Is The Story Of Noah Literal?

noah literal 1It is often said that the nineteenth century was a bad era for biblical scholars. During that time, there erupted a number of archeological discoveries from the ancient near east that have severely challenged Christians. Secular scholars have painted the issue as one of science and high learning against the Bible. Thus, Christian belief is associated with anti-intellectualism. Many Christians have participated in the rigged game, taking a stance against scientific endeavor in favor of the Bible. However, I am not persuaded that this dichotomy is legitimate. Christians need not choose between anti-intellectualism and apostasy. Rather, as Christians, we should be open to following the evidence and biblical data where it leads. We must ask the question, is the story of Noah literal?

noah literal 2The way that we process this question should not strike Christians as strange. After all, the Bible is full of metaphorical accounts of particular events. Jesus always had parables in his mouth meant to edify the masses. The significance was not whether the stories actually occurred, but rather, their theological themes were what he was trying to convey. He was teaching us about God, and not about history. The historicity of a parable is just not a significant question. Likewise, John Calvin suspected that the story of Job might also be a parable. If we are going to read the Bible, we need to be receptive to this understanding. It is permeated throughout the entire warp and scope of the Bible.

Did God wipe out all of mankind? If we read the story of Noah literally, it is hard to avoid the notion of a global flood that wipes out every living thing on the earth (however, many faithful Christians have maintained such a view. Evan Minton spelled out the local flood interpretation here). But I am not convinced that these statements of absolute and global catastrophe can be taken literally. There is a precedent for interpreting statements of absolute catastrophe as indicators for how earth-shattering this particular event is. Rather than saying that the entire earth was literally being destroyed, the author was probably expressing that for those who are affected, it would seem so devastating and earth-shattering that it can only be adequately described as utterly destroying the entire world. That is just a way of expressing the fury of the destruction, but not necessarily something that we are to take literally.

The same sort of language is used when the Assyrians destroyed Israel. It is expressed that the entire world is being left in ruin. Isaiah 13:9 expresses that God will make the land desolate. The word translated into “land,” is literally “earth,” the same word in the first chapter of Genesis wherein it says that God created the heavens and the earth. More significantly, Isaiah 24:1 says, “Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants.” God is using language that seems to express that he will destroy the entire earth. David used the same sort of language when he was express gratitude for God and trust in him to bring him salvation from his enemies. In 2 Samuel 22:16, David says. “Then the channels of the sea appeared, The foundations of the world were laid bare By the rebuke of the LORD, At the blast of the breath of His nostrils.”

The should not strike us as unfamiliar. Isaiah 13:10 reads, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.” The events that are occurring as so earth-shattering that it seems as though these things were happening. Jesus said the very same thing when teaching about eschatology. But there is no reason to be dogmatic about the literal dissolving of stars. What about the story of Noah, then? Is the story of Noah literal? There is just no reason to be dogmatic about the literal global flood of the story of Noah. There probably was a flood, but not necessarily a flood that wipes out all of mankind, nor a flood that destroys the entire earth. The flood is more akin to God laying the earth waste in Isaiah.

There are parallel accounts of the flood. The historical-grammatical method of interpreting the Bible states that we need to understand the individual books of the Bible within the cultural milieu that they were written. It would be anachronistic for us to read modern science into a book of the Bible, because they were not intended to express modern science. Rather, we need to understand them within the cultural framework that they were written. Alongside the Genesis narrative, there are other religious texts that express stories that are very similar to those revealed in Genesis. There are parallel, Pagan accounts to the flood of Noah.

That is not to say that the story of Noah is plagiarized from Pagan sources. There is no evidence of dependency available. What we see is that these cultural stories were told by different groups of people, meant to express different things. The story of Noah comes from a culture that told flood stories. What is significant, then, is not the literal recounting of the flood narrative. The significance is rather in the theological overtones. It is parable meant to educate us in theological matters. It teaches us about the sinful nature of mankind (Genesis 6:5) and about the wrath of a just and holy God. It also teaches us about the mercy of God to those who will repent of their sins and turn to him in faith. These realities emerge even if we do not take the story literally.

Is the story of Noah literal? The parallel accounts make that interpretation much less tenable. It seems more likely that it was meant as a Jewish parable. The Jews were telling their culture stories with Jewish theology.

The impossibility of a literal account. As I said, there are different interpretations of the account of the flood that we find in Genesis. Some think that the flood was local. But in my personal opinion, if I were to take the story literally, I would conclude that there was a global flood that destroyed every living creature on the entire earth. But if I were to believe that, I would have to find it in myself to glare absurdity unflinchingly in the face and accept it.

We are led to believe that Noah had in his possession, one of every kind of animal, who traversed the terrain of the world, from the jungles in South Africa, to the Australian outback. They all set sail in a variety of different circumstances and were brought to the middle east, where they escaped their owners and sprang into Noah’s grasp. This happened not to one or two animals, but every kind of animal in existence. (I wonder how he kept them from eating each other.) In an effort to dull the blade of this reality, defenders of the global flood will usually say that there were fewer animals on the ark than is being suggested. There was one pair of dogs, and these dogs evolved into the variety of dogs that we have today. Well, the typical young earth model puts the flood around 4000 years ago. If we are to think that every species in existence evolved from that cluster of animals 4000 years ago, that would make for quite a rapid presentation of evolution, beyond anything that has ever been observed. Are young earth creationists really prepared to believe in a model of evolution that is beyond any scientific observation? Multiple testimony seems to indicate not.

Further, and critically, after the ark ported, and the animals went ashore, this is something that we should see in the scientific record. We should see the animals of the world spreading from one local area. Instead, we see kangaroos in Australia. How in the world did the kangaroos get there? Did they convoy across a massive ice bridge? In fact, that is what the leading young earth creationist organization, Answers In Genesis, argues for. They suggest that the kangaroos walked across the ocean on a massive ice bridge, migrating to Australia. Of course, this begs the question of why they would begin such a voyage and how they survived the journey.

You might be inclined to think that these absurdities are just miracles. But the idea that God supernaturally transported kangaroos from the middle east to Australia, or that he orchestrated the rapid evolution of animals, is akin to saying that God scattered fossils throughout the world to test us. Why think that God would do that? Is it possible? Yes, I concede it. It is possible. But there is no reason to think that God would do that. Indeed, if he did not scatter the animals, we would have definitive evidence that all of the animals in the world were gathered into one local area! But instead he tampered with the evidence? He hid it from us? Why would we think that? The only possible reason for us to think that is because we have already assumed that the story must be literal. Hence, it is just an ad hoc explanation. It is meant solely to preserve the belief that the account of Noah is literal.

Is the story of Noah literal? It seems much less intellectually strenuous to say that it is just a parable.

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Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation?

free will salvation 1If I carefully examine the evidence and data of a certain proposition, I will reach a conclusion regarding the truth value of that proposition. On the basis of that my conclusion, I will take an action. If I had reached an alternative conclusion, I would have taken a different course of action. Humans routinely examine data and react to evidence in a way that they otherwise would not have. For this reason, we seem to have developed this notion of freedom of the will. I can choose to do anything that I want to do in the natural world. The fundamental distinction between man and animals is, in fact, our ability to make choices that are based upon more than just instinct. If our instinct is telling us to do something, we begin to analyze that thing. We ask, not only, “do I want this?” (the instinctual question), but also questions of practicality and morality. We exceed and overpower our instinct in many situations. The question is, does this freedom of the will extend to the religious quarters? Do we have the free will to choose salvation?

free will salvation 2We might be keen to think that of course we can. If we have free will in every other area of life, then why not also the free will for us to choose our salvation? But I would like to suggest that we do not have the free will to choose our salvation. Our salvation must be decreed and offered to us by God himself. Only God can bring about our salvation, and there is nothing that we may contribute to it. This is the long-standing dispute between monergism and synergism. Monergism is the view that God alone is responsible for our salvation. Synergism is the view that God and man are working in synergy to bring about salvation. God makes it possible, and man, by his freedom of the will, accepts it. Do we have the free will to choose salvation? I would like to suggest that this view is both biblically and logically untenable.

We are enemies of God. If you find the absence of freedom of the will in matters of salvation to be a repellant, then I would call you to maintain it. You are welcome to the view that anybody can freely choose God. However, this comes with the caveat that, while you have that option available to you, you would never choose it. Freedom of the will involves choosing what you want, what is prudent, and what is intelligent. But the autonomous individual will always find reasons to choose unrighteousness. They will never choose God because they hate him. Man always wants to do anything that he wants. The unregenerate sees God as oppressive, locking him into a legalistic cage.

Hence, the Bible says of mans’ natural state that “There is nobody righteous, no, not one. There are none who understand. There are none who seek after God.” (Romans 3:10-11). Again, Genesis 6:5 tells us that man is “only evil continually.” Jeremiah 17:19 reminds us that “the heart of man is deceitful and wicked above all things.” Jesus tells us that what comes from within a persons’ very own heart is what defiles them (Mark 7:20). This serves to establish what is known as total depravity. Man is completely unable and unwilling to turn to God in faith and repentance. We just never would on our own. Do we have the free will to choose salvation? It does not really matter, does it? Even if we do, we never would.

In response to this, many people will appeal to a doctrine known as prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the view that while man is totally depraved, unable to come to God, God offers a little bit of grace to everyone, thus activating the faith center of their heart and allowing them to turn to God. But there are a few problems with this. First of all, if God were to offer prevenient grace to everybody, then why is it that everybody does not turn to him in faith? Is it that one person is more righteous than another? Is one person more wise than another? Obviously not, because salvation is not a matter of how righteous we are, lest we be guilty of salvation by works. We are left to think, then, that God grants more prevenient grace to one person than he does to another. But this leaves us with monergism, rather than synergism. Secondly, if God grants prevenient grace, and they respond to it, then they would essentially be working alongside God to bring about their salvation. But Romans 11:6 tells us that if there are any works in grace, then it is no longer grace. Would prevenient grace even be grace, given the testimony of the apostle?

We are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness. If I am a slave of somebody, then I cannot choose to be free. That is fundamental to slavery. If I sell myself into slavery, then I enter into a contract wherein I cannot choose to be free until the end of that contract. The person who is a slave has an autonomy with a very limited scope. They might be able to freely choose some things, but only things within the confines of their slavery. They cannot choose their freedom. Likewise, the person who has not been born again is a slave of their sinful nature. The younger man might be a slave to partying, drinking, smoking, and lust. The older man might be a slave to money, wealth, power, and comfort. Either way, they are entrapped by that system, and in many ways, have developed a love for their chains.

This is the model of our relationship with sin that the Bible describes. Jesus tells us, “the person who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). Paul likewise describes the unregenerate as slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). In his masterpiece, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan illustrated this reality. Faithful told his companion Christian that a man was trying to lure him into a city called Deceit. The man spoke eloquently of the many delights within that city. But, Faithful recounted his wisdom, saying, “…and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house he would sell me for a slave.” The person who commits sin is a slave of sin. How is it that a slave of sin can do righteousness? Do we have the free will to choose salvation? I think not. The unregenerate is a slave of sin.

Now this might bring us back to the issue of prevenient grace. But it is quite curious that the Bible can even use language, such as “slave of sin,” if it is the case that we have this prevenient grace that has enabled us to choose God. While that might be our natural state of affairs, it is just not a prudent description, because it is not what we actually stand as today. Today, we allegedly stand as people activated by prevenient grace. So when we are called slaves of sin, or unwilling to choose God, that does not really describe what we actually are. In this way, it seems to me that prevenient grace strikes closely to abandoning the doctrine of original sin. How is it that we can even speak of original sin as a relevant theme? How is it relevant? How is our depravity relevant?

Does God fail? If we have the freedom of the will to choose our salvation, that means that God is actively laboring to save each and every one of us. The person who drew their last breath, cursing God, in hatred of him, was, in fact, the recipient of God’s effort. God desperately tried to save that person, but alas, their free will overpowered him. This happens on a drastic scale. God tries to save everybody, and the majority of humanity turns their back on him. The majority of humanity enjoys the pleasure of sin more than they enjoy the pleasure of God. If we look at this as a battle between God and Satan, then Satan is luring all of these people into his presence, while God is able to lure just a few to him. But most of the world prefers Satan. Both God and Satan are vying for the souls of the masses, and in the grand scheme of things, Satan comes out with many more souls in his grasp than God does.

Yet this seems unthinkable when we reflect on the grand claims of God’s power and sovereignty in the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar said of God in Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth, and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” The very same God who alters the will of men, so that what they intend for evil, he intends for good (Genesis 50:20). Do we have the free will to choose salvation? It is unthinkable that God would collapse before the free will of man. He can surely overpower our will, and draw us to himself. He is more powerful than Satan, more powerful than the nations, and more powerful than the individual. Thus, when Jesus calls, his sheep hear his voice (John 10:27).

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What Would A Universe Without God Look Like?

universe god 1People often have the impression that it is difficult to know whether God exists. We have to take the natural world as it is, and desperately look for clues of God under every rock, peeking into the deep crevices of the earth, hoping that there might be some evidence of God’s existence. With such an untenable plight, many are left to appeal only to their own personal emotions with regard to God’s existence. Hence, people have a tendency to just assume that the natural world could look exactly as it does today, even if God did not exist. Atheistic naturalism could produce a world precisely like this one, and so if we want to believe in God, we are forced to recede to blind faith. Is this the case? What would a universe without God look like?

universe god 2Atheists usually contest that if we were to predict what the universe without God would look like, we have precisely what we would expect. As Richard Dawkins so eloquently philosophized, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Is Dawkins right? Is the universe that we observe, the universe that we would predict if there were no cosmic mind behind it?

There would be no intelligent life. In the last few generations, scientists have discovered that the universes’ capacity for the existence of intelligent life is breathtakingly narrow. Intelligent life is contingent upon a range of anthropic constants. An anthropic constant is an element of the cosmos which, if altered, then life would not exist. Just imagine that there were giant dials in the outer echelons of the universe, and for life to exist, they all have to point to the correct number on each respective dial. There are 122 of these dials. If every single dial were pointing to the right number, that would be very compelling evidence that somebody pointed them to the right number. In this way, this argument is not centered exclusively on complexity. There are many elements of the universe the are complex but do not show traces of design. But if there is complexity with a corresponding pattern, that is a sign of design. If I were to go to the DMV and get a license plate, and when they issue it to me, it has my full name written on it, I would be justified in thinking that a friend of mine was working at the DMV. Indeed, it would be unthinkable for me to assume that it was just the product of chance. The corresponding pattern excludes that interpretation. Thus as the astronomer Doctor Fred Hoyle put it, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces at work.” What would the universe look like if God did not exist? Well, it is highly unlikely that there would be any sign of intelligent life.

There are two common responses to this. Many atheists will indicate that we adapted to the dials, and intelligent life would come to be, independent of what the dials were. The problem with this is that the dials are not exclusively anthropocentric. Consider the force of gravity. Imagine that there were a tape measure stretching across the entire known universe. Gravity rests on a particular inch mark (note: gravity is not measured in inches, it is just an illustration). If gravity were moved to any other inch mark, then planets would not be able to form. The face of these constants is not the allowance of human life, but rather, the allowance of any intelligent life.

Secondly, many atheists think that this is just an appeal to ignorance. We do not know the explanation of this remarkable fine-tuning, and therefore, it must be God. Well, this is not an argument about ignorance, as much as it is an argument regarding data. It is an argument from what we do know, not from what we do not know. We recognize patterns corresponding to complexity all of the time, and it is not an appeal to ignorance. It is an appeal to knowledge.

Human evolution would not be possible. There are certain levels of design and engineering that we find increasingly impressive. If an engineer is about to construct a robot that builds other robots, that would be quite impressive. However, if an engineer would be able to construct a robot that assembles itself, from scattered parts throughout the world, that would be immeasurably impressive. Such a man would be championed as a genius and would win the Nobel Prize. He would be hailed as a hero and would be the face of nanotechnology. This level of design is beyond what human knowledge has achieved to this point. Yet this is what we see in the case of abiogenesis and human evolution. That is theistic evolution, and it seems like it is a much more sophisticated interpretation of the facts than atheistic naturalism.

But that is just a word about the origins of evolution with abiogenesis. From the process of human evolution, there erupts a mathematical model that is just not consistent with what we see in the natural world. The amount of time that evolution demands is much greater than the history of the earth. This problem has manifested among scientists to the extent that the number of scientific papers containing the words “accelerated evolution,” has precipitously increased in the last few decades. As the RNA biochemist Doctor Patricia Fanning said in her article, Becoming Human – Fast!, “By definition, there’s enough time because the evolutionary rate is calculated by determining the number of changes between the common ancestor of humans and chimps and then dividing that number by 6 million years—the amount of time that has elapsed since the divergence of humans and chimps. To put it another way, “the deck is rigged.” So, of course, there’s enough time (from the evolutionary perspective) for humans to have evolved from chimps. Or is there? Perhaps not always, even when using a rigged deck.”

What would a universe without God look like? It would make for a much less plausible interpretation of the fact of evolution. It would also demand that the earth was much older than a merely 4.54 billion years. Notice also that this is not an argument against science. It is not contesting that evolution and abiogenesis did not occur. Rather, it assumes that they did occur, and that atheistic naturalism offers us an implausible interpretation of them.

Human cognitive faculties would probably not be functional. Human evolution is not contingent upon knowing what the truth is. Rather, it is contingent upon our survival as a species. Human beings evolved to survive the Sahara Desert, but not to do quantum mechanics. We evolved to know how to eat and reproduce, and there is really no reason for us to know what accurately reflects reality. If I think I am eating something just because it tastes good, that is because throughout the course of my evolution, my body has told me that lie so that I would enjoy the process of eating. But in truth, I am eating because it keeps me alive. However, there is no reason for me to know the truth of why I am eating. I eat because it tastes good, and that keeps me alive. Likewise, a man may pursue a woman, not because he wants to reproduce, but because of sexual lust. Sexual lust is the incentive that the course of human evolution has given him, and he believes that lie even though the true purpose is reproduction. There is no reason for him to actually know what the truth is. In this way, truth and survivability do not need to correspond. So, why should we think that they do?

Now, you might be inclined to say, “they just do! End of story!” Well, that would be to assume your conclusion and interpret the fact in light of it. The problem is that there truly is no reason for you to think that your cognitive faculties are functional on atheistic naturalism. What would a universe without God look like? It would be unlikely that our cognitive faculties would be functional.

So, are they functional? It is true that we commonly make logical errors and scientific blunders and are forced into a system of checks and balances. But, the flourishing of scientific naturalism is indicative that the cognitive faculties of human beings are functional. We have overcome our evolutionary survivability and indulged in truth. Therefore, our cognitive faculties are functional in the very sense in which that would be unlikely in a universe without God.

The universe would not exist. Often, when people want to expound upon why they believe in God’s existence, they will appeal to the abundance of the natural world. Whether a lay theist or a sophisticated philosopher, we know that God exists because the evidence is all around us. We can see plainly that God exists because creation requires a Creator. The natural world must have had an explanation. Everything that exists requires an explanation, whether in the necessity of its’ own nature, or in an external cause. In response to this, you might be keen to say that the universe is necessary in its’ existence, that is, it cannot be otherwise. It must exist.

But in contrast with what the atheist blogosphere will put out, that is contradicted by the general consensus of contemporary cosmologists. Most scientists agree with Doctor PCW Davies, who said, “The universe can’t have existed forever. We know that there must have been an absolute beginning a finite time ago.” Or Doctor Alexander Vilenkin, who said, “It is said that an argument is what is takes to convince reasonable men, and a proof is what it takes to convince unreasonable men. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the idea of a past-eternal universe. They have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” Or Doctor Stephen Hawking, who said, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, has an absolute beginning.” Or Doctor Laurence Krauss, who said, “If I had to guess, I would say that the universe is not eternal.” Thus, modern cosmologists agree that the universe is not eternal.

This means that the universe is not necessary in its’ existence, since it has not always existed. Therefore, the universe must have an explanation beyond itself. By the very nature of the case, the explanation of the universe must be beyond time, as it is, itself, the explanation of time. Thus, it is eternal, and uncaused. It is beyond space, matter, energy, and all physical material, as it is, itself, the explanation of these things. It must also be supernatural, as it is, itself, the explanation of nature.

What would a universe without God look like? Well, there is literally no universe worth speaking of.

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What Is Christianity?

what is christianity 1Throughout their lives, people have different experiences of Christianity, and these experiences tend to paint their interpretation of what Christianity is. Whether it was represented properly or not, people carry around images of Christian belief that do not necessarily represent historic or biblical Christian belief. People will reject a Christianity that is foreign to the Bible. They will reject a Christianity that was represented to them by men who, themselves, did not know what Christianity was. I want to represent Christianity as it truly is for people who have never received proper instruction on what it is. So, what is Christianity?

what is christianity 2Now it occurs to me that some may find this very proposition offensive. I am insinuating that the Christianity that people have rejected was not “true” Christianity. But that is not always the case. Some people see true Christianity and find it appalling. As the apostle Paul tells us, “the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who believe, it is the power of God.” Some people do see Christianity, as it truly is, and reject it anyway. Some people hear the gospel and flee from it. Some people see the light and take shelter in the darkness. But there are others who have either never heard a proper outline or summary of Christianity, or they have been given an improper version of Christian theology. For those people, I write about the question, “What is Christianity?”

What Is Christianity? – Jesus is God The Son and the Son of God. This is something the many people struggle with and raises a few philosophical quagmires. But Jesus has existed forever, in the form of God (Philippians 2:6), alongside the Father (John 1:18). Hence, Jesus is God, but he is not the Father, nor is he the Holy Spirit. He is God the Son. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have existed in perfect unity from eternity. But they are not distinct beings. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). But this one God is eternally presented in three persons, or three centers of consciousness.

God the Son transferred his consciousness into the womb of Mary, thus incarnating and becoming a man, and living on earth. Thus the words, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). This is quite difficult for us to conceive us, that God could become man; the infinite could become finite; the transcendent could become local. The way that I conceive of this is that it is as though God were an author, and he wrote himself into his own story. I expound further upon this in my article, How Could Jesus Be Both God And Man?

What is Christianity? The words marking the beginning of the prologue of John’s Gospel nicely summarize this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

What is Christianity? We have separated ourselves from God. If a father establishes rules for his children, he is not doing that to be arbitrary (we can hope), nor is he laboring to be oppressive, or to show off how powerful he is to rule over them. Rather, his rules for his children are a demonstration of his love for them. He wants them to live proper lives so that they might be safe from harm and for their own betterment. But when the children break those rules, it is an offense to the father because the children do not trust him. They trust themselves more. Likewise, when a wife cheats on her spouse, the husband will become angry because of his love for her. He has a special relationship with his wife that is harmed by this betrayal.

Similarly, when we sin, we show disdain for God and separate ourselves from him. Unlike a human father or husband, God cannot have sin in his sight. He is righteous, and in his righteousness, he must punish sin. If a father did not punish his children, he would not love them. If a judge did not punish guilty criminals, he would be a corrupt and immoral judge. Just the same, God must punish sin. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), and it informs us that, “the wage of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ.” (Romans 6:23).

What Is Christianity? – There is nothing we can do to merit eternal life. There are no works that we can offer to God that might justify us. If you stopped sinning right now, from today, until the day that you died, living in absolute holiness and morality, you will still die under God’s wrath. It does not matter if your good deeds weigh more than your evil deeds. God cannot have any sin in his sight. The only way for you to merit eternal life is if you lived in absolute holiness, with not a single sin or blemish or spot, from the time you are born until the time you die. Jesus actually encountered a man who claimed to have attained this level of righteousness and said that the salvation for which he was laboring was like pushing a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24).

Think of it in the sense of a judge and a criminal. The criminal could promise the judge that he was reformed. He could promise that he would never sin again. He could even say that he had done more good deeds than evil deeds. He would still be sentenced to prison because he must be punished for his crime. In the same way, we must be punished for our crime because of the sin we have committed.

What Is Christianity? – Jesus died in our place. We are guilty criminals in God’s sight. Yet God has allowed sin to go unpunished throughout the generations. God has allowed guilty sinners to live despite that every thought that they have and everything that they do is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). He has allowed rapists, liars, thieves, and you, to continue living. He has withheld his hand. He has not crushed you under the heavy weight of his wrath. But the question is, how can God do that? How can a righteous God know what you did yesterday, and not crush you today? How can he still be righteous when he allows someone with an evil heart to exist?

The answer emerges in the cross of Christ. When God the Son became a man, all of the wrath of God the Father that his people deserve was poured out upon him (Isaiah 53:10). He became a propitiation, to demonstrate God’s righteousness, even considering the past forbearance over sins (Romans 3:25). The unrighteousness of man was laid on Christ and nailed to the cross, destroying it. Now the righteousness of the perfect Son of God can be given to his people. The sins of the past are obliterated, cast as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), because Jesus Christ stepped in and paid our fine. He absorbed the wrath of his Father.

Three days after he died, he rose from the dead, proving that he was who he claimed to be. Jesus died “under the curse of God,” because the Law says that anyone who dies in that way, is accursed. But then he rose from the dead, thus vindicating Jesus. Paul informs us that Jesus was, truly, under God’s curse, because “he became a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13). Further, the physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a model for our future resurrection. Thus, Jesus died under the curse of God, so that we would not have to, and rose again, so that we could rise with him.

What Is Christianity? – Justification By Faith Alone. So Jesus died in our place. He died the death that we deserve. He died for our sins. Does that imply universalism? Does that mean that everybody in the world is right with God? Well, not exactly. It means that God offers us a free gift, and we must receive it. The apostle Paul tells us, “to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). Faith is credited as righteousness. Likewise, Jesus told a woman who had faith that “your faith has saved you,” (Luke 7:50). In this way, God justifies the person who has faith in him.

When I say faith, though, I do not merely mean mental assent. I do not merely mean that we must believes a series of propositional truths. I mean that we trust in the sacrifice that Christ made. We trust that God alone has saved us. But faith is granted solely by the Holy spirit. If you are feeling drawn to faith in Christ, it is because the Spirit is drawing you. So I implore you to draw near to him. Draw near to him, and he will grant you faith, and give you the free gift of eternal life.

What Is Christianity? – Delight in righteousness. Salvation comes by faith alone. That is how we are saved, by our faith, and nothing else. Water baptism does not save. Good works do not justify. Only the work of Christ on the cross justify us. But, the faith that we have is complimented by a righteous lifestyle and a joy in doing God’s will. If we do not have that, then we can be sure that we do not have faith.

The righteousness that a Christian has is not a forced and legalistic righteousness. It is not an oppressive list of rules that forces us to do things that we hate. Rather, it is a righteousness that we love. It is a righteousness that we delight in because we delight to do the will of our Father. As Psalm 37:4 reads, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

This delight is not forced. It is not a matter of manufacturing emotions. It is a matter of being made a new creature by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is one who is “born again.” (John 3:5). Paul informs us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that the Christian is literally a transformed and new creature. They have been born again and delight in doing the will of the Father.

What Is Christianity? There are more elements to Christianity that could be considered, and you may feel free to browse this blog to learn more. However, the essential and fundamental tenets of faith are outlined here. God is a trinity. We are born in sin, separate from God and cannot earn our salvation. But Jesus died in our place, then he rose from the dead. Now he offers us the free gift of eternal life, making us new creatures and filling our capacity for delight by living lives dedicated to the righteousness of the Father.

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Is Same Sex Marriage Bad For Homosexuals?

hurt hom 1Is same-sex marriage bad for homosexuals? This is one of the most difficult topics that there is to discuss. I am afraid that many believers, conservatives, and fourteen year olds are incapable of broaching the topic of homosexuality without being almost intentionally offensive. We all interpret reality through the lens of our experiences. But if I have one experience, and a friend of mine has another, which experience is correct? Is it the one that is loaded with the most emotion, that has the greatest appeal to the sympathies of the masses? While emotions are valuable tools, they are tools that lead us to truth. They are not truth in and of themselves. They are helpful guides. Indeed, they are times wherein our emotions lead us astray.

hurt hom 2As we ponder our principle question, “is same-sex marriage bad for homosexuals?” while we do not want to dismiss emotions are utterly irrelevant aspects of life, they should be wielded in an appropriate manner. Emotions should not determine truth, but rather they should function as tools that can guide us to truth. This means that as we present and consider this material, it is not something disconnected from our emotional core. We need to be able to relate to our homosexual friends. To that end, before proceeding, I would encourage you to read my two articles How Should Christians React To The Legalization Of Same-Sex Marriage? and Christians: Imagine You Were A Homosexual.

41sfTkoUVALSame-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by creating a society of fatherless individuals. Many people think that sex before marriage is a drain on the individual because it arbitrarily and oppressively restrains them from that which is natural. It is just an old religious exercise that no longer has any bearing on the individual and especially not on society. However, I would like to suggest that free sexuality leads us into a very compromising position. When a worthless man has sex with a girl to whom he is not committed, it often results in unplanned pregnancies. This particular worthless man has the option to flee for his life and leave this girl to raise the child on their own. This creates the situation of a fatherless home. Children who grow up in fatherless or motherless homes are often a drain on society. Children who come from fatherless homes represent the majority of the countries suicides, rapists, dropouts, inmate, and teenage pregnancy (thus initiating the cycle again). A society of children who grow up without fathers is not a society that is beneficial to homosexuals.

fatherless-america-confronting-our-most-urgent-social-problemBut by endorsing and promoting same sex marriage, the government is endorsing and promoting a system of marriage that necessarily produces children that grow up without father or a mother. The effort to normalize same sex marriage, in turn, normalizes fatherless homes. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? It creates a society of individuals who were raised without one parent. The government needs to endorse properly functioning families because properly functioning families produce properly functioning individuals, and properly functioning individuals produce a properly functioning society.

This is something that is conceded even by thoughtful members of the LGBT community. David Blakenhorn is a liberal democrat who changed his position on same sex marriage precisely because the adverse impact that it has on children. He enunciates this view in his book Fatherless America. Dawn Stefanowicz likewise changed her position about homosexual parenting, as she explained in her book Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by compromising their societal function. Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, a flood of Christians have questioned the legitimacy of any governmental role in marriage. They suggest that people can make a marital commitment to one another without the government intervening. While that is true, that is not to say that the government should have no role in the institution of marriage. The institution of marriage is fundamentally an issue of social order. Marriage can lengthen the lifespan of men and women. It will lure men into being productive in society as opposed to be a drain on society. It protects women from uncommitted boyfriends, and protects mothers from violent crime. It can even lower the cost of welfare. The reason that the government is involved in marriage is that the institution of marriage is the foundation for society. We need a properly functioning system of marriage to have a properly functioning society.

Therefore, the government involves itself in marriage by rewarding those who get married. They are showered with benefits precisely because marriage is central to society. But if the government begins to reward all forms of coupling, as though they were equal to marriage, then the marriage that sustains society is no longer exclusively endorsed. The government, therefore, is rid of all incentive to reward marriage, because they are essentially just rewarding people for becoming a couple. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? Well it creates a society for homosexuals to live wherein the government no longer has any basis for rewarding marriage. Hence, the society in which the homosexual abides will become weaker because the central foundation for society is not being promoted.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by normalizing harmful behavior. If I have a friend who is engaging in behavior that is harmful, I will want to warn them about it. If he is smoking cigarettes, he should be encouraged to quit smoking, lest he die. If a friend is engaging in alcoholism or drug abuse, there would be powerful demonstrations of love for that individual by imploring them to leave that life behind. The obvious difference between these behavior and homosexual behavior is that at some point, somebody chose to pick up a heroin needle. They were not born with an inclination toward heroin. However, some people are born with inclinations toward addictive behavior. Some people have an addictive personality. Some people are born with a pre-inclination toward rage. But when you begin to indulge in that behavior, then the harmful effects manifest themselves.

That is what we see with homosexual behavior. While there are no adverse effects to the mere inclination, there are adverse effects that result from homosexual behavior. The Center For Disease Control reports that more than 82 percent of all sexually transmitted diseases come as a consequence of same sex relations. This, along with other health factors has shortened the average lifespan of the practicing homosexual by ten to twenty years. Of course, this does not exclusively affect homosexuals. The CDC also reports thousands of people who contract AIDS from blood transfusion.

In response to this, you might be inclined to indicate that same sex marriage will commit men to their partner, so that there will no longer be outbursts of lust, hence reducing cases of AIDS among homosexuals and throughout the United States. But as the Journal of Family Psychology points out, “the practice of sexual non-monogamy among some gay couples is one variable that differentiates them from heterosexual couples.” Surveys reveal that men who are in long term homosexual relationships still engage in intercourse with other men. The Sex In America survey that was published by the University of Chicago revealed that there is only a correlation between marital monogamy and sexual monogamy among only 2 percent of those involved in homosexual marriage.

Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? It is horrible for them. By legalizing same sex marriage, we normalize the most potent production of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by separating him from his Creator. This is a debate that is not inherently about religion. Religion is not a factor in the impact that homosexuality has on society. I am not saying that we should outlaw same sex marriage because it is sinful. If I were to say that, I would advocate the outlawing of every sin. The social adversities that we see are purely social adversities. Same sex marriage puts children in a compromising position, impales the foundation of our society and normalizes behavior that is harmful to homosexuals. These are religiously neutral facts.

Yet, if I am to expound upon why same sex marriage is harmful, I would say that it separates man from his Creator. That is not to say that the practicing homosexual is a greater sinner than I. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom, I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). But a fundamental aspect of being a Christian is acknowledging your sin. It is changing your mind about sin, and about Christ. That is what repentance means. It is not a matter of oppressing yourself, creating a legalistic rule to keep yourself from homosexual lust. That is not what it means to follow Christ. What it means to follow Christ is that we are laboring for righteousness with joy. We abstain from sin not because we have arbitrarily set rules for ourselves, but in our love for Christ, who died for us, in our place. While we were enemies of God, while we were dead in our sins, Christ saved us. We were not so righteous that God would choose us. Rather, we were unrighteous and helpless, and Christ came to save us.

This is to say that in Christianity, we are not earning our place with God. It is impossible to do that (Luke 18:27). Christ already did the work for us. When he died, all of God’s punishment that we deserve went out upon him. Then he made us new creatures and justified us as a free gift. As an overflow of the joy that we have, we want to share it with others. Christians labor to bring others to know Christ so that they might feel the ultimate fulfillment of their desires.

I am afraid that worldly folks are just too easily satisfied. The person who would rather indulge in fleshly lusts are just too easily satisfied. Christ created us with this immense capacity for joy. This is one that only he can fill himself. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? Yes, it leads them to turn away from their Creator and put all of their hope in the lust of the flesh.

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What Is A “Jesus Only” Church?

jesus only 1Ancient diversions from orthodoxy seem to sprout up throughout the generations of church history. Christians have classically maintained strict trinitarianism. Any departure from this has been looked upon by the historic church as a heresy. A non-trinitarian model of God would hence be seen as idolatry. Nonetheless, there are some Christian groups who maintain a form of unitarianism. While a trinitarian is a person who believes that there is one God, eternally presented in three persons, a unitarian is one who believes that there is one God, who is one person. This position has manifested itself in several very unique and distinct ways, which often do not have many areas of overlap. Islam is a unitarian system. Jehovah’s Witnesses are essentially Arians, who believe that Jesus is not God. Jesus Only churches are likewise unitarian. But they are very different from other unitarians. A Islamic unitarian or an Arian unitarian would find the Jesus Only form of unitarianism to be quite displeasing. So then, what is the Jesus Only form of unitarianism? Further, what is a “Jesus Only” church?

jesus only 2The Jesus Only churches have some very unique beliefs, apart from merely unitarianism. They have also departed from historical Christianity in their beliefs about water baptism, the use and application of tongues, and the Holy Spirit. However, it might be argued that all of these beliefs are centralized by their unitarianism. Many adherents to the Jesus Only movement will style themselves Oneness Pentecostals. I will labor to present the Oneness Pentecostal positions as fairly as I can, yet also being concise and explaining why I do not think they are a proper representation of the biblical model. Anyone interested in a further discussion may pursue my series of articles that I titled Oneness Pentecostal Heresy.

jesus only 3The “Oneness” View of God. The Jesus Only movement usually does not use the title “unitarianism.” Rather, they prefer to refer to the “oneness” conception of God. Many adherents to the oneness conception of God mistakenly think that the trinity teaches that there are three gods, which is in opposition to strict biblical monotheism that we see throughout the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament. So in an effort to refute the trinity, many will appeal to verses such as Deuteronomy 6:4, which, of course says that there is only one God. I am afraid that many just have been provided with a poor representation of what the doctrine of the trinity teaches. The trinity does not teach that there are three gods. The trinity teaches that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons.

jesus only 4In contrast, the Jesus Only conception of unitarianism maintains that there is one God, and one person, and the name of that one person is Jesus. In this way, Jesus would be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They would just be different manifestations that Jesus takes. At the incarnation, we see the Father becoming a man. That man is the Son. The typical explanation of this that the Jesus Only adherent will give is that the Son is just the human nature of Jesus, while the Father is the spiritual nature of Jesus. The Son is not God in this sense. Rather, the Son is the human nature that Jesus takes on. Indeed, we are all “sons” of God. So when the Son is communicating with the Father, that is just his human nature speaking with his spiritual nature.

This is contradicted by the plain claims to divinity that the Son has. In Hebrews 1:8, the Father says to the Son, “Your throne, O God, is everlasting.” In Luke 23:46, as Jesus is dying, he cries out, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” Since Jesus is committing his “spiritual nature” to the Father, this indicates that his spiritual nature is not the Father. Since Jesus is not the Father, neither in his spiritual nature, nor in his human nature (if indeed we could separate such things), it follows that this form of unitarianism is not true. What is a “Jesus Only” Church? They maintain this view of God that is historically known as modalism, which is patently contradicted by the scriptural testimony.

Baptism In The Name of Jesus. If somebody were to be baptized into the Jesus Only Church, they would undergo a baptism that explicitly endorses unitarianism. Matthew 28:19 offers the prescriptive baptismal formula that the church has applied throughout the generations. The trinitarian baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Only Church maintains that since the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is Jesus, it is thus appropriate to baptize exclusively in the name of Jesus. What is a “Jesus Only” Church? They are marked very particularly by their insistence upon water baptism with their baptismal formula. The trinitarian baptism is illegitimate. Only those who are hear the words “in the name of Jesus,” as they are being water baptized, are saved.

They draw support from the baptisms throughout the book of Acts, wherein the apostles are routinely said to have baptized in the name of Jesus. Their signature text is Acts 2:38, wherein Peter declares, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Oneness Pentecostals routinely appeal to Acts 2:38 to justify their entire theology. To them, it is a confirmation of modalism (since it proves that the “name” of the Father, Son, and Spirit, is Jesus) and their baptismal formula.

There are two elements of this that are worthy of being challenged. First is the issue of baptismal regeneration. The suggestion that water baptism is necessary for salvation is utterly foreign to Scripture. Paul taught salvation by faith alone (click here to read more). Jesus taught salvation by faith alone (click here to read more). The idea that Acts, a historical narrative, has the capacity to undermine a didactic letter is absurd (click here to read more). In these articles, you will find surgical defenses of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Second criticism: when one acts “in the name of” something, they are not speaking of reciting those words. If I act in the name of a king, I am acting in his authority. It does not matter if I recite the name of the king. I could merely say, “the name of the king,” and still be acting in his name. We see this idiomatic usage of the term in Acts 4:7, wherein it is inquired of Peter and John, “by what power, or in what name do you do that?” Name is an idiom for power and authority, not necessarily an indication that we have to recite the name of the individual.

The necessity of tongues. For the Jesus Only Church, once you have been water baptized with the recitation of the word “Jesus,” then you are almost there. You have almost made it to salvation. The last thing that you have to do is be filled with the Holy Spirit, that is necessarily evidenced by speaking with ecstatic tongues. If you do not speak with ecstatic tongues, then it follows that you do not have the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Only Church insists that tongues are a necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit. Of course, most Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. That is what it means to be “born again,” to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, made a new creature by the power of God and given the free gift of eternal life. However, for the Oneness Pentecostal, the outward indicator of being filled with the Spirit is that the believer will begin to speak with tongues.

They would draw support from the book of Acts, wherein people are filled with the Holy Spirit, being complimented by speaking with other tongues. The problem is that there is no reason to think that speaking with other tongues is normative, or a necessary indicator of salvation. Indeed, there are instances in Acts where people are filled with the Spirit and do not speak with tongues (Acts 8:17). For a critical examination of this belief, please see my article Are Tongues Necessary For Salvation?

What is a “Jesus Only” church? They are a group who align themselves with Christianity, yet deny the trinity, and ensure that their members declare their denial of the trinity through an explicitly non-trinitarian baptism. This baptism is seen as an essential element of one’s salvation, and piled upon that are tongues, which are also necessary for salvation. This is fundamentally what a Jesus Only Church is.

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Christians: Imagine You Were A Homosexual

imagine gay 1The flames of emotion were ignited a few days ago and their smoke perennially drifts amidst the atmosphere. Many think that this legalization has marked the end of the debate over same sex marriage. But the ongoing struggle over abortion seems to suggest that the debate over same sex marriage probably will not fade into irrelevancy just because it is legal now. There will continue to be people who oppose it and people who advocate it. However, I am afraid that the flames of emotion can be quite scorching. People are more interested in making declarations of pride in their respective stances than they are communicating with one another. I am afraid that we almost need a diplomat to barter between both sides so that we may have effective communication. The problem is that many Christians just do not understand the homosexual position. Thus, I have a challenge for you. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual.

imagine gay 2It is quite regrettable that throughout history, people have been unable to sympathize with those who were slightly different from them. We have been unable to diplomatically understand what those with whom we disagree are saying, and for this reason, communication becomes impossible. It becomes the case that we are merely laboring to shout each other down, and the person who shouts loudest, wins. The person who uses the most emotionally loaded names, wins. Of course, emotions can be a good thing when they encourage discussion. But throughout this discourse, emotions stifle discussion. They become a smokescreen. The emotions make it impossible for thinking citizens to scrutinize the relevant issues. In this way, all I am faced with are the emotions of the other party, and my own emotions. If we are going to communicate with one another, then we need to understand one another. This initiates my challenge. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual.

imagine gay 3You have been bullied from your youth. Adolescence are often far too immature to handle people who are different from them. Homosexual adolescence are typically cast as outcast, foreigners, and victims. When a homosexual youth “comes out,” and reveals their homosexuality, the wind of betrayal begins to whistle through their world. Their friends begin to snub them, or they treat them very differently. In many cases, we will see boys who are bullied, beaten up by other young boys. The schoolyard becomes hazardous, the mundane cafeteria becomes atwitter with deriding snickers, scowls of disgust and hateful taunting. The people who once deemed you their friends have abruptly cut you off. The bonds of friendship that you once thought were strong enough to endure are cut.

imagine gay 4Then you venture to the place wherein you think that you have solace. You reveal your deep emotional turmoil to your parents with the knowledge that while the rest of the world will wrinkle their nose in disgust of you, certainly, your parents will maintain steadfast love and support. But alas, the boy reveals to his parents that he is a homosexual, and he sees his fathers’ face go pale. A tear streams his mothers’ cheeks, and perhaps one of them (probably the father) gets up from the table, not saying a word in response. The child is left totally alone to think that they have some sort of deformity. When their parents’ finally do come to them wielding advice, they tell their child, that “it is a choice,” suggesting that their child just choose to not be a homosexual. The child offers the heavy retort, “if it were a choice, why would I choose to put myself through all of this?” But their parents do not understand. Nobody understands.

Finally, they encounter somebody who does understand. Some older advocate of same-sex marriage, and he begins to educate the boy. He tells him of the pride in being a homosexual, and the bigotry of the outside world. He draws comparisons to racism and slavery, and the child understands that it is not he who is deformed, but rather, that the outside world is bigoted. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. You have been through all of this. Now, any time somebody approaches you with a disagreeable opinion, you filter it through all of your past experiences. You filter it through the bigotry and hatred that you have endured throughout your entire life. It becomes the case that anybody who speaks a disagreeable opinion is, in fact, committing bigotry. You just cannot see passed that. Everything is interpreted in light of that established reality. You have made the assumption that any dissent is equal to schoolyard bullying and parental shunning. Even the most loving person, who thinks that homosexuality is harmful behavior, is categorically assumed to be a bigot by fiat.

Religious people have been hateful toward you. Now that you are an adult, you are expressing and publicly embracing the same-sex lifestyle. You are doing this to solidify homosexuality as normative, so that nobody has to endure what you endured as a teenager. But as you do this, you realize that there are many people who are so thoroughly appalled at your lifestyle, and it seems to be a consequence of their religious beliefs. The religious people around you cite the Bible as a means of controlling your life, and many of them truly are being bigoted and nasty toward you. These people really do not understand who you are and what you have been through. They really do not understand your past, and they really have no intention of doing so. The only thing that they want to do is spout their opinions, without an inkling of compassion for you as another human being. The religious folks are keen on using emotionally loaded and offensive words, like, “abomination,” or threatening you with hellfire.

As far as you can tell, they are taking a stance of superiority over you. They are claiming that you are some sort of second-class citizen. They are claiming that you are an abomination. The reason for this precisely something that they could never control. The reason that they are better than you is that they have heterosexual inclinations, and you have homosexual inclinations. As far as you can tell, these are amoral consequences of ones’ genetics. As far as you can remember, you never chose to be a homosexual (why would you?) and they never chose to be a heterosexual. If neither of you made this choice, it seems utterly unreasonable for them to stand in judgment over you. This is how people are interpreting Christians when they are standing on the street corner shouting, holding signs, or even writing in all capital letters on social networking sites.

As a consequence of this, you begin to develop the assumption that the entire debate is related to religion. People only condemn same-sex marriage because their religion condemns it. When people begin to speak about the societal drains that same-sex marriage may cause, you interpret what they are saying as an inherently religious statement, even if they are not making a religious statement. Communication becomes impossible because everything that is related to politics that they are saying becomes a matter of religion. So if somebody says, “I think the government should exclusively endorse traditional marriage as opposed to same-sex marriage,” you only interpret this as a religious statement. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. Even while the debate is not an inherently religious one, it becomes a religious debate precisely because you have made it one. Christians have made this into a religious debate, and this has distorted our ability to communicate properly. This is not a religious debate. The reasons for opposing government-endorsed same-sex marriage should not be religious. This would be a societal debate, rather than a religious one.

You are in love with a person of the same sex. As you begin to develop as an adult and hone your identity as a homosexual individual in society, you find that your attractions to people of the same sex far exceed mere sexual attraction (of course). You find that you are quite keen toward individuals. You begin to develop feelings for somebody, and they for you. You come to think that this individual is the person with whom you want to spend your life. In this way, the issue of same-sex marriage becomes more than just an abstract societal concept to you. It becomes more than a proposition worthy of defending in open debate. It has developed into more than a cause for protest. Same-sex marriage becomes precious to you because of the commitment and the rich history that it chauffeurs with it.

Now, when people begin to call you an abomination, the offense is deepened. You are stricken with anger, because not only are they denying you, not only are they being offensive toward you, but they are calling this love that you have an abomination. Yet it feels like the most pure substance that you have ever drank. For them to call it an abomination leaves you to wonder how anybody could be so cold. You would never approach them and tell them that their marriages and their relationships with their precious loved ones were abominations. Yet that is the treatment that you are receiving.

This social issue becomes more than a social issue. It becomes personal. It becomes beloved, and now, when people refuse your rights, it becomes deeply personal. It becomes a matter of love. The opponents typically just do not address that, or if they do, they are rather indifferent to the suffering of other people. The conservative refuses to communicate that they are not laboring to muffle the love you they have. As a purely societal question, there can be no objections to the coupling of members of the same-sex, nor their long-term commitment. That is simply nobody’s business. But, conservatives have neglected to express that the debate is not over whether people can have private marriage. Of course people of the same-sex can have love for one another without social objection from the opponent of the LGBT movement. Rather, the issue is one of government-endorsed marriage and commitment. The reason anybody would oppose that is purely for societal reasons. But that is not to say that they cannot love one another or continue in a loving relationship until death. They are free to do that. The opponents are merely expressing that they do not think the government should endorse it. Conservatives have failed to communicate this point. I labored to outline the societal issues in my article Is Same Sex Marriage Bad For Homosexuals?

Should we continue to shout each other down? The reason that people will not budge on these issues is not just that they are stubborn. It is not that they hate you or want to argue. The reason is that they are real people, with a real past. If the Christian really wants to communicate with the proponent of the LGBT movement, then they need to acknowledge the emotional baggage that comes with it. They need to labor to express self-sacrificial love for that person, and allowing their love to be their seat at the table. Then, in the confines of a trusting friendship, real progress can be made. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. Then you will be able to communicate this is not an issue over religion, nor is it that you hate them or want to bully them. This is purely a social question with real social implications. We are all struggling to develop a properly functioning society of thinking men and women. To that end, we need to listen to one another, sympathize with the past and burdens and emotions, and share ideas freely.

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How Should Christians React To The Legalization Of Same Sex Marriage?

ssm 1The internet has displayed a flood of reactions to the legalization of same sex marriage. There is rejoicing and great joy. Homosexuals find that they can finally live in open union with their loved one, receiving the same governmental additives as a heterosexual conjugation. The proverbial and literal flag of the homosexual movement waves highly and proudly today. From that esteemed angle, they may find it proper to look down upon all of those who have (and still) oppose them. The Christians have begun claiming that today, we enter into the “last days.” Such a perilous movement for humanity is surely going to usher in the end of times. Perhaps this is just a way of saying, “I am quite displeased with this turn of events.” I am not sure. However, I would like to help Christians to formulate their thoughts. For this reason, I ask and labor to answer the question, how should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage?

ssm 2Every time this sort of debate is ignited, it is exceedingly hostile. We will see smoke emitting from the ears of people who are otherwise often quite kind-hearted. Charges of bigotry and inequality will arise. People have it ingrained in their minds that marriage equality is akin to slavery, women’s rights, and other issues pertaining to human rights. People think of it as a violation of human rights. They are imposing their beliefs upon others. They are controlling the lives of others. That is why it is so difficult to have a conversation. But Christians should know how to have a conversation. Christians have to react properly to this turn of events. How can we do that? How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage?

ssm 3We need to educate ourselves. When people apply both ignorance and arrogance, it is quite a deadly combination. It seems that many people, both Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative, are very emotionally charged about this issue. However, when that emotion merges with ignorance, it is very difficult to communicate. When both parties are speaking in emotional ignorance, then it becomes just impossible. I am afraid that this characterization is not far from the truth. Many Christians are just completely uneducated about the relevant issues that pertain to same sex marriage and marriage equality. They just have no idea.

ssm 4They do not know how to speak to a liberal or understand their language or way of thinking. They do not know how to approach this issue purely from a social standpoint. While the Bible is the sole infallible rule of authority for the church, it is not the authority that the secular world accepts for themselves (otherwise they would not be the secular world). The reason that conservative scholars oppose same sex marriage may be ultimately driven by their belief in the bible, but if it is a belief that truly is for the betterment for society, then we should be able to articulate why society would be better in the absence of same sex marriage. Many Christian academics have undertaken such a project. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? Well, the social justification for denying same sex marriage needs to be understood.

ssm 5When we have a conversation with our liberal friends, we need to be able to properly enunciate what we believe and why we believe it. We may appeal to the Bible if we would like. But our respectful friend would say something like, “Okay, that works for you. But I do not believe in the Bible. While I am thrilled for you that your faith has given you purpose in life, it is just not what I am interested in at this particular point. With that in mind, I do not think that I should be forced to follow the rules of your faith.” In this way, if we are going to have a conversation with people, if we are really going to represent the biblical position, then we need to be intelligent and educated. If the conservative party had a proper representative, the debate would not be easily won. Seek out good books on the topic. Doctor Frank Turek’s Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone labors to outline the relevant issues.

ssm 6Allow your love to be your seat at the table. Perhaps an argument could be made that this subsection should have been first. But I do not place them based on importance. The love that Christians demonstrate needs to be our seat at the table. People are willing to listen to us not because we scream louder than they do. They are willing to listen to us not only because we are educated and intelligent. They are willing to listen to us not because we can articulate our points effectively or refute everything that they are saying. People do not listen to that. The reason that they listen to us is that we are willing to show love to them, and hence, we have gained their respect and honor. People want to hear the moral opinion expressed by those who have a proven worthy moral opinion. If Charles Manson wanted to explain to me how one behaves as a decent person in society, most of us would not hold his opinion in high esteem. But if Mother Teresa were to outline that for us, then that is a person of worthy repute that we could listen to.

If a Christian wants to be able to communicate with other people, if we want to make ourselves known, then we need our love for them to be the foundation upon which we stand. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about fuzzy, warm feelings or butterflies in the stomach. I am not talking about a generic concept. I am talking about something very specific. Consider the Golden Rule. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means that to the degree that we attend to our own needs, so also we should tend to the needs of our fellow man. If you can be self-sacrificial, if you can give something to your friends, then seek to do that. If you have a few hours that you would normally spend on yourself, give it to your neighbor. When they see that you are sacrificing yourself, that you truly care about them, then your moral opinion is elevated. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? Allow your love to be your seat at the table.

