Category Archives: Theology

The Indictment Among the Rhetoric

Yesterday, I spoke of the Blog for WWGHA totally messing up Christian doctrine.  Mere rabbit trails compared to what the author really wants us to answer for him.

Thomas is asking for a theodicy that makes sense of the events of the last few years:

How can anyone love a “God” who allows hundreds of thousands of people to die in a tsunami, or dozens of people to get shot innocently in a movie theater? What parent would allow you siblings to die while they looked on laughing.

Semantically, Thomas is actually asking for a personal reason Christians can love a God that passively allows tragedy to occur.  But I’m going to interpret him charitably here, assuming Thomas is asking for a theodicy: a logically argued resolution to the problem of evil in a world run by an omnipotent, omniscient God who could end evil but doesn’t.

Infinite wisdom, as the author of the target piece argues, isn’t really all that satisfying.  Neither is the related “mystery” of God.

I’ve never really been that big a fan of the “free will defense,” since the Bible shows God quashing free will.  However, the instances of God upholding free will vastly outnumber the instances of him preventing sin.  So I think that free will, while not the answer, is a component of the bigger picture.

Greater good isn’t all that great by itself.   Strobel’s Case for Faith has a great analogy about a bear trap.  Suppose a bear is caught in a trap and you decide to free it.  You can’t possibly do so without causing the animal more pain than he’s in, and there’s no possible way to explain to the animal that his increased pain will actually lead to total freedom.  And so he’ll lash out at you while you try to free him in a misplaced effort to defend himself.

We lash out at God for people dying in tsunamis and for innocents getting shot in a movie theater.  But what if all this is just part of the ultimate plan designed to free us from this bear trap?  What if the pains we see and the suffering we endure are really leading up to the day when none of this pain and strife will be necessary?  When the metaphorical hunter finally releases our leg and we can scamper pain-free into the woods?

I don’t think it’s the whole picture, but I think that the greater good defense has some merit to it.

This means I see merit to both free will and the greater good.  And I think a synthesis of the two is the answer to all questions related to theodicy.  Which leads me toward something I might call the Education Defense for Evil — it is necessary to have evil in this world to reveal God’s full character (wrath, love, and mercy), bring full glory to God at the culmination of history, and to reveal our own nature.

Evil serves a purpose (greater good) without being God’s purpose (free will).

I confess that while I’ve thought about this for a while now, I have little in the way of previous theodicy by any great thinker to back it up.  The idea needs more development, but it is something I foresee I will be writing and researching more in the future.  This seemed as good a time as any to introduce it, since I could scarcely criticize Thomas from WWGHA in the previous post without actually answering the one conundrum that was worthwhile.

Does WWGHA Even Understand Christianity?

If one is going to criticize the viewpoint of another, then one had best understand the opposing view thoroughly.  As an example, you will note that I do not enter into Creationism/Evolution/ID debates.  I don’t know enough about the three camps to participate intelligently, save for being able to articulate the difference between pure Creationism and ID.

Over at the Blog for WWGHA, in response to this article from a Christian pastor, Thomas opines:

It’s the “infinite wisdom” rationalization. God is too huge and awesome for pipsqueak humans to understand. Never mind that Christians claim to understand God all the time, for example by demanding that homosexuals be discriminated against or even stoned to death, or that foreskins need to be cut off baby’s penises, etc. Christians claim knowledge of all sorts of God’s thoughts, but strangely, the explanation for the atrocities and horrors that we see every day are just too complicated. (source)

It’s simply absurd to suggest that anyone is being inconsistent to say that we know some things about God, but not other things.  It is absolutely possible to say you know a person, but not understand everything that they do.

With God, some of his commands are clear, while others aren’t.  But to suggest I’m inconsistent when I say that we humans aren’t going to understand some things about God while being able to understand other things is asinine.

Second, let’s set two things straight with the Christian (mis)treatment of homosexuals.  We are not “denying” anyone the right to marry.  The very makeup of marriage excludes homosexuals.  It is a divinely ordered institution of a man joining to a woman, and they become one flesh.  Polygamy isn’t specifically prohibited in this fashion, but men can’t marry men and women can’t marry women under this paradigm.

