Monthly Archives: December 2008
New Year’s Resolution
My New Year’s Resolution this year is to offer “headier” content. I want to help people to worship God with all their mind, and I realize that I can’t do that by addressing bottom of the barrel arguments, which is what I’ve been doing lately.
This means, as fun as they have been, I’m not going to be addressing folks like Rev. Reed Braden or the Rational Response Squad anymore. Instead, I’m going to focus on more vocal, better argued proponents of atheism, like Vjack from Atheist Revolution.
If anyone has any suggestions for well-argued proponents of atheism, New Age, Roman Catholicism, Scientology, or King James Onlyism that I can take on, please let me know via e-mail or in a comment.
No Newsletter This Month
With the holidays and family obligations, I didn’t have time to put together a newsletter this month.
Due to lack of interest, I’m considering eliminating that feature. Let me know in comments if I should keep the feature alive or if I should eliminate it.
What are Doctrinal Divisions Really About?
Doctrinal divisions that permeate the church so profusely, at their core, aren’t about what Scripture says. Only the King James Version Onlyists dispute what Scripture says. We’ve taken them, and the famous NIV Quiz, on before. The divisions are over what Scripture means.
Case in point is the recent informal blog debate between Matthew Bellisario and the pseudonymous “TurretinFan.” The crux of the debate is whose interpretation of Romans 14 is correct–Mr. Bellisario, or TF. Mr. Bellisario insists, and correctly I believe, that Romans 14 is aimed at the Judaizers of Paul’s day who would impose the Law on Christians. Further, such a passage doesn’t remove from the Church the authority to impose new holy days and bind Christians to obeying them.
I agree with Mr. Bellisario’s assessment of the passage. I agree that it is aimed at the Judaizers of Paul’s day and I agree that it doesn’t preclude the Church from imposing holy days upon Christians.
However, the imposition of new holy days goes against the spirit of the passage, and indeed the spirit of the Gospel. Jesus died and rose again to free us from the legalism of the Jewish Law. This is TF’s primary point. However, Mr. Bellisario doesn’t see the Catholic Church as imposing a new legalism on Christians. This is why the two are talking past each other–Mr. Bellisario is unable to empathize with TF’s position. Mr. Bellisario sees the Catholic Church as the sole infallible authority for determining Christian morality and living, rather than giving Scripture that place.
So, what is my opinion of Romans 14? I believe that it applies to all holy days, new or old. As TF points out, Scripture is like a fine gem with many facets. It is important to look at all opinions, past and present, to get a feel for something that you might miss. I also agree with Mr. Bellisario that Romans 14 doesn’t preclude the addition of new holy days, however there is no authority anywhere in Scripture that confers the power to bind Christians under threat of mortal sin to observe these new holy days.
Does that mean that we are free of the Sabbath day? By no means. As TF reminds us, the Sabbath goes back to creation and is therefore binding on all people. The obligation to reserve a day of worship for God alone was not erased by the cross, since it predates the Law. The Cross is the end of the Law.
While I agree that new holy days aren’t out of the realm of the church’s authority, binding them on all Christians under penalty of mortal sin is out of the reach of the church.
I highly reccommend reading the informal debate. The links above are to the start posts of the debate.
The Offense of Christmas
Doug Powell from the excellent Parchment and Pen blog wrote a post on why celebrating Christmas should offend people. The gospel message itself is offensive–that God had to enter history Incarnate as Christ because we can’t escape our own sin should offend everyone’s sensibilities. And that our Savior is a helpless infant should be humbling.
Hit From Both Sides
Normally, I don’t discuss politics on this blog. But I can’t resist mentioning the controversy that has surrounded President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to include Dr. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose of Christmas, in the inaugural ceremonies this January 20th. Obama is rapidly losing support of the atheist community for including Warren, as Warren stands against abortion (innocently called “reproductive rights” by those who don’t see it as murder) and gay marriage.
Oddly, Obama is in support of both gay marriage and abortion rights, two planks that won him little support among conservative Christians. This leads to the other side of this controversy: now conservative Christians are bashing Rick Warren for participating in the inaugural ceremonies! It seems that no one can win for losing in this debacle.
Personally, I think that this is a situation where people should put their politics aside. Rick Warren appearing at the Inauguration is not an endorsement of Obama’s position on abortion. Nor is Obama’s decision to include Warren meant to be a slap in the fact to the gay community. Why can’t we put aside these issues that divide us for a day and pray together for the new President as he embarks on a difficult new journey?
What Do Christians Have to Live For?
A while back, Vjack of Atheist Revolution asked, “What do Christians have to live for?” He then proposed three ideas. First, he posits that we live for God. This is an excellent suggestion, though Vjack has no idea how it would be accomplished. Second, he thought that we might live for either the Rapture or the afterlife. This offers no incentive to take care of the planet since we are only on it for a short time. Third, he asks what incentive that there is for a Christian to be moral if all of his sins are paid for by Christ. Let’s address all three points.
First, how would a Christian go about living for God? One of the cries of the Reformation was soli Deo gloria, for God’s glory alone. The apostle Paul offers this as a suggestion in Romans–“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Living for God is simple: place God first in everything that you think, do, and say. Everything that you do should be an act of worship.
The second suggestion, living for the Rapture or the afterlife, is a terrible idea. Vjack nails the problem inherent in it; namely, that there is no incentive for taking care of this planet, since the Christian isn’t going to be around long enough for it to matter. But that overlooks that we are stewards of this planet and have been charged by God in Genesis to take care of the planet (Gen 1:28-30).
Finally, Vjack wonders why Christians don’t rape and murder at will because all of their sins are paid for by Christ. The apostle Paul anticipated this sort of mentality when he wrote to the Romans. After building his case for salvation by grace without works of law, he asks if we should go on sinning so that grace may abound all the more. He answers with a resounding NO! Then asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2) If we are in Christ, we are dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:11). We are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). People who are alive to God demonstrate the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Therefore:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6:12-14)
What’s the REAL Message Here?
Vjack from Atheist Revolution reveals his position as a pro-life atheist. While I commend his pro-life stance, I don’t admire his reasoning. It goes like this:
Personally, I favor reducing the number of abortions performed through reality-based sex education and widespread availability of affordable and effective contraception. By reducing the number of unwanted pregnancy, we can reduce the number of abortions without having to infringe upon anyone’s reproductive rights. (source)
First of all, every “fetus” or “embryo” is a potential human life and should be afforded the same care as any child. You wouldn’t kill a child just because he or she became inconvenient. So it bothers me that Vjack refers to abortion as a “reproductive right.”
That point aside, what is Vjack really saying here? He favors “widespread availability of affordable and effective contraception.” What that means, translated, is that he is all for having sex with whomever whenever desired.
Abstinence is all about self-control. This is yet another example of the atheist community not being big on practicing self-control. But can we expect them to? After all, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and the atheist is not indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should not expect that an atheist would have any appreciation of the fine art of self-control. Atheism is nothing less than creating an intellectual excuse to disobey God.
Now let me add a caveat. I’m not for abstinence-only sex education. I think that it is important to teach the benefits and drawbacks of all of the contraceptives, as well as allowing kids to weigh the pros and cons of abstinence. Let each decide what is right for him or her.
For the Christian, the only correct choice is abstinence. That is the only choice pleasing to God. But this choice is more open to Christians than to atheists because a Christian indwelled by the Holy Spirit and charged with a desire to please God will be able to muster the self-control to remain chaste until marriage.
I should add that the task isn’t impossible for the atheist. My wife knows non-Christians that have remained chaste until marrige. A feat of self-control like this, however, is far more likely to be found in someone with a desire to please God.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not choose abstinence. All that proves is that Christians aren’t perfect, it doesn’t mean that abstinence is not a valid choice.
Jewish Approach to God
I’ve been reading Rabbi Neil Gillman’s interesting book, The Jewish Approach to God. My initial impression was that Jews and Christians approached God in much the same way. Jews believe that God is echad, which is a Hebrew word meaning “one” or “unique.” God is, as his name suggests (YHWH, Hebrew for “I AM”), uniquely one. This is definitely similar to the Christian view of God as eternally self-existent.
Here the similarity ends. First, Jews don’t view God as sovereign over the natural world, nor over human free will. Where the Christian view is that God is always in control, even over our free will decisions, the Jewish view is closer to open theism in God having no control or even knowledge of our free will decisions.
This has stunning implications for understanding early Christian philosophy and theology. Were the early Christians open theists? This throws conditional election out the window, since God can’t know the free will decisions of his creatures ahead of time that means that he can’t know who would choose Christ. That means Arminianism is wrong; but stripping God of his sovereignty over human free will decisions means that Calvinism is out as well. That leaves either open theism or Molinism as the two main alternatives.
Second, the Jews don’t view God as omnipotent. They view him as self-limiting. They believe that he has limited himself by not affecting human free will, that he is limited by his “public image,” and that he is bound to his covenants and promises of the past. This is consistent with open theism.
So, what to make of all of this? If I am to stay true to early Christian philosophy, it means that I must renounce Reformed theology and look more seriously at Molinism or open theism. It also means that I may have to finally admit that Beowulf2k8 is right–original sin simply doesn’t exist.
Am I ready to admit that I am wrong about Reformed theology? Well, I have been slowly swayed toward the dark side of Arminianism for some time now, since all of my friends and family are proud Arminians, and my church actually preaches against Calvinism. Let’s just say that, for now, I’m ready to admit the possibility exists that I’ve been dead wrong this whole time, and that much more serious study is required to find out what God has revealed about himself.
In the coming posts, I will attempt to find out just what it is that I believe in a systematic theology. I will attempt to run out the implications of open theism and Molinism in early Christian philosophy and try to arrive at a systematic theology that is true to the original intent of the New Testament writers.
I want debate and interaction with my Reformed readers as well as my Arminian/open theist readers. E-mail me, challenge me, and debate me. I want to learn what God wants me to learn, and I can’t do that without friendly discourse from the people of God.
I’ve been reading the book Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero. It is truly an eye-opener. It has made me realize how much I don’t know about the world religions. I’m ignorant of even our closest neighbor, Judaism.
With a ministry such as mine, I should understand more about other world religions. It will help me deal with questions from people of other faiths.
So I thought I would start with Judaism. To this end, I have obtained two books, The Jewish Approach to God by Rabbi Neil Gillman and An Introduction to Judaism by Nicholas de Lange.
Gillman’s book, as well as other exchanges recently, have started me thinking about Reformed theology. In the introduction to The Jewish Approach to God, Gillman says:
In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of human sin, Adam’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.
But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this is more a matter of will, not at all inherent in human nature. The Jewish claim, then, is that their is no inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world. [p. x]
Since Christianity originated from the Jewish religion, Jewish thought plays a prominent role in early Christian philosophy and theology. The very reason that I started with Judaism was that, as our forerunner, I thought that Jewish theology would help me understand where the New Testament writers were coming from. If Gillman is correct in his assertion here, then that means that the New Testament writers were never teaching original sin, and that my recent opponent was correct in stating original sin is false doctrine.
However, I already know the answer to this dilemma. Scripture contains progressive revelation, which means that the New supersedes the Old. Original sin is taught in the New Testament, especially in Romans 5. That, then, takes the place of the Jewish philosophy of sin in someone’s life being a matter of will rather than a matter of nature.
In any case, I pray that God use this book to bring me to a closer understanding of him. As I learn more, I’ll post some additional thoughts.