Is God Wholly Other?

wholly 1Philosophers and theologians are sometimes keen to suggest that God is “wholly other.” This has become popular among liberal Christianity, represented by men such as Professor John Hick. It is to suggest that God is unlike anything at all in his creation, and all attempts to define or describe God will always be inaccurate or inadequate. There is some sense in which that is true. Everything that we say about God will fall short and will never be exhaustive. I will never be able to exhaustively define who God is, to capture the fulness of his essence in a single sentence. But that is not to say that we cannot speak and reason accurately about God. Is God wholly other? That is the question which we are considering.

wholly 2If it could be said that God was wholly other, then the task of systematic theology (to study the nature and revelation of God) would seem to be a fools’ errand, and that may be the point of mounting this objection. If we can overturn the theological pursuit, then we can overturn the elements of religion that one finds distasteful. If one dislikes the doctrine of Hell, then they may say that God is wholly other and that the doctrine of Hell is a manmade concept, and we cannot impose our ideas about wrath upon God. Just think about it. If God is wholly other, then this means that none of our descriptions apply. He is unlike anything at all. Nothing that we say about him can capture who he is. They are all anthropomorphisms. Hence, when we say, “God must punish sin,” what we are expressing would in fact be nonsense. Is that the case? Is God wholly other?

wholly 3To say that God is “wholly other” is self-defeating. The ‘is’ in this sentence is an existential ‘is’. It relates to being, to existence, which are concepts that relate to the human experience and the natural world. So merely by uttering the sentence, “God is,” we begin to invoke categories of our world, for there are things in the world about which we may use the existential ‘is’. In fact, this objection has led many to drop the label ‘God,’ to drop pronouns such as ‘He’ (after all, this is thought of as just an arbitrary label descending from a patriarchal society) and merely refer to God as the ‘ground of all being.’ But even this is guilty of the same detrimental flaw. If God is anything, whether it be the ground of all being or wholly other, then he is not wholly other. This is because we can describe him in at least some human terms. We can say, “God is.”

wholly 4This entails that if God were indeed wholly other, then we should have never discovered that he was wholly other. We should have never discovered anything about him. We should have never known that he exists. We should have thought that we were alone in the cosmos. If God were ‘wholly other’ it would seem to follow that he would be unable to communicate with us, to reveal himself to mankind, to let anyone know that he exists, that he is out there, or anything about himself. Is God wholly other? If he were, then it would be axiomatic that he could never reveal himself or any feature or aspect of himself to us, for that would lead us to the conclusion that “God is,” and this would betray the idea that he was wholly other. If God were wholly other, we should have never discovered that he was wholly other.

wholly other 5The scientific evidence betrays the possibility that God is wholly other. The advent of scientific exploration has hosted an enthusiasm for Christian apologetics and philosophy. For by unraveling the mysteries of the universe, we begin to discover what we may proverbially refer to as divine fingerprints. We see where God left behind traces of design. The most obvious one would be in the existence of the universe itself. As I explained in my article, Why Does Anything At All Exist? the very fact that the universe exists demands an explanation that transcends itself. But to say that God is the explanation of the universe is to refer to him as a Creator. But if he is a Creator or Designer, as I argued in my series of articles about the Evidence For God, then there exist some applicable titles that have meaning in our world. Is God wholly other? Well, the evidence suggests that he is the Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of the world. These are all categories that disallow his being wholly other.

wholly other 6If God were wholly other, then he would not be loving. This is not necessarily an argument against God’s being wholly other, but rather it is to point out a common inconsistency among those who believe that God is wholly other. Professor John Hick, as mentioned before, once believed both that (1) God is wholly other and (2) God is love, and therefore wants everyone to be in Heaven. As I pointed out above, people often have an anti-theological agenda in suggesting that God is wholly other. They want to maintain that God has no wrath against sin, and wants everyone to be in Heaven. So they will lift the sword of ineffability, but find that it is so heavy that they slip and cut themselves to pieces.

Consider for a moment. 1 seems to undermine 2. If God is wholly other, then he is not love. If he is love, then he is not wholly other. Love is something that exists here in the natural world, on earth. It is something that occurs between human beings. There seems an inescapable quagmire for anybody who wants to maintain both of these premises. You must either drop that God is love (which is also an existential is) or drop the assertion that he is wholly other. I recommend abandoning 1 rather than 2. Is God wholly other? Not if you want to say that he is love.

All world religions would be absolutely wrong. Now, it may be the case that all world religions are absolutely wrong. That is not quite my point. However, again, this cuts against the theological agenda that people have in raising this point. Rather than saying that God has wrath against sin, and condemns sinners, and sent his only begotten Son so that those who believe in him may have eternal life (John 3:16) and that nobody comes to the Father apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:6), they will say that all religions are offering an interpretation of this God that they perceive. He is wholly other. He is the object, and we all see a different angle. We all describe that angle in a different way, and nobody is really wrong. This is a distinction that Professor Hick referred to as between noumenal (related to that which is actual) and phenomenal (about that which we perceive).

There are two problems. First, world religions make claim about the noumenal God. Christianity says, over and against other religions, that the noumenal God is a trinity, and explicitly states that other perceptions are wrong. Most other world religions make claims about the noumenal as well. Ironically, the pluralist who is trying to say that all religions are correct end up saying that they are all wrong! Second, to say that there is a noumenal being that we all refer to as God is to engage in the existential self-defeating fallacy that I pointed out earlier. It is to say, at a bare minimum, “God is,” hence disconfirming the hypothesis that God is wholly other. Is God wholly other? If he is, then all world religions are wrong.

We are not applying human concepts to God – we are applying his concepts to humans. We are quite territorial, are we not? Many of us live in civilized culture where there is not tribal wars or chest-pounding or poop-throwing. But nonetheless, humans often find that they cannot shed themselves of their natural instincts that have been ingrained over the last few hundreds of thousands of years in the struggle for survival. In short, we are territorial. We think that everything is ours. Atheists sometimes say that logic and mathematics are based on the human mind. If there are no humans, then logic would no longer be applicable and mathematics would be cast in the depths of the oceans. I would like to present a counter-proposal.

Logic, mathematics, and concepts related to the world are not founded in the human mind. They are founded in the mind of God. We borrow these concepts from God. So, when we describe God, we are not applying human concepts to God. We are not bringing God down to our level. God has blessed us with a mind that can understand the universe, that can interact with physics, that can describe the natural world and that can even study the queen of the sciences – theology. The study of God and his activities in the world. Is God wholly other? No. We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and therefore our minds can grasp the concepts that he has relayed in the natural world and in his word.

Is God capable of describing himself? People will say that we arrogantly and boastfully think we have put God into a theological box. We have a God with whom we are comfortable, who makes us happy and that concedes to all of our preferences. Well, if that were the case, I would probably be more keen to say that God is wholly other! What we assert is not that we have described God to our liking. But rather that God has described himself in his inerrant word. We are laboring to be his faithful servants by relaying his self-descriptions. His self-descriptions, however, are appalling to the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man hates what God has to say because he is by nature an enemy of God (Ephesians 2:3).

So when we say, “The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) the natural man is appalled. He cries out, desperately, impatiently, angrily, in futility, “You are bringing God down to our level! Your are using human concepts to describe God!” Not at all. We are describing a God whose standard of righteousness is so far above our own. I am commanded to forgive everyone who wrongs me as many times as they require (Matthew 18:22) because I am like those who wrong me, full of sin and unrighteousness. God is nothing like I am. He is perfect in righteousness, holiness, justice, and truth. Is God wholly other? Not in the absolute philosophical sense. But his righteousness is so far above mine that when I would want to let someone off the hook, God’s righteousness and wrath would persist and prevail.

Yet the signature proof that God is not wholly other is in his revelation. For he is not only perfect in righteousness and justice, but he is also perfect in love and mercy. Rather than leaving his people to perish in the wake of his wrath, he came as a man, in a glorious undertaking of human nature. God entered into his own creation (Philippians 2:5-8). The God who created all things, who revealed himself in the Scripture, to whom men have directed their prayer, and worship, and tears, and pleadings, came, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and when did he did that, all of the wrath that we deserve was poured out upon him. The Father crushed the Son (Isaiah 53:12), for he is a God who must punish guilty sinners. Our unrighteousness was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). All who believe in his promises, who turn to him in faith, will find a perfect and powerful Savior (Romans 4:5). Is God wholly other? Certainly not. He became a man and commands everyone, everywhere, to repent.

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CerebralFaith’s Blindspot

cerebralfaith1I was recently afraid to open a blogpost. This is not because I feared that the intellectual assault in that post would be so robust that I would be astounded and forced to concede my points, arguments, and position. It was because, based on all of the reviews that were given of it, it was emotionally loaded, filled with insults and blasphemy against God and refused to have a serious conversation about the issues. But who wrote this mean-spirited blogpost that I was afraid to even open? Was it an atheist? Was it someone who was openly hostile to the Christian faith? Was it a liberal who was raised to believe that Christians were hateful bigots merely for disagreeing? Who was it? Well, it was an evangelical Christian who was writing a response to the blogpost of another evangelical Christian. It was Evan Minton of the Cerebral Faith blog. He was actually responding to something that I wrote, namely, my article How Job Answers The Central Objection To Calvinism. In this article, I was surveying a number of points that Evan has made pertaining to the morality of Calvinism and whether God would be evil if Calvinism were true. Evan simply could not handle it, and I would say that he responded like a teenaged atheist, but I am afraid that this would be an insult to teenaged atheists. This is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. It is the most obvious vulnerability on his page.

cerebralfaith2As I read through Evan’s post, I am becoming increasingly convinced that Evan did not actually read my blogpost. I think he skimmed it and read the words that were in bold print and then just started prattling off general thoughts about my subsection rather than specifically engaging with what I said. He read the titles of the subsections, but not the fine print and not the specific details. Yet he titled this article A Response To Richard Bushey – But it is not a response. He is just reasserting many of the things that he already said. There were several times in my original blogpost where I directly quoted Evan, rendered a response to what he said, and yet in his new post, he would reassert the same point without engaging my response! Why would he do that, unless he did not know that I wrote it? I say again, Evan did not read my critique of his arguments beyond a mere skim. So, Evan, if you actually read these words, I would like to urge you to actually read my last blogpost and then post a response to what I said. But the fact that Evan did not read my post led me think that I should not even construct a blogpost in response. But I thought it might be prudent and helpful to do so, that Evan and his readers may begin to understand.

cerebralfaith3Evan is not looking for answers to his questions. You will recall that in my original blogpost about this topic, I pointed out that Evan is concerned that the conversation is being shut down. We are forced to recede to merely plugging our ears and shouting our dogmatized slogans rather than intellectually engaging with the topics. But is that what we have done? Is that what I have done? It seems like anybody who browses my website would not come to that conclusion. However, while Evan may say that he is demanding answers, he desperately wants answers and Calvinists refuse to give them and just want him to blindly accept Calvinism, he does not really want any answers. Ironically, Evan plugs his ears in response to any answers. He dogmatically rejects any and all possible answers. That is why he did not seriously engage with anything that I said.

cerebralfaith4I raised several points in my article, such as the illustration of the man in the cage who turned out to be a prisoner, whether it is wrong to quote Romans 9:20, whether we have to stop asking questions, whether it is more than a debate about Calvinism, and also, whether God could condemn everyone in the world and still be just and still be loving. Consider that last point. Could God condemn everyone? In my last article, I pointed out that Evan’s answer was, “Yes,” and then I went on to point out a glaring inconsistency, that he essentially believed the same thing that Calvinists believe. How did Evan respond to this point? He responded by pointing out that he believes that God could condemn the world if he chose to do so. All that he had to say about this was to quote his earlier blogpost. The implication is obvious. If I had read more carefully, I would have seen that Evan actually agrees that God could condemn the world and still be just and loving. But since he did not read my blog post, Evan did not realize that I had already cited the very same quote in my response! He also made the point that if Paul Copan merely repeated, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” rather than publishing his book Is God A Moral Monster? that this would be unsatisfying. But I had already quoted Evan as saying that, and I responded to it. I am still awaiting the first inkling of an indication that Evan Minton actually read my blogpost. This is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. He does not want any answers despite demanding them.

cerebralfaith5Nonsense or mystery? – Another inconsistency. You will recall that in my original blogpost, I suggested that if it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reason for unconditionally electing creatures to salvation, then it is our duty as creatures to just put our trust in him rather than to lean on our own misunderstanding. Evan rendered two responses to this. First, he writes, “Some things aren’t mysteries, some things are clear nonsense. This is one of them. A mystery would be how God can be 3 persons yet 1 God… God causing people to do evil and yet not being responsible for evil; That’s not a mystery. That’s nonsense. You might as well assert that a man who puts pants on is still naked.” But he goes on to say, “If one can show me that God can causally determine evil, punish the agents he determined to commit the evil for all eternity, and yet not be responsible for the evil which he caused, then I will gladly retract every statement I’ve ever made about determinism impugning God’s goodness.” If a Calvinist could possibly provide such a theodicy (I attempted in my previous blogpost – Evan ignored that too, more evidence that he did not read my post), then he would drop his argument. So in his first statement, he suggests that it is a logical contradiction to ask for an explanation, and then he goes on to ask for one anyway.

cerebralfaith6The difference between a logical contradiction and what Evan is pointing out here should be obvious. We do not know the intentions and motives of God. If we had insight into the divine mind, then we might be able to make that judgment. The only way that we could say, “God is being evil,” is if we knew his intentions. Perhaps there is a greater good that he is trying to achieve. Perhaps mankind is not the greater good. That is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. Evan’s assumption seems to be that mankind is the greatest good, the ultimate reality and the highest end worth pursuing. But if that assumption is incorrect, then the door has flung open to consider that it is possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons. Hence, it is a legitimate mystery.

Is God killing innocent people? Another inconsistency. You will recall that in my original blogpost, I pointed out that Evan is assuming that God owes us something. God owes us a free choice. He owes us a non-deterministic universe. Well, when I said that he does not trust God’s righteousness, Evan went on to apply a very telling illustration. He writes, “If someone came up to me and said my brother ((I don’t have a brother, but I’ll invent one for the sake of the argument)) murdered 100 innocent people, what would I conclude? That he’s evil? Well, that certainly would be the conclusion I would reach if he actually did such a thing. But I would object “No! He would never do such a thing! He’s a good person! He would never kill 100 innocent people!” Do I lack trust in my brother? No. While I strongly hold that if he did such a thing, he would be evil, I reject that statement as being true because I believe just as strongly in my brother’s goodness.” Granted that no illustration is or can be expected to be perfect, the applicable portion is the innocence of the people. Evan is assuming that the people are innocent or at least deserving of a fair chance at salvation, or that God owes them a non-deterministic universe.

But if God does not owe us a non-deterministic universe, Evan’s illustration breaks down at a foundation level. This is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. He is making underlying and subconscious assumptions about what God owes us and this bleeds through in every page that he writes about this topic.

Evan seems to feel vindicated by the fact that other Arminians render this argument. I do not care what other people believe. I would be very hesitant to feel supported or as though I were on solid ground just because several others believe the same thing. But this seems to be the case with Evan. He writes, “But the argument that I, Roger Olson, and virtually every other Arminian make against the god of Calvinism is that what Calvinism teaches about God logically entails conclusions (unless you’re super skilled at cognitive dissonance which many Calvinists are) which impugn His goodness.” Why does he point that out? Why does it matter what people believe? It matters because he seems to have drawn out some sort of emotional support from the fact that Arminians agree with him and scholarly Arminians have made this argument. Well, I was just as appalled that Roger Olson made this argument in his wretched book Against Calvinism as well. I can sympathize with what James White said in his review of that book, namely, “I feel pity for the poor trees who were used to publish Olson’s superficial comments.” It was appalling when Roger Olson said it, and it is still appalling when Evan says it.

However, since Evan published his last response, I have gotten several messages from people (some of them Arminians) who were stating that they were concerned about his negative behavior, and who can blame them? Arminians who have messaged me and who are offended at his behavior should send him a message and tell him that. Leave a comment on his blogpost. Tell him that it is not okay. The way that he treats this topic and the disrespect that he shows for people, the fact that he refuses to engage with or read any answers is very telling. This is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. He seems to just be so insecure about this topic. Perhaps that is because he knows that he did not read my critique, and that somewhere, deep down inside, he is terrified of the knowledge that what he is battling really is the truth. If you are not a witness to his behavior, just look at the following.

12309129_921201534582591_142912438_nEvan’s terrible behavior. Just take a look at these responses. Rather than seriously engaging with what people have to say, he disrespectfully calls them idiots and begins to say, “Oh, I’m just trolling, so it is all justified.” Well, even if you are trolling, you are still responsible for your behavior. Even if you think that determinism entails that you are not responsible for your behavior, we all, Calvinists and Arminians alike, believe that people are held accountable for their actions. Evan may suggest that he was illustrating the absurdity of determinism. But instead, all he was doing was disrespecting people and refusing to engage in conversation. If you do not want to have a conversation, do not reply, or wait until you do. If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all.

But Evan suggests that he just does not care to engage. Look at what he wrote on Twitter (during a stream of emotive tweets on both his personal and blog account):

The fact that Evan does not take this topic seriously may explain why he did not read my blogpost. He went on to say:

12285596_921200647916013_888776454_nBut consider his behavior on Facebook. Who was behaving irrationally? Was it those who were trying to have a rational discussion, or the one who was calling people idiots, refusing to engage, et cetera? I would like to urge Evan to engage in introspection and to consider what people have to say. You need to take these blogposts down. This is CerebralFaith’s blindspot. It is the weakest point of your blog and it exposes you. Atheists will see that. Anyone who comes to your blog will see the emotional and angry ravings that you have let out.

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How Job Answers The Central Objection To Calvinism

job 1People often say that they would like to meet God, because they would have a few choice words for him. They would quiz him. They would pose a few questions to him to see how he would explain himself to them. This strikes me as being something like saying, “If I fell on the face of the sun, I would spit on it!” Yet this is the sort of objection upon which people base their beliefs. What I mean is that they hold God accountable. They suggest that if God were to act in some way, he would have a lot of explaining to do. But what do we mean by God? When we say God, we mean one who is perfect in righteousness, justice, love, and truth. If that being were to act in a certain way… he would have a lot of explaining to do? To whom would he explain himself? To you? Yet this is the central objection to the doctrines of grace, what is known as Calvinism. But certain books of the Bible that emphasize God’s providence, righteousness, and the fact that he does not have to explain himself to mortals seem to acquit Calvinism of all charges. So, in this article, I will explain how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism.

job 2For those who do not know, Calvinism is the view that salvation is solely a work of God. Man can contribute nothing to his salvation except for the sin that made it necessary. Man is totally depraved, dead in his sin, a slave of sin (John 8:34) and therefore does not have the capacity to turn to God in righteousness (Romans 3:10). Man will not freely choose God. He hates God. The natural man does not desire God (1 Corinthians 2:14). A person is born again only after God changes his will and inclines him to himself. First, God changes man. Then, man can freely choose God (1 John 5:1). But then, the question arises: why would God choose only some, and not others? Why would God condemn people when he determined what they would do anyway? Questions that begin with “Why would God…?” are of the breed that the book of Job addressed. Yet these are the sorts of questions that our non-Calvinist friends will pose. Throughout this article, I will use Job’s theodicy to vindicate Calvinism, explaining how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. As I do this, I will take you on a tour of Evan Minton of Cerebral Faith’s argumentation so that you might be able to see the best and most emotionally loaded arguments that people will use to condemn God.

job 3What does Job say? Those who have not read the book of Job should. Books of the Bible are often not recognized as works of literary mastery that they deserve. But this book is a poetic and precisely and stringently constructed depiction of a man named Job. It is also the Bible’s longest polemic against the problem of evil and suffering in the world. If God is good, why is there evil? Why do good people suffer? Job is the book to which we should always turn to answer this question. For Job is an upright and holy man. He is blameless in the sight of the Lord. He has wealth, health and prosperity. But God recognizes that Job is in love with his blessings such that if he loses them, he will spurn the Almighty. So God allows Satan to rob Job of his blessings. His home, his servants, his children, his wealth and health are all reduced to nothing.

job 4Throughout the narrative, Job’s friends are giving him terrible advice. They tell him that he has suffered such because of some sin of which he has failed to repent. He has neglected the orphans and the widows. He has been greedy. Job continues to declare his own righteousness and ponder why God has allowed turmoil to befall him. He says of God in 10:4, “Have you eyes of flesh? Or do you see as a man sees? Are you days as the days of a mortal?” He continues to declare his righteousness and to plead to with God, asking him why he must endure such calamity. He suggests, “Behold, here is my signature. Let the Almighty answer me and the indictment which my adversary has written. Surely I would carry it on my shoulder. I would bind it to myself like a crown I would declare to him the number of my steps. Like a prince I would approach him” (Job 31:35-37).

job 5When all of the elders failed to give Job sound advice, a young man approached him and said that he has sinned against God. While the calamity was not a response to his sin, his sin came after the calamity. His sin was that he had multiplied words against God (Job 34:37). Then, out of a whirlwind, God had answered. Job said that he would approach him like a prince, and God offered the opportunity. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” bellows God. He darkens counsel by words without knowledge. This means that Job is raising these questions and indictments against God despite that he does not know why they happened. God proceeds to ask dozens of rhetorical questions, demanding that Job instruct him. Surely, Job will know and surely Job can instruct him. The message of Job is obvious. He is insignificant. He is merely a man. In the presence of God, the one who had the confidence of a prince shrunk and said, “Behold, I am insignificant, what can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:3).

job 6So what is the objection, and how does Job answer it? Recall that the objection to Calvinism is that God is treating people with injustice. He is behaving nefariously. Evan emoted this point in his article, “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Is True. He writes, “God decided before the universe was even created that certain humans would inevitably sin and burn. His desire for many people was for them to end up in Hell. God has made a list of people whom He wants to save, and those whom He wants to burn. Why in the world should we worship such a beast? Why would a loving God, a God who’s very essence is love (1 John 4:8) desire such a thing for such a large number of people?” Since I believe that Calvinism is true, I also recognize that Evan is referring to God as a beast. This is deeply offensive to anyone who has even an inkling of piety.

job 7However, it does have the ring of some of the lamentations that Job rendered. Job accused God of having eyes of flesh and being a mortal. He said that he would approach God as a prince does. He did not understand why God would do something and so emoted his moral judgments over the Almighty. But what was the divine response? “Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Evan is relying on his own moral intuitions to make judgments over God. It is something like if I told you vague details of a scenario. “A man is holding another in a cage and refuses to let him out.” You might be appalled and say of the man that he was evil. Then I inform you that the man is a prison guard and the man in the cage is a convict. That is something like what Evan is doing in his moral judgments over God. He is assuming that God could have no good reasons for doing some action. But recall who God is. God is perfect in righteousness, love, trust, and justice. Is it not a better option to just assume that we do not know the answer, and that we will lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)? This insight is brought out in Job and that is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism.

job 8Does God owe us salvation? Undergirding these objections seems to be the assumption that God owes salvation to mankind. By virtue of being human, God is our debtor and must at least give us a fair shake, an attempt to choose to be saved. But what good reasons are there to think that? As a Christian, I believe that salvation is a free gift (Romans 6:23) and is not something God owes us. He did not have to give us salvation. He could have created mankind and doomed everyone to Hell if he chose to do so. He could have created sinners just to express his justice, offering them no hope of salvation, no chance of redemption, no free choice, and he would still be just and still be loving. You are not saved because God owes you salvation. You are saved because he offered salvation as a free gift despite that he did not owe you anything good. But when we begin to say that God would be unjust if he does not attempt to save certain people, then we begin to darken counsel by words without knowledge. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For the central objection is undergirded by the assumption that God owes something to us.

