Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mr. Dake And I

We had a troubled "relationship."

By the time I was in my late teens my Christian faith was a bit in disarray. I was having questions about my childhood faith. Perhaps, I thought, I did not understand things deeply enough. It was along about this time that I stumbled upon the writings of fundamentalist Pentecostal Bible scholar (for awhile he was actually affiliated with the Christian denomination ( The Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee)  to which my family belonged.

I'm speaking of the Reverend Finis Jennings Dake (1902-1987).

First I obtained a copy of his massive Bible study course God's Plan For Man. I found it deep (or looking back, maybe dense would be more accurate) and I devoured it hungrily. In short order I got his commentary on the Book of Revelation and finally hinted around enough that I was given a copy of his crowning achievement, The Dake's Annotated Study Bible, as a Christmas present.

I wanted answers and Dake's copiously annotated study Bible certainly provided them. In good fundamentalist fashion Dake's stated rule of biblical interpretation, as expressed in the introduction was:

Take the Bible literally wherein it is at all possible; if symbolic, figurative or typical language is used, then look for the literal truth it intends to convey.

All I can say is that it seemed a good idea at the time, but now, many years later, I see the foolishness of such a course. I will go further: I think my study of Dake - especially concerning God - actually laid the intellectual groundwork for my later falling away from religious Theism, or at least my intellectual difficulty with the concept.

Rev. Dake's rabid literalism led me away from Classical Theism teaching about God to a rather shallow, crude anthropomorphic understanding of the God concept that is fantastical and - I must add - the understanding of God most atheists want to employ to de-intelectualize theism and ridicule believers.
It is one thing to use anthropomorphic language to give a bit form to the God concept and make it more easily digestible; it is quite another to rigidly press that anthropomorphism into actual truth claims.

For example, Dake taught that God is not only personal but God is a person with "a personal spirit body, a personal soul, and a personal spirit, like that of angels and like that of man except His body is of spirit substance instead of flesh and bones"  (emphasis mine).

Dake pressed hard, as in another note in his Bible, that "God's body is like that of a man, for man was created in His likeness and His image bodily." Perhaps more shockingly, he suggests God is "described as being like a man from His loins downward" (referencing a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel's, Ezekiel 1:26,27). 
Moreover, when the Bible speaks of God having parts, such as "back parts," as when that was shown to Moses, or a heart, hands and fingers, mouth, lips and a tongue, feet, eyes, ears and so forth, according to Dake, that isn't anthropomorphic language used to relate God to man in way that is easily understood, it is instead a literal description.

Therefore, it isn't surprising that in a note in his annotated Bible Dake states "heaven is a real and a material planet like the earth - not an invisible, intangible place or some spiritual state into which men go."
Another example of how Dake's excessive literalism is troubling is when it is applied to God's emotions. In another of his Bible's notes he states: "God is capable of all feelings, emotions, and right desires as we are."
Not that this matter is trouble-free for Classical Theism and its idea of God as a being that is the absolute metaphysical ultimate, but Dake's hyper-literalism lead me down what I believe was a false path.

You see, I found that the more anthropomorphically I thought about God, the more difficult it became for me to make sense of it. Was God just an alpha male, a glorified man with magical powers?

That does conveniently lead to the thinking that if man is so awesome a creature that a divine creator was necessary in order to explain him then it is just as logical to ask "who made God."

A Classical Theist would see that as meaningless, wrong-headed question.
The problem of evil very early became a problem for my faith (and I think every religious believer has to seriously grapple with it soon or later), and my adoption of much of Dake's thinking about God only exacerbated that: how to relate God's capability of having all our "feelings, emotions and right desires" to an Alpha Male in the sky who, as Camus famously put it, "sits in silence"?

I will stop here. I wrote this post as part of my continuing spiritual journey narrative. Fair enough, I believe, to express how my slide began. How I am even still trying to work my through that comprise a large part of my current writing.

One last note is in order. The above shouldn't be viewed as an attack on Finis Jennings Dake. His writings greatly stimulated my thought processes. If I can say he eventually led me down a false path, I can also state he brought me face-to-face with so many issues that I needed to investigate in order to mature spiritually.

Dake is not the originator of Theistic Personalism, but certainly his writings give about as thorough an exposition of it as one could desire. His interpretations, I think, represents the logical outcome of the fundamentalist apologetic consistently applied.


  1. I was interested (and troubled) to read of your assessment of Dake's teachings. I have heard of the The Church of God, Cleveland, but I knew nothing about it.

    Some of your discussion reminded me of the ancient gnostic teaching that the world was created by an evil, somewhat human-like god (the 'demiurge'), who was in turn created by a distant "God of the philosophers". Of course Dake didn't believe that but your discussion of his God reminded me a little of the demiurge.

  2. I was raised in that denomination. They are fundamentalists and Pentecostals. Dake carries biblical literalism to its logical conclusion. Embracing literalism allowed atheology to really impress me when I first allowed myself to study it.

  3. This guy is even more than I, as a former conservative evangelical, can fully comprehend. I've never heard of him nor his particular brand of theism. I guess it takes all kinds. Or rather, there is room in the theistic world for just about all ideas.

  4. I think there are more theistic personalists, who think of God something like the old gray-bearded guy in the sky, than we can imagine. They are easy pickings for the New Atheists.