requested a review copy of All that the Prophets have Declared (APD) from it’s editor Matthew Malcolm. He graciously sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

In the 1950s, C.H. Dodd said that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament, particularly in terms of the notion of fulfillment seems to”govern the early Christian interpretation of the gospel events.” Understandably, people interested in understanding the Bible and it’s gospel have studied the subject carefully.

In the case of this book, there are several authors. I typically give author background on reviews, but in this case, I’ll simply follow the bad, good, and conclusion pattern.

The Bad

There are two problems in the book that are simply matters of formatting:

  1. The book uses endnotes. The worst example of a book doing this is Campbell’s “The Deliverance of God.” APD is much more brief, but do to the rigor of the book it still contains 67 pages of endnotes. That’s nearly 24% of the book. This means that almost every few sentences, if you want to know a source, etc, you’ve got to look in the back. I happen to know that publishers typically make these choices, but it still hurts the reading experience.
  2. There is no index. This is a minor quibble, but in a brief book that is clearly meant to be a scholarly resource, having an index of authors and Bible verses would make the book much more helpful to pastors or professors at small colleges.

The other problem is the problem with all such compilations. The essays are uneven. When I read the book, I made a point to avoid looking at author names. I was pleased to find that of my four favorite essays, 3 were by people with whose works I have read or with whom I am acquainted.  None of the essays were bad, but some of them seemed to rehash old problems with which I was fairly familiar.

The Good

The essays try to bridge the gap between hermeneutics and historical work and the faith and practice of the church. This is important. If I weren’t a Christian, I would still find the Bible interesting, but in depth scholarship on it seems nearly pointless unless it is meant to have practical results for believers (if one were an atheist, debunking the Bible’s claims would be practical).

The other good aspects below are insights or good qualities from several of the essays:

In the essay on Galatians, Mark Seifrid observed, correctly, that the focus in Galatians is not on Jesus’ obedience (as in Philippians), but on the salvific quality of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation (107).

In the essay on Prayer, two insights are given about the nature of prayer in Acts 4 that are meant to carry weight for the believer today. Prayer should be informed by the Biblical story in the Old and New Testament and then that narrative must be owned by those who pray so that they can adopt a biblical mindset regarding their place in history (79).

Roland Deines argued, very well for two ideas (one of which he mistakenly calls an assumption despite the fact that he structures the essay around demonstrating it…making it an inference (42)) that Jesus was expert in his use of Scripture as a member of a culture that was deeply informed by the OT and that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as claiming to be the Lord of Scripture (42). He speculates at the end of his essay on the ways in which Jesus may have come about his deep knowledge of Scripture (64-70). These speculations are helpful because many do not consider that Jesus learned, was literate, or went through any sort of creative process of Biblical interpretation or sat under any mentors. He also raises the question of whether or not the gospel authors are portraying Jesus as having supernatural knowledge of Scripture. He simply comes away saying that any such discussion must be nuanced but take into account that the Bible portrays Jesus as preexistent. I think that this interesting avenue should have been pursued further, so I wish he hadn’t even mentioned it!

Malcolm’s concluding essay The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity concludes with similar thoughts to those articulated by C.D. Dodd so long ago, “But the New Testament itself avers that it was Jesus Christ Himself who first directed the minds of His followers to certain parts of the scriptures as those in which they might find illumination upon the meaning of His mission and destiny.” Malcolm similarly concludes that the New Testament writers are “following the lead of Jesus himself” in their reading of Scripture (206). The volume, I think helped to demonstrate this fact.

Conclusion

I would recommend purchasing this book two groups: Students in seminary who have already taken Biblical introductory courses but want to understand this topic more fully and to pastors who find the topic interesting. But because it is an introduction to the topic for people with academic training, I would only recommend that a layperson check it out from a library to avoid buying a volume that may not be particularly enthralling or helpful. Students on the doctoral level or academic professors will likely be able to get the book through ILL or by means of asking their library to purchase it if they are at large schools. This is good for the authors because it is inexpensive enough for people at small schools to buy it themselves and it is useful enough that libraries will likely purchase it.

 

 

 

On Rhetorical Aims and Defense Against the Dark Arts

There are two modes of public discourse that deal with syllogisms:

  1. Rhetoric – the art of persuasion
  2. Dialectic – the art of discovering/explaining what must or may be true or false based upon facts and reasoning.

The thing about these that is important to remember is that dialectic is not always effective when used as rhetoric. Many people have no patience for examining things as they are. But rhetoric can use the skills of dialectic to appeal to those who enjoy feeling smart but do not, perhaps, understand how logic works or who do not understand the facts of the case. One may look at the relationship between  rhetoric and dialectic thus:

  1. Pure dialectic – Exact discourse using facts and logic (think math lectures)
  2. Truthful Rhetoric – Rhetoric that appeals to emotions while being backed up by careful research or absolute truth.
  3. False-Dialectic – Attempted dialectic that the wielder does not realize is actually rhetoric.
  4. Sophistry – the intentional use of emotional rhetoric to convince people to act/feel/believe without reference to the truth.