Evan claims to agree with this in the same article that I referenced above. But in an act of duplicity, he goes on to say, “So, not only does God choose not to save some people, but He is the reason that they’re sinners to begin with (according to Calvinists who believe in Divine Determinism)! How in the world could God possibly hold anyone accountable for sins that they commit if it’s His fault that they committed the sin to begin with?” This charge amounts to saying that God owes us a chance to do something different. God owes his creatures the ability to choose righteousness. Evan also wrote in the very same paragraph, “I would agree that if God decided to never send Jesus to die on the cross to atone for our sins, and if He sent every human He ever created into the fiery pits of Hell that He would be perfectly good and just to do so. God is under no obligation whatsoever to provide a way for us to be saved.” Now, if God had never sent Jesus to die on the cross, nobody would be saved or have the opportunity to be saved. There would be no grace. There would just be totally depraved people who could only choose to sin, could never choose to be saved, and would inevitably result in their eternal destruction. And, writes Evan, God would still be good and still be just. Yet I have trouble seeing how this is significantly different from the model to which Evan objects.

Is it wrong to say, ‘Who are you, O man, who answers back to God’? Something that you may have noticed about God’s claim that Job is darkening counsel by words without knowledge is that it is very similar to what God said in Romans 9:20, where Paul the apostle asked, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” When Job questioned God and when he indicted God with unrighteousness, God’s presence, might, and wisdom made Job realize how insignificant he was. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For Paul said just the same thing. When Paul engaged in proleptic thought, he expected people to object precisely as Evan does. He expected people to say, “Why does he find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Romans 9:19). That sounds a lot like what Evan said, does it not? Paul’s response: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20). Evan hates Paul’s response to this question. He writes in his article, Things Calvinists Really Need To Stop Saying that we really need to stop reciting Romans 9:20.

He writes in the article, “Calvinists need to do better than simply point out that we’re in no position to judge God. They need to show how their theology doesn’t paint God as something He’s not.” But why is that? It is because unless we can expound upon the counsel of God, unless we know the motivation behind the divine will, Evan will continue to refer to God as demonic, a beast, and every manner of nasty name that he can conjure up. The question is not how God can explain himself to us. The question is whether we are going to assume that we know more than he does. Are we going to darken his counsel by words without knowledge or are we going to trust in the one who has wisdom and knowledge? By demanding that God explain himself, to account for his actions, so that Evan may assess them and sit in judgment of them, Evan reminds me of Job’s claim that he is going to approach God like a prince.

Does God have to explain himself to Evan, Job, or unbelievers? Recall what I said in the opening paragraph. People often think that when they encounter God, they will have a few choice words for him and God will sit and listen to them. God will try really hard to justify himself before the almighty man. In his article that might have a little overlap with blasphemy, titled An Unbeliever Meets The God of Determinism (satire) Evan manufactures such a meeting. In this scenario, the unbeliever has died and now he is standing before God who is judging him. Evan creates this dialogue, wherein the unbeliever has a few questions for God. Here is the abridged dialogue:

Sam: “Before you do, I just have a few questions for you. … Every transgression I committed against you while I was alive was ultimately caused by you, you made it happen, and if that’s the case, how can you be justified in condemning me?”

God: “Who are you O Man to question me!?”

Sam: “What?”

God: “I said ‘who are you O man to question me!?’ I am perfect in everything I do. If I casually determine sin, it’s for a good reason. If I punish causally determined creatures for the sins I determined them do, it’s for a good reason. I am perfect. I am holy.”

Sam: “That doesn’t really answer my question.”

As you can see, in this dialogue, the unbeliever has the upperhand, and all God has to say is, “Don’t question me.” God’s response is clearly supposed to be taken as inadequate, for he needs to be able to explain himself to this unbeliever. Well, let’s suppose for a moment that God did explain himself. God answered all of the unbelievers questions, emitting wisdom that we just do not understand. If that were to come to pass, that would entail that we should have just trusted in him during this life. We should have believed that there was a divine plan, and that there were mysteries which we just did not understand. That is precisely how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. For in Job, we have somebody who really does encounter God, and God really does reply in the way that Evan finds so objectionable.

Do we have to stop asking questions? God’s response to Job seems to be a burden to Evan. He dislikes it because he thinks it prevents people from asking questions. He writes in the article mentioned above titled Things Calvinists Really Need To Stop Saying, “If merely saying “Who are you O man to question God?” was enough to resolve such difficulties, why did Paul Copan write an entire book called “Is God A Moral Monster”, answering criticisms to God’s moral character from atheists? Why couldn’t this over-used Calvinist slogan be enough? When atheists say that God is morally flawed by unleashing His judgments in the Old Testament narratives, why couldn’t every single page of Copan’s book say in big bold letters “Who are you O man to question God!?” Why couldn’t that be enough? Maybe because it isn’t enough. The critically thinking mind wants answers, not slogans.” Several times, he accuses Calvinists of not permitting questions. In response to my article Is God Evil If Calvinism Were True? he objected that Calvinists often disallow question. Mimicking the Calvinist response, he wrote, “We don’t know! We don’t know! Stop asking so many questions and accept Calvinism like a good little boy.” Questions are clearly depicted as bad.

However, as I pointed out there, his reasoning is identical to what we find in Bart Ehrman’s book on this topic. On Page 173 of God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails To Answer Life’s Most Important Question – Why We Suffer, Bart Ehrman offers pretty much an identical response to what Evan said. Ehrman writes, “God appears at the end of the poetic exchanges, and refuses to give an answer.” He goes on to complain on page 188, “God does not explain why Job suffers. He simply asserts that he is the Almighty, and as such, cannot be questioned… God is not to be questioned, and reasons are not to be sought… Doesn’t this mean that God can maim, torment, and murder at will and not be held accountable?” Ehrman applies this reasoning precisely because he denies biblical authority. He denies who God is. Yet it is remarkably similar to what Evan said. The reason that we do not suggest that God is evil is because we trust in him and believe that no matter what happens and no matter what he does, he is God; he is holy and righteous and loving even when we do not understand.

Further, we are not saying that one cannot ask questions. We may pursue the question of why God did or allowed something. That is permissible so long as God’s character is not being impugned. If you are pursuing an answer, and saying that if God’s accounting of that event is unacceptable, that you will stand in judgment over him, that is what we would regard as impiety. But, if you pursue an answer just to learn more and help people who are weaker in the faith, then that is permissible. I do think that there are good reasons for why God chose to create a world in which some go to Hell when he could have sent them to Heaven. I think that God does that because he wants humanity to see the full range of his attributes expressed. He wants us to see both his wrath and his mercy. That is one possible answer, and it may be wrong, and there may be others. But the fact that we do not know the answer to a particular question should not cause us to shake our fists at God, to say that God is evil, et cetera. When we do not know the answers, we should be willing to accept God’s response to Job. Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

What about the uneducated person who has no access to answers? Sometimes it seems like everything is wrapped up neatly in a theological box. All of the canned answers are prepared. “Why does God only save save?” “Free will” comes the reply. But for people in other parts of the world, those answers are not there. There are people throughout history who have had no access to libraries, informed clergymen, the internet or the CerebralFaith blog. So from where did they get their answers? Suppose some tragedy were to befall them. They would not necessarily know that we live in a fallen world. They would not know about freedom of the will. They would only know what is in front of them and that God is supposed to be good and powerful. So, for them, the only response available is to just put their trust in God.

I think in this way, the book of Job may have been written for such people. God could have provided a thorough theodicy, justifying every action he ever took. But he did something that is simpler. Rather than explaining himself, he communicated to us that we need to recognize his character and recognize who he is. He is God. The people with no access to answers and complex theodicies will have to accept that and learn to be at peace with that. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. God provides one answer and we need to accept it and be at peace with it just as the person who would have no access to answers.

In other contexts, Evan uses the same reasoning. The objection that Evan spends so much time railing against is applied in other contexts. We all recognize the message of Job. We all recognize that there are times wherein we need to just trust in God’s righteousness even if we do not know the answers. In his article, One Possible Reason For Animal Death, Evan writes, “I had a terrible time finding any good answers to this objection I had back as an On-the-fence Creationist. It frustrated and bothered me to no end. I pushed OECs back into corners often times not because I wanted to refute them, but because I wanted answers and I wasn’t getting any that satisfied me. God helped me get over the trouble of this through the power of His Holy Spirit. I thought of Proverbs 3:5 where The Bible says to “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. I just through up my hands and said “I don’t know why You let all that suffering and disease happen before the fall, but all the evidence points toward Day-Age Old Earth Creationism and I can’t go against this stream of powerful, scientific and scriptural evidence, so I’ll just trust that You had good reasons for permitting suffering pre-fall just like You have good reasons to allowing to happen to human beings AFTER the fall.” Evan believed in day-age creationism despite having no answers to the moral objection raised by young earth creationists concerning animal death before the fall. How did he respond? Much like Calvinists respond. We trust in God’s righteousness even if we do not know the answer.

Again in his article The Problem of Evil And Suffering he does something very similar. He writes, “Life is sometimes like a puzzle and God is putting it all together. We can only see the pieces of the puzzle, but once God is done putting it together, we can see the entire picture. A beautiful masterpiece.” Why is it okay for Evan, but it is not okay for Calvinists? Now, he does go on to provide a deeper theodicy, but he does seem to think that it is a worthy point that sometimes we need to remember that it is possible for God to have good reasons for allowing evil and suffering. That is precisely what Calvinists are saying. It is possible for God to have good reasons. We can only see part of the picture and we only know some of the reasons. Maybe someday, he will explain it to us. But until then, we ought not darken counsel by words without knowledge. That is how Job answers the central objection to Calvinism. He reminds us that we need to remember that God has morally sufficient reasons.

Why this is more than a theological debate about Calvinism. We can debate about Romans 9, John 6, Ephesians 1 and various other seminal texts of Calvinism. But this debate is something wholly other. Evan is not raising a logical objection. That is not to say that he is being illogical. It is to say that his objection is in a different category. It is an emotional and moral objection. Just read what he said in his article that I linked to above titled Why Nobody Should Worship God If Calvinism Is True: “I feel that, if Calvinism were true, I’d rather be in Hell, separated from such a cruel icy hearted puppet master of a God. The hatred I feel for the God of Calvinism is immense. I believe Calvinism is false, so I don’t believe in this God I hate so much. But I do hate him. He is not the God I fell in love with when I became a Christian. He is not the God I worship. I’ve come to understand how atheists can hate a being they don’t believe exists for this is exactly how I feel about the Calvinist version of God. I don’t believe he exists, and yet I loathe him with the fire of a thousand suns. He is so revolting, the mere thought of him churns my stomach. … Such a God, in my opinion, deserves to go to Hell to burn there himself.”

I believe that Calvinism is true. The God who he describes is the very God that I believe in, pray to, and believe is worthy of all worship and glory and honor. He came upon patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, inspired prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah… he is the one who decisively revealed himself in Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “Once you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), he claiming to be God, to be identical to the Father and to portray all of the characteristics of the Father. He was saying that if you want to know who God is, you look to him. I believe that he was identifying himself with the very God who Evan is condemning. When I read what he wrote, what I see is, “I’d rather be in Hell, separated from Jesus Christ… the hatred I feel for Jesus Christ is immense. I hate him. Jesus Christ is revolting… I hate him with the fire of a thousand suns. Jesus Christ deserve to go to Hell.” Just think about it for a moment. If Calvinism really is true, that is precisely what Evan is saying. This is not merely a theological debate. It is something that is heart-wrenching to hear a professing Christian say about Christ.

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A Critique Of Fundamentalism From A Fundamentalist

fundamentalism 1Sometimes we will encounter blog posts from authors who are trying to ‘win the internet’ by pontificating about how conservative Christianity has faltered. They will say that we ought not be so stringent in our beliefs and doctrine, and that Jesus may not have really risen from the dead. They will say that the Bible teaches outdated morals or the church has misunderstood the Bible for the last two thousand years and they are going to relay to us some new interpretation that just happens to be swept away by the cultural tidal waves. They will sternly warn that Christians need to realize that it is acceptable to love Jesus and hate religion, have love for God but not seek after righteousness. When a Christian critiques Christianity or Christian virtues, liberals and atheists will nod in approval of this freethinking and rational Christian who has gone against the grain of biblical belief. They have risen beyond their primitive dogmas and finally realized that the world was right all along. If that is the sort of article that you are looking for, I am afraid that you have come to the wrong place. This is a critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist, but it is not a departure from fundamentalist dogma or practice.

fundamentalism 2Rather, it is a call for Christians to return to the biblical standard, to practice what they preach, to learn about what they believe and why they believe it, and to not accept an answer just because an authority figure told you what the answer is and what you should believe. Of course, many Christians will read this and protest, “But that is not descriptive of all Christians!” Indeed, I am a Christian fundamentalist (in the technical sense, I am not trying to apply a derogatory name to myself or others. Anybody who believes in the fundamentals of Christian theology is a Christian fundamentalist) and I am aware of these problems and labor to strip myself of them. This is a critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist, not a critique of fundamentalism from somebody who is trying to mock and ridicule fundamentalism. I am not saying that fundamentalism needs to be absorbed into radical liberalism. I am saying that by adjusting our practices, we can revise the definition of fundamentalism so that it is no longer associated with stupid, ignorant, wacky Protestants.

fundamentalism 3Shallow preaching for a shallow audience. One of the central questions that a pastor will ask himself is how he can gain new converts and maintain their attendance. Of course, if one does not wish to repel their congregants, they must preach in a manner to which the people will not have to make any major adjustments. They will have to be funny, charismatic, and they must be skilled in public speaking. Further, and critically, the sermons must be shallow so as to not overwhelm or intimidate the lay people in the audience. Hence, the principle of many sermons will be something like, “You need to pray more” and this will be underlined by a cacophony of personal anecdotes about the real impact that prayer has. Topical sermons laced with stories, jokes and nothing too challenging will keep the parishioners happy. However, the preacher will find that he always has to preach the same messages and can never introduce new content because his congregation is not growing. The only edification that they are receiving is the spiritual snippets that this pastor has provided.

fundamentalism 4When an exegetical sermon is introduced or a sermon that introduces theological concepts, the parishioners will just not understand it and will respond in impatience. So rather than slowly expanding the mind and laboring to open a door to expand the spiritual maturity of his parish, the pastor will be inclined to adapt his preaching and leadership to their theological understanding and their spiritual maturity. Shallow sermons for a shallow audience is what proceeds. When the time of practical applicability is upon them, the parish can apply only what has been given to them. They have only, “Pray more,” “Wear the armor of God” “My pastor had an answered prayer once” et cetera. This is a critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist. As such, it is prudent for me to urge that shallow sermons will just not sustain the spiritual life of the congregation and will result in apostasy and nominal Christianity.

Anti-intellectualism in the church. Probably as concomitant to the previous section (or very closely related), Christians will often host an aura of anti-intellectualism. In an effort to stride closely to their theological ideas, or because they are not being led into spiritual maturity, or do not care to pursue spiritual maturity, parishioners (and teachers!) are often guilty of anti-intellectualism about many topics. That is why fundamentalism is often thought of as a barrier to scientific progress. It is an obstacle to cultural advance. In my opinion, Christians truly display anti-intellectualism.

This is because there is a paradigm that has been developed by liberalism that pits Christianity against scientific progress. Historically, the pioneers of science have been Christian fundamentalists and would sternly object to the developments that I describe here. But many Christians firmly believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and often are not even willing to listen to other interpretations of the Bible, because they are convinced that they are compromises of the biblical data. But the age of the earth is as firmly established as the shape of the earth. Just as we can observe the stars in distant galaxies, so also can we observe the age of the universe. So when somebody says that the the earth is only a few thousand years old, they are embarrassing the church and acquiring for it the characterization of anti-intellectualism. When unbelievers are desperately seeking something for which they might mock the Christian faith, the young earth creationists eagerly present themselves.

This position of anti-intellectualism will manifest itself as Christians will say things such as, “I do not need science or college, I have Jesus.” However, it is present not only in scientific studies but also in theological studies. Christians will sometimes feel prideful and resentful with theologians. They will say that they do not need an educated person to explain the Bible to them (and of course, unless they read Koine Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, they rely on scholarship in the translation of the biblical text). So Christians will often not understand the trinity or even be able to explain what the creedal view of the trinity is. When Christians do not understand what they believe, or why they believe it, one has to wonder how they will fair when they are sharing the gospel. Will they be merely sharing their narrative, offering a few little anecdotes about the faith? Is that really what it means to share the gospel? A critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist would have to note these things. Christians need to be introspective and reflect upon whether they are doing harm to the gospel and the cause of Christ.

The influence of tradition. Tradition certainly has several virtues. It keeps the faith of the masses within the barriers of orthodoxy. If we accept tradition as authoritative (though not infallible), it will help us to understand our own faith better, serving as a guide and a guard against heresy and error. But tradition is often misused and abused. Rather than allowing tradition to merely be a guide, many Christians will look upon it as though it were infallible. They may claim that they believe that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church, but they will act as though their traditional values were infallibly offered.

Consider when Jesus said that the Pharisees had used their tradition to nullify the word of God (Mark 7:13). What they had done is to assume that their traditional interpretation of the word of God was, itself, the word of God. When they read, for example, “You shall keep the Sabbath holy” they will begin to ask questions, such as, ‘how do we keep the Sabbath holy?’ Their answers to that question might be, ‘Do not walk more than two miles from your home on the Sabbath.’ The Torah does not prescribe that we stay at home on the day of rest, but that interpretation is treated as though it were the word of God. This is precisely what Christians do today. They will elevate their traditional interpretation, not recognizing the difference between an interpretation and the word of God. So when Jesus said, “If you are not born of water and Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” in John 3:5, a Cambellite will read “water baptism” between the lines despite that the verse does not mention water baptism. Their interpretation has become inextricably linked with the word of God. A critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist notes that we need to be able to separate our interpretation and tradition from the word of God lest we be like the Pharisees.

The inability to disagree. This one is probably not unique to Christianity, because everybody seems guilty of this. Everybody has problems disagreeing and listening to critiques of views that they hold sacredly. Atheists react in rage when people disagree with atheism, as do Christians, and this is a problem. Indeed, we often do not even know what Christians of other denominations would have to say about a particular issue. We may have heard our pastor summarize it for us, but often he will just offer a caricature, not a proper representation and will amount to nothing more than reminding us that we were right all along. After all, it is trivially easy to convince somebody that they were right all along. But when somebody who can render a robust presentation of a particular view arrives, many of our assumptions about that view will collapse.

However, when we encounter such a person, Christians often receive them in distaste. Such a person is offensive. Well, no progress can be made if we are offended by each other and not willing to hear what people have to say. By listening to those with whom we disagree, we can learn more about not only their views but our own views. We can learn more about why we believe what we believe and perhaps even adapt our beliefs as better arguments arrive.

The lack of discipleship. In his book Follow Me David Platt argued that rather than making converts, we ought to make disciples, and being a convert will be chauffeured with it. For if we are making converts, then we are laboring to persuade people to accept the truth claims of the Christian faith, to repent and believe the gospel, and then to move on to somebody else to convince them to do this. However, if we are making disciples, then we are teaching people to follow Jesus Christ, to get involved in their lives, to be their friend, to be there for them and to help them to come into obedience to the gospel. A critique of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist notes that this is the model of evangelism that Christians need to practice and it is often not emphasized very heavily in our churches.

Our preaching is not oriented toward the gospel. I have had conversations about the gospel with Christians who have been going to church for their entire lives. They will respond with things like, “I have never heard that before.” How is that somebody going to a fundamentalist church can never hear about the fundamentals of the Christian faith? Sermons are often reduced to motivational speaking with a little Christian theology sprinkled on. They might hear trite platitudes such as “Jesus died for you” but it has no applicability or meaning to them. It is just something that they have heard preachers say, or sometimes shout, but they do not know what it means.

For the duty of the Christian disciple is to make more disciples. It is to share the gospel and to bring people to follow Jesus Christ. How can people who do not know what the gospel is do that? If all we have to offer is our personal anecdotes and stories, but neglect what Paul called the power of God (“the gospel is the power of God” Romans 1:16), our evangelism will be stifled and we will have churches filled with people who do not care about the gospel or even know what it is.

