John Warwick Montgomery. Tractatus Logico-Theologicus. 5th revised edition. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013. See here to buy the book.
Warwick Montgomery is a Christian apologist, a Lutheran pastor, a
lawyer, and a scholar. He has earned degrees from Cornell, Berkeley,
Wittenberg, the University of Essex, Cardiff, the University of
Strasbourg, and the University of Chicago.
is a work of Christian apologetics, in that it argues that there is
evidence for the Christian religion's claims, particularly the claim
that Jesus rose from the dead. Its structure is modeled on Ludwig
Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in that it
consists of numbered propositions. Although Montgomery refers to
Wittgenstein's thought throughout this book, often positively,
Montgomery's conclusion is different from that of Wittgenstein. To
quote the back cover of the book:
Tractatus, having demonstrated the limits of any non-transcendental
attempt to understand the world, ended with the proposition, 'Of that
which one cannot speak, one must remain silent.' Montgomery, after
setting forth in depth the overwhelming case for the very transcendental
revelation for which Wittgenstein longed but never found, concludes:
'Whereof one can speak, thereof one must not be silent.'"
starts off by arguing that the religions of the world are inconsistent
and incompatible with each other, and thus they cannot all be right. He
contends that all he has to do is demonstrate evidence for one
religion, Christianity, and that will show that the non-Christian
religions are incorrect, especially in light of Christianity's
Montgomery then has to demonstrate that
facts, evidence, and logic actually matter, against skeptical claims
that we cannot truly know the outside world. This section interacts
with interesting questions, such as the question of whether we need to
know everything in order to have true knowledge about anything.
Montgomery also raises the possibility that logic and facts can
contradict each other. Montgomery often speaks against logical
contradictions, and yet he seems to acknowledge that there may be things
in reality that strike us as illogical: light, for example, is both a
particle and a wave. Later in the book, this insight will allow him to
justify certain mysteries in Christian doctrine. On epistemology,
Montgomery essentially ends up saying that we need to presume that we
can know the outside world, in order for us to function in life; plus,
we need to start somewhere, in terms of epistemology. Even
epistemological skeptics are claiming to know things about the world,
when they are arguing for skepticism.
argument for Jesus' resurrection will be familiar to those who have
read classic Christian apologetics. Montgomery argues that the biblical
Gospels are early and contain the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus.
He relies on Papias and church fathers who knew the apostles to argue
that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony. He thinks that the
Gospel authors are telling the truth, since they were persecuted and
would not die for a lie. He states that the early Christians' claims
received cross-examination because Christianity had opponents within the
Jewish establishment in the first century, and yet none of the
opponents were able to disprove or discredit what Christians said, so
Christianity continued and grew. Montgomery also maintains that the New
Testament manuscripts reflect what was originally written down in the
first century, and that they are closer in date to the originals than
many other ancient writings are to their originals. Montgomery
criticizes those who are more skeptical about New Testament documents
than they are about other ancient sources.
may set Montgomery apart from many other Christian apologists is that
Montgomery appeals to legal principles. What counts as admissible
testimony in a court of law? How can we tell when a witness is lying?
Montgomery also notes that ancient documents can be admitted as evidence
in court. Montgomery deems the New Testament Gospels to be reliable,
according to legal criteria.
Montgomery later discusses the
cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.
Montgomery finds these arguments useful, yet he thinks that they have
limitations. They demonstrate that someone created the cosmos, but not
that this someone had to be the biblical God. For Montgomery, Jesus'
resurrection validates the truth of the Bible, which Jesus upheld.
maintains that the Christian revelation provides meaning to life and
history. He argues, for example, that humans by themselves cannot know
which facts are significant or insignificant, for they by themselves do
not know where history is going: what its goal and point is.
Christianity, however, has an answer to that.
discusses whether one can justify morality apart from a belief in God.
Interestingly, unlike many Christian apologists, he does not utterly
dismiss the possibility that one can arrive at a secular foundation for
morality. He does believe, however, that humans on their own are
incapable of living up to moral principles.
addresses a variety of questions. For example, is the Bible God's
clear revelation, when it appears to be contradictory, and many people
derive contradictory conclusions from it? Montgomery argues that the
Bible is clear: one can read it and understand it as one would other
books. Montgomery holds that the Bible contains no logical
contradictions: things that cannot co-exist because they are
contradictory. He also states that Christians generally are united
around the basics in the Christian creeds (i.e., Nicene).
I had read about Montgomery's thought before, I was unaware that he was
a Lutheran. In reading this book, there were things that stood out to
me as distinctly Lutheran. For example, Montgomery does not believe
that the bread and the wine of the Lord's supper are mere symbols or
metaphors for Christ's body and blood. After all, Paul tells the
Corinthian Christians that some of them have become weak or sick after
partaking of the bread and wine unworthily (I Corinthians 11:30), and
Montgomery thinks that shows the bread and wine are more than symbols!
Montgomery also believes in directing Christians to the Word and the
sacraments for assurance rather than having them agonize and struggle
over their spiritual condition. Lutherans often make this point, in
arguing against Calvinism.
Here are some thoughts about Montgomery's book:
The book did well to draw from Wittgenstein's thought. Montgomery was
not simply using Wittgenstein as a launchpad for his apologetic agenda,
for Wittgenstein was a significant part of the book. Montgomery argued
against the widely-held conception that the later Wittgenstein was more
skeptical about our ability to understand the world than the earlier
Wittgenstein. Montgomery also refers to a discussion that Wittgenstein
had about universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved in the
end. Wittgenstein could understand why the church rejected
universalism, for, if everyone is saved in the end, that means our
decisions now do not matter. One can argue, I think, that the doctrine
that the vast bulk of humanity will go to hell because they did not
accept Jesus before they died can have the same sort of effect. (It can
lead to an attitude of "Who cares what life lessons the Buddhist
learned? He didn't have the right religion, so he's going to hell!")
Still, Montgomery's references to Wittgenstein's thought was
informative, as was Mongtomery's quotation of and interaction with other
historical thinkers (i.e., Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, etc.).
On Montgomery's discussion of legal criteria, Richard Packham's
critique of Montgomery's application of legal criteria is worth reading
Packham is an atheist and a lawyer. He contends that the New Testament
documents, overall, do not successfully meet legal criteria for
verification, and he seems to imply that Montgomery is being selective
about which legal criteria he chooses to focus on. For Packham, reading
the New Testament documents is not similar to calling witnesses to the
witness stand, or even using ancient documents in court.
Montgomery often seems to dismiss alternative explanations as lacking
evidence, when the alternative explanations may show that there are
other ways to interpret the "evidence" he presents than his own
interpretation. Montgomery is too casual in his dismissal of evolution
and the historical-critical method. He may have a point that the
historical-critical method can get rather speculative because scholars
disagree about what sources are in the Bible. Still, that does not mean
that his position is the correct one, or that an inerrantist approach
to Scripture lacks problems.
D. Related to (C.), there were times
when Montgomery seemed to adopt a position out of convenience. We need
to believe that we can accurately know the outside world because where
would we be without that belief? We, as Christians, need to believe
that the Bible is inerrant because, otherwise, how do we know any of its
claims are true? To his credit, Montgomery often wrestled with
difficult issues and was hesitant to adopt views just because they
accorded with where he wanted to go. Yet, in terms of where he ended
up, he did adopt positions out of convenience, more than once. Just
because inerrancy is more convenient for Christians who want to learn
God's will from the Bible, that does not mean it lacks problems.
Atheists have answers to arguments that Montgomery presents. For
example, Montgomery appeals to the Second Law of Thermodynamics to argue
for God's existence. Unlike a number of creationists (who, by the way,
Montgomery cites as actual authorities), Montgomery actually
demonstrates more understanding of the Second Law. He states that, "in
closed systems (systems not receiving energy from an outside source),
the entropic process will result in 'heat death' in a finite time, i.e.,
a point will be reached in a finite period when there will be no
'workable' energy any longer available" (page 125). Montgomery states
that the universe is a closed system. Had the universe not had a
beginning at some point, Montgomery argues, it would have died of "heat
death" by now; plus, there has to be some energy source outside of the
universe giving it energy. For Montgomery, that source is God. (UPDATE: I think I misunderstood parts of Montgomery's argument here.
Montgomery on page 125 says that, if the universe is eternal, then there
must be something outside of the universe sustaining it, otherwise it
would have died of heat death by now. Montgomery believes that the
universe had a beginning, but his point is that, even were the universe
eternal, God, or some transcendent source of energy, would be
are other considerations, though. According to physicist Mano Singham,
pockets of order can emerge in an expanding universe (see here). Some say that the universe's heat death will come a very long time in the future (see here).
Stephen Hawking at one point posited a scenario of a continuous
alternation between a Big Bang and a Big Crunch, in which entropy
decreased towards the Big Crunch, which would be followed by another Big
Bang and another universe (see here).
My understanding (which, in terms of science, is limited) is that many
scientists do not believe that the universe will end with a Big Crunch,
but rather that it will wither away, rather uneventfully. My point,
though, is that there may be other factors besides what Montgomery is
considering, so one cannot be too rigid.
Do I accept Montgomery's argument for the historicity of Jesus'
resurrection? That is a good question, one that I may ask myself
anytime I read or listen to Christian apologetic arguments. For now, I
will just say that Montgomery's presentation struck me as too neat, or
at least as presuming that reality is too neat. There are a variety of
considerations: the existence of Christian forgeries in the ancient
world; how even "un-orthodox" Christians claimed ties to the apostles;
miracle claims in non-Christian cultures; the question of whether Jesus'
resurrection makes all non-Christian religions false and Scripture
inerrant; how Christian stories were developed and added to over time,
and how new stories were invented; etc. I still am open to the
possibility that the early Christians experienced something that they
interpreted as supernatural, and that they had abnormal experiences
(i.e., healings, miracles).
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