There are three modes of persuasive rhetoric:

  1. Deliberative
    Meant to persuade people to act.
  1. Judicial
    Meant to convict or defend people based on their deeds.
  1. Epideictic
    Used to raise support for and adherence to group values. In other words, it is meant to inspire or please the hearers. A secondary use is to portray a person, group, or idea as honorable or shameful.

You’ll find it useful to be able to distinguish between each type of rhetoric (note: many authors cannot even do this).

For instance, Christians often use epideictic rhetoric that is designed to inspire deeper commitment to Christ amongst believers to share the gospel with outsiders.

Similarly, in political races, people might have a tendency to read articles that are designed to increase loyalty to an already accepted candidate and mistake the article for a sound piece of truthful deliberative rhetoric (meant to convince people to vote for so-and-so) and then use this same rhetoric to talk to friends who buy into a different platform. Both people might be using rhetoric meant to inspire the committed of their camp to greater devotion and invective meant to shame those in the camp who are thinking of leaving against one another. This will quite literally have the effect cementing each person deeper in the opposing camp.

If you want to test, for instance, what type of rhetoric you use and where it is on “truthful rhetoric to sophistry” scale that you might ask these questions:

  1. Pure Dialectic
    1. Am I considering evidence contrary to my conclusion and fitting my conclusion to this evidence or explaining the evidence in a way that allows it to still stand?
    2. Am I doing/teaching a programing language or mathematical proof?
  2. Truthful Rhetoric
    1. If I play fast and loose with my language for purposes of appeal, are my premises defensible if I qualify and explain them?
    2. Is my emotional appeal intentionally based upon aiming at the feelings that the facts should result in rather than the feelings that are expedient for my purposes?
    3. Am I willing to make my evidence available for examination by other parties, even if for rhetorical purposes, I leave it out?
  3. False-Dialectic
    1. Am I simply repeating what somebody else said without having investigated the facts or followed the logic myself?
    2. Is there no potential counter evidence to my conclusions?
    3. Am I using emotional buzz words whose referent is hard to pin down?
    4. Could the premises in my argument be just as easily applied to another point of view?
    5. Do I actually believe my premises, dilemmas, and so-on?
    6. Do I feel shocked that somebody reasonable disagrees with me?
  4. Sophistry
    It’s hard to do this by accident.

Now for the types of rhetoric. Beware, this is where you’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re claiming to attempt to persuade people to act, but you keep answering “yes” to epideictic style questions, it is likely that you’re using rhetoric meant to inspire people with whom you already agree. Similarly, if you’re using shaming tactics to convince people of facts, then you’re trying to use epideictic or deliberative rhetoric for judicial purposes. This may be effective, but it takes true/false out of the debate. It turns you into a sophist at best and a jerk at worst:

  1. Deliberative
    1. Do I want people to act in a certain way?
    2. Am I appealing to moral principle or future consequences?
    3. Am I arguing from principles to which my audience ascribes to practical conclusions which I think are good?
  2. Judicial
    1. Am I referencing testimonial evidence about the past?
    2. Am I referencing physical evidence?
    3. Am I referencing character/trait evidence of the persons or artifacts involved?
  3. Epideictic
    1. Am I making assertions without reference to evidence?
    2. Am I making claims which I know people like me will applaud?
    3. Am I saying things meant to make people not like me seem shameful?
    4. Am I trying to make an individual/group/idea look, not guilty or innocent, true or false, good or bad, but shameful or honorable?

Now, the reason all of this is important is that you want to know how to be a morally good rhetorician and you need defense against the dark arts. Here are some good reasons to have an instinct for what a piece of rhetoric is attempting and then the types of rhetoric being used or the types of rhetoric to use to avoid being disgusting (see how I used a shame word):

  1. Epideictic appeals can effectively manipulate emotions enough to get you or I to act in a way that does not align with our principles by an intentionally murky appeal to them. This happens in drug advertisements.
  2. Epideictic appeals, which feel so effective because of the nature of the language used, can be done sophistically without reference to any truth value at all. When I’ve been a character witness, I was appalled that this form of rhetoric was used by the prosecutor when the nature of the apparently shameful deed was precisely what was in question.
  3. Many times, in the case of persuading others concerning what is true or false, people will still appeal to the utility of believing this or that thing. While I think that utility is a good tool to persuade people to consider your case, utility does not determine truth. “Of course God is real. You don’t want to go to hell do you?”
  4. Judicial style rhetoric, because it requires arguments concerning probability, time, and cause/effect is very susceptible to sophistry because when reasoning to the best explanation of the facts, one might have a tendency to theorize before all the facts come in. Such a theory can prejudice one’s interpretation of new evidence. In the legal system, this is especially interesting because one could be in the position of trying to cast doubt upon the guilt of a truly guilty person or reason to the explanation that somebody is indeed guilty when they are not. Jurors who are not trained in careful reasoning may have a difficult time interpreting evidence well. Learning to use this rhetoric with a strong dialectic background and learning to interpret it is very important for justice (see how I’m using deliberative rhetoric to convince you to study dialectic?). Note: I know of at least three lawyers who semiregularly read this stuff. Am I off base?