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What Is The Theory Of Evolution And Is It True?

toe 1What is the Theory of Evolution and is it true? Often this is presented in the scheme of religious discourse. Religious people are thought of as those who deny the Theory of Evolution because it cuts against their belief that mankind was personally, specially, fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator. Further, since the biological complexity of biological organisms has historically been one of the most compelling arguments for belief in a Creator God, the Theory of Evolution would seem to raise significant challenges to this apologetic. So it is usually regarded with disdain from adherents of the Christian religion. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker will say that an atheist can be intellectually satisfied with the Theory of Evolution. There would seem to be a theological or an anti-theological agenda in embracing or shying away from the Theory of Evolution.

toe 2So what is the Theory of Evolution and is it true? It seems like this is a prudent and practical question for us to ask. There are a number of different authorities for us to appeal to, including the biblical data and the scientific data. I will only focus briefly on the biblical data, as I have dedicated several other articles to reveal what the Bible says about this issue. In this article, I will conduct a general survey of some of the evidence that is usually presented and try to expose some of the logical errors and assumptions that are made on both sides of the argument.

toe 3What is the Theory of Evolution? The Theory of Evolution (ToE) is a scientific theory about the development of biological organisms. It posits that as we adapt to our environment, future generations of offspring develop biological traits that will increase the capacity for survival. The ToE posits that it is from this process that all biological organisms have come into being, beginning with single-celled organisms and a vast family tree sprouting from there. Hence, just understanding what the ToE is will illuminate a consistent misunderstanding that people have, for people often say, “why are there still monkeys in the zoo? Why have they not evolved?” The ToE suggests that the monkeys in the zoo are on a different branch of the evolutionary family tree. Human beings evolved not from monkeys but from monkey-like creatures.

toe 4All biological organisms, then, are cousins or somewhat distant relatives. Whether bananas, cabbage, elephants, anteaters, butterflies – we are all related and all members of the same family tree. We are more closely related to some animals than others, such as monkeys (and this would seem to draw support from the strikingly similar biological traits). They evolved differently based on different environments, natural selection being the fundamental driving force. We gain new traits based on what will aid our survival. What is the Theory of Evolution and is it true? Well the ToE posits that every biological organism has come into being through a slow and rigorous process of adapting to the environment.

toe 5The Theory of Evolution is not a worldview. As one reviews my summary of the ToE, I can conceive of at least two reactions to it. Atheists may read it and look for errors, strawmen or misrepresentation in my presentation, just incase I am attacking a version of the ToE that they do not believe. Second, Christians may be reading this summary of the ToE and think that it presents a very bleak very of the world and mankind. However, it should be noted that the ToE is not a worldview. It is a scientific theory of the development of biological organisms.

toe 6The mechanism that brought biological organisms into existence does not rob us of our intrinsic worth. It may be that God guided the process of evolution throughout the generations. Of course, one may suggest that the ToE would make for a very wasteful process. But waste is only a consideration for somebody who has either limited time or limited resources. God is burdened with neither. He can expend all of the resources and time that he likes. This means that while atheists will usually believe the ToE, there is nothing about the ToE that is exclusively atheistic. A Christian can believe in the ToE, and indeed, there are many faithful Christians who do.

Micro to Macro – The Flawed Induction. The ToE draws support from the general observation of evolution. As I pointed out, it is undeniable that biological organisms adapt to their environment. We pass on traits to our descendants that are meant to increase their survivability. Creatures change over time. This is the underlying principle in the ToE and it would be a vast understatement to say that this was justified. It is not only a justified observation. It is obvious and immediately observable. But since creatures change over, the ToE extrapolates that to explain the development of all biological organisms.

Is this a justified extrapolation? It might be, but it is strictly conceptual and hypothetical. It might not be true. One would need to find alternative evidence to confirm this extrapolation. This is because one cannot literally observe the evolution of a single-celled organism into all living organisms today. One can only observe the minor variations within species, not the variations between species. This is the difference between micro and macro evolution. Some scientists will argue that there is no distinction between micro and macro evolution precisely because the extrapolation from micro to macro is justified. Well that may be the case. But it seems difficult to assume that the extrapolation took place in the absence of other evidence. The presence of adaptation and change over time would seem to only serve as supplementary evidence rather than a firm establishment of the ToE.

What is the Theory of Evolution and is it true? The ToE posits that all biological organisms developed through a long series of adaptations and it draws support from the adaptations that are observable. But this induction seems to make an assumption that needs to be independently justified.

DNA Evidence – The Flawed Induction. Recall that I pointed out that the ToE posits that all biological organisms are related. They are all members of the same family tree, branching off from that original single-celled organism, evolving into all of the life that we see today on the earth. How could one confirm this? Well, just think about how you can confirm that you were related to members of your family, or how you could prove that you were not adopted. You would appeal to DNA evidence. Similarly, we may appeal to DNA evidence to establish that all living things are related. This usually serves as very powerful evidence that all biological lifeforms originally had the same genes and diverged from there, hence confirming the ToE.

However, one would seem to be making a number of assumptions in making this argument. One would be assuming that the best explanation or even the only feasible explanation for the DNA evidence is the ToE. The ToE is being invoked as an explanatory hypothesis as opposed to a deductive argument. It is another induction. Christians will usually point out that there are other possible explanations for our having the same DNA, namely, that we had a common designer who used the same blueprint in all biological organisms. There are two common responses to this. 1 – If we are going to posit God as an alternative explanation for DNA evidence, we need to provide evidence for God’s existence. But this objection leaves one vulnerable to the counter-strike that you need to provide alternative evidence for the ToE to establish it as a possible hypothesis. 2 – God is not available to the scientist as an explanation because he is engaging the methodological naturalism, which looks for causes within the natural world. Well, that is fine. But God is still available to most people as an explanation or even a scientist in their off-hours. It seems strange to exclude a possible logical alternative just because of a technicality. Technicalities cannot establish the ToE. What is the Theory of Evolution, and is it true? Well, DNA evidence may not have as much to say about this as we would like.

The best argument – predictive capabilities. Often scientific theories are measured by their capacity for predictive capabilities. This means that if we can analyze the ToE and conclude with what we should find in the actual world, then this would serve as powerful evidence that it is true if it is found. The ToE would predict, for example, that whales evolved from a land animal known as indohyus. The ToE predicts that there would be fossils of indohyus and intermediate states near the water, which is precisely what we find. Hence the ToE seems to have predictive capabilities.

This would be further supported by what is known as the geological column. The geological column is a classification system for eras of the history of the earth. The ToE will predict where fossils should be dated, and may boast of the fact that a fossil has never been found out of place. So, the ToE accurately predicts where all of these fossils should be. However, dissidents of the ToE will reply that the geological column is reformulated based on dates that are out of order. Second, they will object that the geological column assumes that the ToE is true and therefore cannot be used as evidence for something that it assumes. A lengthy discussion of this may be read here (from a perspective supporting the ToE paradigm) and here (from a dissident of the ToE paradigm. What is the Theory of Evolution and is it true? The ToE seems to have predictive capabilities, hence increasing the probability that it is true.

Does the Bible answer this question? Most Christians will appeal to the biblical data, suggesting that it explicitly disallows the union of Christianity and the ToE. I will briefly treat two topics, namely the creation account and the story of Adam and Eve. However, if you would like to read a more detailed discussion of this topic, please read my other articles. In these articles, I pointed out that there are a number of ways to interpret the creation account, which do not force us to believe that the earth is 6000 years old. The model that I would represent is known as the day-age model, which suggests that the days in Genesis 1 are long periods of time. This draws support from Genesis 1:14, which says that 24 hour days were created in the midst of the creation week. If 24 hour days were created, how could the creation days be 24 hour days? Second, it draws support Hebrews 4:1-7, which explicitly says that we are still in the seventh day of the creation week. If we are still in the seventh day, how could the days be 24 hour periods?

What about the problem of Adam and Eve? If Adam and Eve were the first humans, created by God, how could the ToE be true? Well I am not convinced that the text says that they were the first humans created by God. Adam and Eve could have been created specially, from the dust of the ground, in the image of God, to look like the homosapiens that have evolved. This would preserve the doctrine of original sin by adhering to what is known as Federal Headship. God judged Adam as our Federal Head, knowing that Adam would stand in our place and accurately represent what we do. So, in Adam, we all die, and this does not contradict the model presented by the ToE. What is the Theory of Evolution, and is it true? The creation account in the Bible does not seem to answer this question. The Bible teaches theology, not science.

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Did Josephus Write About Jesus, Or Was It Entirely A Forgery?

josephus forgery 1Are there any early accounts or testimonies of the life of Jesus that are independent of the biblical data? Well, before beginning to discuss the data in Josephus, it should be noted that it would be a mistake to discount the biblical data simply because it is a theological text. While Christians do believe that it is divinely inspired, it is also a product of human hands. It is a collection of historical documents and it contains a wealth of information, the best available data that we possess of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. It is a collection of historical biographies written within a generation of his life, and a collection of letters reflecting the earliest information that was circulating about his life. It is a historians’ delight. With that in mind, is there anything else that testifies to the life of Jesus? Aside from the best resource that we have, is there anything else that might serve a supplemental purpose? Well, certainly. The testimony of Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews speaks of Jesus. But, did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery?

josephus forgery 2In 18:3:3, Josephus writes, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” I will be drawing from Dr. John Meier’s book A Marginal Jew (Volume I, Chapter 3, pages 56-89) to demonstrate that this writing is at least partially authentically being derived from the pen of Josephus.

josephus forgery 3Christians certainly did manipulate this passage. There are certain aspects of this passage that would just not reflect the thought of an orthodox Jew such as Josephus, as he was most certainly not a Christian. For him to employ such Christian characterizations of Jesus would be exceedingly unlikely. After all, one short paragraph about Jesus is hardly fitting if he really did regard this man as the Messiah, the Savior of the Jews, who overturned all expectations, was God the Son and commissioned all men to make disciples of all nations. For Josephus to claim that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and say nothing else of the matter would be to demonstrate a startling lack of piety and devotion.

josephus forgery 4He began his summary of Jesus by saying of him, “if indeed it be lawful to call him a man.” This is clearly a recognition of the Christian beliefs about the identity of Jesus. He was not merely a man, but he was God the Son, the second person of the trinity. If I were to describe Jesus by saying that he was a man, most Christians would find that unsatisfying. Though he was a man, he was more than a man. He was totally man and totally God. He was the God-man. This passage clearly refers to Jesus in Christian terms. Second, it refers to Jesus as “the Messiah,” which, again, would be unlikely considering that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Third, it quoted the oral tradition found in 1 Corinthians 15:5, saying that Jesus appeared to many, according to the Scriptures. These are clearly Christian interpolations of the Antiquities.

51HtqOWgf9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This charge is usually developed by the raving and radical skeptics who emote the unlikelihood of the existence of Jesus as a historical figure. This will lead them to the conclusion that Josephus did not mention Jesus of Nazareth at all, and that the entire section was a forgery. Is that true? Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? I submit the position that these interpolations warrant the conclusion that it is entirely a forgery is far too simplistic.

Jesus “won over” the Gentiles. Dr. Meier pointed out that it is quite curious for Josephus to say that Jesus had won over people of Greek origin if he was familiar with or took the gospel records as authoritative. For Jesus did not win over the Gentiles. His mission was particularly for the lost children of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6). There certainly are a few exceptions, but during his earthly ministry, that was his intention. It was only after his resurrection from the dead that Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into “all nations,” (Matthew 28:19). This means that a Christian would be unlikely to say that Jesus of Nazareth won over a good deal of Greek disciples, because the testimony of the gospel records would be to the contrary. It is more likely that Josephus retrojected the situation of his present day onto the life of Jesus. That was a common error among historians of the day and understandable. Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? He probably wrote this detail about Jesus.

Who condemned Jesus? Throughout the gospel records, it is depicted that the Jewish Sanhedrin were guilty of condemning Jesus to death (Matthew 27:25). They were envious of Jesus throughout his ministry and persecuted him unto death. Pilate is almost depicted as a passive recipient of the Jews’ will, afraid of the wrath of Caesar (John 19:12). It is pretty explicit that it was the Jews who condemned him and Pilate was the resource that they employed to bring about the execution. Yet that is not the picture of the crucifixion that we see in Josephus. Josephus says that “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross.” In this depiction, Pilate alone is responsible, and the Sanhedrin are advisers. Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? There is clearly a contrast between the condemnation of Jesus in the gospels and in Josephus. Hence, somebody who was familiar with the gospels probably would not write it in this way.

The tribe of Christians has not yet died out. Josephus concludes the section about Jesus by saying that the tribe of Christians has not yet died out, even until this day. The implication, argues Dr. Meier, “seems to be one of surprise: granted Jesus’ shameful end (with no new life mentioned in the core text), one is amazed to note, says Josephus,that this group of post-mortem lovers is still at it and has not disappeared even in our own day (Does Josephus have in mind Nero’s attempt to get it to disappear?). I detect in the sentence as a whole something dismissive if not hostile (though any hostility here is aimed at Christians, not Jesus): one would have thought by now that this “tribe” of lovers of a crucified man would have disappeared. This does not sound like an interpolation by a Christian of any stripe.” (Page 66). Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? The dismissive tone seems to indicate that he did write about Jesus.

His reference to John the Baptist. Josephus also mentioned John the Baptist, and while it did not explicitly mentioned Jesus, it is interesting obviously because John ushered in the ministry of Jesus. Further, since it does not mention Jesus, it is unlikely to be a Christian interpolation, as the role of John was to point to the one who was greater than he. So Josephus provided independent evidence of John the Baptist. In book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2, he recounts John’s arrest, incarceration and even his execution, just with fewer details than the gospel narratives. He even refers to John fondly. But, interestingly, he writes, that John “commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body.” According to Josephus, John’s baptism was not for the remission of sins. Now this sounds exceedingly similar to the gospels – which explicitly say that his baptism was for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). This line seems to be an attempt to counteract the Christian claim about John’s baptism. Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? The bit about John the Baptist was certainly not a forgery.

James the brother of Jesus. In book 20, chapter 9, Josephus describes the execution of James. Probably with no way to distinguish him from other men named James (as it was a very common name), he refers to him as “the brother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.” Now, recall the Christian interpolations of the other reference to Jesus. It is decorated with divinity, that he is more than a man, that he rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. But this reference is almost blasé. Jesus is referred to in passing, used to identify this other man, James. Further, the standard Christian account of the death of James as recorded in Clement 2:23:3,19 differs from that recorded in Josephus. Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? His passing reference to Jesus in 20:9 was almost certainly authentic.

Did Josephus write about Jesus, or was it entirely a forgery? I would like to point out that history is an inductive investigation. It is probabilistic. So while one could conjure up a number of scenarios wherein every reference to Jesus was a forgery, that is not how historical investigation is done. The historian looks for the simplest explanation and that which comports best with the evidence. Accordingly, Josephus almost certainly wrote about Jesus and both of the references to him are probably authentic. Josephus probably originally wrote:

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out.”

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Why I Lost Respect For Dr. Shabir Ally

hqdefault-5Dr. Shabir Ally is widely known as the foremost living Islamic apologist, scholar and debater. He has summoned the intellectual respect of men of all different religions. I have thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. James White, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, and most recently, Dr. David Wood. He has immersed himself in both liberal and conservative Christian scholarship so that he might be able to arm his underlings with the best argumentation against Christianity, that they might be bold and confident in their Islamic faith. He is one of the few Islamic apologists who understands Christian theology and represents it properly in his debates (as far as I have seen). He knows how to discuss the historicity of the gospels and how to interact with the evidence for the resurrection. Since he presupposes belief in God (unlike the atheists who will debate this subject) the discussion is more fruitful. However, in Dr. Ally’s recent debate with Dr. David Wood, I was thoroughly disappointed in his repulsive behavior. I would like to explain why I lost respect for Dr. Shabir Ally.

hqdefault-4His debate rhetoric. Anybody who has had a boring and monotonous professor will know that such a man would not perform very well in an academic debate. In a debate setting, it is not enough to dryly present the facts. One needs to be a good speaker, to interact with the emotions of the audience and to be in touch with their own emotions. That is what we see in many of the best debaters in the world. They have a balance of robust argumentation and excel in their public speaking skills. Similarly, they will know how to call our their opponent when they make an error. They will know how to expose that error clearly, in a way that the audience understands, such that the audience will think that the opponent might be wrong. Dr. Ally is a master debater and rhetorician. Rhetoric is necessary in a debate setting. There is nothing wrong with rhetoric. Saint Augustine was also an expert in rhetoric. Many Christian apologists are experts in rhetoric.

Like many things, rhetoric is a good resource when it is applied correctly. However, there are times when a person may use their rhetorical skills to carry the debate. They will abuse the proper function of rhetoric, something like the man who uses a sharp pencil to stab his neighbor in the neck. There is nothing wrong with using a sharp pencil, but this man has abused its’ proper function and murdered his neighbor. Throughout the course of the 6 debates that Shabir Ally had with David Wood, he wasted no opportunity to misapply his rhetorical skills. Before all of his rebuttals in the first four debaters, he would begin with a one-liner that was meant to make Dr. Wood look bad. He would say things that slightly but significantly misrepresent Dr. Wood’s arguments.

In their debate about the apostle Paul, Dr. Wood argued that if Shabir is to be consistent, he would need to think that Paul the apostle was being deceptive. Dr. Ally replied, “David is saying that I think Paul was deceptive.” Notice the shift between what Dr. Wood said and how Dr. Ally represented what Dr. Wood said. Dr. Wood said that if he were consistent, he would say this. Dr. Ally represented his argument as saying that he does say this. This was a clever way of slipping passed the objection and making it appear as though David’s argument was considerably weaker than it was. Similarly, Dr. Ally began one of his rebuttal in the third debate by saying, “David is ignoring everything that we said yesterday.” Of course, he was referring to the debate about the historical Jesus, and he suggests that David is ignoring all of the progress that was made during the course of that debate. However, I would like to suggest that Dr. Ally prepared to make that remark no matter what David opened with in that debate. For David’s opening presentation about the apostle Paul was almost completely independent of his argumentation about the historical Jesus. So, in an attempt to score debate points, Dr. Ally made this remark. There were several other examples wherein Dr. Ally abused the proper function of rhetoric during these debates. However, to be honest, examples such as these are not why I lost respect for Dr. Shabir Ally. I was willing to let these go. His utterly repulsive behavior manifested in their final two debates.

He accused David Wood of rejoicing in the death of Christians. Anybody who follows Dr. Wood knows that he often recites facts about Muhammad’s life from traditional Islamic sources. This often compels Muslims to accuse Dr. Wood of being a hateful and raving Islamophobe. For Dr. Wood will often argue that Islam is not a religion of peace and that the religion that Muhammad taught imposed misdeeds upon his followers, such as subjugating people who do not believe in Islam, bringing captives of war into sexual slavery, et cetera. During their debate, Is The Qur’an A Book Of Peace? Dr. Wood rendered this sort of argument. While Dr. Ally did try to interact with the arguments that David offered, he also presented a little piece of rhetoric meant to win over the audience and make David look bad. During one of his rebuttals, Dr. Ally said (and I am paraphrasing) “Christian apologists often rejoice in the actions of ISIS. It gives them a ministerial platform.” One has to wonder why Dr. Ally even said this. After all, the topic of the debate was not, “Are Christian apologists pure in their motives?” It was, “Is the Qur’an A Book Of Peace?” It seems likely that Dr. Ally offered this piece of rhetoric to set David up.

Dear Boko HaramIn his next speech, Dr. Wood waved a dismissive hand to such an absurd assertion. He said sarcastically, “Oh, yes, I love it when ISIS cuts peoples’ heads off and rapes women. It really helps my ministry.” Everybody recognized that this was sarcasm (the audience response was telling). However, that is not to say that he was making a joke or taking this issue lightly. He was being dismissive of this abhorrent charge. After all, these are his brothers in Christ. When Boko Haram kidnapped all of those children, Dr. Wood offered to submit himself to arrest and martyrdom on the condition that these girls would be released. Clearly, Dr. Wood hates the atrocities that occur throughout the world, and indeed, the stated purpose of his ministry is precisely to repel the growth of Islam. Everybody recognized that this was sarcasm and that such a charge made against Dr. Wood is unwarranted.

Yet Dr. Ally shamefully stood up and twisted David’s sarcastic comment to make it appear as though he was being serious. He quoted Dr. Wood as if it were an affirmation of these abhorrent actions! Now, I thought that Dr. Ally was joking the first time that he said this. But, the next day, in their final debate (which I linked to above), Dr. Ally came out again, and accused David of rejoicing in the death of his brothers in Christ, quoting the same sarcastic line from the previous day! When David explained that he was being sarcastic, Dr. Ally replied, “Okay, if you say so. God knows the truth, but if you say so.” The implication of ‘God knows,’ is obvious. We do not know. Dr. Ally was expressing skepticism.

Further, he wanted the audience to be skeptical. He wanted the audience to think that Dr. Wood rejoiced in the death of his brothers in Christ. What manner of man is this? In an effort to win a debate, he labors to smear David Wood (a man who he referred to as his friend a few times), to make him appear to be a lunatic. This is an academic debate about whether the Qur’an is a book of peace, and Dr. Ally addresses this academic topic by making this off-handed and repulsive remark. This is why I lost respect for Dr. Shabir Ally. He is certainly intellectually formidable and a master debater. But he is also a deceptive schemer who is willing to sacrifice his debate opponents to his cause. Perhaps he has a personal problem with Dr. Wood (as a result of his catalog of counter-Islamic apologetics and the de-conversion of hoards of Muslims), or perhaps he would do this to any debate opponent. Either way, this is why I lost respect for Dr. Shabir Ally.

