169. Dr. Michael Heiser On Why Christians Are Skeptical of the Supernatural

Interview with biblical scholar Dr. Mike Heiser examines how many Christians approach paranormal claims from curiously skeptical perspective.

 

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with biblical scholar and author Dr. Michael Heiser. During the interview Heiser discusses his understanding of ghosts from a Christian perspective:

Alex Tsakiris: What did you mean when you said, “Christians aren’t as open to the supernatural as they think they”, and that they, “think like skeptics.” What did you mean?

Dr. Mike Heiser: …there are a lot of people who basically go through life thinking that unless their pastor or priest brought it up it’s either not true or it can’t be reported.

I’ve had preachers and pastors tell me about doing a funeral service where they or somebody they known and trust saw the deceased person just sort of standing there for a moment.  Well, you start saying things like that and right away our reaction is , “well, maybe you were overcome by grief… maybe you need a physical… maybe you didn’t take your meds that day.

We tend to think like moderns in that we are very hesitant to accept anything that’s outside the material reality.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, I’m right there with you, Mike.  But what do we do with those encounters? What do we do with the deathbed visions, the near-death experiences, the ghostly encounters? How do we approach them?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, I tend to think that these sorts of things are not either/or sorts of categories. I think there are a number of things that ought to be given equal weight. I believe in the supernatural. I don’t really like that term, but basically I believe in a non-human world. Since I do believe in that I’m not a philosophical Materialist. I’m willing to consider the possibility that the experience at a funeral was real. I’m willing to consider that this was really a point of intersection between our world and that other reality plane.

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Today we welcome Biblical scholar and author, Dr. Michael Heiser, to Skeptiko. Mike has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Biblical languages and a master’s in ancient history from Penn. He’s a frequent guest on a number of radio programs such as Coast to Coast AM. He’s also the author of a paranormal thriller, The Façade. Mike, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I appreciate it and I’m glad to invite you because as I explained in my email, I’m trying to make some connections here between your work, Biblical scholarship and some of the topics we’ve covered, because you’ve really expanded beyond just your run-of-the-mill Biblical scholar, if you will. But also between some of that and some of the stuff we’ve explored relating to science and spirituality, I think there’s some overlap and that’s what I’m hoping to get to.

So before we get into that, why don’t you tell folks a little bit about yourself and how your history in terms of why you got interested in the field that you’re in, particularly in ancient languages? And also how that kind of morphed into pulling you into a lot of these other discussions about the paranormal.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Okay. Well, my field is Hebrew and Semitic languages as you introduced. I can remember way back in junior high sitting in an Ancient History class thinking to myself, ‘This is what I want to do.’ [Laughs] Because I was always interested. Oh yeah, I was always interested in anything weird and old. And ancient history was sort of right in that.

I didn’t have a particularly religious background or orientation. My mom tells me I was baptized as an infant so I believe her; she’s my mom. But we didn’t really have any sort of church bent, if you want to call it that. When I became a teenager I started getting interested in what we would sort of loosely term spiritual things now. It was actually through a neighbor that I was directed. I mean, I would say now providentially toward my faith and it didn’t conflict in any way with again my interest in the old and the weird. It’s like man, the Bible’s full of old and weird stuff.

So I just became fascinated with it and it just sort of again helped funnel me and also expand because there’s just so much in there. So by the time I got out of high school I knew I was going to pursue some sort of academic track. I wound up taking courses in Biblical studies, taking courses in history and eventually at some point you’ve got to focus on something.

So to me the most attractive was Old Testament and ancient Near East. Again, probably subconsciously because that was the oldest and the weirdest. I figured hey, if I go into that I’ll get into all sorts of other things like Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and all that sort of thing. And of course, I did because that’s just standard fare for the field. And it still is. It’s sort of endless fascination as to what people were saying and trying to get inside their heads as it pertains to Biblical studies.

Some of your listeners may already know I’m a big advocate, even to the point of irritation, to your standard Christian audience that the Bible is something that can only be understood in light of its own context. Its own context is not your church; it’s not Evangelicals and it’s not Catholicism. It’s not Reformation. It’s the culture that produced it.