Irrational Beliefs and Choosing Our Feelings

Introduction

In previous posts, I’ve written about the relationship of emotions with reason. I move forward with that here. In this case, the idea is to look at the way in which beliefs and choices based on them lead to emotions, both negative and positive.

The Disputation Pattern

In their book A Guide to Rational Living Albert Ellis and Robert Harper outline ten irrational beliefs that they believe interfere with people’s feelings of happiness or contentment. They discuss the ABCD pattern of disputing those beliefs. I’ve mentioned it here. Ellis, as far as I know, is the source of the ABCD pattern of belief change:

  1. Adversity
  2. Belief/Behavior
  3. Consequence
  4. Disputation

Martin Seligman added an E. Energize. He never defined what it meant, though. In practice, I’ve found that “energizing” a new belief or emotion is acting as though you believed or felt it before it kicks in.

10 Irrational Beliefs

Below are the ten irrational beliefs outlined in the book. It does not take a great deal of effort to see how these beliefs lead to making emotionally charged judgments about our lives and others. Similarly, one can see how they might lead to a fixed mindset (the notion that one cannot change). While I think that this material is useful for Christian spiritual growth, for the time being, I want to just state these false/irrational beliefs simply as facts of human nature. We have a tendency to buy into these ideas and give them to our children. This is the case regardless of religion. I think that Christianity provides the ultimate belief-set and moral vision for a growth mindset, but many people focus so much on the “right vs wrong” aspect of disputed doctrines that they do not look at the “transformation of the mind.” This, by the way, is evident by how many Christians who are deeply concerned about doctrinal correctness, have a tremendous wrungness in their thought lives (I’m not excluding myself here).

Anyhow look through these beliefs and ask yourself these questions for each one:

  1. Is such a belief reasonable, feasible, or helpful to anybody who might have it?
  2. Do I believe this?
  3. What consequences does this belief have for my emotions and decisions?

The irrational beliefs followed by my reflections on them:

  1. You must have love or approval from all of the significant people in your life. (101)
    The result of this belief is that any significant person who does not approve of you means that you aren’t accomplishing some important feat. It can lead to feeling like a failure and therefore sadness, anxiety, and anger.
  1. You must be thoroughly adequate, competent, and achieving. (115)
    This belief is self-defeating. If you believe that you must be great rather than that you can improve, then you’ll always feel behind.
  1. That people absolutely must not act obnoxiously and unfairly and when they do, you should blame and damn them and see them as bad or wicked or terrible individuals. (127)
    Buying into this belief can lead us to hate others for minor slights and to wilt under the slightest criticism because “they mustn’t do that.” This belief requires your self-concept and happiness to become very fragile. I personally have decided to take any mockery or attempt to shame me as a form of ego-boosting flattery. It makes life more interesting and fun.
  1. You have to see things as terrible, awful, horrible, and catastrophic when you are seriously frustrated or treated unfairly. (139)
    The result of this is to dramatize any speed bump in life. Thus a slight frustration becomes a ruined day, month, or year.
  1. You must be miserable when you have pressures and difficult experiences; and you have little ability to control, and cannot change, your disturbed feelings. (155)
    This is actually two beliefs. They are false and weakening. If you believe that you cannot change your disturbed feelings, then you won’t try to. If you think that trials will always make you miserable then you cannot grow from them. For instance, if pain means misery, then you’ll never go to the gym or ask somebody on a date for fear of rejection. Jonathan Edwards put it this way, “Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them; and, what I might have got by them.”[1] This is a much more powerful outlook.
  1. If something is dangerous or fearsome, you must obsess about it and frantically try to escape it. (163)
    I struggle with this. I’m afraid to run toward danger. But the fact of the matter is that danger and fright are a part of life. When it comes, thinking about it obsessively without formulating a plan may still leave you dead, but you’ll have been miserable until it got that way.
  1. You can easily avoid difficulties and self-responsibilities and still lead a highly fulfilling existence. (177)
    This is the millennial malaise. It can lead us to believe that we deserve more than we’ve earned solely because we’re special or the “system” doesn’t or shouldn’t apply to us. This appears to be a self-serving idea, but it doesn’t actually serve you. Abandon it, it’s bullshit.
  1. Your past remains all important and since something once strongly influenced your life, it has to keep determining your behavior and feelings today. (187)
    You aren’t your past.
  1. The idea that people and things absolutely must be better than they are and that it is awful and horrible if you cannot change life’s grim facts. (197)
    Christians can have a tendency to buy into this one in a big way. I think that people in relationships with abusers are this way, too. Instead of accepting that a person is what they are until they change, the attempt to change them is made paramount in life. This inevitably and lead to frustration or even hatred toward the person that the other wishes to help by changing them.
  1. You can achieve maximum human happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommitedly “enjoying yourself.” (207)
    The Netflix generation is one of the self-rated most anxious generations of all time. Yet, it is perhaps the nation that spends the most time on mindless entertainment. Obsessive passive enjoyment as a means to fulfillment is a definite dead end.