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The Biblical Case Against Racism

racism 1If I wanted to illustrate that the government sometimes dictated laws that were patently immoral, one of the most obvious examples that I could appeal to are those with racist overtones. If a law presupposes that a person with a particular pigmentation is morally inferior to another, then this is an immoral law. The abomination of slavery in the American south would be the obvious instance that one would appeal to. We need not convoke moral monsters such as Adolph Hitler to establish this point. We need only look to our own founding fathers and our European ancestors that invaded what we now call the United States. Of course, many of these men were Christians and believed the Bible. There are even renowned Christians from generations passed who owned slaves, such as the Puritan and father of evangelicalism, Jonathan Edwards. Is this a sign that the Bible teaches slavery? While it is certainly disgraceful, even Christians can be taken in by the tides of the world and fail to embrace or understand the biblical case against racism.

racism 2I would like to suggest that the intellectual case for racism is often shallow and rests upon a foundation of rage and pride. People may have seen members of their family brought to harm by a particular minority group or they may have just been raised in a home with racist parents and so have an inkling of racism in the recesses of their mind. But if somebody were to attempt to make an intellectual case for racism, serious examination would find it wanting. If I am permitted to take the Bible as my authority (as many racists do, ironically!) racism would be forced to recede into the halls of intellectually unviable anthropological models. The biblical case against racism that I outline in this article should cripple racist thought that may impose itself upon Christians.

racism 3The Image of God And Intrinsic Moral Value. Christians usually take the doctrine of the imago dei or the image of God to reflect something special that is in human beings that is not in the rest of the animal kingdom. We are distinct from lower animals because we are made in the image of God. We have an intrinsic value that is not present in lower animals. That is why it is acceptable (though not preferable) to run over a squirrel but not to run over a human. That is why it is acceptable to kill your dog to feed your starving child, but not acceptable to kill your child to feed your starving dog. Human beings have intrinsic moral value that is just not present in the animal kingdom. Since this is a biblical argument, I am assuming the authority of the Bible, assuming that this is true, and so, will not defend the doctrine of the imago dei against secular attacks. We may assume, as the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

racism 4This means that human beings are imbued with intrinsic moral worth. When I say intrinsic moral worth, I mean that in and of themselves, human beings have value. By virtue of being a human being, they have value, and as such, it is wrong to persecute them, to use them as means to an end, and to obstruct their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All men possess these intrinsic right. If one were to remove this property of intrinsic moral value, one would have something that was sub-human. But by virtue of being a biological human being, one has intrinsic value. This is to be contrasted against extrinsic or circumstantial value. One has circumstantial value when only in certain circumstances, a person has value. A worthless man may pretend that he loves a woman just to exploit her sexual function. He regards her value as being circumstantial. But since she has intrinsic value, and he is treating her as if she does not, he has committed a misdeed. However, if by virtue of being a human being, one possesses intrinsic moral value, it follows necessarily that people with a different pigmentation also possess intrinsic moral value.

racism 5Evil people have been presented this line of argumentation and have opted to suggest that while these people of a different pigmentation are biological human beings, they are not human persons. It is being a person, not a biological human being, that warrants intrinsic moral value. The question is, what constitutes personhood? How does define what a person is? The only answer that is forthcoming is that this individual has the same pigmentation as you do. Well, how convenient. But what good reasons are there to think that? It seems to me to be ad hoc, which is to say that it is an objection that is specifically designed the circumvent the argument. Second, pigmentation is an extrinsic property. It is based on circumstance and ancestry. If one were to say that intrinsic human value is contingent upon a particular pigmentation, they are positing a model of extrinsic and circumstantial human value. For if basic human value is contingent upon an extrinsic property, then it seems to flow nicely to the conclusion that human value is, itself, an extrinsic property, hence undermining the doctrine of the image of God. The biblical case against racism, then, is that the doctrine of the image of God uproots the doctrines of racism.

racism 6“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 In the book of Galatians, Paul is responding to a group of Judaizers who have invaded the church in Galatia. They wanted to impose old Jewish rites upon the Gentile men, insisting that they get circumcised. Of course, Paul does not care about performing Jewish rites (Acts 16:5, Romans 14), but he does not care about it when one says that Gentiles must do it as a prerequisite to salvation. Either way, among the strong language that Paul used against the Judaizers, he told this church in Galatia that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for we all one in Christ. This is to say that the covenantal relationship that God had with the Jews had been extended to include Gentiles. Anybody who has the faith of Abraham is therefore a child of promise. It is not a matter of ones’ genealogy, but a matter of the faith of Abraham. If one has the faith of Abraham, you are unified with Christ and his body – one in Christ.

An identical line of reasoning could be applied to people of different pigmentations. There is nothing to separate whites from blacks or any other pigmentation. There is nothing unifying whites together that would exclude blacks from that unity and there is nothing unifying blacks together that would exclude whites from that unity. I truly find it frustrating to hear people of a particular pigmentation referring to each other as “brother” by virtue of their pigmentation. That seems to play into the racist paradigm. Followers of Christ are unified and these distinctions do not matter anymore. I am persuaded, as should you be, for the reasoning is identical, that if Paul were writing to a modern racist, he would say, “There is neither white, nor black, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” The biblical case against racism is that Paul thought that our ethnicity was not what unified us. What unifies us is that we share the faith of Abraham – faith in Jesus Christ. That unifies us and other distinctions fade into irrelevancy.

The old prophecies foresaw a unification of all nations. There is certainly an undeniable element of nationalistic pride throughout the Old Testament. The ethnic Jews were God’s people, in a covenantal relationship with God. But that is not to say that God hated the people of the other nations. People were not thought of as subhuman parasites (though extra-biblical sources sometimes make this sort of assertion). Rather, the Old Testament posits that there will be a unification of all nations. As Isaiah 49:6 says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (This is one of the most significant fulfilled prophecies in the Bible. For just look around the world. All nations have come to believe in the God of Israel.)

This theme of worldwide unification was resisted by the nationalistic pride of God’s people. The semi-racist inclinations would impose themselves. But God would remind his people of this glorious truth. In the book of Jonah, the prophet is called to preach to the people of Ninevah – Gentiles, outside of the covenant of God. Jonah is resistant, but God’s will swallows him whole. The book of Jonah serves as a refutation of the hypothesis that the Old Testament portrays a tribal deity who cares naught for the rest of the world. The God of Israel cares for the Gentiles. That is why we see Gentiles such as Job, Melchizedek, the people of Ninevah, et cetera. The biblical case against racism is that the old prophecies reveal that God cares for these people. He cares for all nations.

Love your enemies. The moral commands that Jesus Christ gave often prove destructive to worldly ethics. People who want to live a bigoted and hateful life must ignore certain things that Jesus Christ said. His message was profound and simple. In the clearest way, he told men things that they already knew, convicting them of the knowledge of sin that they have been suppressing. You may think that you are living morally perfect, argues Jesus, but you are not (Mark 10:17-22). Everything that you do comes forth from a corrupt heart (Luke 6:45). The perfect standard of morality that is reflected in the person of Jesus Christ is still potent, for the word of God is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It sends not ripples but waves to crash into the boat of bigotry. Anybody with an inkling of a racist thought is confronted by the words of Jesus Christ, not only because he declared of a Gentile that he had greater faith than that encountered in Israel (Luke 7:9), and not only because he told parables indicating that all of the nations will be invited to the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24), but because he called men to love their enemies.

He said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” People of different pigmentation are not our enemies. But if, for the sake of argument, we say that they were, what are the marching orders? What is our command? How should we treat even the unbelieving world and how should we regard those who are different from us? Jesus tells us to love them, to love our enemies. Does this not presuppose that they have some sort of intrinsic human value? Similarly, Jesus says that Christians are to love one another (John 13:34), and in this way, people will know that we are followers of Christ. If our brothers in Christ are of a different pigmentation, we are called to love them. If a worldly person is of a different pigmentation, we are called to love them, whether they are our enemy, whether they are persecuting us. People like to talk about how evil people of different pigmentations are and all of the purported nefarious acts. They persecute people, hurt people, et cetera. How should we react to these people? Jesus Christ tells us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The biblical case against racism and the words of Jesus of Nazareth have proven destructive to racism.

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Can A Historian Use God As An Explanation?

historian 1People often think that Christian theology is just something that one has to accept by blind faith, or not. We must either accept a certain number of propositions as tenets of our faith, because there is really no way for us to establish that these things are true. But in the early church, there was a critical piece of evidence to which the disciples appealed: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were people to whom Jesus appeared that could be interviewed (as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:6, that Jesus appeared to 500 brethren). But it would seem then that the contemporary man would be at a disadvantage, for he does not have access to these 500 brethren and so must just assume the resurrection by faith. However, as William Lane Craig pointed out in his debate with Bart Ehrman, there are good historical reasons for Christians to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead. In response to this, however, Dr. Ehrman replies that a historian cannot invoke God as a hypothesis. Is that true? Can a historian use God as an explanation?

historian 2During this debate (and in several other places) Dr. Ehrman made an appeal to something similar to methodological naturalism, wherein one must assume that the explanation of the phenomena that one is investigating is natural. For you are endeavoring in a quest for natural causes. If the causes are beyond nature, then they are beyond the quest. So, argues Dr. Ehrman, one cannot invoke a supernatural hypothesis in the realm of history. The historian has no access to God because the supernatural is outside of historical methodology. He is not alone in thinking this. There are many Christian scholars who likewise take this position. But throughout the course of their debate, Dr. Craig pressed Dr. Ehrman on a number of objections. Throughout this article, I will analyze a few of them and contribute some insight of my own. So, who is right? Can a historian use God as an explanation?

historian 3The Probability Calculus. Dr. Craig explained during the debate that a number of philosophers, such as David Hume, have employed the same argument that Dr. Ehrman was using. However, Craig was willing to excuse these philosophers of old because there has been a development since that time. It is what is known as the Probability Calculus. The Probability Calculus is a mathematical equation that is meant to establish the statistical data of certain events. Unfortunately, Craig’s presentation of the Probability Calculus was far too complicated for the digestion of thinking men and women who are unfamiliar with these topics. So, he left himself vulnerable to Dr. Ehrman’s rhetoric and that point may have been lost on the audience. Nonetheless, we proceed forward by noting that the Probability Calculus demands the assessment of at least two features to determine the statistical probability of a certain event. [1] The intrinsic probability of an event occurring. What is the intrinsic probability of an apple falling from an airplane and hitting George Bush in the head? It is pretty low. But [2] the probability of the event considering the relevant background knowledge is the second criteria. If there is evidence that an apple fell from an airplane and hit George Bush in the head, then the statistical probability rises.

historian 4So, how does this relate to the resurrection of Jesus? Well, Dr. Ehrman’s main contention was that a historian cannot invoke a supernatural hypothesis, as it will always be less likely than a natural hypothesis. However, Dr. Craig pointed out that he failed to account for the second criteria of the Probability Calculus. Even if we were to grant that the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is wildly intrinsically improbable, it does not follow that it has a low probability of having occurred in history. One would need to examine the evidence. If there is evidence that Jesus was once dead, and now he is alive, the question that we would need to ask is what the best explanation for these facts are. People do not rise from the dead naturally, ever, so that can be ruled out. But God could raise someone from the dead. So given the background information that Jesus was dead, and later alive, one can reasonably conclude that God raised Jesus from the dead. That is Dr. Ehrman’s blunder. He weighed only the intrinsic probability without considering the background evidence.

historian 5Dr. Ehrman had very little to say in response to this aside from just hand-waving rhetoric. He said things like, “Oh, so you’ve got a mathematical formula proving God’s existence.” He accused Dr. Craig a number of times of trying to prove the resurrection using this formula. But, as Dr. Craig pointed out, that is not what he was doing. Instead, he was using the formula to show that Dr. Ehrman only considered half of the relevant data. Rather than replying to this argument, Dr. Ehrman seemed to either misunderstand (the explanation that I personally prefer) or he relied on the ignorance of his audience. Can a historian use God as an explanation? Yes, even if the intrinsic probability of God’s intervention were low, one would need to consider the background data.

historian 6Scientists do not need to have access to explanatory entities. Dr. Craig made a number of other counter-arguments against the alleged historical methodology that prohibits historians from invoking God as an explanation. He argued that Dr. Ehrman is making the assumption that in order to assess an explanation as the best, one needs to have access to the explanatory entity. But, argues, Dr. Craig, science is replete with explanations that scientists have inductively deduced from the data without having any access at all to these entities. Further, and second, Dr. Craig pointed out that an essential and undergirding tenet of historical methodology is that the historian does not have access to their explanatory entities. For the past is unavailable to them. They do not have the past. They have evidence and clues that lead them to inductive conclusions. Can a historian use God as an explanation? The general understanding of causality, history, and science seem to stand at odds with Dr. Ehrman’s historical methodology.

Is a naturalistic hypothesis always preferred? Essential to Dr. Ehrman’s argument was the assertion that a naturalistic hypothesis necessarily outstrips any hypothesis that invokes the existence of God. He thought that he could just conjure up any naturalistic hypothesis and it would always be better than a miraculous hypothesis. For, he argues, a miracle is by necessity the most improbable thing that could happen. A miracle is something that you claim when there are no remaining explanations. Well, I am afraid that Dr. Ehrman has just defined what a miracle is in a way that most Christians would deny. If a miracle is defined as something that is intrinsically improbable, then he would have a good point (but it would still fall victim to the Probability Calculus). But that is not what a miracle is. A miracle is simply God’s intervention in the world.

There is nothing about the nature of a miracle that would be intrinsically improbable. In fact, there is a possible world of which we can conceive wherein God is constantly performing miracles, constantly violating the laws of physics. In that world, miracles would not be intrinsically improbable. But if improbability is an intrinsic property, as Dr. Ehrman asserts, then it would be pervasive – across every possible world. Since it is not, we may rationally conclude that miracles are not intrinsically improbable. Dr. Ehrman’s only remaining option would be to say that the existence of God is intrinsically improbable. His argument that miracles are intrinsically improbable is fundamentally and necessarily linked to the probability of the existence of God. But philosophers have been trying for centuries to prove that the existence of God is improbable, and nobody has been able to come up with a convincing argument.

Further, and this was Dr. Craig’s devastating counter-argument, if it were true that a miraculous hypothesis is intrinsically an improbable event, the historian could never come to that conclusion, for on Dr. Ehrman’s model, a historian cannot make a judgment about a supernatural hypothesis. But the very reason that he cannot make that judgment is precisely that it is always more improbable than a naturalistic explanation. This argument of Dr. Ehrman’s actually carries its’ own refutation. It is literally self-defeating.

Can a historian use God as an explanation? I am a fan of Dr. Ehrman’s. I follow his work and thoroughly enjoy his debates. He is an excellent speaker and scholar, and I genuinely believe that he wins most of the debates that he has with Christians. I always avoid making this sort of judgment, but I am willing to say that Dr. Craig really embarrassed Ehrman in this debate. There were a number of points that were just left hanging, and Dr. Ehrman’s only recourse was to wave a dismissive hand, to speak in a sarcastic tone and to employ all sorts of debate maneuvers. Dr. Craig really exposed his errors in this debate.

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Does John 17 Teach Oneness Or Trinity?

john 17 1The gospel of John is the most significant and often criticized biography of the historical Jesus. It receives vociferous attacks from the unbelieving community as well as revisions and reinterpretations from proponents of Christological heresies. It is the clearest possible testimony to the doctrine of the trinity and the deity of Christ, and so, throughout church history, men have labored to distort its’ true teachings, either by undermining the credibility of the narrative, or by reinterpreting what is written such that the original message is totally lost. The 17th chapter of this gospel is what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, which Jesus prayed to the Father soon before going to his death. Within this prayer we find a crystallization of a high Christology – Jesus unequivocally claims to be God. Yet, at the same time, he makes a stark and undeniable distinction between himself and God the Father. How do these two truths merge? I will analyze the text of John 17 and consider two crucially different interpretations of this passage. Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity?

john 17 2The classical orthodox position has always been that John 17 is teaching the doctrine of the trinity. The doctrine of the trinity states that there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) who is eternally present in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son. This means that the eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, became a man (John 1:1, 1:14) and prayed to the Father in John 17. In sharp and utter contrast, the Oneness position maintains a unitarian assumption of one God who appears in three manifestations. They are just different ways that the same person – Jesus – appears to man. Accordingly, Jesus is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, just in different modes or forms. It is usually likened to a man being a father, a son, and an employee. So Jesus is thought by Oneness folks to be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This means that the Son was the human nature of Jesus praying to his divine nature, the Father. Which of these interpretations align better with the biblical data? Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? I propound that the classical trinitarian position succeeds as the Oneness position stumbles through this passage.

john 17 3Jesus is talking to the Father. It is important to consider the nature of a prayer or communication with anybody. If I were to record a narrative wherein one person, John, was talking to another person, Bill, one would instantly gather that I was referring to two distinct people, because that is a prerequisite of communication. That is what we see in John 17. Jesus is speaking to the Father, and this dictates that there is a relationship between the two persons. If Jesus is the Father, then this amount to his just talking to himself, which most of us will find unacceptable. Thus the very concept of Jesus praying insists upon somebody else to whom he is praying.

john 17 4Oneness Pentecostals are often happy to concede this point. They will suggest as an interpretive move, that the human nature (the Son) was praying to the divine nature (the Father). But consider the implications of this. This raises serious questions about the reality of this prayer and the relationship that is depicted in this gospel. Jesus tells the Father that he wants to honor him (v. 1), that he wants to glorify him (v. 4), that he has the very character of the Father (v. 11), that he has strived to give the Father’s word to the disciples (v. 14), that the Father’s word is truth (v. 17), that he is in deep communion with the Father (v. 22), that the Father has loved him from the foundation of the world (v. 24.) He concludes by saying (v. 25-26), “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

john 17 5Jesus loved the Father, and the Father loved Jesus. There is an inseparable bond, a relationship, a love that (quite literally) defies human comprehension. It is perfect love and perfect unity that cannot be betrayed or bought or matched or leave any participant wanting. When we strive to find a perfect relationship, we are measuring our relationships against the perfected model of love that we see in the glorious unity of the Holy Trinity. The Oneness interpretation annihilates this relationship. While they appear to be words of true love between Jesus and the Father, they form an illusion, signifying nothing and amounting to naught. The relational love between the Father and the Son portrayed in this text is reduced to Jesus putting on a show for us. For there is no relationship if there is only one person. One person cannot have a relationship with himself. That is why this is more than theological nit-picking. The Oneness interpretation makes God into a master of illusions (as Gregory Boyd pointed out in his excellent book Oneness Pentecostals And The Trinity). Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? The trinitarian interpretation takes the text as face value and permits perfect unity between Jesus and the Father.

john 17 6“Even as you gave Him authority over all flesh… (v. 2a) And all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them” (v. 10). Recall how Oneness theologians conceive of the Son. The Son is just the human nature of Jesus. He is not God, not divine, not eternal. He is the human nature. The Father is the divine nature, but the Son is merely a man. Accordingly, the man Jesus died on the cross, was hungry, and prayed the High Priestly Prayer. God did not pray the High Priestly Prayer. God was the recipient of this prayer. The human nature was praying to the divine nature.

john 17 7However, anybody reading this passage will note a significant problem for Oneness interpreters, for it is loaded with high Christology. In this passage, the Son is not claiming to be merely a man and is not denying his divinity. He is making claims that only God could make. Some of the remarks that Jesus makes in John 17 would serve as excellent seminal texts for the deity of Christ, for he clearly claims to be God. During his prayer, he says that God has given him authority over all flesh (v. 2) and everything that the Father has is his (v. 10). He says that he shares the very character and essence of the Father (v. 10). These are claims to divinity. I could never say, “Everything that the Father has is mine.” I could never say “I have authority over all flesh.” Only God could say these things. Since God shares his glory with nobody (Isaiah 42:8), we know that God was not just making a provision for this man. God shares his glory with nobody.

john 17 8God alone is sovereign, and does not hire assistants or side-kicks as the Pagans believe. Yet this is what Oneness interpreters are reduced to saying. For typically, while the Oneness advocate will not say “the Son is God,” they will say, “The Son is God incarnate, God in the flesh, the human image of the invisible God,” and they are correct about that much. The problem is that they still do not think that the Son is truly divine. God transferred his consciousness into human flesh, but he is no longer truly God when in the form of the Son. This demigod is the one who allegedly says that he has authority over all flesh and that everything that the Father has belongs to him. This would, ironically, just be to adhere to classical Paganism and polytheism where God uses non-divine assistants in his ordering of the world. Hence, all roads of Oneness theology lead rapidly to Paganism. Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? If we accept the scriptural principle that God shares his glory with nobody, and that Paganism is false, then we must deny the Oneness interpretation of John 17. The trinitarian interpretation emerges as the plain reading of the text, where the Son, during a prayer to the Father, claims to be divine.

The Father is the only true God (v. 3). Verse three is one of the bastions of Oneness theology. It is always used by those who deny that Jesus is God, which, while it is a serious affront upon the character of God, it is no more severe of a heresy than Oneness theology. For Oneness theology denies that the Son is God, and they employ verse three to establish this argument. It reads, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So, it is reasoned, Jesus is clearly denying the doctrine of the trinity. If the Father is the only true God, then this falsifies the doctrine of the trinity, correct?

Well, this seems to commit the logical fallacy known as ‘denying the antecedent.’ One denies the antecedent when they infer the inverse of the original statement. For example: “If I am eating, then I am existing. I am not eating. Therefore, I am not existing.” This is obviously poor reasoning, yet it is the same sort of reasoning that people use when they want to say that the Son denied divinity in verse 3. Their reasoning goes like this. “If I am the Father, then I am the only true God. I am not the Father. Therefore, I am not the only true God.” This is to deny the antecedent. If Jesus had said, “Only the Father is the true God,” then it seems that this would be a valid argument against the trinity. But he says, “the Father is the only true God.” And why would he not say that? As Dr James White pointed out, would you expect God incarnate to be an atheist? But this concept does not introduce unitarianism. It just demonstrates that the Father is the only true God. The Son is the only true God as well, as is the Holy Spirit, for there is only one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? The most common weapon in the arsenal of Christology heresies seems to be disarmed.

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (v. 5). This is perhaps one of the clearest claims to divinity that I have ever seen. It is one of the soundest refutations of unitarianism available in Scripture. For if we recognize that God shares his glory with nobody (Isaiah 42:8), and the Father is sharing his glory with Jesus, it follows necessarily that Jesus is God. Further, and critically, this text says that Jesus shared glory with the Father before the world was. Since Oneness theology maintains that Jesus is, himself, the person of the Father, they could never say that he and the Father shared glory together before the world was. That would cut to the core of Oneness theology. So, how do they get around this problem?

Typical Oneness interpretive methods will posit that the Son exists as a plan or an idea in the mind of God. The Father does everything with the intention that he will become a man – become the Son – and in this way, it can be said that the Son exists before the world was. Accordingly, in John 17:5, when Jesus asked to be glorified in the same way, he is accepting the predestined plan of God. The Father predestined that the Lamb would be slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), and now the Son was asking God to achieve that glory. The glory of the crucifixion was a plan in God’s mind, and now that plan was being carried out. That is how Oneness theologians interpret this.

The question is, where do we get that from the text? Where does the text say that the Son was a plan in the mind of God? Jesus never said, “Achieve your plans, Father.” He said, “Glorify me now with the glory that we shared before the world was.” Is the plain reading of this text that God is going to achieve his planned glory of the crucifixion, or that Jesus shared the glory with the Father from eternity? Well, to ask the question is to answer it. The trinitarian interpretation is just the plain understanding of the text. The Oneness interpretation is nothing more than an interpretation. But it is utterly unfounded. It is not derived from the text. It is ad hoc. It is constructed specifically to circumvent the biblical data. It does not ask, “What is Jesus saying?” It asks, “How can what Jesus said here fit into our theological system?” Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? Just read John 17:5 and answer that question yourself.