Again, in my belief, if God decided Hey, I want somebody down there to start recording something about Me for posterity, and that happened to begin, it certainly didn’t end in the 2nd Millennium BC. So that’s a little bit of it.

The whole paranormal thing, I find is actually there’s some significant overlap here because people who are into the paranormal really just are asking the same sorts of questions that your basic religions are. Why am I here? How did I get here? Is there anybody else out there? The whole question of is there a God? Is there a spiritual world that’s populated with intelligences? You know, all this sort of thing. And that just really dovetails with the whole issue of consciousness.

So all these things, to me, are sort of concentric circles. They’re a natural set of concentric circles that I don’t see really any conflict with. But on the religious side I do run into people that are very religious either Traditional Jewish or Conservative Christian that get a little bit disturbed about the whole paranormal thing because from my perspective they’re looking at the Bible much too narrowly, as though it’s some sort of exhaustive grocery list of things that are real. So if I can’t find it on a page of the Bible it must not be real.

Well, the Bible never claims to be that; it’s by nature very selective. It’s a Mediterranean-centered document. What’s in there is pertinent to a goal that both the Divine and the human author had to having people think about a certain set of things.

So I think in a lot of respects, and consciousness certainly is one of them, we get sort of little cracks in the wall or the door opens a crack that we can see certain ideas that were present or that get alluded to in a document like the Bible. But we don’t necessarily get a full-blown explanation of things. We get lots of hints of things. To me, like I said, I don’t really see them as competing spheres of inquiry. I view them more as concentric circles.

Alex Tsakiris: In reading some of your work, I do understand where there would be that synergy or overlap with some of the consciousness work. And I do understand where you would maybe come into conflict with some traditional Christians. I was going to read for you this quote and it’s from a few years ago when I pulled it off of a lecture you did. I really liked it; I hope it’s still representative of your thinking. We’ll see because I’ll read it for you. This is in a presentation you gave a few years ago. Here goes:

“The Bible’s description of the other worldly conflict raging all around us has been lost to view because of a veil of familiarity we’ve draped around it. Most Christians have not dumped their belief in miracles or the spiritual world and yet something inside us as moderns compels us not to believe in an invisible, animate world or universe. We aren’t as open to the supernatural as we think we are. Many Christians are supernaturalists who think like skeptics.”

Dr. Mike Heiser: Yeah, that’s me. [Laughs] I’ve not come into contact with anything that persuades me to the contrary…

Alex Tsakiris: What did you mean by that last part, “We aren’t as open to the supernatural,” us being Christians. I am not a Christian but Christians aren’t as open to the supernatural as they think they are and that they think like skeptics. What did you mean?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, it’s because it goes back to this whole mentality of I need a black and white chapter and verse with painfully explicit detail thing in the Bible to describe a certain issue, let’s say like ghosts or something like that, in order for me to believe it. And so there’s this notion that unless I can just blindly pull it out of there, it’s just there in wonderful detail, that it’s not something that’s real, which is just an odd way to approach not only the Bible but a lot of other things, too.

When I talk about being skeptical, it’s like every Christian sort of intuitively knows, they ought to objectively know but they intuitively know at least, that there are certain ideas without which they pretty much don’t have Christianity. So they’re perfectly willing to accept things like a virgin birth or a Trinity or something like that that requires by definition the sort of supernatural eyes or the interjection of a supernatural hand into the world.

Those things get spelled out to a certain extent and they’re indispensable. But things that are not, that do not meet either of those criteria that you don’t have much detail and that the individual can’t see much essentiality or even benefit to caring about, those things tend to get dismissed. If I can be even more critical, there are a lot of people who basically go through life thinking, ‘Unless my pastor or my priest brought it up it’s either not true or it can’t be reported.” So we just tend to think poorly in those regards.

I think the last thing I would say about the skeptic line, too, is someone comes to us with an experience. I’ve had preachers and pastors tell me personally or by email that “I was doing this funeral or I was at a funeral and I saw or somebody else that I have known all my life and trust saw the deceased person just sort of standing there for a moment. Then I looked back and he wasn’t there.