Many people might believe all or the majority of these. There is no reason to feel shame for having a false belief. It happens. Children believe that bread crust has more vitamins because a well-meaning adult said so. These things happen. But now, ask yourself what belief should you replace the false one with? What evidence is there for the true belief?

Example:

Belief 7: Your past remains all important and since something once strongly influenced your life, it has to keep determining your behavior and feelings today. (187)

You might persistently recall how a parent treated you, a bad habit from your past, or a terrible failure that bequeathed this belief to you. Either way, not it haunts you. So you say things to yourself like, “Once a loser, always a loser.” “I’m just a sinner.” “I’ll never change.” “This is who I’ve always been.”

So, you’ve got to argue with this belief. Here’s how you might do it:

  1. Argument 1: This belief has bad consequences. Of course I can’t change if I believe I won’t change. I’ll sabotage any progress I make!
  2. Argument 2: The Bible says that change happens like growth. It takes time and happens in increments. This means that it is possible but that it might not be immediately evident. Also, the Bible says that my past is not the only factor in who I become. It is very clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as my baptism are even stronger factors for my future.
  3. Argument 3: Lots of people overcome their pasts. This belief is not only false, but it is obviously false.

Choosing the Circumstances of Our Emotions

In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard observes that:

“There is no choice that does not involve both thought and feeling. On the other hand, what we feel and think is (or can and should be) to a very large degree a matter of choice in competent adult persons, who will be very careful about what they allow their mind to dwell upon or what they allow themselves to feel. This is crucial to the practical methods of spiritual formation.[2]

His last sentence struck me as very powerful. I had never deeply considered the idea that emotions could be chosen. I set myself to researching the idea and came across the book Not Passion’s Slave by Robert Solomon. In it he defends the claim that that “One cannot ‘simply’ decide to have an emotion. One can, however, decide to do any number of things-enter into a situation, not take one’s medication, think about a situation in a different way, ‘set oneself up’ for a fall- that will bring about the emotion. Or one might act as if one has an emotion, act angrily for instance, from which genuine anger may follow.”[3] The Albert Ellis book I mentioned earlier has a similar perspective.

My current point of view is that we can choose our feelings, albeit indirectly. It is perhaps better to say that we can choose the evaluations of our life and the thoughts which result in our emotions and their intensification.

Conclusion: Do Some Practical Experiments

If you’re in a place in life wherein you feel enslaved to your feelings and find yourself thinking, “Maybe I’m just wired this way,” I think some experiments are in order. I recommend examining your feelings and getting very Socratic with yourself. Ask questions like this:

  1. What choice did I just make to make myself to feel this way?
  2. What am a “feeling” about? Am I mad at somebody/something?
  3. Is this feeling reasonable (am I mad at God, an inanimate object, a baby, a dog, etc.)?
  4. What belief am I basing this emotion on? Is this belief helpful, true, or false?
  5. What belief should I replace it with?
  6. Is my emotion pointing me to a problem for which there is a positive solution?
  7. Am I about to make an irrational decision to act immorally, increase my negative emotions, or hurt a relationship based on this feeling?

After you do this, think of a true/positive belief and act on it instead. See how things change. For instance, if you feel sad because you think you’re a loser, but you know that you don’t actually lose at things, then stop standing with defeated posture. Stand with straighter posture (chest out, chin up), smile, and do something beneficial for yourself or another person.

Try various exercises like this and see how they help you.

It’s a Pascal’s Wager. If you’re captive to your emotions and you don’t like being in that place, presumably nothing else has worked. Weeding out your irrational beliefs could help you or leave you in roughly the same place. You have a 0 cost proposition with some probability of benefit. And thanks to the placebo effect, it is possible that believing in advance that this will work could help you even more.

References

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), lxiv.

[2] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2002), 51

[3] Robert Solomon, Not Passion’s Slave: Emotions and Choice (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 199.