There are so many people who align themselves with Christianity that just want to shout others down. They just want to make their voices heard, and pretend that they are doing a service to Christ and a service to their cause. But what they are contributing is not the love that I see revealed in Christ, as he said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Do not compromise biblical principles. The way this debate is framed makes it very challenging to the Christian faith. It is not so much that we are debating the truth value of a certain proposition. Rather, we are debating human value, so it seems. The LGBT movement often seems to portray the debate as akin to the debate over interracial marriage, or slavery, or something historic that has emerged with obvious moral overtones. The debate over same sex marriage has extreme moral overtones. If you enunciate a view that contradicts the common wisdom of the day regarding this issue, you are hastily labeled a bigot. You become the center of controversy. People are out to stomp on you. Christians do not want that. Nobody wants that.

As a consequence, many people will neglect to take a stance on this issue. Christians will remain on the fence, and make only vague remarks regarding their stance of same sex marriage. They will say that they are studying as much as they can to come to a proper conclusion on the issue. But what they are truly doing is acting in fear of what the general public will think of they align with conservative Christianity. If they repudiate same sex marriage, then they are labeled a bigot. If they embrace same sex marriage, they are labeled unfaithful. I think most of us can understand the impulse to remain “on the fence,” or try to find a position that seems to appease everybody, or at least one that does not make everybody angry.

While I understand the desire to make that effort, I am not just convinced that this is what Christians are called to do. Christians are called to stand by the principles of the word of God, because it is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church. It is authoritative in the revealed doctrines and practices, and it is God’s word. It seems that if this is God’s word, then we need only to embrace it without allowing the practices of the world to corrupt it. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? We must not reinterpret the Bible to satisfy the demands of the culture. We have to read the culture through the lens of the biblical worldview.

We need to help other Christians to stop compromising. This is a practice that is done with the caveats outlined earlier. We have to do it in love and do it intelligently. We need to call our fellow Christians into obedience to the word of God. If we are losing ground on every front, even in the church, then the American church will be lost. It will slide utterly into secularism within just a few decades, and in the United States, the only thing that we will see is liberal theology. The only thing that we will see are people who have a vague notion of God, who believe that Jesus was a nice guy who suffered an unfortunate death, and that the Bible has a grain of truth amidst a beach of error.

The implications for the church in the United States could not be more dire. We need to love the Bible and obey it. We need to help our fellow Christians to obey it. Of course, I do believe that God will, and does, preserve his church. I am not saying that the universal Church will fall. I am saying that the church in the United States will collapse. There will be revitalization somewhere else, in the future, but the United States will lose what Christianity is has left. Where are the men and women who are willing to stand for biblical truth? Who are willing to help their friends to understand what the Bible says? We are going to lose this culture to secularism. How should Christians react to the legalizations of same sex marriage? It begins with an act of courage from the individual Christian. If you know a Christian who is on the fence, or who outrightly believes in it, try to lovingly and intelligently draw them to obey the truth. A good resource on the biblical data concerning same sex marriage is the book The Same Sex Controversy by Doctor James White.

Remember that you, too, are a sinner. People are often repelled from the Christian faith because of how judgmental and bigoted Christians are. They are not willing to give a hearing to a word that the Christian says. Rather than allowing their love to be their seat at the table, their hatred becomes a repellent for everybody around them. They are judgmental and mean. They will become angry when a homosexual joins their company, and it becomes apparent that they have a distaste for that individual, on the basis of their homosexuality. They define that person as a homosexual, and cannot see passed it. Of course, the lady or gentlemen might maintain homosexuality as part of their identity, but it is not meant to be slanderous as the bigoted Christian is using it.

So rather than being hateful, judgmental and bigoted, the Christian who has truly been born again will see another reality emerge. This is a worthy saying: Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). We do not come to God because we are so much better than homosexuals. In and of ourselves, we are much worse than these people. We need to remember that while we were still enemies of God, while we were unrighteous, while we were unbelievers, God made us alive through Christ Jesus. He gave us new life, on the merits of the Son of God, who died in the place of his people. He took on the death that we deserve and then he rose from the dead. Just as he died and rose again, so also the old man dies and rises again a new creature. “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 2:5

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Did Jesus Teach Salvation By Faith Alone?

jesus faith alone 1The person of Christ is often smeared by the non-believer (whether intentionally or not) to put salvation by works in his mouth. Some will suggest that while Paul taught that salvation comes by faith alone apart from the works of the Law, he departed from the teachings of Jesus. Paul said that “To the one who does not work, but believe in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). This would be in contrast with Jesus, so the argument goes. Jesus maintained salvation by accordance to the Torah and to the righteousness revealed therein. In this way, one would be saved by works and by their righteousness, rather than by faith. But what did Jesus teach? Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone?

jesus faith alone 2It is important to point out that this is not a denial of the letters of Paul. Paul’s letters were Scripture. Rather, this is an answer to the question that the unbelievers will pose as they labor to pit Paul’s letters against what Jesus said. Further, some people who claim to align themselves with historic Christianity think that both Paul and Jesus taught that salvation comes by works, and they will appeal to Jesus quite frequently, since he had a lot to say about living a righteous lifestyle. But the question is not whether he wanted us to live a righteous lifestyle. Rather, the question is whether that righteous lifestyle would merit our salvation.

jesus faith alone 3It is finished. In John 19:30, Jesus cried out, “it is finished,” and then he died. Most people believe that Jesus was saying that the debt for sin had been paid. He made a sacrifice on our behalf, because God could never forgive guilty sinners. It is like if a judge had a guilty criminal in a courtroom. He could not just let him go, lest he be a corrupt and an immoral judge. Since God is not corrupt or immoral, a debt must be paid. He must do justice. He must pour out his wrath. When Christ died, all of the wrath that we deserve was poured out on him. He paid our fine. He died in our place, as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). That is the theology of John, and these are the words that we see Jesus saying in John’s gospel. Jesus died with the declaration that the debt for sins had been paid. Then he rose from the dead, proving that he was who he claimed to be.

jesus faith alone 4If the debt for sin had been paid, if Jesus did die for the sins of the world, then there is nothing more that needs to be done to add to that sacrifice. Jesus already paid our fine. For the person to try to earn their salvation is an utter rejection of the payment that Christ already made. Christ did the work for us on the cross. He already died the death that we deserve. He already took away the sins of his people. He did that precisely because we could never do it ourselves. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? Of course he did. He taught that his work on the cross was the end of the atonement to be made for sins.

jesus faith alone 5His sheep hear his voice. When Jesus calls, his sheep hear his voice. Those who have been predetermined as God’s elect will come to him. But there is no way for somebody to become righteous enough to be God’s elect. It is determined solely by the sovereign decree of God. This decree determines the distinction between the sheep and the goats. The sheep are God’s elect people. They follow him, and he knows them. Those who believe in Christ hold that disposition because they are God’s sheep. Those who do not believe in Christ hold that disposition because they are not God’s sheep. To that effect, Jesus says, “But you do not believe me, because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:26). The reason that they do not believe him is precisely that they are not his sheep.

jesus faith alone 6Those who are his sheep hear his voice (John 10:27), and they follow him upon hearing his voice. In this way, salvation is provided to those who answer the voice of the Son of God. Those who answer his call are his sheep, and they are given eternal life. The causal determinant of their following Jesus is that they are his sheep. He gives them eternal life. They do not earn it, because the only reason that they are following him in the first place is that he called them and preserved them, as the text says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28).

The reason that the Son possesses the sheep is that the Father gave them over to him. He says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,” (John 10:29). The Father sovereignly decreed who the sheep were and handed them over to the Son. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He taught that one is saved solely by the sovereign decree and choosing of God. Thus, it is impossible for a person to work for or earn that salvation.

It is impossible to keep the commandments. A rich man approached Jesus and asked how it is that he could attain eternal life. But the way that he phrased his question triggered a very interesting response. He asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Now I will say that I do not think that Jesus was claiming to be a bad guy, and I did expound upon the Christological implications of this statement in my article Is Jesus God In The Gospel of Mark?)

Jesus called this man to consider the words that he used. He told him that nobody was good. If nobody is good, then nobody can merit eternal life with God. Then he listed the commandments. Perhaps this can be taken as a challenge to this man. Have you met this standard of righteousness and holiness? Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not defraud, honor your father and mother (v. 19). This man claimed righteousness. He claimed to be precisely what Jesus just said that no man is. He claimed to be good (v. 20). But Jesus knew that he was lying, or deceiving himself. So he said that he still lacks perfection and told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. He said this to show the man that he was unrighteous. He said this to expose sin to this man so that sin might become exceedingly sinful. This man wanted to know how to earn eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep all of the commandments, be perfectly righteous, every day, from the time he is born, until the time he dies. He must never sin.

After the man left, Jesus declared to the people, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24-25). This astonished the disciples, because they viewed the rich as people who were blessed of God. If they cannot be saved, who can? If it is that hard to be saved, “Who, then, can be saved?” (v. 26). Who can be saved if you have to live in absolute perfection for all of your days? Who can be saved if it is harder than pushing a camel through the eye of a needle? Who can be saved? Jesus answers them, “With people it is impossible. But not with God. All things are possible with God.” (v. 27). Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He taught that the only way that a person can be saved is by trusting in God for their salvation, and not in themselves. So, yes.

Your faith has saved you. Luke 7:36 records that the professors of theology invited Jesus to come and dine with them, perhaps so that they might challenge him, or get to know his doctrine and understanding. As Jesus was in the professor’s house, an immoral woman approached and anointed him and kissed his feet. Offended, the professor thought that if Jesus really were a prophet, he would know that this woman was an immoral woman (v. 39).

Knowing what he was thinking, Jesus turned to his disciple Simon and told him the parable of the two debtors. One man owes a large debt, the other a small debt. The man to whom both were indebted decided that he would forgive their debt. Of this, Jesus posed the question to Simon, “which of them will love the moneylender more?” and Simon answered obviously that the man who has the larger debt will love him more.

In this way, the woman who had sinned so much was forgiven of her sins, and that was why she loved Jesus so much. Jesus forgave her sins. Jesus was like the moneylender, and she was the debtor, and Jesus forgave her sins. Her forgave her sins on the basis of her faith. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (v. 50). Jesus knew that she had saving faith because of the love that she showed (v. 47). So Jesus did not think that works saved her. Rather, works were a demonstration of her faith. She loved much because she had been forgiven. As a result of the forgiveness that she received, she had love.

He offered people salvation immediately. Upon a model of works-righteousness, one is saved only after they achieve a measure of righteousness. They labor vigorously until they reach a point where they are holy enough for God to allow them into their presence. Thus, for somebody to be saved in an instant would be unthinkable. Nobody can be saved in an instant. Salvation is a process that takes a long time and a lot of hard work.

Yet Jesus offered salvation in an instant to wicked people who would turn to him. When he encountered the woman at the well, he told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). The living water to which he refers is the Holy Spirit. He told this woman that if she would have just asked him, he would have given her salvation, and it would have been a gift. That is the precise word that he uses. It is a gift of God. A gift is not something that one can earn. If it were, it would be a wage; something that was due to them. A gift is something that God gives freely. Thus Jesus told this woman that if she would have asked him, he would have given her the gift of God, the living water. Yet this woman had not been laboring in righteousness. She followed a religious system that denied much of the Old Testament, and she was sexually immoral (v. 18). Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He offered salvation freely to people in an instant.

We see this again in the thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). Jesus is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and one of them begins to repent of his sins. Of course, there are no good works that he can do. It is strictly internal. He changes his mind about his sin. He changes his mind about Christ. He changes his mind about God. He saw the mercy of Jesus. He saw that Jesus prayed for the very men who were persecuting him. So he cried out to the other thief, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (v. 41). Then he pleaded with Jesus, “When you come into your kingdom, remember me!” (v. 42) He knew that there was nothing good in himself that could bring him to that kingdom. He knew that he was dead in his sins, worthy only of condemnation. He asks only that Jesus remember him. But Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He offers mercy, freely, to the greatest of sinners. He tells them that today they are being offered eternal life. As unbelievers, as enemies of God, they are offered new life. They are born again, made new creatures, and repent of their sins. They are transformed instantly from a state of condemnation to a state of justification. Praise Christ for offering us this salvation that we could never earn.

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Do Our Experiences Of God Give Us Reason To Believe In Him?

experiences 1It is often difficult for people to articulate why they believe in the existence of God. This may not be because they are stupid or uneducated, but rather that they have never thought about it from that angle. So they as they ponder this question, they may reveal answer that are either inadequate, or they are unable to defend. They believe in God because of the Bible, or because of the risen Savior, or because of the abundance of the natural world, or because of their relationship with Christ. These are all good answers for why a person believes in the existence of God. But people often find that they are just unable to defend the thesis that God exists upon rigorous scrutiny, and this is just because they have never had the need to engage in any form of apologetics. So when atheists think that they are intellectual elitists, asking trivial questions, like Who Created God? the good Christian might not know how to answer these questions. But what they do know is that they have a relationship with Christ. Does this relationship give them reason to believe? Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him?experience 2

You have been born again. Those who truly know Christ have been born again. They were spiritually dead, lost in their sins and enemies of God. They hated righteousness. Any time they tried to do righteousness, it was always as though they were locking themselves in a legalistic cage. That is why when somebody who is not born again tries to live a Christian life, they grow to hate it, and they develop a deep hatred for God and all of his restrictions, because that is all they are to the unregenerate. They are arbitrary restrictions. Hence, the one who is not born again will leave the Christian faith and have a sense of freedom.experiences 3

Thus for someone to believe in Christ, for someone to give their life to him is a miracle. For someone to have their heart of flesh replaced with a heart of stone is a miracle. Such a person does not hate righteousness, but rather they love to do the will of their Father, and labor with joy for him and for his glory. They have been born again. They have seen the changes that God has wrought in their heart and they know that such a thing could never happen by the power of the flesh. They interact with God daily, and know his presence and recognize him. They hear the voice of the Son of God and they follow him.

experiences 4In this way, their relationship with Christ is akin to a relationship with another person. Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Well that seems like asking if our experiences of our neighbor give us reason to believe that we really have a neighbor. Of course it does. The Christian can stand firmly in their knowledge of him because they know him, and he knows them.

What if we are just hallucinating? Well, that is certainly possible, as with anything. I could be hallucinating the external world. I could be hallucinating my entire life. I could be in a coma somewhere, dreaming that all of this is happening. I could be a peasant from the middle east in the tenth century, who walks around barefoot all day eating stale bread, hallucinating the 21st century. I could be in a mental institution, imagining this life. These things are possible. I cannot disprove them. They are logically possible.

In the same way, I could be hallucinating the people around me. I could have manufactured my neighbor. They could just be a product of my imagination. You could have manufactured your wife. Perhaps you were so desperate to find someone that you invented your wife and now you live blissfully in that delusion. These things are possible.

So in the same way, the atheist might point out the possibility that we are just hallucinating God. But I am not sure if that is a proper approach for us to take in reality. If you are going to say that I am hallucinating something, then there had better be a really good reason for it. You had better be able to provide some evidence to substantiate the claim that I am hallucinating. In other words, you will need to provide evidence that God does not exist, if I am going to believe that I am hallucinating. If you are unable to do that, then the default position is to trust what I see plainly. It is a properly basic belief in this way. Do our experiences of God give us reasons to believe in him? We do not question the existence of that which we can see plainly in the absence of evidence.

What about other faith groups who see things plainly? The existence of somebody who sees something plainly that is not really there does not undermine belief in the external world, or people or cars or plants or food. I can believe that I am eating a turkey sandwich, even if the person across the table thinks that they are praying to a religious figure that I do not believe in. There is nothing there to compromises that properly basic belief. In fact, as I said, in the absence of a defeater, we can probably say that they are justified (at least from a logical angle) in that belief.

However, I would suggest that in the case of the world religions aside from Christianity, there are overriding defeaters. They hold to a conception of God that is not maximally great, though many of them claim to be. Many of the world religions believe that God does not punish sin. A God who does not punish sin is like a court judge who lets a guilty criminal walk out of the courtroom a free man. He is a corrupt and immoral judge. If God is maximally great, then he is good, and righteous, and holy, and so he must punish sin. He must do justice. The world religions labor to solve this problem, and tend to either deny that evil exists, or put man into a legalistic cage, and suggest that he must earn his favor with God. He must do good works to wipe away the bad ones. But upon that model, God is still not righteous. He is still overlooking the sin that man commits, and letting him walk free. But if a guilty criminal standing before a court judge were to say that he has committed more good deeds than evil deeds, he would still be found guilty, because the evil that he committed deserves to be punished. Hence, the world religions are found lacking, because they do not solve this logical quagmire.

This is one of the greatest logical problems in all of history. It is the problem that all of the world religions have tried to answer. God provided an answer for us in Romans 3:23-26. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Christ died in our place, as our substitute. He paid for our sins. He absorbed the wrath of God in full on the cross, and then he rose from the dead, in vindication and glory.

Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Yes, and that is not undermined by the experiences of other faith groups, because there is a powerful overriding defeater of that belief. If there were an overriding defeater of Christianity, then likewise, Christianity would be proven to be false. If it could be shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then that would serve as an overriding defeater. The atheist has his work cut out for him.

What about unfalsifiable beliefs? If somebody holds to a belief in the almighty square circle (as most of the world religions do), then we would point out that there is an overriding defeater of their experiences of the almighty square circle, namely that a square has four corners and a circle does not have any. This conception of religion is mostly to what I am referring when I am speaking about overriding defeaters.

But suppose a person has a belief that is both irrational and unfalsifiable. Something for which there just is no overriding defeater. A person is claiming to have a conversation with an invisible unicorn. If I try to touch, it moves away and I cannot feel it. I inquire as to why I cannot hear it or detect it in any way, and the person has a reason. There is no overriding defeater of this belief. Does that make it reasonable? I do not think so.

For someone to believe in an invisible unicorn that is totally undetectable by the outside world is absolutely unprecedented. It is not something that even Christians propose. Our testimony is, “seek, and you will find. If you draw near to God, he will draw near to you.” Salvation is a free gift offered to all men, everywhere. It is also something that many people experience. It has a precedent. Billions of people alive today and throughout the world claim to experience God. In contrast, there are probably 0, or 1, or 2 people who see and interact with undetectable unicorns. Thus it is just not something for us to take seriously.

Is this a blind belief in something that we do not know or understand? I am not advocating that sort of belief. You are reading from a website called thereforegodexists.com. I believe in apologetics. I believe in evidence. I think there is good evidence that God exists in the natural world, in science, and in history. But even if the Christian has no access to these disciplines, they still have reason to believe that God exists, on the basis of their personal experiences of him.

But that is not a blind belief. When I say a blind belief, I mean something that we believe in despite that we have no reasons to believe. But our experiences of a person are reasons to believe. I have no evidence that I am not hallucinating my neighbor. It is strictly an unprovable assumption. But I still know that he exists on the basis of my experience of him, and it would be unreasonable to deny it. In the same way, we know that God exists on the basis of our experiences of him. That is not a blind faith any more than belief in my neighbor is a blind faith. Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Yes, they do, and this belief is warranted, and not blind.

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How Do I Know If I Am Saved?

how saved 1People are fond of misrepresenting their opponents. They will quickly and eagerly find opportunities to slander those with whom they disagree, or take their writings out of context to make it seem as though they were saying something that they were not. Many people accuse Martin Luther of denying the inspiration of the book of James. They will also charge he and other reformers with antinomianism. This is a position that suggests that Christians have no moral duties, that they can live however they want, indulging in every manner of sin as a freedom in Christ. The apostle Paul seemed to have been charged with the same thing when he defended his thesis of justification by faith alone. Though, the thinking man can see the intellectual quarry that is raised by Paul’s thesis. On the one hand, he argues that a person is justified the moment they have faith in Jesus (Romans 4:5). On the other, he says that people have to live a certain way to be counted among the brethren (Romans 2:13). In this way, there are people out there who think that they have faith and think that they have been born again, when in fact they have not. So, we may ask, how do I know if I am saved?

how saved 2The distinction that is being raised is the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church are members of the Christian church who have an orthodox confession of faith and attend church regularly. They believe that Jesus is God and that they cannot do anything to merit or sustain their salvation. But among these, there are people who have not really been born again. They have not been made new by the power of God. They are still in the flesh. How do you know if you are one of them? How do I know if I am saved? How do I know if I have been born again?

You hate the sin in your life. For someone to be born again is to be made new by the power of God and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. They are literally new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a person will be molded into the image of the Son. They will struggle and they will fall. They will still sin (1 John 1:8). But they will have a new relationship with sin such that it appalls them. It is an affront to them and to the glory of the character of God. It is offensive to them and they do everything that they can to flee from it. Foolish preachers will say things like, “Sin is fun.” But sin is not fun. Sin is appalling. How do I know if I am saved? This is the testimony of the person who has been born again. They hate sin.

Now I want to very carefully nuance this discourse. Believers can lock themselves in legalistic cages. They can put up fleshly rules that restrict themselves against sin. But in their hearts, they still want it. They still desire it. They stay up, night after night longing for their love affair with sin. Their relationship with God becomes confining, and seems oppressive to them. They cannot live with the rules that they are imposing upon themselves. When they think about what it would be like to leave their religion, they have a sensation of freedom. What keeps them in their religion is not their love of Christ but their relationships that would be broken or other reasons. But if they have an opportunity to abandon their religion, they seize it and do so with joy. That is why many ex-Christians will say that they were happy that they could leave Christianity.

The person who truly hates their sin will labor against it for their love of Christ and the knowledge that greater joy comes by obedience to his word (Psalm 37:4). The person who is held back from sin by a legalistic cage, is not in Christ. They have a heart of stone.

You love God. Men are naturally opposed to God (Romans 8:7). We are born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We are born without faith and without regard for God. We are born radically depraved and God hating (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:10). If anyone in the flesh claims to love God, then what they really love is an idol that they have made for themselves. They have constructed an image of God that is not really God, and substituted it because it is pleasing to them. But for someone to really love God is a supernatural work. Yet love for God is the greatest of all commandments (Matthew 22:38).

The man who loves God will seek him in prayer. As CS Lewis put it, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.” They deeply desire to commune with their Father. They follow the model of prayer that Christ had, who would slip away, praying all night (Luke 6:12), seeking the Father and desiring to bring glory to his name. The man who loves God will feast on the word of God, having their sustenance in it, bringing to life John 4:34, which says, “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Further, the man who loves God will desire the Scripture to be a lamp at their feet (Psalm 119:105). They will seek God’s word in every decision, and every day will desire to know what the Bible says. How do I know if I am saved? If I stab you, you would bleed the Bible and praise of God.

However, I caution again that it is possible to manifest these traits in a legalistic manner. A person could force prayer and reading of the Bible upon themselves, and they would not get anything out of it. They might become frustrated that their time is being consumed by these activities. But they are not doing it out of love.

You delight in your salvation and in the gospel. Everybody has low points wherein their hearts are dull. But throughout the general course of your life, you have a thanksgiving to God for everything that he has done for you. You see the amazing grace of the gospel. You see that a holy and righteous God must punish guilty sinners. We condemn judges who let guilty men walk free. We condemn judges who take bribes. They are corrupt and immoral judges. God is not a corrupt or immoral judge. He must punish the guilty. But as you reflect on your sin, you realize that your entire life has been marked by iniquity that you have covered up, fled to, hid in, preserved with all of your might. You see that a just judge must punish you. But instead, he poured out his wrath on his Son. His Son drank the cup of wrath and gave you a cup of mercy. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

I have heard men give this testimony and weep. You see the power of God in your life. You cannot understand how God could save someone as sinful as you, but you know that on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ and him crucified, you have security. You have been adopted into God’s family because if the Son sets you free from your sin, you will be free indeed (John 8:36). This is your heart’s delight. This is everything to you.

Maybe right now you are reading this and you are trying to manufacture emotions so that you can convince yourself that you really do love the gospel. Sometimes people have dull hearts. How can we know the difference? How do I know if I am saved? Answer this question. Do you, through the course of your life, love the gospel? Do you rejoice in it? Is your cup overflowing (Psalm 23:5)? Or does Christ mean nothing to you? Is he merely a propositional truth? Something that you give mental assent to?

Apologists are often concerned with mental assent. I am an apologist. You are reading from a website titled thereforegodexists.com. Apologetics is one of the most important endeavors within evangelism for bringing westerners to Christ in the 21st century. I also acknowledge that many Christian apologists are so concerned with the philosophical strength of the Christian worldview and the truth value therein that they are not concerned with living out their faith. We need to be able to nuance our apologetics and our faith. Our faith is not fulfilled in our apologetics. We cannot spend all of our time reading apologetics and neglecting prayer, and neglecting our reading of the Bible.

I am afraid that many of my friends who are concerned with the academic side of faith and proving that Christianity is reasonable have congregated into a Christianity that is unreasonable. It possesses a Christ that one merely believes in, and acknowledges that he exists. But even the demons know that he exists (James 2:19). We need a Christ who lives. I do not mean one who we can prove that lives. I mean a Christ that we know, and who knows us, and with whom we commune and give everything we have to. The testimony of the apologist should not be, “how do I know if I am saved?” They should be standing firm in the faith, not only ready to give an answer to those that ask, but ready to kneel before Christ and yield their lives to him, saying with Paul, “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

Which side am I on? I do not know, my friend. I would be inclined to say that if you passed these challenges, then you are saved. If you hate your sin, if you love God, if you delight in the gospel, then you are a child of God. That is true. But, at the same time, you may be reading this article and manufacturing feelings or forcing yourself to pass the challenges even if you failed at every single point. Do not play games with this. This is your life. This is your eternity. This is everything. Hear the voice of God. Seek him in prayer. If you failed at the points of these challenges, then an evaluation of your spiritual life is warranted.

John Piper’s book Desiring God is available as a free PDF (with permission from the publisher). Just hover your cursor over the title of the book in the last sentence, as it is a hyperlink. His insight on the love of God in the Christian life is supreme.

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Is The Gospel of John Reliable?

gospel john 1Christians who indulge in liberal scholarship will hear the testimony that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are somewhat reliable, while the Gospel of John is not reliable as a historical document. It will be testified that the Gospel of John contains embellished and later details of the Lord Jesus, or that it was written too late to be reliable, or that it was not written by eye-witnesses. The Gospel of John was a theological narrative, of theological reflection, not a historical narrative (so the argument goes). In this way, the author could put words into the mouth of Jesus at will, not because they are what he said, but because it is what the author believed Jesus said. Where does that leave our Bible? Is the Gospel of John reliable? Is it God’s word?

gospel john 2Since the Gospel of John so powerfully attests to the deity of Christ, any Christological system which seeks to undermine that reality, will have to contend with the Gospel of John. So they will attack the credibility of the gospel, as the opening words speak volumes. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Anyone who denies that Jesus claimed to be God will have to either severely compromise this text or deny the authenticity altogether. However, I would like to suggest that the debate about the deity of Christ must be held on exegetical grounds, as the Gospel of John seems to have the tracings of historical reliability.

gospel john 3Is the Gospel of John objective? When I ask this question, I am speaking about the bias that the author brings to the text. Is he writing with utter disinterest, or does he have an opinion about the matter in question, and do those opinions shine through? Well, I suppose that would raise a few other questions. I would scarcely expect to find a historical document wherein the author did not care about the subject of which they are writing. If they did not care about the subject, then I would have to wonder why they were writing about it in the first place. Of course John cared about what he was writing, and of course he had his view of Jesus. But that is not to say that his views compromised his integrity. I would extend that further and say that precisely because John cared about the words of Jesus, that made his testimony more reliable because he wanted to accurately represent the Lord.

gospel john 4All history has some sort of bias. Our records of the Civil War written by northmen who oppose slavery are not unreliable documents just because the author had an opinion or a bias. The bias must be taken into account, as with any historical document. Is the Gospel of John Reliable? I am not inclined to think that as a consequence of his bias, we can charge him with unreliability. I am keen to think just the opposite, that because of his bias in favor of documenting the words of Jesus with precision, he would be unlikely to load the mouth of Jesus with his theological biases. Further, it may be the case that his theological biases were directed by the words of Jesus rather than vice versa. I will look more closely at this soon.

gospel john 5Why does the Gospel of John sound different from the other gospels? In the synoptics gospels, Jesus always has parables on his lips and offers very short and condensed speeches. But in the Gospel of John, he offers no parables and full speeches. Well, I have two thoughts about this. First, the Gospel of John has an outlined purpose. He writes, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). John’s gospel looks different from the others because he had a very precise purpose. The other gospels were just compiling sayings and actions of Jesus in the form of ancient biography. But John wanted his audience to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God, and have eternal life. So he selected the sayings of Jesus that were most appropriate to achieve that end.

gospel john 6Secondly, the synoptic gospels seemed to have some commonality among them probably because they used similar sources. That is not to say that there was dependence upon one another, nor that there was a Q document (an earliest source that we have lost which they all appealed to). It is just to suggest that the authors used the same collection of sources. John probably did not use these sources. Rather, as John 21:24 says, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” John wrote his gospel, basing his stories on his own experiences.

gospel john 7This is also why there are expansive speeches in the Gospel of John. The promise of the Holy Spirit, the High Priestly prayer, et cetera, appear only in the gospel of John. When the other gospels record these events, they give condensed version of the events and skip over these. John included them, creating for us a fuller picture of the voice of Jesus. Is the Gospel of John reliable? Since the gospel has fuller speeches, it gives us a more clear picture of who Jesus was and the way he spoke, than the other gospels. As Doctor Craig Blomberg pointed out, the longer speeches in John’s gospel seem to mirror the rabbinic form of preaching, which suggests that Jesus actually spoke that way. Jesus obviously did not go around reciting single proverbs and then walk off. The synoptics record fragments of longer speeches. In John, we see some of the full speeches.

gospel john 8Why is it dated so late? Most scholars (including conservative scholars) will date the Gospel of John to the late first century, and in some cases, even the mid-second century. However, Doctor Gregory Boyd has suggested that this may be outdated scholarship. The reason that people date it so late is that the literary style that is found in John’s gospel seems to be influenced by gnostic literature and culture. If the author of John was influenced by them (not in theology, but in literature and style of writing), then this would suggest that his letter was composed much later, perhaps even one hundred years after the events that it records.

But as I said, this seems to be outdated scholarship. The Dead Sea Scrolls had writings that adopted the literary style which we find in the Gospel of John. That would indicate that we do not necessarily need a late date to account for this literary style. Is the Gospel of John reliable? If we are going to suggest that the late date of John would render it unreliable (which would be an unthinkable approach to history as there are many documents that we deem reliable which come even hundreds of years later), then we are faced with the challenge that the Gospel of John might not be as late as we once thought.

Why is John’s voice exactly the same as Jesus’s voice? Sometimes it is difficult for us to know exactly where Jesus stops and John begins. In John 3:16, was it Jesus or John who uttered the phrase, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that those who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.”? Who said it? The voice of the narrator seems to be identical to the voice of the character. We do not know who is speaking. Some have suggested that this is suggestive of a manufactured Jesus. John was clearly putting his words into Jesus’s mouth.

However, I would like to suggest that a paraphrase is not a manufactured statement. In John 3:5, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That is the NASB. The NLT says, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” These are identical statements insofar as content is concerned. But they are different insofar as his exact words are concerned. In the same way, John could have paraphrased Jesus, expressing exactly what Jesus meant, just in John’s words. Is the Gospel of John reliable? I think the voice of the narrator and the character gives us no reason for concern. John was simply paraphrasing.

John included statements that would have been embarrassing. Historians use a principle known as the criterion of embarrassment. If an author is manufacturing a story, it is unlikely that he would include a detail that was embarrassing to him, or in this case, to Jesus, unless they actually occurred. If he were in the business of embellishing details or stretching the truth, then he would simply remove the embarrassing details. Thus, if there are embarrassing details, we can suspect that the author is recording actual history. In the Gospel of John, there are statements that seem like they would have been difficult to accept or embarrassing.

There is a great emphasis in contemporary academic theology on the historical-grammatical method. We need to venture back to that time and understand what was going on. Well, the disciples were there. The disciples were literally in the historical-grammatical context. Yet they still did not understand. They are repeatedly told about the resurrection (John 2:18-22) and still doubted or did not understand. They behaved foolishly. But if they were embellishing the details, then surely, they would have excluded such details.

Further, Jesus is displayed very unfavorably, regarded by the crowd as something like an over-zealous street preacher. He held the very image that many of us fear so much when we come in public. As Doctor Frank Turek pointed out, his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). He was called a deceiver (John 7:12). Many of his followers abandoned him (John 6:66). The Jews who believed in him decided to stone him (John 8:30-31, 59), and he is called a madman (John 10:20). If there are any categories that the contemporary Christian labors vigorously to avoid have applied to themselves, it is surely these. If they were inventing a story, they would not allow the public (his own followers and family!) to perceive Jesus in this way.

But even more critically is the center of the Christian faith. Jesus died on the cross. He absorbed the wrath of God. He paid the penalty that we deserve. We are sinners, and since God is just, he cannot let us go free. He would be a corrupt judge who pardons the guilty. But mercy upon mercy, God came as a man. The Son absorbed the penalty that we deserve. He paid our fine in full in his death on the cross, and then he rose from the dead. But that is not how the Jews perceived the crucifixion. The Jews saw a man under the curse of God, because anyone who hangs on a tree is under the curse of God, according to the Law (Deuteronomy 21:23). Hence, all false Messiahs were hanged on a tree. This exposed them as liars and blasphemers. If Jesus was the Messiah, then in the eyes of the first century Jew, he could not be hanged on a tree. But he was. The Jews did not understand that he became a curse for us, in our place (Galatians 3:13). They only saw a man under the curse of God. If a story was being invented, the crucifixion would have been excluded. Is the Gospel of John reliable? There are just too many details that the disciples would not have included if they were inventing a story.

There are no extravagant details in John’s gospel. Even the miracle stories are just a pale recounting of the events that happened. They are not dressed up. They just lay them out there. This is in contrast with the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, wherein we see large crowds of people coming to celebrate the resurrection. We see a large cross in the sky and we see heads of men stretching into heaven. If you are only concerned with telling theology, then why not offer a story like this? If John were not concerned with history, then he would have embellished the details.

His account of the empty tomb and the crucifixion is even more pale than Matthew’s account. Matthew tells us of the saints of old rising from the dead, coming out of their grave to mark the death of the Messiah. He tells us of a great earthquake, angels descending whose appearance was like lightning. John has angels in his account, but it is much less dramatic. It is more pale. It is unembellished by the extravagant details. Is the Gospel of John reliable? If he were making up a story, why not embellish the details? Why not compete with Matthew, or even the Gospel of Peter?

How did Jesus avoid being stoned? The skeptical New Testament scholar, Doctor Bart Ehrman points out that in the Gospel of John, Jesus publicly claimed to be God, and still continued in his public ministry. In John 8:58, he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Then he escaped before being stoned. But, Ehrman argues, how did he avoid being stoned? If Jesus claimed to be God, as the Gospel of John says, then he should have been stoned to death. Since he was not, and since he was able to maintain his public ministry, this suggests that he never claimed to be God.

However, I would like to suggest that Doctor Ehrman is begging the question. He has assumed his conclusion, and read it back into the history. He assumed that Jesus was not God. If Jesus was God, then the explanation that the Gospel of John gives is that he was always able to hide and escape, because it was not yet his time. God did not allow his Son to be executed until the proper time. Is the Gospel of John reliable? It is only unreliable if you assume that Jesus was not telling the truth.

But the problem becomes even greater when we realize that Jesus claimed to be God in all of the early Christian sources. He claimed to be God in the Gospel of Mark (as I argued in my article Is Jesus God In The Gospel of Mark?) Mark identifies him as God, the one for whom Elijah would prepare the way (Mark 1:2-3). He forgave sins (Mark 2:5). He is the bridegroom of Israel (Mark 2:19-20), and he called himself the Son of Man, who would receive dominion and power and worship over all the earth (Mark 14:62). Further, the letters of Paul establish that the early Christians thought that Jesus was God, as Paul himself directly identifies Jesus as God (Romans 9:5). He even cited a creed, that preceded him, which identified Jesus as God (Philippians 2:5-8).

This means that our earliest records indicate that Jesus claimed to be God. So, I would turn the question around on Doctor Ehrman. If Jesus was not God, how did he avoid being stoned?

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What Is The Point Of Prayer?

point of prayer 1Christians are called the pray, adopting the model of the Lord and the apostles. When Jesus had a heavy decision to make, he would slip away in prayer. When crowds of people were storming the doors of the place that he was staying, seeking him, he would go off to the wilderness to be alone with God. Jesus loved prayer. He loved to commune with his Father. Likewise, the apostle Paul tells us, “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). That command of Paul and example that Christ has provided often raise certain questions in the minds of thinking men and women. What is the point of prayer? Does God not already know everything? What sort of information could I provide to God that he would need to hear from me? To those who are philosophically oriented, the call to prayer may seem superfluous. It may seem like something that just cannot be mentally justified. Why do we do it? What is the point of prayer?point of prayer 2

This is something that many atheists are keen to point out, suggesting that the call to prayer seems to compromise the character of God. If God needs the information that we provide to him, then he is not omniscient. On the other hand, if we allow that our petitions change his divine plan, then he is not truly sovereign over the world. Hence, if we consider the issue philosophically, theologically, and academically we are left burdened and challenged. On the other hand, if we consider it relationally, the hazy fog around our prayer begins to fade.point of prayer 3

We pray out of love for Christ and a desire to commune with him. The philosophers may point out that there is no information with which we may provide God. He knows everything already. He knows the needs of the world. For us to insist upon praying seems to be an unnecessary extravagance. But if when a wife tried to communicate with her husband, he merely replied, “I have no new information to communicate to you,” we would be left with the suspicion that this man was unhappy with his wife in some way. If he spent their entire marriage behaving in that way, we would think not only that he was unhappy with her, but that he had no love for her. If he talked to her merely out of duty, because it was the right thing to do, we would further suspect that he had no love for his wife. He does not enjoy his relationship with her. He engages in it, not because he loves her, but because he feels a duty to her. This man who does not love his wife will begin to question why he is even bothering to talk with her at all.point of prayer 4

In precisely the same way, when the man prays merely out of duty, and not out of love, he will begin to question the need for prayer. There is no information for him to provide to God. So he would either do it because he felt that he had to, or he would completely neglect prayer altogether. Either of these examples are suggestive of a man who does not really love God. If he loved God, he would delight in his relationship with him. So, when he asks, what is the point of prayer? He is not displaying any sort of intimacy with the King who died for him. We should go to God in prayer because we love him and because we long for a relationship with him.

If you find this less than compelling, then perhaps an assessment of your spiritual state is warranted. Many Christians have only given Christ a mental assent. They claim to believe in Christ. But they do not believe. They love their sin more than they love God. They have a dead faith (James 2:26). Perhaps you are like the one who has dead faith.

Prayer changes me. When we go to God in prayer, it is not that we are providing him with valuable information with which he can properly govern the universe. Rather, as CS Lewis put it, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” Prayer changes the man who is praying. It does not change God. God has sovereignly decreed that prayer and commune with him would be the means by which the man of God is sanctified. God responds to prayer by instilling a greater faith in the man. God responds to prayer by instilling a greater fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in the man. God responds to prayer by offering wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). What is the point of prayer? Prayer changes people.

When Jesus was teaching men how to pray, he told them to ask God to keep them from temptation and keep them from evil (Matthew 6:13). In this way, when temptation comes, we would be strong. We would be prepared because God has empowered us. Even Christ prayed for the strength of the Holy Spirit, likewise when he ventured into the wilderness to be tempted (Luke 4:1). Christ needed the Holy Spirit to overcome the hunger that he would face. How much more do we need the power of the Spirit for our daily lives? Thus Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Every circumstance warrants prayer because we can do nothing good apart from the grace of God.

Prayer changes the world. The Bible also allows for this model that I offered an objection to in the introduction. God responds to fervent prayer in faithfulness. God wants men to ask and receive. The parables that Jesus taught about prayer testify to this reality. When we come to God with our hands open, he will answer us. It may not be the first or the second or the third time, but he will give us that which he has promised to give us. Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), wherein a woman went to an evil ruler and asked over and over again for protection against her enemies. She pestered him until finally, he responded and granted this protection to her. If this ruler, being evil (says Jesus), would grant this woman’s request, would not God also answer a request? The gospels are replete with this manner of parable. God answers the prayers of his people.

So then we are still left with a philosophical quagmire. If God already knows everything, how is it that he needs us to ask this of him? If God already has a plan, what do our petitions contribute, aside from interruptions to this plan? It seems that if God were to grant the petitions, they could only interrupt the plan that God has already laid out. But I would like to suggest an alternative. It may be the case that God has constructed his plan in such a way that the prayers of the saints were means to achieving his ends. In this way, when a saint comes to God in prayer, he is acting out God’s predestined order. God planned for that man to pray, and he planned to respond to it. He could have acted in this way to encourage communication between the people and himself.

What is the point of prayer? The point of prayer is that it impacts the world. God answers prayer. Prayer is the most potent force known to man.

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Is The Da Vinci Code Right About The Bible?

da vinci 1In his tale The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown mounted heavy charges against the biblical narratives, cutting at the core of the Christian faith. His characters, who were scholars from Oxford and Harvard, criticized the early Christians for manufacturing the deity of Christ, changing the Scripture, removing the prevalence of Mary Magdalene, all for their own power and claim in the marketplace of religious ideas. Yet, in Brown’s tall tale, throughout the history of the church, there have been those who remained true to the real story of Christ, protecting the secret which would unravel the biblical narrative and leave the church (particularly the Roman Catholic Church) in ruins. Hence, the church has labored to keep the true story of Christ hidden from the generations and the eyes of the masses. Yet, while the story of his characters is a work of fiction, Brown alleges that the biblical history that he purports is legitimate history. So we are left with a legitimate question: is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible?

da vinci 2Was the story of Christ borrowed from Pagan mythology? The discovery of this claim was the first indication that the case Brown’s characters had was less than sophisticated, to put it mildly. It is quite inadequate for this view to be purported by an Oxford historian. It is akin to a historian of US history denying that the Americans kept slaves. For one to claim that Christ was borrowed from Pagan mythology is to breathe life back into an idea that was introduced and quickly abandoned by the History of Religions school. Among scholars in the relevant field, it has been utterly abandoned. It is defended only on the blogosphere and in popular level fiction literature.

da vinci 3On page 252 of The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing said, “Don’t get a symbologist started on Christian icons. Nothing in Christianity is original,” and he goes on to compare Christian claims with Mithras, Osiris, and the various Pagan myths spread through history. Anybody who has spoken with a fourteen year old atheist for a moment has heard this presentation. The problem is that the examples are spurious. There is a reason that proponents of this view never cite the original sources. They have not read them. Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? The original sources that tell the stories of these Pagan deities are not at all comparable to the story of Christ. These comparisons are manufactured.

Further, there is just no causal connection between the early disciples of Jesus and these myths. These men were devout Jews, and these Pagan myths were hundreds of years old. They were known throughout Judaism and they were regarded with disdain. It is unthinkable that a Jew, or a group of Jews, would read these stories and come to believe that they had truth value, subsequently applying them to Jesus. The expectation that there would be this sort of dependence is, in a word, ridiculous.da vinci 4

Did The Council of Nicaea Decide That Jesus Was God? This is just to misunderstand history. The doctrine of divinity was not formally established before this point, but nonetheless, the followers of Jesus prior to that believed it. We know this because we have the writings of the early Christians who came after the death of the apostles, and we have the writings of the apostles themselves. In around 100 AD, Barnabas wrote in his letter (not to be mistaken for the Gospel of Barnabas, which is proven to be fraud), that Jesus was the one to whom the Father said in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our own image.” In 150 AD, Justin Martyr made significant claims about the deity of Christ, quoting John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:8 as evidence for the deity of Christ. He writes, “For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.” In 180 AD, Irenaeus referred to Christ as “Our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, (Against Heresies, Book I, ch. 10, section 1). The references to the deity of Christ in the centuries prior to Nicaea are substantial. I could prattle on for twenty pages, expounding upon their writings. da vinci 5

Instead, I would turn my attention to what the apostles said. Most historians regard Philippians 2:5-8 as a pre-Pauline creed that Paul implemented into his letters. (Read my article about this passage here.) He was quoting something that Christians already believed. He writes that Jesus existed in the form of God (Philippians 2:6), and went on to say that at the name of Jesus Christ, every knee will bow and tongue confess that he is Lord (v. 10). This is significant because he was quoting Isaiah 45, a passage that is referring to YHWH. Paul took this passage referring to YHWH and applied it to Jesus. Hence, Paul clearly referred to Jesus as God, and the Christians prior to Jesus knew Jesus as God who existed with the Father. Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? Well it purports that the earliest Christians did not think that Jesus was God. But all of our records indicate that they did think that long before the Council of Nicaea. da vinci 6

Constantine Commissioned A New Bible… Of course, in response to this, the advocate of The Da Vinci Code may reply that the biblical evidence is invalid because, as Leigh Teabing explained, Constantine changed the Bible. Teabing thought that he commissioned learned men to rewrite the letters of Paul. However, that ushers with it the presupposition that there was a controlled set of manuscripts that Constantine could just alter at will. But when people copied a letter of the New Testament, it was not for the state. It was for a household, or a town, or a church. It was not for government use. That is why we have manuscript evidence that will turn up in random places.da vinci 7

Further, the earliest manuscript evidence that we have of Philippians is dated between the second and the third century. That is not to say that they were originally penned in the second or third century. These letters are dated by scholars as having been written in the first century. I am particularly speaking of P16 and P46, and there is no indication that the passage that I outlined was variant. Also, the biblical data for the deity of Christ is substantial. I could have appealed to numerous texts with manuscript support that precedes Constantine.

da vinci 8Robert Langdon (the Harvard symbologist) says of this that the evidence in favor is substantial. But in fact, there is no manuscript evidence of this change that Teabing alleged. Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? If one is going to claim that these documents were altered, you have to be able to show a trail of manuscript evidence, perhaps a before-and-after presentation. But there just is nothing akin to that.

Teabing went on to say that Constantine omitted those gospels from the canon that emphasized the human traits of Christ. However, it seems that he is misrepresenting the Christian conception of Christology. We do think that he was fully man. In fact, to justify that view, we would appeal to the temptation of Christ and his distress in the Garden of Gethsemane. It seems to me that we do still have gospels that emphasize the full humanity of Christ, since that is what all Christians believe.

da vinci 9The Gospel According To Mary Magdalene During the late fourth century (if I am to adopt a generously early date), the Berlin Codex was penned. It was later discovered in Egypt and revealed to be a collection of Gnostic texts, probably associated with the Coptic Church. The texts that it contained included the Apocryphon of John, The Sophia of Jesus Christ, the Act of Peter, and the Gospel According To Mary Magdalene.

Like the Gospel of Thomas (which I wrote about here) it was written in Syriac. Since the Syriac version of the gospels known as the Diatessaron had not been completed until AD 175, the Christian gospels were not available to native speaking Syrian folks until that time. Thus, most scholars think that it would be unlikely that it would be written prior to that time. Also, as I indicated, the Berlin Codex is dated around the end of the fourth century.

da vinci 10Ironically, the Gospel According To Mary Magdalene was dated after the reign of Constantine. This is something that I would expect an Oxford historian of the subject to be aware of. Yet Teabing says on page 268 of The Da Vinci Code that this forbidden gospel was read by the early Christians and omitted from the canon. Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? The claims that Teabing made about The Gospel of Mary Magdalene are necessarily false, because it had not been written yet.

Was YHWH married to Shekhinah? The word Shekhinah is not in the Bible. It is usually understood as the glory of God. This Shekhinah glory was often representative of the presence or dwelling of God. When the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines, the Shekhinah glory departed from them (1 Samuel 4:22). In this way, when the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer, it is the Shekhinah glory that is tabernacling in them. When Christ was murdered, he endured all of the punishment that we deserve for our sins. As he died, the veil in the temple was torn, and the glory of God could dwell in men. The Shekinah glory could dwell in men, and we could be born again and given the free gift of eternal life.

However, this concept that YHWH was married to another divine being named Shekhinah has no biblical support, and seems to be overturned by the strict declarations of monotheism (or even of henotheism, if one feels inclined to deny monotheism). Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? While this was almost a disinterested claim, it is an interesting one and worthy of addressing and explaining the biblical model of Shekhinah glory.

The Fall of The Feminine. The underlying theme of The Da Vinci Code is that Christians undervalue women. Brown contrasts this against Pagan traditions which revere women and believe that they are the greater sex. But since men in the church wanted control, they eliminated the role of the woman. They eliminated the picture of Mary Magdalene, eliminated God’s marriage with Shekinah, eliminated the gnostic gospels that speak of Jesus’s marriage to Mary, eliminated the role of women in the church and in the household. Women became subservient to men.

I am skeptical of this characterization of historical Christendom. Much to the protest of the Protestants, Roman Catholicism reveres Mary the mother of Jesus as the Queen of Heaven. They have a feminine presence in their church, and they maintain that she answers prayers and interacts with them. They maintain that she is the path to Christ. Of course, I do not believe that. But it seems to undercut the claim that Roman Catholic Church does not revere the feminine.

It is also interesting to note that on page 457 of The Da Vinci Code, Langdon said that the fall in Genesis 3 was symbolic of the fall of the feminine. Well, I would be more inclined to believe that if Adam and the serpent did not fall as well. They were both cursed along with Eve. Further, Eve was deceived by the serpent. She was not overtaken by a power-thirsty male who pushed her into the background. It seems that Langdon (or Brown, as it were), is reading this interpretation into the Genesis story.

Is The Da Vinci Code right about the Bible? I can say confidently that no Christian should be challenged by the claims that are made. It relies on abandoned scholarship, miswriting history, and the re-dating of New Testament and gnostic manuscripts. It is an excellent piece of literature. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it. I only offer the caveat that the biblical history should be taken as fiction.

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Is Justification A Process?

justification a process 1There are two distinct models of justification among Christians that will be examined in this essay. Their defenders may find themselves reacting to the other in frustration to the other, or even lodging accusations of heresy. The difference that I am describing is the difference between justification by faith alone and an ongoing justification. Those who believe that justification is ongoing think that somebody is initiated into the body of Christ by taking certain rites, whether having faith or being water baptized, and becoming progressively right with God throughout the course of their Christian walk. In this way, such a person would deny that there was any real distinction between justification and sanctification. One is justified as they are sanctified. Their justification is ongoing, it is a process. Well, is justification a process?

justification process 2Adherents to this view would draw support from verses like Romans 13:11, which reads, “Salvation is nearer to us than when we believed,” or the classical verses that seem to be suggestive of baptismal regeneration, or that indicate that a person can lose their salvation. But the question is, when such passages are properly understood, may we answer in affirmation to the question, “is justification a process?” Which model of salvation is exegeted from the passages in question? Is a person saved in an instant, or is justification a process?

Enemies of God are made righteous. The gospel is not a story of righteous people coming to God, laboring for righteousness. It is not a story of the righteous man receiving what is due to him. It is a story of the unrighteous man receiving what he could never merit on his own. That is why grace is commonly called unmerited favor. That is why Jesus condemned men in their self-righteousness but called sinners to himself. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. For go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ for I have come not to call those who think that they are righteous, but those who know that they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). Likewise he condemned the self-righteous professor of theology and said that the sinful tax collector was justified (Luke 18:9-14). He forgave the woman a life of prostitution and sin in response to her faith (Luke 7:50). He granted salvation to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). These images represent the model of salvation given to man. God does not justify the godly. He justifies the ungodly. As such, justification is instant.

This is the model that Paul taught us as well. You will notice that the language that I used above is precisely what Paul said in Romans 4:5. He writes, “to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” God justifies the ungodly. Again, in Romans 5:10, “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” God reconciled men while they were still enemies. Paul emphasizes this reality in his letter to the Ephesians (2:4-5). He writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

This is why the gospel is such a scandal. It is counter-intuitive. God justifies the ungodly, the man dead in their transgressions, the enemies of God. The righteous man does not come to God offering all that he has. The ungodly man is drawn to God, saying the with hymn writer, “Nothing in my hands I bring. Only to the cross I cling.”

This model leads us to logical absurdities. If it were the case that salvation was a process, what does that entail? It could entail that we are part of a process, and the end result of that process is justification. But then, I would have to wonder in what sense it could be said that our sins have been forgiven. How can someone say that their sins have been washed away, if they are currently in a process in which their sins were being forgiven? But that would stand in contrast with the testimony of the Christian, who says that their sins have been remitted (Acts 2:38), wiped away (Acts 3:19), and washed away (Acts 22:16). Hence, it is not consistent with the Christian testimony to say that justification is a process.

The alternative would be to suggest that we are but a little justified, and we are progressively becoming more and more justified through the course of our Christian walk. But that does not make sense either. I am either justified or not justified. But these are mutually exclusive terms. I cannot be a little justified before God. That is just not a meaningful statement. If I am condemned for my sins, then I am condemned, and not justified. In this way, justification could not be ongoing because there is no sense in which someone could be a little justified and a little unjustified. Is justification a process? It seems that there is no sense that we can consider this issue that does not depart from the biblical testimony of the Christian or a logical understanding of salvation.

This is salvation by works. Of course, most adherents to this view would deny that accusation and say that this category does not apply to them. But it seems like it does. If justification is ongoing, that means that we are doing good works and living a righteous lifestyle, being obedient to God for our justification. If we are being obedient to God for our justification, then there is no sense in which that is not salvation by works. There is no way to articulate salvation by works in a way that would significantly differ from this model.

As I said, they may deny these categories. But it seems that the adherents to this model would only be denying the title and the language that are being applied. We may not say “salvation by works,” or that they are meriting their salvation, but that is what is happening. If someone is saved by their works, then they believe that they are part of a process in which their righteousness progressively justifies them. But that is just flatly salvation by works. Is justification a process? It cannot be. That leads us to the strictly condemned view of soteriology that is a salvation by works. This I demonstrated in my article, Does Romans 3-5 Exclude Works Or Just Works of The Law?

God keeps his promises. When a person is saved, born again, given new life by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, they are given a promise of eternal life. John the apostle underlined this point throughout his letters and his gospel. He wrote, “This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25). We see this theme emerging again in John 3:16, 6:40, and 10:28. God promises eternal life to those who put their trust in him. In this way, it seems to be assured that those who are in Christ will never fall away and will never find themselves unjustified.

However, if justification is a process, then it would be impossible for God to make that promise. God could not promise eternal life to a people who might fall away, because they would enter into a state in which God would have to condemn them, thus breaking his promises. One might reply to this that God would not so much be breaking his promises as much as we would be denying God’s promises. But that would be to miss the point. When somebody puts their trust in Christ and is born again, God makes a promise of eternal life to that person. But if it were possible to them to fall away, that entails that they will not necessarily have eternal life.

Is salvation a process? Well that entails that some people who have received the promise of God might fall away, which is a logical absurdity. We would do well to maintain with Paul that those who are born again have a love that is incorruptible (Ephesians 6:24).

There are different types of salvation. In my introduction, I indicated that people might draw support from verses such as Romans 13:10, which has an inkling of the notion that salvation is a process. But I think that the writers of the Bible spoke of salvation in a few different senses. In the prophets, we would see people being “saved” from certain doom of a particular city, but that would not necessarily be taken as salvation of their souls. Some would speak of salvation that occurred at the cross. Others would speak of the power of God in their own lives – the salvation of which this article speaks. Still, sometimes Paul would speak of the salvation from this evil and corrupt world. A time will come when Christ will free his people from this world. That is the futuristic salvation of which Paul speaks. Is justification a process? No. For someone to think on the basis of this sort of passage that would be a desperate and final grapple to restore this view. They are making the elementary mistake of conflating the varying types of salvation.

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Must Christians Believe In Adam And Eve?

adam and eve 1Several traditionalists have taken a rather hardline stance against many of the brethren. It is maintained among some that for a Christian to deny the existence of a literal Adam and Eve is an act of impiety. They are behaving immorally, robbing the Bible of its’ authority in the matter and allowing our scientific endeavors a greater clout. The question is, must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? If they deny the existence of Adam and Eve, is that an act of impiety? If it were, a serious charge may be raised against many contemporary Christians who are compelled by the scientific evidence regarding population genetics, as most experts in the field argue that there was not an original pair of human beings from which the entire race sprouted.

adam and eve 2But that is quite challenging to the traditional narrative of the Adam and Eve story that is maintained in many Christian circles. They suggest that Adam and Eve were the first couple, and all of us are literally their descendants. Sin came into the world through them, hence infecting the entire human race. In this way, we all have been imputed guilt. We all have this sinful and fallen nature as a consequence of our father, Adam. That is what is oft held, and anyone with a Sunday school education could recite that story for you.

But suppose a Sunday school adherent goes to high school or college and learns about population genetics. Suppose they learn that human beings evolved from lower animals, and there was no original pair. Is this advancement in knowledge tantamount to denying the Christian faith? Does this Christian who is compelled by the evidence for evolution have to leave their faith? Must Christians believe in Adam and Eve?

What is the gospel? The gospel does not entail the story of Adam and Eve. A Christian can be born again just by hearing the preaching of a faithful servant of Christ (Romans 10:14-15). They may hear the depravity of their sin, contrasted against a holy God (Romans 1:18). They may be told that if they want to be right with God, they have to live a perfectly moral and perfect life from the time they are born until the time they die (Mark 10:19), because God cannot have sin in his sight. Sin is what separates us from God (Genesis 3:23). They may be told that even if they lived their entire life, starting today, without blemish, in perfect holiness and love for others, they would still stand condemned before God for the sins they already committed. A person can be convicted of these things without ever hearing about Adam and Eve and the original couple.

This person would be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, feeling the weight of their sin and their inability to reconcile with God. They may be as a drowning man, flailing their arms and legs below the waves, helpless to save themselves. But then they hear the gospel. God the Son came and died in our place (Romans 3:25). He died the death that we deserve. The unrighteousness of man was put on Christ so that the righteousness of Christ could be put upon man. When Jesus was murdered, all of God’s wrath that we deserve was placed upon him (1 John 2:2). As a consequence of that, he offers us eternal life as a free gift. They may be told that if they want to receive this free gift (Romans 6:23), they need to put their trust in the promises of God on the basis of the sacrifice that Jesus made (Romans 4:5), the price that he paid on their behalf. They may hear this message and put their trust in Christ and be born again (2 Corinthians 5:17).

They can do this without ever knowing who Adam and Eve are. A person who believes in evolution can do this without contemplating or compromising their belief in evolution. There is just nothing about evolution that is inconsistent with the gospel message. Must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? The answer seems obvious. Of course not.

However, one might pose the challenge that in the absence of the story of Adam and Eve, there is no basis for original sin. In this way, a gospel without Adam and Eve is lacking. Is that true?

Original Sin is not compromised. If I were hungry, I could be hungry without ever considering the origins of hunger. The origins of hunger are simply irrelevant to the reality that I am hungry. I can recognize that state without considering the origins of the state. Likewise, I can recognize my depravity without knowing the origins of that depravity. I do not need to appeal to the story of Adam and Eve to explain my state. I need only say with David, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5). I can recognize my own state without appealing to the story of Adam and Eve.

The scriptures as a whole testify to the fallen state of humanity. Paul the apostle recalls the Psalms, writing, “There is no one righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:11). If we want a foundation for the fallen state of humanity, we need only appeal to the Scriptures which testify to it. Further, even if it were the case that the story of Adam and Eve were a theological myth, that is not to say that they are a lie (and I will go into this more in the next subsection). We can still glean truth from them. If the Christian wishes to deny the historicity of this story, they argue that Adam and Eve stood as metaphorical figures representing the fallen state of humanity. Must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? Well, it seems that one can still maintain Genesis as a foundation for original sin, even if it is not literally true.

Parables are not lies. Genesis would merely be taken as a different genre of literature. But different genres of literatures are not lies and they are not destructive to the authority of the Bible. If somebody were to deny the theological truths that are gleaned from Genesis, then they would be wrong and sinful. A Christian must believe in original sin and the fallen state of man. But must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? Literally? I do not see any reason that we have to think that.

If a Christian views the story of Adam and Eve as a different genre of literature, then they are not maintaining that the story is a lie in any sense. They are maintaining that the story of Adam and Eve are more akin to parables. Parables are story that do not need to have happened for us to understand the meaning behind them. When Jesus told the parable of the tenets, it is obvious that the tenets represent the Pharisees and rabbinical Judaism, while the servants represent the Jewish prophets, and the son represents Jesus himself, the Son of God. This parable does not need to have happened for us to understand the truth that is being relayed. If it did not literally happen, it is not a lie. It is not a myth, in the modern sense of the word. This would be akin to the way in which the Christian is welcome to interpret the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve may be taken as just a different genre of literature from which we can glean theological truth.

Does this compromise Paul’s writings? Another risk commonly associated with this interpretation of Adam and Eve is that is allegedly devalues the letters of Paul. He seems to regard Adam as a historical figure when he compares him to Jesus. Paul writes, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15). Paul seems to be using Adam as a historical figure.

However, the audience to whom Paul wrote would not necessarily see it that way. They were in a cultural wherein they would adhere to a process known as inner-biblical interpretation. They were not so much concerned with the past and re-telling history, as they were with the present. The past was a mechanism for explaining the present, and it could be manipulated at the whims of the writer. But that is not to say that they were lying. The audience was familiar with this breed of writing, and there would be no compelling reason for them to think that Adam was an actual figure on the basis of what Paul said. Must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? Not necessarily. It seems that Paul was using Adam to expound upon the grace of God and the free gift of eternal life.

Must Christians believe in Adam and Eve? It seems that with the advent of modern science, Christians are abandoning their faith because they think that it is somehow incompatible with science. However, we do not need to make this a battle between faith and science. Rather, we need to emphasize the context in which this literature is written. When we do that, the tension evaporates. A literal Adam and Eve are not necessary for the Christian to have their salvation nor to be consistent in their theology.

However, it is possible to maintain a literal Adam and Eve, and be consistent with the scientific record. I expounded upon this possibility in my article Do Adam And Eve Disprove Evolution?

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Should Christians Endorse Freedom of Speech?

freedom of speech 1The virtue of freedom of speech is valued by Americans across the country. We accept it as a blessing and an advancement of society. It is an implementation that has led our society of thinking men and women to progress further. It has been the platform through which we have been hoisted into superior social advancements, such as women’s rights, the abolishment of slavery, the equality of people of all race and gender, and the freedom to proclaim any religion one wishes to without fear of persecution. Since it has proven such an effective resource in our society, people of contending views have championed freedom of speech as an offshoot of their movement or religion. Christians often say that the founding fathers of the United States were Christians, hence, the US was born a Christian nation with Christian values, such as freedom of speech. Non-believers might argue that it was a measure to protect our society from the influence of religion. So we are left to ask, where does that leave us today? Is freedom of speech a virtue or a vice? Should Christians endorse freedom of speech?freedom of speech 2

Although, it should be noted that our question, “Should Christians endorse freedom of speech?” may be acceptably reduced to, “should any thinking person endorse freedom of speech?” The reasons that I provide are not exclusive to Christian thought. Thus in analyzing this question, it is important for us to understand the counter-examples. What would a world in which there was no freedom of speech look like? I would like to submit that this world would be much worse without it.

freedom of speech 3It also depends upon the institution that is implementing this model of speech. If we lived in a communistic regime in which there was no freedom of speech, everyone would agree that this is an unsuitable model for the life of the citizens. Throughout history, there have been both secular and theonomic models of government that restricted freedom of speech, and they are typically regarded unfavorably as we gaze through the lens of history. Living in a society granted with the amenity of freedom of speech, we may thoughtfully pursue the question, should Christians endorse freedom of speech?

There would be a limitation on artwork and literature. The history of warfare reveals that mankind has erased most of its’ own story. We have destroyed museums, collections of art, burned novels, left cities in ruins, et cetera, for a host of different reasons. There exists breathtaking artwork and literature that stand utterly at odds with the Christian worldview. Some artwork even labors to deride the Christian worldview. Some of it symbolizes Pagan deities and values that we find detestable. But this artwork represents our history. It represents the thought of mankind in long passed generations. It is an expression of thought that would otherwise fade into irrelevancy. Some people express themselves in this manner, and for enthusiasts of art and literature, this is a vital aspect of society.freedom of speech 4

If we are concerned with preserving the art and literature of yesterday, it seems evermore crucial to preserve the art and literature of today. But in a world in which there is no freedom of speech, we cripple that effort by preventing thoughtful and honest expression. The opponent of freedom of speech would have us forget masterpieces of art, and literature, and every creative industry, precisely because they represent values that they, and all Christians, would find repulsive.

freedom of speech 5Those of us who are compelled by beautiful artwork and an articulate composition literature will find it appalling to think of the restriction upon these expressions of creativity that the abolishment of freedom of speech would entail. Classic literature would be forgotten. The literature of today that will develop into classic literature tomorrow would be stomped out. Should Christians endorse freedom of speech? We must. It preserves our creative expressions.

There would be a limitation on science. People often criticize the young earth creationist ministry Answers In Genesis for abandoning the scientific method by admitting to engaging in non-objective science. They admit that before they look at the evidence, they have the unmovable conclusion that the earth is only 6000 years old. Now if freedom of speech were severed, it would sever also scientific advancement. We would be left to interpret science only within a particular framework. That has happened throughout history, as scientific discoveries have been rejected for their opposition to Aristotelian philosophy or a certain interpretation of the Bible. If the government adheres to a certain interpretation of the Bible, science will have to follow suit, because it is not permitted to question the superfluous assumptions. freedom of speech 6

In this way, there is not much real science that could be accomplished. There would be lines that it would not be permitted to cross. Scientists would have to work within a certain framework. If the government believed that the earth was 6000 years old, then disciplines like paleontology, biology, astrophysics, et cetera, would be rendered totally irrelevant. Well, I am trying to avoid making an assumption about what this hypothetical theonomic government would maintain about the natural world. But it is possible that they would take the young earth creationist interpretation and disallow any exploration exceeding that. Should Christians endorse freedom of speech? Freedom of speech preserves scientific progress.freedom of speech 7

Limiting freedom of speech is ineffective in exposing the bankruptcy of a view. When I want to learn the details of a particular issue, I will usually seek out what both sides have to say. I could listen to one person representing a particular view, and they may be representing the other side properly. But I am still left wondering if the opponent will render a persuasive rebuttal or case of their own. If the adherents to a particular view are being silenced, then my learning about this discourse has become crippled. I am left to wonder if they could make a better case. Indeed, if one person is stomping out the voices of everyone with whom he disagrees, I will become quite suspicious that he is incapable of answering the objections. In this way, I am not convinced that a view is really bankrupt just by keeping them silent. freedom of speech 8

In contrast, a much more effective method of exposing a view would be to engage with them. This would be the difference between burning the Qur’an, burning Islamic sources, and reading, engaging with the literature and offering a robust rebuttal of the contents therein. If I can do that, and shut down the points of our Islamic friends, then the audience will be persuaded that the view that they are espousing is not intellectually sound. Intellectual issues should be engaged on an academic level. Islamic, and atheistic scholars should be invited to debate Christian scholars. That is how we can communicate points to a society of thinking men and women. Should Christians endorse freedom of speech? Well, telling people to keep their mouth shut and burning their books is just not an effective method of refuting their points or relaying the inadequacy of their view to an audience.

Who decides what speech is limited? The church? Which one? The largest and most powerful church in the last 1500 years has been Roman Catholicism, and anyone with a working search engine can find atrocious consequences of that governmental system. Theodicy has a long history of failure. However, if we were to say that the Roman Catholic Church would not be running the show, I would just have to wonder who would. The Southern Baptist Convention? The Presbyterian Church? The Church of Latter-Day Saints? Which denomination decides what particular statements have blasphemous theological implications? Or perhaps the Islamic State can decide what blasphemy is.

It seems as though everything is blasphemous to somebody. If we were to invoke a law restricting against freedom of blasphemous speech, I would just have to wonder who was in charge, and in what capacity. Is it speaking against the trinity, or sola fide, or sola scriptura, covenantal theology, or paedobaptism? Is it only core issues that are free from criticism? Well, different organizations have different definitions of what a core issue is. Do we all have to agree about everything?

Should Christians endorse freedom of speech? It seems like there is just no workable alternative. There is no organization that we could all agree on and that we would all trust to make these decisions.

We are not called to be social revolutionaries. Even if I were to grant for charity that freedom of speech was a great vice, a stain on society, it is still the social framework in which we find ourselves, and it is a sustainable model of government. We are not under a tyrannical government. However, the apostle Paul was born a citizen of Rome wherein every sort of moral atrocity was endorsed. Yet he did not rebel against them. He cooperated with the social customs that were in place. With regard to slavery, he told masters to treat their slaves kindly (Ephesians 6:9). He told the church in Rome to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). He calls Christians everywhere to be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). He was not a social revolutionary.

Should Christians endorse freedom of speech? We are not called to be social revolutionaries. We find ourselves in this system of government wherein we have this amenity and there is just no point to rebel against it or suggest alternative models. But we are in this system of society and even if it were not optimal, we need to understand what is the most prudent and practical. We will not reach a point where it is profitable to even bother to speak about what would happen in a utopia. Mankind is incapable of establishing that.

Throughout church history, theodicies always ended in disaster. Today, we are so far from a theodicy that to suggest that model is almost pointless. It is purely conceptual. For us to propose it in dialogue seems like it only serves as a mental exercise. Paul seemed to recognize the same thing. Rather than overturning the Roman system of slavery, he told masters to treat their slaves kindly. He was working within the established system as a matter of practicality. He outlined moral duties within a social construct that was less than ideal. I do not see why we cannot do the same thing.

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Should Heretics Be Burned At The Stake?

heretic burn 1When the young student enrolled in Bible college begins to delve into the discipline of church history, they may be horrified in response to their discovery. The church has a long history of burning men alive for the crime of heresy. The heresies for which people were burned were often nuances that are hardly distinct enough to separate denominations, such as the composition of the Eucharist, whether the bread and wine literally transform into the body and blood of Christ. Of course, this indictment is not exclusively charged against the Roman Catholic Church. Prominent reformers, such as John Calvin, were involved with burning men at the stake for denying and teaching against the holy trinity. Of course, some radicals may testify their allegiance with Calvin on this front. Some Christians may argue that it is justifiable to burn a legitimate heretic at the stake. So then, we are left to ponder the question, should heretics be burned at the stake?

heretics burn 2In response to this, there may be a range of emotional objections. Most who have been instilled with western values would contend that the idea of burning a heretic at the stake would be morally abominable. It would be very closely related to ISIS executing Christians for their faith (as that would essentially be a heresy to the Muslim). Should heretics be burned at the stake? It would seem that a sophisticated conception of morality would deny the religious person the authority to murder other people in response to a competing idea of religion.

Burning heretics seems to be a sign of insecurity. A frequent characterization of religious people is that they are insecure, defensive, and childish. They are unable to listen to somebody scrutinizing their faith from an intellectual angle. They are utterly incapable of hearing somebody whisper a word with which they disagree. They will begin to throw temper tantrums in response. They will retreat to the inner circle of their particular faith denomination. Some religious people just cannot stand hearing people disagree with them. I am afraid that this characterization is not always far from the truth. It seems to be the case that the activity of burning the heretic at the stake if a manifestation of that insecurity. heretics burn 3

Rather than murdering Muslims for their competing conception of God, we need stand ready to “give a defense for the hope that you have, but to do so with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15). We need to engage these alternative ideas with rigorous intellect and sophisticated answers. Christians need to be able to provide good answers to difficult questions. We need to encourage people to ask these questions so that they can find answers and realize the depth of their faith. Christians need to read the books of the heretics and discuss it with their brothers in Christ. We need to resist the temptation to throw a book into the fire. heretics burn 4

The audience of the heretic likewise will not be impressed by the capital punishment that is conducted by the radicals. It will be indicative of nothing short of weakness. It will suggest that the church just does not know how to answer the questions that the heretic is raising. We need to burn them alive, because we just cannot shut them up. But it seems to me that this is more like barbarism than anything else. Should heretics be burned at the stake? Surely, pursuing freedom of speech and intellectual discourse is a sounder route for a society of thinking men and women.

heretics burn 5We have a prison system. This subtitle is not meant to imply that heretics should be thrown in prison. If the radical were to render that argument, I would apply a parallel argument to that which I applied in the above subsection. But I am suspicious that the radical will argue that capital punishment was an institution in the Old Testament. I acknowledge that the Old Testament is the word of God. I also acknowledge that the Old Testament is applicable and active. I believe in covenantal theology, as opposed to dispensationalism. I think that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12). With that in mind, I do not think that capital punishment is an acceptable institution for the contemporary Christian.

We need to recall the cultural divide and the underdevelopment of that eras’ society. They did not have an established prison system. If there was prison, it was nothing like what we have in the United States. The number of lawbreakers exceeded their capacity. Hence, they had to apply capital punishment in response to a good deal of crimes. That was simply the most effective manner of applying law and order. Now, there may people of a liberal mindset who are questioning whether this really is an ideal society. The answer is that of course it is not. But it corresponded to the culture of the day.heretics burn 6

Should heretics be burned at the stake? It seems that it would be anachronistic to render a measure that we do not need anymore. If our society was in the horrifying business of punishing heretics, there is no reason that we could not just throw them in prison.

Does Romans 13:1-7 justify the murder of heretics? This is a very interesting passage that Paul included in his letter to the Romans. He writes, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” With that in mind, let’s suppose that the government decides that it is right to execute heretics. That is their right to do so, is it not? In fact, we see that very practice in the world today. It has been instituted by the Islamic State. They routinely execute heretics. That is their right… is it not? The radical will often argue that Paul is giving all authority to the government. Well, I would like to indict this argument with the reductio ad absurdum fallacy.

But, the radical might counter, “then you are just reducing the Bible to absurdity.” I think that the Bible is the word of God. But it communicates in different ways. The proverbs are God’s wisdom, for example. Proverbs 22:6 reads, “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” But many parents can testify that this is not always the case. It is a truism, not an absolute truth. It is generally true, but not true all of the time. Similarly, when Paul tells the people to submit to the governing authorities, he is assuming that the governing authorities are not non-sustainable models of government, like Nazi Germany, or the slave-ridden confederacy, or religious radicalism, like ISIS and any organization that executes people for heresy. Should heretics be burned at the stake? There is just nothing in Romans 13:1-7 to suggest that.

Jesus taught mercy and love for enemies. It seems bizarre to me that there are radical Christians who think heretics should be burned at the stake when Jesus emphasized mercy and love for his enemies. He released the woman caught on adultery (John 8:1-11), implored Peter to drop his sword (Matthew 26:52), and most prominently, said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44). It seems an unthinkable response for the radical to say that they are loving someone, by burning them alive.

Further, Jesus specifically altered a command for violent punishment in the Law. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” (Matthew 5:38-39). Should heretics be burned at the stake? It seems that the aura and the spirit of these commands combats this radical inclination.

What would the world look like? If Christians did begin to establish a system in which heretics were burned at the stake, the question is what the world would look like. What would the church look like? If a heretic is being burned at the stake, certainly, his work would also be disposed of (for the same reason that the man is burned alive). So then, what is heresy? How do we identify it, and if someone is practicing heresy, how do we determine who it is? We would have to establish an investigative unit that is finely tuned to hunt out the heretics and their work. They would be licensed to venture into the property of the alleged heretic and conduct a thorough investigation of their writing to ensure that there was nothing heretic lingering about. If it was found, the heretic would be subsequently arrested. They would be told to repent or die.

The reader might realize that this would not be the first time that a religious organization has conceived of limiting the freedom of speech through violence. Just thinking of what the world would look like, given that limitation, we are stricken instantly with the acknowledgement that this would look a lot like ISIS and the Inquisition. Of course, these are non-sustainable models of society. Should heretics be burned at the stake? Of course not. That is social regression. That is barbarism.

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Against Presuppositional Apologetics

presup 1When a Christian encounters a non-believer with whom they aim to share the gospel, there are a number of approaches available for them to adopt. It often just depends on the individual with whom they are speaking. After all, people are individuals and have individual needs and barriers and intellectual disputes that will inhibit them from hearing what God’s word says. In a western and rationalistic culture, we are inclined toward what is known as evidential apologetics. This means that rather than just saying that somebody should believe on blind faith, they can look at the evidence in cosmology, physics, biology, history, philosophy, et cetera, and deduce God’s existence from these disciplines. In contrast, some, particularly of the reformed tradition (of which I would consider myself apart) have rendered a breed of apologetics known as presuppositional apologetics. I write this article against presuppositional apologetics.

presup 2It might seem strange that I would write against presuppositional apologetics, considering that I just indicated that certain people will respond to certain methods. Well, I am not quite fond of inclining the ears of the masses by applying an approach to apologetics that is logically invalid. That is to say that I am writing against presuppositional apologetics because it is logically invalid.

Now I should qualify this before I begin. There are some presuppositional apologetics that are effective, such as that which is represented in Alvin Plantinga’s work Warranted Christian Belief. I am zooming in on Van Tillian apologetics, also represented by men such as Greg Bahnsen. Contemporary defenders that the audience might know are Sye Ten Bruggencate and Eric Hovind. presup 3These men contest that if a non-believer is to make sense of the knowledge that they possess, they need to epistemologically begin with the triune God of Scripture. As Hovind has put it, “Without the God who knows everything, we couldn’t know anything.” They point out that non-believer cannot solve the problem of hard solipsism, namely, that we cannot be sure that we are not a brain in a vat being stimulated by a mad scientist to imagine the world around us. Since the non-believer is burdened with this problem, the presuppositionalist will point out that they are not burdened by it. They claim to have a solution. They epistemologically started with the triune God of Scripture, who revealed it to them that they are not brains in a vat.presup 4

One cannot start epistemologically outside of the self. The presuppositionalists’ solution to the brain in the vat problem is their testimony of the triune God of Scripture. They have started with God epistemologically, and from there, everything else happens to fall into place. This is to be contrasted against the non-believer, who starts with their own reasoning and their own mind, which leaves them unable to solve the brain in the vat problem. Of course, as the title of this subsection indicated, a person cannot epistemologically begin outside of the self. It is a limitation of the human experience.

presup 5If I make the assumption that God exists, that presupposes that I exist, and that I am having thoughts, and that I can learn about and engage with the world around me. The theist has already made the same assumptions as the non-theist. They just happen to make another assumption, namely, that God exists. But to start beyond ourselves is literally impossible – it transcends the human experience – it is something that we are incapable of doing. We cannot assume that God exists without first assuming that we exist and that external world is real.

But if we assume that we exist and the external world is real, then we are still burdened by the problem of the brain in the vat. We are still making assumptions about ourselves and the external world. We are still holding to the same properly basic beliefs as everyone else. presup 6Yet these assumptions are precisely what leaves one vulnerable to the problem of the brain in the vat. Therefore, one of the most heavy critiques against presuppositional apologetics is that it has not escaped the problem of the brain in the vat as it claims. The presuppositional apologist is equally as vulnerable as everyone else.

People are not given new reasoning capacities when they are born again. One of the criticisms that the presuppositionalist has against the evidentialist is their use of reason and logic to render the conclusion that God exists. They will argue that since man is totally depraved (Romans 3:20), it follows from this that mans’ reasoning is depraved. If mans’ reasoning is depraved, then man is incapable of reasoning to the existence of God. The presuppositionalist has a solution to this, of course. God will reveal himself to people when their own world view is exposed.presup 7

But how is it that people can see that their own world view is exposed if their reasoning is totally depraved? The answer would be, of course, that God would reveal it to them. Well, that is fine. But the critique that the presuppositionalist has of the evidentialist is that they are applying their reasoning to lead to the conclusion that God exists. When the same critique is lodged against them, they will simply say, “So God will reveal it to the individual.” If that is the case, then why is it that God would not reveal it to the individual who is using evidence and reason? If God has to intervene either way to solve the problem of depraved reasoning, then presuppositional apologetics do not really solve the problem. They have the same alleged flaw for which evidentialism is charged.

presup 8Further, I think that the presuppositionalist has just misunderstood the doctrine of total depravity. Depravity is a moral concept, not a qualitative concept. The whole of humanity is fallen, but not depraved. Human eyesight, for instance, is fallen. People need to wear glasses. It is not depraved. When a Christian is born again, they are not given new eyesight. Likewise, human reason is not qualitatively changed when they become a Christian. If that were the case, then non-Christians would be utterly unreasonable. The natural man would have no capacity to interact with the world on an intellectual level. But Paul said that the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God (1st Corinthians 2:14). If we are going to engage with and against presuppositional apologetics, we need to understand that it is a foolish mistake to conflate the moral depravity in the Bible with human reasoning.

If the argument succeeds, it would, at most, lead us to generic theism. If we were to grant this argument for charity, there would be no reason that a Muslim or a Jew or a deist could not apply it. They could easily say, akin to the Christian, that they are appealing to the existence of God to solve the problem of the brain in the vat. This is important because the presuppositional apologist will often argue that their argument is ideal because it proves everything. It proves that the entire religion is true. It proves that the triune God of Scripture is real. But to put it mildly, that claim stretches far beyond the boundaries of what the argument does.

If the argument is successful, there just is no reason that a Muslim could not equally apply it. In response to this, the presuppositional apologist will indicate all of the problems that there are with the Islamic religion and the Muslim conception of God. In this way, Christianity would be the only logically coherent conception of theism that could be applied. However, I could say precisely the same thing about any of the evidential arguments for God’s existence. I could use the Kalam Cosmological Argument and arrive at basic theism, and then eliminate, by argument, all of the conceptions of God aside from the Christian God of Scripture. In doing so, I could argue that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is utter proof of the triune God of Scripture. That is exactly what the presuppositional apologist is doing when rendering their argument.

They will often charge it against the evidentialist that they are arriving merely at a probabilistic, generic God. The problem is that the presuppositionalist is left with the same conclusion. If the presuppositionalist was to be logically consistent, they would allow their argument to only conclude in a generic theism or conception of God, and work from there. In using this argument to prove that the triune God of Scripture exists is to abuse and misuse it. It leaves them vulnerable to very easy falsification.

In fact, Doctor James White, a prominent presuppositional apologist, has defended the Christian faith by abandoning the assumption that the triune God of Scripture exists. In his debate with the Jehovah’s Witness Doctor Gregory Stafford, White tried to relay the coherency of certain aspects of the trinity by telling him to conceptualize a possible world in which the Son exists eternally, as the image of the invisible God. He specified that he was not presupposing the trinity. This implies that if his argument would have succeeded, it would not have brought Doctor Stafford to believe in the trinity. Now this is not an argument from authority. Rather, it is an indication that people often lead others to conclusions that edge closer to the truth. In this way, there is nothing wrong with leading someone to believe in God, even if some of the details are yet absent.

How have they solved the problem of the brain in the vat? How have they solved the problem of the brain in the vat? They have suggested that God has revealed it to them that they are not a brain in a vat. But suppose it were the case that a mad scientist were stimulating them to believe that God revealed that to them. There is a possible world of which we can conceive in which a mad scientist is stimulating a brain in a vat to think that God is revealing it to them that they are not a brain in a vat. In this possible world, the brain would think it is certain that God has revealed it to them. There is nothing logically inconsistent about that possible world. The question is, how do you know that this is not the actual world?

The answer that I anticipate is, “God has revealed it to me that this world of which you speak is not the actual world.” But that would just be to reason in a circle. God has revealed it to you, such that you are certain, that you are not a brain in a vat being stimulated to believe that you are certain that God has revealed it to you that you are not a brain in a vat. The resolution that the presuppositionalist has offered is circular.

Against Presuppositional Apologetics: The question might rightly be asked why it is that I bother to critique this position. Well, it is expanding. People are coming to adopt it. They are using it as an approach to non-believers. People need to understand the obvious problem. Also, the virtue of evidential apologetics needs to be underlined. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Ontological Argument, the historicity of the resurrection, are all worthy of discussion.

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Is Consciousness Evidence For God?

consciousness 1What is a person? What is the self? Who am I? People have this conception of the self. They have this idea that they exist and behave in this universe. All of our actions and thoughts and beliefs presuppose this reality. We exist. Other people exist. I exist. The question that has puzzled philosophers for centuries is, what am I? Are my physical parts all components of my “self”? If that is the case, then if I were to become an amputee, would I still be myself? Scientists have pointed out that the human body replaces all of the cells in the body through a period of seven years. As such, every element of your composition is different. But are you the same person? Are you still you? If so, then one might be inclined to believe that there is more to the self than merely the physical body. Philosophers have titled this substance dualism. Theologians call it an immaterial soul. Does consciousness presuppose an immaterial soul? And is consciousness evidence for God?

consciousness 2To help you understand this dilemma, allow me to offer an illustration. Suppose your shoe develops a hole in it. You patch it up. It has another hole, and you patch it. This recurs again and again until all of the fabric of the original shoe is gone. It is all new fabric. Is it the same shoe, or a different shoe? At what point did it become a different shoe? Now, how does this relate to human beings? If every composite part of the human being is replaced, are they still the same human being? At what point did they become a different human being? On substance dualism, of course, the self is not contingent upon the physical parts. One can maintain that they are the same human being despite that their physical components have been replaced. As such, I pose the question of the philosophers: is consciousness evidence for God?

Am I Identical To My Body? If I am identical to my body, that means that every property that the human body possesses, so also the self possesses the same properties. consciousness 3However, consider for a moment that there are situations in which the body persists, while the self does not. When the human body dies, the body persists for some time, but the self is thought to cease to exist. If that is the case, that would indicate that the self and the human body are not identical. Therefore, the self is something that transcends the human body.

But this point can be expanded to include biological organisms that seem to have separated from the self. Imagine a person who is in a vegetable state. Most would agree that the self is gone. The living brain is biologically continuous with the organism that previously existed. Again, this serves as evidence that the self transcends the body, because while the body is still there, the self seems to be gone.

To help you to conceptualize my argument, consider the philosophical term known as a possible world. A possible world is not an alternate universe or something like that. A possible world is a version of reality that is logically possible, but not actual. consciousness 4There is possible world in which I never wrote this article. There is a possible world in which you woke up and ate a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. These are possible worlds because they are logically coherent versions of reality. However, there is no possible world in which there is a square circle, because a square has four sides and a circle does not have any. It is logically incoherent.

There is a possible world in which my body exists, yet I do not exist. There is nothing logically incoherent about that statement. Death and becoming a vegetable are two possible worlds in which my body exists and I do not exist. It could also occur in a possible world that another consciousness would own my body (sort of like a shapeshifter). These are all logically coherent conceptions of reality. They are possible worlds. consciousness 5

However, there is no possible world in which A is not identical to A. Identity is a necessary relation. If A is always identical to A, this would mean that in every possible world, the self is the same. The model that we are dissecting is whether the body is identical to the self. If the body is identical to the self, then the body will be identical to the self in every possible world (because A always equals A). Since it is not identical in every possible world, then it is, in fact, not identical.

Now we have established that the body is not identical to the self. As such, the self is immaterial. There is an immaterial soul. But what does this say about theism? Is consciousness evidence for God?consciousness 6

Is An Immaterial Soul Compatible With Atheism? This is not a conclusive argument for God’s existence. We cannot arrive deductively or with certainty that God exists on the basis of the existence of the immaterial soul. But we can ask the question of which hypothesis makes the most sense of the data. That is what happens when evidence is weighed in the court of law. If a certain proposition is less likely to be true in the absence of a certain piece of data, then that data is evidence for the proposition. It does not prove that it is true. It is just an indicator or a sign post favoring that proposition. In this case, the propositions that we are considering are theism and atheism.

On atheism, then, would we expect there to exist an immaterial soul? It seems to me that if atheism were true, there would be no reason for that expectation. The self would just be a helpful illusion that has developed with our sentience. All of our thoughts and interaction between the mind and body would be the result of psychological processes and a bundle of cells, and which of those cells are “you”? The self, in this sense, would just be an illusion. Is consciousness evidence for God? If atheism were true, the world that we see would look different than it does. Since that is not what we see, this serves as evidence to the contrary.

Of course, one might be inclined to favor a world in which there was an ensemble of angels and demons and witchery, and yet theism is still false. In this case, these supernatural entities would be responsible for the immaterial soul. However, I am keen to indicate that the objector has abandoned metaphysical naturalism and has adopted a form of supernaturalism to account for their immaterial soul. It seems to me that this would be no less plausible or rational than adopting a form of theism.

Further, as Doctor C’zar Bernstein pointed out, since the consciousness that we possess chauffeurs with it moral knowledge, this seems to suggest that the arbiter of the immaterial souls is the locus of objective moral values and duties. I developed this argument in my recent article, Can Goodness Exist If God Does Not Exist?

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