“Holy Father, keep [my disciples] in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” (v. 11) Modern advocates of the Oneness position (though not historical modalists) will heavily emphasize the “name” of Jesus. That is the only proper baptismal formula, and the words “in the name of Jesus” must be recited over the baptismal tank. Similarly, Oneness theologians will often say, “There is one God, and his name is Jesus.” They will often think that they have found refuge in this verse, for Jesus says that the Father has given the Son his own name, and presumably, that name is Jesus Christ. Therefore, they reason, the name of the Father is Jesus, vindicating the Oneness position.

Well, this is extremely simplistic. First of all, if we are going to take the word “name” in this passage to be a proper name, like my name is Richard, that does not mean that the Father’s name would have to be Jesus. Trinitarian theology maintains that the proper name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is YHWH or Jehovah. Accordingly, even if you were to take this simplistic interpretation, the name being spoken of here could simply be Jehovah. Second, a “name” is semitic thought (as well as in contemporary thought, sometimes) is more flexible than merely meaning a proper name. The name of Jesus, for example, is prince of peace, everlasting father, mighty God and wonderful counselor. Isaiah 9:6 specifically says that this is his name. Isaiah 7:14 specifically says that his name will be Immanuel. Yet his proper name was Jesus. This is because a name is often used to indicate character, or essence. It is a reflection of who one is. So Jesus was probably praying for the Father to protect the disciples in his perfect righteousness and love, et cetera, which he has given over to the Son. Accordingly, since the Father and the Son share these attributes, this is a highly trinitarian text.

Further, Jesus goes on to ask the Father to ensure that the disciples will be one – in the same way that he and the Father are one. Of course, there is a difference between the relationships of human beings and the unity of the Godhead, but if the disciples are one just as Jesus and the Father are one, does this not even offer a hint that the Father and the Son might not be the same person?

Does John 17 teach oneness or trinity? The oneness fortresses have been demolished and the trinitarian forces have seized control of the land.

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Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul Or Muhammad? Debate Review

ally wood 1Paul and Muhammad are figures of history around which Christianity and Islam have built their doctrine. Since Paul’s letters compose the majority of the New Testament, he is a central figure of Christianity. He was commissioned by Jesus after the resurrection. His duty was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. However, Muslims do not hold Paul in high esteem. He is the man who corrupted the pure message of the gospel that Jesus and his disciples left behind. They believe that Paul’s message was corrupt because, they argue, they have a higher authority, namely, the Qur’an. Since the Qur’an was a direct dictation of Allah, and it makes specific claims about Jesus which are contrary to Islamic thought, Muslims propound that Paul must have compromised the message of Jesus and been at odds with the earliest disciples. The question, then is, who gave us the truth about Jesus? In this debate two gentlemen and scholars discussed the topic. This is the Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul Or Muhammad? debate review.

ally wood 2This was actually broken up into two hour-long debates, the first of which, Dr. Wood had the affirmative, defending the traditional Christian and Pauline interpretation, while Dr. Ally was laboring to undermine Paul’s credibility. In the second debate, Dr. Ally had the affirmative and defending the classical Islamic teaching about Muhammad, that he was, truly, a messenger of God and that he spoke truly about the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Dr. Wood labored to undermine Muhammad’s credibility. Throughout the course of this debate review, I will strive to objectively analyze the arguments and counter-arguments that Dr. Wood and Dr. Ally made, as well as inputting some commentary of my own.

ally wood 3David Wood’s 10 Facts About Paul. In his opening presentation, David Wood listed ten facts about the apostle Paul that seem to vindicate his apostleship. Throughout the course of this debate, Dr. Ally interacted with several of these points, but not all of them. We might graciously grant to Dr. Ally that the reason that he did not interact with all of them was simply a matter of time. But for those points that he did interact with, I will try to represent his responses properly.

ally wood 4Dr. Wood’s ten facts were [1] Paul was a brilliant scholar of the Old Testament, possessing the intellectual fortitude that would be required to make claims about the Messiah. [2] Paul was a contemporary of Jesus. [3] He received revelation from Jesus himself. [4] Paul tested his revelation, submitting it to the authority of the original apostles and found approval. [5] Paul was obsessed with passing on authoritative tradition and he trained all his life to pass on tradition that he received from other men, not that he manufactured. [6] History supports Paul’s view of jesus. Jesus viewed himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, was crucified and appeared to his disciples. [7] Paul endured vicious persecution for his message. [8] Paul performed numerous miracles, leading his enemies to think that he was possessed with a demon. [9] Paul led a morally exemplary life. [10] The Qur’an promises that Allah would guide the followers of Jesus.

How did Dr. Ally interact with these point? The Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review will proceed by outlining the interaction that these gentlemen had.

ally wood 5Paul received revelation from Jesus Christ. Most Christians are familiar with the conversion story of the apostle Paul. He was a vicious persecutor of the Christian church in the first few chapters of the book of Acts. He even oversaw the martyrdom of the apostle Stephen. But, on his way to Damascus, he encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who commissioned him as an apostle. This led Paul to later write in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” His testimony as an apostle hinged upon his encounter with Christ.

ally wood 6Dr. Ally contests that Paul never actually encountered Jesus. He suggests that what Jesus really encountered was a demon, and this is evident by the fact that there is such a sharp distinction between Paul’s teachings and the teachings of Jesus. However, Paul’s activities as recorded in his letters and the book of Acts could hardly be regarded as demonic. The only thing that Dr. Ally could attribute to demonic activity would be his doctrine, which Christians would argue is consistent with Jesus’ doctrine. Further, at another point during the debate, Dr. Ally seemed to promote what looked like Islamic inclusivism. He argued that God judges people based on how they react to the information that is in front of them. Accordingly, there may be some noblemen who accepted Paul’s teachings and will go to Paradise. But if Paul’s teachings are demonic, would not any noblemen reject it? The information that one has in front of them is demonic information, and any noble man of God would have to reject it. The Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review notes that Dr. Ally’s inclusivism seems to counteract his argument that Pauline theology is demonically inspired.

Paul tested his revelation. This means that when Paul received his revelation, he confirmed it with the apostles of Jesus and was accepted. It is even recorded that he sat on councils with church leaders. He was accepted as a brother in Christ and his doctrine was approved of. Indeed, he even labored to pass on traditions that he received from the brethren. Dr. Wood pointed out that we have Paul’s recounting of these events in the book of Galatians, and it seems to be the case that the council approves of him. However, objects Dr. Ally, we only have Paul’s testimony about what they said. We do not have Peter’s response to Paul or James’ response to Paul. We only have what Paul claimed that they said about him. There were a number of times throughout this debate that Dr. Ally said that he did not believe that Paul was lying, just that Paul was deceived. However, if Paul is putting words into the mouth of Peter and James, how is that anything other than lying?

Further, it should be noted that in the second chapter of Galatians, Paul points out a dispute that he had with Peter when he was acting hypocritically. If Paul is trying to make it appear as though there is no conflict with himself and Peter, then why would he mention this conflict? Why not leave it out? One might reply that the Galatians had access to Peter and they could simply ask him. But if they had access to Peter, then why would Paul think to manufacture something that Peter said in the first place? He would be opening himself up to easy falsification.

Further, if one is to posit that the Galatians had this access to the Jerusalem council, they would also be informed of Paul’s alleged deception. Dr. Ally argues that in Acts 15, the council declared that there would be only a few restrictions upon the Gentiles, among them being what sort of food they could eat. But, Dr. Ally points out, Paul later began to teach that the Gentiles were free to eat anything (Romans 14:20), hence contradicting the Jerusalem council. This seems to misunderstand Pauline theology, and this was pointed out by Dr. Wood. Even in Romans 14, Paul did not argue that in every circumstance, Gentiles should eat anything they want. He writes in verse 21, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” In some circumstances, it is good to abstain from eating meat. The Jerusalem church was under that circumstances because there were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles were restricted because their consumption of these things would offend the Jews and would create a rift in the church, which Paul, Peter and James worked in union to prevent. However, the Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review notes that there is no evidence of a conflict between the church and Paul, and all of the evidence that we have suggests that they were in union.

Paul performed miracles. While not sufficient in itself, one of the signs of a prophet would be that God has granted this person the ability to work miracles. There is historical evidence that Paul had this ability. Of course, Dr. Ally contested that these miracle accounts were manufactured by disciples of Paul who wanted to vindicate his credibility. But the reason that Paul’s miraculous ability were significant is that he appealed to them in his letters. Dr. Wood pointed out that in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul appealed to the miracles that he performed as a vindication of his apostleship. If he never performed any miracles, then what would the recipients of this letter think when they read this? The same may be said of 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, where Paul argues that he preached not with eloquent words of wisdom but by demonstrating the Spirit’s power. Paul appealed to his miracles to justify his apostleship. The Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review notes that Paul’s apostleship is vindicated by his miracles.

Allah confirmed Paul. Of course, Dr. Wood does not accept the authority of the Qur’an. But, he is arguing that if you are a Muslim and you do accept the authority of the Qur’an, you are left inevitably to conclude that Paul’s message was aided and protected by God himself. For Qur’an 61:14 says, “O you who have believed, be supporters of Allah , as when Jesus, the son of Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who are my supporters for Allah?’ The disciples said, ‘We are supporters of Allah.’ And a faction of the Children of Israel believed and a faction disbelieved. So We supported those who believed against their enemy, and they became dominant.” Accordingly, the body of Christian believers that became dominant were aided by Allah. But this body of believers would be Pauline believers. Dr. Ally said that Paul might have been inspired by Satan, that he was leading men astray into false doctrine, and for some reason, Allah supported Paul until he became dominant. On Dr. Ally’s model, the disbelievers who were not dominant were Peter and James, the true followers of Jesus.

Dr. Ally responded by saying that this is just one possible interpretation of the verse, but, as far as I can remember (and I may be mistaken) he did not provide another interpretation for Dr. Wood to engage. He just pointed out that there were others. But it should be noted that the most plain interpretation of this text is that Pauline Christianity was supported by Allah. In fact, as Dr. Wood pointed out (and Dr. Ally conceded) the earliest Muslim commentators supported this interpretation, even naming Paul. Dr. Ally just reasoned that they did not know who Paul was and so came to that conclusion. I think that Dr. Ally is correct. They did not know who Paul was and so they were not led to reinterpret this text. They just allowed the plain meaning of the text to speak for itself.

Also, Dr. Ally replied by appealing to inclusivism. He suggested that God is willing to accept people based on their response to Pauline Christianity. But, as Dr. Wood pointed out, this verse exceeds inclusivism. It says not only that Allah tolerated Pauline Christianity. It says that Allah supported Pauline Christianity, causing it to be dominate. The Shabir Ally Vs David Wood debate review must acknowledge that the plain reading of the Qur’an indicates that Allah promulgated the Pauline message.

Dr Ally’s Defense of Muhammad. The second part of this debate was equally as interesting, as it was focused not on Paul but on the center of the Islamic faith, Muhammad. However, possibly feeling insecure about his performance in the previous debate, Dr. Ally decided to spend the first few moments of his opening statement making a few clarifying remarks about the previous debate. But when he began to mount his argumentation, he made quite interesting points. He argued [1] monotheism is the greatest commandment, and this is consistent with Muhammad’s proclamation. [2] The gospel of John predicts that another prophet would come, and this was fulfilled in the Muhammad. [3] There are certain mathematical miracles in the Qur’an that could not be explained apart from divine composition. Dr. Wood did not reply to [1], probably because Christians believe in monotheism, nor did he reply to [3], probably because it was so esoteric as to not be persuasive to most people, and he may have wanted to prioritize his time elsewhere. Just as I graciously allowed this to Dr. Ally in not responding to some of Dr. Wood’s ten points, so also we must be consistent and allow Dr. Wood the same grace and charity. This Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review plunges into the second portion of the debate: the analysis of Muhammad.

John 14-16 teaches that another prophet, not the Holy Spirit, will come. Dr. Ally mounts the argument that in John 14:26, which speaks of the promise of the Holy Spirit, that the word “Holy” is not in the original manuscripts. It was a later interpolation (however, I may have missed any manuscript evidence that Dr. Ally presented). This “Spirit” who will come should, presumably be taken as a metaphor for Muhammad’s character or something like that. The verse says that the Spirit will remind the apostles of everything that Jesus said, which would essentially be what Muslims think about Muhammad.

There were a number of points that Dr. Wood made in response. The Gospel of John is filled with proclamations of the deity of Christ. The prologue even says that Jesus is God and was with God from eternity (John 1:1-2). It says that Jesus created the universe (John 1:3), all claims that the Muslim would reject out of hand and would claim to be illegitimate. The problem becomes even worse, though. Even in this dialogue about the Holy Spirit, there are claims to deity. For, argues Dr. Wood, since Jesus is the one who will send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), and the Holy Spirit is a prophet, then Jesus is sending prophets and is in the role of God almighty.

Dr. Ally responded this by accusing Dr. Wood of caricaturing his position. He was not affirming the entire gospel of John nor was he suggesting that everything in that passage was reliable. He was engaging in critical scholarship wherein one determines what is true in a historical document. But, Dr. Wood points out, consider the methodology that Dr. Ally is engaging in. He is willing to use anything that could be used for Islamic apologetics, pluck it out of its’ relevant context and then say that the entire context is illegitimate, aside from that lone verse. That lone verse stands as being credited to the portrait of the historical Jesus, while the surrounding verses were nefariously conjured up by some Pauline apologist. “What sort of historical methodology is this?” asks Dr. Wood. The Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? debate review notes that what Dr. Ally seems to be doing is theologizing rather that doing rigorous historical investigation.

Is Muhammad intellectually reliable? In his critique of Muhammad, Dr. Wood argues that there are two ways of determining if a man is a worthy source of intelligence. [1] Is he an intellectually reliable resource? and [2] is he a spiritually reliable resource? He begins by assailing Muhammad’s intellectual capacity, for if it is true that Muhammad was making claims about something that occurred 600 years before his time, in a radically different context, one needs to know that he has the resources and intellectual fortitude to achieve this task. But, argues Dr. Wood, Muhammad demonstrated an inability to discern between fables and actual historical data. He draws indiscriminately from the surrounding myths of his day. Muhammad drew from a Sirach work titled Glorious Deeds of Alexander, which says that Alexander the Great traveled so far west that he found the place where the sun sets. Muhammad incorporates this into the Qur’an in sura 18. He did the same with apocryphal gnostic myths surrounding the life of Jesus. Even the Pagans had a superior intellectual discernment, pointing out in sura 6:25, “These are nothing but fables of the men of old!”

Is Muhammad spiritually reliable? Dr. Wood recited facts about Muhammad’s life and deeds (which is enough to have one accused of Islamophobia), pointing out that his misdeeds serve as an indicator that he may not be the best spiritual resource. For when Muhammad began to receive revelation, he was so frightened that he thought he was receiving revelation from a demon. The revelations eventually led him into such despair that three times, he wanted to commit suicide. He delivered what is known today as the Satanic Verses, telling the Pagans that they could pray to their three gods, and they would bring these prayers to Allah. Later, Muhammad repented of this and said that it was actually Satan who delivered this verse to him. At one point, he became a victim of a magic spell and was filled with all sorts of delusions and false beliefs. Dr. Wood charges Muhammad with a number of other things.

Dr. Ally basically had two responses to this, [1] the legitimacy of these stories is contested and [2] even if they are true, that would not discount him from being a prophet. A prophet may err. While [2] certainly is true, Dr. Wood pointed out that he was not arguing that these would discount Muhammad as a prophet. He was arguing that these form a cumulative case against the reliability of the theological revelation that Muhammad brings. In response to [1], Dr. Wood pointed out that these stories are unlikely to be fabrications because they are so embarrassing to Muhammad. If you are just conjuring up stories, one would not make the central prophet of Islam recite Satanic verses. This is what is known as the criterion of embarrassment.

But, Dr. Ally pointed out that there may be exceptions to the criterion of embarrassment. It could be that all of these sources were trying to justify their immoral behavior by putting words into Muhammad’s mouth. Well, I think that Dr. Ally has misunderstood how the criterion of embarrassment is used. Of course there are other possible motivations. The same could be said of any historical document that is embarrassing to the author or somebody who the author holds in esteem. They could have any number of reasons for manufacturing stories. But if the story is embarrassing, it is a good indicator of that story emanating from the fact that it actually occurred. This is basic historical methodology. It is inductive and probabilistic, not absolutely certain. Dr. Wood can conclude based on the criterion of embarrassment that Muhammad probably recited the Satanic verses.

Shabir Ally Vs David Wood – Paul or Muhammad? Debate Review? I would like to exercise my freedom to neglect to declare a winner. Debates are too often thought of as something like football games, where we just want our teams to win. What I am willing to contend is that there is a lot of content in that debate and a lot of great information that was relayed from both speakers. Anybody watching this debate will come away learning more about the respective faiths of these gentlemen.

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Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass Debate Review

ehrman 1Doctor Bart Ehrman is something like a rock in the shoe of evangelical Christians that is impossible to get out. I take off my shoe and violently labor to shake it out. I reach my hand in, feel around and I do not think it is there. Then I put my shoe back on and the rock is still there. That is not to say that Doctor Ehrman is a pest or that he is annoying (as I intentionally expose myself to his material) but rather than we are confronted by his sophisticated and challenging argumentation. Last night (9/19/2015), he debated (watch here) the rising Christian apologist and historian, Doctor Justin Bass on the topic “Did The Historical Jesus Claim To Be Divine?” This Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review will strive to provide a balanced review of the debate, exposing the errors of the debaters, the strengths and shortcomings of the arguments, and circumventing the temptation to preach a sermon about how Doctor Ehrman has the wrong set of presuppositions. Most evangelical critiques of Doctor Ehrman that I have encountered have been established on the basis of that premise.

ehrman 2Similarly, I am not keen to say that Doctor Bass took him out to the woodshed just because I am a Christian and would have been rooting for Doctor Bass. For the purpose of an academic debate is not to see your team win. We tend to treat debates as something like a football game. When our team makes a good point, we cheer. When the other team stumbles or is stumped, we are filled with excitement, despite that this particular debater may have just needed a moment to contemplate the point being raised. Debating is often thought of as more of a performance than anything else.

This Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review will strive to objectively analyze the data and points that were raised. Accordingly, I will analyze each of the arguments that the debaters raised, and how their opponent interacted with them.

ehrman 3Bass argues: Paul’s conception of Jesus confirms that he claimed to be God. In his opening presentation, Doctor Bass explicitly said that he had three arguments (which made his presentation very easy to follow), the first of which was how the earliest Christians saw Jesus. He argues that in 1 Corinthians 8:6, we see Paul’s modification of the Deuteronomy 6:4. Deuteronomy 6:4 was the thesis statement of Israel – The Lord our God is one. Paul’s modifier includes Jesus Christ. If Jesus were not God, there would be no warrant to modify Deuteronomy 6:4. Second, Doctor Bass appealed to Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul cites a hymn that says that Jesus existed in the form of God, concluding in the citation of Isaiah, where Paul attributes to Jesus the claim that every knee will bow to God and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

ehrman 4Doctor Ehrman raised a number of objections to this. First, he suggested that this is irrelevant, because the debate was about whether Jesus claimed to be God, not whether Paul thought Jesus was God. In response, Doctor Bass argued that the only viable explanation for Paul’s exalted view of Christ is that Jesus claimed to be God. Doctor Ehrman’s second objection was that Jesus was deified in a typical Pagan style, much like Julius Ceasar or Romulus. He was brought up to Heaven and assumed to be a god. Therefore, the Christians worshipped him as God. Doctor Bass thought that this would stand in contrast with Paul’s caveat to his modification of Deuteronomy 6:4, because, argues Paul, while there are many gods worshipped throughout the world (1 Corinthians 8:5), there is only one God for us, hence excluding any possibility of worshipping other divine figures. Doctor Ehrman argued that 1 Corinthians 8:6 made a clear distinction between God and the Lord Jesus Christ, which would indicate two persons.

ehrman 5Second, Doctor Ehrman rendered the strange accusation of Sabellianism. This is because Doctor Bass used Isaiah 45:23 to establish that Paul regarded Jesus as YHWH. If you think that Jesus is YHWH, argues Doctor Ehrman, you are guilty of Sabellianism. Sabellianism is an ancient Christological heresy that exists today as Oneness Pentecostalism. It says that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the Sabellian would certainly say that Jesus is YHWH, merely agreeing that Jesus is YHWH does not classify one as a Sabellian. The classical trinitarian position would affirm that YHWH is eternally present in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, almost as strange as the objection, Doctor Bass did not call Doctor Ehrman on this charge (as far as I noticed), and so, in the context of the debate, the point was conceded. This Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review notes that Doctor Bass provided a robust defense of this argument and Doctor Ehrman, a robust series of counter-arguments.

ehrman 6Bass argues: The implicit claims of Jesus confirm that he claimed to be God. The second argument that Doctor Bass employed was from the implicit claims that Jesus made. The authority that he held and the things that he did establish that he was God. Since Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God, claimed that in himself, the kingdom of God had come and demonstrated unparalleled authority, we have good grounds for thinking that Jesus was God. But, argues Doctor Ehrman, this authority was chauffeured not by his status as God, but by his status as the Messiah. God granted this authority to Jesus. It was not inherent in Jesus, but was granted to him by God. Similarly, the status as the Son of God was not unique. Solomon was also thought of as the Son of God.

ehrman 7However, Bart’s Blunder seems to be exposed in the way the earliest Christians interpreted the claim to be the Son. When Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Pharisees thought that he was claiming to be equal with God (John 5:18). Similarly, in Hebrews 1:10, the Son is identified in a creation psalm that is given to YHWH. In Galatians 4:4, Paul argues that God sent forth his Son. The Son seems to be regarded by the earliest Christians a pre-existent divine figure. However, as far as I can tell, Doctor Bass chose to prioritize his time in such a way as to exclude this point. The Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate acknowledges that Doctor Ehrman’s point seems to have been left hanging.

ehrman 8Bass argues: Jesus claimed to the Son of Man from Daniel 7. In a stroke of wisdom, Doctor Bass chose to exploit one of Doctor Ehrman’s most defeasible stances. He pointed out that if Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man from the book of Daniel, that would indeed be a claim to be God. When he was being interviewed by the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62). Since the Son of Man is the one who received worship from all people, this seems to be a claim to divinity. Doctor Ehrman conceded this point during the cross-examination. Doctor Bass posed the hypothetical question, “If Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man, would that be a claim to be God?” Doctor Ehrman replied, “That’s like saying, ‘if Jesus claimed to be God, would that be claim to be God?” It is a redundancy. Doctor Ehrman seemed to be conceding that if he claimed to be the Son of Man, that would be a claim to be God.