Well, you start saying things like that and right away our propensity is ,“Well, maybe you were overcome by grief. Maybe you need a physical. Maybe you didn’t take your meds that day.

We tend to think like moderns in that we are very hesitant to accept anything that’s outside the material reality that we don’t question. We tend to just reject anything that’s outside that material reality unless it’s the only remaining possibility. We go through all these other layers of inquiry. That’s not necessarily bad but it seems to be gravitating there immediately as opposed to sort of ranking it among three or four given coherent possibilities upfront. Like I said, I’ve not seen anything to this point that really persuades me to the contrary.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, I’m right there with you, Mike. But now what do we do with those encounters? What do we do with the deathbed visions, the near-death experiences, the ghostly encounters? How do we approach them? And what possible role would the Bible play in our understanding of that if, as you describe, maybe Christians take it too literally in saying, “Hey, if I can’t find this particular passage that would direct me how to interpret this experience, then I have to just file it away under this category or that category.” So maybe that isn’t the right thinking.

But what is someone supposed to do? I’m stumbling because I was about to say, “…a Christian supposed to do,” but I hate to think in those terms. What is a person supposed to do who wants to try and figure out what’s going on with these very unusual but seem to be rather commonplace encounters that we’ve run into?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, I tend to think that these sorts of things, these are not either/or sorts of categories, either this or that. I think there are a number of things that ought to be given equal weight, is how I would answer. I do believe in the supernatural. I don’t really like that term but basically a non-human world. Since I do believe in that I’m not a philosophical Materialist.

I’m willing to, upfront, consider the possibility that the experiencer at a funeral or whatever, that that really is a point of intersection between our world and that other reality plane. For me that is upfront one of the considered possibilities as opposed to being the last resort or just not even getting on the table at all because I don’t find it in a creed or my minister never talked about it or something like that. So I think we ought to be open.

Biblically we are driven–we ought to be driven—to be open to that extent because you do have episodes in both Testaments that give you a little glimpse that this was part of the Biblical writer’s worldview. Not just a generic ancient worldview but the Biblical writer’s worldview.

I think the classic example in the Old Testament is when Saul visits the medium at Endor and tells her he wants to talk to Samuel so he asks her to bring Samuel up. Now whether she normally had the ability or not, commentators love to discuss it but that really isn’t the question. The narrative tells us that Samuel shows up. Samuel’s called an eloheim, which is a generic term in Hebrew for “a resident of the non-human world.” I call it “a place of residence” term.

He’s there and it’s him because he knows things that only Samuel said elsewhere in the Old Testament. He knows what God’s up to with the House of Eli and the House of Saul and all this kind of stuff. So it’s him. There’s an indication that this kind of intersection can happen. I would say, “Look, it’s up to God. If God is really in control it’s up to God to allow this point of communication, this event, this communicative event to occur. If He allowed it in this scene right here, it’s completely possible that God could allow it to have happened to you at grandma’s funeral. You want to at least consider that a possibility.”

Now in the New Testament and example would be when Jesus is walking toward the boat on the water. The disciples immediately say, “This is a ghost. It’s a phantasm,” is the Greek word. So that tells you, just that little sort of exclamation tells you that it was not a foreign idea in their minds that a spiritual being could take the form of a person and show up like this. Or that you could actually have the departed person—maybe they thought something happened to Jesus.

When Peter is thrown into jail in the Book of Acts and he’s supernaturally released by the intervention of an Angel, he goes to the door of the house where people are praying for him. He knocks on the door and a little girl comes to the door and she’s like freaked out. She can’t believe it’s him. She goes and tells the people in the house, “Hey, Peter’s at the door,” forgetting in her being overwhelmed, she forgets to even let him in.

They think she’s crazy and one of them says, “It must be his Angel.” Angel means messenger. It was an idea in the ancient world and it certainly is a part of the disciples’ worldview that if a person died or even in life they had a spiritual counterpart that either came in your place after your death—sort of was you but wasn’t you. That kind of odd mixture that you get. Or was sort of a partner you. In the paranormal world there are experiences like that, too. These are just little glimpses.

The disciples don’t stop the girl and give her a theology lesson about how Peter’s probably dead or he’s in jail and what you’re seeing is a demon. You’re nuts. Maybe you should go over and take some medicine. They don’t react that way. So I think at the very least we need to have this as an open category.

I think we actually get into more issues, at least for the Christians, when it gets to the point of messaging—when an entity or some sort of experience comes with a message either verbally or mentally conveyed. I tell people, “Now look, this is not our turf. This is not the normal human experience. This is not the normal human realm. So whatever this event or this episode, this experience told you, you need to measure that against what is revealed in the Bible because if this is truly something that God is allowing to happen in your life, maybe to comfort you or to bless you or direct you in some way, the message will be consistent. It won’t be contradictory and confusing to you.”

Alex Tsakiris: See, this is the tricky part of this territory because I’m with you as far as the historical launching point on a text that’s highly revered and very carefully studied being a grounding for our supernatural origins. I’m just not quite sure I can make the connection as a modern who’s trying to figure out these questions to the last part of it which is now I have to bring it into the present day but my point of reference has to still be this old book. I mean…

Dr. Mike Heiser:   Right.

Alex Tsakiris: I mean, is the Bible special? I guess that’s a simple way of putting the big question. One of the guests we had on Skeptiko a while back, a guy I really appreciate as a Buddhist scholar and consciousness researcher, Dr. Alan Wallace, has spent 15 years in Tibet, fluent in all the languages, has been one of the main translators of some very important Buddhist texts. Hey, does he have a better understanding of God and in death, the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Is that a better place for me to go to understand, have a glimpse, a launching point of what’s going on? Or is the Bible better? Which is better? Which is special? Which is sacred?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Yeah, I think that question—in one sense it doesn’t matter and in another sense it does. It does matter in terms of messaging because then you’re getting into the content of the message and then you can evaluate the content of that message in a number of ways. Then that takes you into the whole religious realm. Then you’re “doing theology.”

Apart from messaging, if we believe that as the Bible and certainly I’m almost willing to say every other system of religion or every other sacred text is going to affirm this very basic idea that humanity lives in one realm and then there’s this other realm over here. If you’re going to affirm that with the Bible and in concert with a lot of other stuff, then the question really doesn’t matter because one book isn’t going to say A and the other book’s going to say B in terms of the experience or the possibility of the validity of the experience.

Even something like your Buddhist texts and other texts, they’re not going to assume that all such experiences are good, even. There can be good and evil. You can be deceived. You can be affirmed. There’s this sense of uncertainty about the experience and especially when it comes to what the experience prompts a person to think or do. They all have some sort of need to evaluate something in the experience.

But if you’re just talking about the experience themselves I don’t think the question is the issue, but when it comes to messaging sure it would be. If I’m talking to a Christian about this then they want to process that experience according to their theology, we’ll just put it that way, according to what they believe, their doctrine. So there are ways to do that.

And I think that’s equally true with somebody else in another religious camp. They’re not going to be very open to the experience if they have an experience that is utterly contrary to what they think so they’re going to have some sort of need to process the experience in some way that’s consistent with where they are at that point, up to that moment.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, there’s kind of a strange thing happening there because really I think the most current, cutting-edge consciousness research would lean towards a more expansive worldview that should be in synch certainly with Christianity, with the Abrahamic traditions, with as you said, just about every wisdom tradition we can ever think of. And I think that’s part of the reason why there’s such an organized and systematic, institutionalized resistance to anything that steps on those toes.

But the contradiction then comes into there’s also this other kind of pushback, particularly from Conservative Christians, when some of that research which would get us a little bit closer to that commonality, that big-tent understanding of God, when it does step on somebody’s toes.

Another guest we’ve had on that I really appreciated is Dr. Larry Dossey, who was a physician for a long time in Dallas and got into prayer research. There’s really some unbelievably impressive data that gets drowned out by a lot of Atheist skeptic types that shows that prayer is efficacious, prayer works, and at the same time the rub for Christians is the best evidence suggests that Christian prayer is no more efficacious than Buddhist prayer or Muslim prayer or anything like that. Again, how do we work out that big-tent God spiritualism and the conflict it’s sure to generate when my particular belief system, my religion, gets left on the outside?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, I think that very quickly in regard to the Atheism thing we shouldn’t be surprised by that because they’re fighting for their faith as well.

Alex Tsakiris: Exactly.

Dr. Mike Heiser: They’re not going to put it in those terms but that’s precisely what they’re doing.

Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. If I can interject, I heard this wonderful quote from really the guy who started the whole near-death experience research, Dr. Raymond Moody, and he has battled that crowd for a long time. He said, “We all have a relationship with God.” He said, “Those Atheists, they have quite an intense relationship with God.” And boy, if that didn’t ring true for me. I mean, those are the people who really have an intense relationship with God and they’re not about to change that.

Dr. Mike Heiser: No, you can see why it would be pretty threatening to them. To me a lot of the resistance toward sitting down at this particular table, it’s really kind of counter-productive and I think odd because let’s just take Evangelism as a big umbrella topic here. Many people who this is their field or concern or what they do, maybe pastors or evangelists or whatever, will say things like, “Hey, you need to build common bridges with people to be able to talk with them.”

Well, no kidding. What bigger and better common bridge would there be to—we both agree there’s some reality beyond the one we’re experiencing with our senses. If we were sitting at an Evangelism class in church and you said that everybody would be nodding their heads and “Yeah, that’s great, that’s great.” But then when you give this as an example, the reflex among many would be like, “Ewww, I don’t want to go there.” My question is why? Why don’t you want to go there?

That’s really at a very basic level where everybody’s at. So this is a bridge moment or a bridge opportunity to have the discussion that you, if you’re concerned about converting someone—we’ll use that word—if you’re concerned about that, this will help you talk to that person about other things eventually. And if you never get there you’re still on friendly terms and there’s a lot to build a relationship on, a positive relationship on with that person. To love them in the name of Christ and just do what you can for them.

Alex Tsakiris: Mike, I’m with you. We’re so in synch that I hate to break ranks here. But I have to push this a little bit further. What do we do when the research, the best that we can put it together, conflicts with doctrine?

Another former guest…

Dr. Mike Heiser: Can you give me an example?

Alex Tsakiris: I will. Another former guest, Gary Habermas, who is, I guess, a colleague with you since you teach at Liberty University and he’s at Liberty University.

Dr. Mike Heiser: I’ve met him at conferences but he’s in the physical camp and I’m in distance ed.

Alex Tsakiris: A great guy. I really appreciated talking to him. He wrote a book on near-death experience and was right there with you and me and saying, “Look, there’s no way we can hold Materialism and look at this data. This data just overthrows it. Get over it. We have to deal with it.” But there is real resistance to go further and really look at the implications for how we might test some Christian theology. You asked for the example—here it goes.

We could make a hypothesis that Christians are more likely to encounter the all-loving God in Heaven or Christians only are supposed to. Or we could make any number of hypotheses and they would all, if you’re familiar with the data, would all fall short. There doesn’t seem to be any of those limitations associated with any religious belief whatsoever, or lack of religious belief, that correlates with this encounter with what we would all admit sounds like God, sounds like Heaven. All-loving, all completely knowing, that whole thing.

So what do we do with that? What do we do with our assumptions not being met or tests not being met? The big tent is still there but can we let go of some of the doctrine?

Dr. Mike Heiser: To be really honest with you, I think to actually come up with an answer that might be approximating a correct answer, I think we’d have to know more information because I don’t know how we could get more which is the depressing part. I think we have to know more information in that. Let me put it this way—it would be very easy if someone was theologically bent out of shape over this. I’m not going to say that Gary is but just anybody. It would be very easy for let’s say for Joe Christian Evangelist to hear that question and say something like this.

Okay, we have a Buddhist over here or pick your religion or non-religion that had this near-death experience and they have this experience of being in the presence of God. It’s all positive and it’s good and loving, so on and so forth. It would be very easy for that Christian Evangelist to say something like, “Well, we don’t really know what that person’s spiritual state was because they could have believed that sometime in their childhood they actually could have accepted Christ. They could have done this, that, and the other thing. That’s why their experience works out that way.”

Now that’s sort of cheating as far as an answer. But the reality is we don’t know. So it’s part cheating but it’s also part unintentional honesty that we don’t really know why this person is having XYZ experience in terms of its details.

Now, it’s not always completely consistent and we both know that as far as what a person experiences. It is overwhelmingly positive. Some of these, this sort of nonverbal messaging I think also is equitable to things that go on in life.

For instance, a Buddhist might have an encounter with a person who does XYZ and it makes them think of some quality of their faith or some quality of a deity that is warm and loving and so on and so forth. There may not be a one-to-one connection between those two things at all yet it’s a response. It’s a reaction. So you may have the same sort of thing going on within a person’s internal nature based upon the experience to that point. Who knows?

Ultimately I just don’t think we can really know this. If I was a Catholic I would say something like, “Well, it doesn’t really matter ultimately. And if Catholics are disturbed by this you need to read more Catholic theology.”

Alex Tsakiris: Now I think you’re onto something here. Go ahead.

Dr. Mike Heiser: If I was a Catholic I would say, “Look, it doesn’t really matter what religion a person is because anyone who dies and gets to the presence of God in a positive way gets there because of Christ.” A Catholic theologian is going to explain and he’s going to lump all the religions under the common grace of God and the resurrection is due to what happened at Easter.

So no matter what faith you have in this life, if you respond the way God wants you to to the truth that you had up to that point and the reason you are resurrected, you have an afterlife, is Christ. Again in some supernatural way that’s why you’re there and that’s why it feels good.

There’s all sorts of ways Christian theology can accommodate this. If I was a Universalist this wouldn’t even be a question because everybody goes there anyway. And there are Christian Universalists.

Alex Tsakiris: I sometimes wonder why people look for such a convoluted—and this is often an Atheist—such a convoluted explanation for things to avoid what seems obvious. Like in this case what seems obvious is hey, there is this other reality. There is consciousness outside of our brain. Sorry, that’s the way it is. Now we have to figure out what that means and once we look at these accounts we have to accept that there does seem to be this moral imperative. We didn’t want to go there but yeah, there does seem to be this God, for lack of a better term.

But once we get there, why not postulate the big tent? Why can’t God perfectly reflect Christianity to those who are so inclined and at the same time perfectly reflect Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, every other religion for all these multiple paths to the same if it is one umbrella? Why is that such a difficult concept?

Dr. Mike Heiser: For the Christian it’s a difficult concept because a very specific—catch the way I’m saying this—very specific faith claims and faith assertions that focus on and center on the work and person of Jesus Christ.

Now again, going back to our previous illustrations and it’s a little flippant, a little whimsical, but I’ll put it this way. After I die and I’m in the presence of God and God or Jesus walks up to me and says, “You know all that theological stuff that you guys were working on? It wasn’t too bad but there were things about it that really didn’t need to be said the way they were said. I just want you to know that there are people here who would not have fit in to that theology. But they’re here because of Me, because of what I did on the cross, because God sent me to the world. Would you like to stay or do you want to take a rain check?”

I’m staying. I mean, I’m not going to go away from that conversation feeling bad or disappointed. I’m going to go away just as grateful then as I would have been if He walked up to me and said, “Hey, man, you nailed everything.”

So I think in some respects we have a certain commitment; the different stripes of Christianity have a lot invested in their particular articulation of points of Christian theology. If it happens that the Universalist one was actually right at this point but maybe wrong on something else, are we really going to care? I would say if we’re all honest when we’re all on the other side we’re not going to care.

But people care now because we’re not on the other side and the perception is, and in some cases it is an accurate perception, hey, these ideas here are mutually exclusive. We can look at each other and say, “Yep. That idea that the Hare Krishna has or the Buddhist or the Muslim is diametrically opposed to this one over here.”

That may be completely true and you may be defending the correct one but if, in God’s plan of salvation this point of Catholic theology is right that hey, look, God judged the human heart on the basis on what they understood about what Jesus did and their faith response in God’s mind was a good one, was a positive one, was a right one, even though they were messed up theologically in other areas but they’re in. They’re with the Lord. Does that upset you?

If you answer yes, that you’re upset—this is all hypothetical, it’s all speculative—but if you were to answer “Yeah, I’m ticked because this person’s with the Lord with me,” you have a bigger problem than this question. Your spiritual problems are a lot bigger than this one.

On the one hand I think there are reasons to agree or be in one tradition and not be in other ones. There are real theological points that they don’t all agree. There are diametric oppositions. A can’t be B and B can’t be A and all that sort of stuff. But the ultimate issue is we assume that these parsings that we do here on Earth in this life are the correct ones when in God’s mind He might, dare I say, have a little more tolerance to making theological errors and is judging a person’s heart response to some key point of the faith.

In other words, you may not understand Christ; you may not “accept” Christ precisely the way the New Testament would like you to, but you’re not rejecting Him, either. There’s all these fuzzy areas. I’ll give you one that’s in the scripture, in the Old and New Testament. And that is what about the Old Testament people who lived and died before there ever was an incarnation and Jesus goes to the cross and all that stuff?

It’s very common for Evangelical—we’ll use them for an example—for Evangelical theologians to say, “Look, God accepted them on the basis of their response to the revelation they had up to that point. And that’s up to God. We leave it with God; it’s His business. That’s not in my job description, it’s in God’s job description and we leave it there.”

Well, that might work more widely than we know or that we realize. I hope we wouldn’t be upset if that’s the case. I don’t know that it is. For me in this life, I take theological positions because I think I’ve come to at least my satisfaction, a coherent understanding of whatever passage or whatever text or issue it is. Some things I’m perfectly inclined to say, “I don’t know. It could be two or three things. I can only rank them according to some hierarchy of likelihood.”

There are a lot of people that just want, “Look, I don’t want a hierarchy of likelihood. I want to know what I should think and I want to know it now and I think I’d better be able to find it on that page in this paragraph in this verse. If I can’t then it can’t be real.” Their mind is working in the opposite trajectory. I think we need to be a little more humble than that. We need to have a lower view of our own omniscience with some of these things.

And yes, stand where you’re going to stand theologically and fight the good fight and so on and so forth, but if you’re wrong and some of these experiences are some indication that God’s level of tolerance might actually be wider than yours, if that turns out to be the case, you have no right to be angry with God. The thing made has no right to say to the maker, “What the heck are you doing?” Then you’re out of line. Then your theology becomes more important than the object of your theology, the thing you claim to be following and worshipping. So I think we need to do our best but we need to have a low view of our own omniscience when it comes to this stuff.

Alex Tsakiris: Great. Hey, Mike, tell people where they can find out more about your work and also what you’re up to these days and what we might look for from you in the near future.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, my home page is www.drmsh.com. That’s short for doctor and Michael S. Heiser. And that is the gateway to a bunch of other websites I have and some blogs. I try to maintain three blogs divided up by interest areas. So that’s where to find everything.

I started a podcast on my Biblical studies blog, The Naked Bible, so that’s found at www.nakedbiblepodcast.com. I’m only three episodes in but it’s a lot of fun. It’s more work than I thought it would be but it’s a lot of fun.

And I’m also offering some language courses and some theology courses, all online, as well. The name of it is MEMRA. All of this is accessible on the front page of my home page. So that’s the easy one to remember, drmsh.com.

Alex Tsakiris: Great. It’s been great having you on. Interesting discussion and thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Thanks for having me. You continue what you’re doing. It’s a fascinating area and I don’t know what show would cover it more widely than yours. So I just want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.

Alex Tsakiris: Thanks, thanks. I have to throw that net all the way out there to the reaches and see what we pull in. Thanks, Mike.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Thank you.

 

 

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