It would be like me saying “My goal is to be the next Pope.”  I’m not a practicing Catholic; therefore I’m excluded from consideration for that office.

Or, if I tried to win a Hispanic scholarship.  I’m white.  I can’t win a scholarship oriented to Hispanic students.  It defies the intent of the scholarship and the rules of those who created it and put up the money.

Marriage is a joining of a man to a woman.  Period.  We can’t deny someone a right that does not exist.

On a personal note to the blog author:  Thomas, please find me a Christian who, in the last 20 years, actually called for a gay man to be stoned to death.  If you can’t, then please withdraw that ridiculous claim.

On the foreskin question, Christians actually were not circumcised.  Christians are exempt from all practices under the Jewish law.  Paul makes it explicit:

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2:25-29)

Though there is a clear advantage to circumcision in knowing the oracles of God (Rom 3:2), one shouldn’t seek it:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. (1 Cor 7:17-20)

What if someone does get circumcised despite the warning?  Then:

. . . Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Gal 5:2-6)

Circumcision is not a Christian phenomenon.

Okay, now that we’re done with rabbit trails, is there actually an argument or an indictment here worth answering?

Sort of.  We’ll talk tomorrow.

Answering the Contrarian, part 2: How not to Evangleize

In this article, a netizen going by “the Contrarian” presents a seriously distorted view of the gospel.  After that, he helpfully tells us Christians how not to evangelize him:

Don’t come to me telling me that you are different from ‘other’ christians, and that you represent a god of love, and that you are peaceful, intelligent and worthy of having your beliefs propagated into the legal and education system of the land. You are the very definition of a fundamentalist, and like the proverbial village idiot; you cannot see what is wrong with you, or why others think you’re nuts. !

First, I’d proudly say I’m different from other Christians.  For example:

  • I never say “Oh my God!” as an expletive.  One of the Christians I work with at a youth ministry co-op, however, uses it liberally.
  • My pastor has, in three different sermons, condemned the TV show The Big Bang Theory as something no Christian should watch.  I, however, watch it almost every night.
  • I’ve condemned gay marriage on this blog numerous times in the past.  However, I know of committed Christians who are openly homosexual.
  • I believe God is absolutely sovereign, and has planned and purposed reality to a certain end.  However, open theists (like John Sanders) believe that God has done no such thing; and in fact cannot predict the actions of humans by virtue of our free agency.

I’d never say that I represent a God of love.  The God I represent is love.

I’m peaceful.  Prove otherwise.

I’m intelligent.  People who know me know that I’m the kind of person who knows a little bit about almost everything.

As for having my beliefs propagated into the legal system, I’m afraid that many of them already are:

  1. Social programs (especially Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Social Security) take care of “Honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12) and they also pay homage to Deuteronomy 15:7-9.
  2. Murder (Ex 20:13) is a capital crime in most states.
  3. Theft of any sort is illegal (Ex 20:15).
  4. Perjury, obstruction of justice, and other sorts of misdirection while investigating or prosecuting a criminal case are all illegal (Ex 20:16).

Other examples could be found, but I think I’ve made my point.

Now to be charitable to the Contrarian, he’s likely referring to proposed laws to eliminate gay marriage, or laws that interfere with him buying liquor on Sundays.  He thinks that such laws are religious nonsense and have no place in a secular society.  Worse, he thinks these laws are self-evident religious nonsense; that everyone should take his word for it because “it’s obvious.”

To wit, I’d like for him to find “No alcohol sales on Sunday” in the Bible.  It isn’t there.  The only so-called blue laws still on the books are sales of alcoholic beverages, probably retained out of tradition and convenience.

You can’t legislate morality, and the Bible isn’t written with the assumption that you can.  In fact, most of the New Testament assumes the law of the land will be hostile to Christian practice — a tide that is headed this way in the United States, especially where our practice forbids gay marriage.