However, argues Doctor Ehrman, there is no evidence that Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man. He argues that nobody was present for the trial so as to hear what Jesus said and relay it to the Christians. Doctor Bass objects that it is possible for Joseph of Arimathea to have relayed the story. This seemed to amuse Doctor Ehrman, for there is just no evidence to substantiate this historical hypothesis. But the burden of proof would not be on Doctor Bass to establish this point. For Doctor Ehrman is raising the objection that nobody was present who would tell the story. It is possible for Joseph of Arimathea to have told this story.

Further, Doctor Bass argues that the criteria of dissimilarity establishes that Jesus made this claim. The earliest Christians scarcely applied the title Son of Man to Jesus. Doctor Ehrman rather flippantly said, “So you are saying that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was the Son of Man, worshipped him as the Son of Man, revered him as the Son of Man, but never called him the Son of Man?” Doctor Bass answered this question by pointing out that they believed it but never used that title because it is unique to the historical Jesus. Doctor Ehrman then repeats his question and insists upon a yes or no answer (despite that Doctor Bass had already answered his question). This seemed to be an attempt at rhetoric. It was part of a performance, but his insistence on hearing “yes or no” when Doctor Bass had already clearly answered the question was rather shallow. This Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review refuses to applaud for Doctor Ehrman’s skill as a debater.

A note about Doctor Ehrman’s opening statement and Doctor Bass’s first rebuttal. In Doctor Ehrman’s opening presentation, he pointed out what historians hope to find in their data. How could we establish that Jesus was God? We would need historical data that would meet certain criteria. Then he argued that the gospels did not meet this criteria because [1] the gospels were written much later than the events that they describe and [2] the gospel of John contradicts the synoptic gospels. This make the four gospels that we possess unreliable as historical data and so when Jesus claims to be God, we simply cannot trust them. Now, in his first rebuttal, Doctor Bass did not directly reply to Doctor Ehrman’s opening presentation. He just reaffirmed and strengthened the arguments that he made in his opening statement. Perhaps Doctor Bass thought that his three arguments were a response to Doctor Ehrman’s opening presentation. Either way, this Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review thought it was worth noting.

Ehrman argues: The gospels were the product of generations of story-telling. Doctor Ehrman’s first argument was, as I pointed out, that the gospels were dated much later than the events that they describe. Doctor Ehrman dates the four gospels to about 70 – 90 AD, but, even conceding the earlier dates that Doctor Bass provides (60 – 80 AD), they are still generations after the event that they describe. They come 30 years after the life and death of Jesus. He argues that people remembered the great life that Jesus lived culminating in the claim that he rose from the dead (Doctor Ehrman agrees that the earliest disciples claimed that he rose from the dead), and told stories about him. Those stories were passed down from generation to generation and they changed through the generations. The person who was telling the story would change it so that it would relate to the present situation.

Doctor Bass argued that the gospels were not the product of the lineage of storytelling, because, he argues, the gospel of Mark was taken directly from the apostle Peter, who was a direct disciple of Jesus and an eye-witness of what happened. I assume that Doctor Bass is drawing from Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement, and a host of other church fathers who testified to this. Doctor Ehrman does not contend with this point. He only argues that even if this were true, it would not matter because eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable. He eloquently spells out a psychological phenomenon known as flashbulb memory where something traumatic occurs and you remember it vividly for the rest of your life. Psychological data reveals that in flashbulb memory, people often mistake the details of what occurred. But, as Doctor Bass pointed out, this would seem to be a separate argument. For it would disconfirm the idea that the gospels were a product of generations of story-telling. They were drawn directly from Peter. The Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review acknowledges that while Doctor Bass did not counter the problem with eye-witnesses and memories, he did successfully refute the idea that the gospels were a product of a long series of generational story-telling by pointing out that the gospel of Mark was drawn from Peter.

Ehrman argues: The synoptic gospels differ from John. Second, Doctor Ehrman argued that since the gospels contradict one another, we cannot rely on them as historical documents. These discrepancies demonstrate that they are a product of generations of story-telling. While he did appeal to discrepancies within the synoptic gospels, the most significant point that he pressed was that there is a difference between the conception of Jesus in the synoptic gospels and the conception of Jesus in the gospel of John. In the gospel of John, Jesus is clearly depicted as God. He says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8:58) and “Once you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” (John 14:9). These should be the most significant aspect of the life of Jesus. Why did the other gospel writers miss it?

Doctor Bass contends that they did not miss it. Rather, making room for literary artistry, Doctor Bass thought that the writers of the synoptics constructed their biography of Jesus so as to raise the question, “Who is this man?” Indeed, the disciples are often seen asking this question. There are hints of who he is scattered throughout the gospels, and ultimately culminating in the trial before the Sanhedrin where he claims to be the Son of Man. The difference between the gospel of John and the synoptics is that John is interested in focusing precisely on his claims to divinity. The interest of the synoptics is in building a cumulative case that leads to his claim to divinity. We are asking, “Who is this man?” and then our questions are answered.

The criteria of dissimilarity. Both of these gentlemen appealed to the criteria of dissimilarity several times throughout their presentation. This criteria is met when Jesus says something that the early Christians never appealed to. If he does this, then it can be cataloged as part of the portrait of the historical Jesus. For example, in his book How Jesus Became God, Doctor Ehrman argues that Matthew 25 can be attributed to the historical Jesus because it teaches works-salvation (I dispute that) while the earliest Christians repudiated works-salvations.

However, several times throughout this debate, Doctor Ehrman applied the criteria of dissimilarity in a peculiar manner. He would say things like, “How does Mark 14 pass the criteria of dissimilarity?” He said that the establishment of the Passover Meal does not pass the criteria of dissimilarity. The implication is obvious. Doctor Ehrman is using this criteria to disconfirm that something happened. If Jesus said something that the earliest Christians believed, it cannot be attributed to the historical Jesus. That is not the criteria of dissimilarity. The criteria of dissimilarity serves as a confirmation, not a disconfirmation. One cannot say that because the earliest Christians believed something, that it does not belong to the record of the historical Jesus.

If that were the case, then we would have a picture of Jesus that looked nothing like the Christian tradition that followed. In fact, applying his misuse of the criteria of dissimilarity, we would be left to deny the crucifixion. All of the early Christians believed in the crucifixion. Therefore, it would not pass Doctor Ehrman’s model of the criteria of dissimilarity. However, despite that he consistently made this mistake, Doctor Bass did not call him out on it. The Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review provides the balanced criticism that Doctor Ehrman made this obvious mistake, but for some reason, Doctor Bass did not mention it.

Does Doctor Bass have a historical bias? In his cross-examination, Doctor Ehrman asked if there was anything in the gospel record that he thought could not be attributed to the historical Jesus. The way that he posed this question assumed the previous erroneous conception of the criteria of dissimilarity. He asks the two questions (which he thought ran parallel), “Is there anything at all in the gospels that does not pass the criteria? Is there is anything in the gospels that is non-historical?” The implication was that as a committed Christian who believes in inerrancy, one cannot objectively analyze the data. If there is anything that does not pass the criteria of dissimilarity, it follows that it is non-historical. But, again, the crucifixion does not pass the criteria of dissimilarity. That does not make it non-historical.

Doctor Ehrman’s mistake is to think that because you cannot attribute something to the historical Jesus, you thereby are left to deny that Jesus said it. However, Doctor Bass could have easily said that while he cannot prove that Jesus said, “Before Abraham said, I am,” he is not left to concede that Jesus did not say this. He can believe it on a theological basis while acknowledging that there are no historical grounds for believing it. This misuse of the criteria of dissimilarity has led Doctor Ehrman to charge Doctor Bass with bias.

Bart Ehrman Vs Justin Bass debate review. This was a very lively debate and an intense scholarly interaction. There were a few attempts to score debate points, which I found unsavory, but other than that, I thought this was a great discussion. There were several points that were left hanging, but the same can be said of any debate. I am not inclined to declare a winner to this debate. I would rather acknowledge that it was a profitable scholarly exchange.

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Critique Of Arminian Soteriology

critique 1A common feature among world religions is their recognition that man is in need of something. Man needs to be saved. Man cannot stand in the presence of God in his present state. There is something that needs to be done, either by man or for man. The Christian position is that there is nothing that can be done by man, for by man salvation is impossible (Matthew 19:26). But, Christ continues, with God, salvation is possible. The Christian position, then, is illuminated. Salvation is solely a work of God and there is nothing that we may contribute to our salvation. The atonement of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us. It unites us with our heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and was our perfect substitute. Among the body of Christ who affirms this view are evangelical Arminians. While they hold to the sufficiency of Christ and justification by faith alone, there is a sharp distinction between Arminianism and the biblical model of salvation. This article is a critique of Arminian soteriology.

critique 2Soteriology is a technical parlance meaning doctrine of salvation. The Arminian doctrine of salvation is under dissection in this article. For Arminians believe that while God is actively laboring to save man, the final choice of salvation is left to man. God is offering the free gift of salvation to man, and man is free to either accept it or deny it. But, argues the evangelical Arminian, man cannot merit or earn his salvation. The only thing he can do is choose to accept the gift that is being offered to him. It is sort of like a drowning man who was thrown a rope. The prideful man may choose to flail widely to save himself, which will lead to his drowning. He may also grab the rope and be brought to safety. But the man who grabs the rope would not boast that he has merited his salvation. This is a critique of Arminian soteriology, for I do not think that it is the biblical model of salvation (although most of my readers probably do).

critique 3I would rather honor God too much than honor man too much. If the objective reader (if there is such a thing) comes away from this discussion unsatisfied and uncertain, they might accept some wisdom from a friend of Martin Luther. He writes in his commentary on Galatians 1:11-12, “I remembered what Doctor Staupitz said to me. ‘I like it well,’ he said, ‘that the doctrine which you proclaim gives glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness, and mercy be ascribed unto God.'” The Calvinist position is that man is dead in his sin, incapable of turning to God in saving faith. He ascribes all mercy and honor to God in his capacity to save man. Arminian soteriology, on the other hand, ascribes honor to man in his capacity to “grab the rope.”

critique 4The point that Luther was making was directed at the papists who believe in works-salvation. But it may well be applied here. If we ascribe too much honor and ability to God, this hardly seems like a crime worthy of mentioning. However, if we ascribe too much honor to man, when it rightly belongs to God, then this would be a crime worth speaking of. That is not to accuse my Arminian brethren of committing a crime, but it is to say that I would rather ascribe too much honor to God than too much honor to man. If you are uncertain about this issue, you would do well to follow Luther’s example and ascribe too much honor to God.

critique 5Of course, some may object to a critique of Arminian soteriology that the doctrines of grace do not ascribe honor to God. They may render moral judgments over God. I argue that this is misplaced. Christians need to lay their hands over their mouths (Job 40:4) and acknowledge that God is more holy, loving and righteous than we are. I labored this point in my article Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True?

critique 6Arminian soteriology is the foundation for sacramental soteriology. Evangelicals charge it against the Papists that among their crimes, they have perverted the gospel of Christ. They have committed the same sins as the Judaizers who added circumcision to the gospel. The Papists have added seven sacraments that are necessary to salvation to the gospel. The Campbellists have added water baptism. The same may be said of others who add to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. He writes of them, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by the Law. You have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). Of course, there is a common denominator among these soteriological heresies. Though they may deny it or be unaware of the applicability of this label. But they have constructed this sacramental soteriology on the foundation of Arminian soteriology.

For if man is capable of turning to God in faith, and that action is necessary to salvation, we may easily understand why the Papists or the Campbellists would think to add other elements to this formula. As I pointed out, the common denominator among these systems is Arminian soteriology. It would be impossible for Calvinist soteriology to accommodate sacramental soteriology. For the Calvinist maintains that man is utterly incapable of turning to God in faith or performing any religious rituals that would serve as the mechanism for his salvation. My critique of Arminian soteriology maintains that rather than supplementing the Papists and the Campbellists sacramental system, we should deny them all recourse or comfort by adhering to Calvinist soteriology.

Does Jesus save or make men saveable? Arminian soteriology maintains that Jesus Christ died on the cross for all men, every single individual, and now God is trying to win them over with his love. He is trying to persuade them to accept the free gift of salvation. However, this entails that on the cross, Jesus Christ did not save men. He did not bring about the salvation of men. He merely made men saveable. This means that without the death and resurrection of Christ, salvation would be impossible. But with the provision of the atonement, salvation is now possible. Men have been made saveable. But the cross was not efficacious. It was not powerful to save. It was God’s best effort.

Is that the biblical model of salvation? Does the death of Christ merely make men saveable, or does he save perfectly? Calvinist soteriology maintains that Jesus Christ is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). We maintain that through the death of Christ, we were reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). There is nobody who can condemn us because of the death of Christ (Romans 8:34). My critique of Arminian soteriology is centered around the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ. On Arminian soteriology, the death of Christ did not save. It did not reconcile men to God. It made it possible for man to be reconciled to God.

The Bible favors the doctrine of Unconditional Election. The doctrine of unconditional election states that there is nothing that God sees in man that warrants his salvation. God chooses his elect based on the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). He does not choose men because he knew that that they would choose him. He knew that apart from his saving grace, nobody would choose him. So he elected some to salvation for his glorification, and he condemned others for their sins unto his glorification. Many people have emotional reactions to this doctrine. But it seems to be the position of the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in Romans that salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16). Anticipating the moral objections that people will have to this doctrine, he writes, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20).” In the article that I linked to above about whether God is evil if Calvinism is true, and in my article about Romans 9, I expounded upon what Paul said. Similarly, Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus offers assurance that those who the Father draws will be raised up on the last day, hence denying that everybody is drawn to him (unless you are willing to defend universalism). My critique of Arminian soteriology seems to be vindicated by these common bastions of Calvinist soteriology.

The doctrine of total depravity causes problems for Arminian soteriology. Evangelical Arminians (to whom this critique is primarily directed) often affirm the doctrine of total depravity. The doctrine of total depravity states that man is dead in his sin. He is unable to turn to God in and of himself. Faith is not an attribute to man possesses in and of himself. Many evangelical Arminians are willing to concede this point. Since man is in love with his sin, he has the freedom to choose only a broad range of sin. But he is repelled by righteousness. Therefore, he will never choose God. Paul defends this doctrine when he describes man as dead in sin (Ephesians 1:1), following Satan (v. 2), indulging in the lusts of the flesh and children of wrath by nature (v. 3). Similarly, Paul describes us in Romans 3:10-11, saying, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.” Evangelical Arminians will usually affirm the doctrine of total depravity on the basis of these passages.

They will just employ the controversial doctrine of prevenient grace as a measure of restoring Arminian soteriology. The doctrine of prevenient grace states that God lends just enough grace to man such that his capacity to believe in Christ has been restored. I will briefly state three problems with this doctrine. First, it is ad hoc. It is constructed specifically to circumvent the evidence. It is meant to solve the problems raised by total depravity. Second, it makes no practical sense of the descriptions that Paul applied to mankind. If the faith-center in our hearts have been activated by God, then in what sense does Paul’s description of the natural man even apply? It would be an irrelevancy. Third, the doctrine of prevenient grace does not really solve the problem. Why does one man choose to accept God’s salvation, and his neighbor does not? Is he more righteous than others? The only recourse is to say that God gives more prevenient grace to his elect. But this would restore to us the doctrine of unconditional election. With these three objections, my critique of Arminian soteriology should emerge.

Evangelical Arminianism borrows from Calvinism. Martin Luther was the great trailblazer who revolutionized the popular conception of soteriology. Most people believed in a sacramental system of soteriology, wherein one could merit their salvation in a lifetime of obedient faith. Like many before him, Luther recognized that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. His confidence in this truth erupted as concomitant to Calvinist soteriology. Similarly, the father of evangelicalism, Jonathan Edwards, rested his believe in justification by faith alone in Calvinist soteriology. The doctrine of justification by faith alone rests firmly on the foundation of Calvinist soteriology.

While many of our Arminian brethren affirm justification by faith alone, they deny the foundation upon which it rests. They have to borrow justification by faith alone from Calvinist thought. The efficacy of the atonement, our rejection of sacramental soteriology and the strength of TULIP seems to raise serious difficulties for Arminian soteriology. Our Arminian brethren would do well to concede this point and adopt the consistency to be found in Calvinist soteriology.

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Was Mary A Sinner?

mary 1Throughout the centuries, Roman Catholic theology has maintained what is known as high Marian theology. That is to say that they have a high view of Mary. As the mother of God, she has a special relationship with Christ and therefore, she has a special relationship with the church. Many Roman Catholics believe that Mary is the path the Jesus. They believe that she can hear and answer prayers, and they even believe that she was without sin. Of course, the Bible teaches that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth, and therefore her pregnancy was an act of special creation and miraculous intervention. Roman Catholics extend beyond the biblical data (admittedly) and maintain that Mary not only achieved an immaculate conception, but also achieved an immaculate life. She never sinned, and therefore did not die (as death comes through sin). But what is the biblical model of Mary? How does the Bible portray Mary? Was Mary a sinner?

mary 2Nobody is good but God alone. When a Protestant hears the proclamation that Mary was without sin, we intuitively want to turn to the third chapter of Romans, which reads that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). But the Roman Catholic apologist will point out that there is an exception to this principle, namely, the person of Jesus. Jesus did not sin and he did not fall short of the glory of God (Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 7:23, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 2:22/Isaiah 53:9, 1 John 3:5 5, 2 Corinthians 5:21). This will open the proverbial door for allowing us to say that perhaps other people are without sin. Who would be a better candidate than Mary, the Mother of God? However, I would like to suggest that there are no exceptions to Romans 3:23. Jesus was not an exception to the standard. It did not apply to him. He is God. So when Paul writes that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, this may as well say that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus was not an exception to the rule because there are no exceptions to the rule. It applies universally, even to Mary.

mary 3This is brought out more stringently in Mark 10:18, where Jesus tells a man that nobody is good except for God alone. Of course, Arians will take this passage to mean that Jesus was denying his divinity. But I do not think that Jesus was claiming to be a bad guy. Either way, the Christological implications are irrelevant for our purposes. His principle, “Nobody is good but God alone,” eliminates Mary as a candidate for impeccability. We may argue thusly: 1 – Nobody is good but God alone. 2 – Mary is not God. 3 – Therefore, Mary is not good. Was Mary a sinner? Well, as a principle, nobody is without sin except for God.

mary 4Mary thought that Jesus was crazy. It can be difficult to understand. Mary remembered her immaculate conception and she remembered the men who visited her. How could she think that Jesus was crazy? How could she doubt him after everything that she had seen? Well, people tend to be skeptical when it is not warranted. We make the inductive conclusion that since we have never seen anything miraculous or spectacular, that we are not going to see anything miraculous or spectacular. Apparently, despite that she had seen a miracle, Mary still came to a similar inductive conclusion and doubted the testimony of Jesus.

Shortly after beginning his public ministry, Jesus returned home and crowds began to mass around him to hear about his claims to be the Messiah (Mark 3:20). Before going out to see him, his family came to the collective agreement, “He has lost his senses.” (v. 21). So they set out to retrieve him and take custody of him. The question is, to which members of the family is Mark referring? Who thought he had lost his senses and who wanted to take custody of him? The text says that it was his mother and his brothers. When they arrived, they sent word to Jesus because they believed that he had lost his senses and they wanted to take custody of him (v. 31). His mother and his brothers were guilty of this. When Jesus heard that his family was beckoning him, he ignored their pleas and said to the crowd, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (v. 34-35). Jesus denied his mother in favor of the church. Was Mary a sinner? She thought that Jesus was out of his mind, warranting his rejection of her.

There is no good reason to think that Mary was without sin. If somebody wants to speculate that perhaps Mary might have been without sin, that is something that we can discuss. But if somebody is going to assert as doctrine that Mary was certainly impeccable, and that to go to Jesus, you have to go through Mary, that is another matter entirely. I would have to wonder what your authority for such a doctrine is. But there is no worthy ecclesiological authority that proclaims this doctrine. If a church were to proclaim such a doctrine, we would have to measure them against the inspired Scripture. Since the Bible portrays Mary as a sinner and never portrays her as impeccable, we are left with no recourse but to reject this doctrine.

I am suspicious that the reader might have an ecclesiological authority in mind, namely, the Roman Catholic Church, who has the capacity to declare ex cathedra that Mary was impeccable. From the tradition of the papists, high Marian theology proceeds. However, the tradition of the papists has made innumerable errors. The papists deny central doctrines, such as the application of our salvation, the gospel itself, in their denial of justification by faith alone. The papists believe that we are justified by our lifetime of obedient faith, which stands in contrast with the biblical proclamation that God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). Was Mary a sinner? Well, if the papists have made such a critical error about a central doctrine, why should we trust them to speak authoritatively about the impeccability of Mary?

Is the impeccability of Mary required for the sinless Son of God? Probably the most compelling argument for the impeccability of Mary would be the philosophical argument from the doctrine of original sin. If Mary had a sinful nature, then she would have passed it on to Jesus. Therefore, Mary must have had been impeccable. Well, there are a few problems with this argument. First, the premise “Mary would necessarily pass her sinful nature onto Jesus,” just does not follow, especially considering how unique the birth of Jesus was. It was a miraculous conception. God wrought Jesus in the womb of Mary. It was a special act of creation, a miraculous intervention. This means that God could have simply created a sinless nature for his Son. It seems that the impeccability of Mary is predicated upon a false premise.

