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Presupposing Prophetic Failure, Responding to the Naysayers – Part 2 of a three-part series
by Daryl E. Witmer
In the current series, AIIA is responding to three contemporary challenges leveled at the truth-claims of Christianity. This month we critique Bible Prophecy: Fulfillment or Failure?, by Tim Callahan, ©1997 Millennium Press, ISBN 0-9655047-0-0, 274pp.
Tim Callahan impresses me as a rather reasonable and likable kind of guy. We probably couldn’t disagree more when it comes to our conclusions on the significance of the prophetic passages in Scripture, yet with a few notable exceptions (i.e. p209) the tone of his book toward those of us who are persuaded that Biblical prophecies really have been consistently, thoroughly, and impressively fulfilled is measured, and his bearing dispassionate.
In addition, Callahan’s research appears to be fairly extensive. He can hardly be accused of not reading or listening to the other side of the story. His book cites the work of a wide range of evangelical scholars and writers, from Gleason Archer and Edwin Yamauci, to David Jeremiah, Hal Lindsey, John MacArthur, Jr., and – most notably, Josh McDowell.
The stakes could hardly be higher – fulfilled prophecy is widely considered to be among the leading evidences of the Divine origin of Scripture.
So how is it that two individuals (or groups) can look at the exact same verses in the exact same Bible and draw such completely different conclusions?
Callahan himself very succinctly answers that question in the book’s Introduction. In short, he says, it is our presuppositions which determine our conclusions. For instance, Callahan (who does not claim to be a Christian) approaches Bible prophecies with the assumption that they are phony and contrived. As a Christian, I take my cue from Jesus, who repeatedly lent credibility to the validity of Biblical prophecy (Matthew 13:14, Luke 22:37).
Callahan says that the aim of his book is to “look at prophecy without presuppositions” (p5), but in a truly confusing juxtaposition of his commentary on that principle, he previously notes that “all of us hold presuppositions” (p1), and later (p7) says, “I must confess my own presuppositions.”
Certainly there are many prophetic passages in the Bible that are difficult to explain regardless of which position one holds. In an attempt to deal with three of the most significant prophetic passages of all – Jeremiah 31, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53 – the author (who has indicted the proprophecy crowd for being selective in their emphasis on certain texts while avoiding others not so easily explained) ends up doing the exact same thing himself, affording only scant reference to all three. In the case of Psalm 22:18 (p129), he actually dismisses an absolutely dramatic prophetic fulfillment as being merely “coincidental.” Now even Callahan, upon reflection, must realize that writing off Bible prophecy as “coincidence” isn’t going to wash with any fair-minded observer.
A number of texts are presented which, admittedly, often pose a real challenge for prophecy proponents. But in every case, the “failures” that Callahan sees are resolvable upon closer examination. For instance, the prophecy regarding the demise of Damascus (p60) in Isaiah 17:1-2 is only a problem if one insists on using the unspecified and arbitrary translation that Callahan uses, i.e. “Her cities will be deserted forever.” vs. “The cities of Aroer are forsaken.”
In one section (p120) Callahan assails advocates of Bible prophecy for using “faulty translations” to make a passage prophetic. He suggests (p122) that in some cases, with a “proper translation,” the prophetic significance is lost. Yet in light of the above example it would appear that the author’s idea of a “proper” translation is one which happens to support the point that he is trying to make.
That said, and to be altogether fair in this review, Callahan sets forth a number of specific charges against Josh McDowell’s work in Evidence That Demands a Verdict which are not so easily dismissed. He cites “evidence” which may indeed be considered arbitrary, or even, perhaps, in some cases – downright faulty. Beginning in late 1999, I began to persistently entreat McDowell for his own “ready defense” to five of these charges. To date, the only answer that I and at least one other proprophecy believer have received from McDowell’s staff is that he has had other priorities. What a disappointing and, in my opinion, inadequate response. Meanwhile, however, totally aside from those points, the conviction that Bible prophecies have been (or are being) consistently and miraculously fulfilled, still certainly stands on solid ground. And if that conclusion is determined by a corresponding presupposition, so be it. For a proprophecy presupposition, unlike Callahan’s (pp253-256), is based on the doctrine and proven character of none other than Jesus Christ Himself.