I agree with anyone who says gay marriage is a non-issue.  It shouldn’t be an issue at all, because it is not marriage.  Marriage is always between a man and a woman.  Variations exist (one man, many women; one woman, many men; varying numbers of men and women), but both genders always participate.

As to my beliefs being placed in the education system of the land, why not?  The atheist beliefs already are, and with quite a lot of force.  Why can mine not be shown as an alternative?  We can give fair time to other religions as well — I’m okay with that because I believe that truth always wins out.

What is the atheist scared of?  If what he offers is truth, will that not win out?  Or does the atheist think when offered a choice between religious myth and scientific truth, that religious myth always wins and society will remain unenlightened?

If so, maybe religious “myth” is true, because it is winning out!

Moving on, the Contrarian writes:

Don’t come here claiming that you are a ‘good’ or a ‘real’ christian. The better and more real a christian you are, the more inhuman, amoral, sick and twisted you are. You are a bloodthirsty beast with an inflated ego because you think your skydaddy is real and will vindicate you shortly. Dream on! If that is what sustains you, if that is what gives you purpose, then nothing in this physical world is violent, torturous, absolute, sick and offensive enough to satiate your wicked mind and your black heart!

I’m not good.  None of us are.  That’s the reason we need a Savior.  I’m not even a good Christian!  I fail all the time.

The Contrarian is going to have to expound on why a “better and more real” Christian is “inhuman, amoral, sick, and twisted.”  I don’t see it that way.  The marks of the Christian, according to the apostle Paul, are:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:10-21)

That’s “inhuman, amoral, sick, and twisted”?  If the Contrarian’s ideal person behaves the opposite of that, then I don’t want to live in his world.

Of course, all the best bloodthirsty beasts with inflated egos try to outdo everyone showing honor, bless people who persecute them, overcome evil with good, and live peaceable with everyone as much as it depends on them.  That is why people call them “bloodthirsty beasts” — because they are so peaceable with others and easy to get along with.

The Contrarian says, “I’ll take the exploding dot and the swamp water into humans story any day!”  Why?  Simple: it makes him the star.  In this story, there is no good or evil.  He is a slave to his nature, as he would be in Christianity, but that nature is neither good nor evil because it cannot be (by definition).  Therefore, he doesn’t have to face judgment for being who he is.

Theism isn’t the crutch.  Atheism is — atheism is comfortable because there is no ultimate accountability.  Which brings us back to my (apparently sick, in the Contrarian’s eyes) belief that God is real and will vindicate me shortly.

Vindicate me for what, exactly?

The world has wronged God, not me.  He will vindicate himself and take his wrath on the wicked — those who persist in their unbelief in his Son.  I deserve every bit of that wrath as well, but I have been protected by the blood of my Savior.  It’s nothing I did to get to heaven.  And I will not rejoice over the lost.

If this is the Contrarian’s understanding of the gospel, then no wonder he’s an atheist.  That’s as distorted as it gets.  He needs to buckle back down and read that Book he despises so much.  Only this time, maybe he should take the time to understand it.

Beatitudes, part 2: Blessed are Those Who Mourn

The theme of the Beatitudes is to show a felt need, then demonstrate how that need will see fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven.  The poor in spirit are blessed because they have no religion or spirituality to lean on, so (like the materially poor) they must lean more fully on Jesus to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law.  Therefore, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The second Beatitude promises comfort to those who mourn.

The Beatitudes identify several needs as virtues that ordinarily one wouldn’t think of as a virtue.  First the poor, now the mourners.  Next we’ll bless the meek and then the hungry!

So what’s up with prosperity preachers?  Are they not reading this section?  These guys say that you can have your best life right now.  Yet Jesus says to those of us in the present that you are blessed if you’re poor, in mourning, meek, and hungry — if you’re not having your best life now.

Suffering and trials will come.  If we lean on God in those trials and become closer to him, then we do well.  If we grow distant, if we let the trials create a rift between ourselves and our God, it is to our severe detriment.  God will deliver those who mourn:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;  he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  (Is 61:1-3)

And:

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,  for the Lord has spoken.  (Is 25:8)

Jesus once said that he is the Great Physician, come to heal the sick.  The well don’t need a doctor, right?  Conversely, those who do not weep have no need of someone to wipe their tears away.