Second, if the impeccability of Mary is required to bring forth the impeccable Son, then from where did Mary’s impeccability come? It seems that her mother must have also been impeccable. For if the impeccability of your mother is required to give birth to an impeccable child, then Mary’s mother would have to be impeccable too. But not only her mother, but her father also (since I assume that Mary was not born of a virgin). Similarly, her grandparents would have to be impeccable to give birth to impeccable parents that gave birth to Mary so that she could give birth to Jesus. Indeed, this line of impeccability is extended ad infinitum. There must have also been impeccable people in the world who united and gave birth to impeccable children. But where did these children come from? They certainly were not children of Adam, for everybody who was born in Adam is worthy of condemnation (Romans 5:12-21). The only recourse that I can possibly conceive of is for the Roman Catholic to deny the doctrine of original sin. They would have to say that everybody is capable of being impeccable. If that were the case, then the impeccability of Jesus or Mary would not be very impressive. Was Mary a sinner? The argument that she needed to be to give birth to the impeccable Son seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Protestants have a higher view of Mary than the Papists. If I were to discover that one hundred years after I died, people have deified me, began worshipping me and taking everything that I said as inerrant, I would be devastated. If they said that if you go to Jesus, you have to go through Richard, I would find this deeply offensive and blasphemous. If a man of God were to peruse my writings just to find errors, and prove that I sometimes erred, or if he tried to prove that I was a sinner, I would rejoice at this. I would think that this person was honoring my memory more than the people who had deified me. Similarly, the Protestants who reveal that Mary was a sinner are doing her more of an honor than the Papists who say that she was impeccable.

Consider the Docetics, who believe that Jesus was not truly a man. They think that he only appeared to be a man, but he was not truly a man. One might be inclined to think that these people have a higher view of Jesus than the Chalcedonians who say that he is the God-man. Similarly, one might think that the dictation theory of inspiration of Scripture (God literally told the authors what to write) is a higher view of Scripture than the confluency of Scripture (Scripture is a product of both God and man). Well, if that is how we are characterizing what it means to have a “high view” of some aspect of theology, then I will gladly accept a low view. But I would not characterize it as a low view. I would characterize it as an honoring view. Was Mary a sinner? By pointing this out, we honor Mary more than the Papists honor her.

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The Case Against New Atheism

new atheism 1Most of the atheists who we encounter today will have styled themselves ‘New Atheists.’ Very little can be said in the way of distinguishing remarks between the New Atheists and the old atheists. Most New Atheists suggest that if you are outspoken about your atheism, you are thereby thought to be a New Atheists. The old atheists laid their hands over their mouths, cowering in fear of the religious monarchs. But that definition simply will not do. Consider the atheists of the Renaissance (most scientists and philosophers of the Renaissance were Christians, mind you) such as David Hume. He was certainly not quivering in the dark, afraid to write against religion. Was he a New Atheist or an old atheist? New Atheism is really just a definition that members of this sub-culture have applied to themselves. It is a fad, a trend, a style that will soon be dispelled. Christians have noticed a number of problems with some of the claims and counter-arguments that the New Atheists render. In this article, I will assimilate many of their signature arguments and construct the case against New Atheism.

new atheism 2Of course, much of what they say and do comes down to rhetoric, one-liners and memes. Beyond these one-liners that I present, there is really no latitude. If one were to engage with a New Atheist about these issues, you will find that they are merely parroting what they have heard before. This is incomparable in many other disciplines, for there is often a thorough catalog of rebuttals and counter-arguments in various disciplines. But with the New Atheists, I can say confidently that the one-liners that I present exhaust their knowledge about that particular issue. They read a one-liner in a meme, and it sounds good so they just parrot it every time one of these issues comes up. The case against New Atheism, then, seems to entail a lack of intellectual muscle.

new atheism 1They do not know what the God of The Gaps Fallacy is. Natural theology is the field of study that seeks to infer the existence of God from the natural world. It might argue that if the universe had a beginning, then it must have had a cause. It might also argue that if there is a feature of the universe that is designed, then there must have been a designer. The New Atheists will hear this sort of argument, or indeed, any argument, and just start wailing, “God of the Gaps!” A God of the Gaps argument would be to infer the existence of God from some phenomena that we have not yet understood. We might say, “God is the cause of lightning. What else could explain such a thing?” Then when we find the explanation, that gap in our knowledge is closed and God is no longer necessary. The New Atheists often argue that every example of natural theology is guilty of this fallacy.

new atheism 4The problem is that they have just misunderstood the arguments from natural theology. In natural theology, God is not introduced as an explanatory hypothesis. Rather, the premises of the arguments lead to the conclusion that God exists. We are not saying that we cannot understand the natural world and therefore we must invoke God. Rather, we are saying that the existence of God is drawn out from the natural world by logical inference. This is a very important distinction. The former would be based on what we do not know. The latter is based on what we do know. But the New Atheists often do not want to hear this distinction. In his debate with Doctor Frank Turek, I posed a question (as a member of the audience) to the atheist David Silverman. I asked, “What is the difference between a God of the Gaps argument and a deductive argument leading to the conclusion that God exists?” Remarkably, Mr Silverman replied that there is no difference. This is the case against New Atheism. They just do not understand this distinction and do not want to hear about it.

new atheism 5They do not understand Christian theology. Atheists often congratulate themselves for their superior knowledge about the Bible and the various theories concerning Theology Proper, pneumatology, Christology, bibliology, hamartiology, angelology soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. The problem is that if there is a New Atheist reading this, they probably have no idea what any of these ology’s mean, much less have read a sophisticated treatment of these doctrines. The New Atheists often have no idea what Christianity is. They were introduced to Christianity and assume that it is pervasively just as shallow as what they were introduced to. This will imbue them with a false sense of assurance and expertise about Christian belief.

new atheism 6This is true even among the leading New Atheists. On page 57 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes, “Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What ‘substance’? What exactly do you mean by ‘essence’? ‘Very little’ seems to be the only reasonable reply… Splitting Christendom down the middle by splitting hairs – such has ever been the way of theology.” Professor Dawkins admits that he does not know what Christians mean when they say that Jesus is of the same substance with the Father. He apparently has not investigated any of the relevant literature, because if he had, he would have found an answer. It means that Jesus is God. If he is not of the same substance with the Father, then he is not God. Is Jesus the person to whom we direct our worship, pray to, and is he the one in whom we put all of our trust? Is this who Jesus is? Is he the only begotten God, at the right hand of the Father (John 1:18)? This is certainly not splitting hairs. It is the center of the Christian faith. But this accusation came because Professor Dawkins just does not know what he is talking about. He admittedly has no idea what Christians mean when they say that Jesus is of the same substance with the Father. This is the case against New Atheism. They do not understand Christian theology, and yet write critiques of it in their books.

new atheism 7They do not understand Presuppositional Apologetics. I am no endorser of Presuppositional Apologetics. I rendered my critique of that method in my article Against Presuppositional Apologetics. But I have found that the most robust criticisms of this apologetic method, ironically, comes from Christians. Classical Apologists usually understand this method better than the New Atheists do and understand how to refute it. In their book Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense Of The Christian Faith And Critique Of Presuppositional Apologetics, RC Sproul and other scholars offered the most compelling critique of this apologetic method that I have ever read. They demonstrated an understanding of this method, of which, quite frankly, the New Atheists are just bereft.

new atheism 8Presuppositional Apologetics makes the argument that if one does not presuppose the existence of God as the foundation for their reasoning, then they have no foundation at all and have to borrow from the Christian worldview. In response to this, the New Atheists will usually argue that they know that their noetic capabilities work because they can test them. In his debate with Sye Ten Bruggencate, this was basically the counter-argument that Matt Dillahunty offered. This is the counter-argument that most New Atheists offer in response to the presuppositional method. Of course, this misses the point. The presuppositional apologist is not arguing that atheists have no reasoning capacity. They are arguing about the ontological foundation for their reasoning capacities. The case against New Atheism is that they are offering an epistemological answer to an ontological question.

They often say that it is possible for things to pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing. Throughout the generations, Christians have debated with atheists about whether the universe is eternal. Christians have classically argued that it must have had a beginning, and atheists have argued that it did not have a beginning, that the universe has always existed. This theological incentives for this are obvious. For if the universe had a beginning, the obvious question is where it came from. The cause cannot be attributed to a natural cause, for nature began at the Big Bang. Well, in recent years, most atheists have come to accept what Doctor PCW Davies has said, that “The universe can’t have existed forever. We know that there must have been an absolute beginning a finite time ago.”

But they have conjured up a new objection. They think that some things can just pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing. Among these things would be universes. Quantum physics, the New Atheists will argue, demonstrate that this is possible. This has been popularized by Doctor Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe From Nothing. However, in the most recent preface to his book, Doctor Krauss admitted, “When we ask, ‘why is there something rather than nothing? We really mean, “How is there something rather than nothing?” Krauss is only interested in the scientific question, not the philosophical question. The quantum vacuum is irrelevant to this question. That is because, as Doctor David Albert (a non-believer who has a doctorate in Quantum Mechanics) pointed out in his review of Krauss’s book published by the New York Times, the quantum vacuum is not nothing. The quantum vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy. It is sort of like a fingers coming forth from a fist. Further, there are causal theories of the quantum vacuum. The mistake here is to conflate an acausal event with an undiscovered cause. The case against New Atheism is that they think that it is possible for things to pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing.

Their position about the historical Jesus exposes them. It is important to try to be charitable with people. I do not want to assume that anybody has hidden motives. I like to assume that even those with whom I am debating do not have any sort of axe to grind. But when atheists go against the grain of all contemporary scholarship and just keep asserting the same one-liners, my charity begins to dwindle. New Atheists often take the position that the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, never even existed. But this would stand in contrast with even the most radical liberal skeptical scholarship. Even the Jesus Seminar, which is no friend of Christian orthodoxy, maintains that Jesus existed. The atheist New Testament scholar Doctor Gerd Ludemann thinks that certain facts about the life of Jesus are historically indisputable. It is quite rare of a scholar to make such a claim, much less an atheist scholar about facts concerning the New Testament. Thus Doctor Bart Ehrman, who, likewise is no friend of Christianity, published a book titled Did Jesus Exist? which is really just an attack on Christianity, but he did expose the errors of the New Atheists who suggest that Jesus never existed.

The portrait of the historical Jesus is rich with historical data and events. New Atheists often think that the gospel records do not count, because they are just theological texts. But they are more than merely theological texts. Historians will treat the writings of the New Testament as historical data. The gospels are historical biographies, and the letters of Paul are real letters that he sent out to the church. The task of the historian is to determine what belongs in the portrait of the historical Jesus. Consider the ‘Son of Man,’ sayings that are attributed to Jesus. These are unlikely to be a fabrication, because nobody in the early church applied this title to Jesus. This leads scholars to think that this Son of Man title authentically belongs to the historical Jesus. But the New Atheists have no idea how to approach history or handle this sort of data. The only thing they know how to do is to shout “Myth!” no matter what, at all costs. The case against New Atheism is in their radical denial of the historical Jesus.

They do not know Christ. The most prudent, practical, and applicable question that a person can answer is, “What do you say about Jesus Christ?” He is God the Son, of the same substance with the Father. He has been in perfect holiness, love and unity with the Father from eternity (John 1:1, 17:5). Yet he emptied himself of all repute and became nothing, taking on the form of a slave and subjected himself to the worst form of capital punishment that men have ever concocted – death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8). You have no doubt heard, “Jesus died for our sins.” We do not mean that because of the beatings, whips, nails, that our sins are forgiven. We mean that on the cross, Jesus Christ absorbed the wrath of the Father. He paid the penalty that we deserve. He died in the place of his people – our unrighteousness was nailed to the cross so that his righteousness could be given to us (Colossians 2:14).

Accordingly, we are saved for one reason. It is not because we are so righteous that we have made God our debtor. It is not because we have performed some outward act of righteousness or performed the ceremony of water baptism. We are saved because on the cross, Jesus Christ died for our sins and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us (Romans 3:25). It is now as though we have committed no sin. Our stain before a righteous God has been removed (Romans 4:5). The case against New Atheism is that it is a desperate labor to depart from the glory of the Son of God, a maniacal flailing of the arms in response to the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). It is the exemplar of the precious words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5).

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Beware Of Christian Bloggers Who Disseminate Misinformation

beware 1As a blogger and representative of the Christian faith, I consider it a duty to relay accurate information to my readers. If I present something concerning atheism, apologetics, comparative religion, science, philosophy, et cetera, I want to ensure that what I am representing is accurate. In this way, I labor to properly equip Christians. I do not want to just throw red meat to my Christian audience. I do not want to just rile up the crowds. I want my Christian audience to have good information and real answers to difficult questions. I want them to be able to engage with dissidents of the Christian faith. I consider this not only my duty, but the duty of anybody who is putting information out for public consumption, especially in the arena of religious discourse. However, I have found that a number of bloggers have denied this protocol and have instead opted to lie about what is going on in the world or just failed to check their research. Christians need to be discerning in this regard and beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation.

beware 2People and groups are smeared. People love reading criticisms of individuals and seeing all of the missteps that they might make. We love reading about the nefarious behavior of individuals and groups across the world. We gain a sort of emotional entertainment when reading about the sins of ISIS and other terrorist organization. Bloggers know that people love reading that sort of thing and they take advantage of it. Certain bloggers will manufacture the most gruesome stories imaginable and publish them on the internet. These stories include rape, dismemberment, destruction of homes and so forth. Yet these bloggers provide no resource for this information and no other outlet has ever heard of these stories. (However I provide no examples because I plan to do a more comprehensive analysis of the bloggers that I have in mind. But I think that we are all familiar with this sort of thing.)

beware 3Sometimes the attack is made against individuals, such as the Pope, the President or other major public figures. Words are put into their mouths that this person never said, and most of the bloggers’ audience has no capacity to find out if it is true. They just have to take the blogger at their word, and many of them do. That is how these bloggers are able to get away with this sort of thing. These bloggers are able to make their living by disseminating misinformation because nobody checks the facts. Christians just blithely accept what they put out there. A measure of discernment needs to be demonstrated as we beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation.. Do not just accept what people tell you. If you do, entire people groups and individuals will be successfully smeared.

beware 4Sometimes these bloggers are just not checking their facts. I do not mean to imply that every time a blogger publishes bad information, that they are lying. It is not always out of malevolence. Sometimes they just fail to check the facts. But such an individual is almost as guilty as the person who is publishing out of malevolence. They have a responsibility to their audience to give them good information and real answers and data about what is happening in the world. If you are claiming to be a news outlet about a particular topic, whether terrorist actions in the middle east or if you own an apologetics website, you need to check your information. This applies to events that might not have occurred, something that somebody might not have said and even arguments that we use.

beware 5People are quick to defend an argument or some fact concerning a sub-argument without thoroughly investigating it. When bloggers do this, their audience reads what they have put out and assumes that what they are saying is true. We need to ask questions about what we are reading. Where are they getting their information? Perhaps they just heard it somewhere and assumed that it was true without checking it out. This has happened with Rick Warren. Despite how many times he denies believing in Chrislam (the idea that both Christians and Muslims are saved), people continue to put it out there. They are not necessarily being malicious. If one blogger puts it out there, five hundred people might hear it. Then all of these people share this information on their blogs and social networking outlets and this man is effectively smeared, and everybody thinks that they are being honest. Nobody checks their facts. Nobody thinks that it is prudent to beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation.

beware 6End times prophecies fulfilled in some public figure or event. Most Christians have been influenced by some form of millennialism. We believe that there will be a thousand year reign of Christ on earth. But this reign will be preceded by the dark figure known as the Antichrist. Most of us believe that he will fulfill a number of the prophecies that we find in the book of Revelation. He will establish a one-world government, persecute Christians, etc etc. Since that is going to happen in the future, we interpret world events as leading to that. Accordingly, certain people, groups and events are thought of as being correspondent to our great prophecies. I have heard overzealous pastors confidently say “This is referring to the New York Stock Exchange,” just after reading Revelation 18:1-3.

Similarly, people will look to new popes, new world leaders, rising politicians and monarchs and suppose that these men are candidates to be the Antichrist. We are especially suspicious of Muslims, as they deny the central tenets of the Christian faith and there are radicals within Islam who persecute Christians. Often, if there is some minor similarity between a figure or event and the book of Revelation, we assume that it must be a prophetic fulfillment. That overzealous pastor saw greed and opulence in Revelation 18:1-3 and hence assumed that it applied to the stock exchange. When pastors, bloggers and people in Christian leadership make this sort of grand claim, their readers consume it. They are looking for this sort of thing. They desperately want it because they want to see something spectacular in their lifetime. Yet this leads to smearing of individuals and mental instability, as you are assuming that the sky is falling. We should beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation concerning eschatological prophecies. They often know what you want to hear and they give it to you. It is all about drawing traffic.

Christianity seems indefensible. Let’s see if we can apply univocal standards. If we were to encounter a blog that was run by an Islamic apologist, and he was constantly manufacturing stories about Christianity and the behavior of Christians, failing to check his facts, etc, we would not hold him in high repute. But if there were a cluster of these men doing this, it would reflect very poorly on their faith. If there were a cluster of these men disseminating misinformation, and all of the Muslims just consumed it without a seconds’ thought, we would not think that they were a very thoughtful group. Similarly, when Christian bloggers manufacture stories, events, arguments, and data, and we just accept it without a seconds’ thought, it reflects poorly on our faith. We appear to be thoughtless, uncritical fools.

We make Christianity appear to be indefensible. For why should we have to lie to defend the faith? Why should we not check our facts? Further, why should we allow bloggers to manufacture information and accept it? We would be instantly suspicious of this uncritical approach if we saw it in other faith groups. Why are we not suspicious of it when we see it in Christians? If an Islamic apologist wrote a blog post titled, “Christian murders 3 women, kidnaps their children and the parishioners feeds on them during church,” what would you say? You would say, “Oh, come on. Is this real?” Yet when a Christian blogger puts out the same thing about a Muslim, how do you react? You say, “Wow, Islam is so evil!” Perhaps we should apply univocal standards. Perhaps we should beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation.

If Jesus Christ is the truth, then why would we believe a lie? Of course, we are not lie detectors. But we should not want to constantly be taken in by lies and misinformation pertaining to our faith. For Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6). He did not put out misinformation and neither did his apostles. He was the truth. Therefore, Christians should be in love with the truth and despise falsehood. When somebody puts something on the internet, we should ask ourselves, “Is this the truth?” We should not just assume that it is the truth. We should love truth and expose error when we see it. Out of our love for Jesus Christ, who is the truth, we need to beware of Christian bloggers who disseminate misinformation.

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The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White

41+pbUC9PhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Where does the Bible say that we are justified by faith alone? Is it not true that the only time this doctrine is presented is in the second chapter of James, and it is preceded by a negation? Further, when Paul says that it is our faith that justifies us, is it not true that he is referring to a lifetime of obedient faith as opposed to a particular moment in time? Accordingly, justification would be wrought by a lifetime of obedient faith. In The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White, these questions are stringently and thoroughly answered. Doctor White emphatically repudiated any conception of justification by works or obedience as anti-Pauline. Doctor White carefully steers the reader through the book of Romans and other relevant texts to demonstrate that Paul explicitly taught the doctrine of justification by faith alone, such that no objective reader could deny it.

He begins by explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is helpful to any discussion to thoroughly explain your terms and what you mean by a particular doctrine. When people hear the term justification by faith alone, a caricature that misguided ministers have represented may come to their mind. Before plunging into the discussion of the relevant text and providing an apologetic for justification by faith alone, Doctor White spent several chapters expounding upon the doctrine as represented in Reformed Theology. Therefore The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White helpfully disabused the audience of any mischaracterization they might have of what this doctrine is. After all, if we enter into a discussion, we need to ensure that we clarify our terms lest confusion abounds.

The exegesis of Romans 3-5. Doctor White’s masterful use of the Greek language and application of relevant scholarly sources shuts down any clamor that accuses Protestant theology of abusing the book of Romans. Doctor White has mastered the language, propositional content and literary context of this tremendous book. Interacting with objections from theologians dissenting from Pauline theology, Doctor White demonstrated that it can truly be said that justification is by faith alone. For God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). If God justifies the ungodly, says Doctor White, no room is left for meritorious deeds or a lifetime of obedient faith. In The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White, it is revealed that the ungodly man must turn to God with the empty hand of faith alone to receive the free gift of justification.

Paul’s passion for justification by faith alone in Galatians. I recently critiqued a Pelagian who said that God does not really care about soteriology. Our beliefs about justification do not matter. Doctor White’s exposition of the book of Galatians sets fire to that attack upon the gospel as Paul’s fiery passion for the gospel is exposed. For Paul cries out of those who add to the gospel, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1). “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). Of course, Paul was not necessarily opposed to circumcision as a practice (Acts 16:3), but he was concerned when it was added to the gospel. He went so far as to say that if one undergoes circumcision thinking that it justifies them, Christ is of no value to you (Galatians 5:2). Doctor White has undertaken this same passion for the gospel and charges it against the contemporary man who adds anything to the gospel that Christ is of no value to them. The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White is not only a scholarly treatise of justification by faith alone, but also a zealous plea to a Christendom that is drowning in false gospels.

Doctor White interacts with common objections A systematic treatment of justification by faith alone would be incomplete without interacting with the book of James. That is not because it is a text that is relevant to justification before God, but rather because people often misuse this text in this way. Doctor White pointed out that while James used similar language to Paul, the context determines the meaning of the language that he used. When James spoke of a “dead faith,” he was referring to mental assent, not salvific trust in Christ. When James said that Abraham was justified by his works, the justification to which he was referring was not a judicial righteousness before God. It was an outward vindication. His faith was demonstrated. It was proven. The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White elucidates the context of these challenging passages and reveals that James was not contradicting the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone.

The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White This was the best defense of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone that I have ever read. Doctor White usefully directed his readers to relevant scholarly commentaries and employed his expertise in Koine Greek. He did so without overwhelming the reader in prestigious jargon. The God Who Justifies by Doctor James White is a thorough, scholarly, readable, and necessary treatment of essential theology. I recommend it without reserve, for we live in an era where the attacks on the gospel are even more severe than that which Paul combatted in his letter to the church in Galatia.

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In Defense Of Molinism

defense m 1How could God be both sovereign and actualize a libertarian anthropology? This is an old philosophical question that has stricken the minds of men for generations. Do we actually have free will, and if we do, how could we say that God has predestined everything? This has led some to sacrifice the predestinarian element to sustain mans’ freedom. Open theists argue that God does not even know the future because if he knew the future, man could not truly be free. Similarly, determinists argue that man is not truly free because if he was, then God would not be sovereign over his creation and his predestination would be compromised. Ironically, there is a sort of union between Calvinists and open theists about this point: it is impossible to maintain God’s sovereignty and a libertarian anthropology. However, philosophers who were confronted with this problem have not been satisfied to just throw up their hands in despair at this philosophical quagmire. Instead, I propose a model of God’s predestination and sovereignty known as Molinism. I write this article in defense of Molinism.

defense m 2Molinism is a philosophical reflection upon the biblical data. It recognizes truths and it interprets them. It recognizes the truths that God is sovereign and man is free and interprets these truths. Molinism propounds that God has put men in situations wherein he knows that they will freely choose to bring about his will. This knowledge is usually styled middle knowledge. God knows what we would do in any situation, and accordingly, has arranged the world so that free creatures will bring about his will. Molinism, therefore, maintains that God is sovereign even over the free choices of men. In defense of Molinism, this is an even higher view of sovereignty than the determinist, for the determinist would have to say that God is incapable of being sovereign over the free choices of men.

defense m 3In defense of Molinism, there is truth value in counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a statement about what would have happened given different circumstances. If I had not written this article, I would have watched the opening football game of the season between the Patriots and the Steelers. That is a counterfactual. It is what would have happened given different conditions. Similarly, if my parents had never met, I would not exist. This is a counterfactual and it is clearly true. It has truth value. The Molinist is making the claim that God knows all of the counterfactuals has arranged the world in such a way as to glorify himself with his ultimate will.

defense m 4Of course, many Calvinists will argue that there is no truth value at all in counterfactuals. They will suggest that since they are not reflective of the actual world, there is no truth value in counterfactual propositions. But why does an event need to be actualized to actualize the truth value corresponding to that event? Are we really going to say that there is no truth value in the claim that, “If I were to pull out into traffic, I would get into an accident.”? That seems absurd. There is patent truth value in that proposition.

defense m 5At this juncture, many will concede that there is truth value in counterfactuals, but that this truth value is grounded in God’s decree. God decrees what will happen, and therefore knows what would happen if what he decreed were to change. But as I pointed out in my article Is God’s Knowledge Of Counterfactuals Based On The Decree? if God knows counterfactuals, then it would be logically possible for God to decree something different. If he could have decreed something different, then his knowledge of counterfactuals was logically prior to his decree.

defense m 6In defense of Molinism, if there are counterfactuals about the actual world, then we probably possess libertarian freedom. The Molinist concedes that it is possible for God to posses middle knowledge and just not use it. God could know what a free creature would do in any circumstance, and still choose to actualize determinism. But we also acknowledge that counterfactuals about our lives are true. We recognize counterfactuals in the actual world. Consider the counterfactual, “If I had not written this article, I would have watched the football game.” If that counterfactual is true, it follows that I had the option available to me to watch the football game. That is something that could have happened.

If such a simple thing could have happened, libertarian freedom seems to follow easily behind it. For if these counterfactuals could not have happened, then there is no truth value in them. If you say, “No, you could not have watched the football game. You were destined to write this article,” then you are saying that there is no truth value in counterfactuals, which, again, is plainly absurd because we apply counterfactuals regularly. Just think about how many things could have happened if you had made a different decision. By acknowledging that these things could have happened, you are subjecting yourself to an anthropology containing libertarian freedom.

So, in defense of Molinism, since these counterfactuals seem to apply to the actual world, then it follows that the actual world and your life could have been different. If they could have been different, then you could have chosen differently, and right now you have a vast range of choices available to you. The Molinist maintains that God has put you in a situation where he knows that you will make a particular choice.

Molinism is the highest possible view of God’s sovereignty. I have pointed out several times on this blog and in debates that the sovereignty of God is the thesis statement of Molinism. Molinism is more concerned with the sovereignty of God than anything else. If we were to remove the sovereignty of God, we would no longer have Molinism. For sovereignty is essential to God’s nature. If he were not ruling over his creation, then he would no longer be God. But Molinism maintains that God is sovereign over everything, including the movement of a quantum particle and the falling of a leaf from a tree. God is sovereign even over the free choices of men. For he ordains our free choices and puts us in situations wherein we will freely choose to bring about his will.

The Calvinist, on the other hand, is left to say that God could never be sovereign over mans’ free choices. If man were free, God would not be able to control him. God would never able to accomplish his purposes using mans’ freedom. He is just not wise enough to do it. The only way for God to maintain his sovereignty, to control his creation and to bring about his will is to preprogram everything that will occur. The Molinist maintains that this is a low view of sovereignty. God’s sovereignty and dominion is such that he can rule over the free choices that men make. He is sovereign over the free choices of men. In defense of Molinism, it is the highest possible view of God’s sovereignty.

But is man free to do something outside of the influence of his nature? Often Calvinists will maintain what they call compatibilistic freedom. That is to say that man is free to choose a vast range of sin. Their nature is sinful, and so they only choose evil and never good. Now, I agree with that proposition. But this idea of compatibilistic freedom, when coupled with determinism, is not a true freedom. For on compatibilistic freedom, mankind can only do what he has been determined to do. He is not free to commit a vast range of sin right now. He can only commit the sin that God has predestined him to commit. A man who stole a purse could not have chosen instead to flatten their neighbors’ tires. He was necessarily going to steal that purse.

The Molinist agrees that sinful man can do only that which aligns with his nature. He will always choose evil and never good, not because something is keeping him from doing good but because he hates goodness (John 3:20). Only but the grace of God can the sinful man overcome this. But what the Molinist can offer to this man is the option to steal the purse or flatten the tires. It is true that, “If I had not stolen the purse, I would have flattened those tires.” That is a live option and a true counterfactual. In defense of Molinism, then, we are not denying that mankind does what is in accordance with his nature. I believe in original sin. But I also think that a sinful man is free to choose any sin that he wants to commit. This is what is known as soft libertarianism.

Molinism has broad explanatory scope. People tend to associate Molinism exclusively with soteriology. But Molinism takes no particular stance about soteriology. I am personally a Reformed Molinist meaning that I believe in the doctrines of grace and Molinism. Most Molinists are Arminians. But Molinism is much more broad than that and can answer more questions than merely the salvation of God’s elect. In defense of Molinism, it has broad explanatory scope. A person could be convinced of Molinism even without ever hearing about how it corresponds to the salvation of God’s people.

Molinism can answer questions concerning the inspiration of Scripture. How can Scripture be confluent – both the word of God and the word of man if God did not verbally dictate Scripture to these men? By introducing Molinist thought, we realize that it is possible for God to have put men in situations where he knew that they would communicate his written word. Second, Molinism lends to the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Some Molinists would suggest that God has redeemed his people such that while it is possible for them to fall away, they never will. God has created conditions, such as the warning passages against apostasy in Scripture (Hebrews 6:4-6) and the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 12:8-10) that preserves his saints. He knew that if he put men in this situations, that they would not fall away. In defense of Molinism, it has explanatory scope, interacting with and offering insight about a broad range of doctrines.

There is much utility in pondering counterfactuals. While the determinist will be forced to deny the very existence of counterfactuals as they apply to the actual world, the rest of us may recognize how fruitful they can be. We often use them and apply them in our daily lives. They are very pragmatic. When we realize that we are using them, we can wield them in a much more effective manner to manipulate future circumstances. Competitive athletes know that if their opponent makes a particular move, then they will react in a particular way. Chess players will recognize the same thing and engage in proleptic thought.

But if they deny the existence of counterfactuals, they will not only fail to recognize their utility but also will never be able to plan ahead. They will never bring an umbrella on the condition that it might rain. They will never buy a first aid kit or a fire extinguisher or an extra lightbulb. For the counterfactual, “If I start a fire in the kitchen, I will use this to put it out,” has no truth value. But in defense of Molinism, it will help you to begin to consider the world in counterfactual terms and apply this in a pragmatic way.

In Defense Of Molinism. Of course, none of this proves that Molinism is true. It serves as evidence that God possesses middle knowledge and that he has actualized a libertarian anthropology. But we cannot say for certain that God has used his middle knowledge to actualize a libertarian anthropology. Molinism is a model. It is an exercise in philosophical theology. We can say that there are good reasons to believe it, but we can probably never know that it is absolutely true.

However, in defense of Molinism, we can say the truth value of counterfactuals as applied to the actual world serves warrants the inductive conclusion that God used his knowledge of these counterfactuals to actualize libertarian anthropology.

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Is God’s Knowledge Of Counterfactuals Based On His Decree?

decree 1Scripture is replete with references to what is known as counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. These are descriptions of what creatures would do given other circumstances. Paul asserts, for example that “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8). If the rulers of this age possessed certain information, then they would not have crucified Jesus. God knows what these creatures would do given other particular circumstances. Similarly, when David was fleeing from Saul, he asked God two questions, first, “If I stay in this city, will Saul attack it?” and God answered, “Yes.” He pressed the further question, “If Saul attacks, will the people of the city turn me over?” and God answered, “Yes.” (1 Samuel 23:6-14). But neither of these events came to pass. This is therefore knowledge of what would happen in other circumstances. We regularly employ this sort of knowledge, as we assess things like, “If I pull out into traffic, I would get into an accident.” We know the truth-value in these counterfactuals. Since there is truth-value in them, it follows that God knows the truth-value.

decree 2Determinists have often been keen to say that there are no true counterfactuals. There is no truth-value in such propositions, because they are not actual. But that seems like a stance that would be difficult to rationally maintain, for we can plainly see these counterfactuals in Scripture and we use them in our daily lives. Therefore, there are other determinists who argue that God does know the truth-value in counterfactuals. But, they suggest, these counterfactuals are grounded in God’s decree. He decreed every event and movement that will come to pass. He decreed all of the conditions of the universe. Therefore, he knows what would happen if one were to remove these conditions. But since his knowledge of counterfactuals is based on his decree of what will come to pass, he does not use this knowledge to arrange the world as Molinists claim. So is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals based on his decree?

decree 3Counterfactuals describe a world where something different was decreed. Consider the counterfactual claim, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” If the rulers had known some fact, then they would have done something differently. Of course, this is not descriptive of the actual world. It is descriptive of some possible world. In some possible world, God decreed that the rulers of the age had some information and therefore did not crucify the Lord of Glory. God would have had to create a different world for this to occur. Since all of mans’ actions are rooted in God’s decree, this counterfactual describes a world wherein God decreed that the rulers did understand therefore did not crucify the Lord of Glory. It describes a different possible world.

decree 4The question is, could God know that he had the option to create a different possible world based on his decree? Well, a counterfactual describes a world where God decreed something different to occur. This means that it is logically possible for God to have decreed something different. But if it is logically possible for him to have decreed something different, his knowledge of what he could decree is logically prior to the decree. For if he could decree something different to occur, it follows that his knowledge of these different events could not be based on his decree. Is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals based on his decree? On the contrary, his decree is contingent upon his knowledge of what would happen given different conditions. Accordingly, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is not grounded in his decree.

decree 5God’s natural knowledge can account for counterfactuals. If God knows that he is capable of bringing forth a creature with libertarian freedom, it follows that he knows how that creature would respond to certain circumstances that he puts this creature in. He knows how this creature would relate to others and what sort of person this creature would be if he were put in Nazi Germany or if he were put in ancient Greece. Both of these settings would nurture free creatures in different ways. God knows [1] he is capable of creating a free creature and [2] how this free creature would react if he were put in different circumstances. Is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals based on the decree? No, for if it is even possible to create a free creature, then God knows how this free creature would react given different circumstances. This can be attributed to God’s self-understanding.

decree 6The determinist might be inclined to say that it is logically impossible for God to create a free creature. It would be something like creating a square circle, or a rock too heavy for himself to lift. It would compromise his sovereignty. However, by introducing Molinist thought to this paradigm, the tension between sovereignty and freedom seems to be distilled. The Molinist asserts that God is sovereign over the free choices of men. He puts men in certain situations knowing that they would freely choose to bring about his will. This would retain the highest conceivable view of sovereignty while establishing the freedom of man.

In my debate with TurretinFan and Josh Sommer, TurretinFan suggested that this is not a high enough view of sovereignty. For God needs to be sovereign not only over what we do, but also what we would do in any possible circumstance. But this seems to misunderstand the Molinist assertion. The Molinist is saying that God is sovereign in the actual world. In the actual world, God is sovereign over our free choices. It seems strange to say that God must be sovereign over choices that were never made. But even if I were to grant that, the Molinist would still say that in every possible world, God is putting people in situations and is still sovereign over their choices. If he actualized their choices in the real world, he would be sovereign over them then as well. Thus in every possible world, God is sovereign over the free choices of men.

So I do not think there is any incompatibility between sovereignty and freedom of the will. Therefore there is no reason to think that it is logically impossible for God to bring forth a free creature. Since it is logically possible for God to bring forth a free creature, he therefore knows and understands how this free creature would react given any possible circumstance. Is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals based on his decree? Well that makes the unjustified assumption that freedom of the will is logically impossible.

Did God decree the truth-value in propositions that describe totally fictional and bizarre events? God knows the truth-value in the propositions concerning what would happen given other circumstances. Consider the proposition, “If an alien-human hybrid were the ruler of a nation in an alternate universe, the citizens would be suspicious of him.” For they might be afraid that he was infiltrating the earth to convoke the wrath of his alien overlords. The truth-value of this proposition will depend on the history of the people and their relationship with the aliens. But consider the law of the excluded conditional middle. We could make the proposition, “If an alien-human hybrid were the ruler of a nation in an alternate universe, the citizens either would or would not be suspicious of him.” Are we to say that God does not know the truth-value of that proposition? I know the truth-value. It is obviously true because the nature of the claim leaves no other options. From the law of conditional excluded middle, it follows that God must have knowledge of what would happen given other circumstances.

The determinist will be reduced to saying that God has decreed that such a proposition would be true. He has decreed any number of bizarre propositions to be true. He has decreed that if Bobby Brady were to go to Narnia, then certain events would transpire. He has decreed what would happen if Spock went to the island portrayed on Lost. God has decreed that if you go to Narnia, you either would or would not preach the gospel to a Talking Dog. Since the law of the excluded conditional middle assures us that this proposition has truth value, it follows that God must have decreed it to be so. The question is, do you really think that God has decreed such things?

Is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals grounded in his decree? These three arguments render it implausible that this is the case. For a counterfactual describes a world in which God decreed that something different would happen. Since God could have decreed them, then he must have decided to decree the actual world rather than the other possible worlds that are found in the various counterfactuals. Thus his knowledge of counterfactuals cannot be grounded in the decree. Second, God’s knowledge of his ability to create a free creature moves his knowledge of counterfactuals into his self-understanding. Third, for us to say that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is grounded in the decree reduces us to the monstrosity of God decreeing facts about civilizations concerning alien-human hybrids, Narnia, et cetera.

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Is Justification By Faith Or By Faith Alone?

faith alone 1In Romans 3:28, Paul said, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” This means that we are saved the moment that we put our trust in Jesus for our salvation. We recognize that he died on the cross for our sins, in our place, and because of that, we stand before God as though we had never sinned. That is Paul’s conception of justification and how the cross applies to our lives. Dissidents of Paul’s doctrine of justification will labor the point that Paul thought that we are justified by faith, but not by faith alone. The implication is that it is not enough to trust in Jesus for our salvation. Rather, when Paul argued that we are justified by faith, he was only pointing out one element of salvation. If we read Romans, we discover the necessity of faith, but not the sufficiency of faith. If we read other passages, we will discover the necessity of works and baptism and so on. Faith is merely part of justification. But it does not exhaust justification. Is that true? Is justification by faith or by faith alone?

faith alone 2Romans is a systematic treatise on justification. The letter to the Roman church is unique in the way that it presents its’ theology. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament are usually reacting to something that is going on in the church. They usually do not present systematic summaries of doctrinal truths. But that is what we find in the book of Romans. Paul treats the doctrine of justification in the book of Romans so that his audience will have a full understanding of what it means to be justified and in Christ. We may follow the flow of his reasoning and see where the doctrine of justification peaks. In the first chapter, he portrays the wrath of God against sin. In the second chapter, he recognizes that his Jewish audience might have nodded in approval against the condemnation of the Gentiles, so Paul robs them of their pride and says that God’s wrath falls upon everybody. If you are going to say that you are righteous, you have to keep the Law perfectly. Since they have not done that, they are under judgment. This leads him to say in chapter three that “by works of the Law, no flesh shall be justified,” (v. 20). For nobody can keep the Law. Everybody has sinned and is subject to God’s wrath. This invariably leads to his discussion about justification in chapters 3-5. This is where he says, “To the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” After concluding his exegesis of Genesis 15:6 and discussion of justification, he answers objections to it in chapter 6. The flow of his reasoning is obvious.

faith alone 3With this systematic summary of justification, it would be inappropriate to appeal to anywhere else to add something to the doctrine of justification. Paul is offering an exhaustive and systematic treatise of what justification is. If there were something else to include, it would have been elucidated. We cannot say that Paul offers but a part of the model and we have to use the rest of the Bible to put the pieces together. That does not make sense and does not do justice to the intention of the letter to the Romans. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? If in his treatment of justification, Paul only mentions faith, then it is by faith alone. All other texts related to justification must be interpreted through the lens of the Romans 3-5. For Romans 3-5 is the sole systematic treatment of justification.

faith alone 4“To the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). In this tremendous and powerful verse, Paul is expositing Genesis 15:6. He is offering his inspired interpretation of what it means that Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness. In doing so, he says that the faith of Abraham was credited as righteousness. Abraham’s faith is treated as if it were outward righteousness of works that one performs. His faith is the substitute for a life of perfect obedience to the Law. Just think for a moment of a person who labors for their entire life, keeping every moral precept of the Law. If somebody did that (nobody aside from Christ could do that), God would give them eternal life, because they were righteous. Well, that righteousness is credited to Abraham. It is credited to him by the mechanism of faith. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? Paul’s inspired interpretation of Genesis 15:6 and application to the contemporary Christian reveals that it is by faith alone.



This means that Paul denied that water baptism, a lifetime of obedience or anything that we could conceivably add to our justification are not prerequisites to salvation. A person is justified by the mechanism of faith alone, which is the free gift of God. To the person who adds to his gospel, he pulls no punches, writing, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1). “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4).

Justification by faith is justification by faith alone. Paul could not have foreseen the sort of objections that would have been raised against what he was propounding. He could not have known that people would have twisted his words so as to write “works” in between the lines. For the unbiased reader, there is just no way that he could have been more clear. He writes in Romans 3:26-28, “God is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” If God is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus, then the person who has faith is justified. That entails that justification is by faith alone. If “a man is justified by faith,” then the man who has faith is justified. This is not a difficult concept. Paul argued that the man who has faith is justified. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? Well justification by faith is justification by faith alone. It would be appropriate for translators to add “alone” after faith in italics just for the sake of clarity. There is no difference between justification by faith and justification by faith alone.

Justification is a free gift. Imagine your employer said, “I have a gift for you,” and handed your paycheck to you. You might be insulted. That is not a gift. You worked for it. You earned it. Similarly, imagine you gave somebody a gift for Christmas and they opened their wallet, asking, “Okay, what did this cost?” They want to pay you for it. You emphatically tell them that it was a gift. They do not and cannot pay for it. If they were to pay for it, it would no longer be a gift. It would be something that they bought. If you work for your money, it would not be a gift, it would be what was earned. This means that when Paul says, “The wage of sin is death,” he is saying that what we earn by sinning is death. But he adds, “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23). If eternal life is a free gift, then there is nothing that we can give to God in exchange. We cannot offer a lifetime of obedient faith for which we will receive our justification. As Doctor James White pointed out, we can only receive it by the empty hand of faith. If we have anything in our hands to offer, it is no longer a gift.

You might be inclined to suggest that these are the descriptions that Protestant theologians have applied to gifts. But gifts can be bought. However, this is not my argument, but Paul’s. Paul argues in Romans 4:1-2, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” That is precisely the same argument that I just rendered. Paul did not think that it was possible to work for your salvation. That is why he said, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace…” (v. 16). Justification can be by the grace of God only if it is receive by the empty hand of faith. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? It can only be by faith alone. Paul’s argument disqualifies any form of justification that adds to faith.

Paul answered objections that only apply to faith alone. If we are justified by faith alone, the next logical question that people often ask is how this applies pragmatically in our lives. If we are already justified, why not just continue in sin? Why not do anything that we want to do? Paul answers this argument. But the only cause for answering this argument is if he was teaching that a person is justified by faith alone. If he was not teaching that, then there is no cause to answer this argument. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? Paul answers an objection that can only be made against justification by faith alone.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:17-20, “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” The reason that he said that was because in verse 16, he said that we are justified by faith and not works of the Law. The next logical question is whether we can live in sin. But the only way that this logical consequence exists is if the preceding argument is that justification comes by faith alone.

If justification is not by faith, then Christ died needlessly. Recall Paul’s claim that justification is by faith because that is the only model that is in accordance with grace (Romans 4:16). Jesus died for our sins, in our place, and then he rose from the dead. He absorbed the wrath that we deserve. He lived the life that we never could and now his righteousness is imputed to us. But if we can live righteous lives so as to warrant God’s granting us eternal life, then Christ died needlessly. If we think that our life of obedient faith is going to warrant our justification, then Christ died needlessly. Christ would not have needed to sacrifice himself on the cross and impute his righteousness to us if we were righteous enough to warrant eternal life. Is justification by faith or by faith alone? Well this doctrine of an ongoing justification seems to undermine the gospel message.

In response, you might say, “No, no, you have misunderstood,” for one reason or another. Perhaps you think that the sacrifice of Christ removed our original sin, or that he died for only some of our sins. But note well that this is not my argument. This is Paul’s argument. He wrote in Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” He was unaware of the doctrinal developments that you have conjured up. He simply said that if righteousness enough could come by the keeping of the Law, it follows that Christ died needlessly. Notice also that this argument would apply to any model of justification by works. If we could live a life of obedient faith so as to warrant God’s acceptance, in any capacity, then Paul says that Christ died needlessly.

Is justification by faith or by faith alone? Men desperately want to be co-redeemers with Christ. They want to feel as though they have something to boast about before God. They want to work for their salvation. But God grants salvation as a free gift to any who will open their hands in faith. But that faith is necessarily alone, or it would not be a justification that comes by faith. Paul could never say that God is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus if the one who has faith in Jesus is not justified. I realize that you have a number of objections pertaining to other passages. But we have to remember that Paul’s letter to the Romans contains his systematic treatise of justification. So the second chapter of James needs to be interpreted through the lens of Paul’s systematic treatment on justification. For those who think of raising that objection, though, I reference you to my article Does James 2 Teach Salvation By Works? and my series on Justification By Faith Alone for other objections.

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