I am not a liberal. In fact, I cannot even consider casting my vote for a liberal candidate for any position of leadership. That is not to say that candidates of the Democratic Party are somehow less competent than those of the Republican National Convention. I am certainly not a loyalist to the GOP. However, my pro-life convictions will always prevent me from being a liberal. That is not to advocate for some sort of one-issue model of voting. Being pro-life does not qualify somebody to take political office. But being pro-choice, in my view, can disqualify somebody from receiving my vote. That is the primary reason that I could never cast a vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
I regard the pro-life cause as the most important social issue in the United States. It is not akin to other social issues. It is also frightening and extremely discouraging when people think that they can dismiss the pro-life cause and affirm abortion just by reciting their favorite one-liner. Does it never occur to them, just for a second, that all of the rhetoric and talking points could be affirming the slaughter of actual human beings? Is this something that can really be dismissed by pointing out my gender? Can you wave a dismissive hand, saying, “You’re not pro-life, you’re anti-woman” thinking that providing a new label will change the facts?
I am pro-life, and therefore I cannot be a liberal, because this is more than a social issue. Not only does it involve the slaying of what the science of embryology reveals to be biological human beings, but it also fundamentally changes our view of humanity. Not only am I pro-life, but I am also a Christian, which means that I have a very high view of the intrinsic worth of human beings.
What Are We, Really?
There are two aspects of what human beings are that need to be considered. First, there is the scientific and material aspect, and second, there is the philosophical and theological question of what we are. Insofar as that first question is concerned, human beings are chunks of matter, much like a table or rock. However, we have certain other traits that distinguish us from inanimate objects. We possess consciousness and the ability to think deeply and ask difficult questions. These questions come from the interworking of the human brain, specifically relevant to the study of neuroscience. It may be said that human beings are very complex chunks of matter. That is beyond dispute.
But suppose we were to give the material realm and the scientist full authority to determine what human beings are. Many scientists would reject that authority, but many would not. If we were to adopt metaphysical naturalism, then human beings would be complex chunks of matter, and nothing more. If that were the case, then it would seem difficult to raise any objections to the practice of abortion on moral grounds. But, that would be a two-edged sword, because it would also make it very difficult to raise objections to any moral practice, including misogyny, bigotry, pedophilia, et cetera. There is a sense in which we recognize that we are something more than chunks of matter.
I have already introduced the philosophical question by pointing out the possibility of metaphysical naturalism. But I think that we can all recognize that we truly are something more than merely chunks of matter. We certainly are that, but there is something more. We recognize that our fellow man has intrinsic moral value that cannot be set aside. It would be wrong to commit a crime against another person because they deserve better. The concept of human rights is grounded upon our intrinsic value. If we did not have any intrinsic value, then human rights would sway to and fro, based on the opinion of the collective bodies. That is why we cry out in rage when we see somebody violated. They possess intrinsic moral value, and they deserve better. As a Christian, I believe that people possess intrinsic moral value based on the fact that they were made in the image of God.
What Is The Fetus?
One may respond that while we recognize that biological human beings possess intrinsic moral value, the fetus is not a biological human being. It is just a little fish thing. It is merely a clump of cells. Well, first, arbitrarily changing the title of the fetus to a “clump of cells” does not change the facts of the situation. As I pointed out, you are also a clump of cells. All human beings are clumps of cells. Some are larger than others. But the identification as a clump of cells does not negate the fact that you are a biological human being.
In fact, the identification as a biological human being is generally something that pro-choice advocates are willing to concede. There is really no debate even among scientists. The debate is over, and it has been over for nearly one hundred years. The fetus is human. In his article, Elijah Thompson made this point, quoting the Former Planned Parenthood President, Dr. Alan Guttmacher. Guttmacher said that the zygote was the beginning of the human life. He wrote, “This all seems so simple and evidence that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” Again, this is simply not a point of contention among scientists in the field. If you would like further support, Life News collected 40 quotes from medical experts, many of whom are not pushing the pro-life agenda, but are just reciting the facts of biology.
Second, the Law of Identity seems to support the pro-life notion that the fetus is human even at the earliest stage of development. The Law of Identity states that A is always equal to A. If you were to see an ultrasound of me, Richard, when I was at the earliest stage of development, you would rightly be able to say, “That is Richard.” I could rightly say, “At one point in my past, I was a fetus in the womb.” But if you accept the premise, “It is wrong to end Richard’s life,” then that premise would apply to every stage in my development.
But you are not considering the circumstances.
This is typically where the pro-choice advocate will direct the conversation at this juncture. They will say that under certain circumstances, it will be acceptable to have an abortion, to take the life of a biological human being. If the woman was not ready to have a baby, if she thought it might have a bad life, if she was afraid, alone, or something like that, then she will be justified in getting an abortion. But all that this line of reasoning has done is to remove the intrinsic moral value that human beings possess. Why is that? It is because intrinsic value is value that one possesses in and of oneself rather than based on external conditions.
Cash, for example, has extrinsic value. It is valuable only because we regard it as valuable. But if you brought it to a tribe in the Brazilian rainforest, they would think that it was suitable only for burning to keep them warm by the fire. In and of itself, cash is just paper. Similarly, if human beings do not possess value in certain circumstances, then they do not possess intrinsic moral value. They possess extrinsic value and it can be disposed at your choosing.
One may be willing to bite the bullet and say, “Yes, that is true, and we just have to deal with it.” But before you do that, consider the campaign of women’s rights. It is predicated upon the premise that all people, men and women alike, are equal. But if human beings do not have intrinsic moral value, then the very premise of women’s rights, or anybody’s rights, will have to be discarded. Nobody has any real rights. Nobody can say that they are truly equal with anybody else. The practice of abortion claims to derive from the campaign of women’s rights. At the same time, though, the philosophy of abortion dictates that under certain circumstances, it is acceptable to kill human beings. That is extrinsic value, while the philosophy of women’s rights is intrinsic value. That would just seem to be an example of having your cake, and eating it too. The problem is that the practice of abortion undermines the very foundation of women’s rights.
Freedom Only Extends So Far
Nobody reading this believes in absolute freedom, in which anybody can do anything that they want. Nobody wants absolute bodily autonomy, to do anything they want with their body. The only sustainable model of human rights is one that comes with limitations, that does not allow you to violate the rights of other people. You are free to do anything that you want, so long as it does not violate another human being. A husband is not free to abuse his wife. His rights end where hers begin. A father is not free to abuse his son. His rights end where the child’s begins. Similarly, a woman is not free to kill her baby. Her rights end where the baby’s begins.
That is why when the issue of bodily autonomy comes up in the context of the abortion debate, they misapplying their freedom. When people say that “it is my body and therefore it is my choice,” they are not making a whole lot of sense. Your rights and your choice only extend so far. They end at the rights of another. With the practice of abortion, people violate those rights. They overstep the boundaries that are set for human rights and violate the rights of another.
If you are inclined to say that if the fetus is inside of your body, then it has no rights, then you have committed the same fallacy as the prior subsection. You are creating extrinsic factors that determine the value of a human being. If you want to maintain a consistent philosophy of abortion, you will need to maintain that human beings have intrinsic moral value which allows you to have rights. But by doing that, you will undermine abortion entirely. So, the idea of a consistent philosophy of abortion is really a misnomer. If you think that human beings have extrinsic value, then you have no basis for saying that you have the right to an abortion. If you think that human beings have intrinsic value, then you have conceded the right to an abortion to the right to life.
A Philosophy With Frightening Potential
With so many people howling, “it is not a person” about a biological human being, one can hardly be blamed for harking back to the other times in history in which human beings were designated as non-persons for some extrinsic factors (such as white skin). We can kill these human beings because they lack some extrinsic property. Without the foundation of intrinsic moral value, it becomes very difficult to say what other atrocities this will lead to. Think for a moment of all of the reasons that people get an abortion. They are afraid that the baby will have a bad life. He will live in poverty. She will be a burden. I’m not ready.
I am not trying to downplay the struggles of my fellow man. But I do think that these are important to point out. Many (if not all) of these reasons could apply equally to infanticide. How can you make the argument for the fetus in the womb, but not a couple of months later after the baby emerges from the womb? What basis is there? Similarly, what intellectual resource could you appeal to that would prevent genocide based on some extrinsic factor that a group of people have in common? There just does not seem to be any stopping power to the philosophy of abortion.
This is not to be taken as a slippery-slope argument. I am not saying that this will inevitably happen. I am saying that this is what the philosophy of abortion entails. There is just no resource to prevent other moral atrocities against human beings. The life of a human being is worth less than the external factors that are relevant to the parents. There are no good reasons that we could not disconnect any of the common justifications for abortion from justification for infanticide.
My Pro-Life Convictions Will Always Prevent Me From Being A Liberal
Why pro-life? Why would that bother you so much that you refuse to vote liberal? It bothers me because it ultimately degrades human beings. It makes us into mere animals with no intrinsic moral value. If that philosophy were truly applied and followed to its’ logical conclusions, then there would be no intellectual guard against devaluing of human beings in other contexts. So when Rachel Held Evans says that she is pro-life but voting for Hillary Clinton, that seems to be the height of inconsistency.
There are, tragically, so many Christians are just apathetic about the pro-life cause. It is just one social issue among many. Gun rights, abortion, immigration. They are all thought to be in the same category. But they are not. The philosophy of abortion undermines the very foundation of human rights. The practice of abortion really does end the life of human beings. I cannot be a liberal because I am adamantly opposed to that practice and that philosophy.
The creation controversy is very important to people who hold different perspectives for different reasons. As an old earth creationist, I believe that it is important to an effective witness. Young earth creationists believe that it is important because they think that they are the bastion of scriptural authority. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of this debate is the issue of death before the Fall of man. Typically, old earth creationists hold that God created the earth over 4 billion years ago. Before the creation of man, there was dinosaurs, a flourishing ecosystem, and millennia upon millennia of death. Young earth creationists believe that this strongly compromises the biblical narrative. In this article, I will make the case for animal death before the Fall of man.
I should also point out that this is one area that many young earth creationists take very seriously. Death before the fall is not akin to the interpretation of the days of creation. Some will go so far as to say that the view that animals died before the Fall of man is actual heresy. Others will suggest that it portrays God as being evil. This issue of whether there was or could be death before the Fall is probably one of the most inflamed debates within the creation controversy. So, what are the arguments and counterarguments worth considering?
Was God’s Creation Perfect Or Very Good?
After the creation week, God declared that this creation was very good (Genesis 1:31). Young earth creationists will typically interpret that to mean that the creation was perfect. By implication, there was no animal death. If God overlooked a world containing predation, suffering, disease, thorns and thistles, and said that it was very good, he would be, in the words of Ken Ham, an ogre. Christians who have had discussions with atheists will probably have encountered a form of this objection. Atheists will tell us that there is so much evil and suffering in the world that for God to allow it, he would have to be malicious in his intentions.
In responding to the young earth creationists, the first thing that we might point out is that the same theodicy that we apply in debates with atheists can also be applied here. Perhaps one of the most powerful theodicies is the lack of a logical disconnect between the existence of suffering and death and the existence of a good God. It is possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering. Similarly, it is possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for creating a world infused with animal death. To say that this makes God into an ogre would logically lead you to concede this theodicy to the force of atheism. Of course, that is unthinkable, because that is precisely the theodicy that God used in the book of Job (chapters 38-41).
But, the response may come, nonetheless, the text says that the creation was perfect. Well, I do not think that there are any good reasons to think that “very good” means that it is “perfect.” I think that it is possible that God established an ecosystem in which life would flourish and be abundant. Predation is central to a flourishing ecosystem. Some breeds of animals cannot even survive if there are no predators in the environment. Overpopulation and disease become prevalent. In some cases, it is necessary to introduce predators into an environment for the sake of the species that they are hunting. So, when God said that the creation was “very good” that could just be a reference to the flourishing ecosystem.
One could take this argument a step further and point out that there are elements of the creation that indicate that it is imperfect, but still very good. First, the serpent in the Garden of Eden was certainly not perfect. The tree of good and evil was something over which God would say, “This is perfect.” Most profoundly, the capacity to sin was not a manifestation of perfection. There are several exegetical reasons to think that the original creation in Genesis 1 was not a perfect creation. This seems to undercut the implication that there could be no animal death before the Fall.
Will Animals Be Redeemed?
Death was introduced into the world as a consequence of sin. Of death, Romans 5:12 tells us, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 3:23 tells us that the wage of sin is death. The reason that people die is because they sin. Since everybody sins, everybody dies. But the death of man is the not the only punishment for sin. After Adam sinned in Genesis 3:17, God said, “The ground is cursed because of you.” Everything around us reminds us that we are fallen creatures in a fallen world. But if that is the case, does that entail that animal death came as a result of sin?
First, I want to indicate that this concept is foreign to the writings of Paul. In both Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, the context is clearly referring to the death of men, not to animals. Of course, that does not prove that animals did not die as a result of the Fall. But exegetically, we can only infer the death of human beings as a result of sin.
Second, some have taken this a step further. Zachary Lawson has argued that if you think that animals died before the Fall (particularly on the basis of this passage), then it would follow that animals are receptive to redemption in Christ. The parallel that this passage presents is that all die in Adam and are made alive in Christ. If the former applies to animals, then the latter would have to apply to animals as well. Animals would have to be receptive to regeneration. Animals would have to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. This reductio ad absurdum seems to suggest that animals did not die as a result of the Fall. (Of course, one may point out that there will be animals in the New Heaven and New Earth, but that is different from saying that they are made alive in Christ in the sense that Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are referring to.)
Perhaps God Created A World That Knew We Were Coming
In the drama of human experience, we have to react to situations and base our decisions on what we think the best course of action will be. In a more ideal scenario, we will be prepared for situations that arise. Unfortunately, that is often not the case and we just have to react. God is in the pleasant situation of knowing what will happen in the future. As Christians, we affirm that God has knowledge of all true propositions. Before Adam sinned, God knew that the proposition “Adam sins” would eventually be true. However, unlike us, God does not need to react to the situations that arise and make some sort of probabilistic decision. Everything that comes to pass is built into his decree. For example, when he created Adam and Eve, he did not say, “Oh, they need sustenance. I had better create some plants.” Rather, the food was already available. It was waiting for them. God knew that they were coming.
Similarly, when the great patriarchs of Israel sinned, they recognized God as their Redeemer. God had mercy on them despite that they were not worthy of mercy. This is because he knew that the cross was imminent, that Jesus would die for the sins of his people (Romans 3:21-25). The cross was retroactively effective, paying for the sin even of those who died long before Christ. I think that you are probably beginning to understand this theme. God knew that he was going to send forth his Son, so he did not just obliterate people when they sinned. He knew that Adam would be hungry, so he created food. (I apologize that this is not technical, reformed, deterministic parlance. I know that.) How does this relate to the issue of the fallen creation?
Well, it may be that God knew that sinners were coming into the world, so he created a world that was already fallen. He created a fallen world that was custom-made for fallen creatures. He would not have to wait until they had actually fallen to reactively curse the ground. Of course, then the question arises: why put creatures who are not fallen (Adam and Eve) into a fallen world? The answer is that God isolated them from the fallen world. He put them in the Garden of Eden. Then when they sinned, they were banned, hence being exposed to the real world. I do not see anything at all implausible about this interpretation.
Were They Vegetarians?
Some young earth creationists argue that if man and animals were both vegetarians, then it would follow that there was no death at all in God’s original creation. From there, they will appeal to texts such as Genesis 1:29-30, in which God gave to Adam and Eve every plant for their consumption. Later, in Genesis 3:17-19, the vegetarian diet is reinforced, until after the great deluge. At that point, Noah and his family were permitted to consume animals. But before that point, all human beings were commanded to be vegetarians, and before the Fall, all animals were vegetarians.
What are the problems with this argument? First, consider the first premise. If man and animals were both vegetarians, then there is no death at all. Well, that would only be the case if predation was the only possible way for animals to die. So, possibly, one could have a model of vegetarian animals who died. Admittedly, though, this is not a model that any old earth creationist would accept. Premise two is far more controversial. Were humans and animals truly vegetarians?
It is undeniable that God gave them plants to eat. But that is not to say that they were not permitted to eat animals. This seems to be little more than an argument from silence. If it is not recorded in the text, then God did not say it. It would only serve as an argument if we had some command that said something like, “I give you plants for your consumption, but anything that moves, you shall not touch.” This is just an argument from silence. Similarly, in Genesis 9:3, God says, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” That is not to say that they were not permitted to eat animals prior to Genesis 9:3. Similarly, in the next verse, God commands that they not consume anything that is still alive. That is not to say that it was acceptable prior to Genesis 9:4. In Genesis 9:5-6, God commands that they not commit murder. But that is not to say that murder was acceptable prior to this utterance. The argument from vegetation is really an argument from silence.
The Parallel Between The New Earth And Eden
When Jesus returns, he will make all things new. The narrative of the Bible is not exclusively about individual salvation, (“How can I be saved?”) but about how God loves the world so much that he redeemed his creation (John 3:16). We are certainly objects of God’s affection, and that is because we are part of his world. Young earth creationists will sometimes argue that when God makes all things new, he will restore everything back to its’ original state. We lost paradise and Christ brought us back. Since there will be no animal death in the New Earth, it follows that there was no animal death in the original creation.
I think there are several reasons to think that while this may be a legitimate parallel, that does not mean that it is a precise, line-by-line parallel. There are several aspects of the New Earth that will differ from the original creation. First, we will not have the capacity to sin. In such close proximity with God, we will be so overwhelmed by his presence and his righteousness, that sin will seem unthinkable. Just as abstaining from all sin may seem unthinkable to us today, committing a single sin will seem unthinkable to us then. Consider that while Jesus was the Second Adam, he was also very different from Adam after he rose from the dead. Yet his resurrection is the first fruit of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23). We will all rise and be glorified in the same way that Christ was, and we will inhabit the New Earth. This is one radical difference from the original creation. With this in mind, I do not know that we can make the argument that because the New Earth has a particular attribute, that therefore the original creation had that attribute.
The Case For Animal Death Before The Fall of Man
There are a few things that I want to point out as I draw this article to a close. First, I am not advocating for theistic evolution. I do not think that there were humanoids before the Fall who were biologically identical to homosapiens. I am just pointing out that one of the central arguments that young earth creationists will appeal to does not seem to be as robust as they think. Remember, it applies an atheistic objection to God’s moral duties toward us (suggesting that God would be an ogre). It reads animal death into the text of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, when, as we saw, that interpretation leads to absurdity, and it mounts a host of arguments that I do not think can withstand scrutiny.
Nonetheless, I understand that many people are passionate about this issue. It is something that we should approach with charity and kind-heartedness. If you care to offer a critique, I ask only that you do so by examining what I said and responding to it rather than making accusations of compromise. I could just as easily accuse you of compromising for the sake of traditional values. But I will not do that because that shuts down communication.
If you would like to read more, please see my series The Age of The Earth.
Why do you believe the things that you do? Why do you act in a certain? Why did you marry the person that you did? These are questions with which we are all confronted at some point, and often, we appeal to our own personal narrative. We explain how we have been personally affected. People will often say that they felt a certain way, that they had a certain unquenchable desire that overwhelmed them. Individuals with a proclivity toward homosexuality often appeal to their personal narrative, and it is often a heart-wrenching story. As I pointed out in my article, Christians: Imagine You Were A Homosexual, these personal narratives should alter the way that we approach the topic in the sense that we should allow them to tell their own story without downplaying it. But many people are tempted to go a step further. Is that justifiable? Should the testimony of practicing homosexuals change our view?
I ask this question because it is often a testimony that causes people to rethink their position. You knew somebody, perhaps your child or somebody close to you was a homosexual, and their struggles caused you to realize that it was not a sin after all. There is nothing really wrong with it. How can we say that there is something wrong with it when that very message has caused so much pain and turmoil in the life of so many individuals? That is the sort of reasoning that has persuaded so many people. However, while I am sympathetic with the struggles of my fellow man, I remain unconvinced by this line of reasoning.
It Is Purely Emotional
This is an important distinction that is overlooked far too often in our culture. One might even argue that this is from where relativism has been derived. It is not nice to tell people that they are wrong, or that Christ is the only mediator between God and man. It is not nice to tell devotees that the object of their devotion is a false god. Of course, some people (even Christians) make an effort to maliciously tell people hard truths out of pride or just to hurt their feelings. This is undoubtedly wrong. But nonetheless, we need to separate the emotional objection from the intellectual objection. What do I mean?
We may have a very powerful emotion that leads us to have sympathy with individuals. In that pursuit, we could find ourselves justifying their behavior or telling them that they are not really doing anything wrong. But this could easily turn out to be nothing more than coddling. We could just be so overwhelmed with emotion that we are willing to overlook the rational element of an issue. While the intentions to have sympathy is good, that intention is often misused. Just because we might feel sympathy for an individual or have an emotional connection with their testimony should not lead us to change our views of their behavior. It should lead us to find a legitimate outlet for that sympathy, while maintaining the distinction between emotion and intellect.
Everybody Has A Narrative
The problem with basing your beliefs on the testimony of other people is that everybody has a narrative. Anybody can tell you a story of some trial that they went through. Even hateful people have a story. Perhaps they were abused as a child or they never made any friends. Individuals who rape little children were often the victim of a rapist. Individuals who abuse women were often abused as children. This is not to say that homosexuals are akin to these people, but it is to say that everybody has a narrative. Anybody can tell you a story of something bad that happened that will cause you to have sympathy for them. But that does not justify the behavior.
In fact, two people could share a powerful narrative explaining how they came to oppose conclusions about a particular behavior. One concluded that a behavior was wrong and the other decided that they wanted to live in bliss while practicing this behavior. This seems to expose the limitations of a narrative. They can help us to relate to other individuals, but they cannot determine the truth-value of a proposition. We need to appeal to our discernment so that we are not succumbing to every emotional force that pulls us.
Defending Against Objections
Unfortunately, when we engage with friends who are homosexuals or advocate for homosexuality, they are often not willing to engage with the intellectual aspect of what is being said. They will respond with something trivial, like saying, “How can you tell other people how they can live their lives or who they can marry?” and of course, this is a rhetorical question that does not have an answer or even want one. This is because the questioner has based their beliefs about homosexuality on their own experiences or the personal narrative of another individual. This has left the questioner without any rational defense of their position.
The only recourse that remains for them is to try to communicate the powerful emotions that they feel, almost infecting the objector so that they will lay down their objections, ceding them to the power of the emotion. When that fails, the objector is referred to as hateful and a bigot. Since the questioner has based their position on emotion, then the only thing that they can do is use emotionally loaded terms, such as bigot, which essentially shuts down communication. That is one of the central problems with basing your beliefs on a narrative. Since the foundation is emotion, rational discourse will be shunned.
Of course, that is not to say that all advocates of homosexual behavior have nothing rational to say. But it is often heavily-laden in emotion. Now, one might suggest that it is impossible to make a case for a moral proposition without appealing to emotion. But I do not think ethics are that poor of a science. For example, in my article The Biblical Case Against Racism, I argued that skin color is merely an extrinsic property that one possesses, and therefore if human beings are degraded for extrinsic properties, it would follow that they do not possess any intrinsic value. This is a rational argument for a moral proposition and follows a model that we all need to consider when making our case.
What About The Narrative of Homosexuals Who Are No Longer Practicing Homosexuality?
Advocates of homosexual behavior have very negative things to say about so-called ex-homosexuals. They will suggest that those people always come back. They are living a lie and their lives are unfulfilled. They have to change who they are in a fundamental way. This strikes me as exceedingly ironic. While advocates of homosexuality will argue that we need to respect the narrative of homosexuals and allow them to tell their own story, they disrespect the narrative of people who have abandoned that lifestyle and called their entire narrative into question.
This is really because it cuts to the core of their own personal narrative. As Christians, we all individually maintain  I am the worst of sinners, worse even than homosexuals (1 Timothy 1:15),  the Bible explicitly condemns homosexual behavior as a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9), and  Christ can set you and I free from that sin and give us new life. The testimony of the homosexual who is no longer practicing gives credence to  and .
But, if (at least ) is true, then that cuts to the core of the homosexual’s narrative. For central to their narrative is that they cannot change. They cannot alter their behavior and if they did, they would find their abode in a miserable existence. Ironically, they will try to impose their narrative onto other people. Everyone who leaves the homosexual lifestyle must be living a miserable existence. Yet the freedom to tell their own story is precisely what they are trying to maintain. Just as I should not impose my assumptions onto their narrative, they should not impose their narrative onto another person.
The Difference Between Bigotry And Criticism
Earlier, I alluded to the fact that in these dialogues, objectors to homosexuality are often referred to as hateful bigots. This emotionally loaded accusation should raise a few questions for us, primarily, what does it mean to be a bigot? A bigot is somebody who is utterly intolerant of opposing opinions. They are not willing to allow somebody who engages in homosexual behavior into their society. They will shout them down, cover their proverbial mouths and never listen to what they have to say. Now, I will be the first to admit that many Christians truly are guilty of bigotry. But, many who are accused of bigotry are not truly guilty of bigotry.
This is because anybody who objects to homosexual behavior or same sex marriage is hastily referred to as a bigot. But is criticism really bigotry? Being tolerant does not mean that we all agree. It means that we disagree and that we overlook those disagreements in a free society. We can have a debate. We can discuss the merits and demerits of a position, even if it is very close to the heart of an individual. Bigotry would be to refuse to overlook those disagreements and to not allow discussion.
Criticism is not bigotry. A criticism of an idea or a practice is not bigotry. It is also not hateful. It would only be hateful if it were an attack on the individual person, using derogatory names and smearing tactics. Again, I admit that many Christians truly have engaged in bigoted behavior. But it is a mistake to conflate all criticism with bigotry. In fact, if you do that, then you probably do fit the technical definition of what a bigot is. A bigot is not so broad as to include anybody who disagrees with you.
The Problem of Celibacy
This is problem one of the most significant challenges that derives from the testimony of our friends who advocate for homosexual behavior. There was a point that they were confronted with the reality that they will spend their entire lives alone, never to marry, never to have children, never to have a family. Men such as Matthew Vines, the author of God And The Gay Christian will point out that this was one of the most significant challenges that he faced. He knew that he could never love a woman. He knew that if he accepted that homosexual behavior was truly sinful, he would be alone throughout his entire life. This is perhaps one of the more emotionally daunting challenges that comes out of the testimony.
But there are three things that we say by way of response. First, again, we need to isolate emotion and ask what is true rather than how we are feeling about a particular topic. Nothing about this aspect of the testimony changes anything. Second, and critically, the homosexual is not condemned to live a life of celibacy. In his testimony video, filmed at Kennesaw State University a good friend of mine explained how he was once a practicing homosexual and now he is happily engaged to a woman. He struggled with the same fears as many other homosexuals, that he would be alone for his entire life. I once asked him if he ever thought that he would marry a woman, and he basically had the same answer that Matthew Vines did. While it may seem hopeless, if you commit yourself to righteousness, you will eventually meet the right person.
Third, even if you do live a life of celibacy, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. Of singleness, Paul the apostle wrote, “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (1 Corinthians 7:7). He referred to singleness as a gift rather than as a curse. There is nothing about a life of celibacy that is an intrinsic demerit.
It Is Who I Am
Often in the these testimonies, people will identify homosexuality as an intrinsic property of who they are. For somebody to suggest that they stop practicing homosexuality is essentially to suggest that they change who they are. That may be why it is that they see criticism of homosexuality as a criticism of them as people. We are attacking a fundamental aspect of them as individuals. They are homosexual. That is how they identify themselves. To disconnect from that is to disconnect from themselves.
But are people really defined by the proclivities that they possess? Are they defined by their desires? If somebody has a sweet tooth, they may enjoy eating cheesecake. Despite that, the property “eating cheesecake” is not definition to who you are as a human being. Similarly, if a man or a woman has a desire for multiple sexual partners, that desire is an extrinsic property. It is not part of who they are. It is something that can be altered and the “who” of these individuals will still persist. In the same way, homosexual proclivities and behaviors are not definitional. They are extrinsic properties, and if they are removed, the “who” of these individuals would obtain.
Finally, there is a sense in which we all have to lay ourselves down. That is not unfamiliar to any Christian who has been born again. We yield ourselves, everything we are, to Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” The apostle Paul wrote, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives through me.” (Galatians 2:20). The old man is dead. He has been nailed to the cross with Christ. The new arises with the resurrection. His death is our death and his resurrection is our resurrection.
If you would like to read similar content, please check out my other articles about homosexuality.
A few months ago, I published my book onto Amazon and sold it for $4. However, after much consideration, I have decided that I do not want to sell it. I would rather give it away for free. If you are interested in my free e-book – The Open Minded Christian: How To Engage Charitably With Fellow Sinners, then use this link. It will provide the option to download so that you can read it on your Kindle or read it on the browser.
Unfortunately, however, I cannot give away physical copies for free. They are currently available for purchase on Amazon. I think that the total price is somewhere around $10. (Note: as of this writing, I have recently made a few edits to the book. Currently waiting for Amazon to approve the edits. When the approval process is finished, I will share the link here).
What is this book about? Why is it called The Open Minded Christian? Followers of this blog will certainly know that it is not a treatise in liberal theology. It is a book about exercising humility and self-reflection so that you can be a more effective witness. This will also help us to relate with other Christians so that we are not condemning one another for secondary beliefs.
I made the point to outline precisely what heresy is and how we can combat avoid referring to people as heretics when they are not. A heretic is somebody who confesses heresy. They are not somebody who is inconsistent in their theology. Further, a heretic is not anybody with whom you are angry. Throughout this book, I made the point that no matter who we find ourselves engaging with, we should also do it in charity. I believe that anybody who reads this and actively tries to apply the principles therein will find that they are a better witness for Christ, whether in dialogue with believers or with unbelievers.
Followers of this blog will know that I have spent a lot of time writing about Oneness Pentecostalism, because, as I pointed out in my article My Conversion From Oneness Pentecostalism To Biblical Christianity, I used to be a Oneness Pentecostal and I think that this issue is very important. However, some Christians have replied to my posts defending the trinity by suggesting that this debate is just theological nitpicking. Trinitarians believe that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons. Oneness Pentecostals believe that there is one God and that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are manifestations of that unipersonal God. We both believe that Jesus is God, so why does it even matter? Is the Oneness versus Trinity debate just theological nitpicking?
In the name of transparency, I will state at the outset that I do not think that this is a secondary issue. Oneness Pentecostals are not our brethren. They need evangelism because they preach a different gospel and a different Jesus. Those words may be hard to hear and some may accuse me of being overzealous or inflammatory, but that is the hard truth. I wish with all of my heart that I could affirm Oneness Pentecostals as brethren. There are many fine ladies gentlemen who seem to have a sincere heart within the Oneness Pentecostal movement. But I must base my convictions on Scripture and nothing else. (However, I do think that there could be some members of the Oneness Pentecostal church who are saved.) So, why have I taken this position? Why is the Oneness versus Trinity debate more than theological nitpicking?
To Whom Did Jesus Offer Himself As A Sacrifice?
While it may not be the position of the sophisticated scholars within the Oneness Pentecostal church, the average parishioner in a Oneness Pentecostal congregation will ascribe to a view known as patripassianism. This is the view that the Father himself died on the cross of Calvary. The Father was hungry, thirsty, and tempted. The Father endured the passion of the Christ. It might even be said that there was no Father in Heaven and that he was exclusively on earth. As a man, the Father died on the cross.
But this brings us back to one of the most important, central doctrines of the Christian faith. Why did Jesus die on the cross? The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins, dying in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve (Romans 3:21-25). We are criminals in God’s sight, and Jesus stepped in and paid our fine. Now, just as his death was our death, his resurrection is our resurrection. As trinitarians, we maintain that Jesus offered himself up as a sacrifice to the Father. That is why Jesus said, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).
If it was the Father himself who died on the cross, then to whom did Jesus offer himself as a sacrifice? It seems to me that the answer would have to be nobody. It was the Father himself who died on the cross. But Paul tells us that Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God. Hebrews 10:12 tells us that Jesus offered himself once and for all. If it was the Father who died, then he did not offer himself to anybody, and there was no atonement. Patripassianism therefore seems to undercut the central doctrine of the faith.
Honoring The Son
Perhaps this is why the sophisticated Oneness Pentecostal theologians do not ascribe to patripassianism. They have developed a more nuanced theology. Men such as David Bernard, David Norris, Robert Sabin and Nathaniel Urshan maintain that it was not the Father who died on the cross. The Son did. The Son was the human nature of Jesus. The Father was the divine nature. Of course, as Christians, we believe that Jesus had two natures: one human and one divine. But these theologians have titled the divine nature Father and the human nature Son. From this it follows that it was the Son who died on the cross, not the Father.
There are two problems with this view that I think cut to the core of Christianity. First, consider why it is that the atonement was efficacious. Why was it at all effective? Sometimes atheists will ask how it is that the death of one man could atone for all of the sins of the world. He was just one man, after all. It would be something like if I tried to pay off the national debt by donating one dollar to the federal government. It is just insufficient. However, God as an infinite bank account. If God died on the cross, atoning for our sins, then this problem would be resolved. Jesus Christ is worth so much that his death could atone for our sins. But if it were merely the human nature of Jesus that died, how could we say that our sins were truly atoned for? It would just be the death of a man – a single dollar, paying off the debt of the federal government.
What is the second problem with this view? Well, for us to view the Son as merely a human being does not ascribe the honor to the Son that is due to him. The disciples worshipped the Son in a religious context as a divine figure (Matthew 14:33). For us to refuse to honor the Son is to refuse to honor God. That is why Jesus said in John 5:22-23 that everyone who does not honor the Son in exactly the same way that they honor the Father fails to honor the Father. It would seem then that those who fail to honor the Son fall under the condemnation of 1 John 2:23, which reads, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”
Is God A Master of Illusions?
How do we know that the doctrine of the trinity is true? Often, we will appeal to the baptism of the Lord Jesus. When he was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and we could hear the voice of the Father from Heaven. There seem to clearly be three distinct persons in this image. That seems inescapable. How do Oneness Pentecostals escape it? Typically, they will suggest that since God is omnipresent, he can appear as three persons at the same time, and this is not a problem. They are just different manifestations. They will say the same thing about when Jesus was praying.
Some might be inclined to think that this is an equally valid interpretation, and so neither the prayers nor the baptism of Jesus can be used as an argument for the distinction of persons. I think that is a little misguided. If God were exercising his omnipresence in these instances, then that would just be to say that God was tricking people into believing the trinity. God appeared as three persons. How can anybody truly be blamed for believing in the trinity when God is appearing as three distinct persons? God would have to be a master of illusions and deception. The relationship between the Father and the Son that is portrayed in the prayer life of Jesus would be an utter farce. Jesus would be praying only to himself. That is why this is more than theological nitpicking. As trinitarians, we maintain that we can believe that which God has revealed. God is not putting on a show or tricking us.
They Are Two Different Gods
This is one point that many people may find difficult to grasp. After all, Oneness Pentecostals do believe that Jesus was God. They believe in the incarnation. How can we say that they are different gods? We may disagree about the extrinsic characteristics of God, but it would still be the same God because they believe in the incarnation, right? Well, I do not think that is the case. Oneness Pentecostals may believe in the incarnation, but the one who became incarnate would have to be a different God. A Hindu could believe in the incarnation, that one of the gods because a man and walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth. But it would be a different god. So, why is Oneness Pentecostalism in the same category?
This is where the doctrine of God becomes important. If the intrinsic (unchanging, necessary) qualities of God are different, then I do not see how we would have the same God. Oneness Pentecostalism holds to a unipersonal conception of God. Trinitarians maintain a tri-personal conception of God. We believe in a God who is eternally present in three persons. Do Oneness Pentecostals believe in that God? If they do not, then I do not see how we can affirm that they believe in the same God.
One might be inclined to suggest that all Christians disagree about something. I might believe in credobaptism over paedobaptism (that is an example, not an affirmation). Would my reasoning entail that I believed in a different God? I do not think so. The debate between credo and paedo does not compromise the intrinsic characteristics of God. They only alter how God relates to the world and the manifestation of his covenants. But the trinitarian God is not the same deity as the unipersonal God.
All of The Corollaries To Oneness Theology
Oneness Theology does not come in a vacuum. If you were preparing to ascribe to Oneness, you would likely merge into a Oneness Pentecostal church. They maintain many beliefs that are in utter contrast to Christian theology and stand opposed to the gospel of grace. You may be able to find some obscure oneness church that does not maintain the corollaries of Oneness Theology, but they would be few and far between. You would most likely find yourself in a Oneness Pentecostal church. What are these corollaries?
Well, first, you would have to be re-baptized into a oneness formula. They believe that to be saved, one must recite the words “In the name of Jesus.” This is because baptism is the mechanism that washes away sins, and the words “in the name of Jesus” is what makes the baptism effective. But even after your sins are washed away by the waters of baptism, you would still not be secure. You would need to go through the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues.
One could make an argument that this is consistent with a gospel of pure grace, but I do not think that it is. The apostle Paul tells us that justification is by faith alone (Romans 4:5) and that anyone who adds to this gospel is under the curse of God (Galatians 1:8). With this checklist model of salvation, it seems difficult to disassociate Oneness Theology from the condemnation of the Judaizers. (Note: our Lutheran brethren maintain that baptism is necessary for salvation, but that it is an expression of pure monergism and justification by faith alone. They do not fall under the condemnation of the Judaizers.)
Put The Debate Aside – Just Preach The Gospel
That is what people will say in response to articles about Oneness Pentecostalism, especially my series Oneness Pentecostal Heresy. Why focus so much on debates when you could be preaching the gospel to non-believers? The answer is simple. This is not just a minute theological point that we can forget about. I cannot just join arms with a Marcus Rogers and preach the gospel alongside him. As much as I like him and my other Oneness Pentecostal friends, that is not something that I could do in good conscience. To preach Oneness is to preach another God, another Jesus, and another gospel.
Therefore, there is a sense in which by engaging in these debates, we are in fact preaching the gospel to unbelievers. People who openly repudiate the doctrine of the trinity and justification by faith alone are not those who we can partner with to share the gospel with the unbelieving world. They are the unbelieving world. I am sorry to say that. Mr. Rogers and the many passionate individuals like him may be zealous, committed, and kind-hearted, but that does not change the hard reality. By refusing to tell the hard truth, one is refusing to love one’s neighbor.
Recently, I have been publishing articles and podcasts about the topic of Oneness Pentecostalism. In fact, it is one of my favorite topics, even if speaking only as a theological and intellectual pursuit. However, there is a much more personal aspect to the issue of Oneness Pentecostalism that inspires me to write about it. Some of my readers may discern that I was a Oneness Pentecostal many years ago before converting to biblical Christianity. Now, what is Oneness Pentecostalism? You might think that I am referring to the broad charismatic movement, including faithful Pentecostal organizations such as the Assemblies of God. But that is not the case. Oneness Pentecostalism is a distinct sect within Pentecostalism that is known for denying the doctrine of the trinity, denying justification by faith alone, and their belief that all true believers will speak in tongues. Throughout this blogpost, I will relay my conversion from Oneness Pentecostalism to biblical Christianity.
If you would like a more thorough analysis of Oneness Pentecostal teaching, I recommend you listen to my recent podcast episode titled What Is Oneness Pentecostalism? and my series of blogposts titled Oneness Pentecostal Heresy. For the sake of this blogpost, any arguments that I present will be done in brevity. I will not thoroughly analyze points and counterpoints raised by Oneness Pentecostal theologians. I am only relaying some of the important factors of my story.
What Good Reasons Are There To Believe?
As a Oneness Pentecostal, I was often burdened with this question. Why should I believe in the Christian faith? That is not to say that I was struggling with the biblical foundation for Oneness Pentecostalism. I was not. I was struggling with what good reasons there were to believe in that biblical foundation at all. Why should I believe in the Bible? Why should I believe that I am really experiencing the Holy Spirit, as was so often emphasized in the Oneness Pentecostal church? The answers that came back were often unsatisfying and just left more questions.
Christian preachers often argue that the Bible is true on the basis of the resurrection. They might say something like, “Muhammad is dead. Buddha is dead. But Jesus is alive” and that is meant to serve as a foundation for our belief. I think that certainly is true. But that seems to only push the question back another step. I wanted to know what good reasons there were to believe that Jesus really was alive. I sought answers everywhere, including charismatic experiences and speaking in tongues. I hoped that tongues would serve as the evidence for the faith. After all, how could I say that my faith was in vain when I knew a whole new language?
But doubt crept in, because, after all, tongues can be faked. Anyone can speak in tongues, including Pagan religionists. So I began to ask God to “strengthen my faith.” Those were my exact words, several times. I wanted God to give me a greater depth of belief; not necessarily to overcome the doubts by providing some sort of justification for my faith, but to simply strengthen my faith.
Shortly after I started asking for that, a relative of mine brought a book to the Oneness Pentecostal church and placed it on the bookshelf. It was titled I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Dr. Frank Turek. This relative of mine did not really have an interest in apologetics, so her purchasing it and bringing it to the church seems uncanny (as I think retroactively). I did not realize it at the time, but when I started reading that book, that was when my conversion from Oneness Pentecostalism began. I regard my finding that book as highly providential.
These Authors Were Trinitarians
As I read through Dr. Turek’s case for Christianity, I was very compelled by his style of writing and the points that he was making. This was very much my introduction into Christian apologetics that eventually developed into this website and podcast that I have started. After reading I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, I realized that I was not finished yet with apologetics. This was not a topic that I was going to just put away. So I looked up Dr. Turek’s debate with Christopher Hitchens. This led me to the apologetics ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig and several other Christian scholars.
However, as I was watching videos of Dr. Craig, Dr. Turek, and several other apologists, I came to realize that they were trinitarians. For some reason, I had not even thought about whether they believed in the trinity. Yet these seemed like godly men. They did not seem like compromisers or heretics. They seemed like fine Christian gentlemen who labored for the name of Christ. Now, that by itself was not an argument, but it did cause me to think twice. Particularly, about the way that they defined their faith.
The Blatant Misrepresentations
As a Oneness Pentecostal, I was taught several things about the doctrine of the trinity and the way that trinitarian churches practiced their faith. I was taught that the doctrine of the trinity was the view that there are three gods. But as Dr. Craig explained the doctrine of the trinity, it became clear that it was predicated upon strict monotheism. Dr. Craig said that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons, which is the historic doctrine of the trinity. So, why is it that Oneness Pentecostal pastors tell their parish that the trinity is the view that there are three gods? This seems to wholly undermine their credentials as a teacher.
But that blatant misrepresentation was not the only one that I had come to encounter. Oneness Pentecostal pastors also said that other churches taught that one does not need the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is unnecessary. They represented the doctrine of justification by faith alone as though it were just a sinner’s prayer that one recites and then is saved with no repentance. Everywhere I turned, every single time that a Oneness Pentecostal pastor represented the faith of other Christians, they were abjectly misrepresenting it. This experience is not unique to me, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of Oneness Pentecostals that we encounter believe that the trinity is the view that there are three gods.
What does this misrepresentation mean? Obviously, even with all of that being the case, that does not mean that Oneness Pentecostalism is false. Nonetheless, it was very significant to me that the pastors who were respected as teachers seemed to have absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They had no idea if they were correct, had never investigated what trinitarians believed, but preached it over the pulpit as though it were the truth. That was very disquieting.
The Necessity of Tongues And Baptism And Oneness Theology
By this point, I had already immersed myself in Christian apologetics and had even started this blog. However, none of the posts from this period in my life prevailed (I deleted them long ago). I was investigating the issues, but I was still a Oneness Pentecostal at the core. What do I mean? I believed in oneness theology, that baptism “in the name of Jesus” is the biblical model, and that the tongues in the book of Acts generally followed those who received the Holy Spirit. But I began to deny one crucial element of the Oneness Pentecostal faith, namely, that these doctrines were necessary for salvation.
In fact, I began to find it offensive that Oneness Pentecostal pastors would suggest that trinitarians were not true Christians. I thought that I was part of a renaissance of young Oneness Pentecostals who affirmed trinitarians as brethren, and that in the next few generations, Oneness Pentecostals would be regarded as a legitimate Christian denomination by the church at large. While there were many young people who affirmed what I believed, it was still the majority position that trinitarians were not saved.
I recall a sermon about Matthew 7:22f, when Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” The preacher declared that this verse is referring to those Christians believe in the trinity and who do not speak in tongues. If I remember correctly, that sermon marked the last time that I attended a Oneness Pentecostal church as a member.
This might seem like a nice story, but up to this point, the keen observer will note that something is missing. I merged into a trinitarian church and learned true doctrine and was henceforth a practicing Christian. That does not seem to be a sufficient end to that story. It lacks the narrative of how I was born again. Shortly after my leaving the Oneness Pentecostal church, I began to reflect on the sin in my life. I realized that I regarded righteousness as something like a legalistic cage that I had to impose on myself. The picture of the natural and carnal man in the Bible really did apply to me. Righteousness was not something that I wanted.
Somebody soon recommended me to read Dr. John Piper’s book Desiring God. Piper suggested that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of human joy, and that if you do not have joy, then you are not a Christian. We are righteous out of our love for Christ, because our cup is overflowing and we want to share with others. After I finished the book, I listened to a sermon by Dr. John MacArthur, and the topic of that sermon was the cross of Jesus. Contemplating the cross, that Jesus Christ died for the sins of his people and that he offers the free gift of everlasting life to anyone who will believe, the love of God was infused into my heart and I was saved.
It is remarkable to think that I could go from denying the trinity and believing that only Oneness Pentecostals are saved to believing in a gospel of pure grace, a trinitarian salvation at its’ core, and that salvation is a free gift of God, that we are justified solely by faith alone in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. Writing this, I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns, Amazing Grace.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
We start with the Old Testament and read the New Testament in light of that. That is what we often hear from Oneness Pentecostals who are attempting to mount an argument against trinitarian theology. They will say that trinitarians are starting with the New Testament and reading the Old in light of it, and that is an incorrect methodology. If you read the Bible from cover to cover, perhaps the most crucial theme that emerged is that God is inescapably one. When you get to the New Testament, that concept cannot be compromised. It needs to be read in light of the strong affirmation of absolutely oneness in the Old Testament. Are they right? Does the Old Testament favor Oneness Pentecostalism?
First, what is Oneness Pentecostalism? Readers of this blog will know that I have written extensively about this topic (see my series Oneness Pentecostal Heresy). Oneness Pentecostalism is a movement that adheres to neo-modalism, denying the doctrine of the trinity. They believe that God is only one person, and that person is Jesus. Jesus has simply manifested himself in different ways. Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They claim to draw this (perhaps primarily) from the Old Testament, which declares that God is one, and therefore not three.
Isaiah 44:24 – “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.”
It is worth beginning by pointing out that many Oneness Pentecostals believe that the doctrine of the trinity teaches that there are three gods. There is one sense in which we cannot blame them for that belief. We should blame their teaches who relayed this lie to them. There is another sense, though, in which they are responsible for learning truth on their own. A simple Google search will reveal that the Trinity states that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons. So, passages that declare monotheism actually go to support the first premise of the doctrine of the trinity, namely, there is only one God.
But this argument takes a more robust form when this particular verse is used. The Oneness Pentecostal may grant that the doctrine of the trinity states that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons. At this juncture, they may read Isaiah 44:24 and ask, “Who is speaking?” If one person of the trinity is speaking, then it would follow that the other two persons were not involved in creation. It does seem, though, that there is only one person speaking. To say, “I am the LORD” is to use a singular, personal pronoun. Therefore, they will suggest that there was only one person speaking, and this seems to falsify the doctrine of the trinity.
There are a few things that we may say in response to this. First, consider the scope of this passage. God is responding to the influence of Paganism; the doctrine that there are multiple gods who had a hand in creation. He is saying that he alone created the universe. The doctrine of the trinity is simply not in view. To use it as a falsification of the trinity is to overreach the boundaries of this passage. Second, since the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all truly God, any of them could rightly say, “I alone am God.” There is a sense in which they are all in each other. In John 14:11, Jesus said, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” In summary, then, whoever is speaking here has a specific scope in mind. He is referring to the being of God over and against Pagan mythology which asserts that there are other gods. That says nothing about the trinitarian doctrine that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons.
Genesis 19:24 – “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven.”
The early chapters of the book of Genesis chronicle the birth of the Jewish nation, and in particular, the father of the nation, Abraham. Throughout his journey, he hears of a great city several times, and in fact, Lot (one of his kinsmen) and his wife wanted to establish a life for themselves there. But they were evil people who engaged in every manner of sexual crime. So when God approached Abraham in Genesis 18, he told him that he was going to judge them. In Genesis 19:24, we see that judgment take place. God rained brimstone and fire on the wicked city.
However, there is something remarkable about verse 24. In verse 24, there seem to be two YHWHs (the name of God, replaced by LORD in most translations). There is the YHWH on earth, who was standing before Abraham, and the YHWH who was in Heaven, sending fire and brimstone down onto the earth. Of course, Oneness Pentecostals could conjure up an interpretation of this passage. They might say that God manifested himself in different ways (he is omnipresent, after all). But the question is, what good reasons are there to think that? It seems far more plausible and natural to read the text as portraying two YHWHs, because there are two YHWHs right there. The trinitarian model seems to make more sense of this passage than the Oneness Pentecostal model.
The Angel of The Lord
The concept of two YHWHs does not exclusively appear in Genesis 19:24. It appears in this divine figure known as the Angel of the Lord. One might be inclined to think that since his title is “Angel” that he is a created being and not God. However, throughout the Old Testament, the term angel can sometimes refer to the office or the function rather than the ontology. In short, God is sometimes referred to as “the angel of the Lord.”
Perhaps the most obvious example is in Exodus 3, when the Burning Bush appeared to Moses. In verse 2, the text explicitly says that the angel of the Lord appeared appeared to him. Yet this is one of the most central appearances of God in the Bible, where God’s very name, YHWH, was revealed. Further, in Genesis 48:16, Jacob refers to the angel of the Lord as God. In Genesis 16:10, it is the angel of the Lord who will increase the descendants of Abraham. In Joshua 5:13-15, Joshua bows down and worships the angel of the Lord. A strong case can be made that the angel of the Lord is the Lord himself. It may also be said that when the article “the” precedes the angel of the Lord, it is referring to God himself. When “an angel of the Lord” appears, he never behaves like God, receives worship, or claims to be God. But when “the” angel of the Lord is present, then the Lord is present.
What does this mean? Could it just be that “the angel of the Lord” is just one more manifestation of the unipersonal God? I think that there are good reasons to think that is not the case. In Zechariah 1:12, the angel of the Lord spoke with the Lord. He said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?” Similarly, in Exodus 23:20, God sends the angel of the Lord and commands the Israelites to obey him, giving the angel his name. Since God shares his glory with no one, we may posit that the trinitarian model outstrips the Oneness model on this count.
Seeing The Face of God
According to Exodus 33:20, nobody can see the face of God and live. Since God is unipersonal on Oneness Pentecostalism, there is only one face to be seen, and if you see the face of God, you will not live. This is echoed again in John 1:18. In resolving this problem, John tells us that “the only begotten God, who is at the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.” We can see the face of the Son, and live, but we cannot see the face of the Father and live. Since the Son is the perfect representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3, John 14:9), it is sufficient for us to see the Son and recognize that we have seen the face of God. However, Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Son is a characteristic of the Incarnation. Before the Incarnation, Jesus was the Father. So it might be said that before the Incarnation, one cannot see the face of Jesus Christ and live.
With that in mind, it seems difficult to reconcile the passages in which prophets do see the face of God and live. In Genesis 32:30, after “wrestling with God,” Jacob said that he has seen the face of God. Moses saw the face of God in Exodus 33:11. The prophet Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord in Isaiah 6. In John 12:41, John specifically identifies the one he saw on the throne as Jesus. How did he see the glory of Jesus and live, if anyone who sees the glory of Jesus will not live? It seems that the trinitarian interpretation is more plausible than the Oneness interpretation, for we can say that anybody who sees the face of the Father will die, but we can behold the glory of the Son.
The Son of Man and The Ancient of Days
People often think that when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, he was merely referring to his humanity. When he referred to himself as the Son of God, he was referring to his deity. This is a bit too simplistic of a reading of the New Testament, but it does seem to lend credence to the Oneness position. They will suggest that when Jesus was speaking as a human, he was the Son, and when he was speaking as God, he was speaking as the Father. But when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, he was referring to Daniel 7, in which the prophet Daniel had a vision of the eschatological figure known as the Son of Man.
For the sake of argument, I will not mount a case that the Son of Man was God. Since Oneness Pentecostals believe that Jesus was God, I will take it as an assumption that the one who received worship from all people and shared in the glory of God was God himself. What is significant about this passage is that the Son of Man is not the only divine figure in the vision. In Daniel 7:9-10, there is also the Ancient of Days, who is clearly depicted as God. There are two persons who are God and yet they are distinct from one another.
But there are always ways to reinterpret the text. In his book The Oneness of God, David K. Bernard made the interesting observation that in Revelation 1, Jesus is depicted with many of the same characteristics of the Ancient of Days. From this, we may conclude that Jesus is the Ancient of Days. Although, Bernard’s case seems to be overstated. Jesus had several characteristics that the Ancient of Days did not, such as eyes of fire, bronze feet, a voice like the sound of many waters, a seven-pointed star in his hand, a two-edged sword in his mouth, and his face shining with the strength of the sun. In fact, the only characteristic that they shared was wool hair. But suppose for a moment that Jesus had identical characteristics. That would still not establish that Jesus was the Ancient of Days. It would only establish that Jesus is the the exact representation of the Father. They share the same essence. They are both equally God. So, I think that Daniel 7 is plausibly a trinitarian text, given that there are two figures who are both God.
Why Didn’t The Jews Ever Believe This?
There are many more passages that we could have analyzed. The Oneness Pentecostal might point out that the Jews never believed in the trinity on the basis of those texts. Well, the first point that I want to make is that this is not necessarily true. There were Jews who believed that there are two powers in Heaven on the basis of the texts that I have pointed to. The orthodox Jewish scholar Dr. Daniel Boyarin argued on pages 89-11 of his book Border Lines that orthodox Jews regarded the “two powers in Heaven” as heresy only after the Christian concept of the trinity was popularized. It was a response to Christianity. But there were many Jews who believe in something like the trinity.
But let’s concede the point for the sake of argument. Let’s suppose for a moment that no Jew, at any time in history, ever believed that there were two powers in Heaven. Would that be sufficient to deny what these texts are saying? I should not think so. People often have their traditions so thoroughly ingrained in them that they find it difficult to think objectively. The Jews did not believe in the Suffering Servant. They did not think that the Messiah would be crucified and murdered. We have texts, such as Isaiah 53, which seem to clearly indicate that. Why did they not think that? Is the fact that they did not think that a basis for reinterpreting Isaiah 53? If you are going to be consistent, that would have to be your position.
Does The Old Testament Favor Oneness Pentecostalism Over The Trinity?
With all of this mind, I hope it has become clear that even if you start with the Old Testament and interpret the New Testament in light of it, you will still come away with the idea that there are two powers in Heaven. Although, I do not know why anyone would start with the Old Testament. The New Testament provides a wider revelation. There is more data. The Incarnation has happened. Go to the New Testament and you will see the deep relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. You will see the Son sending the Holy Spirit. It is through the lens of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that we can interpret the Old Testament.
Oneness Pentecostals are vehement anti-trinitarians who commonly maintain that the doctrine of the trinity states that there are three gods. Of course, this is a mischaracterization. If an individual believes that there are three gods, then they have, in effect, denied the doctrine of the trinity. The doctrine of the trinity states that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons. So, what is Oneness Pentecostalism? While they may be anti-trinitarians, they are committed to the truth that Jesus is God. They accomplish this by adhering to modalism, more commonly referred to as oneness theology. Oneness theology is the doctrine that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons. They are manifestations that one God takes on, sometimes simultaneously. What arguments do they use to support this proposition? In this article, I will be answering a few common Oneness Pentecostal arguments.
The reason that I am doing that is because Oneness Pentecostalism is often not understood by trinitarian Christians. They do not know how to deal with the texts that are often cited. If you are interested in learning, I recommend you view my series Oneness Pentecostal Heresy. But I thought that it would be useful to assimilate many of the arguments into one post so that you may have a quick reference. But for a deeper understanding, please view my other posts on this important subject.
Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”
If you were to ask a Oneness Pentecostal to provide a proof-text for Oneness Theology, it is very likely that first passage that you will hear is Deuteronomy 6:4, which is Israel’s shema, essentially the thesis statement on the paper of the Jews. They could also cite many of the various declarations of monotheism throughout the Old Testament, thus establishing that there is only one God. In doing so, they will think that they have mounted a proper argument against trinitarian theology because they believe that the doctrine of the trinity states that there are three gods. This argument can be deflected simply by explaining that the trinity is strictly monotheistic, claiming that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons.
However, some advocates of Oneness Pentecostalism have responded to this point. In many debates and particularly in his book The Oneness of God, Dr. David K. Bernard argued that the declarations in the Old Testament are so powerful that they dismiss any conception of plurality within the Godhead. But what good reasons are there to think that? In the book of Isaiah, he was targeting polytheists; pagan idolaters. There is not a single case in which the prophets repudiated anything like the doctrine of the trinity, nor is there any case in which rebellious Israel believed it and convoked the wrath of God. It is noticeably absent. Therefore, we may conclude that Deuteronomy 6:4 and the multiple proof-texts for monotheism do not represent a good argument against the trinity.
Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 – “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 28:19 includes the marching orders for Christians. It is our duty to go into the world, preach the gospel to all nations, make disciples, and baptize those disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is from where most Christians derive their baptismal formula, actually reciting the words, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” However, Oneness Pentecostals think that in reciting those words, they are not obeying the command. This is because in Acts 2:38, we see a manifestation of this command. When Peter obeyed the command of Matthew 28:19, he recited the words, “In the name of Jesus.” From this cross-reference, it will follow that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus.
There are three problems with this worth pointing out. First, there are no good reasons to think that obedience to this command necessarily entails that those words are recited. One could be baptized in the name of Jesus without actually reciting the words “In the name of Jesus.” For the Oneness Pentecostal to read a deep concern of baptismal formulas into the text is to retroject their situation onto the apostles. Further, the idiom “in the name of” does not always refer to a reciting of the name. It is an idiom for authority, like if I say “in the name of the king.” This is firmly established in Acts 4:4, which reads, “By what power or what name did you do this?” Power and name are parallel. So there are good reasons to think that the disciples were not concerned with the words that were recited but with the power and authority of the Trinity.
Second, it may be said that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is YHWH. There is one God who is eternally present in three persons, and his name is YHWH. It may be that is the name under which we are baptized. Third, it may be that Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the one name under which we are baptized. In Isaiah 9:6, the text says, “His name shall be mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, wonderful counselor.” This is his name, despite that Oneness Pentecostals would identify them as titles. It may also be that Father, Son, and Spirit is the name by which we know God.
John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.”
This is an important text for Oneness Pentecostals because it seems to use parlance that they are familiar with. Just as they often say that God is one, Jesus also says that he and the Father are one. They take this to indicate that Jesus is the Father. However, this seems to be far too simplistic of a reading. After all, he did not say, “I am the Father,” in this verse. He said that he and the Father are one. If he and the Father are one, does that necessarily mean that he is the Father?
The question that we need to ask is one what? Trinitarians could easily affirm that they are one God, they share the same essence. They are one in being but distinct in person. Though, this would also be too simplistic of a reading. After all, in John 17:11, the text says that the disciples are one in the same way that Jesus and the Father are one. Unless you are going to say that Jesus only had one disciple, I do not think this can be used as a proof-text for Oneness theology. What does it mean, then? Is this even a good argument that Jesus was God? Well, I think so. Jesus was claiming absolute unity with the Father. He was making claims that no mere human could make. His will is one with the will of the Father.
John 14:18: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.”
Since Oneness Pentecostalism maintains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all different manifestations of the same person, it follows that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. The name of the Holy Spirit is Jesus. This seems to draw support from John 14:18. In speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells them, “I will come to you.” Is this not a clear identification of the Holy Spirit with himself?
Well, this would be to ignore all of the prepositions of this passage. It would be to cherry-pick the verse that fits into one’s doctrine. Throughout the passage, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of someone else. He says in verse 14 that he will ask the Father, and the Father will send the Holy Spirit. If Oneness Pentecostalism is true, how do we avoid the absurd image of Jesus asking himself permission and then sending himself? In verse 17, he refers to the Holy Spirit as “he” and “him.” Is it really coherent to think that in the next verse, he would refer to the Holy Spirit as himself? How is that clear at all? How would anybody understand what he is saying?
So what does this verse mean? Well, in verse 18, Jesus is talking about the resurrection. That is why he went on to say in verses 19 and 20, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” When they see Jesus raised from the dead, they will realize that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. They will see that because he lives (he was raised from the dead), they too will live (be raised from the dead). This is far, far more plausible than thinking that Jesus switched between “him” and “I.”
John 14:9: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
During the Last Supper, the disciples were distraught. They had come to love their Messiah over the years. Phillip asked him, “Show us the Father, Lord, and it will be enough for us.” Jesus replied that Phillip should not need to ask this question, because, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Oneness Pentecostals will argue that Jesus was saying that he is the Father. How can they ask him to “Show us the Father” when he is the Father? However, like John 10:30, this verse also does not record Jesus as saying, “I am the Father.” It merely says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” What is the best way to understand this verse?
In John 1:18, John wrote, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus is the only begotten God and he is at the Father’s side, and he explains him. What does it mean that Jesus explains the Father? As Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” If we want to know who God is, then we need to look to Jesus Christ. Jesus is a perfect representation of the person of the Father. It is enough for the disciples to see Jesus because they share a divine essence. Jesus and the Father are both God. While this is not a good argument that Jesus is the Father, it is a good argument that Jesus is God.
John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Now I will switch gears from Oneness to their view of water baptism. If you were to join a Oneness Pentecostal church, what would your experience be? Well, first, you need to be baptized with the baptismal formula, “In the name of Jesus.” They will re-baptize you if you were baptized “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Second, you will need to “receive the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues.” Both of these are essential ingredients to salvation. Oneness Pentecostals will point to John 3:5 as evidence of that. After all, it says that one must be born of water and Spirit. This is clearly a reference to baptism in water and baptism of the Spirit, right?
Well, there are a number of reasons that I think that interpretation is implausible. John 3:5 does not explicitly say that one must be water baptized before entering the kingdom. It says that one must be “born of water.” But what does it mean to be born of water? In John 4:14, talking to the woman at the well, Jesus said, “…the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In John 7:38, Jesus referred to “Rivers of living water.” This is a theme throughout the book of John. It does not seem at all implausible that Jesus was referring to living water in John 3:5.
Further, the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus should not be overlooked. John 3:5 should not be read in a vacuum. Read the entire account. Nicodemus was perplexed by what Jesus said to him. He had never heard anything of being born of water. Jesus asked in verse 11, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” Nicodemus should have understood as the teacher of Israel. His knowledge of living water from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 2:13, Isaiah 12:3, 58:11, etc) should have informed him. But if Jesus expected him to understand his reference to living water, it follows that he was not teaching the doctrine that water baptism is necessary for salvation. That specific doctrine was foreign to the Old Testament.
Mark 16:17: “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name… they will speak with new tongues…”
Recall what I said regarding what Oneness Pentecostals believe about being born again. When somebody is born again, they will show the evidence of speaking with new tongues. If they do not do that, then they are probably not saved. One of the key verses to which they will appeal is Mark 16:17, which tells us that those who have believed will speak in tongues. Does this not seem to vindicate Oneness theology? Well, first, most Christians will point out that this verse is part of the long ending of Mark, and therefore it is not Scripture. If we were in the Court of Law, it would be dismissed as evidence. However, the Oneness Pentecostal could grant that it is not really Scripture. But they would simply amend their argument by saying, “But this is clearly what early Christians believed because it is here.” So I am willing to grant the long ending of Mark for the same of argument.
Does the long ending of Mark vindicate the Oneness Pentecostal position about speaking in tongues? I do not think so. Speaking in tongues is listed among several other practices, including casting out demons, resisting a snake bite and healing the sick. There is no grammatical way to disconnect tongues from the rest of the elements of that list. So, if you are going to mount an argument on the basis of Mark 16:17 for the necessity of tongues, you would have to mount an argument for the necessity of resisting a snake bite. Why is snake-handling not a criteria for salvation? Why is drinking poison not a criteria for salvation? How can you use Mark 16:17 to establish tongues as a criteria for salvation without using an absolute double-standard?
The Pattern In The Book of Acts Establishes Our Doctrine
Oneness Pentecostals brand themselves “apostolic.” They will suggest that they are following the model of the earliest apostles. Every time somebody is saved throughout the book of Acts, we will see them speaking in tongues. They are just continuing that long tradition. However, there are only a few places throughout the book of Acts wherein people speak in tongues. They are Acts 2:4, 10:44-46, and 19:6. Significantly, there are two instances in which that pattern is broken. In Acts 4:31 and 8:17, people are filled with the Spirit and tongues are simply not mentioned.
Now, I recognize that this may be vulnerable to the counter-strike that the author simply did not record them speaking in tongues, but they probably still did. That may be the case. But that is not quite the point of the argument that I am making. If you are going to claim that there is a pattern in the book of Acts wherein everybody who is filled with the Spirit also speaks in tongues, you have a problem, because that pattern is broken on two occasions. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. The Oneness Pentecostal is making the claim that everybody who was filled with the Spirit also spoke in tongues. But that position seems untenable.
There Are Different Kinds of Tongues
When we hear a Oneness Pentecostal claiming that everybody speaks in tongues throughout the Bible, we immediately go to 1 Corinthians 12:29-31, for Paul recognizes that not everybody possesses all of the spiritual gifts, and tongues are listed among them. In response, Oneness Pentecostals will tell us that there are different kinds of tongues. There are tongues for edification (this one is necessary for salvation) and the gift of tongues (this one is not necessary for salvation). Paul was referring to the latter, not the former. Is that the case?
First, that seems to be an ad hoc measure to circumvent the meaning of the text. This interpretation is not an attempt to understand the text. It is an attempt to get around what the text is saying so that their doctrine will prevail. Second, in 1 Corinthians 14:4-5, Paul speaks about tongues for edification. His insight is edifying. In verse 4, he writes that the person who speaks in tongues edifies himself. So, he establishes that he is speaking of tongues for edification. But in verse 5, he says that he wishes everybody spoke in tongues, indicating that everybody does not speak in tongues. This seems to disconfirm the idea that all believers speak in tongues.
Third, how could we recognize tongues for edification as opposed to the gift of tongues? Imagine that you heard two people speaking in tongues. One possessed the gift of tongues and the other possessed tongues for edification. How would you be able to tell the difference? Is there any practical difference at all? Further, how do you know that you do not merely possess the gift of tongues? How do you know that your family members or your friends do not merely possess the gift of tongues? How can tongues function as the sign of salvation if you do not even know the difference between tongues for edification and the gift of tongues?
Answering A Few Common Oneness Pentecostal Arguments
Why did I do this? Well, Oneness Pentecostalism has a lot of subtleties. There are some who are trained very well in Oneness theology and know how to maneuver through the various arguments and counter-arguments. Many trinitarians, unfortunately, have never heard of these arguments before. So I want to provide a resource for understanding Oneness Pentecostalism, some of the arguments that they will use and how to respond to them. I also recommend that you read the series that I linked to at the beginning of this article.
Is there an argument that you would like to see addressed? Leave a comment.
Men such as Dr. Frank Turek and Dr. William Lane Craig were integral to my coming to believe in Christ. Like many others, I can say that my faith would not be what it is today had I not been exposed to the evidence for the existence of God. Christian apologetics is one of the most important endeavors for the modern Christian. Secular professors actively make an effort to uproot the faith. Atheists present themselves as the intelligensia. Men such as Dr. Craig stand as a representation of the fact that it is possible to have reasonable faith. However, after much reflection, I have come to recognize some of the shortcomings of Christian apologetics.
That is not to say that apologetics should be abandoned as a result of these shortcomings. It is to say that it should be refined. Many apologists have significant blindspots because of the way they practice Christian apologetics. If we are going to provide a defense of the Christian faith, it is not sufficient to only provide positive arguments. While these are certainly good arguments, we also need to be prepared to delineate the nuances of Christian theology.
Understand What You Believe
There are two integral aspects to conducting Christian apologetics. First, we have to understand what we believe. Second, we need to be able to understand why we believe it. Many Christian apologists have become so focused on the latter that they have completely overlooked the former. Apologetics ministries are often dedicated to defending doctrines such as “Jesus rose from the dead,” or “God exists” that they overlook other critical points of the faith, such as justification by faith alone, substitutionary atonement, providence, anthropology, et cetera.
Some apologists have even criticized this blog because I often engage in theological discourse, defending the doctrines of grace over and against my Arminian brethren. The reason that I do that is because as a Christian apologist, I am in the business of defending and explaining Christianity. That is not to say that Arminians are not Christians. But it is to say that apologetics is about providing a rational framework for understanding the Christian faith.
The Incoherency Objections
Christian apologists are very good at defending the existence of God. They could recite the Kalam Cosmological Argument and defend the premises against the standard ‘God of the Gaps’ and ‘Who Created God?’ nonsense with little effort. But many of the objections to Christianity are deeper than that. Many people will charge the Christian faith with incoherency. Suppose you were to encounter an atheist who did not believe that the Incarnation of Jesus was a rational concept. They said that God was a necessary being, and a human was a contingent being. Suppose again that they were to raise philosophical objections to the doctrine of Original Sin, the death of Christ for our sins, or how God could be sovereign if man is truly free. Would you be able to answer these questions? Is it not necessary to be able to defend these precepts?
You might think that some of these are side issues and you are more concerned with establishing that Christianity is true. But for example, a powerful enough of an objection to the coherence of the incarnation could drastically reduce the probability of the resurrection from a historical perspective. If the atheist is mounting an argument that Christianity is not true because it is incoherent, as apologists, we need to be able to deal with those objections. If you are interested in further reading about the coherence of the incarnation, I recommend The Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Norris.
This should also illuminate the point that I made about Calvinism (and determinism, by extension). As a Calvinist, I am not convinced that Arminian models of providence are truly coherent. A non-believer might be able to raise a robust objection to the Arminian models of providence (though admittedly, the atheists who are concerned or know about that will be few and far between). I defend Calvinism and determinism because  I believe that they are true and  I want to provide as coherent of a model as possible with minimal defeasibility.
The Reliability of The New Testament
Of course, the reliability of Scripture is an area of which many apologists are familiar. It comes into the spotlight more often than objections to the incarnation or objections to divine providence. However, the manner in which it often comes into the spotlight is when the apologist is saying what they are not defending. They are not defending and have no need of defending the reliability of Scripture. They only need to defend the proposition that a few gems of history can be derived from the New Testament. Now, I am not charging the classical apologist with impiety, as I pointed out in my article Is The Minimal Facts Argument Impious?
Instead I am pointing out that the Scripture is central to the Christian faith. From where do we derive all of our doctrine? What is the foundation for our belief? It is obviously the Bible. So, there are two important questions that we need to be able to defend. First, how do you know that the New Testament is generally reliable, in a historical sense? Second, how do you know that the Bible is God’s word? Some will respond to that first question by suggesting that it is not reliable because it is just theological musing, and we have copies of copies of copies, and that they were written decades after the events that they record. These objections are probably softballs for the average apologist.
But what about that second question? How can we defend the proposition, “The Bible is the word of God”? I am afraid that the unwillingness to defend this proposition is why many Calvinists (especially those inclined toward presuppositionalism) have become disillusioned with classical apologists. It is not as though belief in the Bible is something that we can take or leave, that we would expect orthodoxy to emerge in a Christian sect that did not use the Bible. I think that this fundamental and central aspect of the Christian faith has been overlooked. (Note: I tried to answer this question in my article How Do You Know That The Bible Is God’s Word?)
Can We Reduce Christianity To ‘Mere Christianity’?
What is ‘Mere Christianity’? In apologetic discourse, it is a reference to the common unity that all believers in Christ have on the basis of their affirmations of the essential elements of the faith, including the trinity, the resurrection, et cetera. There is a sense in which I can be sympathetic to this form of apologetics. When we are providing a defense of the Christian faith, it might not be necessary to defend all of the theological corollaries. I do not need to take a stance of baptism (paedo/credo) in a discussion with an atheist. But think for a moment about what the point of providing an apologetic is. We are actively trying to lead people to Christ. Therefore, our apologetic should be gospel-oriented.
This leads to the question, what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and now offers the free gift of eternal life. What are the theological corollaries of the gospel? I would argue that election is one of them (again, not to say that Arminianism lacks the gospel). If I were to defend ‘Mere Christianity,’ defending only the essential elements of the faith, the question that I would ask is whether the gospel is an essential element of the faith. If it is, then it follows that I should orient my apologetics to the gospel.
What do I mean? Well, if I am defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I would want to emphasize that I am not defending a bare theism, stripped of Christian implications. I am defending Genesis 1:1, that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The God who created the universe is the God who raised Jesus from the dead and offers eternal life. Consequently, I do not know that it would be appropriate to provide an apologetic that does not have the gospel inextricably linked.
Engaging With Other World Religions
Different people come from different backgrounds. Contrary to the experience that apologists may have on the Internet, it is highly unlikely that you run into an atheist in the real world. You are more likely to run into someone who identifies as a witch. Suppose you were to run into a witch. Do you know what they would say? If you are firmly grounded in Christian theology, you will be able to provide a coherent defense of the faith that highlights the gospel no matter what they say. But a defense of an argument for the existence of God will obviously not suffice, because many people of other world religions already believe in a Creator.
I suspect that you might think that the resurrection is an argument for Christianity, and that is really all that you need. There is a sense in which that is true and a sense in which it is not. Some people might be inclined to ask, “How can I fit the resurrection of Jesus into my theology without committing myself to becoming a Christian?” If you think that nobody would do that, then you have never met a pluralist. The ability to explain why they could not do that does not derive from the historical argument for the resurrection. It derives from a sound understanding of Christian theology.
Why Does All of This Matter?
Before ascending to the Father, Jesus gave what we know today as the Great Commission. He said in Matthew 28:19 that it is our duty to preach the gospel to all of creation, making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you spend most of your time talking with non-believers on the Internet, then perhaps you are not very familiar with some of the potential objections that I have raised or they seem foreign to you. But I think that if you are serious about Christian apologetics, you will apply the advice that I have given here and recognize that theology matters.
“But I Am Not Like That!”
I sincerely hope that in writing this, I did not offend anybody. I am not writing to tell you that you are wrong or that William Lane Craig is wrong. I am not a red-eyed “discernment” blogger who is concerned with bashing other Christians or putting people down. I am writing this because in my experience, many Christian apologists are very capable of defending the existence of God, but not capable of defending the coherence of the Christian faith because they are not theologically minded. That is not to say that you are not saved or that you are being impious. It is to say that these are often regarded as distinct categories when they should not be.
Of course, you may be thinking “I am not like that, and nobody who I know is.” If that is the case, then that is great. But I have spoken with a lot of apologists and I think that it stands true for many of us. If nothing else, perhaps this article will serve as a helpful reminder for those of you who are already thoroughly engaged in theological apologetics. Beyond that, perhaps it will encourage you to help other apologists to expand their defense of the Christian faith.
People leave the Christian faith because they found some deficiency in Christianity that could not be reconciled. Nobody had any good answers to their questions and this led them to conclude that there were no good answers. The Sunday School lessons are shallow, and the only method of providing any defense of the precepts of the church that they have ever encountered is to be told to “have faith.” So, they become atheists. As atheists, they assume that Christianity is pervasively as shallow as they have experienced. Nobody has any answers, and everybody is going around merely telling them to “have faith.” But atheists may be taken aback when they encounter Christian apologists, who are products of the long-standing intellectual history of the church. I would like to help by explaining how to win a debate with the Christian apologist nextdoor.
I will be constructing my advice based on popular atheist answers to questions, including memes and quotes that have committed themselves to the atheist blogosphere and are often represented in dialogue with non-believers. If you want to provide as robust of a critique of Christian apologetics, ensure that you follow in the footsteps of your fellow atheists by taking my advice.
Mock Them And Ridicule Them
Unfortunately, Christian apologists tend to think that they deserve equal respect. They think that both parties should engage in dialogue in a civil and respectful manner. If a Roman Catholic approaches you and tells you that they believe in transubstantiation, wherein the elements of the Mass transform into the body and blood of Jesus, they will think that they can state their belief without enduring mockery. Similarly, if a Calvinist tells you that God has foreordained all things to pass, they somehow expect that you will assess their views in a respectful manner. Do not fall for the convention that we are all too polite to talk about it. Mock them and ridicule them in public.
What does this accomplish? Well, as you enter into this conversation, the apologist will quickly realize that you have the upper-hand. You have ascended to a height of staggering intellect that they could never even fathom. If they were as wise you, they would be an atheist. They will come to realize this as you shower insults on them as the conversation is beginning, and quite frankly, throughout the course of the conversation. Tell them how deluded they are, how they have been suckered, and how they will believe anything that they are told. After all, how could you accept the arguments of somebody as deluded as they are?
Do Not Bother Engaging With Scholarship
Sometimes Christian apologists will summarize arguments and tell you that there are various nuances to this argument that should not be overlooked. They will suggest that you engage with the most rigorous scholarship available and respond to that. Do not listen to them. They are just trying to win a debate with prestigious jargon. If they mount an argument, just say the first thing that comes to mind. If they tell you that you are overlooking a careful and important nuance, then they are clearly not wise enough to understand your response. When they recommend that you read a robust treatment of an argument, dismiss it out of hand.
Let them know that their so-called scholar is truly a hack, has no insight or anything at all to contribute, and he is just as deluded as you are. This is one possibility. Another that you could point out to them is that this scholar is probably just trying to sell books. He is pulling the wool over the apologist’s eyes, trying to fool them into believing an argument so that they will accept the Christian faith, give them money for their books and help them to rise to fame. These responses should be sufficient and allow you to circumvent the challenge to read a robust treatment of an article.
Summarize Their Argument In An Uncharitable Way
If the apologist sends you a 2000 word blogpost that carefully outlines a theodicy (an explanation of why there is evil and suffering in the world), do not let yourself be taken in by big words and philosophical constructions. Just summarize their argument for them, and then attack your summary of the argument. Tell them, “Ah, so you are just saying that God is mysterious. Nothing new here.” Similarly, if they tell you that “God created the universe,” say, “Oh, so magic created the universe? You believe in magic, you idiot?” If they tell you that Jesus died for your sins to satisfy the wrath of God, tell them, “I see. So God died to save you from himself?”
Almost any proposition can be summarized in a way that is far more defeasible than the original proposition. You could even take that very proposition (the first sentence of this paragraph) and summarize it by saying, “Ah, so no statement has any meaning?” It is very easy to do. When you apply this tactic in discourse with Christian apologists, they will quickly realize how foolish their statement was. If you let them summarize their position in their own words, then they will think that they could be capable of having an intelligent conversation, which is unthinkable. They are religious, after all.
The Power of The Original Thesis
Sometimes Christian apologists will offer responses to the things that you say. But just as you should not let them summarize their own position, you should also not give them the courtesy of allowing them to provide a rebuttal of your argument. When you present your original thesis, the apologist needs to know that it is so formidable that all rebuttals are wrong by default. You do not even need to engage with the rebuttal, really. After they present their rebuttal, all you really need to do is to restate your original thesis in different words. If they suggest that they already rebutted your original thesis, say something to the effect of, “Ah, so you have no response?” The conversation should go something like this:
You: Original thesis
Dumb Apologist: Rebuttal
You: Restatement of original thesis in different words
Dumb Apologist: Points out that they responded to that.
You: Ask if they have no answers.
Dumb Apologist: Points out that they already provided one
You: Claim victory
Claiming victory after a conversation with an apologist is an integral feature of the interaction. After all, how else will they know that they have been soundly defeated in a debate with an atheist? After you have showered them with insults, summarized their position for them, restated your original thesis several times, it is probable that the apologist would back down out of fear of your intellectual fortitude. When they tell you that they are no longer interested in interacting with you, the only thing for you to do now is to claim victory. Tell them that you won the debate, that they could not provide any evidence and had no answers for your questions. Then tell your friends.
After you are finished announcing your victory, use that victory to fuel your pride for further interactions with apologists. As you defeat more and more Christians in these debates, you will come to realize that you are among the intelligensia. This boost in confidence will serve you very well in future interactions. As time progresses, you will become more insulting and care less about their insight or anything at all that they have to contribute.
Remember That They Always Have The Burden of Proof
Since becoming an atheist, you have learned some of the common parlance, such as burden of proof, which is to say that the person who is making a claim always has the burden of proof. Remember, though, as an atheist, you never have it. The Christian apologist has it by default, no matter what you say or how the conversation is proceeding. For example, if you say, “There is no God,” or “God is a myth,” or “The Bible is a book of lies,” it is the burden of the apologist to disprove those statements.
Of course, in response, the shifty apologist may suggest that all of these are claims that need to be substantiated. Ignore them. They do not know anything about the burden of proof. They are religious, remember? You are an atheist, and you understand far better than they do how these things work. After all, they probably make claims sometimes, right? They surely claim “God exists” sometimes. Demand that they carry that burden.
God of The Gaps
Sometimes the apologist will try to bear the burden of proof by presenting what they believe is evidence for the existence of God. However, remember that every time an apologist presents evidence, they are always, without failure, using God to explain a gap in their understanding of some scientific phenomenon. They are like the people who say that lightning proves the existence of God, because, what else could explain it? They will suggest that the existence of the universe and all of nature is evidence for God. But do not let them fool you. Eventually, we will find a natural explanation for all of nature. Ensure you tell them that.
I want you to be prepared for the deceptive responses that you will receive. The apologist may tell you that these arguments are syllogisms leading to the conclusion that God exists. They are based on what we do know, not on what we do not know. This is where you would employ the tactic of restating the original thesis in different words. They clearly do not understand the God of the Gaps objection. Explain it to them again, using illustrations and insults if you must. Talk to them like they are a fourth grader.
Demand To Know Who Created God
The “who created God?” objection has a variety of different uses. It could be employed as an independent argument or a counter-argument to various lines of evidence that the apologist presents. If they ask “Could something arise from absolutely nothing?” do not answer the question. Similarly, if they ask, “What is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe?” ignore the question. Instead, pose the counter-argument, “If God created everything, who created God? What is God’s explanation?” They will try to provide answers to this question, but if you raise your voice loudly enough, you will not even be able to hear those answers.
However, after raising your voice several times, it may be the case that you do not have the strength to continue doing it, so you may have to endure their answer. They may tell you something like, “If God created time (as this argument proposes), then God is the cause of time. Accordingly, he is timeless.” At this point, it would be appropriate to point out that the apologist needs to provide scientific evidence that God is timeless. Apologists hate being asked for evidence.
Just Use Philosophical Terms
Doubtless, the apologist is trying to fool you. He knows that he is trying to fool you. He just wants you to believe in God, and will go to any means necessary. Do not let him get away with it. Look up some logical fallacies and just start accusing him of them. If you think that the fallacy is appropriately applied, that is even better. But that is not necessary. Say something like, “You are engaging in a false dichotomy.” You will likely see the apologist’s mouth slightly drop and see a stale, unknowing look on his face. He does not know what a false dichotomy is. He is religious, remember?
This tactic can be quite effective in asserting your intellectual superiority and making the apologist think that there is more to these arguments than they originally thought. They will think twice before sharing their propaganda. Further, the best part of this tactic is that it does not actually require you to refute the argument. However, you are not being deceptive, because Christian apologetics are so flimsy that you can probably just assume that they are guilty of every single logical fallacy, and you may as well accuse them of any or all of them. Perhaps you could just list all of the logical fallacies that there are and say that the apologist is guilty of all of them.
How To Win A Debate With The Christian Apologist Nextdoor
It is really not very complicated. There are far more tactics for you to consider, and perhaps in the future I will post some more of them. But these should be sufficient for now and should help you to overcome the majority of the apologetic arguments that you encounter. Remember: be insulting so that they know what they are, restate your original thesis, ask “who created God?” and claim victory.
The perennial debate between believers and non-believers has often focused upon the existence of the universe. When a skeptical person asks the believer why it is that they believe in the existence of God, they will point to the sky, the ocean, the trees, and the wide variety of life. Of course, this would be a simplistic version of the intuition that they are expressing. They are expressing that everything in the universe could not have emerged from nothing. However, oddly, some atheists have suggested that it is possible for some things to emerge out of absolutely nothing. Among those things are universes. They have demanded justification for the position that things cannot come from nothing. Is it true, then? Can a universe emerge from absolutely nothing?
One can understand why they would demand justification for this premise. Many people seem to take it for granted that things do not just appear with absolutely no cause. But it would be quite convenient for the atheist if it were the case that this were a possibility. Atheism would then be able to deflect one of the seminal arguments for the existence of God. We need to be able to provide some justification for thinking that universes cannot emerge from absolutely nothing.
‘Nothing’ Has No Causal Powers
When I use the word ‘nothing,’ I mean literally, ‘no thing,’ which is to say that I am referring to the absence of something. If your co-worker was taking a day off, the boss would naturally ask, “Who is going to cover your shift?” If the coworker said, “Nobody,” the boss would be concerned. ‘Nobody’ has no causal powers. They cannot perform the function of the job because ‘nobody’ designates the absence of somebody. Similarly, if I said that “There is nothing to eat,” my stomach would be empty. If I said that there was nothing that could stop the invasion of a particular army, I would be expressing that the military force would go unchallenged. All of this goes to underline the point that ‘nothing’ has no causal powers, because it is the absence of anything at all.
So when atheists tell us that a universe could emerge from absolutely nothing, or attempt to provide accounts of how nothing could have produced the universe, they are expressing an incoherent thought. If ‘nothing’ designates the absence of anything at all, then it follows that there are no causal powers. If there are no causal powers, then it lacks the capacity to produce universes. This should be obvious to all of us. ‘Nothing’ could not produce the universe for the same reason that ‘Nobody’ could cover your shift at work.
The Quantum Vacuum
However, I am afraid that some atheists have not quite felt the force of this objection. The popularizer of science, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, has attempted to circumvent this objection by redefining what ‘nothing’ is. He will tell us that there is a difference between what a sophisticated scientist regards as nothing and what the average person regards as nothing. He suggests the quantum vacuum fits into the category of ‘nothing,’ and that universes can emerge from it. However, in doing so, he has applied several descriptions and categories to the quantum vacuum that would render it appropriate to charge him with the simple equivocal fallacy. When he describes the quantum vacuum, he often describes it as “unstable” and “complicated.”
But then the question arises: how is it that ‘nothing’ could truly be stable or unstable? How could ‘nothing’ be complicated or simple? The concept of nothing lacks these categories. It is akin to as if I said that there were no equations for me to solve, but that they were very complicated. Feeling the force of this objection, Dr. Krauss wrote in the fourth preface to his book A Universe From Nothing the question that he is answering is not a philosophical question. It is a scientific question. Accordingly, he is not truly speaking about ‘nothing’ in the philosophical sense. He is just redefining his terms so that his area of expertise comports with the debate about the existence of God.
That is why the secular physicist who possesses a doctorate in quantum mechanics, Dr. David Albert, wrote a scathing critique of Krauss’s book. He suggested that quantum fluctuations were not the emergence of something coming out of nothing. They are more like pointed fingers coming forth from a fist. He writes, “Krauss is dead wrong, and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.”
What If Universes Could Come From Nothing?
Suppose for a moment that it were true that things could appear without any cause at all. If that were the case, then our rational expectations for the universe would seem to be unjustified. It would become inexplicable why anything, and everything did not emerge without a cause at all. This point was charmingly made by Dr. William Lane Craig in his debate with Dr. Peter Slezek. He pointed out that nobody is concerned that as they are sitting in this debate, a horse may have appeared uncaused out of nothing in their living room and is currently defecating on the carpet as we speak. Yet if things do just appear, uncaused, out of absolutely nothing, then what resource do we have to deflect this belief? How could the atheist call anybody irrational for holding this belief?
Now, atheists might be inclined to suggest that only quantum particles, on the micro level, will appear, uncaused, out of nothing. Macro objects, such as horses, do not appear out of nothing. But recall what nothing is. ‘Nothing’ has no properties. There is no reason for us to expect that only quantum particles would emerge from absolutely nothing. There is no mechanism within ‘nothing’ that would discriminate against large objects in favor of smaller ones. Accordingly, if we accept the proposition that things appear, uncaused, out of nothing, we are led instantly into absurdity.
A Good Inductive Conclusion
This point may be more probabilistic than the previous points in this thread, but it is still worth nothing. Common experience indicates that things have an explanation. They do not just appear, uncaused, out of absolutely nothing. The entire project of science is predicated upon this premise. Science is the search for causes within the natural world. If we were to establish the premise that things appear without a cause, then the project of science would be wholly undermined. Scientists who searched for causes of natural phenomenon would be engaging in a fruitless endeavor. It may just be that their specimen emerged without a cause. Why does a fish have a particular gill? Perhaps it appeared, uncaused, out of nothing.
But we all recognize that this is not the nature of the world that we live in. The premise that things do not appear, uncaused, out of nothing is constantly verified, and never falsified. Our common experience is sufficient for believing in this idea. In fact, the flourishing of modern technology and the success of scientific naturalism is evidence that it is true that things do not appear without a cause. If they did, then we would live in a radically different world and a literally incoherent and unintelligible universe.
Did God Come Out of Nothing?
I am adding this section for those fans of Richard Dawkins who have managed to read this far. They will suggest that this argument is a case of special pleading. Well, first, I have not mounted an argument. I have only defended the premise that things do not emerge without a cause. Strictly speaking, an atheist could have read this article and agreed with many of my major points. However, some will boastfully comment, without reading the content, demanding to know whether God can come out of nothing. The answer is that God cannot come out of nothing. Theists do not maintain that God is a finite being who emerged at some point in time. (Granted that you could have an eternal universe just as there is an eternal God, but that is not what the evidence suggests).
So, then, who created God? Nobody created God. Within the context of cosmological arguments, we posit that God is the cause of the universe, including time. That means that he would have to be timeless. As an objection to cosmological arguments, the ‘who created God?’ question would be incoherent. You may choose to raise it as an independent question, disconnected from the argument. Then I would ask why it is that God would need a cause and ask what you mean by ‘God’. If we are adopting classical definitions of the existence of God, as found in the Bible and the great confessions of faith, then God is both eternal and metaphysically necessary. Therefore, whether this question is acting as a counter-strike to cosmological arguments or an independent argument, it expresses an incoherency.
Can A Universe Emerge From Absolutely Nothing?
If you are looking for alternative ways to define ‘nothing’ then you are engaging in some debate other than this one. Speaking of ‘nothing’ is just to speak of the absence of something. The absence of something entails the absence of causal powers. In the absence of causal powers, then it necessarily follows that neither universes, nor anything else, could emerge from nothing without a cause. However, the evidence suggests that the universe truly did emerge from nothing. So, what seems more rational: Someone created something out of nothing, or no one created something out of nothing? To ask the question is to answer it.
The doctrine of freedom of the will is a very important theme in Christian thought. For many, it is the primary method of explaining how there is evil and suffering in the world. However, many have pointed out that there are other core doctrines of the Christian faith that seem to compromise freedom of the will. How could God truly be sovereign over all of our actions if in fact we are free? How could predestination be true if man is free? Can man truly be free if divine determinism is true? Reformed thinkers recognize that freedom of the will is compatible with divine determinism. This is known as the doctrine of compatibilistic freedom, as contrasted against libertarian freedom which is the doctrine that man can make choices free from constraints, such as human nature or God’s decree.
Those who have wrestled with these issues have felt the force of this objection. It seems counter-intuitive to think that determinism could be compatible with freedom. God has ordained everything that has come to pass. There is not a movement of quantum particle or a leaf falling from a tree that does not fall under God’s jurisdiction. It would then seem that God is controlling our actions. The writing of the words on this page are controlled by God as part of his sovereign plan. But if that is the case, then how could I truly be free in writing the words on this page?
“I am lying to myself.” That is what an atheist said to Ray Comfort during a moment of clarity when brought to reflect upon his sin and his motivation. This interview occurred during Ray Comfort’s upcoming movie The Atheist Delusion. Throughout this movie, Ray exemplifies how Christian apologetics is done, appealing to what everybody knows is true via simple induction and an appeal to their conscience. Of course, as always, Ray was not satisfied that his interviewees merely accept that God exist. He stirred their conscience and led those in his audience to understand the gospel. Throughout this review of Ray Comfort’s The Atheist Delusion, I will touch on some of highlights of the movie and explain why you should watch it. (It should be noted that since the movie has not been released as of this writing, there are no criticisms to address.)
The Argument From DNA
How did the majesty of creation emerge without some sort of intelligent designer? How could that possibly have happened? This has convinced most people of the existence of God throughout the generations. However, with the advent of modern science, this debate has evolved. Atheists of old may have hypothesized that perhaps everything in the natural world arose as a result of natural processes. But they did not have a model for understanding that process, as seemingly provided in the Theory of Evolution. Ray pointed out that the advent of science has given rise to another aspect of the argument for God’s existence, namely, the DNA molecule.
In an effort to elucidate the point that he was making, Ray showed the atheists in his interview a book comparing pictures of natural structures with the structures of engineering. Then he posed the question that has confronted many thinkers throughout the ages. Could this book have occurred by chance, from nothing? The answer is that it obviously could not have. But then, argued Ray, the DNA molecule contains information, it contains a message, and as such, it could only have derived from intelligence. Just as we recognize that the words on the page of a book derived from intelligence, we also recognize that the information that is transmitted in the DNA molecule must have derived from an intelligent designer.
Of course, Ray was not willing to mount this argument without first confronting the objections. There are theories about how the DNA molecule could have evolved over time. He even played his interview with Dr. Lawrence Krauss so that this argument could be stated eloquently. But these theories about the evolution of the DNA molecule can be granted for the sake of argument. The argument is not that DNA must have been created ex nihilo (out of nothing). Rather, the argument is that DNA must have have an intelligent mind behind it. As Dr. Frank Turek pointed out, messages only come from minds.
The God of The Gaps
In one of his interviews, an atheist told Ray that people worship things because they are trying to make sense of things that they do not understand. This is best summarized in what is known as the old God of The Gaps argument. We see natural phenomenon and we do not understand it, and therefore we appeal to God to explain away our lack of understanding. One might suppose that the argument from the DNA molecule would take this form. Well, I suppose that somebody could, hypothetically, mount an argument like that. But that is not the argument that Ray was making. Ray pointed out that we are not explaining what we do not know. We are explaining what we do know.
We know that messages come from minds and that information must come from intelligence. When we look at the natural world, we see plainly that there must have been a Creator. After all, why does anything at all exist? Why are there fingerprints of design? These are inferences based on what we do know. That is not to say that scientific causes are obsolete. It is to say that there are different types of causes. There are mechanical causes and agent causes. There is thermodynamics and then there is Henry Ford. Hypothesizing about the mechanism does not eliminate the need for the agent. Asking about the scientific explanation does not eliminate the need for God.
Why Did The Atheist Say That He Was Lying To Himself?
As Ray was presenting the evidence for the existence of God to the atheists, many of them admitted that it did make sense. However, they said that they were still atheists. They were still willing to believe that the book made itself. They were willing to deny what they could plainly see to maintain their atheism. Ray’s arguments were not designed to convince individuals who truly did not believe in God. They were designed to convince people who know that God exists and were in rebellion to him. As a result of everything that they see plainly, they know that God exists. Then the question becomes, why do they deny what they can see plainly?
Ray suggested that if you accept what you see plainly, then this means that there is someone who created all of humanity, and you are responsible to him. Your life would change. You would have to align your will to that of his. If God exists, then he is the perfect standard of righteousness, such that his will needs to become our will. We need to align our beliefs about abortion, marriage, lust, pornography, lying, and blasphemy, to his beliefs. That thought repulses the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14). So it does not matter what the intellectual price-tag is. We will pay it. We will say that a book created itself, that the universe popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing, and that human beings are mere animals, responsible only to ourselves.
But when faced with the absurdity of what we believe, it becomes abundantly clear that, as this young man said, “I am lying to myself.” That is why Ray heavily emphasized throughout this movie that his interviewees should not trust their heart. The heart is wicked and deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). It will lead us astray into unrighteousness and sin and rebellion to our Creator.
The Suicidal Man
That is precisely what happened to this man who was confronted with the reality of his worldview. He told himself that he did not have a Creator, and this led him to believe, “I am no good to anybody.” He believed that he did not have any intrinsic moral worth. So Ray pleaded with him, telling him that he was made in the image of God, that it grieved him to hear that he wants to commit suicide. The man replied in utter shock, asking how it is that Ray could care at all about whether a stranger should perish. Ray replied, “I love you because I am a Christian” and he told him that he has been made in the image of God.
The absurdity of the atheistic worldview comes into full view when we realize what it does to mankind. It strips mankind of all intrinsic moral worth. How can you testify that human beings are worth anything, at all, if we arose from the blind processes of nature? But this is not an argument based on wishful thinking. It is inferred based on what we see plainly. We all recognize that human beings do have true value.
This comes into full focus when we contemplate the cross of Jesus Christ. The Creator became a man (John 1:14) and lived with no sin. Then he was murdered. On the cross, he absorbed our punishment (Romans 3:21-26). He died in our place. Our sins were nailed to the cross so that his righteousness could be given to us. Now, his death is our death and his resurrection is our resurrection. That is why Ray cares so much for the suicidal man. He wants to see him accept the promises of God, believe the gospel, and receive the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16).
It was not my fault. That is what people often say when they are confronted with a decision that they made. Perhaps a husband was so overcome with lust that he thinks he had no choice but to commit adultery. People often attempt to dodge responsibility for their actions, because if they are not in control, then they cannot be blamed. Some have argued that the doctrine of divine determinism provides a sufficient basis for avoiding any human responsibility. God has ordained everything that will come to pass, and there is nothing that caught him by surprise or was not part of his divine plan. But what about our faults, our sin, our evil? If God ordains everything, then anything that I do will have been foreordained by God. So, how can I really be responsible? Is God the author of sin on divine determinism?
In earlier blogposts such as Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True? and How Job Answers The Central Objection To Calvinism I argued that it is not the place of the creature to stand in judgment over the Creator. This should distill the intellectual objection, but it often leaves people unsatisfied because it does not directly answer the question. In this article, I will outline some of the models of reconciling human responsibility with divine determinism as expressed in Dr. Paul Helm’s book The Providence of God (pages 168-182).
First, Dr. Helm argued that God did not create a world of evil and suffering. He did not create a tooth and claw world where people were killing each other. He did not create a world in which mankind is plagued by a sinful nature. Rather, God created a world that was very good. There was no sin, and moral agents were not under the power of a sinful nature. Human beings introduced evil into the world.
This is because, as Dr. Helm argued, evil is not a thing in and of itself. Evil is the absence of goodness. To say that something is evil is to say that it departs from the standard of righteousness and holiness in God’s character. To say that something is sin is to say that the individual has violated God’s laws. It is a deformation, a depravity of the good, a lack of goodness. On this model, it can be said that God has causally upheld all states of affairs, even when they contain the evil actions of men.
But even on this model, is not God still causing evil? Well I think it can be said that there are different levels of causes. First, the human affairs and the decisions that men make cause evil actions. What does it mean, then, for God to uphold these actions without being the direct source of evil? Dr. Helm argued that God determines evil events to occur by withholding his goodness and grace, hence the agents form a morally deficient reason for some action. Accordingly, God is not the author of sin.
Throughout the ages, Christian thinkers have described God’s causal upholding of evil in terms of divine permission. God permits evil rather than actively causing it. Helm pointed out that there are different types of permission. First, there is general permission, where I permit you to use my car, but do not control your movements. There is also specific permission. Helm supposes that God ordains the necessary conditions for an agent to do something that is evil, and he permits the agent to perform the action.
The force of this argument is illuminated when we recognize that there are all sorts of evil actions in the world that God could have prevented. He is all-powerful. He could have prevented the fall of men or angels. He could prevent cruelty by annihilating an individual. In fact, we will probably never know how much evil and suffering has been prevented by God.
Divine permission has committed itself to the great intellectuals of the Christian faith throughout the ages. It was summarized well by Johnathan Edwards, who wrote, “If by author of sin is meant, the permitter, or not a hinderer of a sin, and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin if it be permitted or not hindered will infallibly follow, I do not deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase).”
If we do not have freedom of the will, then in what sense can we truly be responsible for evil and suffering? After all, we are not actually making choices. I am not choosing anything at all. I am just a puppet on a string. Well, the puppet analogy is an unfortunate one that has committed itself to Arminian rhetoric. Determinists typically do not believe that there is no free will. Rather, we argue that determinism is compatible with free will. The ability to have made a different choice is not a necessary condition for free will or for moral responsibility. Humans really do have free will and therefore they are morally responsible.
Now, it is beyond the scope of this article to mount an argument for compatibilism (I intend to write an article soon about that topic). I am only pointing out that this is our model. We believe that determinism and free will are compatible. Comparably, Arminians believe that total depravity and libertarianism are compatible. But they appeal to the doctrine of prevenient grace to reconcile these doctrines. Just as I would not say that an Arminian does not truly believe in total depravity just because there are problems with prevenient grace, so also the Arminian should not say charge the determinist with making God the author of sin. Our model necessitates that he is not the author of sin.
But I imagine that many Arminian readers are keen to object to compatibilism and argue that on divine determinism, God would have to be a puppeteer. If that were the case, then God would still not the author of sin. Puppets and robots are not moral agents. If that were the case, we would be in a grand state of self-delusion, thinking that we are making choices when in truth, we are just robotically reacting to stimuli.
Throughout the Bible, we see something of a unity between the evil actions that men will take and the sovereign plans of God. In Isaiah 10, the Assyrian army overran Israel, and they were evil in their intentions. But God brought it about, and his intentions were righteous. Similarly, when the Romans crucified Jesus, they were evil. The Jews who orchestrated the event were behaving nefariously. But God used their actions, predestining it from the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:20). This is a distinction between different levels of causality. Reformed thinkers often designate them as primary and secondary causes. This is expressed particularly succinctly in Genesis 50:20, which reads, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Within the primary and secondary causes are different motivations. When Joseph’s brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, they were being evil. But God was being righteous. This probably closely resembles the arguments that I made in the articles that I linked to at the beginning of this article, but God always has a higher, greater purpose for upholding evil in the world. He has righteous reasons and he uses the evil intentions of men.
The concept of primary and secondary causes should not be foreign to any Christian. We all recognize that God uses men to bring about events. When the apostle Paul wrote his letters, Paul was God’s instrument in communicating God’s word to the people. Even as I am writing the words on this page, they are emanating from me, but God has brought about the necessary and sufficient conditions for this state of affairs.
What If We Did Not Have Any Models?
These philosophical constructions are very helpful ways for us to think about God’s relationship with evil and seem to alleviate the charge of being the author of sin. But suppose for a moment that we did not have any models at all. We would still have two truths from Scripture:  Determinism is true and  human beings are responsible for their actions. Since Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it would be inappropriate for us to try to refute scriptural truth. We can question it and try to understand and resolve it, but we may not charge God with being the author of sin.
Is God The Author of Sin On Divine Determinism?
There do not seem to be any good reasons to think so. If you allow determinists to define their own terms, they will espouse a compatibility between free will and determinism. Similarly, they will recognize that evil is just the depravity of good. When something evil occurs, God has withheld his goodness, ordaining the sufficient and necessary conditions for some state of affairs to occur. He permits it to occur. Further, even if we did not have any of these models, it would be perfectly sufficient to throw up our hands and trust in the righteousness of God and his truth as revealed in Scripture. As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.”
Unconditional election is the doctrine that God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and passes over others. Imagine that all of the tenants of a building gambled away their rent money. They all deserved to be evicted. If the landlord evicted everybody, nobody would condemn him. He was perfectly within his rights. However, suppose that the landlord had immeasurable wealth and would not suffer any financial ruin if he were to pay for the debts of all of his tenants. Would he be under any ethical obligation to pay for their debts? Unless you supported the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, then you will probably say that he does not. It is his money to do with as he pleases. But suppose the landlord is also a very merciful man, and he wants to pay for their debt. If he paid for all of their debts, they would think that there were no consequences for their actions. So instead, he chooses to pay for only some of their debts. That is what is stated by the doctrine of unconditional election. God chooses to pay for the debts of some of his people. However, in response, some will raise the philosophical objection that when God choose individuals, his choice must be arbitrary. Is that the case? Is unconditional election a random, arbitrary election?
Some regard this as a very powerful objection to the reformed confessions of faith. There seem to be two options. The first option, stated by Arminian theology is that election is based on conditions that individuals meet (namely, their faith apart from works). But the doctrine of unconditional election states that there are no conditions. If there are no conditions, then on what basis does God choose individuals? Would it not have to be random?
The Words ‘Unconditional Election’ Can Be Misleading
Sometimes the definition of a word within the title of a doctrine can mislead people into following them to a logical conclusion. Consider the doctrine of total depravity. As Calvinists, we believe that man cannot do anything at all that is pleasing to God. He has a fallen nature and is totally depraved. But many Calvinist do not think that man is maximally evil. We hold a concept of common grace, whereby God restrains the evil hearts of men. So there may be times in which an unregenerate sinner exhibits self-sacrificial behavior solely for the good of others. But the title total depravity can mislead you into thinking otherwise. The same could be said of unconditional election.
When the reformed confessions of faith state that God’s choosing of individuals is unconditional, that is to say that God did not perceive anything worthy in and of these individuals that would lead him to choose one over the other. Of the unconditional election of the elect, the Westminster Catechism says that it was “without any foresight of faith or works in man or perseverance in either of them.” (Chap. III, art. 3,4 &5; Chap. X, art. 2). As Dr. Sam Storms put it (read this, it is very good), “There is no distinction between elect and non-elect prior to the distinction that election makes.”
Dr. Storms also went on to point out that while election is not based on anything worthy in the individual, there are still factors and there is still a foundation for God’s decision. I think that it is the firm conviction of most reformed individuals that the confessions of faith that outline the doctrine of unconditional election merely inform us that God did not find anything worthy in his elect that would separate them from the non-elect. God had reasons of which we are unaware, but those reasons did not reside in the merit or worth or virtue of any of the individuals who he chose.
But It Is Still A Condition
If the Arminian is seeking merely to win an argument about the definition of the words of the title of the doctrine, then they might point out that whatever reasons God had would in fact be a condition. But as I pointed out, that would depart from how most reformed individuals interpret the Westminster Catechism and probably how the authors of the great reformed confessions of faith intended us to interpret it (for they did not believe that God’s election was arbitrary). I would prefer to have a discussion that allows both sides to define their own terms. When we say that election is unconditional, we mean that election is not based on anything meritorious or worthy that God finds in an individual.
But Faith Is Not Meritorious Or Worthy, Is It?
Throughout the New Testament, we see a stark distinction between faith and works. Paul often tells us that we are justified by faith alone and not by the works that we perform. Ipso facto, faith is not a work. It is not something that we present to God as some sort of meritorious deed in the hope that he will reward it with eternal life. It means only that we are trusting in God’s promises, and his promises cannot fail. But, if faith is not a work, then perhaps the Arminian could rejoin that my definition of unconditional election is indistinguishable from conditional election. I have stated that God has reasons for his election that are not in the virtue of the individual. If faith is not a work, then faith could qualify as one of those reasons.
While faith is often distinguished from works in the New Testament, it is undeniable that it is still a virtuous act. It is more virtuous to have faith than to be unfaithful. It is more virtuous to trust God’s promises than to walk in rebellion to one’s Creator. The doctrine of unconditional election states that God does not choose us on the basis of anything virtuous or worthy or meritorious. Again, if the Arminian were to take this position, then they would be arguing based on the definition of words rather than based on the definition of the theological position. If the Arminian were to use this as a basis for saying that they, too, believe in unconditional election, then they would be doing nothing more than muddying the waters, using a definition of unconditional election that departs from its’ historic and normal usage.
Is ‘I Don’t Know’ Always A Bad Answer?
There are many things in this life that we do not always have the answers to. Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? We may be able to conjure up a few general theodicies. But why did this happen to me? Why did I stub my toe? Why did I get a flat tire? I want specifics! Give me an answer. Of course, there are no answers forthcoming in this life (or perhaps ever). But the fact that we do not have insight into God’s mind does not mean that we have given a poor answer. Sometimes the answer really is that we do not know because we cannot know it. God has not revealed why he chose one individual over another. He has only said that it has pleased him to save his elect.
Of course, to say that you do not know does not always function very well in the context of a debate. People want to have answers to these questions. They want to be satisfied. When the Arminian presses this point, insisting that divine election is either arbitrary or conditional, they are something like the man who is insisting upon knowing why he stubbed his toe. We do not always know what the ultimate, cosmic reasons are. It may not make for good debating and the answer may not always be satisfying. But sometimes we need to accept what God has revealed. This is the point that God made when he appeared to Job. Job replied, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (Job 40:4).
What If It Was Arbitrary?
In his article 5 Reasons To Reject Unconditional Election, Micah J. Murray pointed out that if God were to choose random people to salvation, then this would be capricious. God seems to be sending people to Hell for no reason. However, I think that this objection is misguided. If the choice of the elect were truly random, then he would be electing people to go to Heaven for no reason. People go to Hell for their sins against a holy and righteous God.
In these discussions, people tend the view the non-elect as poor, innocent bystanders who are being victimized by God’s wrath. If only they had the chance to be saved, then they would joyfully accept God’s promises. I think that this is a much more generous view of mankind than the Bible provides. Quoting the Psalms, Paul writes in Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one.” We are all like the tenants who gambled away their rent money. We are fools, haters of God and lovers of sin. Given the opportunity, the unregenerate man would always choose sin and would never choose righteousness. That is why the gospel is such a powerful message. Even when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
The building owner could randomly choose some people and cover their rent, while evicting everybody else, and this would not be capricious. He would be perfectly within his rational rights to do so. While the image of God reaching into a hat and selecting random names on a slip of paper is a caricature in the highest degree, it would not be capricious. So, even if we were to charitably grant the Arminian argument and say that God’s choice truly was arbitrary, it would not do anything to impugn the character of God or the doctrine of unconditional election.
Is Unconditional Election A Random, Arbitrary Election?
These discussions are often focused too heavily on the technical definitions of the title of the words in the doctrine. But I think that this is a mistake. When scientists tell us that there was a Big Bang, they generally do not mean that there was an explosion or an actual banging noise. It also was not very big. It was probably smaller than a grain of sand. Similarly, if a Calvinist tells you that man is totally depraved, it does not mean that man cannot do any good works at all. It means that he cannot do anything that is pleasing to God. He cannot justify himself before a holy God. The same principle can be applied to the doctrine of unconditional election.
We interpret the biblical data and the reformed confessions of faith concerning the doctrine of unconditional election to mean that God did not see anything meritorious in us that caused him to choose us. There are reasons, but we just do not know them, and that should not bother us. Accordingly, his choice was not random. But even if it were, that would not make him capricious anymore than it would make the building owner capricious for randomly selecting some of his tenants and paying their rent.
Individuals who follow this blog very closely (refreshing the pages every thirty seconds to see if there are any updates) will have noticed that I have added an addendum to a few pages. I thought that it would be prudent to notate when my views have evolved. The articles will remain available, but only for research purposes rather than as representative as my personal views. Among these posts are those articles that I have written about Molinism. Some may be pleased and others may be disappointed to learn that I have moved away from Molinist thought. However, so long as that addendum has been posted, it is prudent for me to explain why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.
What good reasons are there to think that it is true?
Molinism begins with the doctrine that God possesses middle knowledge. Most people recognize that there are different types of knowledge. There is knowledge of the past (what did happen), knowledge of the present, (what is happening) and knowledge of the future (what will happen). However, middle knowledge is often overlooked. Middle knowledge is the doctrine that God knows what would happen if the circumstances were different. If you made a wrong turn and were late to work, your boss would have chastised you. But in the actual world, you did not make a wrong turn and you were on time.
Scripture is replete with statements of counterfactuals. Paul said that if the rulers of this age had understood, then they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. In common tongue, we often think in terms of counterfactuals. If I pull out into traffic, I will cause an accident. Molinism begins with the doctrine that that God possesses middle knowledge. Unfortunately, the debate does not often get past this point. However, the determinist who does not know if they believe in middle knowledge would do well to move passed this point and temporarily concede it for the sake of argument.
How Does God Use His Middle Knowledge?
The crucial point is not in whether God possesses middle knowledge, but rather in how he uses middle knowledge. Molinism is more than the doctrine that God possesses it. It is the doctrine that God uses his knowledge of what we would do in certain situations to arrange the world. He puts us in situations in which he knows that we would freely choose to do his will. That is the crucial point that needs to be argued. There are really no good reasons to think that this model of sovereignty is true. It is something like if a man built a shed with a hammer and nails and you were trying to guess which hammer he used. But he has ten hammers. You could say, “Maybe he used this one.” Yes, perhaps he did. But what good reasons are there to think that?
Molinism As An Explanation
At this juncture, Molinists will typically suggest that Molinism is the best explanation for a wide range of phenomenon. It has more explanatory scope and power than models such as determinism. It is supposed that Molinism is the best explanation for how Scripture was inspired, how (if) evolution occurred, and most prominently, how we can best understand how God is sovereign over the free choices that men will make. After all, if both the proposition  God is sovereign and  man is free are true, then there will be situations that they seem difficult to resolve. As many determinists argue, it would have to be the case that God has gotten very lucky that he wins in the end. Molinism seems to provide a resolution to this problem. God is sovereign even over the free choices that men will make, as he places them in situations in which they freely choose to do his will. Accordingly, Molinism is the best explanation for many problems that will arise when one has free agents and a sovereign God.
However, the careful reader will have noticed that the argument from explanations only works if you accept the premise that man is free. This is not so much an explanation of why Molinism is superior to determinism. Rather, it is a preservation of the freedom of the will. It is a defensive posture, guarding against the critiques that will come from determinists. For determinism does not suffer from any of these problems. It may have internal problems of its’ own, but insofar as explanatory power and scope are concerned, it has far more than Molinism and can account for all of the data. A top-down control system can account for the inspiration of Scripture, human evolution, evil and suffering, and even human sin.
Arguments That Rely On Divine Psychology?
One of the most common objections to a top-down control system is the question of God’s motivations. Why would he do something in such a way? In A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, Kirk MacGregor writes, “But what kind of God could create a universe in which astronomically improbably mutations would repeatedly occur in the course of nature, as opposed to the special creationist’s universe where these mutations did not occur but where God repeatedly intervened to produce the same long-term effects as if they had occurred? I contend that only a God endowed with middle knowledge would be able to create such a universe.”
This (and many similar arguments) rely on what is known as divine psychology. He is making an argument that it is improbable that God would have guided evolution by natural selection because it seems to be random. Determinism is therefore not a very good explanation. But as I have pointed out, in a top-down control system, God could have created in this way. The question is ‘why did God create it in this way?’ MacGregor seems to be suggesting that he would not have. But that relies on divine psychology. He is presuming to know the mind of God. Perhaps God enjoys the creative process. Perhaps there are any number of explanations of which we are unaware. For his argument to succeed, MacGregor would need to disprove all of the possible intentions that God could have for determining these mutations. This argument bears a burden of proof that has not been (and cannot be) met.
Freedom of The Will
It might be argued that determinism is not as potent of an explanation because it does not allow for freedom of the will. Since Molinism does, it is therefore a better explanation. Of course, this argument would make the assumption that freedom of the will actually exists. We actually do have a libertarian anthropology, and Molinism can account for it. But if freedom of the will does not exist, then this would not be a merit of the Molinist position.
Many Molinists (myself included) have argued for freedom of the will on the basis of one’s intuitions. It is just something that we can plainly grasp about reality. We make decisions and we could have chosen something different. It is therefore thought to be a properly basic belief. There are two problems with this argument. First, it may be the case that we do not have an intuition of freedom. There are many times when we want to do something very badly, but our immediate desires override what we want. A man may want to lose weight, but he cannot bring himself to stave the desire for a donut. It may be that our intuitions indicate that we do not have freedom of the will.
Second, the fact that we chose A when B seemed to be a valid option does not necessarily mean that we could have chosen B. Just imagine a universe in which determinism were true. Would individuals in that universe retroactively think that they could have chosen B? That seems like a difficult assessment to make. The advocate for the intuitions argument would have to say that they would not have that intuition. But in taking that position, they would be bearing a burden of proof that seems impossible to meet. How could you possibly prove that if determinism were true, the people in the deterministic universe would not have the intuition that they could have chosen something different?
Does Molinism Even Accommodate Freedom?
Some determinists will object that Molinism does not even allow individuals to have freedom of the will. There are two arguments worth mentioning. Of course, I am not necessarily committed to either of these arguments, but they are worth considering if we are evaluating Molinism as an explanation for freedom of the will.
First, Dr. Paul Helm briefly argued in his book The Providence of God that Molinism does not allow for a libertarian anthropology. Molinism proposes that if God puts Johnson in situation X, then he will make choice B rather than choice A. But, argues Helm, if Johnson were truly free, he would be able to choose either A or B. If that were the case, then God would not actually have knowledge of what Johnson would do. He would only be able to say that he knows Johnson so intimately that he can make a calculated guess as to what he might choose. Since Molinists believe that God is omniscient, man cannot truly possess a libertarian anthropology.
Second, Dr. James White has argued on several occasions that Molinism is actually a model of micromanagement. Johnson is sort of like a wind-up doll. God is puts him into this situation, manipulating the circumstances so that he will make the choice that aligns with the divine will. But how can it be said that Johnson is truly free in a libertarian sense? The circumstances essentially define the decision that he is going to make.
Does Determinism Accommodate Freedom?
The argument from the explanatory power of Molinism requires that determinism cannot account for human freedom. However, most Calvinists believe in what is known as compatibilism. Compatibilism is the doctrine that man’s freedom is compatible with divine determinism. Man could be free even if his decisions are determined by God. Now, this seems very counter-intuitive. If God has determined what my decisions are going to be, then in what sense can I be said to be making free choices?
Well, a libertarian anthropology certainly would entail that an individual needs to be able to have two active options for a choice to truly be free. God could not determine us to take some action because if we are to be truly free, then we would need to have the option to choose something else. On the other hand, a compatibilistic account of freedom entails that one does not actually need two active options for the choice to be free.
As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy pointed out, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt used an illustration of a scientist who implants two electrodes into Johnson’s brain. One of these electrodes will compel Johnson to make a good decision (G) and the other an evil decision (E). When Johnson strays into evil, the scientist uses the G electrode to compel him to do good instead. However, if Johnson is not trying to do evil, then the G electrode is inactive. Johnson cannot truly choose E, but nonetheless, he is still freely choosing G. The same could be said of us. We are truly free even if we cannot choice to do otherwise.
Therefore it seems to me that even determinism has room for freedom, even if you choose to call it compatibilistic rather than libertarian. (I do not personally think that it makes a difference. However, I would shy away from the libertarian label only because it so often represents the Arminian position and I do not want to muddy the waters.) This disarms Molinism of the argument for a superior explanatory power. It also provides a sufficient rebuttal to the argument that God would be the author of sin, (which I examined more thoroughly here) and the argument that determinism makes it difficult to know if we are reasoning to our conclusions.
In Isaiah 10, Isaiah explained that God used the Assyrian army to bring his judgment upon his sinful people. However, the things that the Assyrian army did were evil. So, as it turns out, God punished the Assyrians for the very crimes that he determined them to commit. They had evil intentions, but God used their evil intentions for good. Similarly, in Genesis 50:20, it says that what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil, God intended for good. There are several other similar passages related to predestination.
The Molinists will usually come in at this point and say that all of these passages are consistent with Molinism. Molinism provides a good explanation of these passages. God put Joseph’s brothers in a situation in which they would freely choose to do something evil. The same could be said of the Assyrian army or virtually any text that says that God predestined something. Molinism is said to be consistent with these texts, and I generally agree with that. It certainly is consistent with them.
The problem is that this was not the intention that any of the the authors had when these books were written. Where does the text say God put them in a situation in which he would freely choose to do his will? It is literally eisegesis. It is imposing a concept onto the text that is not found there. It is the complete opposite of how other doctrines such as the trinity are found in Scripture. All of the premises of the trinity are exegeted from Scripture. The other passages are interpreted in light of that exegesis. But in the case of Molinism, there just are no passages upon which one can base their interpretation.
There are certainly passages that speak about middle knowledge and counterfactuals, but these passages are insufficient to establish the premise that God used his middle knowledge to arrange all of the affairs of the world and grant a libertarian anthropology to his creatures. To find Molinism in Scripture is to commit eisegesis. There is no way around it.
But determinism is not there either.
That is the move that Molinists will usually make. They will suggest that there are two (or more) competing interpretations of these passages. Determinism is one and Molinism is the other. There is nothing in the text to decide either way, so you have to analyze these concepts outside of the text, determine which one makes more sense and bring the victor back. The problem is that determinism is in the text. It is just plain understanding of what the text is saying. You could only draw a deterministic interpretation from Genesis 50:20 if you only have the text to go by.
Further, there are many other relevant passages that seem even more explicit. Psalm 33:10-11 reads, “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations. He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” To find anything other than determinism in this passage is the height of eisegesis.
A Molinist Could Agree
Of course, you could still be a Molinist even if you agree that it is eisegesis to find Molinism in the text. A Molinist does not necessarily need to believe that they can find it in Scripture. But you would have to be a Roman Catholic or a Jesuit. You most certainly could not be an evangelical or a Protestant. As Protestants, we believe that scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.
However, if that were the case, then you would have to work out how you interpret passages such as Genesis 50:20 or Psalm 33:10-11. Incorporating Molinism is not an option because you have agreed that it is eisegesis. The only option is for you to either live in utter inconsistency, deny the infallibility of Scripture, commit eisegesis or abandon Molinism completely.
An Arminian Resource
Molinists will often tell us that they are not Arminians. However, those who are more savvy recognize that Arminianism is a view of soteriology while Molinism is a view of providence. Accordingly, one could be both an Arminian and a Molinist, or both a Calvinist and a Molinist. However, in general, the majority of Molinists are Arminians. Molinism is almost exclusively employed as an Arminian resource to deflect the arguments of the Reformation. When it touches on soteriology, it is essentially a more philosophically informed version of Arminianism. This is not an argument against Molinism, but Calvinists who are considering Molinism (or are Molinists) should recognize what they are involved in.
Why I Have Repudiated My Posts About Molinism
Molinism may very well be a sound philosophical construction. I am not here to advocate for the Grounding Objection. As I pointed out, I think that God does have middle knowledge and that it would be unthinkable that he does not. Unfortunately, that is often where the debate takes place. Calvinists do not always know how to critique Molinism. The best way to critique Molinism is to put it on the defensive. Ask them why and how they know it is true. There are no good reasons to believe that Molinism is true. That is why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.
Does God want every individual to be saved? This is the main deterrent that will prevent people from becoming Calvinists. The idea that God is not actively trying to save every individual is difficult to bear and does not comport with contemporary wisdom regarding freedom of the will. Many people think that every individual is equally free to choose God. God is pleading with each one of us, desperately laboring in vain to win us over. This is the model that many evangelicals will endorse. They will tell us that God is knocking at the door of every heart and waiting for us to open and let him in. Is that the case? Does God want every individual to be saved?
I can sympathize with the emotional objection that people will have to this idea. But we need to make a distinction between emotional objections and intellectual objections. An emotional objection occurs when you recoil emotionally to some idea or doctrine, and your responses are fueled by the idea that it is not very nice. An intellectual objection is when you survey the potent points of the doctrine and find yourself in disagreement as the result of some shortcoming. If you have an emotional objection, recognize it and admit it to yourself. Your emotion should not control your insight or your doctrine. If it does, you might end up being a universalist or a pluralist.
Calvinism Actually Offers More Hope
While a surface understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism may lead someone to think that Calvinism offers less hope, that is not the case. The idea that God alone determines who will be saved and who remains saved offers more hope than the doctrine that God is actively trying to save all people. As Calvinists, we believe that God’s promises never fail. His plans cannot be thwarted by the will of the people. As Psalm 33:10-11 reads, “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
As of this writing, we are currently in an election year. In a normal election year, there would be a candidate for which most people would be very enthusiastic. We would believe that we can trust this individual to lead the charge in our national security and the prosperity of the nation. However, the promises of a human monarch can fail even if they have righteous intentions. We can put all of our trust in these individuals but could never have ontological certainty that their plan will not be thwarted. The things that happen might not be part of their plan and they will have to make adjustments to get the most out of anything that happens.
Does Everything Happen For A Reason?
The same could be said of God on Arminianism. God is actively trying to make the most out of things that happen, but he does not cause them to occur. When a man chooses to reject the gospel, God may try to make the most out of a bad situation, but he is not sovereign over that bad situation. There are two categories of events: bad things brought about the free choices of men and good things wrought by the counsel of God. This is in stark contrast with the model of providence that we see in Scripture. God is sovereign over everything, as even the evil decisions that men make are brought about for his righteous purposes (Isaiah 45:7). Accordingly, we know that in truth, everything happens for a reas on and we can put our trust in the God who reigns enthroned as King of the universe.
Does Everyone Deserve A Fair Chance?
Underlying but intrinsic to this objection is the idea that God owes us mercy and grace. God must want every individual to be saved because it would be wrong if he did not. Some theologians, such as Dr. Roger Olson, will go so far as to say that they would apostatize if God did not meet that criteria. By virtue of being human, God is our debtor. This is a position that even some evangelicals will take. Rather than suggesting that they deserve to go to Heaven, they will imply that they deserve a chance to go to Heaven. God must provide an opportunity for every single individual to give it the old college try. He must throw a rope.
I imagine that some Arminians may contest this idea. They may suggest that God does not owe us anything. But think about the objection for a moment (if indeed you do hold this objection). If God saves Bill and not Steve, when he could have saved Steve, has he committed a crime against Steve? If so, then you are assuming that Steve deserve something. If Steve deserves nothing, then no crime has been committed against him.
What Do We Deserve?
But that raises the question of what it means to be saved and how God brings people to Heaven. As Christians, we recognize that everybody is a sinner and deserve to go to Hell. God would be just if he created a universe in which all people were damned and without any hope. If you are going to deny this, then you need to reflect on the wages of sin and the righteousness of God. God cannot allow sin in his sight. He is too righteous and holy. As Romans 6:23 says, “The wage of sin is death.” Since all have sinned, all are deserving of death. When God saves somebody, he does so by grace. Grace is often defined as being unmerited favor. God freely saves us despite that he had no obligation to us. We do not deserve even a chance to be saved but God saves us anyway.
Just imagine a possible world in which every single person goes to Hell. God created a world of creatures who were in bondage to the will and had no hope of reconciliation. If you are an evangelical Christian, then you recognize that God could create this world and still be just and loving. After all, we are sinful creatures and God is the judge. He does not owe mercy to anybody. He does not owe a chance at mercy to anybody. But if that is a possible world, then the objections to God’s sovereignty in salvation instantly dissolve. That is close to the universe that we inhabit. The only difference is that God extends his mercy to some.
Nobody Wants A Chance To Be Saved
Further, nobody actually wants to have a fair shake in salvation. Nobody wants to come to God. People want to be dead in their sins and trespasses. They would rather enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin than to turn God in repentance and faith. As Romans 3:10-11 says, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.” Arminians will typically agree with this. But they will say that God provides prevenient grace to activate the faith center in every individual so that they can freely choose him. (I argued against this position in my article A Critique of Prevenient Grace).
But that means that God is under obligation not only to provide mercy but also to change your heart so that you will receive the mercy? That seems patently ridiculous. We are rebellious sinners and God is under no obligation to provide grace, mercy, an indeterministic universe or a changed heart. He is God and we are the creatures.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely the opposite. The gospel is that God saves those who have no hope of salvation. He sees people who are dead in their trespasses and sins and saved them independently of any obligation that he has toward us. Salvation is based on his unmerited favor and the mercy that he has on his people. We are all sinful rebels, sentenced to death. We escaped, started a fire, and we are trapped in the burning building. The King sends his Son in to save some of us and have mercy on us. There is no sense in which you could say that he owes mercy to everybody or that we all deserve a fair chance. We receive it freely, by grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
John 3:16, The World, All People
In these discussions, people often bring up passages which say that God loves the entire world, and that whosoever will come is free to come into salvation. I will only cite one because the response to all of them would essentially be the same. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The argument that is usually raised is based on the word world. Every individual is part of the world. God sent his Son for the world. Therefore, God sent his Son for every individual. This argument seems to be guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. It treats the word world in different ways in the premises of the argument.
We often do not think about the racial implications of the New Testament. In our society, it is not a very prevalent theme. We recognize that egalitarianism is the proper way to treat one another. (In fact, a historical argument might be made that this diversity is based on the precedent of ethical inclusivism set by historic Christianity. Anybody can receive to the gospel.) But wait a moment. Consider this paragraph that you are reading. I just said that “Anybody” can receive the gospel. What did I mean? Well, based on the context of the paragraph, you have discerned that I was speaking about ethnic inclusivism. All people groups may receive the gospel and be saved.
The Apostles Had The Same Concern
This was a central theme and concern of the writers of the New Testament. The Messiah had come and the kingdom of God is expanding. That infuriated many of those members of ethnic Israel. They were God’s chosen and special people. Peter himself, a champion of the faith, an apostle who holds the keys of the kingdom, fell into that ethnic exclusivism (Galatians 2:11-13). Much of what the apostles wrote in the books of the New Testament served as an apologetic for inclusivism. They emphasized very strongly that the gospel was spreading to the entire world and not just Israel.
When John tells us that God loved the world or that the all people can be saved, the context indicates that he was speaking about people groups rather than every single individual. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations and baptize them (Matthew 28:19). In the parallel passage of Mark 16:15, Jesus said to go into all of the world. The world and the nations are paralleled. Of course, we do not know who the elect are, so it is our responsibility to preach the gospel to every individual. We can declare the glory of the gospel and the power of the resurrection to every individual and that if they repent and believe, they will be saved.
Not Willing That Any Should Perish
The Society of Evangelical Arminians created a logo with the words “Not willing that any should perish.” Now, of course, this is a wonderful verse when understood in its’ context. But since it is stamped onto the logo of an Arminian group, you have to be suspicious that they are guilty of the same exegetical error as many Arminians. They have taken these verses out of context. The verses that I have in mind are 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4. Both essentially say that God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Are they understanding these properly?
The first point worth making is that this does not necessarily establish the Arminian position. God may want different things. For example, a man may want both ice cream and to lose weight. God could want every single individual to be saved, but he has a greater will in mind, namely, he wants both his mercy and justice to be on display. However, this interpretation probably would not stand up to thorough scrutiny of 2nd Peter. But as long as we are battling with one-liners (as this verse is rarely presented in its’ context) then it might be appropriate to raise that point. However, if we are going to have a serious discussion, then I should look at the context.
2nd Peter 3:9
Peter did not make that statement in a vacuum. If he did, it might be more compelling. Instead, he said it in the middle of his discourse about the Second Coming. He said that when the “last days” come, many people will mock Christians. Where is this so-called Second Coming? (verse 4). What is taking so long? Just give up. He’s not coming, you fool. Peter writes this to encourage them. There is a reason that God is taking so long. It is not long to him, because a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). God is patient. He had his reasons for taking so long.
What are those reasons? Peter provides one. He says that you do not have to worry. God is not being slow about keeping his promise (verse 9a). Instead, he is being patient toward you, because he is “…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” If this is referring to every single individual, then that makes no sense in the context.
No matter how long God waits, there will always be more people who could possibly come into repentance. God could always look forward to the next generation of potential believers and want to wait for them. You could truly say, “What is God waiting for?” That is why it makes more sense to say that God is waiting for the full number of his elect to come into repentance. They are scattered throughout the ages and the nations. He is patiently waiting for all of his people to repent, not willing that a single one of them would perish.
2nd Timothy 4:2
The context of Paul’s letter to Timothy is a little different. It might be argued that Timothy and his church were undergoing some sort of persecution or they were enduring a social injustice at the hand of a king. So, Paul says that Timothy needs to pray for the kings and those who are in authority. He writes in verses 1-2 that he needs to offer prayers for “all men,” for kings and those in authority. This is good and pleasing in God’s sight, who desires all men to be saved. Why did Paul throw in the theological insight that God desires every single individual to be saved? Isn’t that a little odd? It makes more exegetical sense to say that Paul is using the term “all men” in verse 4 in the same way that he did in verse 1. All men includes men of every class, including kings.
Second, in verse 5, he went on to say that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. This obviously cannot be referring to every single individual. The mediation here is a sacrificial mediation. He is pointing back to the cross of Calvary, where he gave himself as an offering for sin. If Christ is mediating for all individual men, then it follows that the Father does not honor the mediation of the Son or that universalism is true. Since neither of these propositions are true, it follows that the word “man” in verse 5 and the word “all” in verse 6 do not entail every single individual.
Does God Want Every Individual To Be Saved?
God commands that we preach the gospel to all individuals because we do not know who the elect are. He works through us. We may say to anybody that if they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ, they will find him to be a perfect Savior. They will do according to their desires. Nobody will be left pleading at the doors of Heaven, wanting to be with God, wanting eternal life. Everybody who denies God will do so because they are in love with their sin.
The only reason that I can conceive of to think that God wants every individual to be saved is emotional. None of the logical, moral or scriptural arguments survive a thorough examination. Even the emotional objection begins to dissolve when you realize that God is not refusing people who are repenting. He is giving them what they want. We may say, truly, “The doors to Hell are locked from the inside.”
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell me why!
Modern man is regarded as thoughtful and rational when he actively tries to think of the world in scientific terms. He who lays superstition aside and recognizes that the world is compromised of natural causes and effects is the one who has ascended to a staggering intellectual height that would have been unknown to many of our ancestors. Mankind needs explanations. We are philosophical creatures and enjoy asking why things happen. Mysteries are insufficient and leave us unsatisfied. Even if there are no answers, we will feel inclined to just invent them. It is easier to believe a lie than to admit that the truth is unknowable. Some think that this is the method of the Judeo-Christian tradition manifested in our holy writ. Is that the case? Does the Bible portray an unscientific view of the world?
The Bible Teaches Theology, Not Science
Theology is the study of God and his interactions with the world. Science is the study of the natural world. There will certainly be some overlap in these disciplines. But the theology of the Bible generally does not answer scientific questions. People in the ancient world did not think about things in the same way that the contemporary man does. We think in scientific terms and tend to read that into Scripture. This is particularly prevalent because many people either have an anti-theological agenda and are actively looking for scientific errors, or they have a theological agenda and are interested in providing an apologetic for the Bible. Either way, this is to read something into Scripture that is not there. The Bible does not teach science.
That is not to say that the Bible is unscientific. Rather, it is to say that science is a category that just does not apply. Even if the authors believed something that is unscientific, they did not teach it as truth because they were not actively trying to promote Ancient Near Eastern cosmology. When Job and Isaiah say that God defeated the Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), the author is not expressing that there is literally a giant sea monster that will devour the world. Rather, he is expressing that God is powerful and we can put our trust in him. We do not need to fear other gods or give our devotion to them out of fear. God crushes the Leviathan. But this is a theological teaching rather than a scientific one.
Isn’t God In Control?
The ancients would often find divine causes in all of the mechanisms of the universe. The gods were responsible for all mechanisms of the natural world. In fact, they were the mechanisms. This would leave little room for scientific discovery. If the gods are the mechanism of all natural events, it would follow that there were no scientific mechanisms. Accordingly, every time we discover another scientific mechanism, the divine hypothesis is further refuted. Is this the view of the natural world that is explicitly taught in Scripture? After all, the Bible says in Job 36:32, “He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark.” Job is expressing a high view of sovereignty and divine control. But if God is in control, then would that not mean that there were no scientific mechanisms?
Well, that seems to overlook the fact that there are different types of causes. Aristotle distinguished between efficient and material causes. In theology, we often say that there are primary and secondary causes. God is the primary cause, but he uses secondary causes to bring about his end. This means that there is abundant room for scientific discovery. We can understand the naturalistic reasons for lightning while believing that God is the primary cause of the lightning. It is sort of like if I used a wrench to repair my bicycle. I am the primary cause and the wrench is the secondary cause. But the presence of one does not negate the other nor does it render the other redundant. Accordingly, God’s sovereignty does not mean that the Bible portrays an unscientific view of the world.
Talking Snakes, Jonah In The Whale, And Resurrections
The physical and bodily resurrection is the center of the Christian faith. I could not say that it is a metaphor or that it is merely spiritual. If I did that, I would literally be departing from the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17). It would mean that Jesus died on the cross, condemned as a blasphemer and a heretic and that is the end of the story. After all, they would identify blasphemers by condemning them to a shameful death. Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us that anyone who is hanged on a tree is under the curse of God. However, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then God vindicated Jesus. As Paul said, he became a curse on our behalf (Galatians 3:13), so that our sin became his sin and his resurrection is our resurrection. If he did not rise from the dead, then all that happened was that he was under a curse. But if he did rise from the dead, then it would appear that the project of science would be undermined, because men do not rise from the dead.
Well, it may surprise you to learn that we are not contesting the scientific truth that men do not rise from the dead. That is not something that occurs in nature. Rather, we are suggesting that God raised Jesus from the dead. He did not rise naturally. He rose supernaturally. If we hypothesized that he rose from the dead naturally, then this truly would be a violation of the laws of nature and the biblical worldview would be unscientific. The same could be said of all of the accounts of miracles. When Jonah survived for three days in the belly of a whale, he was sustained supernaturally. The “talking snake” would have been supernatural. Since these are not natural hypotheses, it is therefore not relevant to the project of science. The existence of miracles undermines only the sovereignty of science.
Demons Or Bacteria?
Throughout the New Testament, we see several occurrences of exorcisms. Demons would invade an individual and cause them to display symptoms of physical or psychological illness. When Jesus or the disciples exorcised the demon, these individuals were healed. This has led to many illegitimate health practices, such as exorcising demons when an individual legitimately has a disease. If an individual were going to start a medical practice with only the principles that they learned in Scripture, wouldn’t they think that all illnesses were caused by demons rather than by bacteria? (Well, as an aside, if I were going to be philosophically precise, I could say that demons could be the primary cause while bacteria are the secondary cause. I could also say that this individual could have multiple problems, including both demons and bacteria. But I will not do that.)
If you read the New Testament and conclude that all diseases are caused by demons, you have arrived at an illogical conclusion. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught that all diseases are caused by demons. That would be an inductive conclusion that is guilty of the fallacy of understated evidence. One is guilty of this fallacy when they come to a conclusion without examining all of the relevant data. Even if every single illness in the Bible was associated with a demonic plague, that would still be insufficient. The authors would need to teach that this was a rule to which there was no exception, a point that you will not find anywhere. Further, and more critically, there are several instances in which people are ill and do not have any demonic inhabitants. In Matthew 8:1-4, a man has a skin disease and he is not exorcised. Therefore, the Bible teaches that not all diseases are the result of demons.
What About Young Earth Creationism?
The creation controversy is often one of the most heated of discussions, even among believing Christians. Young earth creationists will often tell us that theirs is the only legitimate interpretation that can even be considered by a faithful Christian. They will react in hostility to the Theory of Evolution, common descent, and the idea that the earth is billions of years old. Similarly, atheists will react in rage when somebody questions the Theory of Evolution or says that they are a bit skeptical of whether it is true. Both of these positions are unquestionable and immovable dogmas. But if the Bible does teach young earth creationism, then we may say that it truly is unscientific, as I argued in the linked article.
The young earth creationist interpretation is determined by counting the generations throughout the Old Testament and determining how much time passed. Then when you add 144 hours from the creation week, you determine that the earth is only 6000 years old. Well, there are several reasons to think that this is an illegitimate understandings of Genesis. First, it is assuming that the author has a scientific agenda rather than a theological one, which is not how people in the ancient world thought.
As I argued in my article Is Young Earth Creationism Dangerous? there is a cultural context through which the author and the audience would have understood Genesis. Second, there are several good reasons to think that the days in Genesis 1 are metaphorical rather than literal. One of the most obvious is that Hebrews 4:1-7 specifically says that we are still in the seventh day. If we are still in the seventh day, then they are obviously not literal days. So when Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day,” the author is referring to the metaphor in Genesis 1 to establish a theological point.
Isn’t this the part where you will tell us about all of the scientific truths revealed in Scripture?
Some apologists have done that. There are scholars of the Bible who think that it teaches scientific truths that could not have otherwise been known. Dr. Hugh Ross will refer to the stretching out of the heavens referenced throughout the prophets and suggest that it is a reference to the cosmic expansion of the universe. Many will say that the so-called “circle of the earth” found in Isaiah is a reference to the fact that the earth is a sphere. You might even be able to find something like that on this site if you look hard enough (Please tell me if you do so that I can add an addendum). But I am no longer sympathetic with that position.
As I have said, I think that the Bible teaches theology, not science. I do not think that God was giving little clues that would only be understood tens of thousands of years later. When you are trying to understand a text, you need to ask what the author would have written and how his audience would have understood it. It seems to be an extremely self-centered way to interpret Scripture to think that it is all about us.
You might as well say that there is a clear reference to your family and that God is speaking directly to you. How would the people in AD 500 have understood that reference to your family or the various scientific mysteries that were revealed? The Bible is for all people at all times. If you are going to abandon the historical-grammatical method and say that the reader can relate it to themselves in any way that they would like because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you could truly conjure up any interpretation of anything.
With that in mind, I do not have any scientific miracles to share with you. Even if I did have one, that would not establish anything. Perhaps the author learned from a brilliant philosopher. The roundness of the earth, the cosmic expansion of the heavens, the idea that the earth floats on nothing, et cetera, do not require divine intervention. However, I could imagine an inductive argument from several accurate scientific truths, but they would need to be properly interpreted. With all of that in mind, I think that there are other, better arguments that the Bible is God’s word. But the category of science simply does not apply to Scripture. It is neither scientific nor unscientific.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment! But please make sure you read before commenting.
Is the unborn a biological human being? I will try to illustrate the importance of this question with a story. When I was younger, a group of friends and I were riding our bikes through the neighborhood. One of my friends was peering into the river as we rode by and shouted “OOOHHH EWW! AWESOME. SO GROSS!” and immediately screeched to a halt and jumped off of his bike. He was so excited that he didn’t stand his bike on the kick-stand as he eagerly grabbed a stick and ran towards the river. After exchanging confused and excited glances at each other, the rest of us followed our temporary leader down into the rocks, weeds, and mud to see what the excitement was all about.
One of the younger kids in the group, Andy, decided that he didn’t really want to go down there because he wasn’t a fan of surprises or gross things. “GUYYYSS!! GUUUUUUYYYSS!! What is it?”, he asked.
“Shut up and come down here, Andy!”, responded one of the boys.
“But what iiiiiiiiisss it? Is it a fish?”
“Guys? Where’d you go?”
Silence. So Andy decides to go a little closer to the river.
“AAAH!!” he screams as someone throws a mangled, dead seagull over a bush and into Andy’s face. “That’s not cool, guys. You suck. It smells bad. Ew”
The Difference Between Fish And Human
I tell this story (that may or may not be entirely accurate… you know how memories are) in order to illustrate a point. When Andy was asking “what is it?” he was asking because he wanted to know how he ought to respond. If it was just the skeleton of a fish, he would have likely responded one way. But if it was the corpse of a recently drowned human being, he would have likely responded entirely differently. He may have enjoyed looking at the fish bones, but he may have run screaming if it was a recently deceased human corpse.
Likewise, when we are discussing ethical issues like abortion, it is important for us to know what is actually happening. I recently posted a video (on my Facebook wall) of a developing fetus at 7 weeks. It was making no moral claims whatsoever. It was merely a description of what happens during fetal development at that time. A woman (friend of a friend) commented and told me that the video was offensive, but I didn’t understand how a morally neutral examination of a developing human being could possibly be offensive. After all, shouldn’t we know what is being killed in the act of abortion? I asked her to clarify what she was offended by, but she never responded. But I can understand the implications.
If abortion kills a human being, it very quickly becomes a complex moral issue. So the crucial question imposes itself.
The Crucial Question
Does abortion kill a human being?
If you have spent any time at all engaging with pro-choice defenders, you’ve probably heard them deny that the unborn is human. You may have heard them suggest that we don’t know when a ‘fertilized egg’ becomes a human being. You may have even heard something like “the embryo is no more human than a skin cell!”, as they scratch their arm and slough off millions of cells and expect you to mourn the deaths of millions of tiny humans. One of my favorite objections is when someone says that ‘masturbation kills millions of humans” or that “pro-lifers ought to mourn the loss of a human being every time a woman gets her period”.
In this post, I hope to put these nonsensical objections to rest.
The fact of the matter is rather simple. It is something we learn about in elementary school or when our parents have “the talk” with us. When a mommy and daddy love each other very much, they engage in certain behaviors that end up creating a new baby brother!
Back to the Basics – the birds and the bees
I’m not entirely sure where the pro-choicer’s parent went wrong when discussing where babies come from with their grossed out, prepubescent son or daughter. Perhaps the conversation was so uncomfortable that they just told their kids that the stork brings the baby to mommy at the hospital. In case you still believe in the stork theory of human reproduction, let me just inform you right now. Spoilers: Storks have nothing to do with human procreation.
A new child is created by the union of a sperm cell (from daddy) and an egg cell (from mommy). The sperm enters the egg, it’s outer layer disintegrates, and then the DNA from both cells combine together to make a new, unique genetic combination within the egg cell. At this point, the fertilized egg*, or the zygote emerges. The zygote is the first stage of human development. At this stage, the zygotic cell begins to divide by mitosis, and will continue to grow into a more developed human organism.
And this is apparently the point of contention? When conception is completed, that is is the point at which a new human organism comes into existence. This new human being has all of the features of a living organism. She has a separate DNA from her mother, metabolism, goal-oriented development, replication, interaction with the world outside, etc. Her life began at this point, and she will continue to develop long after this point.
If a pro-choice advocate claims that “a zygote isn’t a human”, they have a fundamental confusion surrounding the basic biology of human reproduction.
Stages of Development
It is important to note that many people make a distinction between “zygote” and “baby”, as if this distinction proves something. Unfortunately, it proves nothing except for their misunderstanding of how scientists label different stages of human development.
Many different animals have stages that we, as a human race, have given labels. A chicken, a human, a frog, and an elephant all go through “embryonic” stages. However, this does not mean they are merely an embyro.
An elephant mommy and daddy make an elephant embryo.
A chicken mommy and daddy make a chicken embryo.
And a human mommy and daddy make a human embryo.
A human zygote that develops into a human embryo.
A human embryo that develops into a human fetus.
A human fetus that develops into a human infant.
A human infant that develops into a human toddler.
And so on, and so forth.
The common thread throughout human development is rather simple. It is a human being. This is human development. There is no way for you to divorce the concept of “embryo” from the kind of embryo it is. Ignoring the adjective “human” doesn’t make the human embryo any less human.
If you are interested in learning more about human development in the womb, here is a great summary of what happens.
We’ve known this for a really, really long time.
Contrary to what some people claim, there is no debate as to when the human being begins. Former Planned Parenthood President, Dr. Alan Guttmacher, wrote a book called Life in the Making in 1933. In this book, referencing the fact that the zygote is the beginning of a human life, he says “This all seems so simple and evidence that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.”
This was in 1933.
There is no disagreement among experts in this area. And I mean literally none. There isn’t even some random, fringe dude with an honorary masters degree from My Backyard University who denies this basic fact of biology.
If you want a full, comprehensive list of 40 quotes from medical textbooks that show this consensus, go no further! Click right here and read through them all.
If you still do not believe that a human being’s life begins at conception, you are denying basic biological facts. You really ought to rethink your intellectual integrity because there is no justification whatsoever for the anti-scientific and anti-intellectual view that a human being’s life begins sometime other than conception.
But… what if we really don’t know when human life begins?
Alright, so let’s suppose that we could ignore universal expert scientific consensus. Let’s ignore facts about reality that we’ve known about for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Let’s ignore all that and appeal to ignorance.
Perhaps we really don’t know when human life begins.
Well, wouldn’t the most responsible thing for us to do is not kill them? Let’s imagine a situation where we have the option to destroy a building. We’re on a demolition team and this building has been scheduled to be imploded. You’re just about to push the doomsday button and someone asks you, “Hey, are there any humans in there?” and you realize that you are not sure.
You, being the responsible demolition man that you are, have no choice. You have to blow up the building anyway!
No. Of course not.
If we are ignorant of whether or not there is a human being in the building, we have a moral obligation to avoid blowing up the building until we know for sure that there are no humans in there.
So even if we appeal to anti-scientific sentiments like ignorance about when human life begins, that still does not justify abortion in any way.
So wait… what’s the difference between an abortion and a period? Or masturbation? Or scratching off skin cells?
The answer to this is simple.
Gametes (sperm and egg cells) and somatic cells (like skin cells) are done developing. Gametes, when left alone, continue to be gametes until they die. A somatic cell will also continue to be a skin cell until it dies. When you leave a zygote alone, in its normal environment, it will continue to develop into a more complex human organism. There is a very, very important difference between a gametic/somatic cell and a developing human organism. I hope you can see that.
I hope this post helps in basic scientific literacy, as well as a promotion of the pro-life perspective. When we ask the most important question, “what does abortion do?”, we have to answer it with “abortion ends the life of a defenseless, innocent human being”. There is no way around this.
About Elijah Thompson
If you are interested in more about the defense of the pro-life position, please check out my podcast and accompanying blog, The Fetal Position. I regularly discuss the science and philosophy behind the pro-life position, as well as engage any and all pro-choice arguments that may present a challenge to the pro-life perspective. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me through my website or on twitter, Follow @ElijiahT or Follow @Fetal_Position
Throughout their poetry, the psalmists would contemplate the character of God. They would marvel about his wisdom, strength, glory, and his righteousness. Even in times of turmoil, they would write what we find in Psalm 145:17. “The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds.” Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” God is constantly contrasted against wicked men. While men will deceive us, betray our trust, persecute us without cause, the psalmists believed God is righteous and loving. However, sometimes people may suggest that the actions of God throughout the Old Testament contradict this theme. God is seen as racist, sexist, condemning, permitting or carrying out moral abominations, et cetera. Some think that God is evil in the Old Testament. Is that correct? Does the Old Testament portray God as evil?
Well, first, if we were interested in being philosophically precise, we would have to say that God cannot be evil. A maximally great being must be omnibenevolent. He must be perfect in righteousness. If he were not, then we could conceive of a being who was greater (one who was perfect in righteousness), and that being would be God. If we are going to ask “Does the Old Testament portray God as evil?” the question may need to be altered. It would be something like asking, “Does this paper portray that square as rounded?” You may be able to put the words in the same sentence with one another, but it expresses an incoherent thought. The very idea of God being evil is incoherent. What you would have to say is that the Old Testament does not portray God at all, but only pretends to. So does the Old Testament portray God as evil?
These Arguments Rely On Divine Psychology
What would God do? If God did do X, what were his motivations? A helpful (but admittedly imperfect) analogy would be to consider that the police will sometimes attempt to discern the motives of an individual who has been suspected of murder. Was it a crime of passion, or was it premeditated? The former would warrant less severe penal action, while the latter is far more malevolent. Similarly, if you were to discover that Bill was keeping John as a prisoner, you might think that Bill was a malevolent man. However, if you learned that Bill was actually a police officer or a court judge, your interpretation of that imprisonment would change. You would think that Bill was being righteous in imprisoning another man. You have insight into his psychology. But what about divine psychology?
Divine psychology is an attempt to interpret the motives that God has for carrying out a certain event. All arguments that say that God is behaving malevolently assume some sort of divine psychology. Indictments that God is evil based on his actions in the Old Testament assume divine psychology. The indicter is assuming that they know what God’s motives are. Whether God destroys a city, institutes capital punishment, or does something that we otherwise would think is unethical, one is assuming to know the mind of God. To say that something is evil is to say that God has evil motives.
However, if God is perfect in righteousness as the psalmist tells us, then it would follow that everything that emanates from him is good. He does not have evil motives. When he destroys a city or institutes capital punishment, he is performing the duties of a righteous judge rather than of a tyrant or a maniac. The person who claims that God is portrayed as evil in the Old Testament will have to have some insight into divine psychology. They will have to know the mind of God. This argument assumes a burden of proof that seems impossible to bear.
God Destroys Cities
If God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world? Why are the wicked allowed the flourish without any punishment at all? That is a good question that deserves an answer. If God were going to punish the wicked, what would the punishment look like? There are wicked people in the world and you are calling for their condemnation. Will they slowly perish in their sleep? Will they all be locked in an institution by angelic forces so that they could be “rehabilitated”? When God destroys a city in the Old Testament, we see the answer to the question. There is evil and suffering in the world, and God puts an end to it. But when he does intervene, you say that he is evil. It seems like no matter what God does or how he satisfies your demands, you will still say that he is evil and change your expectations. When he intervenes, you say that he is evil for intervening. When he does not intervene, you say that his absence is evil. When God destroys a city, he is bringing righteous judgment upon wicked men.
The second question with which are confronted is who the wicked are. Are only child molesters wicked? Are only soldiers in an evil army wicked? Why? What makes those soldiers different from American soldiers? The American soldiers were not overcome with propaganda and put in a situation wherein they had to enlist in a wicked army. But what truly makes the soldiers fighting for a good cause different from those fighting for an evil cause? Everybody has the same corruptible heart. In the right circumstances, you could be the one who is perpetrating something that is evil. If you are going to say that God must punish evil, then who will be exempt? So, does the Old Testament portray God as evil? I do not think so. There is evil in the world and God has brought his wrath upon it in his righteousness.
Is God Racist?
God made a special covenant with Abraham and all of his descendants. Those descendants eventually became what is known today as Israel. The narrative of the Old Testament is almost entirely a narrative of God’s interactions with the people of Israel. This has led some people to conclude that God is racist. He is a tribal war-god fighting for the Hebrews and hates everyone else. Well, any basic reading of the main texts of the Old Testament will uproot this hypothesis. The first consideration is that Israel was often the target of God’s wrath. Since Israel had covenant with God, God expected them to not live like the nations surrounding them. When they did, he would bring wrath to them. He said in Jeremiah 3:8 that Israel was like a faithless bride. Israel betrayed God’s trust. Israel was the subject of his wrath. God is not racist nor does he favor the Hebrews. Any reading of the prophets will show that God often brought his wrath against them, wielding their Pagan neighbors.
Second, throughout the Old Testament, we see a promise of the expansion of God’s covenant to include the Gentiles. Of the Messiah in Isaiah 49:6, it says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is not one verse tucked away in one of the prophets. This is a major theme in the Old Testament. Consider the narrative of the book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded to go preach to the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were Gentiles. As a result of his prejudice inclinations, Jonah refused. Most of us know what happened from there. The theme of the New Testament is that the Messiah has come and expanded the promise of God to include the Gentiles. The theme of Old Testament eschatology is that the Messiah will come and expand the message to include all people. God is not racist in the Old Testament.
Does God Value Women?
Much of the literature that descends from a patriarchal society will seem striking to the contemporary man. Egalitarianism is the norm in today’s society, and any departure from that is offensive to many people. Of course, even in that patriarchal society, the Old Testament taught that men and women were intrinsically equals. Genesis 1:26-27 introduces this concept of being made in the image of God. Most interpreters believe that the image of God is what separates us from animals. We are rational, moral agents endowed with intrinsic moral worth. In fact, this seems to be the only basis for believing that we have intrinsic moral worth. Consequently, God is not sexist because sexism involves having a lower view of women than of men.
However, the argument that is usually mounted is that God allows something like sexual slavery throughout the pages of the Old Testament, and this is morally inadequate. Well, that is just not the case. Rape is strictly condemned in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), and sex outside of marriage was condemned (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). These strictures are fundamental to Jewish practice.
As I pointed out in my article Does Islam Allow Sex Slavery?, “[In the Old Testament] Men do not charge into the homes of women who just lost their husbands or sons and molest them. Yet there was no prison system, so what are we to do with them? They are taken as wives. The men are instructed, “It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.” The men are commanded to treat their new wives with respect. Further if they are neglected by their husband or divorced, they are freed. If they are divorced, they are also freed (Exodus 21:10-11). These laws may be taken as an expansion of Numbers 31:18, which reads, “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” It may be tempting to read sexual slavery into that verse, but considering the host of laws that forbid it, that interpretation is nullified.”
What About Capital Punishment?
God instituted capital punishment. Some individuals who have soft hearts dislike the idea of capital punishment, and one can certainly sympathize with them. But the reason that they have this intuition is that they think men are the ones who are making that decision. Men are condemning others to death, and how do they have the right to do that? They are just as sinful as the guilty criminals. As Gandalf said in The Fellowship of The Ring, “Many who live deserve death. And many who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so quick to deal out death in judgment.” We cannot give life. We have no right to deal out death. I understand this argument.
But suppose I sentenced somebody to death and then I raised them from the dead. I have power over life and death. Similarly, supposed I gave somebody life (not in the sense of having children, obviously) and then I took it away from them. In this case, we have a very different scenario. We have somebody who has authority over life. We have somebody who created life. The one who creates life has the authority to take life away. Therefore, God has the authority to institute capital punishment. As the Creator of life, he has the authority to take it.
Does The Bible Condone Slavery?
We have already seen that the Bible does not condone sex slavery. But what about slavery, in the modern sense of the word? Africans were hunted and kidnapped from their homes and brought on a big ship in chains to work the fields of the American south. Does the Bible condone anything like that? Well, there are three considerations. First, there is the doctrine of the image of God, as I already alluded to. All people have intrinsic moral worth. Second, the Law forbids kidnapping. Exodus 21:16 reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” Manhunting is an essential ingredient to slavery, and the Bible forbids it.
Third, there are different forms of slavery. In the Old Testament, there was not a developed prison system. There were limited options for what to do with offenders. As already mentioned, one was capital punishment. Other offenders were sentenced to slavery. They would work off their debt for a short period of time. Further, people would sometimes sell themselves into slavery as an escape from poverty. Individuals from surrounding nations would sell themselves into slavery. They sign a temporary contract to work off their debt. After the contract ended, they could stay with their master or leave. So, while the same word (slavery) may be used, to accuse the Bible of slavery in the sense of manhunting and kidnapping is to be guilty of the equivocal fallacy.
There Are Better Arguments For The Truth of Scripture
This moral argument against the truth of Scripture relies very heavily upon one’s own personal moral intuitions, their ability to grasp divine psychology and their ability to interpret ancient sources. Since most of these are misinterpretations or otherwise guilty of some logical fallacy, the argument that God has behaved unethically in the Old Testament is very weak. In contrast, there are very good arguments that the Old Testament is divinely inspired and the word of God. This means that it portrays God as perfect in righteousness and justice.
I made this point in my article How Do You Know That The Bible Is God’s Word? First, the historicity of the New Testament establishes several facts about Jesus which lead us to recognize that the resurrection is a robust hypothesis. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the religion that he believed in and left behind is likely to be true. Since that contains the inerrancy of the Old Testament, it would follow that the Old Testament was inspired by God. Second, since Jesus viewed the Scripture as divinely inspired, then we should probably align our beliefs with the one who rose from the dead. Third, the Christian worldview (informed by Scripture) makes sense of reality. In fact, you must assume that the Christian worldview is true to make sense of anything at all. Therefore, the Bible is God’s word. The Old Testament is inspired and accordingly does not portray God as evil.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell me.