Contradiction Tuesday: Jesus in the Pecking Order

Better late than never, right?

I skipped the next contradiction in line.  It’s easy to resolve, but I’m saving it for Easter.

So for today’s contradiction Tuesday, we have another both/and resolution.

I and my Father are one. (Jn 10:30)

set against

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (Jn 14:28)

The Trinity is the most misunderstood doctrine of Christianity.  Atheistic challenges to it amount to little more than “I don’t understand the Trinity, so it must be false.  Now I shall mock it to appear clever.”

Jesus and the Father share an essence.  But they do not share an identity.  Meaning they are ontologically the same, but still separate people.  John 10:30 refers to sharing the essence, while the pecking order established by 14:38 refers to the separate persons.

And Now the Double Standard

Tuesday, I posted that truth is not relative.  Truth is truth, and if it’s the truth, it isn’t going to go back and reverse itself, as science so often does.

I spotlighted 5 things I was taught in elementary school science class as irrefutable fact, all of which are now considered false.  At the end of the post, I stated that I already knew the reply to this and I agreed with it.  I posted the reply on Wednesday.

Science is great at discerning cause-and-effect, but I’m not so sure that I’d classify the findings as “irrefutable truth.”  Our knowledge base is growing rapidly, and so we will find out that we occasionally missed the mark with previously held scientific theories.

Considering the vastness of the universe, the average scientist is likely formulating theories with 10% of the necessary data.  We expect to revise theories as more data become available.  With that in mind, those five points I made become simplistic and silly.

Now then, why does that create a double standard for theists?

Because our critics expect us to be right from the outset and never change.  However, when I criticize science for reversing itself, I’m rightly called ignorant.  I’m making an overly simplistic statement that totally misses the mark.

By the same token, as more information becomes available, people revise their opinions and theologies.

For example, despite Matthew Bellasario’s bellowing, the early church did not accord Mary the special place that Catholic theology does.  They brought Mary into their liturgies because they felt that she deserved a place on account of her role in Jesus’ life, which eventually evolved to a Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces role.  Catholics pay her hyper-dulia, a high accord indeed (higher than the saints, but lower than God).

One can even see evolving theology in the New Testament.  The letter to the Hebrews was likely the latest document prepared, and it is rich in theology.  The Gospel of John was the last of the Gospels and (again) it is rich in theology not present in the earlier Gospels.  We can deduce John’s theology from the earlier Gospels and Paul’s letters, but it isn’t codified in either.

The Trinity was codified in the Athanasian Creed, the third of the three ecumenical creeds generally agreed upon by all Christians.  We see an evolution in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and finally the Athanasian Creed — each becomes more intricate as we gain greater insight and understanding.

Why, according to the critic, must all Christian belief be found all at once and never change; a progressive evolution indicates falsehood?  I don’t discount science as false merely because scientists revise their findings later.  Therefore, theology shouldn’t be discounted as false merely because we have revised it as time went on.  All of the revisions were made for good reasons, like the revisions to various scientific theories.

One thing hasn’t changed: Salvation by the grace of God, effected by our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant: we all unite under that banner.

And now you may comment on the entire series.

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 3)

In part 1, I talked about how skeptics and atheists often complain when I (or another apologist) make the comment that such-and-so Christian is wrong.  The skeptic usually says it means I have found “True Christianity™” and every other Christian who disagrees is going to go to hell.

Not so.  And there’s no such thing as True Christianity™.

In part 2, I discussed degrees of wrong, using a traffic light as a guide.  Green light is 99% of Christianity; just denominations hashing out some differences of procedure.  Yellow light redefines core doctrines.  Red light denies core doctrines and is strongly associated with a central figure who receives his own divine revelations.

Paul talks about agreeing to disagree, to welcome everyone and to not make the work of God void over what we should eat and drink.  So can we ever fight for the faith?

In green light situations, there is no reason to fight.  My own denomination is the United States branch of a German group, so it isn’t its own denomination proper.  However, we’ve split twice in the last 30 years.  In the mid-80s, Grace College and Ashland College split over the classic Calvinism (Ashland) versus Arminianism (Grace) battle.  In the early 90s, a Grace professor split over who to welcome into churches.

These aren’t worthwhile fights, but I know they happen anyway and will continue to happen until Christ returns.  We should just let these green light situations be, and live as peaceably as possible with them as it depends on us.

Yellow light and red light situations are totally different.

In the case of Ergun Caner, an example of a yellow light situation, it kills me to see Christians not care that he lied about his background to win Muslims to Christ.  All these Christians care about is that Caner won them.  What does that say about their moral character if they are willing to excuse (I can’t believe I’m about to use this derided expression) lying for Jesus?

The ends do not justify the means.  I know that God has called Christians to a higher standard than that.  Which means that we should win people with the truth to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And when we see lying like this, we should repudiate it and the supporters of it (I’m looking at you, Norm Geisler).

A bona fide red light situation, such as Harold Camping’s Family Radio, should be addressed expeditiously.  Today, October 21, is allegedly the end of the world according to Harold Camping.  Yet I’m here to write this and I presume someone is reading this.

Camping and his Family Radio movement deny the presence of the Holy Spirit within the universal church and have fixed today somewhat arbitrarily as the end of the world.  That, together with the strong association with Camping, gives this the earmarks of heresy outlined in my previous post.

This error needs to be addressed, and Camping called to repentance.  (I already did back in May.)

I hope that this series of posts have cleared up what True Christianity™ is, and is not.  God has promised to preserve his church on earth, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  So whether we identify as Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed Baptist, Grace Brethren, or Anglican, we should welcome each other with open arms in our churches and celebrate our differences rather than be divided by them.

When redefinition occurs, we should point it out.

When denial occurs, we should repudiate it.

Above all, we should join with Jesus in prayer that we be one, as he and the Father are One.

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 2)

I did part 1 of this a long, long, time ago but never quite got to part 2.

In the last post, I basically said that we should bow to the weaker brother and let him have his ritual.  If he thinks that we must be baptized by triune immersion in a lake, then let him get baptized that way.  If he thinks all Christians should abstain from alcohol, then don’t crack open an ice-cold Corona with a lime wedge in front of him.

In the non-essentials of faith, let the weaker brother abstain.  Don’t try to talk him out of it.  Don’t insist on giving him a glass of wine, stay clear of it in front of him as well.  Don’t force him to use a baptismal, offer to drive him to a lake yourself.

But, there are times when you have to come after fellow Christians and tell them they are wrong.

For example, in my extended review of John Shelby Spong’s Sins of Scripture (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7), I handed the good bishop his butt.  I fought for the traditional deposit of faith, above Spong’s redefinition of all the terms.  I did that because, as James White often says, the gospel is ours to proclaim, not to edit.  Spong completely changes what it means to be a Christian, and how a Christian ought to approach the Scriptures.

Spong basically denies every fundamental of the faith that I listed in the previous post, to wit:

  • Existence of God as a Trinity
  • Preeminence of Christ over his creation
  • Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
  • Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
  • Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
  • Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead

Currently, a Christian is doing this same thing to me, here.  I might be wrong, because I’m not infallible.  I believe that faith is more than belief, that it is also good works.  In other words, faith is loyalty to God manifested by both belief and good works.  Mike, however, doesn’t think so.  We are both trying to come to some sort of common ground with each other.

Which raises the question: When do I get to call an error “error?”

I think there are three categories of theological error.  Let’s discuss them. Read the rest of this entry

On the Desire to Erase Hell from Christian Doctrine

God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases.

If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s that last line.  And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3.  Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate — only God is ultimate.  God tells us plainly that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isa. 55:9).  Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.

— Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, p. 17

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)

It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity.  And they are.  If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong.  Not a radical notion.

What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question?  I always get the same response from the atheist.  He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.

I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology.  Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can:  There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry