Doctrine

Returning to Eden

I began this whirlwind tour of God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage in the Garden of Eden, and it is to Eden that we are returning, not by way of Genesis, but by way of Song of Solomon. After all, it is no good to speak of unspoiled beauty and splendor. We’re fallen, and the Garden is lost to us, as is the perfection that we would have found there. And so, here we are. We all crave Eden, whether we realize it or not, because Eden represents what should have been. When we contemplate the unspoiled world, it evokes a sense of longing, a half-whimsical desire to be there. We don’t want to read about it; we want to get there somehow. So it is with Heaven, a place we also cannot get to without a bit of unpleasantness. So then, Eden lies in the past, and Heaven waits in our future. What are we to do in the present? There are many answers to that question, but I am going to offer one for your consideration.

Far from being some sort of mystical allegory of spiritual truths, I believe- as many others before me- that Song of Solomon is a celebration of all that is good and right about marriage. Its message is that- while we have been exiled from Eden- we can enjoy intimacy and fulfillment as God’s blessing on marriage partially unmakes the curse that sin and Satan have brought into our world. “The marriage bed undefiled” and all that it represents provides a means of returning to Eden, and through a truly blessed romance, we can see the world we were made for. Matrimony is a blessed reprieve, a retreat from the turmoil of the fallen creation. I’m not just speaking hypothetically or poetically, here. I truly believe the Bible points to marriage as a grace given to make life more meaningful and joyous and less of a burden. But you don’t have to take my word for it (cue Reading Rainbow theme and Levar Burton, sans VISOR). Here’s a quote from Jill Munro’s Spikenard and Saffron on Eden and Song of Solomon: “The garden, which in the Genesis story becomes an inaccessible place from which humanity is exiled, in the Song is rediscovered in the woman; it is in union or communion with her that her lover rediscovers the bliss of which the Eden story spoke. As a result, the world around is recreated; it too becomes a garden, a garden of love which the reader too may enter for a time.” Phyllis Trible has also noticed this similarity, as she writes: “Whatever else it may be, Canticles is a commentary on Genesis 2-3. Paradise Lost is Paradise Regained.”

Make no mistake, however. The couple in Song of Solomon is not perfect. There is struggle, hurt, and sorrow, but there is also healing and growth. It is a beautiful example of obedience to the creation order. Song of Solomon creates a picture of what Genesis 1-2 describe, or as near to it as we can get this side of Heaven. It is as if the Author is telling us that we do not just have to read about the Creation Order: somehow, in some way, we can get inside the story itself. Think about it with me for a moment. Without describing the Days of Creation, Solomon and his beloved enjoy all elements of that creation. There is light and water and animals and fruit and forests. There is music and splendor and majesty. There is gold and wealth, joy and gladness. There is a spoken blessing on the marriage, linking the speaker to the Creator: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” What we read about in Genesis 1-2, Solomon and the Shulamite are able to experience.  Consider also their marital experience in relationship to the Created Order. They are heterosexual,  monogamous, and co-equal. It’s one of union and communion. The connection with Genesis is no small one. Adam and Eve are parallel to Solomon and the Shulamite.

Who is this Shulamite woman, anyway? To be honest, no one knows for certain. Some suggest that she is Abishag, the female attendant to David in his old age. They claim that she married Solomon officially due to being in David’s harem, pointing to the fact that she was from Shunem as evidence. I would remind the reader that “Shulamite” and “Shunamite” are not at all the same thing, and that there is no concrete evidence that Shulem was ever a village or town in Israel. I do not think this is a name for her birthplace, nor do I think this is a name at all, at least in the normal sense. You see, in Hebrew, “Shulamite” is simply the feminine form of the masculine name translated….”Solomon.” It is her title, not her name. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomon-ess. These names demonstrate that love and commitment has made them equals, but that is not the focus of the book. The focus in Song of Solomon is on their love and their devotion, and in their romance they enjoy something that their very names reveal as well. The name Solomon/Solomoness means peace.

Not only does the Solomon/Solomoness (“Shulamite”) connection reveal a sense of equality and peace, but it provides another link with the Created Order. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomoness. They are equal, but- far more importantly- they are two halves of the same Whole. This is a “one flesh” relationship. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine….”, she says. Later, she adds, “His desire is for me”, a reversal of God’s statement to Eve in the Garden: “Your desire will be to your Husband.” This is the solution to the situation posed by Him at the beginning. Relationships begin fragmenting because of human nature, but they can be mended. The wife has begun by desiring what she cannot always have (she does so twice in the poem), but throughout the poem, they’ve come to desire each other. In this the Fall is partially unmade. Solomon and the Solomoness are mutual, reciprocal partners- fitting helpers for each other. Through their love, commitment, and romance, God has blessed the husband and wife, and they are now experiencing what was described way back in Genesis, something Richard M. Davidson calls “Paradise Love.”

What does this love look like? It is beautiful and sensuous: the Song describes romance using imagery encompassing all five senses. It is an exciting celebration: there is great joy when lovers see each other, and the wedding is one of great splendor. It is a thrilling adventure: the Song is filled with statements such as “Arise my love, and come away with me! Let us make haste!” Davidson notes that the poem describes the exhilaration of springtime, a daring expedition into the rocky clefts, etc. Paradise love is erotic and unashamed, yet blessed of God. It is restrained and in good taste as well. There are jokes alongside passionate romance. It is most of all a mystery, as we see both lovers captivated yet unable to fully explain the power of what they are feeling.

There is much more to say about the significance of Song of Solomon, but I think I’ve made my point for now. There’s nothing worse than spoiling a good poem anyway. Poetry, like romance, must be experienced in order to be understood.

I must thank two people for making this latest post possible. As I hope is obvious, this series of blog posts is the result of a long period of studying and accumulating information on this subject, and I feel I must give credit where credit is due. I’ve read a lot of Scripture, scholarly articles, and books on this subject, but the single most helpful resource on this topic- other than the Bible, of course- has been the work of Richard M. Davidson. His book entitle Flame of Yahweh has put me lightyears ahead of where I would be had I been trying to study the subject on my own. He provides a massive bibliography on human sexuality, and the entire book is a Bible study of sorts. While the previous blog posts have come largely from my own notes on this subject- including notes taken from Flame of Yahweh- this post is largely a summary of the third part of Davidson’s work.

The other person I need to thank is my wife. On August 10th, we will celebrate five years of marriage together. As I’ve said a lot in this post, it is one thing to read and study a subject, but it’s another thing entirely to experience the thing yourself. For Solomon, the Shulamite woman created the loving relationship necessary to experience the romance described in Genesis. For myself, I have been blessed with the love of a woman who has made that possible for me. We have endured tragedy and illness, sorrow and heartache. We’ve also experienced great joy in the adoption of our two boys, and we’ve gazed in wonder at God’s provision in ways we didn’t expect. Laura has provided a loving home for myself and the boys, and she has brought peace to what would have been chaos without her. She calms the storms stirred up by two toddlers running through the house, but she is also one of the few people capable of calming storms within me just by her very presence. She gives unselfishly, even if the cost to herself is great. She is a hard worker, filled with strength and determination. She is loving and compassionate, and her worth is “far above rubies.” She’s a beautiful picture of what Proverbs 31 describes. I can’t wait to see what our future holds together, Laura. I love you.

Categories: Bible, christianity, Doctrine | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Gender Equality: A Sword Between the Sexes

Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are like waffles; women are like spaghetti. Scientists, comedians, poets, musicians, philosophers, doctors, therapists, psychologists, and the religious have spent a lot of time and money trying to tell us what we already instinctively know: men and women are very different from one another. Before the Fall, the differences created wholeness- a blessed duality- that was mutually beneficial to both the Man and the Woman. The Fall changed all of that. As C. S. Lewis observed, “There is a sword, hidden or flaunted, between the sexes until an entire marriage reconciles them.” Of course Lewis was well aware that marriages could destabilize and produce plenty of fighting in their own right.

Lewis also emphasized an additional truth about gender relations: equality is important, but it is not the ideal. One of the most powerful concepts he argues for in his philosophical science fiction novel That Hideous Strength is that no relationship can be founded entirely on equality. There is no focus on equality in a loving, strong relationship, only a focus on pleasing and serving the spouse. The moment any couple begins focusing on their own personal rights, a fight cannot be far behind. This is true in many ways in the broader society. Now, Lewis was not a misogynist. If anything, he had a much higher view of masculinity and femininity than most folks today, but he recognized that both sexes must be seen as inherently valuable in order for relationships and society as a whole to function properly. The moment personal rights and liberties become the whole focus of any group of people, trouble is on the horizon. Lewis reminded us repeatedly: “Equality is medicine, not food.” Food is an inherently good thing; it is the stuff we need to grow and remain strong. Medicine, on the other hand, is not inherently good or necessary. The only time medicine is needful is if there is a problem. Equality, Lewis would say, is like that. The moment rights become an end in themselves, an ideal and the ultimate good, the game is all but lost.

So why do I bring this up now? I’ve discussed the marital ideal in Genesis 1-2 and the sexual distortions of adultery, polygamy, and homosexuality so far this week. I have two reasons for bringing up gender equality at this point. First of all, there are those who believe that Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices are inherently sexist, coming from a strictly patriarchal society in which women are merely property. They use this- propaganda, really, is all it is- to justify atheism, liberal values, and  a host of other silliness with this one seemingly foolproof attack. This leads me to my second point, and that is that Christians think this attack is foolproof because half of them have been led to believe the liberals and the feminists are right. They read the Old Testament (and parts of the New) and take it at face value, not realizing that there’s a host of background and context that sets up this framework. From power-hungry pastors demanding that women be doormats to stay-at-home moms who believe that their opinions don’t matter in the end because they aren’t “the head of the household”, Christians across this nation believe the lie that the biblical perspective somehow favors men. That, dear reader, is the result of bad theology and hundreds of years of warped culture. We will see that a biblical view of human sexuality yields a high value of respect and honor for members of both the sexes.

Wives after the Fall

Genesis 3:16 records God’s proclamation to the woman: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;  in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This verse has been used by some to claim that women’s desires are now subjugated to their husband’s. I believe that this translation in the ESV clarifies the situation for us: the woman’s desire will be for her husband.  She will desire him, but she will not always have him. God has just told the woman that carrying and birthing a child will now be painful, but I do not believe this clause (“your desire shall be for your husband”) is prescribing a judgment. I believe it is instead describing a new situation that has arisen because of the Fall. Rather than a perfect relationship of harmony and romance, there will be discord. Eve will desire her a good relationship with her husband, but all will not necessarily be well. There will be bumps along the way: circumstances, communication issues, and unfulfilled wants and wishes. God is warning Eve that, just as Adam will now have to work much harder to provide, Eve will have to work much harder to make her relationships work. (And, no, I’m not saying that being a stoic, distant husband and father is therefore biblical. Again, this is a description of what happens, not approval of what happens.)

Some also preach strongly in favor of the husband’s rulership because of this verse, or they reject the nuclear family because of what they see as an authoritarian perspective on marriage. I would point out that being a “lord” in this context does not have anything to do with domination or superiority. If anything, the husband is to be a servant-leader of the marriage, the first among equals. At the absolute most, the husband is designated the functional leader of the family. This would make perfect sense in the ancient world, where the family- not the individual- was the basic unit of society. Fathers/husbands assumed legal responsibility for the entire family. In Israel, for instance, the father was responsible for managing property, marriage contracts for children, and voicing his family’s interest in the broader community. However, this does not in any way demean women or remove them from the spheres of business, government, and other areas of leadership. The same is true for the home. As we will find, if the husband is to be the “lord” of his house, then his wife is to be the “lady.” Both positions are well-respected and vital to family and community life. A patriarchal society, after all, is about the governance of father over children, not the husband’s superiority to the wife. That’s what “patriarch” means.

Women in the Old Testament

Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Or, at least, that’s how the saying goes. It turns out that for the Jewish patriarchs, that is absolutely true. The role of matriarch was vital if the family was to be successful. This isn’t Assyria or Athens, folks. This is Israel- or at least its origins. Things work differently here when it comes to family operations. Other nations (such as those I just mentioned) had patriarchies that were “limiting, harsh, enslaving” (Meyers, Discovering Eve), the servant-leadership (while not by any means perfect) of the Jewish Fathers offered the Jewish Mothers unprecedented freedom, even in our day. A close reading of Scripture reveals that 21st-century America denigrates women more than a Jewish Patriarch would ever consider doing.

Chew on this for a second: if Israeli women felt so oppressed by their culture, where is any indication of a cry for freedom? People don’t change much through the ages in how they handle oppression, yet no woman ever appears to concern herself with liberation, even when she has the upper hand in society. (I’m looking at you, Deborah.) In her book Discovering Eve, Carol Meyers concludes that “there was a functional lack of hierarchy in Israelite gender relations” up until the monarchy was established. Tikva Frymer-Kensky writes in her essay titled “Gender and Its Image”: “In their strengths and weaknesses, in their goals and strategies, the women of the Bible do not differ substantially from that of men.” Though different by design, men and women in Scripture are very much equals.

So let’s look at some case studies, beginning with Sarah. While she did address her husband as “lord” (a term of polite respect, not necessarily indicating a hierarchy), consider the following observation by Janice Nunnally-Cox concerning Sarah:

“She appears to say what she wants, when she wants, and Abraham at times responds in almost meek obedience. He does not command her; she commands him, yet there seems to be an affectionate bond between them. Abraham does not abandon Sarah during her barrenness, nor does he gain other wives while she lives….The two have grown up together and grown old together, and when Sarah dies, Abraham can do nothing but weep. Sarah is a matriarch of the first order: respected by rulers and husbands alike, a spirited woman and a bold companion.”

While Sarah’s death and burial are given much attention in Genesis, the narrative of Abraham effectively ends when she is no more. It is as if to say that Abraham’s story is really Sarah’s story. Hagar- the slave girl- is of no less significance, by the way. In Genesis 16, she is called by the narrator and God Himself by name seven times. God appears for the first time in history as the “angel of the Lord” to this rejected, enslaved woman. God does not abandon her, but instead provides for her and her son. She and her son are blessed in much the same way as Sarah and Isaac are blessed, and this covenant-type promise is the only time such a promise is made exclusively to a woman in Scripture. The prophecies concerning Ishmael and his given name is a standard annunciation formula in Scripture, the first of its kind. Hagar is the only woman- no, the only person- in Scripture to give God a name: “You are El-roi,” the God Who Sees. (Genesis 16:13) While most preaching and teaching considers Hagar a throwaway character (if not a villain), God clearly does not. He sees value where few others can.

The next matriarch in line is Rebekah. She is clearly a beautiful woman, but she also displays independence and hospitality comparable to Abraham. Like Abraham, she leaves her family for a new land, and she has a servant’s heart as well. She is listed in Genesis 22:23 as the only child of Bethuel, even though she had a brother who should have been listed first in a patriarchal society. While some have claimed that arranged marriages meant that the wife-to-be, at least, had no choice, Abraham says in Genesis 24:8, “If the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine.” Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac may have been somewhat arranged, but it was her decision ultimately. She was not mere property, and her father is actually silent, deciding nothing in the narrative. Later, while experiencing labor pains, Rebekah “inquires of the Lord” just as great men in the Bible have, and she does this directly rather than through a husband or male spiritual leader. Genesis 25:24 says: “And her days were fulfilled that she should give birth”, a linguistic formula only used of Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament. If a sexist, strictly patriarchal society is all that the Bible has to offer, why do we know so much about Rebekah and virtually nothing about Isaac her husband?

The time would fail me to emphasize the strength and authority of Rachel and Leah, the resourcefulness, purity, and faith of Tamar, the boldness of the midwives in Exodus, the compassion of the Egyptian princess who rescued Moses, the wisdom of Jochebed, leadership and musical prowess of the prophetess Miriam, and quick-thinking Zipporah. A quote from Exum’s essay titled “You Shall Let Every Daughter Live” sums up Exodus quite well:

“Exodus begins with a focus on women. Their actions determine the outcome. From its highly positive portrayals of women to its testimony that the courage of women is the beginning of liberation, Exodus 1:8-2:10 presents the interpreter with powerful themes to draw on: women as defiers of oppression, women as givers of life, women as wise and resourceful in situations where a discerning mind and keen practical judgment are essential for a propitious outcome….Without Moses there would be no story, but without the initiative of these women, there would be no Moses!”

In Joshua, Rahab is the means of salvation for the spies, and she is in the great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews because of her courage. In Judges, a change occurs in the treatment of women. At the beginning, Achsah, the daughter of Caleb is married to a warrior. She reveals herself to be a resourceful woman with an eye for financial success. Later, Deborah arises as the only judge who is the perfect leader in religious, military, and judicial matters. Together with Jael, she routs Sisera and his army, yet we also find in her song that she has a beautiful heart and mind as well- she is an accomplished poet. Ruth and Esther provide materially for themselves and others and are presented as loyal and honorable, and Esther’s wisdom and boldness rescues her people from sure destruction.

Women in the Law

At this point, a skeptical reader may be saying, “Well, all good and well for the women in positions of power, but what about the common woman? There’s a lot in the Old Testament that was sexist!” And so, at first blush, it might appear. Many have characterized women in Israel as “legal nonpersons” or outside the covenant community in some way. Yet this cannot be true, because women did participate in the covenant ceremony in Deuteronomy 29:9-12 and therefore were under equal obligation to the Law. (Deuteronomy 31:12) In the Law, both genders were included when the masculine gender was in use, according to Frank Crusemann’s The Torah: Theology and Social History.

But what about the Numbers 5 passage in which a woman suspected of adultery is put through a trial by ordeal? If her husband suspects she has been unfaithful but can’t prove it, she has to drink water that will cause her to become barren if she has indeed committed adultery. Not only does trial by ordeal sound like some sort of kangaroo court scheme from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there doesn’t seem to be a similar trial for husbands. What is going on here? First of all, it needs to be said that this the water the woman drank wasn’t magical. It was just water and a few ingredients like paper scrapings and dust- things that don’t cause curses. So how did it happen that a guilty woman’s reproductive organs came flying out in the end? Simple: a miracle. That’s right- this trial by ordeal was presided over by the Almighty Himself. Think about that compared to other cultures in which a suspect woman would be tossed in a lake with some weights on her. In every other culture’s trial by ordeal, no matter what it was, it was a miracle if you survived. In Israel’s trial by ordeal, it was a miracle if you became tragically infertile. Strange as this may sound, this is part of ANE culture, and God has guaranteed that He will protect and defend the innocent. A paranoid husband had no recourse to divorce her when she drank the water and- surprise, surprise- nothing happened. Is it not gracious and just- rather than sexist- that the only people who ever had the privilege of going before a Divine Judge were woman? God protected the innocent and potentially vulnerable from an overly jealous husband or the prejudice of a mob.

We move now to the touchy, touchy issue of Leviticus 12:1-8. This passage says that the time it would take for a mother who has just given birth to be made ritually clean is twice as long for a girl as for a boy. I’ll warn you, guys, this part may make you squeamish. What about childbirth makes a woman unclean? The vaginal bleeding does, not necessarily the child being born. So, what’s the deal with girls? During and after childbirth, it is very common for newborn girls to experience vaginal bleeding. WebMD says so. Rather than require that a newborn girl tough it out for her own purification ritual, the mother vicariously takes the purification upon herself. So, let’s do the math, everyone. Twice the vaginal bleeding = twice the number of days for ritual purification. (On an unrelated note, boys are to be circumcised the 8th day, the only day their prothombin levels are above 100%, allowing them to heal faster. God knows an awful lot about the medical world, it seems.)

This last selected example may make members of both genders a little squeamish. In Deuteronomy 25:11-12, if two men are fighting and one of their wives grabs the other man by the testicles to give her husband the advantage in the fight, her hand is- according to the English translation, anyway- to be cut off. If the translation is accurate, then this is the only example in the entire Law of mandatory mutilation (as opposed to other ancient and modern Middle Eastern cultures, in which the removal of a body part is a common penalty for, say, theft). Given the fact that lex talionis (an eye for an eye) is the standard by which ancient laws were adopted, it seems just a little strange that grabbing testicles results in the removal of a hand. How are they at all the same thing? NOW I’ve got you thinking! They aren’t the same thing. Would it help to go back to the Hebrew? I think so. What if I told you that the word translated “cut” can also mean “shave”, and what if I also told you that the word for “hand” is a very generic term for a “palm of the hand”? There’s a different Hebrew word that refers to the whole hand, by the way, and it isn’t used here. In fact this word for “palm” just refers to any curved surface, such as the business end of a spoon, the cupped hand, or a woman’s pubic region. I- and far more intelligent people- would suggest that lex talionis is adhered to perfectly in this example. The man’s testicles have been touched- a public embarrassment given the fact that this is just a neighborly spat that got out of hand- so the woman is to have a just retribution visited upon her. Both parties are made to feel ashamed in this way. I realize that this is very difficult to comprehend, since we’re modern-day Americans here, but this is how ANE law works. The punishment must always fit the crime. Hand mutilations doesn’t fit the crime, but shaving the genitals does, and neither are permanently damaging….mercifully.

Summary and Practical Application

To be sure, there are examples of men who exploit and denigrate women in Scripture, but they did not do so because they were righteous. They did so because they were evil. By the end of Judges, we find that women have become nameless victims of violence rather than powerful leaders like Achsah and Deborah. This is because Israel as a culture slipped into immorality and idolatry, not because a patriarchal society is inherently demeaning to women. For instance, Samson is an example of a man who is so sexually driven that women are no longer his helper but mere traitors, harlots, and tempters. Israeli monarchs fall quickly into polygamy and other sins of immorality, meaning that women were made more vulnerable than in the patriarchy. The government, not the husband, had the rights and the power. Yet the human authors of the Bible maintained the Edenic ideal; they still wrote of the inherent value of women. Even after Israel was conquered completely by invaders, the Elephantine papyri reveal that women were able to buy and sell, inherit property, and rise from slavery to a role in the temple, becoming scribes and musicians in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Myers’ Discovering Eve reveals that the position of women in Israel did not truly degrade until Israel was under the control of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Persians completely objectified women, and the Greco-Roman culture foisted a duality onto everything– body and soul, good and evil, and male and female. Women became associated with the body and evil, while men became associated with good and soul.

Jesus and His followers worked greatly to fix what human religion, philosophy, and pride had created. Christ treated women as valuable, praising them for their hard work and their faith. He healed broken hearts and bodies, and His apostles did the same for many years after His Ascension. It remains for the Church today to  teach the world around us the equal value God has placed on men and women both, to continue the work of restoration Christ began 2000 years ago, a work that will be completed one day when He makes all things new, and the sword between sexes can be beaten into ploughshares at last.

Up Next: Returning to Eden

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, Bible Study, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Doctrine, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Extramarital Sex as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

Well, let’s recap. So far, I’ve described the marital formula given by God in Genesis 1-2, and I’ve identified homosexuality and polygamy as distortions of God’s plan for human marriage and sex. The marital formula was a necessary foundation– a man leaves his family and cleaves unto his wife. Identifying homosexuality as a distortion is important in our culture because there is an attempt by a very vocal segment of the populace to redefine marriage and family. Identifying polygamy as a distortion is necessary because that same group would like very much to prove that there is no biblical foundation for the nuclear family. We now move on to a very obvious distortion: adultery and premarital sex. Or, perhaps it is not so obvious to some.

I believe emphasizing this distortion is important for two reasons. First of all, those external to Christianity need to realize that Judeo-Christian beliefs are consistent and not biased. It is not homosexuality alone that is wrong; it is any sex outside of biblical marriage. Secondly, it would seem that we within Christianity need to remind ourselves of the danger of falling into sin. Not a week goes by that a religious leader doesn’t make the paper because of immorality. We need to guard our hearts from lust, protect our churches and families from temptations, and walk humbly with God. It does not do us well to attack homosexuality politically and not be clean ourselves from the sins that could lead us astray.

Brief Historical Background (It’s all basically the same.)

Adultery was a capital offense is most Ancient Near Eastern cultures. The Laws of Ur-Nammu condemn a man who sleeps with another man’s wife, a wife who initiates sex with another man, or any man that sleeps with a slave girl he is not married to. The Code of Hammurabi condemns both participants in an adulterous affair, but a husband is able to request that his wife be spared. Middle Assyrian laws absolve a man who unknowingly sleeps with another man’s wife, but otherwise both are put to death. Later Assyrian laws leave the wife’s punishment up to her husband. Ancient Hittite laws permit the husband of an adulterous woman to kill his wife and her co-adulterer if he catches them in the act, however, if he does not catch them in the act, he must either absolve both or neither from guilt.

The Pentateuch, Adultery, and Premarital Sex

As far as the Genesis narrative goes, Joseph is accused by Potiphar’s wife of adultery and is jailed for it. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and loses his birthright because of it. Abraham tried to trick Pharaoh and Abimelech, king of Gerar into believing Sarah was his sister, and Isaac attempted the same deception. It’s obvious from reading each of these accounts that these pagan cultures all saw adultery as a great sin (Genesis 20:9). Strange as it may seem to us, murder is actually a lesser sin than adultery in these cultures. This is interesting, since some see the violence of the Old Testament as evidence that ancient peoples were somewhat barbaric, but they would look on our cultural with utter revulsion. These narratives also record God’s disapproval of adultery. He sends plagues on Egypt and threatens Abimelech with death. Why did God act so severely?

As I hinted at in my post on polygamy, there is a theological and a practical level to every sin. On the practical level- the earthly level- sins are offenses against those around us or against ourselves. We commit these sins due to our own fleshly desires, thoughts, wills, and wishes. On the second level- the upper, theological level- every sin flies in the face of God’s goodness, mercy, love, justice, and holiness. We worship God with our lips, perhaps, but serve another master with our thoughts and actions. “Against Thee- Thee only- have I sinned,” says David in the Psalms. Years before David’s confession, Joseph replied to Potiphar’s wife’s seductive attempts by simply saying: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

As for the Mosaic Law, the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) is very clear and absolute in its terms, but the tenth commandment prohibits even desiring another man’s wife as well. (Remember that the Ten Commandments are written in the masculine gender for linguistic reasons but are for all of Israel to follow.) Deuteronomy’s expansion on this 10th commandment is interesting in light of the temptation to desire what is not yours. In his “The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law”, Stephen Kaufman points out that the expansion on the 10th commandment in Deuteronomy 25 forbids Jews from owning unjust weights, not simply using them (that would fall under “theft” in the 10 Commandments.) The idea is that Israelites were not permitted to knowingly put themselves in a situation which would cause them to break the 10th Commandment, so incorrect weights could not even be owned or made, lest they tempt someone to steal. In Leviticus 18:20 and 20:10, Israelites and foreigners alike are forbidden to commit adultery, and- like homosexuality- extramarital sex will result in the removal of any nation that practices on a massive scale, according to these passages. Adultery and premarital sex are also abominations in the broad sense. In Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, and Deuteronomy 22, the punishment for adultery is death.

Why was adultery and premarital sex such a big deal to God? Christopher Wright addresses this question in his essay “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue.” Wright suggests that adultery goes beyond mere personal morality and extends to the social, economic, and theological stability of individuals, families, and nations. The idea here is that God takes any threat to the nuclear family seriously because a stable household was the social basis for continued worship of God. A breakdown in family relationships would result in the breakdown in national Israel’s relationship with God. This is especially true in Israel because it began as a theocracy, and the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people. As Wright observes, “Adultery strikes at the very heart of the household by shattering the sexual integrity of the marriage.” Every adulterous act in Israel was of national- not simply private- concern. In light of Wright’s observations, I would further suggest that- while the United States is not identical to or in any way linked with national Israel- the principle remains the same. Our stability, education, economics, military, government, and- yes- religious devotion is intimately associated with the family unit. If the family unit is destroyed or degraded, a nation cannot maintain its stability. In this way, I would suggest that divorce, adultery, and premarital sex are far more deadly to society than homosexuality privately practiced. Redefining marriage is a completely different issue that I will save for another day due to its implications in American law, but I believe that we should make our priority strengthening and stabilizing heterosexual marriages if we wish to see increased stability in our nation. This will only be done by a return to Judeo-Christian values and- most importantly- the power of the Gospel to transform lives and homes.

The Prophets and Poets on Adultery

The verb “na’ap” (to commit adultery) occurs 24 times in the prophets, primarily in Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Israel’s turning from the Covenant in sin and idolatry was a case of spiritual adultery, breaking the bonds of a covenant relationship. God compares Israel to Hosea’s own adulterous wife, Jeremiah records God saying, “I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and your neighings after lovers!”, and Ezekiel describes Israel to an “adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!” What is Israel’s punishment?

“I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords.” – Ezekiel 16:38, 40

Psalm 50 condemns those who “keep company with adulterers”, and Psalm 51 reveals David’s understanding of his actions as being ultimately against God. Job makes it a point to emphasize his sexual purity in chapter 31. Proverbs 6:25 warns against lusting after a woman, and it portrays the adultress in chapter 7 as impudent, pretending to be religious- she needs to earn money to pay religious vows. She uses flattery and beauty to seduce a man, who is compared to an ox being taken to a slaughterhouse.

Practical Application and Summary

The bottom line in all of this is that death is the end result of adultery in God’s eyes. Adultery and premarital sex destabilize the marital relationship, which in turn destabilize children, businesses, schools, and- in our case- churches. The nuclear family is the building block of society, and no society can stand for long if too many blocks are moved or tilted. We Christians would do well to heed the call of the 10th commandment as well as the 7th- it is not just adultery, but the lust  for a relationship that is not yours to have, that must be avoided. Jesus would remind us that it is the inner man that gives rise to the outer man, and that we are all subject to sinful passions if we are not controlled by the Spirit. No man or woman, no matter how godly they may be, can be unphased or unaffected by such powerful desires. We must beware and be accountable. We must also be wary of people who use religion as justification for sexual impropriety, as the prostitute in Proverbs 7 did.

Yet extramarital sex and lust are indeed rampant in our society. How then shall we live? For starters, even the Mosaic Law implicitly grants that we must be pitiful and compassionate. For sins such as idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:16, 13:9), premeditated murder (Deut 19:11), and malicious false witness (Deuteronomy 19:21), the Israelites are told “your eye shall not pity” or “you shall not spare them.” There was no redemption price to be paid in lieu of capital punishment, unlike many other sins. In cases of immorality, there is no prohibition against having compassion and pity. The implication is that the death penalty for immorality is not absolute, depending on circumstances. This fact is made certain in Proverbs 6:35, when we are told that a husband would not accept the ransom price from a man who had an affair with his wife. The fact that a ransom price was rejected means that such a price could be offered in the first place. There was room for mercy within the Law. After all, Hosea pardoned his wife Gomer (poor woman), and,  iIn the Gospels, Joseph determined to put Mary away privately rather than have her put on trial. David’s prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51 is perhaps most telling of all. He admits his sin against the Almighty and asks that a clean heart and a right spirit be put within him. David recognizes that only God can cleanse what has been defiled.

Believers must stand firm on the importance of purity and chastity, and they must be wary of being led astray by temptations from without and within. They must guard their hearts diligently and proactively. For those who have fallen, we must restore those who repent in a spirit of meekness. That is not a New Testament concept alone, though justification and cleansing from sin ultimately occurred in the New Testament at the Cross. No, the Law itself allows pity and compassion on the fallen, and we are better for it if we can forgive with God’s help. We can introduce the lost to the One who paid the ransom price for sin Himself, and we can demonstrate true love in our daily lives. In this, we work to fulfill both Law and Grace in our own way.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and- finally- the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. Stay tuned!

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Polygamy as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

We’ve talked already about God’s design for human sexuality, and we’ve addressed homosexuality as a distortion of that design. Now I’d like to address the issue of polygamy. Opponents of traditional marriage will often bring up the subject of polygamy in the Bible, noting that not only are there some famous biblical examples, but there are also specific laws concerning concubines within Scripture itself. The obvious purpose in bringing up these “alternative lifestyles” is to demonstrate that multiple versions of “biblical marriage” exist, leaving room to justify a variety of behaviors and weakening the case against same-sex “marriage.” So what do we do with these accusations? Is it true that God has provided for and blessed more forms of marriage than the Edenic model in Genesis 1-2?

One thing that can be said for sure is that the Edenic model is considered the norm throughout Scripture. Genesis 2 and Jesus in Matthew 19 echo the “husband and wife” formula for marriage. Scattered throughout the centuries in between are countless “one man-one woman” marriages mentioned specifically in the Pentateuch. The Mosaic Law always uses the “husband and wife” formula rather than “wives”, Solomon tells his son to “rejoice in the wife [singular]” of his youth in Proverbs 5:18 and again in Ecclesiastes 9:9, and Malachi 2:15 speaks of a man who is not faithful to the “wife of his youth.” While polygamy does occur, it is clearly outside of the biblical norm.

It is interesting to note that, while polygamy was assumed in Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and a variety of other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures, it is relatively rare in Scripture. When it does occur, modern readers of Scripture are often surprised that there is no explicit condemnation of the practice. However, the Author of Scripture clearly expresses Divine disapproval in more subtle, yet more powerful, ways within the narrative itself- even within the grammar and literary structure. We must remember that the Bible isn’t a book of moralizations or simple lessons, like a Christianized “Aesop’s Fables.” It is the revelation of God and His works to man.

Lamech, Abraham, and Jacob as polygamists

The first polygamist in Scripture is Lamech, a man who bragged to his wives that he had murdered a man, inviting God to judge him worse than Cain was judged. The narrative contains no explicit condemnation of Lamech, but he is portrayed as an evil, rebellious man in just a few verses. Lamech’s polygamy is mentioned three times in this passage, underscoring his sin and removing all possibility that God had approved of polygamy prior to the Flood. In the genealogies in Genesis 4-5, it’s also interesting to note that Lamech is the 7th descendent of Adam through Cain’s line, while Enoch- the man who walked with God- is the seventh descendent of Adam through the godly line of Seth. The parallelism between the two men is clear- there is godliness and monogamy contrasting godlessness and polygamy.

The first case of polygamy committed by a believer is, of course, Abraham. Abraham had come from a land of polytheism and polygamy (worship of multiple gods and multiplying of wives go hand-in-hand throughout history.) Believing that God would make good on His covenant promise to provide land, descendants, and blessing through a son he would have with Sarah, Abraham had journeyed to Canaan. In an infamous period of weakness, Abraham agrees with his barren wife that it would be best to impregnate a slave girl named Hagar in order to provide a son. While this practice seems strange to us, it was actually quite common for wealthy people in Abraham’s day, since that would prevent the wife from experiencing the embarrassment of allowing her husband to marry a second woman. “If the marriage proved to be infertile…the wife was able to present one of her slave girls, sometimes specially purchased, to her husband to produce children for their own marriage…The authority over the children resulting from the union belonged not to the slave girl who bore them but to the chief wife,” according to Martin J. Selman’s essay “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Humanly speaking, Hagar was viewed as Abraham’s wife, however, God did not see her in this way. Not only was she not the wife of the Covenant with Abraham, but Abraham’s relationship with her had broken the marriage paradigm set forth in Genesis 1-2. When God speaks in the narrative, Sarah is called “your wife” while Hagar is called “the slave girl of Sarah.” When Hagar ran away, it is no accident that God tells her to go back to Sarah, not Abraham. In addition to the obvious evidence, we find there is a more subtle hint that Hagar’s relationship with Abraham was not condoned by God. Ray McAllister and Andre Wenin have both pointed out the similarities between Genesis 3 and Genesis 16. Just as Eve took the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband, Sarah took her slave girl and gave her to Abraham. As Adam “listened to the voice of” Eve, Abraham “listened to the voice of” Sarah. The similarities between the wording of the narratives are not accidental. If nothing else, the Bible underscores the strife and discord between Hagar and Sarah and between Ishmael and Isaac.

Jacob’s polygamy is a second infamous account, but it is used more often than Abraham’s polygamy because the “Children of Israel” (Jacob) are descended from all four wives/concubines. Is Jacob an example of Divine approval of marriages outside the Edenic account? Jacob clearly intended on only marrying Rachel at the beginning, but he was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob continued to work for Rachel, voluntarily agreeing to follow local customs in marrying both women. Bilhah and Ziplah are called concubines in Genesis 35:22 and wives in Genesis 37:2, they seem to have the same rights as wives, and all four women’s children are given equal standing in the family. However, the entire narrative of Jacob’s family is one filled with jealousy, revenge, strife, and lack of self-control. The children of Jacob are filled with all the same sorts of problems as their parents!

Jacob himself goes through a radical transformation, though. At one point, He encounters God Himself and begins a wrestling match with Him. At the culmination of the match- which God permitted to go on for much, much longer than it should have- God hit “the hand of Jacob’s thigh”, creating a permanent limp. Why did God do this? Stanley Gevirtz’s essay “Of Patriarchs and Puns” suggests that it was a graphic Divine rebuke of Jacob’s polygamy, because He struck Jacob in a region associated with the genitals. (“Hand of Jacob’s thigh” would be the curved region of the inner thigh– near enough to the mark without damaging all chances of further reproduction.) A clear behavioral shift occurs afterwards, suggesting Jacob (I mean Israel) got the message. Prior to this encounter, Jacob has sexual relations with all four women. After the event, however, sexual relations are mentioned exclusively with Rachel, and only Rachel gives birth to a child (35:18). While Jacob called both Rachel and Leah his wives in Genesis 30:26 and 31:50, Rachel is his singular wife by Genesis 44:27, and in the genealogy of Genesis 46, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah are referred to women who “bore to Jacob” children, but Rachel is called “Jacob’s wife Rachel.” (Genesis 46:15-25) It is clear in Scripture who the recognized wife was, and who the counterfeits were. Jacob began poorly, but ended righteously.

Wives, Concubines, and the Mosaic Law

In Exodus 21:7-11, we read the following:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, orher marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

Does this law support polygamy and concubinage, as claimed by opponents of traditional marriage? Hardly. This is one of many cases in the Old Testament of “case law.” The purpose of case law in the Ancient Near East is to determine what should happen in a given scenario. Case law does not make the scenario legitimate and legal. It only explains what should happen as a result of the given scenario. If case law in Exodus 21:7-11 legitimizes slavery, concubinage, and polygamy simply because it brings up the scenario, then Exodus 21:37 legitimizes theft by simply beginning with the words: “When someone steals an ox or a sheep…”! I would add as an aside that there are three situations in this passage, none of which deal with polygamy in actuality. If the master rejects the girl as a wife, she is to be freed by being bought back by the father. If the master’s son marries her, she is to be treated as a daughter and not a slave. If the master marries a woman other than the girl, the girl is to be assured of all basic necessities including food, clothing, and shelter. In this third scenario “another wife” has the connotation of “a different wife”, meaning this third scenario doesn’t even deal with polygamy in the first place.

Another similar situation is found in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, in which the rights of the first-born son are dealt with:

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”

While some would argue that this passage assumes polygamy will occur, that interpretation is only valid if the intended meaning is that the man has two wives at the same time. That is by no means a requirement of the language or the context- even the grammar in the original Hebrew avoids requiring polygamy in this context. If, however, this case law does provide for a child of polygamy (as it’s tempting to read the Jacob narrative into the text), it is again an example of case law, not necessarily a text condoning polygamy.

Polygamy in Judges, Samuel, and the Kings

In the book of Judges, Gideon, Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon are all judges who had multiple wives. In Gideon’s case, polygamy is again paired with idolatry, as the two are frequently connected throughout history. Judges 19-21 reveals that polygamy and concubinage were not unusual by the end of Judges. However, the world of Judges is not a pleasant place. A hedonistic and decadent society, the Israel of Judges features such appalling violence as a Levite (of the priestly tribe) and his host sacrificing the Levite’s concubine to avoid homosexual rape. When the concubine is left for dead in the morning (but not necessarily actually dead yet), the Levite butchers the concubine (who had previously been unfaithful to him) and sends pieces of her body throughout Israel. When combined with the commentary in 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, Judges is a powerful condemnation of immoral sexual activities, not evidence of God’s permissiveness on the matter.

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles also tell a story of further sexual distortion. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, is a polygamist, as are Saul, David, and Solomon. Six of 20 Judean kings have more than one wife, and Ahab of the northern kingdom has multiple wives. This does not mean, however, that God is permissive, approves, or blesses polygamy at this point. Hannah and her rival “sister wife” experience great personal grief and anguish, and polygamous kings dealt with national and personal consequences. With the exception of two incidents, all instances of polygamy are portrayed as disobedience to God. I’d like to take a moment to address these two supposed exceptions to the rule.

David- in spite of polygamy- is called a man after God’s own heart in 1Samuel 13:14. In his book Polygamy in the Bible, Ronald du Preez makes a strong case against this justification of a non-traditional “biblical” marriage. Du Preez points out that David was not called a man after God’s heart while he was married at all- this event takes place while Saul is still on the throne and all the Philistines still look like Philistines underneath their clothing. (Some of you will get that later.) Du Preez further notes a pattern in David’s life: servitude, supplication, salvation, silence, and sin. As this pattern repeats over and over throughout David’s life, his many wives are only brought up while in the “sin” stage, which is also a time of turmoil and judgment in David’s life. This careful placement of references to polygamy are clearly meant to draw the reader’s attention to Divine disapproval- they are not an accident or coincidence.

Besides du Preez’s pattern, we also notice that Nathan’s parable to David after his sin with Bathsheba also expresses disapproval. However, some would have us believe that Nathan’s statements to David constitute a blessing from God on polygamy:

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” – 2Samuel 12:7-8

People who favor the Divine blessing view completely ignore God’s judgment in verse 11 of this same passage. Because of his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, God says that he will give his wives, in turn, to another. This person turns out to be Absalom, David’s own son. It is unthinkable that this act of giving meant that adultery and incest were in turn blest by God, as they are abominations in Leviticus 18:8. Absalom is clearly a villain in Scripture, a hedonistic rebel who dies tragically. God is allowing something to occur in spite of the fact that it is sin. In cases of this type of permissiveness, the language says that God does what He is technically only allowing to take place. Furthermore, if giving David the wives of Saul was meant to be a blessing of polygamy, then David, in turn, would be committing incest by sleeping with Ahinoam, the mother of his wife Michal. If this is the case, David should have been put to death for something God had blessed! Instead, saying “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your armsspeaks of possessions, not marriage. David became the keeper of all that was Saul’s. Besides all this, Nathan’s parable hints at monogamy by pointing out that the righteous Uriah had only one “lamb” as opposed to the wealthy “shepherd-turned-thief” David. It seems quite clear that David returned to a monogamous state in 2Samuel 20:3, after God’s judgment had taken place. In this verse, David has retaken the throne from Absalom, but he puts his wives and concubines in a separate estate, providing for them and protecting them. It is stated that he does not “go in unto” them anymore. This means that David is strictly monogamous with Bathsheba, a correction of his previous mistakes.

The second supposed exception to the rule regarding polygamy comes in the form of a King named Jehoash in 2Kings and Joash in 2 Chronicles. Let’s take a look at the two relevant passages.

2Kings 12:1-3: “In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.”

2Chronicles 24:1-3: “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.”

Obviously, it is this second passage that causes those who wish to undermine traditional marriage to sit up and pay attention. Notice above that the structure is the same in each passage, even if the wording is changed. Joash begins reigning when he was 7, and he reigns for 40 years. He did right in the sight of God thanks to the guidance of the priests. In the Kings passage, Joash sinned through idolatrous polytheism, the worship of multiple gods. In the parallel reference, Jehoiada the priest gave him two wives, which we have already stated is connected with idolatry: two negative events are placed in parallel at the end of the writing concerning Joash. It should also be added that in the Hebrew, there’s a word which does not usually get translated in modern versions: the consecutive waw. This word can be translated “and” (“And Jehoiada got for him two wives….”) or it can be translated “but” or “except” (“Except Jehoiada got for him two wives…”) The use of “except” in this passage parallels perfectly the negative “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away” in the Kings passage. Idolatry and polygamy are portrayed negatively in parallel to each other, exactly as we have seen in other passages throughout Scripture. Clearly, Joash’s polygamy is not the subject of Divine blessing.

Summary and Application

So we see from this little trip through the Old Testament that God consistently forbids and disapproves of polygamy in all forms. The attempt made by some to question the concept of “biblical marriage” by introducing these false marital forms falls absolutely flat. God does not bless these lifestyles, and He clearly sees them as adulterous. We’ve also seen that there is a relationship between polytheism (worship of multiple gods) and polygamy, even if Yahweh is among the other gods in the pantheon. Today in modern-day America, lifestyles beyond the boundaries of the biblical marriage format are- at the core- the result of worshipping something or someone besides the God of the Bible. It is in casting down the spiritual high places that we can return to a truly biblical understanding of God’s plan for marriage.

However, let’s not forget that God is merciful to nations and individuals who have not chosen rightly in this area. God gave the world before the Flood 120 years during which His Spirit “strove with man.” God did indeed bless Abraham, Jacob, and David in spite of their polygamy because He is good, gracious, and loving, not because their lifestyle choices were always right. Goodness and mercy are in God Himself, not in us, as is evidenced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. God tends to the needs of the victims of abusive relationships, just as He tended to poor Hagar, the slave. He met people where they were at in life, such as Jacob, and brought them up to places only He could take them.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. You can read the next post on adultery by clicking this link.

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Homosexuality as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

I’ll just give you a warning: this post isn’t exactly going to be family-friendly. Oh, I’ll do my best to be as professional as possible about the whole thing, but the Bible is anything but PG-rated when it comes to the facts of life. We live in a fallen world in which all manner of immorality occurs. The Bible is frank without being vulgar, but there are some things that just aren’t pleasant to have to deal with. So…that’s my warning.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, it is very obvious that heterosexual monogamy is considered the norm. Not that homosexuality or polygamy in a variety of forms didn’t exist, but simply that these were distortions of the real thing. Let me first be very clear on something: the Bible does not castigate a person for their temptations. Jesus Himself experienced temptation by an external Tempter. No, it is not the desire to do wrong that is sin. It is meditating on, lusting after, or acting on those temptations. Whether it is nature or nurture that produces homosexual desires is- in a sense- beside the point. The existence of the temptation is not permission to sin. We would say the same thing of a man desiring a woman on a computer screen or in the next cubicle. However, we need not burden someone beyond what they can bear. God didn’t say “stop being tempted”, He reminded us through the Apostle Paul to “walk in the Spirit” so that we could avoid fulfilling the lust of the flesh. We are told to cast cares upon Him, to abide in Him, to meditate on His Word, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is not the temptation that defines us; it is our true identity- in Christ or apart from Him- that makes us who we are. The Spirit and the Word have the power to transform despite our own innate failings and weaknesses.

Historical Background

To get started, a little history is in order, because it will better help us understand the context of the Old Testament. There is no clear law concerning homosexuality outside of Israel until the 2nd millennium BC. The Assyrian Law (Mesopotamians were known for being a little on the permissive side) states that if a man is accused of being homosexual in public and the accusation cannot be proven, the slanderer must be given “50 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s service for one full month; they shall cut off his hair; moreover, he shall pay 3600 shekels of lead.” (“The Middle Assyrian Laws,” translated by Martha Roth)  The same set of Assyrian laws requires that a man who rapes another man should be turned into a eunuch. Because the rapist has robbed a man of masculinity, his masculinity would also be taken from him. Near Eastern Law is big on the concept of “lex talionis” (an eye for an eye), therefore Assyrian law shows that homosexuality was not an acceptable thing to be involved in, as the punishment was itself painful and embarrassing. This concept of lex talionis will be very important later when we talk about the treatment of women in Jewish society. Right now, the point to be made is that homosexuality has been seen as unnatural from our earliest available texts. To even accuse someone of homosexual activity was serious business.

Other Middle Assyrians laws completely forbid homosexual activity, except within the religious cults, where cross-dressing prostitutes also functioned as actors, dancers, and musicians. (This is not to say, by the way, that performing in the Arts is inherently effeminate. There are many very masculine men who have been involved in these areas in history.) These cults had male prostitutes who dressed and acted as women, however, they were not respected by the general population and were considered social pariahs, often referred to as man-women or dog-women. Male prostitutes were thought of as a parody of womanhood, being considered a man who has been turned into a woman by the goddess Ishtar. (Jensen, The Relevance of the Old Testament) Beyond the cults, penalties for homosexuality were generally only levied against those that played the role of the male in a homosexual act. This method of punishment is true of most cultures that criminalized homosexuality.

In contrast, early Egyptian myths and royals seem somewhat favorable toward homosexuality. Imagery and religious texts describe this behavior in sometimes great detail. In the 15th Century, however, attitudes changed. The now-famous Book of the Dead linked homosexuality with pedophilia, and the religious attitudes of the time caused a cultural shift away from permissiveness. According to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice, homosexuality in Egypt was completely outlawed about 300 years before Christ.

Noah and Sodom in Genesis

While there is no secular reference to homosexuality in the cultures surrounding Israel (Canaanites and other Semitic peoples), the Bible itself has something to say on this topic. The first incident that is often brought up is Ham’s viewing of a drunken Noah. I believe this to be a poor example of God’s statements toward homosexuality. We are told that Ham saw Noah naked, but we are not told that he “uncovered his father’s nakedness”- a euphemism in Scripture for sleeping with a man’s wife. We are only told that he “saw” his father’s nakedness. Furthermore, Ham’s two brothers remedied the situation by simply covering their father with their backs to him. If that is the remedy, the problem was not one of sexual activity. No, it would rather seem that Ham was extremely disrespectful toward his father, if not somewhat voyeuristic. Ham’s “seeing” in the Hebrew deals with “looking searchingly” and telling his brothers has overtones of delight. Rather than addressing the issue of homosexuality, I believe that this passage warns against making a mockery of what is private and being too interested or curious in things that are inappropriate. This is certainly a pertinent warning in the age of the Internet.

Perhaps the most well-known account of homosexuality in the Bible is the infamous incident at Sodom in which Sodom is destroyed for its evil just after Lot and most of his family escape. Some have argued that Sodom’s great sin was not homosexuality. They claim that the men of Sodom wanted to “know” the angelic visitors in the sense of hospitality. The problem is that the Hebrew word for know here is used of the case of incest between Lot and his daughters just a few paragraphs later, making hospitality completely a moot point. “Being good neighbors” simply doesn’t fit the context. James DeYoung’s book titled Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined reveals that- in context- only sexual sin can be in view here due to the literary structure of the book of Genesis. Just prior to Isaac’s birth, Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, which are subsequently destroyed. Then, Lot’s daughters get their father drunk and essentially rape him. Following this narrative, there is the issue of Abraham claiming that Sarah is his sister which nearly gets Isaac claimed by the wrong father! In each of these three cases, sexual immorality occurs (or is in danger of occurring), divine judgment falls, and- in a sense- Abraham, his family, and his descendants are in danger. There is a literary coherence here- these three accounts are put together on purpose. It is further claimed, however, that the issue of Sodom is its attempted rape- not simply the act of homosexuality. However, to interpret the Hebrew verb (“yada”- to know) as “rape”  rather than “have sex with” forces some incredible words out of Lot’s mouth: “Don’t rape my visitors. Here are my daughters, both virgins- rape them!” It also requires every single instances of “knowing” someone in the biblical sense to possibly indicate rape. This makes absolutely no sense.

The Mosaic Law

We move now to the Mosaic Law. I will say more about the nature of the Mosaic Law within a theocracy, lex talionis, and case law later. For now suffice it to say that the punishment does fit the crime, but not in the way you might suspect. Leviticus 18:22 says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Unlike other ANE laws, both men were found guilty and penalized. Strange as it may sound, this is virtually unheard of in the ancient world, according to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Normally, only the male/aggressor role is penalized. For those concerned with the issue of lesbianism, remember that there is a certain egalitarianism present in the Old Testament. Men were representative in language, but “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” in practice. All 10 Commandments, for instance, are written as to a male in the original language, however, God clearly intends for both genders to obey His commandments. Additionally, Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and the Customs in Judaism make it clear that lesbianism was also banned by the Mosaic Law, according to nearly every Rabbinic interpretation.

In Leviticus 18:22, the punishment is being cut off from the people (Israel), while in Leviticus 20:13, the punishment is death. It is not an either/or scenario. They are removed from the drama of Israel’s unfolding history- a tremendous privilege- and their life is also forfeit. Homosexuality- among other sins- is an abomination. While all sexual sins in Leviticus 18 are collectively called abominations, homosexual intercourse is the only sin specifically given this distinction from the entire list. While some things are an abomination because they cause ritual impurity, other actions are called abominable in the sense that they are “utterly incompatible with the will of God and … are viewed by Him with repugnance because of its evil.” (P.J. Harland)

There are those that try to connect the type of homosexuality prohibited in the Old Testament with ritual cultic prostitution. The main evidence given for this line of thinking is the commandment forbidding homosexuality in Leviticus 18, which is preceded immediately by the commandment forbidding sacrificing children to Molech. However, the Leviticus 20 passage refers to homosexuality while also prohibiting incest and bestiality without mentioning idolatry specifically. While it is true that Leviticus is largely concerned with not being like the surrounding Canaanites, there is always a reason for not being like them. God never tells Israel to be unique just for the sake of being different.

Another charge often brought up is that these commandments are part of the Mosaic Law and are therefore not applicable today. The role of the Mosaic Law is a complex one that I won’t spend time on at this point, however, I would like to point out the punishment for homosexuality explained in Leviticus 18:26-29:

“But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either thenative or the stranger who sojourns among you  (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),  lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.  For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people.

It is worth noting that, while the commandment against homosexuality was given to the Jews, these same sexual sins brought judgment upon non-Jewish nations prior to Israel’s arrival. When it comes to sexuality, God holds us all to the same standard. Sin is sin, no matter when or where you live. There is a universal moral law, regardless of whatever else may be true of the Mosaic Law.

What about Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan?

Homosexuals will often point to two key relationships in the Old Testament as evidence of God blessing homosexual activity. Ruth and Naomi are the first target, primarily because they kiss each other and weep together, and they live together alone. However, both women were previously married to men. Ruth also expresses incredible Abraham-like faith, throwing in her lot with God’s people rather than returning to paganism, and she is loyal to her mother-in-law against all odds. Naomi plays something of a matchmaker, but she is by no means a lover to Ruth. Their relationship is clearly mother-daughter, and any attempt to see it otherwise is reading into the text something that is simply not there. Ruth is, in fact, a beautiful love story which anticipates the arrival of Boaz at the end. Ruth’s inclusion in the line of David and Christ would be impossible if the Leviticus 18 and 20 prohibitions cutting her off from the people of Israel were followed. Speculation such as this is completely unwarranted.

1Samuel 18 says that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1Samuel 19:1 tells us that Jonathan “took great delight” in David. 1Samuel 20 tells us that they swore by their love for each other, kissed each other, wept with each other, etc. When Jonathan dies, David says in 2Samuel 1:26 that Jonathan’s love was better than the love of women. So was David gay, or possibly bisexual?

In short, no. David was certainly not strictly homosexual, and neither was Jonathan, as both men had wives (several, in David’s case) and children. What about “loving David as his own soul”? Would it surprise you to learn that, in Hebrew, this is not the first time that phrase was used of two males? In Genesis 44:30, Judah tells his brother Joseph that their father Jacob’s “life is bound up in the boys’ life.” The two phrases are of different wording in English, but the Hebrew behind them is identical. David and Jonathan share a bond similar to that of Jacob and his son Benjamin. There is a father-son affection between them; Jonathan was David’s mentor and friend. (We forget that Jonathan was old enough to be David’s father, being at least 20 years older.)

What about Jonathan’s love for David? The word for love here (“ahab”) has a variety of meanings. Just a few verses after we find that David and Jonathan loved one another, we are told in 1Samuel 18:16 that all of Israel loved David– the exact same Hebrew word is used. David may have had multiple wives, but frankly, reading sexual love into this verse is quite a stretch! That Jonathan took great delight in David is not unusual, his father King Saul is said to delight in David as well in 1Samuel 18:22. The word for delight simply means to “find favor.” In context, this seems to indicate political favor or professional interest.

As for two men kissing, we need to stop reading the Bible like 21st-century Americans! Other cultures permit kissing between men without reading sexuality into the action. In our own country, men were much more physically affectionate with each other than they are today. Men kiss throughout the books of Samuel with no sexual intent: Samuel kisses David (1Samuel 10), David kisses Absalom (2Samuel 14:33), Absalom kissed the people visiting him in 2Samuel 15, David kissed his friend Barzillai (2Samuel 19:40), and Joab kissed his enemy Amasa (2Samuel 20:9). As for the exchange of clothing and deep commitment expressed in 1 Samuel 18, this passage details the sealing of a covenant between David and Jonathan.In giving David his cloak and armor, Jonathan was symbolically handing David the throne. The David and Jonathan saga is about God’s will being providentially attended to, the power of extreme selflessness, and the importance of mentorship. It has nothing to do with homosexuality, and any attempt to read homosexuality into the text is simply revisionism.

Summary and Practical Application

So what are we to make of all this? Clearly homosexuality is forbidden, lacking any positive example in the Bible. This is not a strictly religious position, as most cultures are historically in opposition to the practice. Is there any grace to be found in a seemingly-severe textual landscape? In a word- yes. It is true that the Canaanites were driven from the land in part because of homosexual activity (see Leviticus 18 and 20). However, Genesis 15:16 reveals that God did not swiftly and immediately destroy the Canaanites, but graciously gave those committing abominations 400 years of probation. In that time, they were given opportunities to learn of  God through national Israel, and many did join with God’s people before those nations were wiped out.

Sodom, too, saw grace of another sort. Abraham rescued Lot and all of the inhabitants of Sodom from a coalition of city-states that had invaded (Genesis 14) before Sodom’s destruction took place. They knew of Abraham and the God he served, and they knew, too, of Lot’s faith- though his heart quickly changed. Had Sodom held ten righteous people, God would have spared that city a second time (Genesis 18:32).

Under theocracy in Israel, and due to the presence of the Tabernacle/Temple and the indwelling Shekinah, judgment of homosexuality seems to us to be severe. Righteous justice may demand the death of the person, but that does not speak to what must be done with a person’s soul. A repentant sinner- no matter what the sin- can be saved and not lost because of God’s grace, mercy, and love. A person struggling with deep-rooted sin need not feel only God’s wrath, but also Divine grace and love. Consider Ezekiel 16:51, in which God reveals that Judah had multiplied abominations more than Sodom, including homosexuality and possibly bestiality. But what does God say in Ezekiel 18:31-32?

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?   For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

He goes on to promise blessings for His people, and promises to put His spirit within them in Ezekiel 36:27. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Christians, we must express disapproval of homosexual practice, but we must do so with an awareness of our own fallenness. We must distinguish between desires, orientation, and the actual homosexual lusts and acts. Homosexual lusts and actions are sins, but there are many, many more sins out there that we all struggle with every day. And God loves us anyway. Let us therefore love others by blending grace and righteousness until they seem to almost merge into the same thing. There are many with sexual wounds and physical illnesses because of this sin- it degrades and harms like all other sin. We should welcome them in the spirit of Truth and Love, and not blast with hate, even if our favorite chicken sandwich is on the line.

Next Post: Polygamy

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Human Sexuality: A Part of the Created Order

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve written one of these, but the latest cultural clashes have driven me out of the woodwork for a number of reasons. First off, I see lots of angry people. There are Christians who don’t seem to be very good at hating the sin and loving the sinner. There are liberals and homosexuals who have viciously declared (cultural) war on Christians. There are folks who just don’t seem to understand why Chick-fil-A is a big deal. The list just goes on and on. Social media, for all its many virtues, doesn’t really permit a very good discussion, so I’ve turned to the old, dusty blog to flesh out some thoughts. For this first post, I’m going to argue for a very specific view on marriage, based primarily in Genesis 1-2. This is the account not only of the creation, but of the first man and woman. In this account, Adam is made first, and then Eve. While the word “marriage” is never used in these chapters, (as some opponents of the biblical view of marriage have pointed out) it is described in Adam and Eve’s relationship, and the pattern for all future marriage relationships is prescribed by God Himself.

In Scripture, we can glean a few important points very early on. We can know that marriage has a number of characteristics. It is:

  1. Heterosexual- God created humans to be Male and Female, and He commanded that they “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.” While a heterosexual couple may be physically unable to have biological children due to any number of physical problems, a homosexual pairing is completely incapable of fulfilling this first command, even when both people are in perfect medical condition. Samuel H. Dresner has observed that “heterosexuality is at once proclaimed to be the creation order.” Genesis 1-2 is not merely a descriptive account of the first couple but a prescriptive theology for all time– a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.
  2. Dual- When God saw that it is not “good” for Man to be alone, He created Eve. This was always His intention, not an afterthought. Adam recognized he wasn’t complete without another. By the way, it is very significant that the word “Good” during the period of Creation deals primarily with completion and functionality, not with morality.
  3. Monogamous- A single rib is taken in making a single woman, and man and woman are singular in the first marriage. God has provided only for monogamy within marriage. Though righteous and unrighteous men and women within the Bible narrative have broken this commandment, they are not examples of marriages permitted by God.
  4. Egalitarian- While man and woman are biologically different, there is no indication of a hierarchy. Man is not greater than woman. Eve is not greater than Adam. Both are commanded at the beginning to take up the dominion of the earth. Both are blessed by God. Both are responsible in the act of procreation. The Bible is fundamentally egalitarian with respect to the relationships between the sexes, within marriage and without. Even calling Eve “a help meet for him [Adam]” expresses this equality. Rather than meaning that women take a fundamentally servile role, the word meet means “fit, equal”. The word for help is not one of subjugation. The same Hebrew word describes God as Israel’s helper, and He is by no means subject to them! Of the 21 times the word is used in Hebrew, 16 times it refers to God and 3 times it refers to a military ally. It is a word emphasizing a beneficent power, capable of doing great good. Inferiority is the last thing that the word could possibly mean. If you wanted a wordy translation of the Bible, then you could say that Eve is to be a “counterpart equal to Adam.” This is about being a true soulmate.
  5. Wholistic- It is no mistake that the generic term for humans in Genesis 1-2 is ha adam, and it includes both male and female. You can’t have one without the other, to echo a certain crooner. Both man and woman are made in God’s image, and- this is very significant as well- you cannot have a true view of the image of God in man without both sexes being present. On the marital level, on the communal level, in business and government and churches, God’s image is only expressed by both sexes working in union and communion with each other. The sexes complement each other perfectly. While the sexes are egalitarian in nature- they enjoy equality- that does not mean that they are not functionally and aesthetically different. “Let US create man in OUR own image…male and female created He THEM,” we are told of the Godhead’s creative act. The use of plural- while it may be a hint at the royal Trinity- is also a hint at what makes humans unique: God’s imagine within us corporately.
  6. Exclusive- The male-female marriage relationship is an exclusive one. The sexual relationship within marriage does not permit adultery, additional partners, or any other form of fornication. Jesus’ comments regarding lust, by the way, extend this exclusivity even into the thought life. Leaving and cleaving demands not just the obvious physical exclusivity, but also emotional and mental exclusivity. Priorities, traditions, and influences should be uniquely agreed upon by the couple.
  7. Permanent- Adam’s reference to Eve as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones” expresses both exclusivity and permanence. They were uniquely one flesh, and that could not be changed. It was his marriage vow, a formal covenant. It was an expression of “devotion and an unshakeable faith between humans; it connotes a permanent attraction which transcends genital union, to which, nonetheless, it gives union. (Collins, The Bible and Sexuality) Physical sexuality is given meaning by this marriage covenant.
  8. Intimate- Becoming one flesh emphasizes the physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual unity that is unique to the marriage experience. In other words, sexuality and marriage in the Bible is not simply about reproduction, as is so often claimed by some. It is about a oneness and intimacy that- unlike the emotional co-dependency of some heterosexual and all homosexual relationship- unites a couple on every level of human experience. This “become one flesh” scenario is hinted at being a process by the original language, by the way. It is not instantaneous. Transparency may take place slowly in a Fallen world, but Adam and Eve were initially not ashamed before one another.
  9. Procreative- Healthy married couples are commanded to have children. It is an additional blessing not associated with the intimacy of marriage or the communion of being made in God’s image. This is a distinct blessing that does not result from the other gifts of sexuality and marriage.

So we see that from Genesis 1-2, there was a specific requirement behind marriage’s design. It is not that Christians are to hate or fear those who do not follow this template. They should obey the Bible’s command to love those who are in sin or lost. It is not that Christians should deny rights to those who demand them- that is not the intention behind opposing homosexual unions. It is rather that- even if gay marriage is recognized by the government (as it most certainly will be)- it is still not an actual marriage. The command and pattern regarding marriage has already been given, and no individual or government can alter that pattern. “Rights” may be bestowed upon counterfeit marriages, but they are not authentic. Only the genuine article has God’s blessing. A marriage that does not meet these criteria is not a marriage at all. Some marriage- such as one in which there has been an affair- may be mended, but some- such as a homosexual union- cannot be mended because it was never a marriage in the first place. That self-identifying homosexuals are people with genuine, sincere feelings is a fact, but the union cannot be created if the necessary components are not present.

We must love those who do not follow God’s commands, but that is a subject for a different day requiring a whole new post, so I’ll end here for now. In the near future, I will address the Bible’s perspective regarding fornication, the denigration of women, and divorce. I’ll also be addressing the perfect picture of marriage in a fallen world (Song of Solomon) as well as some thoughts on how to address these issues in the culture.

The next post in this series (on homosexuality in the Bible) is now posted, followed by one addressing polygamy as a second biblical form of traditional marriage.

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An Open Letter to David Cloud

Casting Crowns

Bro. Cloud,

These days, I’m typically way too busy to write in this format, but an article wound up in my email that I find impossible to ignore. This article condemned West Coast Baptist Bible College and its founding church Lancaster Baptist Church. Those who know me best know that I rarely step up to defend Bible colleges, so this is a bit rare for me. In the article, you attacked WCBBC for adapting “CCM” music for its church services. The songs in question are Casting Crowns’ “Prayer for a Friend“, Hillsong’s “Stronger“, and MercyMe’s “Word of God Speak”, and I’ve attached links to websites that print out the lyrics for those who are unfamiliar. I found your article to be a bit all over the map, quite honestly, but I think I can boil down your primary statements to the following three items:

 

1. The style of CCM songs is inherently  sensual, seductive, sentimental, rebellious, and hypnotic.

2. The doctrines espoused by CCM music are unsound due to the connection with the charismatic movement.

3. Involvement in CCM music will lead churches and individuals to apostasy and ecumenism.

 

MercyMe

Let’s look at the first area: style. I am no expert on music theory, so I’m not going to address the specifics regarding chord structures. I do, however, think that I can address the issue of style. Is CCM music sensual and seductive? I assume by using these words, Bro. Cloud, you mean that the music itself is somehow erotic. To be honest, this seems a bit of a stretch when it comes to any of the songs cited. Perhaps historically some musicians masquerading as Christian were guilty of this, but CCM has matured significantly over the years. Furthermore, I would like to know in what way the music can be said to be rebellious. Is rebellion a spirit or an action, or can it be communicated strictly through music? The lyrics of the songs are far from rebellious, so you must mean that the music itself is inherently rebellious. Musically, the mood of the selected songs ranges from melancholy to contemplative to (dare I say it?) worshipful. The music itself is not harsh, grating, loud, or even energetic. Therefore, I must assume that you mean something in the chord structure is inherently rebellious, and yet there is nothing that seems to drive a listener to rebellion against anything.

It seems to me that all music can affect our emotions and thoughts. It can give us energy, make us sad, or fill us with joy. It can excite or calm. There’s nothing wrong with music driving us emotionally; it’s simply cause and effect. But what happens if the shoe is on the other foot? Does your church include an invitational hymn, Bro. Cloud? I sincerely doubt they sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” during that time. No, they probably sing something more like “Is Your All on the Altar?”, a hymn with all the plaintive bleating of a lost lamb. We choose songs that set the tone for what is being communicated, and the marching of the Army of the Lord is not appropriate for saints and sinners responding to the message. I daresay many have felt the call of God as a result of a well-placed hymn, and many a mission’s conference has benefited from a soloist’s rendition of “People Need the Lord”, which was also originally classified as CCM.

What about the doctrine of CCM music? Does the fact that charismatics create worship music mean that CCM music is infected with doctrinal distortions? In a word- no. Sure, there’s some chaff to be driven away, and that will happen in time. But really, Bro. Cloud, can you say much about a song like “Joy Bells”? That’s in most hymnals, and offers a cheesy, whimsical version of Christianity that flies in the face of human experience. What about “Every Day with Jesus”? I submit that every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before! Some days with Jesus, you burst into tears between the car and the front door. Some days with Jesus, you cling to Him because you don’t know what to do with what you faced that day. There is a richness in the bitterest moment on earth that- while not joyful or sweet- is still of tremendous value in the Christian walk. My point, Bro. Cloud, is that every style of music in Christian history includes some less-inspired lyrics. In your missions conferences, do you sing “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations”? If you do, then you sing a doctrinally-unsound hymn about the Church ushering in the Kingdom of God. Yet this song is in most hymnals. Do you sing “Joy to the World” as a Christmas song? This song refers to the 2nd Coming and has nothing to do with the Nativity and creates doctrinal confusion at the very least.

Fanny Crosby, the Ecumenical Hymn-writer

Now, about the songs mentioned: let’s analyze them. How about “Stronger” by Hillsong, since that is from a Pentecostal/A of G church? The death and resurrection of Christ, salvation and atonement, sinfulness of mankind, deity and eternality of Christ, etc. are all affirmed in this one song. That beats the socks off of some hymns! What the song does not mention in any explicit way is the so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, or “health and wealth” gospel. In other words, it in no way endorses false doctrine and is biblically sound. Therefore, I do not see any reason to avoid the song in a church service.

So what should we do, considering the denominational background of the musicians? Nothing! We Baptists love Fanny Crosby hymns, caring little that she regularly attended Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Reformed churches, was involved in the holiness movement, and finally settled with the Methodist church. Isaac Watts (the founder of English hymnody) followed after Reformed theology, which most IFBs would deny. John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” was Anglican. We accept hymns written by men and women with beliefs contrary to Scripture because the hymns themselves are sound; why treat other Christian music differently? (Incidentally, Isaac Watts desired strongly to break away from the Christian music of his day and write “original songs of Christian experience.” Is CCM categorically any different?)

“Word of God Speak” is by MercyMe, and it contains none of the mysticism it is accused of. Frankly, your accusations here absolutely baffle me. Devoid of any direction to view the “Word of God” as anything other than its normal, straight-forward meaning, we are left to assume that the song is either addressing the Bible or Christ Himself (John 1). Because either could be meant, the phrase probably has a double meaning. It calls the believer to shift his focus from himself to God, listening to Him rather than praying selfishly. It also specifically references the holiness and majesty of God. Do you pray in secret, beyond the “quiet” and “beyond the noise”, Bro. Cloud? I sincerely hope so, for that is where our Father hears us, and it is only by praying there that God will reward us openly. God speaks in a still, small voice, and it is for this voice (metaphorically speaking) that the singer in this song yearns.

Isaac Watts, Nonconformist

Finally, there is “Prayer for a Friend” by Casting Crowns. Lyrically, Casting Crowns is typically the most deep of the three groups mentioned. What is perhaps most disturbing by your accusations, sir, is that we’ve all been right where the writer of this song has been. We’ve all known someone that we cannot help, who must make a decision on their own, and we have no other recourse but to beg God to intervene. The song is not one of hopelessness, but one of recognizing where Hope comes from. This song acknowledges the power of God to move and shape our lives, and I think we can all appreciate that.

The last major accusation that you make, Bro. Cloud, is that this music of this sort is a litmus test for apostasy. You tell your readers that churches which adapt CCM music- much less use it in an unadapted form- will no doubt bend toward liberalism and unorthodox practices and beliefs. I beg to differ. It seems to me that the message you are sending reveals apostasy of a very different sort, much after the mold of the Pharisees. You see, the entire article you wrote, as well as the general contents of your website reveals something: an obsession with sin. And being sin-obsessed is always wrong, whether we call it an “addiction” in which we compulsively, habitually contemplate or perform sinful action, or whether we obsess over avoiding anything that we think might be connected to sin. It’s a sort of asceticism. If you look hard enough, Mr. Cloud, everything is tied to sin somehow. Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” was used as a theme for the Swedish socialist movement in the 1800s, in the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, and on television shows from HBO’s Deadwood to The Simpsons. Astronomical terms, months, and days of the week are all tied to pagan deities. Christmas and Easter are both tied to pagan holidays. If you look for sin in everything, you will find it. However, not everything about a culture is inherently sinful and may in fact be redeemed from out of that culture. To be sure, the rock movement was birthed in a time of sex, drugs, and rebellion. That doesn’t mean that the style must always be tied to those themes, and it doesn’t mean those themes are present anytime someone uses a guitar and a drum set. Much CCM music is produced by people who aren’t IFB, but then again the IFB’s have never tried. Who can blame them, when Ron Hamilton can’t even escape the penetrating gaze of a Pharisee? If you are going to focus on being biblically sound, sir, you had best be following the whole counsel of God.

Let me close by telling you a bit of my personal experience. I began in a church that taught much as you do. There are wonderful people there, and, in spite of the things that I had to unlearn from that time, they taught me to love God and to appreciate the brilliant and profound depth of the hymns. As I grew older, I went to college and then seminary, discovering a very strong and inconsistent bias against anything that wasn’t IFB approved. The older I got, the more I questioned, and fewer people had good answers. I left the IFB movement in favor of a church on the outside, one that strives to avoid the Phariseeism of the past. But, it does more than simply avoid an error. I learn about God’s Word there outside the paradigm of IFB asceticism and extreme guilt. I’m re-reading my Bible, gaining new insight for the first time in a long time. I’m learning to love to worship God in song, and I’m proud to say we sing hymns, gospel, and modern worship music. It’s Christ-centered through and through. I’m learning compassion for the lost, broken, and hurting in ways that are far more real than I ever thought possible. The church I attend is biblical, and it is filled with Christians from all walks of life who are all on this incredible journey of faith.

In the end I must thank you, Bro. Cloud, for reminding me again of what God has saved me from becoming, and for giving me a chance to express my theology of worship in this very unique setting. Good day.

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Should Christians Celebrate Easter?

About this time every year, a small-yet-vocal segment of the Christian populace gets riled up about Easter. They have several reasons why Easter shouldn’t be celebrated: biblical, historical, and cultural. In the strictly biblical sense, Easter isn’t in the Bible. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the resurrection is the central focus of the gospel message, but the word “Easter” isn’t in the original languages. The Greek word for “Passover” (Πάσχα) is translated “Easter” once in the KJV (Acts 12:4), but this is a rare instance of dynamic equivalency in the translation. In short, Easter isn’t a biblical holiday, nor are we commanded to celebrate “Easter”.

The history behind Easter is a bit of a muddled one. It was never celebrated by the Apostles, but there is evidence that Pascha (from the Greek word for passover mentioned above) was a formalized holy day during the 2nd century. Not all Christians celebrated Easter, however, because Scripture tells us that we are free from following the Old Testament Law and traditions. This controversy continued throughout the centuries, not only because of Pascha’s tie to the OT Law, but also because the actual date of the resurrection (Nissan 14) is based on the lunar calendar (360 day year, with 30 days per month) and not the solar/Gregorian calendar that we use today. In other words, Jesus resurrected on the first day of the Jewish week, which isn’t always Sunday on our calendar.

The Protestant Reformation saw many Christians reject all Church holidays as “Pagan”. They did this because the Catholic church often took pagan or cultural traditions and added a religious significance to them. While some have stated that there is a link between Asherah or Ashteroth (“The Queen of Heaven” in the Bible) and the name Easter, I haven’t found much evidence to back up this position. It’d be a reach to expect a Germanic or English culture to name a holiday after a Middle-Eastern deity. There’s really not much of a linguistic connection either. However, a former deity of the Germanic peoples, Eostre, did manage to get her name assigned to our month of April– Eostur-monath. The Venerable Bede mentions that by the 8th century actual worship of Eostre had died out, and “Eostur-monath” became known as the Paschal month. If Bede is to be believed (and not everyone thinks he is always truthful about paganism), Eostre was a goddess of the light or dawn, however, others suggest she may have been yet another fertility symbol.

This leads us to another issue culturally– rabbits and eggs. The rabbit- or more properly, the hare-  has been related to fertility rites for untold centuries. Eggs were painted and given by Zoroastrians centuries ago, and it has been supposed that their tradition was added to folklore sometime after that. Some Orthodox Christians in Europe painted their eggs red to symbolize the death of Christ on the Cross, but others simply boiled their eggs with flowers to tint them in celebration of spring. Protestant Germans kept the tradition of coloring and eating eggs at Easter to remind their children of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, but they also continued this tradition throughout the springtime at least to differentiate themselves from the Catholics, who would not eat eggs during Lent. It was the German Protestants that were responsible- at least in part- for bringing this tradition of colored eggs and the Easter Hare to America in the 1700s.

So, the million-dollar question is: what do we do with this information? Should we abandon Easter due to its connection with Paganism? Well, Romans 14 would have us answer: it’s up to you. You may choose to set certain days aside to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, or you may choose to recognize the significance of this event throughout the year. However, if I could make a few comments in light of what we have seen…

  1. Celebrating the Resurrection on Sunday rather than Nissan 14 is  not a biblical issue. Christians should be educated regarding Jewish holy days and realize that the calendars don’t line up. This doesn’t mean that Easter as a celebration is a bad idea.
  2. The fact that our word “Easter” is connected to the name of a pagan deity is irrelevant. First of all, I’m not aware of anyone that actually worships Eostre. Secondly, a number of our English words are associated with paganism- days of the week or month, the aurora, the planets, etc.
  3. I’m not aware of anyone who sees a rabbit or a colored egg and thinks about fertility or sexuality. Well, we may say “multiply like rabbits”, but that’s about it. Whether or not we should tell children that the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus are real is another issue entirely.
  4. I’m not really bothered by the Catholic or Protestant churches (and, yes, Baptists, I know there’s some pride in that not everyone was a part of the Reformation) taking traditions and using them for their own purposes. Isn’t a big part of Christianity taking that which has no significance apart from God and giving it significance? There is much in a culture that may be redeemed.
  5. Easter Eggs are a creative, interactive way to teach children about the Passion Week and the Resurrection.

 

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God, Math, and Existence

Who or what created numbers? The Big Bang? God? I don’t really know that it matters. Now, before my Christian brethren get ready to lynch me as defecting from Theism or creationism, let me explain myself. When I’m talking about numbers, that is not the same as talking about information. There’s really only one explanation for information, and that is intelligence. Numbers themselves are simple abstract concepts. You can have two cars or chicken wings, for instance, but you cannot possess the number two all by itself. You cannot interact with the concept of “two”. We call objects, matter, energy, and so forth concrete objects. (Not to be confused with concretes, which are a very tasty treat found at Ted Drewes.) Anyway, besides being abstract, numbers also happen to be very necessary to our universe. They have to exist as a logical consequence of things (matter, energy, people, objects, etc) simply existing. They are, in a sense, uncreated. No matter how you think the universe got here, neither God nor a cosmic hiccup intentionally produced numbers. Now all of the things that numbers represent- almost- were created at some point in time. Even naturalism’s strongest adherents accept this as fact. Numbers are different, as is the whole of mathematics itself. Numbers exist because they have to.

Now, most people who are Theists believe in the self-existence of God. We believe that God exists in the same way that mathematics exists. I don’t need to explain how He exists or where He came from, really. Like numbers, the God of the Bible is self-existent. Christians do not believe in a contingent god, one that needs an explanation for how he came to be. Christians believe in a God Who is absolutely necessary for existence to even have meaning. Created gods, as John Lennox has pointed out, are a delusion, and I don’t know anybody who believes in a god who needed reason for being. Who needs to worship a being that is dependent on another being for its existence? Ought we not to worship the greater of the two, as that will be who is really in control? If the cosmos spawned God somehow, ought not we to worship the cosmos? In Christianity, God is- by definition- necessary and uncreated. If God exists, my atheist friends, He exists because of Who He is. It is the nature of His being, so to speak. Before atheists, agnostics, and Christians can hope to discuss beliefs, they must agree on the definition of the terms, and atheists and agnostics must understand what a Christian means when he says the word “God.” After proper definitions are provided, I believe we can actually accomplish something.

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What Physics Class Taught Me

I signed up for physics class in high school not really knowing what to expect. I’d always loved science classes, and I didn’t expect this one to be any different. It was. God help me, it was. Why it didn’t occur to me that physics would be a lot of formulas and math, I will never know. What I do know is that it took every ounce of mental energy I could muster to survive that year, and survive I did. To this day, I’m convinced that God somehow changed my semester grades when my teacher wasn’t looking.

Perhaps the biggest frustration I experienced with physics class wasn’t the amount of work I had to deal with so much as the fact that I felt like very little of what I was learning really applied to real life. (Ok, I know that that is what students say about practically every class they take, but hear me out.) After all, practically every equation I learned had the wonderful little caveat “in a vacuum” somewhere in the description.  We learned about the speed of light in a vacuum, terminal velocity in a vacuum, friction in a vacuum, and so on and so forth. In other words, we learned about how things move and act if there’s no matter to influence it. So nothing work exactly the way an equation said it should because we don’t experience reality in a vacuum. (Happily, I might add, since that would pretty much eradicate life on earth.) This is a great illustration of the point of this particular post: nothing is learned or experienced in isolation.

We’ve discussed already how apologetics is a very biblical concept. Now I want us to focus on why it is so important. It is absolutely true that we are called to be salt and light to a dark and lost world- we should be evangelistic since Christ is the ultimate answer to our world’s problems. It is also absolutely true that God has called us to faith and faithfulness, so our message includes elements of morality and ethics. However, it is also true that we must be aware of the cultural backdrop against which people will hear the Gospel. The Gospel is never heard in isolation, and we must be able to answer the darkness with light. We as Christians must be willing and able to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. That imagination may take the form of the acceptance of sin, the secularist/naturalistic worldview, or belief in false religions. The response by Christians must always be the same. We must be able to give a loving answer concerning the hope that we have.

The sad reality is that Christianity has been relegated to a generic “faith” in our Western culture. It’s just another superstition, something someone believes to make themselves feel good. It’s just a crutch. The goal of apologetics is to answer that perspective. We know that Christianity is not just another generic faith. It’s not the same thing as the New Atheist’s “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” It’s the goal of apologetics to bring Christianity out of the private sphere and into the public sector.

Christians ought to be able to explain their faith in ways that make it an acceptable perspective in academics, law, and courts, regardless of the current perspective on issues such as the “separation of church and state.”  I’m not saying anyone will come to Christ simply from apologetics. I am saying that Christians who understand the tenets of our faith and can explain them reasonably will help to create a culture in which Christianity is a reasonable and acceptable thing. The “Moral Majority” has made a fool of Christianity and has lost its power. It will not be political might that rights the wrongs of society. That is the job of biblical Christian demonstrating and explaining a viable faith in a reasonable way.

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Oh, For Crying Out Loud!

I got the title of this post from my favorite line from Stargate: SG-1. Jack O’neill always says it when he gets frustrated by people who waste time on stupidity, wrong-headed thinking, or inane political mumbo-jumbo. Frankly, I’ve noticed a lot of Christians that deserve a good “Oh, for crying out loud,” from the Colonel himself, followed by my second favorite line. My reason for this is that it seems like so many Christians have their heads firmly planted in the sand.

I say this because I have met so many Christians who naively think that they are not responsible for what happens in the world around them. Their attitudes and words, they think, do not influence those around them. Their choice of entertainment, they suppose, is entirely a matter of personal preference, devoid of any deeper meaning and incapable of creating unintended consequences. Whether or not they vote or are involved in government and law (one hesitates to use the word “politics”) is of little consequence. Worldview, apologetics, and philosophy have no meaning to them, and they would just as soon have everyone avoid this area of reality altogether. And, oh, the excuses they use to justify these ideas. Some of them even use Bible verses to bolster their position.

Reality check, folks: everything matters. Everything. Your words and attitudes have direct consequences for yourself and those around you. Everything you say either builds up or tears down, and the believer is called to edify. Now, I know this conversation is used to tell people to be polite. Allow me to turn the argument on its head: it is never merciful to allow error to continue unchecked. It is never loving to overlook that which is dangerous. Love cannot bear evil to go unchecked in its object. You are not being nice when you leave sin unaddressed; you are being cruel.
Now that we got that out of the way, I move on to my second frustration: Christians think that what happens in the public sphere is of none of their concern. Imagine that! Christian secularists!!! It will never end well, folks, for us to sit on our hands and wait for the end. “This world is not my home, I’m just’a passing through” was never intended to encourage us to be apathetic- or maybe just pathetic- in our convictions. After all, if songs were supposed to be the foundation of our ideology, whatever happened to “This is my Father’s World”? If we believe abortion is wrong, we must condemn it- and condemn it strongly. If we believe that a sexual union and commitment between two people of the same sex is a perversion of the sacred, then we had better being doing our dead-level best to influence our government.
No, I don’t mean that we should be cruel or unkind. We should always be loving, but, remember what I already said: to permit that which is dangerous and sinful is cruel. If you love this country, it should vex you to see what goes on in it. If you at least care about the people of the country you live in, you ought to want to help them avoid sin. Now, some of you are going to go off the deep end on me. You’re going to say: “What about verses such as Proverbs 21:1, Dan 21:1, and Romans 9:17 that tell us that God is in control of government? Shouldn’t we just let Him do His job while we work on the Great Commission or something?” Well, I have a couple of responses to that:
  1. Involvement in something other than government, law, and other aspects of the public square is not contradictory to concern for evangelism and discipleship. I would also add here that the Great Commission is not the only aspect of Christian responsibility. Otherwise, ditch you family and your job and spend the rest of your (most likely short) life winning folks and getting them into church! Oh, you’d have to revoke your citizenship, too, since that’s a part of human government.
  2. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Nehemiah, Daniel, Esther, and a host of other men and women of God were directly involved in influencing the course of their nation.
  3. God gives everyone talents and responsibilities so that they may work. Work is by default a good thing because God intended for us to work. It’s a part of His creation. God’s idea of “work” is not limited to a job, but to that which creates, repairs, maintains, and produces. In a sense, everything except for recreation is work- even voluntary involvement in government.
  4. We live in a nation that gives us direct access to our leaders. We can vote on the federal and local levels. We can call, email, and write our leaders. Just like Daniel and Esther, you and I have an audience with our leaders. They may not always do what is right, but we are responsible to do our best.
  5. We live in a capitalist society, for the most part. For this reason, your dollar is your vote for the goods that ought to be produced. When you buy a CD or movie, you tell the producers you want more of that kind of product. “What you applaud you encourage, but beware what you celebrate, ” says Ravi Zacharias. What are you telling Hollywood?
  6. Jesus didn’t limit His command for us to be salt and light to strictly evangelism, even though that is how we often portray it. No, He says that we must season the earth and light the world so that people will glorify God in Heaven. This can be done in many ways; naming the name of Christ must be done in even the highest places in the nation.

In fact, the use of the word “world” in Matthew 5 is interesting. “You are the light of the world”, Jesus says. The word “world” is from the Greek word “kosmos”. The Kosmos is defined as “constitution, order, and government”, “the human family”, “the universe and all of reality” and “world affairs”, according to my Greek lexicon. Interesting. We are supposed to be a light to law and government. How can we do so without informing those that work in such areas concerning Truth?

Which brings me to my last point. Truth matters. Either it is sacred and therefore must be protected, proclaimed, and defended, or it is unimportant and may be trampled under foot. For this reason, worldviews matter, for they are how people unintentionally interpret reality and Truth. Philosophy matters, for it is how people intentionally interpret reality and Truth. Apologetics matters, because it treats all Truth as God’s truth. There is no direction you and I can go in reality, no sphere into which we delve, in which God has not spoken. His Truth is everywhere. We can use His Truth, His world, His revelation of Himself through the cosmos to speak truth into people’s lives. If your concern is for evangelism and discipleship, you have no choice but to explore the world of philosophy, worldview, and apologetics.

Too many Christians are picking their one area, retreating into their hand-crafted shells of existence. Whether the world ends with a bang or a whimper, they are only concerned with themselves in the end. They do not want to learn. They do not want to expend energy. They’d rather go to task on only their one thing. We need people like Nehemiah in the Bible. He commanded his people to both defend and build. They took up sword and trowel to accomplish the task God had for them. We need to do the same- or get out of the way so someone else can.

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The Right Tool for the Job

The New Atheists would have us believe that Religion and Science are at odds with each other. Why? Well, that’s a complicated question. Christopher Hitchen believes that religion is really about power, and the currency of life is knowledge. Richard Dawkins basically agrees, but he seems to think that religion is about reveling in mystery, not power. “Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious,” he writes. (The God Delusion, 126) Hitchens makes his feelings quite clear when he says that medicine only had a chance to advance after “the priests had been elbowed aside.” (God is not Great, 90) Ironically, Hitchens goes on to extol the glories of Louis Pasteur’s medical research with no mention of the fact that Pasteur was a devout Catholic!

Strangely, empirical sciences did not develop in other societies that should have encouraged them. China had a well-developed society, India was a strong philosophical center, and Japan excelled in craftmanship. Why did they not develop an understanding of empirical knowledge? It was in the Christian West that developed empirical science, because the Christian worldview expects that the outside world would be understandable and orderly because it was the handiwork of the Creator. Under Christianity, science flourishes. As the West turns from Christianity, science will cease to flourish. After all, only naturalistic worldviews require scientists to fabricate myths like dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy only need to exist if the Big Bang actually occurred. Creationist cosmologies explain the universe without the need for these virtually unprovable theories.

To the point, though. Christianity supports science; it does not inhibit it. Though I’m not a Catholic, the Vatican has done more to support science (especially astronomy) financially over the past six centuries or so than any other institution. As Christianity has traditionally supported the Arts, so it has also supported the sciences. Hitchens and Dawkins seem willfully ignorant of the scientists who were also Christians throughout history. Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Faraday, Bernard, and Heisenberg were all Christians, and the list doesn’t stop there. Apparently they found no conflict between faith and science.

You see, when it comes down to it, faith and science are not opposites nor are they in tension with each other. They are different tools for different jobs. Science does not hold a monopoly on knowledge. Religion merely deals with a completely different form of knowledge. I can know that God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world just as surely as I know empirically that the laws of gravity are still in effect. Philosophy also offers a different sort of knowledge that is neither wholly scientific nor wholly religious. Just as I wouldn’t use a hammer to play a bass drum, science is not able to tell us why we are here or if God exists. It’s the wrong tool for the job. I’m not talking about “non-overlapping magisteria” here. I’m talking about using a tool where it is beneficial. When science is beneficial, use it, and don’t let it be hindered. When religion is beneficial (as it most certainly is when that religion is Christianity), then don’t keep it from the public sphere. Politics, law, education, business, and the home could benefit from Christianity’s influence if anti-religious bigots would simply get out of the way. In this way, the tools will complement each other. After all, how would the bass drum be fashioned if the hammer hadn’t been there first?

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God, Probability, and Statistics

As confident as the so-called New Atheists are that God does not exist, you would have thought that science had disproven His existence. In fact, they try to whittle God down to a manageable size by- instead of dealing with Him as a Person- label Him as the “God Hypothesis.” Hypotheses are easy to dismiss. God isn’t.

Richard Dawkins is my favorite of the New Atheists because he is quite reckless at this. Consider his book The God Delusion. Dawkins is a scientist, yet he writes a book on religion and pretends that it is science. In it he writes: “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is univocally a scientific question.” So,  of course, because Dawkins is a materialist, Dawkins rules out all non-material existence or personhood. Therefore, in The Wonderful World of Dawkins, God must obey all laws of physics. You would have thought Dawkins were talking about gravity!

In the end, Dawkins decides that God is not a probable Being. I found this to be a bit odd, since Dawkins’ probability and statistics assumed that God was a contingent Being in a universe that forces Him (HIM!) to conform to its unalterable laws. Christianity, on the other hand, proclaims the existence of a God that is necessary, not contingent. Furthermore, probability deals more with the possibility that an event will occur. It measures the ratio of actual occurences and possible occurences of an event. God doesn’t “happen.” He is (hence the name “I AM.”) Dawkins and Christians still aren’t talking about the same Person!

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Rob Bell’s Fractured Fairy Tales

On at least two occasions that I am aware of, Rob Bell has made some very telling blunders when dealing with history.

In the first case, he often interprets what Jesus says in light of the rabbinical writings known as the Talmud and the Mishna. The problem with this is that neither set of writings were codified until around 200 years after Jesus’ birth. In other words, Jesus didn’t say anything in light of either set of writings, and the attitude of the rabbis had most likely changed significantly after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Moreover, neither document is known for being historically accurate concerning the 1st century or the Old Testament. Bell’s misunderstanding of history taints his understanding of Scripture, which is dangerous.

Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, Bell twists the facts- intentionally, in my opinion- in one of his videos. Here’s a Youtube clip of the video in question:

I take special issue with Bell’s explanation of Caesar Augustus’ claim at deity. Most people doubt he actually thought he was a god. Furthermore, I’ve never read that Augustus himself called his birthday celebration “Advent.” Well, I should say that I’ve never heard that said by anybody who wasn’t quoting Bell. It was Virgil that referred to the celebration as adventus, which simply means “coming.” Virgil believed that Augustus would usher in a golden era for the Roman empire. The celebration wasn’t so much about Caesar’s birth as it was about his reign. As for Christianity, Christians didn’t start formally celebrating Advent until the 4th Century. It seems to me that makes all of this a moot point.

Here’s what Ethelbert Stauffer, whom Bell is referencing, says in his book Christ and Caesar concerning two coins in honor of Caesar:

The symbolic meaning is clear: a new day is dawning for the world. The divine saviour-king, born in the historical hour ordained by the stars, has come to power on land and sea, and inaugurates the cosmic era of salvation. Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to me in which they can be saved.

Notice Stauffer says this writing as a 20th-century believer. He isn’t saying that people believed that and would say that in precisely those words. That’s his explanation of the inscriptions on two coins. To say that Christ and Caesar had this much in common is either a terrible error or twisting the facts to make a point. Bell spins a yarn at the cost of the truth, which is never a good thing.

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Don’t Fence Me In

Just turn me loose,
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western sky.
On my cayuse,
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
I want to ride to the ridge
Where the west commences,
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,
Can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences,
Don’t fence me in.

My grandparents and parents both listened to old cowboy songs when I was a kid, and while I didn’t really like most of them, this one really stuck out to me. It’s about not wanting boundaries, a concept I think most of us can appreciate. Of course, there are some boundaries that are good. We live our lives safely because of them. Unfortunately, some postmodern believers are of the opinion that fences aren’t very good for faith. In other words, some of those Bible teachings aren’t as big of a deal as we make them out to be.

Rob Bell makes it obvious that he’s of this persuasion in Velvet Elvis, where he makes the following assertion:

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?…If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”

While Bell also affirms that he does believe in the virgin birth, he makes it obvious that the virgin birth really isn’t essential to the Christian faith as far as he is concerned. Then there’s Tony Jones, who makes his position very clear. He’s the “theologian-in-residence” of Solomon’s Porch and an outspoken writer for the Emergent Church movement. In an interview with Relevant magazine, Tony said:

Statements of faith are about drawing borders, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders. you have to check people’s passports when they pass those borders. It becomes an obsession- guarding the borders….I don’t want to spend it [his life] guarding borders. I’d like to spend it inviting people into the kingdom. Statements of faith don’t do that.

In that same interview, Jones went on to say that he doesn’t see a reason why a lesbian pastor and a conservative couldn’t get along in the same church. I beg to differ, Tony.

Fences do more than create borders to defend. They protect from attack. God’s Truth and God’s people should be defended from attack. Christianity as a faith and Christians as individuals called to holy living don’t exist without fences. There’s another way of looking at this, though, and I wish Tony would take a step back to consider it. Perhaps it isn’t that Christians are choosing to fence themselves in as if they were in a zoo. Perhaps Christians are instead called to the wide world of orthodoxy (right faith) and orthopraxy (right practice.) The fences exist to separate the evil on small reserves outside of the wide world of the Christian faith. We are on the outside, and evil and error are fenced in.

God’s Truth as revealed in His Word must be revered and defended if necessary. Paul insisted that there was a difference between right belief and wrong belief, even if wrong belief is appealing, when he wrote Galatians 1:8: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” He instructed pastors to be well-trained in Scripture so that they could defend the faith in Titus 1:9: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

Christianity isn’t simply a way of life. It is a way of life that is founded on faith in the Truths of God’s Word. Anything that is precious and unique and special is worth protecting and preserving. As J. Gresham Machen wrote nearly a century ago:

When men talk thus about propogating Christianity without defending it, the thing that we are propagating is pretty sure not to be Christianity at all. They are propagating anti-intellectualistic, nondoctrinal Modernism; and the reason why it requires no defense is simply that it is so completely in accord with the current of the age.

If we don’t take our Christianity seriously and consider it worthy of protecting, maybe our faith isn’t really Christianity at all. The faith once delivered to the saints needs to be protected so that it doesn’t spoil, but it’s not about fencing it in. It’s about fencing evil  and error in so that we are truly free.

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Short: Emerging into Heresy?

Meet Spencer Burke. He’s the creator of Theooze and host of Soularize. While he’s not at the core of emergent thought, he is certainly welcome in the movement, since Brian McLaren wrote the forward to his A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity. In this book he writes the following:

“Could it be that- beyond religion, reason, and conventional wisdom- grace is something to be opted out of rather than opted in to?

“When I say I’m a universalist, what I really mean is that I don’t believe you have to convert to any particular religion to find God. As I see it, God finds us, and it has nothing to do with subscribing to any particular religious view.

“What counts is not a belief system but a holistic approach of following what you feel, experience, discover, and believe; it is a willingness to join Jesus in his vision for transformed humanity.

“Faith is many things, but it is not a requirement. It is faithfulness, the giving of oneself, trust in God, and belief that something greater than the material world exists for all of us.

“What’s more, I’m not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either….As I see it, we are in God, here on earth. This is how our relationship is defined. God does not just have to be reached up to; he is here as the surrounding Spirit.”

Frankly, if Burke wants to label himself a heretic, that’s fine with me. The shoe certainly fits this time.

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Tell Me a Story

When I was in college, the experimental theater class would occasionally put on small productions entitled “Tell Me a Story.” They didn’t have a huge budget, but they would dress in costumes generally and spend an evening performing short dramas, usually around a particular theme. After a night titled “Tell Me a SCARY Story”, I remember watching my fellow students dart to their dorms in groups thanks to the night’s fare and thinking to myself about how drama is such a powerful method of communication.

In fact, anything involving the use of narrative seems to exert a good deal of influence over us. Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible is made up of narrative. Some Christians believe that the Bible should be understood strictly as narrative, especially since our postmodern society leans heavily in this direction. I don’t have anything personal against my brothers in Christ, but I definitely have a problem with limiting God’s Word to a narrative whose story must be consistently reinterpreted.

On this subject, Rob Bell said in a 2004 interview in Christianity Today that he and his wife were in the process of “discovering the Bible as a human product.” In his view, the Bible is more like a member of his church community with stories to share about a variety of topics. Bell’s desire is to avoid the mistake of placing the Bible on the dissection table and forgetting to look into and be changed by “the Perfect Law of Liberty.” Brian McLaren is even more transparent when he writes:

When we theological conservatives seek to understand the Bible, we generally analyze it. We break it down into chapters, paragraphs, verses, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, prefixes, roots, suffixes, jots, and tittles. Now we understand it, we tell ourselves. Now we have conquered to text, captured the meaning, removed all mystery, stuffed it and preserved it for posterity, like a taxidermist with a deer head.”

It’s a tragedy that people would analyze God’s Word without it applying to themselves, and it happens all too often. I suspect that the emergent church is more of a reaction against modernism than it is a return to right thinking. McLaren would tell us that intensive Bible studies are the result of the Enlightenment, I would ask him to peer further back into the past. In doing so, he would see the Bereans, apostles, church fathers, Reformers, Puritans, Methodists, and Baptists all involved in this very sort of Bible study. Christians have always believed that the Word of God is worth studying by whatever means necessary.

It’s true that the Bible includes a good deal of narrative. However, the Bible is also almost entirely made of propositional statements. In his book The Post-Evangelical, Tomlinson ironically states: “Post-evangelicals are less inclined to look for truth in propositional statements and old moral certitudes and more likely to seek it in symbols, ambiguities, and situational judgments.”

One has to wonder where the animosity toward propositional statements came from. After all, we make use of them every day. Every time we state a fact, we are making a proposition. We don’t have to be right about the fact we are stating, but a proposition is made nonetheless. “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” “I love artichoke hearts.” “My cat’s name is Olivia.” Whether it’s an account of David vs. Goliath or Jesus’ assertion that He is Way, Truth, and Life or Paul’s teaching on salvation being by grace instead of works, propositional statements are all over the Bible. To be honest, I have no idea why emergent church leaders even bother writing about this. After all, their own claims and assertions are themselves propositional statements!

It seems the postmodern believers are quite fond of the “good fences make good neighbors” mantra. You must either adhere to one extreme or the other, and never the twain shall  meet. It’s either propositions or narratives, being informed or being transformed, knowing what to believe or knowing the Lord of those beliefs. The Bible doesn’t put such burdens on us, fortunately. We can boldly proclaim the truths of Scripture when they are stated outright, and we can also enjoy and learn from the narrative of Scripture.

So go ahead. Tell me a story. Just make sure you get your facts right, and make sure there’s a point to it all.

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Faith: Nebula or Mystery?

The new Star Trek movie has revived the sci-fi lover in me. It’s been so long since I’ve seen anything Trek that I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. I guess I’m a nerd, but that’s not really a shock to anyone. Anyway, I remember growing up thinking how cool it would be to fly a spaceship through the universe and see all of those heavenly bodies up close. I also remember thinking how dangerous it would be to fly blind through a nebula. Picard and company always seemed to have a hard time with that. Nebulae were dark, mysterious lonely places where it was easy to get lost and you never knew what new danger the crew of the Enterprise would find.

My other passion involves a good mystery. I enjoy a whodunnit?, conspiracy theory, or whatever. Anything with an excellent plot is sure to make me happy. I think that’s key, though. There’s got to be a good plot, a train of thought or order of events I’m supposed to follow.

It seems to me that there is some tension in modern Christianity as to whether or not we’re supposed to treat our faith- propositional truths and experiential reality- more like a nebula than like a good mystery novel. Mysteries can be understood and followed. They serve a purpose. Nebulae, well, at least Gene Roddenberry‘s conception of nebulae- seem to be unsolvable and ultimately unknowable. That just doesn’t seem to be the kind of faith Jesus wants us to have, yet such a perspective persists.

Some in Christianity have taken on a post-modern perspective on faith and emphasized the journey over the destination. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is something of a journey involved in Christianity, and it’s one to be enjoyed. My point is that the journey must have purpose. There must be progress made. There must be a sense of compulsion to move onward, and, while a humble expression of humility is refreshing, to simply say “I don’t know, but let’s talk about it” ad infinitum just doesn’t seem to be what Christianity is all about.

This perspective effects every area of the postmodern (some say “emergent”) Christianity.

  1. Evangelism- According to Dave Tomlinson’s book The Post-Evangelical, “Evangelism should be seen as an opportunity to ‘fund’ people’s spiritual journeys, drawing on the highly relevant resources of ‘little pieces’ of truth contained in the Christian narrative.” (Which pieces of the Bible aren’t truth? Do people ever reach the destination of their spiritual journey?)
  2. The Bible- Tomlinson also writes in the same book: “To say Scripture is the Word of God is to employ a metaphor. God cannot be thought of as literally speaking words, since they are entirely a human phenomenon that could never prove adequate as a medium for the speech of an infinite God.” (Funny. That’s not what Jesus means when He says “My words shall not pass away.”)
  3. Salvation- In his book How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins says that “we need to be evangelized as much, if not more than those around us.” (So we never finish being evangelized? When can a person be defined as a Christian?”
  4. Apologetics- Rob Bell says in his popular book Velvet Elvis: “You rarely defend the things you love. You enjoy them and tell others about them and invite others to enjoy them with you.” (This is just plain ridiculous. I don’t know that it’s within the scope of this post to talk about Bell’s statement, but I thought it was too crazy to pass up. Who doesn’t defend someone or something they truly love when it’s necessary?)

And that’s just a start!

In the postmodern (emergent) view, God ceases to be knowable, because you have emphasized the nebulousness of faith and even God and de-emphasized the point of the journey. God’s infinity swallows up His knowability. Salvation must be pieced together, and we may never fully arrive. This isn’t the way Paul spoke though. On Mars’ Hill he said: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” It sounds like a mystery worth solving to me!

Mystery does not remove human responsibility or the importance of theology and knowing God. Didn’t Paul chide the Jews for having zeal without knowledge in Romans 10:2? Didn’t Jesus chide the disciples for being of little faith in Matthew 14:31? Doubt may be a part of the Christian life, but it isn’t the emphasis of the Christian life. Uncertainty is not proof of humility.

In the end, such postmodern believers insist that the Christian life is all about examining ourselves more and more deeply and not so much about examining the details of doctrine. I would say that postmodern believers simply need to grow up. Yes, there is value in finding our own weaknesses and being honest about failures and hurts. Maturity, however, requires us to stop being so fragile. Spiritual maturity demands growing in grace and in wisdom, laying aside weights and sin, and making Christ our everything. Love covers sin, and we would do well to fall so in love with Jesus that we don’t fall into the temptation of glorifying past failures.

What our world needs is authentic Christians (not transparent Christians) who are willing to – as a friend of mine says- enter the Mystery and abandon themselves to God. But the Mystery need not be nebulous.

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The Art of Discipleship

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” -Jesus, Matthew 16:24-26

Are Jesus’ words simply a command? Oh, I have no doubt that He is telling us what we ought to do. It’s just that it seems to me He is also describing reality for us. He’s stating a fact. He tells us that self-denial is required if you and I want to experience the abundant life. It’s like me telling my students that they have to learn their vocabulary and grammar lessons well in order to become an effective communicator or to master the English language. I’m not simply commanding them to work. I’m explaining to them “how to get there from here.”

We can either live our lives for contemporary happiness (pleasurable feelings) or classic happiness, a life of righteousness, wisdom, peace, and goodness. Philosophers call this “the good life.” Jesus says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” He calls this very same sense of classic happiness “the abundant life.” A pleasurable life is completely dependent on external factors- health, wealth, success, money, power, fame, beauty- while true happiness is the result of the internal working of God’s Word and God’s Spirit in a person’s life. It’s the result of a life of conformity to the way God meant life to be lived. This is why Jesus said that those who live out the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 will be “blessed.” That word we translate as “blessed” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “happy.”

How much better is the life of a disciple than the life of a person who is addicted to themselves? If pleasure is the holy grail, then you and I have no choice but to run forever, chasing the next adrenaline rush, the next calorie-filled binge, the next romance, the next purchase, the next sexual encounter….maybe even the next inspiring or energy-filled church service. Since none of these things work well as ends in themselves, we end up like T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men.

Discipleship, in contrast to narcissism, brings true satisfaction with life, because life gains a whole new sense of meaning and purpose. We have real freedom to do what is right, to live a life of intimacy with God. This life of discipleship and self-denial does not mean living without desire or without anything that brings pleasure. God does not call us to the monastery but to live life in the world but not of the world.

Living the life of the disciple, rather than being a difficult one, is actually quite liberating. There’s no stress from being constantly consumed with the need to feel happy. There’s no need to be in control. There’s no need to keep up with the Jones’ when it comes to possessions, or to mask feelings of emptiness by living vicariously through celebrities. Where would our twisted form of capitalism be without Americans’ codependence on material things and spiritually-bankrupt celebrities? Gary Sinise notwithstanding, that is.

Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Is it possible that self-sacrifice, self-discipline, and yielding to Christ is actually easier than the path most people take? Perhaps God intended for us to live this way, and the initial difficulty in being a true disciple of Christ is merely the same difficulty with forming any good habit. Perhaps it is that a life is discipleship is something you and I can actually get “good” at, a skill that we can learn.

Maybe just as one gets better at soccer, singing, or math, we can get better at the art of discipleship, the art of self-denial.

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Archie Bunker Faith

With so many apologetics movements springing up these days, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are those within Christianity that are attempting to mobilize an anti-apologetics movement. Some Christians believe that apologetics results in Christians being heady and highminded, de-emphasizing evangelism, or entirely too intellectual. They conjure up images of old-fashioned meetings in buildings with sawdust floors in simpler times. I don’t have a problem with evangelism, and I love old-fashioned revivals, however, I don’t see a point in ignoring the weaknesses of oversimplifying the teachings of the Bible and emphasizing only a handful of commands from Scripture. Ought we not to preach “the whole counsel of God”?

Archie Bunker from All in the Family once defined faith as “something you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.”  It seems that there is a small segment of Christianity that wouldn’t mind that definition too much. You here talk of not wanting to “prove” Christianity so that people will have room to believe! I’m not joking, folks! People actually say that sometimes. If this were the case, I think we should all pray that evolutionists come up with some concrete evidence in favor of Darwinism so that there would be more room for an even stronger faith! Paul said “God forbid” to the rhetorical question “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” I pose the questions: “Should we continue in ignorance that faith may abound?” God forbid! How can faith be detached from knowledge and reason?

We need to move away from such ridiculous statements or concerns. If the evidence points toward God, as it surely must eventually, how wonderful is that? God still asks that we accept certain facts to be true and to trust His Word. Evidence in favor of Christian teachings is regularly found, but we must all still trust. We in the apologetics realm simply offer reason for that faith. We need to stop viewing faith as being distinct from knowledge. We can know the truth, and the truth is what truly sets us free.

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Naturalism: Following a Pied Piper

Princeton University’s WordNet defines naturalism as “the doctrine that the world can be understood in scientific terms without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations.” It includes an evolutionary origin of the universe, exclusion of even the possibility of a non-physical universe, and a belief that empirical knowledge is the only kind of knowledge there is. Ironically, naturalism is neither falsifiable, measurable, nor testable, which makes it unscientific from the outset. It is, in fact, a metaphysical assertion, not a scientific assertion.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that naturalism is self-refuting, there are many who unwittingly believe it and teach it in the public square. It is widely accepted in the political, educational, and legal realms. There are thousands of examples of this, but I think that there is none so striking as what happened after the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999.  Who did the nation turn to for answers? Scientists. Practically every news network and magazine featured numerous interviews with psychologists, sociologists, and neurophysiologists in an attempt to explain why it happened. Pastors were only invited when it was time to comfort the family. Theologians and philosophers were never asked to provide insight into what had gone wrong. It was one tragic example of how other forms of knowledge are considered inferior to scientific knowledge because of a naturalistic worldview.

The truth is that while Richard Dawkins insists that we are all strictly the product of our DNA (“and we dance to its music”, says Dawkins), there are a good number of things that naturalism can’t explain. J. P. Moreland writes that naturalism can’t explain the existence of human consciousness in terms of ethical (a sense of morality), aesthetic (a sense of beauty), and intellectual (a sense of reason) properties. Furthermore, Moreland tells us that naturalism fails to explain free will. There is no room for real freedom in a naturalistic worldview. I cannot be held responsible for my actions if I’m merely dancing to the music of my DNA.

Naturalist John Bishop writes: “The idea of a responsible agent, with the ‘originative’ ability to initiate events in the natural world, does not sit easily with the idea of [an agent as] a natural organism. Our scientific understanding of human behavior seems to be in tension with a presupposition of the ethical stance we adopt toward it.”  (Natural Agency, 1989, pg 1) Professor Will Provine puts it more bluntly: “Free will as traditionally conceived simply does not exist. There is no way the evolutionary process as currently conceived can produce a being that is truly free to make choices.” (“Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics”, Marine Biological Laboratory Science 3, 1988)

How then can we prosecute criminals? We cannot punish them, for they have only lived in accordance with the way they were “made.” At best, we can only hope to rehabilitate them or protect the rest of society from them. More interestingly, how can we treat drug addiction and alcoholism as a disease of sorts and yet we still hold rapists and murderers guilty because of their actions? What about the likes of Bernie Madoff? What about Pol Pot, Hitler, or Stalin? Weren’t they also dancing to their DNA’s music? In may be useful to draw a utilitarian line in the sand between a drunk and a serial killer (the drunk isn’t necessarily hurting anyone, while a serial killer harms many people), but utilitarian lines in the sand are dangerous. After all, who decides where the line should be drawn?

Naturalism may depict a world in which you and I follow the eerie tones of our DNA’s music, but that is not the world you and I know to be. You and I make choices every day of our lives, and to strictly describe our decisions in terms of motive rather than a combination of motive and purpose is to give a garbled image of what life is really like. Besides being totally self-refuting, naturalism fails to explain a host of things about being human. It’s time we drop this ridiculous philosophy and consider that there might be more to reality than meets the eye.

More on this later.

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Worldviews: Big Macs vs. Slyders

Great as a Burger, Bad as a Worldview

Who can forget the famous old-school commercial for Mcdonalds’ Big Mac, advertising “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”? I love Big Macs, but then I also have an addiction to White Castle’s Slyders. They’re little guys, but they’re this perfect little blend of a thin slice of beef, cheese, grilled onions, and a bun. Maybe it’s my penchant for anything dealing with food, but I like to relate worldviews to food. There are basically two different kinds of worldviews you and I could study, and they have radically different implications. There are Slyder worldviews and Big Mac worldviews.

Slyder worldviews are palatable to some, but they lack substance in a very real way. In such worldviews, there is no meaning or purpose. There is no objective sense of right or wrong or a means of assigning value to a person or thing. There is no God, no Heaven or Hell, no ultimate justice. There is just the physical world, and death simply ends being and consciousness. In such a view, our world just simply exists. Everything is one big accident. Bertrand Russell asserted that our world was a Slyder world in his Philosophical Essays:

“That man is the product of causes which have no prevision of the end they are achieving: that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried underneath the debris of a universe in ruins. Only on the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.”

The problem is that, like the White Castle menu item, a Slyder worldview doesn’t describe reality very well. It doesn’t explain how humans function. It’s all good and well to say that monogamy is just a social invention, but that doesn’t explain why the promiscuous are rarely truly satisfied. June Vanderkam, a 2001 graduate of Princeton knows that well: “Hookups do satisfy biology, but the emotional detachment doesn’t satisfy the soul. And that’s the real problem — not the promiscuity, but the lack of meaning.” We all hunger for meaning, and a Slyder worldview does nothing to truly satisfy that hunger. The Slyder worldview robs life of meaning, and fails to replace it with anything, well, meaningful. In our world filled with “reality” TV, celebrity gossip, pornography, drugs and alcoholism, movies, music, video games, and professional sports, one wonders if all of this hype is really just a feeble attempt to stave off society’s craving for real meaning and purpose.

Only Big Mac worldviews can satisfy this craving. Big Mac worldviews attempt to answer questions concerning meaning and purpose.  There is a strong sense of objective right and wrong, and people and things have intrinsic value. God, Heaven, Hell, and ultimate Justice all exist, and God is active in His creation. Everything happens for a purpose, and all of life carries meaning. Compared with Slyder worldviews, a Big Mac worldview is significantly more satisfying, more palatable, and more fulfilling. In a very real way, such a worldview really is what we crave.



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The Pursuit of Happiness

In 2006, the biographical drama The Pursuit of Happyness graced the silver screen with a heart-warming message of hope. That hope, we are told, is one in which you and I can be truly happy if we can just succeed. We can succeed in our jobs, in our families, and in our various other goals, and if we have success (however we define it) we will be truly happy. Such is the lie of a sensate, spiritually-bankrupt culture. Reality tells a much different story.

The truth is that happiness itself cannot be experienced when it is the ultimate goal. In fact, you will see happy people in Western mansions and developing countries, in homes and orphanages, and in hospitals and gymnasiums. Happiness is not something that can be captured through seeking. It is something that must be experienced through the fulfillment of other purposes. To be honest, I’m not so sure that humans are even capable of being happy with “mere” happiness.

This is what many philosophers and poets refer to as the “paradox of hedonism.” As William Bennett once said: “”Happiness is like a cat, If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay not attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.” If you and I live by a modern, hedonistic interpretation of The Pursuit of Happiness, we’ll interpret everything according to that paradigm. Jobs, spouses, churches, children….even God Himself will wax or wane in importance to us based on how well they help us achieve this goal of happiness. It’s the new geocentric theory: the universe revolves around 6.5 billion individuals simultaneously!

The truth is that people must live for something bigger than themselves to even remotely experience this Happiness we all crave. We must take up some Cause, some Belief, some Purpose that we deem worthy of ourselves. Comedian Jeff Allen (Yes, I’ve quoted a comedian and a politician in the same post. It’s an off day…) once said that a man needs something he’s willing to die for to feel complete. He’s absolutely right. We need a sense of true purpose, to know that what we accomplish in life matters. We need to know what the standard for success and failure is. We need a finish line to press toward.

In a culture incapable of creating a sense of enduring worth and any sense of real absolutes, we have produced several generations of what psychologists call “empty selves.” Philip Cushman defines the empty self as: “filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists…. experience a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning….a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.” What an accurate depiction of life in these United States!

And what is the result? Martin Seligmann’s research in 1988 states that the Baby Boom generation increased tenfold in levels of depression relative to previous generations. Seligmann states that this was because Baby Boomers started living for self and not for a cause (God, family, country) bigger than they were. They forgot the Eternal in favor of the Immediate. They lost the art of becoming a wise, virtuous person. In seeking pleasure and happiness, they lost both.

Happiness is not an achievement. It is a byproduct of living the good life. Any worldview that is worth its salt must accurately describe the good life, and it must have true happiness as its byproduct. Christianity accurately describes a good life- the life of discipleship- that yields ultimate happiness and satisfaction. The lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, the Disciples, Paul, and even Jesus Himself speak of a life that may require sacrifice and choosing hard roads, but will result in ultimate joy, ultimate satisfaction, and the promise of eternal reward in the bliss of Heaven. This is the abundant life that Jesus gives. It isn’t just about length of life. It’s about the ultimate quality of that life.

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With My Body, I Thee Worship

I want to suggest here in this post that worship is the greatest need of any human who has walked the face of this earth. That isn’t to say that you and I don’t have other needs that are important. However, the need to worship is what we feel most strongly. The reality is that worship is what makes the world go round. I mean that both in the most positive and most negative way possible. Of course faith is important to people, and many good things have been done in the name of Christianity. Many evil things are done because of worship as well. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says: “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Ravi Zacharias defines worship as “a posture of life that takes as its primary purpose the understanding of what it really meant to love and revere God. It is the most sacred intimacy of all.” In other words, when Jesus said that He was the Bread of Life and that He offered Living Water capable of quenching any hunger and any thirst, He intended His words to be far more meaningful than most of us take it. When He said that the greatest commandment was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, He was referring to a life of worship. He was referring to a relationship that blends together both the physical and spiritual, reverence and passion, intense celebration and deep commitment.

Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks in terms of food and water. Yes, they are needs that must be fulfilled. However, we do not merely eat to satisfy a need. We also eat and drink because it is pleasurable. We enjoy eating, drinking, and being merry. Worship also is pleasurable to us, and it brings a sort of satisfaction and joy that is more celestial than terrestial. Partaking in food and drink are also times of fellowship. Any Christian knows that fellowship and food are virtually synonymous in a church setting. Outside the church, the relationship between relationship-building and food is strong. We meet and eat for business, romance, as a stress-relief, and even as a way of showing sympathy. Worship is also a time of fellowship. It is in worship that we have true fellowship with the Creator, the God Who came near. (Is there a significance in Communion being a time of people partaking of food and drink together? I think so.)

In short, worship is about far more than music. It is about prayer, Bible study, evangelism, discipleship, child rearing, engineering, teaching, construction, rest, travel, and, yes, even meals. Worship is about the whole Being. Notice that Ravi Zacharias says that worship is a “posture of life.” It isn’t about an hour on Sunday, or even several hours every day. It is about every moment of every day being Sacred. It is about doing all to the glory of God. It is about a reverential love for the Creator and Savior.

Thomas Cranmer knew that the English word “Love” didn’t do justice to the reality it was meant to describe. Though it has gone out of practice, Cranmer changed the marriage rite in 1662 to include the line: “With my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” It was later changed to “with this ring I thee wed.” I personally like Cranmer’s version better. How much better is that line than crassly describing the consummation of marriage as “having sex”? How much more accurate is it to describe the intimacy of marriage as a type of worship, an image of the worship of God that should be a part of every believer’s life.

If it isn’t a part of our lives, we very quickly move on to worshipping something else, for we cannot restrain ourselves from doing so. We may worship power, wealth, fame, relationships, pleasure, false gods, or- ultimately- ourselves. That simply means that we haven’t looked beyond ourselves to see that there is Someone truly worthy of all that attention. If God is the only Thing in this world that can bring true happiness, doesn’t it make sense that we pursue Him with all of our Being? If experiencing Him brings the greatest fulfillment of all human experiences, what aspect of devotion can be deemed unnecessary? We must learn the Truth of Who He is, and we must experience that truth. We must seek the purity of heart He described. We must be willing to make sacrifices for Him because of Who He has sacrificed for us. We must enthusiastically revere the One Who is the chief end of Man.

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How Did the Old Testament Get Here?

Preservation of the Originals

I’ve talked a little bit about the transmission of the New Testament Scriptures in previous posts, but now I’d like to turn briefly to how the Old Testament was transmitted. Unfortunately, so much of what we would like to know about how the Old Testament was past down is buried beneath the sands of time. However, this does not mean that we are uncertain concerning the words of Scripture. Rather, we have maximum security that God has fulfilled His promise to forever preserve His words.

Deuteronomy 31:9, 26 makes it very plain that Moses had the priests place the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, beside the Ark of the Covenant. So long as the Tabernacle and later the Temple were kept safe, the originals would have also remained safe. It is not unlikely that Joshua would have done the same with his book. These scrolls were discovered during a time of renovation of the Temple under King Josiah over 700 years later (2 Kings 22:8, 2 Chronicles 34:15). It was not unusual to hide such documents in foundation boxes or within walls, especially if there was fear of them being purposefully damaged or destroyed.

Samuel placed his writings, possibly including Judges and Ruth, “before the Lord” (1 Samuel 10:25), indicating that he originally followed the custom established by Moses and Joshua. The other books we classify as “history” seem to have been considered official state or religious documents (1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 16:11, 1 Kings 14:19) and therefore would have been stored either in the Temple library or the royal archive.

The poetic books of Psalms and Proverbs alone of the books of the Bible were compiled and arranged. This began in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 4:32) and continued beyond the time of Hezekiah. (Proverbs 25:1) Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon would have most likely remained in the royal archives since they were written by King Solomon.

As early as the time of Daniel (Daniel 9), we find that the writings of the Prophets are recognized as canon. Daniel refers to reading from Jeremiah when he prays and asks God to fulfill His promises mentioned in Jeremiah. The Prophets would have also been placed in libraries associated with the post-exilic Temple alongside the official records of Ezra and Nehemiah. While not considered canonical, 2 Maccabees 2:13 does record that Nehemiah founded a national archive of sorts in the Temple.

Witnesses to the Originals

The Masoretic Text is the traditional text of the modern Hebrew Bible and the vast majority of (if not all of) Christian translations. The Masoretes compiled, copied, and preserved copies of the Old Testament from AD 500 to 1100, and it is based on hundreds of manuscripts that are now lost to us or destroyed. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Masoretic Text include Cairensis (AD 895), Aleppo (930), Leningradensis (1008), and the Damascus Pentateuch (late 9th century).

The Nash Papyrus was considered to be the oldest available example of the Old Testament until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars do not agree on a precise date for the copying of this papyrus, but the style of script dates it to the Hasmonean period (37 BC at the absolute latest). It is actually a liturgical or perhaps devotional book which consists of several passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of about 230 Old Testament manuscripts which include fragments or whole copies of every Old Testament book except for Esther. Some scholars have dated these manuscripts as being written around 225 BC. They are significant because, in the case of the Minor Prophets, they were copied only a few generations after the originals were penned. The Isaiah scroll (1QIsa-a), which was written 1000 years before the Aleppo Codex, agrees with the Masoretic Text in over 95% of the text. The remaining 5% of the text that did not agree with the Masoretic Text was due to slips of the pen and spelling errors.

While the Septuagint is an imperfect Greek translation of the original Hebrew Old Testament, it is important as a secondary witness to the Old Testament text. This is because it is proof of a coherent Hebrew text which existed before the time of the Masoretes or the Dead Sea Scrolls. As a translation, there are words that have been added for the sake of communicating the meaning of the original and there are variants based on translation philosophy and misinterpretation of the Hebrew language. The Chester Beatty Papyri (AD 200-400), Rylands Papyri (200-500), Vaticanus (400s), Sinaiticus (400-500), and Alexandrinus (500s) are all manuscripts of the Septuagint.

The Samaritan Pentateuch is a “modernized and expanded” copy of the first five books of the Old Testament. It was written 200-500 years before the time of Christ. There are a number of differences in spelling, but there are also around 6000 variants from the Masoretic Text. Since it was used in Samaritan worship as opposed to Jewish worship, these changes were most likely purposefully made to alter facts in favor of the Samaritans. Once again, the value of the Samaritan Pentateuch is not in making “corrections” to the Old Testament text, but in that it proves that a coherent biblical text existed hundreds of years before the time of Christ.

The Aramaic Targum and the Syriac Peshitta are Aramaic texts which consist of biblical translation, paraphrase, and commentary mingled together. You might consider them somewhat akin to the study Bibles of our day. They are useful for the purpose of comparison and are also witnesses to the existence of a coherent Old Testament text that had made its way to Jews and converted Gentiles living outside of Israel.

It is impossible to discuss the history of ancient Israel without understanding that God has directed that history and is an intrinsic part of it. If we fail to do so, we lose the concept of an all-powerful God, the literal fulfillment of prophecy, and a Bible that can be trusted. Believers have no choice to affirm the verbal, plenary inspiration and preservation of the Bible by God, and the evidence from history and biblical texts alike support this belief. Believers can truly have maximum security.

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Is Vicarious Atonement Immoral?

Christopher Hitchens has made the assertion in a debate with Dinesh D’souza that Christianity should not be accepted because Jesus’ death on the Cross is immoral. He says that we cannot be atoned by the death of another:

“I cannot say you are guiltless of this sin….The promise to do that is an immoral promise. The promise to do it by human sacrifice is immoral.”

Hitchens’ point is well taken. Even if you paid my monetary debt, did time in prison, or even went to the electric chair for me, you could not declare me to be righteous. No human could rightly make that claim. God, however, as the Creator and Judge of All the Earth can declare a person to be righteous. He’s the only one in a position to make that sort of declaration.

Hitchens also misunderstands Christianity on a few points. Justification does not mean that the believer has never sinned. Justification means that God declares a believer to be righteous because Christ’s righteousness is applied to his “account.” Atonement, on the other hand, comes from a Hebrew word which deals with cleansing or covering sin. Jesus’ death atones for sin because it pays the debts charged to the believers’ “account.” Is it immoral for God to require the death of His Son to make justification and atonement possible? No. Jesus did this willingly, and as the Creator and Judge, God is fully right in stating what will and will not be sin and stating what the punishment for committing sin will be. When God said that the wages of sin is death, He was fully right in doing so. Jesus received this punishment in our place and God applied Jesus’ righteousness to our account. This is all very “moral”; it is all very above-board.

Further on, Hitchens says:

“This is the worst kind of primitive, barbaric, Bronze-Age, Palestinian sadomasichism. In what sense is this the way, the truth, or the life? It is instead a worship of death.”

He only tells half the story, though. Having paid for our sins, Jesus returned to life. It is this Resurrection that Christians revere. It is the Resurrection, not simply His Death, that makes all of Christianity valid. As Paul said in 1Corinthians 15:

” Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”

As Paul says just a little further along:

” O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

Christianity is not a religion that glories in torture and death, but in peace, grace, and life. He offers us Justification, Atonement, and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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How the Church Created Darwin

Some scientists have been quite outspoken concerning their desire to purge religion from their ranks. In fact, a quick perusal of Paul Z. Myers’ blog Pharyngula will make it obvious that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is to blame for most of the world’s evils. The major complaint against the use of religion in science is that (supposedly) science that seeks out a non-naturalistic cause isn’t very good science at all. I would like to suggest that there is a problem with religion mingling with science. It’s just that I disagree with some scientists on what the religious problem is. You see, modern science’s idea that naturalism alone can explain the universe isn’t just unscientific (springing from the field of metaphysics). It’s also an idea that has its roots in the Church.

Long before Darwin penned his Origin of Species, liberal Christian theology was already moving away from belief in a Creator that is also involved in His creation. Here’s a brief list of their arguments:

  1. Some theologians believed that God would get more glory if He could simply produce matter, energy, and scientific laws to govern the universe. Cosmological and biological evolution would take place- in their minds- due to laws already put into place. In this view, special divine action should be minimized since Creation revealed a Designer God, not divine intervention. (Thomas Burnet [1635-1715], Anglican cleric, Telluris Theoria Sacra; John Ray [1627-1705], botanist and natural theologian, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation.)
  2. Deistic theologians argued that religious belief was solely a product of reason and not an act of faith. The Deists rejected any doctrines that could not be deduced from philosophy or nature. If it could not be deduced, it was not essential for salvation. Ultimately, they rejected the Bible’s concept of an active, providential God. (Matthew Tindal [1657-1733], deist, Christianity as Old as the Creation)
  3. Other scientists and theologians believed that God’s direct involvement with His creation would result in perfection. Evil as a moral category exists, and- to the mind of the theologically-minded scientists- evil existed in nature in the form of imperfections. To their mind, God clearly did not and does not directly intervene in nature. Looking at the geological records of his day, Thomas Burnet insisted that our world was a creation that was “lying in rubbish.” Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) wrote that “a perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures.” Hume believed that God must be only transcendent and not immanent since such evil exists.
  4. Finally, a movement within the church sprang up in the 1700s that sought to downplay and disregard the miracles of the Bible. Peter Annet argued against the existence of miracles because he believed that a God of infinite knowledge would not need to intervene. He could simply make things work out right the first time. He also believed that God would create a simple clockwork system that never needed to be adjusted and that God, being immutable, would never need or want to “contradict” His own laws.

The result of the above four movements was that naturalism was accepted first in the Church and then in the Academy. Because the Church was an avid supporter of discovering truths about Our Father’s World, theology dramatically influenced science. Naturalism became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Because the world was interpreted naturalistically by the theologians and then the scientists, all findings were viewed as supporting naturalism. The problem, of course, is that naturalism is not a finding of science. It was presupposed in the theological and philosophical realm and then superimposed on the scientific realm. Philosophical and theological naturalism came before scientific naturalism.

By the time of Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, the results of naturalism in the theological realm bore fruit. Here are the words of Erasmus Darwin in his Zoonomia:

“The world itself might have been generated, rather than created; that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden evolution by the whole by the Almighty fiat. What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of the great architect! The Cause of Causes! Parent of Parents!”

In the 1800s, Charles Darwin’s own Origin of Species made many theological and philosophical arguments for his theory. In the first place, why would God make things “imperfectly” or with a boring pattern? He argued that patterns in species were “utterly inexplicable if species are independent creations.”(Origin, 73-74) He also argued that “the best adapted plants and animals were not created for oceanic islands, for man has unintentionally stocked them far more fully and perfectly than did nature.” (Origin, 398) In other words, Darwin believed that God would include more variety in nature and would put every living thing precisely in a habitat that would cause it to multiply the most rapidly. He also believed that the variety in “important” organs between species and within the same genus was nonsensical in the creationist’s paradigm. (153, 156) Why would God do reinvent the wheel?

Why would God create birds with webbed feet that rarely swam, and why would He create birds with no webbing that stayed mainly in the water? How can this be the product of special creation? (177) What about the “waste” of pollen in trees and plants? (469-470) All of this makes God a “mockery and deception,” says Darwin. (165-166) Note that Darwin says this as a person who believed in God, not as an atheist. He is careful to keep a lofty view of God intact when he argues that speaking of God as a Designer makes God seem too human. We should not “assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man.” (181-182) It’s fairly obvious to make the connection between the liberal theology in the centuries preceding Darwin and what Darwin believed he saw while writing Origin of the Species. The Church created Darwin.

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Where’s God In Hard Times?

Those of you who regularly read my blog have probably noticed that this latest posting is coming out a little later than usual. This past weekend I lost a very good friend to a tragic accident. While he was driving to preach as part of a prison ministry a few hours away, he lost control of his vehicle when he hit a wet patch of pavement, struck a tree, and found himself in Heaven just moments later. Travis is a well-respected man in our community. He loved (and still loves) his wife and son. He was a respected police officer who was responsible for many acts of heroism and had even saved lives. I could sit and listen to his stories- some funny, some sobering- for hours on end. He was heavily involved in the school I teach at. He worked security for school events, he was a faithful coach and fan of our sports teams (nobody could heckle quite as well as he could), he spoke in student chapel, and he was a leader in our school in many other ways. He was involved in his church, and he had a heart to minister to those in prison. That last part was his passion. He loved to see people come to Christ. He’d talk excitedly about the times he had preaching in prison. The times I loved most were when we’d talk about some of the things we’d read in the Bible. He always had an interesting thought or question.

When I found out, I was devastated. Many of us are deeply saddened by the loss of a truly amazing man. It would be easy to question God in the face of tragedy like this. I can’t say I would blame anyone who told me they had at some point during the grieving process. How was this good? Did He care? Where was He?

To answer the first question, God doesn’t ever claim that everything that happens is good. Some days in the Bible are described as “evil.” Various Psalm writers talk about tragedy and difficult times. The Bible doesn’t ask us to wear rose-colored glasses, because life isn’t that way. Our world is filled with death, disease, chaos, war, and evil courtesy of the Fall. On days like Saturday, I’d love to backhand Adam and Eve across the room. “This is my Father’s world”, but this isn’t the world my Father intended.

All of this doesn’t mean that God Himself isn’t good. He’s good because He is God. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. He’s called the God of All Comfort. He loves and cares for His own. He’s good because He does good things for us. Offering salvation springs readily to mind. He intervenes directly and providentially in our world according to His will. The truth is, we may never know on earth why God allows some things to end tragically and chooses intervene in other areas. Our view is so limited. How can we make sense of things when we can’t see the whole picture that’s being painted? As my former music pastor once wrote after experiencing some significant tragedies in his life, including the death of twin children:

“Though I don’t always understand

All the ways of God with Man

Still I’ll hold my Savior’s hand

His Way is Perfect.”

Regardless of what may come- life or death, wealth or poverty, health or disease, good or evil- God does care. God cares when loved ones pass away. How profound is the shortest verse in the whole Bible: “Jesus wept.” The God of all reality cried at the death of a friend. The Psalmist writes: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He cares for sparrows when they fall from the air, and He never even claims to be their Father! (Your Father, Jesus says when speaking of God’s care for lilies and sparrows.)

The skeptic may ask where the proof of all this is. How can we know that He cares or loves for anything in this world? Why doesn’t He do something about it if He is all-powerful? Why not remove pain? Remember that pain can be helpful. It tells us that something is wrong, and something is definitely wrong with our world. Pain can be necessary. Any dentist can tell you that. How often is pain the thing that drives us to God? God would still be just in leaving the world that humans have destroyed to its own wretched end. That’s not what He did though. God the Son stepped off of His throne, wrapped Himself in human flesh, and was born into this wretched, pitiful, sin-cursed world. He came from a lowly place, lived a relatively ignoble life, and died a terrible death. He experienced the worst of what this world had to offer. And think of the Father in Heaven. He knows what it is like to lose a Son. The union we call the Trinity had experienced fellowship and relationship for eternity stretching backward. It was cut off in one horrible moment on the Cross. Not to minimize human loss, but God was cut off from something far deeply intimate than we can even imagine. For the believer, Heaven is waiting, and God promises to create a new universe for believers to inhabit. One day sin, sorrow, death,  and disease will be banished forever.

So we come back to our original question. Where is God in hard times? He is right where He’s been all along: right there. He’s with us throughout our times of agony. We come not before one of the icons or idols of religion. We come before the Savior Who Weeps, the God Who Comforts.

PS- Travis, you were an inspiration and a true friend to me. You taught me what it meant to stand up for what I believe in. You helped me see things in Scripture that I’d never imagined were there. Thank you for that. You will be greatly missed, but I know that you’re enjoying time with the Father, getting those questions answered (and finding out that you were right, I’m sure), rejoicing over those who come to Christ through your life and passing, and no doubt eating some of the best southern cooking ever. Save a leg for me!

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Atheism: Light or Heat?

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve made it a point to do a lot of reading on the subject of Christianity. I’ve read many books by Christians and Atheists to get their respective points, and it has occurred to me that works from both worldviews claim to be illuminating on the subjects of eternity, purpose, reality, and human nature. Christianity affirms inherent worth, describes our purpose, and reveals the nature of reality and, ultimately, eternity.What is also abundantly clear is that Atheism denies that a vast portion of reality even exists, and instead of reason uses sarcasm, intense emotionalism, and a fervent indignation toward those who espouse any faith. Hitchens’ major complaint is that he can’t see why anyone would want to serve a deity. Dawkins thinks that Christianity is a foolish relic of a distant age. Harris belittles anyone who believes in any god. There may be some justification for some of these thoughts, but they aren’t proper justification for a worldview. Atheism promises light, but only provides heat. It has the appearance of substance, but fails to deliver.

To be certain, there are people on both sides that are passionate. Heck, I’m passionate. There are even believers who are the epitome of “zeal without knowledge”; they are the results of soapbox preaching and topical Bible studies. They roam the internet and do some stupid if not deceitful things in the name of Christ. This isn’t exactly Christian, though. Christ wanted us to be above-board in our dealings with others, and we are admonished to grow in our faith and in our love for God- heart, soul, and mind.

Atheism, on the other hand, lays no such requirements on its adherents. I was recently at an event in which Christopher Hitchens spoke. After the event, I was talking with him and he said that he needed to get to the book signing because he’s needed to “move product.” Later, I talked with him again in the book signing line (hey, if I’m going to buy the book I might as well get it signed), and he told me that even though I didn’t agree with him he didn’t care because anyone who bought his product was a friend of his. The man is obviously in it for the money. Why not, though? If this life is all there is, and you can get rich in this life by selling what you believe, go for it! Christians who are in it for the money, on the other hand, ought to be kicked out of their ministries. They are an anomaly, not representive of Christianity. They may be leaders of megachurches, but they are not leaders in Christian thought or practice. In contrast, Atheists like Hitchens are leaders in atheistic thought and practice. They are heralded as revolutionaries.

Another such revolutionary was philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault wanted to experience life free of inhibitions after the death of God. This led him to try LSD in the wilderness and experiment sexually in ways that range from normative to the grotesque. As a result he died of AIDS. “To die for the love of boys,” he once told a friend, “what could be more beautiful?” Foucault lived out the natural result of an atheistic worldview. There was passion and fervency in his life and in his works, but there was no substance. It was heat without light. Like Stephen Jay Gould and a host of other atheists, Foucault believed that there were no answers.

Finally I turn to Sam Harris, whose Letter to a Christian Nation is the incarnation of the vitriol contained within the New Atheism. He asks where God is when children are raped (page 51) and when New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (page 52). His illustrations are intended to tug at the heart’s strings, and they certainly do so. I hope to deal with the problem of pain at a later date, but for now I’d like to focus on Harris’ assertion that Atheism is nonviolent in nature. Again, I would point out that unrestrained fervency in the last 100 years has been unleashed by those who espouse atheism.

It isn’t that Christians have not had cause to respond violently. The film adaption of The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Serrano’s “artistic” rendering of a crucifix in urine, The DaVinci Code, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and almost any episode of Family Guy are all blasphemous enough to enrage most of the Christian population, but no rioting occurred. There were no deaths. No one was “roughed up” because of these blasphemies. They were decried, but there was no violent action taken or encouraged. Contrast this with what transpired after Proposition 8, the California proposition that defined marriage as occurring exclusively between a man and a woman, passed. The vast majority of homosexuals are atheistic and anti-religious, so it is not a leap to conclude that the reaction is largely the result of an atheistic worldview. Of course, I don’t have time to talk about the affects of Nietzsche’s atheistic writings on Hitler, who in turn passed them on to Mussolini and Stalin. Perhaps we should be reminded of the words of Hitler, inscribed over one of the gas ovens in Auschwitz: “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of conscience, imperious, relentless, and cruel.” Fervency? Of course. Light? Nothing worth mentioning.

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Inherent Human Dignity?

A friend of mine recently pointed me in the direction of the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He’s done a phenomenal job writing his thoughts on the subject, but he encouraged me to write on it as well. It’s a fascinating world-wide “Declaration of Independence” with a preamble and thirty articles. What interests me most is the preamble (emphasis below is mine):

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Of supreme interest to me, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from the highlighted words above, is that the United Nations, at least in 1948, had a concept of inherent human worth and dignity. Such a document begs the question: where do humans get this inherent worth and dignity from? Who imbued us with such a lofty position?

If our sense of worth comes from within it is pride and is hardly inherent. If our sense of worth comes from governments or documents it is applied to us. In either case, human dignity is prescribed rather than described. If however, humans are indeed truly significant and special, if they were- one can’t help use the word- created with worth, dignity, purpose, conscience, and meaning, then a transcendent Being must have intended for it to be so. And so it seems to be. While societies run hot and cold on the issue of murder, no society permits the murder of any human for any reason. We are all aware of the value of a person. Some believe in fate or destiny, but most cultures have an innate sense of purpose in this life.

The Bible offers us the answer to the question of inherent purpose:

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”- Psalm 8:3-9

Man’s dignity come from God, for He has placed us in a position of honor. The whims of politicians and potentates may change on this matter, but God has His mind quite made up: we are made in His image.

As Rollwagen says in his blog: Kingdoms come and go…“Kingdom come.”

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What I’ve Done

“In this farewell there’s no blood,
There’s no alibi.
‘Cause I’ve drawn regret from the truth
Of a thousand lies.
So let mercy come and wash away…
What I’ve done.”

So begins Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done.” That’s one way you could view the Judgment Seat of Christ, and perhaps the unfaithful or disobedient Christian would do well to consider these words  as they may very accurately reflect his attitude on that day. However, I would like to add that there’s a very different view one could take if he continues in faith, nothing wavering, and if he lives a life that is obedient to the Master’s call. What does the Judgment Seat hold for such a believer?

I’ve listed the basis of judgment in a previous post as well as given Old Testament and New Testament perspectives on the Judgment Seat. Now let us turn to the rewards for those who are obedient and faithful.

  1. Those who are humble will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, not merely enter into it. (Matthew 5:3)
  2. Those who experience godly sorrow over life’s circumstances, poor health, or personal tragedy in this life will receive great comfort in the Age to Come. This is a specific sort of comfort received at the hands of the God of all Comfort. (Matthew 5:4)
  3. Those who are meek will inherit their portion of the physical earth. This refers to possession and authority. (Matthew 5:5)
  4. Those who crave righteousness above everything else will experience the great satisfaction of becoming righteous progressively on earth and ultimately in Heaven. (Matthew 5:6)
  5. Those who are merciful will receive mercy at the Judgment Seat. (Matthew 5:7)
  6. Those who are pure in heart will be able to perceive and know the Godhead in a deeper, fuller, richer manner. (Matthew 5:8)
  7. Those who are peacemakers receive the unique title: “Child of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
  8. Those who are persecuted for being righteous will inherit the Kingdom and receive a great reward that Jesus leaves undefined. (Matthew 5:10-12)
  9. Those who lead others to Christ are given a Crown of Rejoicing. (Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19)
  10. Those who teach, guide, care for, and disciple others are given a Crown of Glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
  11. Those who live righteous lives and long for Christ to return receive a Crown of Righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  12. Those who do not lose their love for Christ or return to Christ as their first love will be allowed to eat of the Tree of Life. (Revelation 2:1-7) What humans have been denied for thousands of years will be permitted to those who love Christ.
  13. Those who are killed for their faith receive a Crown of Life, an eternal reward for faithfulness resulting in a tragic end. This most likely also is an allusion to a unique degree of enjoyment of the eternal life Christ has given us. See my discussion on Philippians 3 in my previous posts (Revelation 2:8-11)
  14. Those who do not deny their faith receive several rewards. They receive the hidden manna, which is probably a reference to the messianic feast, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This will be a tremendous time of celebration and honor. They will also receive a “white stone”, which is probably a reference to a stone of victory given at Grecian victory games. Finally the believer is told he will receive a new name, which is probably a reference to the Jewish custom of renaming a person based on what kind of life they have lived. (Revelation 2:12-17)
  15. Those who abstain from religious and personal fornication and idolatry receive authority over the nations. Paul speaks of this when he tells Timothy that there are some who will reign with Christ. (Revelation 2:18-29)
  16. Those who live pure lives are given white robes. They are called worthy because of personal holiness. Finally, they are commended before God the Father and the angels in Heaven. The Person Who speaks so highly of such a believer is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. (Revelation 3:1-6)
  17. Those who are faithful witnesses in the face of persecution of all sorts will share a unique, intimate relationship with God. (Revelation 3:7-13)
  18. Those who refuse to conform to the spirit of the age in which they dwell will be permitted to sit in the Father’s throne, a position of honor and authority. (Revelation 3:14-22)

How much better is it to enter the Kingdom with the rewards of faithful service rather than enter the Kingdom “so as by fire.” How much better it is to enter into the joy of the Lord without regret, to not simply being reliant on God to wipe away “What I’ve Done”!

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Work Out Your Salvation: Success, Failure, and the Results at the Judgment Seat

I’ve written two other posts on the types of inheritance in Scripture, one based on the Old Testament and the other based on the New Testament. I should state what will be quite obvious to some: I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to be said concerning inheriting and suffering loss in the Kingdom. I hope this will help open doors for those interested in the subject. The most serious and practical aspect of this study is what success and failure mean for the believer in the future- a very, very real future that we are only moments away from at any given moment. Christ could come back, and you and I would stand before the Judge of all the Earth. Who will be judged at this event, what will this judgment be based on, and what will the results be?

Without question, those who are judged at this event are the believers. The unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment mentioned near the end of Revelations. The dead unbelievers will stand before Christ, will be judged based on their works, and will receive their portion in the Lake of Fire. The believers, too, will be judged based on their works. Works, however, are only a portion of what this judgment will be based on.

We will be judged based on the following criteria:

  1. Actions- 1Corinthians 3:13, 2Corinthians 5:10, Revelations 3:23
  2. Words- Matthew 12:36-37, Luke 12:2-3
  3. Thoughts- Hebrews 4:12
  4. Motivations- Matthew 6:4
  5. Faithfulness- Matthew 24:45, Matthew 25:23, 1 Corinthians 4:2

There are three important things one can do to take care of past mistakes:

  1. Confession of Sin- 1 John 1:9 (which, it must be remembered, was written to believers)
  2. Show Mercy to Others- Matthew 5:7 (This was written to believers and has future rewards in mind. More on this in a future post.)
  3. Judge Ourselves- 1 Corinthians 11:31

The wicked, lazy, or unrighteous believer may partake in one of three consequences of running the race of the Christian life poorly. Keep in mind that none of these consequences affect eternal security or our acceptance by God. They don’t affect our presence in the Eternal State and are not permanent in nature. The worst-case scenario is that they last for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom.

  1. A rebuke from Christ Himself: “Thou wicked and slothful servant!”- Matthew 25:26
  2. Exclusion from the Marriage Supper of the Lamb due to sinfulness- Matthew 22:11-13
  3. Denial of inheritance- Matthew 10:33, 2 Timothy 2:12

If this all seems a bit heavy-handed, allow me to add some comfort from Scripture. It should first be pointed out that those who receive such hash judgments are those who are stubborn in their carnality or laziness. This is not about the day-to-day struggle with sin. This is not about our personal failures when we give into sin. This is about blatant rebellion. In fact, those who struggle with sin do not fall into this category at all! This is, after all, about righteousness, and Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous person is one who gets up when he falls. No, the stern warning in Scripture is toward those who fall and do not care.

There are rewards, though, and Scripture has much to say on this subject. There are crowns, the rewards of those who overcome which are mentioned in Revelation 2-3, the out-resurrection mentioned by Paul in Philippians, treasures in Heaven, and the prospect of reigning with Christ and even being praised by Him before the angelic and believing hosts!  To those who are faithful disciples of Christ, there is a great inheritance waiting indeed!

God is concerned primarily with our hearts and with our faithfulness. Can we stand firm when God seems distant or absent? Can we trust Him when He waits until the eleventh hour to work? Think about it: the Israelites in the wilderness really didn’t struggle with doing right most of the time. They struggled with believing God, and that led to huge problems for them. Consider also David, who was a man after God’s own heart, even when he sinned with Bathsheba! The “degree” of sin doesn’t determine success or failure at the Judgment Seat. Furthermore, Christ is a High Priest who understands the weaknesses of the human flesh. He understands the struggles necessary to overcome a poor family life or background, stress, anxiety, peer pressure, and the weaknesses in our own personalities and genetic make up! These aren’t excuses that we use to talk God into lightening up on us; they are things God as a faithful and loving Father will surely take into account.

More on the inheritance to come!

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Salvation: Two Inheritances, Part 2

Most believers are convinced that salvation in all of its forms is strictly a free gift of God. I fully believe that justification, sanctification, and glorification are all free gifts of God. However, I also believe that there is more to the story than meets the eye. We will see in the following verses that inheritance may be gained or lost, and that eternal life is something that we are sometimes told to work for. Certain habitual sins, according to several passages of Scripture,  preclude a person from inheriting the Kingdom. How is salvation free if it must also be worked for? How is salvation secure if one can lose their inheritance?

  • He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. -John 12:25
  • To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.- Romans 2:7
  • Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
  • For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.- Galatians 6:8
  • For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.- Ephesians 5:5
  • Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.- 1 Timothy 6:12

Such verses are cause for deep concern for the believer, since warnings against sin and exhortations to gain eternal life would not exist unless there were a very real possibility to fail. As in the last post, I would like to suggest that the Bible is speaking of two types of inheritance or two aspects of salvation. In one sense, we have God as our inheritance and Heaven as our final home. This occurs at salvation because of faith. However, there is a second inheritance that we can enjoy that is by obedience, obtainable only by sanctified living. Our salvation is indeed secure, but there is a lot concerning our experience in the Kingdom that can change considerably.

I want to write an article that will discuss what this inheritance will consist of, but for now I’d like to focus on an aspect of what I’m saying that is likely to cause some consternation on the part of believers. What is this business of working for eternal life? How can a person be a believer but lose eternal life?

In John 10:10, Jesus says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Interestingly enough, John begins his gospel by saying that life originates in Christ. Paul echoes this thought when he writes that it is in Him we live, and move, and have our being. The implication is that eternal life in Scripture is intimately tied to an active, dynamic relationship with Christ. In other words, eternal life isn’t something you and I simply get at salvation and hang onto until we die; it is something that can grow and develop or whither away in the present. An eternal home in Heaven is secure, of course, but Jesus came not to simply give us an infinitely long life, but an abundant quality of life. Enjoying a life of fullness and fulfilledness, one in which times with God can truly be described as “sweet”, can only occur when we are living for Him and desiring to know Him more. We all have access to eternal life, but our experience in that life will differ from individual to individual.

The reward for living out this life eternal in the here and now will have some bearing on the rewards we receive in the future. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 2:11 where he states that he has rejected the elements of his past to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering so that he could attain a resurrection. What’s interesting is that this word isn’t the usual Greek word for resurrection (anastasis). Instead, Paul uses the word exanastasis- separation from out of the resurrected. Of those who are believers and enter into eternal life, there will be some set apart because they sought to win Christ. They alone of all believers will receive the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

God is faithful enough to reward believers based on their actions and attitudes. All believers will have eternal life, a home in Heaven, and forgiveness of sins. However, the vastness of that eternal life, the joys of that heavenly home, and the rewards in the Kingdom will be experienced by each of us to different degrees and in different ways.

More on that subject in the near future!

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Salvation: Two Inheritances, Part 1

Canaan During the Time of Joshua

Israel During Joshua's Time

What happens when a person who claims Christ rejects his faith or lives a blatantly immoral lifestyle with no sign of remorse? That’s a question that the theologians have been batting around for ages. Some believe that such a person loses their salvation, an idea that requires some exegetical acrobatics when it comes to verses such as Romans 8:1 and John 10:28-29. Others believe that that person was never truly saved in the first place, and I believe that there are some people who definitely fall into this category. However, I do believe that it is possible for a genuine believer to fail the grace of God. What happens then? He suffers loss.

The Old Testament frequently refers to the term “inheritance.” In fact, the Old Testament uses the term 185 times, while the New Testament uses it only 18 times! We normally think of an inheritance as something one gets the moment a parent dies. However, in Old Testament times, two things are true of inheritances:

  1. In order for an heir to receive an inheritance, the parent does not have to die. Psalm 28 and 33 at least speak of Israel being Jehovah’s inheritance. At the risk of being crass, who has to die to make Him God? The story of the prodigal son in the New Testament also bears witness to this fact.
  2. If a parent, Divine or otherwise, put stipulations or prerequisites on the inheritance, there was a potential for a person to lose that inheritance.

This second point is of utmost importance when we consider what we received when we got saved. We certainly received Heaven and were rescued from a destiny in Hell, but there is so much more to it than that. There are two types of inheritances, even in the Old Testament. Believing Israelites as a result of faith had Jehovah as their inheritance, but on top of that, they could receive a secondary inheritance as the result of obedience. This secondary inheritance was a possession in Canaan, and there is a difference between living in Canaan and owning Canaan.

Contrary to many songs sung in churches today and many Bible lessons I have heard, Canaan doesn’t represent Heaven. That makes no sense whatsoever. Canaan had to be worked for, while Heaven is free. Canaan was never free from enemies, Heaven will certainly not be that way. While they are actual historical events, the journey in the Wilderness and Canaan itself are pictures of the possibility for success and failure in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10).

Here’s some additional examples of the inheritance loss/gain factor:

  • Abraham received God as an inheritance when he believed Him and left the land of his fathers, but when he obeyed, God promised him the nations and the land of Canaan through the Abrahamic covenant. (Genesis 22:15-18)
  • Caleb and Joshua alone of the Israelites involved in the Exodus actually received the inheritance of Canaan. Even Moses failed to receive an inheritance there because of disobedience. This wasn’t because they weren’t believers, but because they weren’t “obeyers.” (1Corinthans 10:4-5, Hebrews 11:29-30)
  • Lamentations 5:2 makes it clear that the Israelites again lost their inheritance due to disobedience.

Israelites and others might enter Canaan but not be able to inherit/possess it. Those who dwelt in Israel when it was established but were not Jewish did not have the same rights as landowners did. They did not have the same rights or access to the same privileges. Some of the Israelites remained in Israel when Babylon conquered, but they did not have all the rights that they had had before. They had lost their possession.

What does this mean for the believer? We’ll look at the New Testament in the next post, but let me tell you what I believe to be true based on what we have seen:

  1. All believers have God as their inheritance. They will be with Him for all of eternity. (Psalm 16, 73, 142)
  2. Some believers will inherit the Kingdom, while others will not. There will be some who are residents of the Kingdom, and there will be others that enter AND truly possess the Kingdom.This is something additional to being in Heaven.
  3. The difference between “enterors” and inheritors is obedience. (Joshua 14:8-9, Genesis 22:15-18)

All believers will enter into the Kingdom of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State, but not all will be co-heirs with Christ when we are there.

Continue on to Part 2 for a discussion on the New Testament concept of a multi-dimensional salvation!

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God IS Great: Christopher Hitchens, Metaphysics, and Teleology

The fifth and sixth chapters of Hitchens’ book God is not Great are an attempt to undermine belief in God as the Uncaused Cause of the universe. Originally, I had intended to treat chapter five’s dealings with metaphysics as a separate article from chapter six’s dealings with argument from design. However, once I read the chapter on metaphysics, I was faced with a serious problem. Hitchens only deals directly with metaphysics in one paragraph of the whole chapter!

I’ve begun to see the beauty of journalism. You can write articles and whole books based on anecdotes and sarcasm alone! Now, I’m a huge fan of both when used with real support, but if Hitchens wants to discuss such a serious issue as the origin of the universe, he had better have more to bring to the table than baseless claims and gross sarcasm. Perhaps he’d be better off as a White House spokesman. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

Hitchens fails miserably at proving the metaphysical claims of Christians to be false. He mocks them, uses some straw men here and there, takes some quotes out of context, etc. He doesn’t ever deal with real issues. He never quotes Christian apologists of the 21st century. This is, perhaps, the poorest chapter of his book.

Strangely, he also spends very little time dealing with atheistic metaphysics. Every belief system has metaphysical elements. We all must have answers to questions that are non-scientific in nature. After a shoddy attempt to pull the rug out from under Christian metaphysics, Hitchens does little if anything to explain his perspective on the issue of metaphysics.

Hitchens’ only real attempt at metaphysics is one that could have easily been placed in his chapter on arguments from design. He says that because every cause must have a cause, theistic explanations for God are weak. Hitchens makes a categorical mistake here. Christian metaphysics state that whatever comes into being must have a cause. There is a great distinction between the two statements. If God never came into being but simply always is (which, by the way, is the actual claim of Christianity since God is the “I Am”, the high and lofty one that inhabits eternity), then He has no need of an external force or intelligence to bring Him about. Christians simply don’t believe in a created God, for created gods really are a delusion. What really is a tragedy is when intelligent people have no problem believing an infinite regression of causes, such as those who espouse Darwinism.

Hitchens also makes the assertion that the universe could not have been created because there is imperfection in the universe. This seems to be quite the leap to me, and one that ignores the clear marks of design in our world. One of his evidences of the imperfection of the universe is the state of the universe itself. The explosions of stars seems to be evidence of violence to Hitchens, something far more random than a created universe should have. I think it strange that just a few chapters ago, Hitchens talked about the wonder and majesty of the cosmos. Surely he can see that beauty and awe can come from even the explosion of suns! We see very little of the “big picture” in the cosmos so that an argument of this source is really an argument from ignorance. He mocks those who lived centuries ago for their superstitions and false beliefs. Doesn’t he know that people will one day look back on even the likes of Einstein and chuckle to themselves? To argue from lack of knowledge seems foolish.

Secondly, Hitchens makes the assumption that the God of the Bible is a pragmatist. He thinks that because humans see organs or portions of DNA as unnecessary that we couldn’t have been designed that way. Why did God create things as He did? Why did He not do things differently? I suppose there are many different ways God could have done things. The point is that He did them in this way for purposes that we do not know. Rather than assume that we have all knowledge, why not simply admit that we lack true understanding? Isn’t that part of the wonder of God’s universe, to be able to explore, experience, and discover?

Thirdly, Hitchens assumes that because things are unpleasant that they are therefore imperfect. Ears that need cleaning, for instance, are evidence of imperfection in the created order. Seriously? Nowhere in the Bible does God claim to have made a sterile world. Nowhere in the Bible does God claim to have made a world in which there will be minimal to no effort required on our part. God gave us things to do and the means to accomplish those tasks. How is ear wax proof of a world that lacks a Designer? (One could, by the way, make the argument that the existence of earwax is miraculous in itself. Maybe someday…)

Finally, Hitchens completely ignores the Biblical account of the Fall. Things aren’t perfect, and we’d be fools to claim they were. However, assuming that this world is precisely what God intended is equally foolish. Paul speaks in Romans 8 about how the entire creation groans under the crushing weight of human sin. “Man marks the earth with ruin”, as Lord Byron says, and his control no longer stops with the shore. Violence, destruction, and failure to properly care for our Father’s world have ravaged this planet. The results of both Fall and Flood are great and tragic. Everything in this world was thrown about because of man’s fall, and we won’t see a perfect world as God intended it until the Eternal State begins.

On the whole, Hitchens fails miserably to deal seriously with Christian thought and practice. Rather than deal with Christian belief within the Bible itself, he is quite content to deal with historical, marginal Christianity bereft of context. Such a straw man may be easy to knock down, but one is left to wonder how Hitchens would do if he ever came across the genuine artifact.

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God IS Great: The Arrogance of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

“As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.” That’s how Christopher Hitchens ends the first chapter of his best-selling book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Frankly, Hitchens’ book- cover to cover-  is nothing more than a rant. It stirs the emotions of the reader, to be sure. It has some facts scattered throughout. It doesn’t have much substance, though. In fact, the thought strikes me that his book is basically nothing more than a 307-page opinion piece gone horribly wrong.

I’d read this book when it first came out, but I thought I’d read it again since I am going to hear him speak soon. I got it used, so as not to contribute in driving up sales. One of the first things that leapt out at me was the incredible arrogance of the book. Now, he hasn’t gone so far as some atheists (who want to refer to themselves as “brights”), but he is incredibly arrogant, nonetheless.

A Proud Look

Wasting no time in flaunting his presumptuousness, on page 7 of his book he says:  “How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in awareness of one’s own sin?” Throughout the first few chapters, Hitchens asserts that Christianity is incapable of producing anything “intelligible or noble or inspiring” since the rise of science. He speaks of the wonder, majesty, and mystery of Hawking’s description of event horizon of a black hole and the symmetry of the double helix while he says of Jehovah: “Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally? This seemed servile, apart from anything else.”

One has to wonder where Hitchens thinks the wonder, majesty, and mystery of nature came from in the first place. Art and music do not leap into existence on their own; it takes the will, power, and skill of a creator- a creator with passion and imagination- to form them. If we wonder at the creation, how much more should we wonder at the Creator? Hitchens would do better to be like his colleague Richard Dawkins, who at least admits the desire to feel grateful when he beholds the heavens.

Semi-intelligent Design

From Hitchens’ initial error in being arrogant a host of other problems come forth. For starters, he has espoused a Darwinistic/Atheistic worldview. He says of those that think like him: “We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than scientific factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.” This truism is not espoused solely by the Darwinistic and Atheistic faithful, however. It is accepted by Christians as well. As I’ve said many times before, Christianity was foundational and not incidental to the modern scientific movement in the West, and I can think of no Christian today that denies the importance of science and reason.

Rather, Christians have exercised reason and interpreted scientific findings (something we all must do) in concluding that there is a flaw in the atheistic and Darwinistic worldviews. “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could,” sang Maria Von Trapp, and she was quite right. Ironically, while Hitchens doesn’t believe in a Creator with a will and an intellect, he cannot avoid projecting those qualities on a theoretical blind process: “Evolution has meant that our prefontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee.”

Standardless Morality

Hitchens also believes that a moral life can be lived apart from God. However, I would ask where Hitchens got the idea that morality and immorality exist. I wonder why he thinks that the moral path is better than the immoral path. If you can get to the top by cheating and swindling and never suffer the consequences you most fear, why not do it? There is no judgment coming in the atheistic worldview. If no one finds out about it, why not go for it?

Humans know that there is a difference between right and wrong, and things such as character and guilt prevent the vast majority of us from doing terrible things. This conscience tells us that there is a “better” and a “worse” in us, and I would say that if there is a “better”, then it is reasonable to assume at some point there is absolute Perfection. If there is absolute perfection, would not this Perfection be the standard for all? A perfect Being is one of the major aspects of the Judeo-Christian God. Hitchens denies the existence of Evil, preferring rather to blame man’s actions on an evolutionary hiccup that has resulted in humans being only partially rational. If this is true, where did the impulse to be good come from? Furthermore, how can I know anything about morality at all if my bodily organs are in control?

Religiosity vs. Relationship

This isn’t to say that Hitchens doesn’t have some leverage in his war against religion. In a sense, religion as we have come to call it does poison everything. Violence done in the name of a god or Eastern religion is tragic. Violence done in the name of Jehovah God is both tragic and grossly hypocritical. Jesus made it quite clear that His Kingdom was not of this world, and Paul said specifically that our weapons are spiritual, not physical. Our Enemy is Satan, not flesh and blood. If humans are made in God’s image and are potential temples for the Holy Spirit, why would any human exercise physical might in the name of God? They wouldn’t.They might have used His name in their crusade, but they have employed nothing of His character and obeyed none of His commands.

While Hitchens may find scientific discoveries “more awe-inspiring than the rantings of the godly”, I would conclude by saying that Christians are not followers of a religion, but partakers of a Relationship with the Divine. Every scientific discovery we make reminds us that “This is My Father’s World.” Every moment we live we are conscious of the fact that it is in Him that we live, and move, and have our being. Every aspect of our lives is a gift from the Creator and Sustainer of life, and we are moved by gratitude to worship and obedience. It is love and awe that is to be the supreme motivator in the Christian life, not fear or lust for power and control.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Way, Truth, and Life

The latter part of John 6 tells of a fascinating event in the life of Christ. The crowd is following Jesus, hoping to see another miracle, to taste again of the bread supplied by a miracle.

“If you want life, you must eat my flesh and drink my blood,” said Jesus.

“This is a difficult saying. How can we accept it?”, said the unbelieving multitude. They hadn’t expected this. They had been looking for a free meal. The miracles had become the point of their time with Christ, and Christ Himself had become the means of their “bread and circuses.” Jesus had been trying to get them to focus on their spiritual need but the unbelievers couldn’t see it. They only wanted more of the same. They wanted to have their desires fulfilled without having to deal with God. Of course, Jesus knew that one more meal wasn’t going to bring true happiness. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

God has not designed the universe to work in this way. He has designed human beings in such a way that the ultimate and deepest satisfaction you and I can partake of is in Himself. There may be other delights in this world, but they are mere hints and whispers of a far greater joy. If we choose to reject God as our ultimate joy, to paraphrase Lewis, we have no choice but to starve.

Life must be about more than consumption and reproduction. Those motives that are supreme in the Darwinian worldview don’t provide lasting satisfaction and fulfillment. Perhaps that is why, in a recent study, only around 40% of Americans admitted to buying into the lie of evolution. There seems to be something instinctive within the human psyche that drives them to seek satisfaction outside of those basic physical needs. Humans want expression and knowledge, love and passion, acceptance and significance. They want Truth in all areas. They want the Sacred.

“I am the Bread. I am the Way. I am the Life. I am the Door. I am the Vine. I am the Light. I am the Shepherd. I am the Resurrection…..I am the Truth.” Jesus makes statements throughout the book of John which tell us of His ability to meet our needs. It is this last claim, the claim to BE Truth, which is so profound and so unique that it distinguishes Jesus forever from any other god that may be raised up in the temple of the mind.

In every other world religion, there is a distinction between the source of the truth claim and the truth claim itself. Krishna offers philosophy and mysticism, but he is not the philosophy itself. Mohammed points to the Koran, but Mohammed the person is not the vaunted truth. The Muslim does not turn to Mohammed himself in worship and obedience. Buddha speaks of a “Noble Path”, but he himself is not that Path. Buddha is the teacher, not the supposed reality behind the teachings. At their very best (the points at which these religions make some accurate statements regarding morality and reality), these religions are like an HIV test. The test reveals the problem, but cannot treat the disease.

Jesus, in contrast, was both the Message and the Messenger. He did not merely teach truth. He is Truth. He did not show a way. He is the Way. (Deepak Chopra recognizes the unique union of Message and Messenger and must make up some pretty weird ideas to get around it.) Life in Christ, in contrast to materialism, is not merely about consumption and reproduction. It is about who we are (our natures) as humans made in the image of God, our new position and relationship as children of God, and our destiny as believers. Our greatest hunger is to be filled with awe and love, to experience celebration, and to commit ourselves to Him. Our greatest hunger is fulfilled in living a life of Sacred Worship.

Hinduism says that I must nurture the god within because I am part of the divine universe. Islam says that I am so different from Allah that I will never really even get close to him. Jesus says that the God- Who is distinct from His creation and from Whom humanity was estranged- has come near. Instead of union with the universe or separation from Allah, God offers us communion through Jesus Christ His Son.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Signs and Wonders

Herods Temple

Herod's Temple

Last week I began by talking about the eternality of Jesus Christ as a support for the uniqueness of Christianity. This week I want to talk a bit about Jesus’ next unique claim.

We begin in John 2. Jesus performed the miracle at the wedding in Cana, and He moved with purpose to Jerusalem. In the Temple, He drove out the moneychangers. Enraged, the Jews said: “What is the basis of your authority? Show us a sign!”

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

John tells us that Jesus spoke of the temple of His body. Why did He give them a sign that they wouldn’t be able to see for years? The answer is that Jesus knew the heart of the particular Jews that asked Him the question. They weren’t skeptics searching for answers. They were skeptics who thought they already knew the answers. In fact, it is interesting to note that every time someone in Scripture asked for a sign of Jesus’ power and authority, Jesus had recently finished performing a great miracle! The miraculous propelled the faithful into greater faith but drove the unbelievers to further skepticism. It is no different today. The skeptics that question whether or not God exists do so with the mind given them by God’s creative power: a miracle. The skeptics that scoff at the idea of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loves of bread and two fish forget that Jesus created the materials that make up the bread. It isn’t the lack of evidence for Who Jesus is that troubles skeptics, but it’s the implications of the evidence that makes them uncomfortable.

Consider some other miracles of reality, called to mind by Ravi Zacharias:

  • The statistical probability of forming a single enzyme, the building block of the gene, is 1 in 1040,000. That’s a larger number than all of the atoms in the stars in the known universe.
  • A human DNA double helix has enough information to cover 600,000 pages of information, supposedly originating from nothing and no one.

Who, I wonder, has more faith: The believer or the materialist?

Yet the materialist who considers Scripture says with David Hume: “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” The problem is that Hume’s test doesn’t pass its own test; it is neither mathematical nor scientific. Such is the nature of materialistic claims.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

What greater proof is there of Jesus’ authority than His resurrection?  He predicts a bodily resurrection within a specific time frame, and does so quite accurately. The soldiers guarding the tomb knew it happened, as did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. That’s why the Pharisees in their extrabiblical writings refer to Jesus as a sorcerer instead of a liar. They couldn’t disprove the resurrection. Hundreds, in fact, saw Jesus after His resurrection.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

There’s something else to Jesus’ words than a “simple” reference to His Own resurrection. Notice the use of “temple” as a metaphor for “body.” Jesus reminds the listener that the physical body is sacred. It is sacred because it is a part of God’s special creation. Human rights, the sacredness of marriage, sexuality, and the command to love each other as we love ourselves all come from our bodies being a temple (at salvation) for God Himself. This is the distinction between Christianity and other religions.

In every other classic world religion there is a difference between the body and the place of worship. The body must perform specific deeds, say certain things, etc. in order to enter so-called holy places for worship. The human body must at least face in the direction of the place of worship in Islam if the worshiper is absent. Hindus, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews have engaged in violence toward one another over their sacred places. During Thaipusam, some Hindu devotees pierce their bodies in preparation for their journey to the temple of Lord Murugan. Indira Gandhi was murdered because she sent the military into a Sikh temple to obtain weapons. It is true that people have performed violence in the name of Christ, but Jesus was quite clear when He said that His kingdom was not of this world. It is not of weapons to do violence. We are His temple. How much suffering could have been avoided had we all simply listened to the claims of Christ?

The body is exalted because of Jesus’ conception, His unique expression of the Godhead, His physical sacrifice on the Cross, and His bodily resurrection. What greater sign or wonder is there than these?

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

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“God Did It So Shut Up”

My final (brief) post on Nitwit Nastik‘s article is a summation of his fifth problem with Christian’s responses. Basically, he hates it when Christians dismiss the question or argument because some Christians will say that the question is unreasonable. Nitwit has a good point. Do children like it when you say “because I said so”? No! Do you like it when your boss pulls rank? No! What makes anyone think that saying “Your question doesn’t matter” is a good response?! We are commanded to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” I would think that Nitwit was making up this last one, but I’ve seen Christian do this to other Christians. Shameful!

Now, Nitwit also seems to have a problem with an appeal to those who are professional students of the Scripture. I’m afraid that I must disagree with him on this point. We ask doctors questions on medicine. We want to know what scientists think on matters of science. We want to know what economists and politicians think about the state of the world these days. Why would we not go to the pastors and theologians when we have questions concerning their professional area of study?

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Jesus Isn’t “Nice”

We’ve all seen the pictures. He’s got long hair, feminine features, soft eyes, and maybe a big, cheesy grin. That’s Him. Your friendly, neighborhood Savior. Marketing Christianity sure has gotten easy these days, hasn’t it? We’ve gotten rid of the Stone the Builders Rejected and replaced Him with a “nice” sculpture to admire. The problem is, in getting rid of the original, we’ve committed idolatry.

Jesus isn’t “nice.” To be sure, He is loving, gracious, and merciful. He is the Savior Who mourned the loss of a friend, grieved over His rejection by Jerusalem, and beckoned children to His side. But that isn’t all He is. He drove the money-changers from the Temple. He didn’t give a rip when the Pharisees got offended by His teachings and miracles. He was so rugged He could endure 40 days in the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals, and not eat. He endured tremendous persecution, betrayal, and an excruciating execution. He sits today at the right hand of the Father, and we will all bow before Him one day, declaring Him to be Lord. He will judge both Living and Dead, saved and lost.

Because Christians have feminized Jesus, both believers and unbelievers have gotten entirely too comfortable with Him. He’s regularly mocked by satirical shows such as Family Guy, blasphemed by the creator of the “Sweet Lord Jesus” statue (made entirely out of chocolate), and taken for granted by many Christians today.

We’d best be careful, though. He isn’t called the “Lion of Judah” for nothing.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: His Dwelling

Coexist?

Coexist: Blind Leading the Blind?

“Christianity is no different than every other religion.” That’s what some of my friends will tell me if we’re ever discussing religion. “They all teach the importance of morality, the existence of eternity, and give people some comfort as well as a reason to be good.” Fair enough. Christianity does have some things in common with most of the major religions. In fact, I would suggest that any religion worth having a look at should at least provide this much information and motivation. I would also suggest, however, that Christianity is very different from mere religion. Christianity is unique because of the Person of Jesus Christ.

Where are you from?

If you read John 1:38-51, an interesting story (which I’m going to paraphrase for the sake of space) unfolds.

“Rabbi, where are you from?”, the disciple asks.

“Come and see.”

We don’t know where exactly Jesus spent the night, but we do know that He and His disciples rarely stayed in houses. We can also hear the incredulity in Nathanael’s voice a few verses later when he asks: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

In the Eastern parts of the world, I am told, one of the most important things about a person is where they are from. In fact, in some areas, where you are from and what your family heritage is like is more important than your own personal credentials. In the West, of course, we are interested in where you are from, but we are more interested in what you can do. If you are dividing the world strictly into East and West, then ancient Israel is very much an Eastern land. That is why the disciples are originally very much interested in where Jesus is from, and that is why Nathanael has difficulty with Jesus’ hometown. Nazareth wasn’t much to look at.

But Jesus wasn’t from Nazareth. Not really, anyway.

Jacob’s Ladder

“You will see greater things, for soon you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” said Jesus.

Jacob. He escaped his brother’s wrath after tricking his father into giving him the blessing. In the middle of the desert, he slept with a rock for his pillow and dreamed of angels descending and ascending into Heaven on a ladder. When he woke up, he knew that He was in Beth-el (“the house of God.”)

In effect, Jesus had said: “I AM Beth-el. I AM the House of God.” Jesus’ dwelling place was identical to the dwelling place of Jehovah, the “High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.” All of reality is His domain, but His throne is in Heaven.

The Visitation

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3) to ask Him some questions. Jesus’ teachings astounded him, for He spoke of a new birth, eternal life, and the “lifting up” of Himself. As part of His claim to authority, Jesus speaks of coming down from Heaven, not ascending into Heaven. This is not Enlightenment. This is not Revelation to Jesus from God. This is a Visitation of the eternal, transcendent God.

This truth about Jesus’ origin (if you can call it that) separates Christianity from other world religions. Islam claims that Mohammed was taken to Heaven on a particular night to see what It was like. Heaven was foreign and unknown to Mohammed. Not so with Jesus. He knows all there is to know about reality.

Mohammed, Buddha, and Krishna (assuming his historicity) were born of natural means (sexual union). Not so with Jesus. He is eternal, and His birth was supernatural. Prophecy predicts it; Gabriel announced it; Mary and Joseph proclaimed it in spite of ostracism; Elizabeth and Zacharias  backed it in spite of the fact that their son had to serve the younger Cousin; the disciples preached and risked death for it; and even the Koran affirms it.

Jesus, as the eternal God from Heaven, is holy perfection. Not so with Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammed. One only has to read the scriptures of these other religions to see that. Surahs 47, 48 speak of sins committed by Mohammed that need forgiving. Mohammed struggled with the supposed command to receive revelation, but Jesus knew exactly why He was there. The tale of Krishna’s immorality with the Gopi is an embarrassment to many Hindu scholars, and Buddha had to endure countless reincarnations to achieve perfection and enlightenment.

He didn’t come to teach morality. He didn’t come to teach enlightenment. He came from eternal Heaven into His temporal creation to die for lost humanity and give us abundant life.

“Rabbi, where are you from?”, the disciple asks.

“Come and see.”

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Text Without Context

This is my fourth (and probably shortest) response to Nitwit Nastiks “Errors, Inconsistencies, and Contradictions in the Bible.” His fourth problem deals with the tendency of Christians to “proof text” their way through arguments. For starters, I will openly admit that there are a lot of people, both Christian and non-Christian, that love to use verses without a context. This is just plain old wrong. For too long, Christians have been content to explain Scripture topically. Rather than do the hard work of digging into Scripture to determine its actual meaning, we have become consumed by a love of milk and forsaken spiritual meat. This leads to poor exegesis, fuzzy doctrine, and weak theology. Shame on us, Christians, for getting to this point.

That being said, I do not believe that the Bible Itself takes Its own passages out of context. The link provided in this section of Nitwit’s post indicates that the New Testament is a twisting of the Old Testament. On the contrary, the New Testament relies heavily on the correct interpretation of the Old Testament. Matthew quotes, paraphrases, and summarizes the prophets frequently. Jesus Himself quotes from Deuteronomy frequently. Peter’s sermons in Acts and Paul’s illustrations in the epistles come from the Old Testament. It may not have been what the Jews expected, but it was what God meant. For more information on the prophetic portions of Scripture, I would highly recommend J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come.

In summation, I don’t believe that anyone should use verses out of context. Proof texting is a bad maneuver on anyone’s part. Quoting verses is perfectly fine, but to ignore context or the overall perspective of Scripture in order to support one’s perspective is patently dishonest.

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Eternal Truths or Cultural Command?

The third complaint of my friend Nitwit Nastik is that some things in the Bible cannot be eternal since there are some obvious cultural instructions. If there are specific cultural instructions, how can we say that the Bible is an eternal Book with eternal truths? How can something be both eternal and local? This is an interesting and complex problem which I won’t attempt to treat entirely in this posting.

It is correct that the Bible is both eternal and true. It contains the words of Almighty God. God, in His wisdom, had men write down the words of Scripture for several purposes. Paul lists those purposes in 2Timothy 3:16:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

There are doctrinal reasons and practical (moral) reasons for the existence of Scripture. We learn Who God is and what He is like through Scripture. We know of Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, eternity, and Salvation through the Bible. We also get to see how God has worked to bring about His plans through the narrative of both Testaments. As history plays out on the pages of Scripture, we encounter both eternal commands (Thou shalt not commit adultery) and local commands (But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.) Eternal commands never change because they are true in all ages, but local commands do change according to the culture. However, local commands are based on eternal principles.

Nitwit brings up 1Corinthians 11:4-10, which is the command concerning women wearing head coverings. There are believers who are of the opinion that women must wear head coverings while attending church services. Others believe that this was a cultural command to a specific church in history and does not have to be followed today. Those who take this second view believe that there is an eternal principle behind the cultural command. I am not in this post going to explain my view on the subject. Both views must be defended against the allegations that such a command (whether local or eternal in nature) is sexist and prejudiced.

Remembering that Scripture must be compared with Scripture to determine a proper interpretation, let us look at what the Bible says about the status and role of women is. That same passage in 1 Corinthians also tells us that in terms of value, men and women are completely equal. Men owe their existence to women because of natural birth, but women owe their existence to man because Eve came from Adam. Galatians 3:28 echoes this idea:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 31 also explains that women are just as capable of productivity and efficiency in every area of life. Therefore, it cannot be said that 1 Corinthians 11 is an example of prejudice or sexism. There must be another explanation. The Bible does assert that women and men have different roles in the home and in society. This only makes sense. Our brains are distinct, our bodies are distinct, and our needs and emotions are distinct. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are like waffles; women are like spaghetti. (Google it if you don’t get it.) God planned for each gender to be uniquely made in His image, but we reflect different aspects of Himself.

God tells us that we must maintain this distinction between genders in every area, including dress. This is the eternal principle underlying the local command given in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul is instructing the Corinthian church to be sure to maintain the distinction according to society’s standards. For them, this means that men’s hair is short and women’s hair is long. This is not sexism. If anything, it maintains that women are unique and special and therefore should be treated as such.

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The Bible: Lost in Transmission?

This is my second post responding to my friend Nitwit’s article concerning supposed errors in the Christian perspective on Scripture. To get an idea of what has come before, you should probably go here to read the first article. Nitwit’s second point is, frankly, difficult to discern since there is a lot of terminology thrown around without being clearly defined. I can gather that Nitwit believes that the actual words written by God (which he technically doesn’t believe in) have been lost. Rather than directly respond to each thought of the article, I am going to positively state a Christian view of the Bible.

  1. Inspired- “God breathed”- all Scripture originated from God, and humans wrote down what He said. (1 Peter 1:20-21)
  2. Preserved- God has providentially ensured the accuracy of the transmission of both the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 24:35, 1 Peter 1:22-25)
  3. Inerrant/Infallible- The Bible is without error. (Psalm 12:6, 19:7; Proverbs 30:5) Note: Some Christians distinguish these two terms, but my point is that you can’t have one without the other.

I’ve dealt with the translation issue and the transmission of the New Testament texts in four previous posts starting here, so I’ll not beat the horse to death (though some would argue that I already have…) Suffice it to say that, with 5,500 copies or partial copies of the New Testament in its original language, there is plenty of manuscript evidence concerning the New Testament. We are content with just having ten copies of the Greek classics in their original language.  Also, New Testament copies originate only 100 years after the original autographs were penned, as opposed to Greek classics, whose extant copies are often available only 700-1400 years after their original composition. John A. T. Robinson writes: “The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.”

As for the Old Testament, I know of very few serious scholars that would question its accuracy. Of course, we don’t have the original manuscripts. It would be a rare find indeed to find the completed autograph from nearly 4,000 years ago! What we do have is a knowledge of how the Old Testament was transmitted. The scribes and priests in general were given this task, and they faithfully did it for countless generations. After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the scribes continued their work in Egypt and Babylon. When the Remnant returned seventy years later, a strict method of copying was resumed, as outlined in Wikipedia (of all places) but confirmed in a number of books.

  1. Only clean manuscripts could be used.
  2. Each column must contain between 48 and 60 lines. (This kept the writing from getting too small so that the copy could not be copied.)
  3. Even the ink had a special recipe, and it had to be black.
  4. The scribe had to speak each word as he wrote it.
  5. They had to clean both pen and body before they wrote God’s name.
  6. Each copy was reviewed within three days of completion. If more than three pages required correction, the entire copy had to be rewritten.
  7. The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
  8. The documents had to be stored in sacred places.
  9. When the document became worn out, it had to be buried in a genizah.

After Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70, the Jews continued their work of faithful copying, which culminated in the work of the Masoretes. The Masoretes used the ancient scribal system and even expanded it. According to F. F. Bruce, the Masoretes wrote “with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips. They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these.”

The results of such careful transmission are clear. We have a Bible available today that we can have maximum security in, knowing and believing that God was faithful in preserving His Word.

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Literary Aspects of the Bible

In this post I’ll be directly replying to Nitwit Nastik’s blog article “Errors, Inconsistencies, and Contradictions in the Bible.” (Nitwit and I have a fairly cordial friendship going, so please don’t see this as my attempt to tear him to shreds. You’ll have to read through both our blogs to see that we have had a number of conversations concerning faith.) His basic assumption in this article is that the Bible contains a number of “contradictions and factual or scientific errors.” I call this an assumption because he doesn’t actually list any errors, but rather critiques the responses of Christians when confronted with these so-called errors.

The first response by Christians that he critiques is the use of literary techniques to explain verses in the Bible. Apparently, the use of metaphor and symbolism in Scripture is problematic for Nitwit, who seems to prefer a more “literal” interpretation of Scripture. He goes so far, in fact, as to describe an appeal to the poetic nature of Scripture as “deceptive.”

In order to understand Scripture, we must understand that it is a book of ancient literature. As such, it makes use of a variety of literary types such as proverb, saying, chronicle, lament psalm, oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many others. (For those interested, I highly recommend Leland Ryken’s books How to Read the Bible as Literature and The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible.) On the subject of literary technique, Ryken writes:

“Virtually every page of the Bible is replete with literary technique, and to possess the individual texts fully, we need to read the Bible as literature, just as we need to read it theologically and (in the narrative parts) historically.

“The importance of genre to biblical interpretation is that genres have their own methods of procedure and rules of interpretation. An awareness of genre should alert us to what we can expect to find in a text. Additionally, considerations of genre should govern the terms in which we interact with a text. With narrative, e.g., we are on the right track if we pay attention to plot, setting, and character. If the text before us is a satire, we need to think in terms of object of attack, the satiric vehicle in which the attack is couched, and satiric norm (stated or implied standard by which the criticism is being conducted).

“In view of how many literary genres are present in the Bible, it is obvious that the overall literary form of the Bible is the anthology, as even the word Bible (Gk. biblia, “books”) hints. As an anthology, the Bible possesses the same kinds of unity that other anthologies exhibit: multiple authorship (approximately three dozen authors), diverse genres, a rationale for collecting these particular materials (a unifying religious viewpoint and story of salvation history), comprehensiveness, and an identifiable strategy of organization (a combination of historical chronology and groupings by genre).”

One would expect literary complexity in the Word of God. One would expect literary complexity in any religious book. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that parallelism, foreshadowing, metaphor, simile, symbolism, etc. should appear throughout the Bible. It is the logical result of a Creative Mind guiding other creative minds to write.

Now, I must be clear here. Biblical Christianity has always believed in a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. We do believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture. That means that we believe that some Scripture literally makes use of literary techniques. We also believe in comparing Scripture with Scripture to determine Its true meaning. These principles are both practical and logical.

Nitwit correctly asserts that anything can be given a metaphorical meaning, and he uses The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings as examples. I would like to make a few statements as a way of wrapping up the post:

  1. I find it a bit ironic that The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings themselves both make use of allusion, metaphor, and symbolism throughout, frequently in referencing Christianity. The Matrix references Christianity (Zion, Trinity, etc.) throughout, and Tolkien himself explained that Eru is a fictionalized version of God.
  2. If modern books and movies use literary techniques, why is it so difficult to believe that the Bible would?
  3. In the works mentioned above, we can turn to either the author or the author’s works to figure out what the literary techniques used are meant to represent. When we read the Bible, we do the same thing. We turn to the Author in prayer and further study His Word to determine the correct interpretation.

1 Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

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Why I Use the KJV: Translation Philosophy

Eugene Nida

If you’ve read my previous three articles on textual families, the KJV’s history, and the history of the non-Traditional texts, you know that we’ve gone through a lot of depth in a very short period of time. In this final article, I’ll be talking a bit about how the Bible is translated. At the end, I will also give a few examples to show that textual families, historical beliefs, and translation philosophies have led to some important differences between Bible versions.

The KJV

The translation techniques of the KJV translators are by far superior to modern translations. In his work on translation styles, The Word of God in English, Leland Ryken quotes Alister McGrath regarding KJV translation style: “The translators tried to ensure that every word in the original had an English equivalent, highlight all words added to the original for the sake of intelligibility, and follow the word order of the original where possible.” Accurate translation should be a window to the text, and the King James Version does just that.

Leland Ryken, himself a literary critic with extensive credentials, writes: “Its style combines simplicity and majesty as the original requires, though it inclines toward the exalted. Its rhythms are matchless.” In comparison to the language of the day, the KJV is unique. It blends together both the highest of English styles with the simplicity of the common English. The language itself, however, is wholly biblical. It is precisely what is written in the originals, nothing more, nothing less, save that which is included to aid in comprehension. It should again be noted that words added for comprehension’s sake are set apart from the text of the Bible by italics.

Some have complained that the style of the King James Version has added confusion, especially in the use of synonyms to translate the same word from the original language. This should be considered a blessing, not a curse. Synonyms further expound on the original word, so that those who do not know the original languages are not at a disadvantage. To balance the variety provided by the use of synonyms, unity is ensured by the proper translation of words in their context. Truly the vast richness of the English language in the seventeenth century has been utilized in this translation.

It should also be pointed out that the KJV is a translation, not an interpretation. This stands in stark contrast to the New International Version, The Living Bible, and a host of others. Such translations have received criticism from conservative and liberal scholars alike for misinterpreting Scripture.

Dynamic Equivalence and the Modern Translations

Eugene Nida’s philosophy of dynamic equivalence, which interprets the original text rather than translates, spread quickly to the publishers of Europe and America. Translations became increasingly more thought-for-thought oriented, rather than word-for-word. This poses a problem as it is God’s words, not His thoughts, that he promised to preserve.

Ryken lists several reasons for the acceptance of dynamic equivalence, none of which are theological or scholarly in nature: antitraditionalism, a preference for colloquialism, evangelistic zeal, and a consumer-oriented church. These translations, according to Ryken, who was on the board for a recent translation of the Bible, reduce the level of vocabulary to a seventh-grade vocabulary level, drop metaphors, and change words to what the translator believed what was intended. You wouldn’t do that to Shakespeare, Milton, or even A. A. Milne, so why would people do that to God? If you change structure, you’ve ruined the masterpiece. Part of the beauty of a poem is in how it is structured (and the Bible is filled with poetry). You can’t simply sum it up and expect it to have the same effect.

Results and Practical Pointers

The following verses have been omitted or relegated to a footnote in many modern translations. I typically go to the popular NIV when comparing:

  • Matt. 6:13, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
  • Matt. 7:21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
  • Matt. 15:8, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth”
  • Matt. 18:11. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
  • Mark 15:28. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered
    with the transgressors.
  • I John 4:3, “Christ is come in the flesh”
  • I John 5:13, “and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God”
  • Rev. 1:11, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last”

Notice which doctrines are effected in the above verses. Of course, there are also some significant changes between versions even when the verses are present:

I John 5:7 reads as follows:
NIV- For there are three that testify:
NASV- And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
NWT- For there are three witness bearers,
KJV- For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father,
the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Messing with the doctrine of the Trinity sounds like dangerous ground to me!

Isaiah 14:12:

NIV- How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star …
KJV- How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

I thought Jesus was the morning star…

Acts 3:13:
NASV- The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Servant Jesus

KJV- The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers,hath glorified his Son Jesus;

Is Jesus God’s Servant or His Son?

I also like the KJV because it distinguishes between the sinular (thee, thou, thine) and the plural (you, your, yours) more directly. Technically, modern translations would need to distinguish between the two by using you/you all.

The results of all of this are far-reaching. First of all, there is no longer a Bible that everyone uses. It is up to the reader to determine which Bible is the best for them. Additionally, there is no longer a universal, Bible-centered Christian language, because the text of each Bible is different. Instead of confirming faith, the textual criticism and production of dozens of Bible translations has caused doubt in believers all over the world. According to Lewis, in seminaries, students are told that “the careful student of the Bible will not rely completely upon one version of the Bible, but he will seek to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the versions he uses.”

Either God preserved His Word or He did not. If God is incapable of protecting His Word, then we are all miserable creatures cut off from Him. We have lost our ability to trust the most direct line of communication between God and mankind. Fortunately, God did preserve His Word through the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Traditional Greek text.

I should be clear here that I don’t believe that the KJV is the only English translation that is or ever will acceptable. Languages change, and one day what we call English won’t look anything like English. Here’s an example of Luke 8:1-3 in Middle English:

And it is don, aftirward Jesus made iourne bi cites & castelis prechende & euangelisende þe rewme of god, & twelue wiþ hym & summe wymmen þat weren helid of wicke spiritis & sicnesses, marie þat is clepid maudeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis wenten out & Jone þe wif off chusi procuratour of eroude, & susanne & manye oþere þat mynystreden to hym of her facultes.

Summary

It remains for the church, not denominations, publishers, educational institutions, or fellowships, to continue to print and translate the Word of God into languages for people who have not heard. The text of Scripture was given to God through His chosen people, Israel, and to His bride, the church. When publishers, educational institutions, and the rest get involved in matters of textual criticism, translation, and transmission, trouble follows swiftly.
The believer can be comforted with the reality of God’s faithfulness. He will preserve His Word today, as He has throughout time. Believers have only to come to the sweet waters of God’s Word, and find all they need as they traverse this wilderness with their backs, as always, to Egypt.

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Why I Use the KJV: An Age of “Reason”

Tischendorf

Tischendorf

Previously I’ve shared my reasons for preferring the KJV based on the family of text it comes from as well as some of its historical background. I want to move on to the history behind the other translations, for most of them come from a blending together of the textual families using textual criticism. Textual criticism comes from an age of unbelief. This is a fact that cannot be ignored as we see the raping of Biblical Christianity unfold.

Enlightenment

The modern age, ranging from 1800 until the present day, has become one of ancient heresy  reborn and endorsed as truth. Men placed themselves above God in determining what He has said. A shift occurred, like a tremor among a fault line, toward rationalism. Many men turned to pay homage to the god of Reason and produced their own translations and paraphrases. Edward Carpenter lists the following one-man translations: Mace’s 1729, Wesley’s 1755, Purver’s 1764, Dodderidge’s 1765, and Newcome’s 1796, to name a few. Each translator saw the KJV as a handicap because it was unscientific and not in line with modern, rational thinking. Their translations are wooden, difficult to read, and not faithful to the words of the original text. Perhaps this is why these translations were not widely used even though they were from the Traditional text.

It should be mentioned that even in this darkening age of human history, the Traditional and Masoretic texts of the Bible continued to be printed, read, and studied almost exclusively. This is particularly true prior to the twentieth century. The majority of Christians believed the Bible was the Word of God and that the Bible was inerrant and infallible. Then, like a flood, lower criticism from apostates in Germany came rushing into seminaries and universities. “Scientific investigations” of the words and manuscripts of Scripture began. Man truly began to wonder what exactly it was that God had inspired men to write long ago. Questions arose regarding the purity of Scripture, and, ever so slowly, faith disappeared from the scene.

Textual critics sought to “fashion” texts according to research and investigation, determining which texts were “legitimate: and grouping them into families. Patristic citations which disproved theories of the Traditional text being a late text were determined to be illegitimate; only those that referred to a non-traditional text were accepted.

From Bengel to Tischendorf

The important men behind this movement were both proud and blind to what was going on around them, endorsing the rationalism of the day. Bengel published a text which classed different variant readings, but it was still based on the Traditional text. This was intended to weaken the faith of those who held to the Traditional text. Griesbach came on the scene in the early nineteenth century, and included in Bengel’s text apparatus for textual criticism. His theories were accepted completely by many scholars of the day, including Lachmann, perhaps one of the most infamous of the old-line scholars. He rejected the Traditional text used by the church for the better part of 1800 years in favor of the heretical texts, creating his own independent version. Lachmann purposefully ignored fifteen centuries of copied Traditional manuscripts in favor of the texts which, to him, carried more weight. It was upon his work that Constantine Tischendorf, in turn, would build his studies.

Tischendorf believed that textual criticism was exercised by Stephanus and Beza when they printed their editions of the Greek manuscripts, and that they were one and the same with Bengel and Griesbach. His goal was “to clear up in this way the history of the sacred text, and to recover if possible the genuine apostolic text which is the foundation of our faith.” Notice the complete lack of faith in God’s ability to preserve His Word.

Westcott and Hort

It was Tichendorf’s discovery (actually a theft) of Sinaiticus (in a garbage room) that bolstered the resolve of rationalistic theologians’ to reconstruct a true critical Greek text. From the work of these men came two men which every student of textual criticism knows well: Westcott and Hort.

Hort was by no means an evangelical believer. He scoffed at the idea of “a fictitious substituted righteousness” or a “fictitious substituted penalty.” He wrote the following to Westcott on April 12, 1861: ” I have sort of a craving our text should be cast upon the world before we deal with matters likely to brand us with suspicion. I mean a text issued by men already known for what will undoubtedly be treated as dangerous heresy, will have great difficulties in finding its way to regions which it might otherwise reach.”

Westcott is no better than Hort. He disdained the concept of infallibility, sided with Darwin’s evolutionary theory, and viewed heaven as a state and not a place. It was from men such as these that a critical text emerged which was a blending of heretical texts from the school of Origen and others like him. Interestingly enough, Westcott and Hort used mainly the patristic citations as proof of the legitimacy of their heretical texts. For this, they had to ignore the patristic citations referencing the Traditional text based on the idea that they had to have been tampered with at some point.

Their Critical Text came largely from two manuscripts known as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. An inspection of these texts reveals some interesting facts. Vaticanus omits, according to Burgon, 2,877 words and adds 536. This does not include substitutions. Sinaiticus omits 3,455 words and adds 839, not counting substitutions. Burgon reminds us these alterations are not the same in both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. From this, it can be ascertained that a major flaw in logic, to speak nothing of theology, must have occurred to even allow the two texts to be combined into one text.

It is from this work that the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society’s texts come. These texts are used in every major English translation. The Nestle-Aland and United Bible Society texts have been revised twenty-seven and four times, respectively, and great changes are made regularly. The most recent revision of the UBS text included 500 changes. It must be remembered: these are changes to the actual text of Scripture, not a translation thereof. Each of these changes is a change from what God actually said. Still men continue to attempt to do what Tischendorf said: “To set aside this textus receptus all together, and to construct a fresh text, derived immediately from the most ancient and authoritative sources.”

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Why I Use the KJV: An Age of Faith

Tyndale

Tyndale

For 1500 years, the Byzantine text was used almost exclusively for Bible study among the educated and in translations for the laity. For 1500 years, the Greek New Testament existed as papyri fragments, uncials, and minuscules. That all changed with the invention of the printing press.

Greek Printings

In the early sixteenth century, God began a mighty work in Europe to bring about a printed Greek Text. It was at this time that Desiderius Erasmus came on the scene. He set out to print, for the first time ever, the Greek text of the New Testament. He gathered together and studied, but did not accept as valid, every available manuscript. Erasmus was given access to nearly every library in Europe because of his scholarship and friendship with the Pope. Far from being unaware of heretical manuscripts, Erasmus divided all manuscripts based on whether or not they agreed with either the Traditional text or Vaticanus. He chose to reject Vaticanus as a pure text in 1533.

It is true that Erasmus’ first printing of the Traditional text was done hastily and contained errors, but the last four were not so. He added 1 John 5:7 and corrected his errors in the last four revisions. It was from the third through fifth revisions that most translations came. He also studied some of the more critical readings of the texts, and was aware of the passages removed from the Alexandrian versions, such as the last twelve verses of Mark and the Pericope de Adultera. The Pericope is the omission of the story of the woman caught in adultery. This was occasionally omitted because of cultural and religious biases.

From this printing of the Greek text, many translations arose. Luther’s German, Tyndale’s English, Lefevre’s French, Biestkens’ Dutch, Laurentius’ Swedish, de Reyna’s Spanish, as well as the Danish, Czech, Italian, and Welsh translations all came from Erasmus’ printing of the Traditional text. In fact, almost all translations came from this text until the nineteenth century! Other printings of Greek manuscripts, such as those done by Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers were simply reprintings of Erasmus’ Traditional text. It was at the time of the Elzevir brothers that the Traditional text in printed form came to be called the Textus Receptus because of an advertisement regarding their printing.

English Translations in an Age of Faith

Tyndale is a name that English-speaking Christians know well. What few realize is that Tyndale studied under Erasmus for four years at Cambridge. Tyndale was an excellent linguist who was fluent in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French. The stir Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament caused was incredible. He was denounced by church and government alike. It was, however a great translation of the Traditional text. Even Westcott is forced to give Tyndale’s translation its due: “It is impossible to read through a single chapter without gaining the assurance that Tindale [sic] rendered the Greek text directly . . . .”

After Tyndale was martyred, the Coverdale and Matthew Bibles were published in 1535 and 1537, respectively. Both Bibles were revisions of Tyndale’s New Testament. The Matthew Bible also included Tyndale’s unpublished notes and translation of Joshua through Second Chronicles.

In 1539, the Great Bible was published, followed by the 1560 Geneva Bible. This last Bible was the first complete English Bible from the original languages. In 1568, the Bishop’s Bible was produced by order of Queen Elizabeth. This was nothing more than a revision of the Great Bible. The translators of all of these Bibles relied on the Textus Receptus and the Masoretic text for the basis of their translations. They also relied on previous English translations and translations in other languages for a guide.

The King James Version

In 1604, King James I ordered that a new translation of the Bible be produced, and in 1607, the work began. In their book, The Bible in English Translation, Steven M. Sheeley and Robert N. Nash describe the organization of the translation committees: “Work on the new translation was divided among fifty-four renowned translators from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster. These translators were divided into six teams, each responsible for translating a section of the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha. The work of each team was carefully reviewed by other teams, and the final translation was edited by two representatives from each team.” The translation committees were organized and had a system of checks and balances. The translators relied on the Masoretic text and the traditional text, most significantly Stephanus’ third and Beza’s fifth editions.

Unlike the translators of today, these men were not paid. They were therefore not wooed by the love of money, something which cannot be said for translators and publishing companies today. These men were not in any way under King James’ jurisdiction due to financial assistance or official governmental authorization.

They included few marginal notes. The notes included were meant to reinforce the text and clarify the translation rather than be a hindrance. This stands in stark contrast to modern translations. Marginal notes in these new translations are intended to cause doubt with vague references to “variants” and “the best manuscripts,” without defining terminology.

“The King James Version was born in an age of faith,” writes Paisley, “Its inception and reception are characterized by faith.” Nash and Sheeley agree: “The influence of the King James Version, or Authorized Version as it came to be called cannot be exaggerated. . . . It stands as one of the outstanding masterpieces of the English Language.” No other translation of the Bible in English has had the impact of the King James Version. It has been used for 400 years in churches across the world. It has been used to translate daughter editions of the Bible when Christians were not familiar enough with the original languages to translate directly. It set the standard for all translations to come in every area.

In spite of the 400 years that have passed, it has changed little since its first printing. From 1611 to 1917, D. A. Waite discovered only 136 changes of significance in the text of the KJV. These changes are mostly only changes which do not sound the same when spoken aloud. While 136 changes may sound like a lot, it is really a very small amount compared to the number of words in the rest of the King James Version. It should also be recognized that changes within a translation is not the same as changes within the original text of Scripture, so long as the translation changes are accurate to the original. There are, after all, many different ways in which a word may be translated. Additionally, the italicized words for which there is no Greek or Hebrew equivalent may have been dropped because it was determined that they were not needed.

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Why I Use the KJV: Families of Texts

I sometimes get asked why I bother using the King James Version of the Bible. After all, there are plenty of translations that use modern language out there. However, I would like to suggest that readability isn’t the only issue when choosing a Bible version. We should be confident in the underlying text. We should also be comfortable with the translation philosophy and the purpose behind the translation. In this article, I’d like to trace the transmission of the Greek New Testament texts through history.

Texts are typically divided into families of transmission. There are three primary families that most students of the Bible will talk about: Western, Alexandrian, and Byzantine (also known as the Traditional text or Majority text).

Western Texts

The Western Greek manuscripts are known for paraphrasing the words of Scripture. Now, I’m not opposed to paraphrasing when it comes to summarizing a passage of Scripture, when performing a play or skit produced from Scripture, or when teaching Bible. I am opposed to changing the original words of Scripture. If we cannot say with absolution and authority that God said something, then we shouldn’t even bother. If Jesus said “My words shall not pass away”, then He meant it. A quick read through Psalm 119 makes it very clear that God’s Word is eternal. The Western texts are a paraphrase of Scripture, not Scripture itself.

The Western texts also tend to add to Scripture from other books. This is most serious, since adding and taking away from God’s Word is a sin in the highest degree. I personally think that it is strange that anyone even considers these this group of texts to even be considered a family of text. The original words of Scripture have been paraphrased, taken away, and added to. It is no wonder that there are very few ancient papyri, uncials (Greek manuscripts written in all capital letters), or miniscules (Greek manuscripts written in all lower-case letters) available.

Alexandrian Texts

The Alexandrian texts originated in Alexandria, Egypt. Codex Vaticanus (found in the Vatican library) and Codex Sinaiticus (found in the trash-room of a monastery on Mt. Sinai) are usually placed in this family. There is some debate over exactly how many papyri and uncials are in the Alexandrian text family. The reason for this is that the majority of old manuscripts are really only fragments of manuscripts. However, for the sake of fairness, I am willing to go along with the assertion that the oldest manuscripts (uncials) and papyri are of this family. Those of modern scholarship (though I cringe to call it that) favor the Alexandrian text for the following reasons:

  1. They believe the more difficult the original is to interpret, the closer it is to actual Scripture.
  2. They believe the shorter the original is, the closer it is to actual Scripture.
  3. They believe that older manuscripts are better manuscripts.

I have problems with all three assertions. First of all, there doesn’t seem to be any basis for believing that difficult is better. That assumption seems to be entirely arbitrary. This is believing that difficult is better than simple. This is a baseless claim.

To the second assertion, we must ask why shorter is better. This claim is once again arbitrary. Those who hold to this view maintain that Mark 16 should have ended with the disciples running scared from the empty tomb of Jesus. They believe that Mark never wrote of the women at the tomb or of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. These people do not even believe that we can know the actual words of Scripture in the first place.

Finally, we come to the assertion that “older is better.” While this might be true of wine or cheese, it isn’t always true elsewhere. We must ask ourselves why these copies survived and others didn’t. First of all, the climate of Egypt is much  more suited to preserving parchment and papyri. It has very low humidity, less rainfall, and a narrow degree of temperature change. It would make sense for these texts to survive for longer periods of time. Secondly, Kirsopp Lake believed that the copiers of the Byzantine text type (having originated primarily in Antioch) would have emphasized a respectful disposal of worn-out manuscripts. A third explanation is that the Church (here capitalized to mean the body of true believers) did not heavily use the Alexandrian manuscripts since they were not in line with actual Scripture. In contrast, the Byzantine manuscripts were heavily used and therefore wore out much more quickly.

I also struggle with the acceptance of Alexandrian manuscripts because of the Gnostic apostasy that was heavily taught in Alexandria. I have few reasons to trust people who believed in such error. I would also point out that the two famous (infamous?) Alexandrian manuscripts were found in suspicious locations. Vaticanus was found in the Vatican library. This already makes it suspicious to some people’s minds, since many Christians are not Catholic because of doctrinal reasons. Sinaiticus, on the other hand, was found in a trash room, waiting to be burned. That the monks didn’t even consider Sinaiticus worth saving makes us suspect that they knew the errors it contained. Finally, we must consider that the Byzantine text is has, in recent years, been given a position of higher authority by some scholars. In fact, the American Bible Society’s Greek manuscript of 1966 has changed from the Alexandrian reading back to the Byzantine reading in thirteen different passages. (Zane C. Hodges, A Defense of the Majority-Text, pg 14.)

Byzantine Texts

The vast majority of New Testament manuscripts are of this family of texts. Zane C. Hodges writes that there are 81 papyri, 267 uncials, and 2,764 miniscules. Of these manuscripts, eighty to ninety percent are in agreement with the Traditional text. Some scholars, such as Riplinger, would put the percentage much higher, even as high as ninety-nine percent. Harry A. Sturz notes in The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism that the preservation of this vast body of manuscripts is God’s stamp of approval on this text. Indeed, it would make sense that the text most used by the early church would be the text preserved by God, and the vast numbers of manuscripts recovered throughout the centuries would be a great testament to God’s marvelous work of preservation. This was, in fact, the position of the New Testament church with regard to inspiration.
Many of these manuscripts appear to originate in Antioch. Textual critics argue that the Traditional text must be an edited version of the Alexandrian texts. This argument makes little sense historically for two reasons. First, a church which sent out missionaries across the known world was most likely a distributor and not a receiver of manuscripts. From the books of Acts and Galatians, we know that Barnabas, Paul, and Peter all ministered there. Secondly, Jews fleeing Jerusalem would have understood the importance of careful copying of Scripture and would have impressed this concept on all who were at the Antiochan church.
Another proof of the early church’s possession and use of the Traditional text is that the early church fathers quoted and paraphrased it frequently. Sturz lists eighteen examples of this as proof, citing Clement, Tertullian, Marcion, and Origen as examples. In fact, from the time of Chrysostom on, the Traditional text is the predominant text in patristic citations.While certain
The Traditional text is not only the most numerous family of texts, but is also used universally. These texts have been recovered from all over the Greco-Roman world. By contrast, the corrupt texts appear to originate in only Alexandria. The implication is obvious: the Traditional text is an accurate sampling of the text used throughout the known world in early times, while the Alexandrian texts come solely from Alexandria and the surrounding locales.

My point in all of this is that most modern translations come from the Alexandrian text family while most- if not all- older translations come from the Byzantine text family. That’s another story, though…

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Scripture: The Revealed Word

In previous posts, I’ve spoken about God’s revelation of Himself through nature and Jesus Himself. I will finish this train of thought and begin another by discussing the topic of Special Revelation. God revealed certain aspects of Himself through Creation. God’s ultimate self-disclosure was in Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that we have  another revelation from God that we can be confident in. (2 Peter 1:16-21) This final revelation we have to discuss is the Word of God.

Like the Incarnate Word and the Creative Word, the Living Word has unique characteristics. The Creation displayed God’s infinite intellect and majesty (Psalm 19). The Incarnate Word revealed God Himself to mankind and is the chief method of God’s interaction with His creation (Hebrews 1). Scripture reveals God’s words and thoughts. This makes the Bible a unique gift to mankind. While the Creation reveals God’s power and sovereignty and the Incarnation reveals God’s nature and personality, the Bible reveals His theology and philosophy. King David writes the following in Psalm 19:7-11:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

There are many details that I could go over when discussing the uniqueness of the Bible. I could talk about the probability of a book claiming to be written by God to be logically coherent when it was penned by scores of men over several thousand years from different parts of the world speaking three different languages. I could reference the accuracy and detail of prophecy. I could talk about the probability of an ancient book making it to our day without losing anything. (Since many of our Greek and even English classics have gaps in them.)

However, I would point out that the Bible itself predicted that it would last forever and claims to come from God. (Psalm 119:89) To make a claim to be eternal truth is one thing, but to actually be true in both spiritual and physical realities is quite another. To speak for God (thus saith the Lord) is one thing, but to bear the marks of the Divine is something quite different.

Scripture allows us to think God’s thoughts after Him. We can partake of the knowledge of the Holy any time we desire. God reveals His past works, His present will, and His future plan in one Book that spans the ages. Who would shun such a wondrous gift?

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Fiat: The Creative Word

King David of Israel wrote the following words, which are recorded for us in Psalm 19:1-3:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.

How have the heavens spoken? In what way has God revealed Himself to mankind? At God’s fiat (an authoritative decree coming from the Latin word meaning “Let it be done” [Fiat lux = Let there be light]), matter, energy, and even time itself leapt into existence. Every experiment and experience we are a part of is made possible by God’s Creative Word. God’s very act of creation was done to glorify Himself and to point mankind to Him. His beauty is reflected in the starry sky. He is shown to be wise in the complexity of the human eye, to speak nothing of the body. His majesty is revealed in the roaring of the ocean waves. His power is displayed in the thunder and lightning.

On a sunny spring morning, we can hear His music that birds sing. On a wintry day, we can discover His “treasures of the snow.” The physicist and mathematician are impressed by the elegance of the natural laws designed by the great Mathematician. The more we learn about our universe- and there is so much to learn- the more impressed we are by the magnificence of God. Whoever you are, wherever you are, and whenever you are, God designed His world with you in mind. He makes His presence so obvious, Paul tells us in Romans 1:20 that those who deny God’s existence are without excuse.

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Logos: The Incarnate Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.- John 1:1-5

These verses are perhaps the most profound in all of Scripture. They tell us of the Word Incarnate, Jesus, Who has come to be the ultimate revelation of the Father in Heaven. The Word came to reveal the glory and personality of the Godhead in a tangible form. By coming in human form, we could relate to Him and He could relate to us. We could see God for the first time, and He could experience the suffering that sin had created.

Kant tells us that reason is limited because we don’t know what it is like to BE anything but human. Though we may gain a perspective on a thing, we can never know what it is to be something other than human. Jesus cannot be said to be limited in His understanding of humanity because He is human. That’s the easy part, though.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

By way of introduction, John tells us that Jesus existed before the Creation. When the Beginning (Genesis 1) took place, Jesus already was. He is the uncreated Creator. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17:

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Jesus is unique because He not only existed prior to the created universe (matter, energy, time, etc.), but because He is eternal just as the Father is eternal. This is necessary because He is the ultimate self-disclosure of the Father. The Godhead is revealed in Jesus’ words, emotions, actions, and attitudes. If Jesus were merely pre-existent but not eternal (as some cults believe), He would be unable to speak for God adequately. In order for Jesus to speak for a God Who is infinite in all of His attributes (love, holiness, justice, mercy, grace, power, etc.) He must be eternal because only the eternal can truly understand Infinity. This is where we fall so short. We categorize God using systematic theologies (which are admittedly very helpful), but He is above all categorization. We are accustomed to things having beginnings because we had a beginning, but God never began. He simply is. His very name, “I AM” tells us of His ever-present nature. Unlike us, Christ has missed nothing of God. He also always is.

“The Word was with God…”

If the Word was with God, then He is not the same person as the Father. “With” also implies a unique relationship with the Father. For all of eternity the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had enjoyed unbroken, perfect communion with each other. They understood one another and basked in each Other’s glory and love. God didn’t need a creation to be complete. He was complete in and of Himself. For all of eternity, God loves, glorifies, and communes with Himself, but not in the narcissistic sense we think of when speaking of humans. As a tri-unity (trinity), the Father loves and glorifies the Son and Spirit, the Son loves and glorifies the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit loves and glorifies the Father and Son. So the Persons of the Godhead love and glorify each other infinitely and eternally. So it should be, for God alone is worthy of infinite love and glory.

“…and the Word WAS God…”

John asserts that Jesus was Divine in all aspects. He has the same essence, nature, character, and quality of God. He is no less Divine than the Father is. Though He takes the position of Son for Himself, He is no less than God Himself.

“In Him was Life…”

Jesus came to give us life. This does not just mean that He intends for us to merely have eternal life, but also He intends for us to have abundant life. (John 15) Consider John’s words in the following verses:

  • John 20:31—“But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.”
  • (quoting Jesus) John 10:10—“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Spiritual (zoe as opposed to bios) life is referenced 36 times in John’s gospel. That’s more than the other three Gospels combined. John emphasizes that Jesus’ life is not just about quantity; it’s about quality. No, I’m not talking about a “health and wealth” gospel. I’m talking about something eternal and intangible that comes our way as a result of faith in Him. He came to give us something unbelievable and indescribable. God stepped into the mess that humans had made and ministered with compassion, healed in love, and spoke truth to all who would listen. Some people didn’t like it though…

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Light. God’s emblem for Himself. It’s the first thing He made, and it’s how He reveals Himself: burning bushes, the Shekinah glory, the Mount of Transfiguration. Hebrews 1:1-3 begins:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person…”

I don’t think it’s incidental that Jesus is called the brightness of His glory in Hebrews and the Light in John. There was darkness as a result of Adam’s fall and now Jesus, acting as the light now points the way back to God. Light symbolizes His holiness, perfection, etc. Darkness, however, is not simply absence of light in John’s gospel. It is a moral category. It is characterized by a hatred of light, evil, and general hostility toward God. Light, however, is able to pierce the Darkness and overtake Evil’s territory. Evil itself is overwhelmed by the “invasion” of God’s Light.

Darkness cannot comprehend the Light. “Comprehend” here does not mean mere understanding. It speaks of overwhelming, destroying, and seizing with hostile intent. Jesus came to give Light, but fallen humanity didn’t like the light they saw. Light is never simply ignored. Darkness attempted to destroy the Light on the Cross. Why? Light reveals Truth even when it is not palatable. Light reveals God for Who He is, and people hate Him for it.

The story doesn’t end there, though. The greatest miracle of all took place three days later. The Father resurrected the Son, and after being seen by hundreds of people, He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the Father’s side.

The Light won.

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Evangelical Darwinism

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

I’ve written a few posts on the religiosity of Darwinism, but now I want to turn my attention toward the “evangelical” aspects of the movement itself. The term “evangelical” is, of course, generally applied to a particular type of Christianity. Evangelicalism emphasizes a variety of means to bringing people to the truth as well as withstanding the advancement of sin or anti-Christian thought: preaching by evangelists, apologetics, sermons (both fiery and compassionate), and public outcry against heresy, apostasy, and immorality.

Strangely enough, Atheism and Darwinism share many of these same traits. They have evangelists: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others. These men preach powerful sermons and employ convincing apologetics. They warn the listener of the dangers of religion. They are no post-modernists; they see everything in terms of black and white. In fact, they even go so far as to speak in apocalyptic terms concerning the results of a truly Christian nation. To change one’s mind concerning atheism is viewed as  a type of apostasy. Dawkins himself went so far as to refer to Anthony Flew’s “conversion” from atheism to deism as “tergiversation”, a term that is synonymous with apostasy.

In addition to the nature-worship I mentioned at the end of the previous post, they also associate Charles Darwin with Messianic terminology. “Cosmology,” says Richard Dawkins in his debate against John Lennox, “is still waiting for its Darwin.” Stephen Jay Gould is even more explicit in the deification of Darwinin his “Sociobiology: the Art of Storytelling”: “All theories [of natural selection] cite God in their support, and … Darwin comes close to this status among evolutionary biologists.” Michael White echoed Gould in 2002 when he said: “Of course today, for biologists, Darwin is second only to God, and for many he may rank still higher.”

Once again, lest you think that I’m twisting words or “making a mountain out of a molehill”, allow me to quote Darwinist Michael Ruse on the subject:

Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion — a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint — and Mr. Gish is but one of many to make it — the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

Is Darwinism a sufficient faith? I think not. It does not answer the burning questions of the soul. Consider the words of Katharine Tait in her book My Father, Bertrand Russell:

I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life. I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be vain. Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled with God, and he never found anything else to put in it.

Lest someone accuse Tait of making her case a little too poignant compared to Russell’s own feelings, here is Russell in his own autobiography: “Nothing can penetrate the loneliness of the human heart except the highest intensity of the sort of love the religious teachers have preached.”

Darwinism, atheism, and their ilk are insufficient replacements for true faith in God, for in Him we live, and move, and have our being. Apart from Him, we are left with, in the words of Tait again, “a ghostlike feeling of not belonging, of having no home in this world.”

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Pantheism, Theism, and Dell Computers

3,350 years ago Moses commanded Israel to worship only God and to remember all that He had done for them “lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.”

1400 years later, Paul wrote in Romans 1:21-23: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

These two men, speaking on behalf of God, reminded their audience to avoid confusing Creation with its Creator. In contrast to the polytheism and pantheism of the ancient cultures, the Jews and Christians  recognized only one God Who is distinct from His Creation. Consider the following verses:

  • Isaiah 57:15 calls God “the High and Lofty One that Inhabiteth Eternity.”
  • Deuteronomy 3:24 says: “O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might?”
  • John 1:1 tells us that when the universe began, the Word (Logos) already existed.

According to the Biblical paradigm, God exists beyond space and outside of time. In his Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, Werner Jaeger writes that the Word is the Supreme Intellect or Supreme Power “who is stationed outside the world and brings that world into existence by His own fiat. The Greek gods are stationed inside the world ; they are descended from Heaven and Earth…they are generated by the mighty power of Eros who likewise belongs within the world as an all-engendering primitive force….When Hesiod‘s thought [the Theogony]at last gives way to truly philosophical thinking, the Divine is sought inside the world- not outside it, as in the Jewish Christian theology that develops out of the book of Genesis.”

Surely, men such as Xenophanes attributed the existence of our universe to one supreme God, but monotheism rarely existed outside of the Judeo-Christian religion. It was this Judeo-Christian message of monotheism that distinguished the forces of Nature from the Creator of nature. Furthermore, it was upon this foundational belief that the scaffolding of European science was built. Pantheism in its many forms portrayed our universe as mysterious and unknowable because our world was filled with various deities with vast creative and destructive powers. In contrast, believers saw the world as knowable and logical because it was the product of the mind of a reasonable God.

Today, some unbelievers criticize Christianity because they say that it is lazy to believe that God is involved in any way in Creation. They believe that science blended with naturalism is the only way to rightly view the world. However, belief in God as Creator is not the same thing as belief in God as a motivating force in the physical universe.

James Clerk Maxwell knew these truths when he inscribed the following on the doors of the Cavendish Physics laboratory in Cambridge: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”  He recognized that the wonder of the universe was meant to point us to a God Who is distinct from his Creation. God is the Creator, not the universe itself.

Perhaps an illustration would be helpful.

Suppose I was completely computer illiterate, but I decided to buy a Dell laptop. I have two options for explaining how my laptop works:

  1. I could hold to a view that the computer was made to function in a certain way and given all of the parts necessary to fulfill its purpose.  In this view, “Dell” is the creator of the computer, but as such he is distinct from the computer components themselves.
  2. I could also assume that “Dell” was inside the computer causing the various functions of the computer to take place. To do so would be to make the same mistake as the Greeks in their pantheon.

Of course no one is so foolish as to make this second assumption. To figure out the “mechanism” behind the computer, you would have to figure out which parts performed what function. You could also learn about the physics and chemistry behind it if you wanted. However, even those who hold to a “mechanism” view of the computer would still believe in the existence of “Dell the Creator.”

Similarly, Christians do believe that nature’s “mechanisms” should be discovered. However, they also hold that God is the Creator, the Uncaused Cause of reality. There is no conflict in the Christian worldview, for the only other options are pantheism or atheism. Just as “Dell” is not a mechanism of the computer, God is not sitting in some darkened corner of the universe waiting to be discovered nor is He mysteriously guiding the forces of nature. Eternity beyond our universe is His abode. The Creation itself is merely the outworking of His beauty, majesty, wisdom, and power. To truly find Him, He must reveal Himself and Reality somehow. In fact, He has in His Word. (It’s just too bad that Dell doesn’t explain themselves so well in their instruction manuals.)

Categories: atheism, Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity, science | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Change Worth Believing In

Recently, I have been made aware of an argument against Christianity that is really somewhat shocking to me. This argument states that Christianity is not all that unique. In fact, Christianity- so say the critics- is just one more attempt by man to set up moral standards, reward good behavior, and comfort those in need of a “crutch” by offering them a God to obey and lean on. I have to tell you, I just don’t see the resemblance between Christianity and these religions.

Oh, I know that Christianity shares a similar moral code with many different religions. I also know that many religions claim to have a way to God, an afterlife, etc. Every religion has some fragment of truth in it, but a fragment of truth and having the Truth are not the same thing. All religions recognize the obvious flaws in mankind. What religions don’t agree on is how to take care of those flaws. Islam and Judaism, for all their differences, attempt to make adherents follow a legal code. They have their own distinct yet similar Law which restrains evil and makes or breaks one’s chances of a decent afterlife. Buddhism and Hinduism rely heavily on meditation and other practices to focus on inner strength, purity of thought, and peace.

Christianity has a different answer. Christianity also recognizes that humanity has an evil bent. Christianity also has elements of Law and an emphasis on the eternal soul. Law serves a different purpose in Christianity, however. The Apostle Paul writes the following in Galatians 3:24-25: “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith; but after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.The Old Testament Law’s purpose is to teach us that we can’t live up to God’s standard. There comes a point when we “graduate”, though, and we don’t need our teacher any more. Once we “graduate” our souls gain their true significance.

If we can’t live up to God’s standard, what are we to do? Can we just make up for our shortcomings by doing more good works? No, because “good works” are what we are expected to do anyway. Whatever good we accomplish in our lives, we can never undo the bad things we did. Under the law, every lie, lustful thought, moment of indiscretion, bitter thought, etc. is an action that we are “paid” for. Paul tells us of this payment  in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” This spiritual death leaves the sinner in Hell for all of eternity.

What is Christianity’s alternative to Sin and Hell? How do we earn our way to God and His Heaven? The answer is perhaps the most shocking in all of history: we don’t. We can’t. God’s standard is not that we be good, but it is that we be perfect. Many have claimed to be good, but few- if any- would claim to be perfect. This is where God steps in and does the unexpected. He came down into a world of sorrow and violence caused by man’s sin and took on human flesh. He doesn’t take on flesh to advise, encourage, punish, or trick us as the heathen “gods” did. He took on flesh to experience human suffering and, ultimately, to endure the agonies of the Cross “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

When we could not ascend to God because of our sin, God came down to us. This is the great difference between religions and Christianity. Some religions may share similar thoughts with Christianity, but things change dramatically when it comes to Jesus. Muslims are willing to accept Him as a prophet and even recognize His perfection and virgin birth, but they stop short of calling Him “God.” That Allah would take on flesh is akin to blasphemy. Judaism is offended that Messiah would die and thus rejects Him. Buddhism and Hinduism have little- if any- regard for Jesus. In the person of Jesus, the Divine experienced the pain and suffering of this world and the weight and guilt of sin. The Lord of Life experienced Death. This shocking truth is what separates Jesus from all other “gods” and faiths. Trusting in His death and resurrection makes Christianity a “change” from all other religions. It’s a change worth believing in.

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Why the Water Boils: Procedural vs. Philosophical Atheism

boiling-waterWhy is the water boiling? One could explain, in scientific terms, how water molecules behave when they reach a certain temperature. That is certainly one reasonable explanation. There’s another very reasonable explanation: I want a cup of hot tea on a cold morning. Neither of these answers would be wrong. One answer explains how matter and energy behave, while another explains purpose. So it is with science and Christianity. There is no difficulty in reconciling science with religion. They work in different fields to explain reality. Why then do atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, say that the two “sides” are at war with each other? The difference is in the types of atheism.

Leaving God out of the Gaps

The first type of atheism is what D’souza calls procedural atheism. Procedural atheists aren’t really atheists at all, at least not in the sense that we usually think of atheists. Procedural atheists are merely trying to find ways to accurately describe how the universe works. I don’t know a Christian that has a problem with this. No one wants to see a scientist trying to find a cure for disease and just give up, claiming that the disease was a miracle, so no cure could be found. No one wants to hear that it’s impossible to understand how stars are formed because, as a part of God’s miraculous creation, we can’t really know how it works in the first place. Procedural atheism treats nature as if that is all that exists simply because nature is all that science has to work with. There are a many scientists that believe in God that use procedural atheism in their discoveries.

Astronomer Owen Gingerich writes: “Science works within a constrained framework in creating brilliant pictures of nature. This does not mean that the universe is actually godless, just that science within its own framework has no other way of working.” Gingerich later writes: “Reality goes much deeper. A universe where God can play an interactive role…is not excluded by science.”

No “Divine Feet”

Philosophical atheism, on the other hand, is a dogmatic position that believes that the natural universe is all that exists. Often, procedural and philosophical atheism are blended to form a case against a Creator. The philosophical atheist dogma barricades itself into a very small box, shielding itself against any knowledge that does not fit the naturalistic theory. Theists, on the other hand, are entirely willing to admit naturalistic explanations for how something works- our natural laws- while reserving room for supernatural explanations for why something exists and functions.

Philosophical atheists are sometimes unwilling to admit their own bias, but at other times they are astonishingly frank. Physicist Stephen Hawking writes: “Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.”

[Meanwhile Christians have long believed in a beginning, and Augustine even posited that time itself was an aspect to the created world.]

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin rants: “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a mythological story in which nothing exists…save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions, and then wills matter into being? It seems to me that the only possible name for such an observer is God, and that the theory (that the universe had a starting point in the Big Bang [ironically]) is to be criticized as being unlikely on these grounds.”

Cut off from any other explanation for origin and purpose, philosophical atheism must now thrive on ludicrous and unprovable ideas. Biologist Franklin Harold writes: “Life arose on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary process. This is not a statement of demonstrable fact, but an assumption. It is not supported by any direct evidence, nor is it likely to be.”

Francis Crick, the man who helped discover the structure of DNA has another alternative to mankind being God’s special creation. He’s serious, folks. In his book Life Itself, Crick theorizes that aliens brought life to our planet from theirs. Really? So if your newborn baby’s skin tone seems a bit green to you….

Richard Dawkins, in his book The Blind Watchmaker, tells us that we should expect gaps in the fossil record. In his mind the absence of evidence for biological Darwinism should be “exactly what we should positively expect.” Later he writes that “we would almost have to accept natural selection as the explanation of life on this planet even if there were no evidence for it.” How very scientific, Richard.

Naturalism as a Faith

Here’s the reality: naturalism and materialism are not the conclusions of the modern scientific community, rather they are premises of the modern scientific community (at least the majority) that have been imposed on nature. Welcome to the Church of Naturalism!

I’ll close with the words of Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, since they speak for themselves:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment- a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanation, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

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But Deliver Us From Evil

Santa ShootingRavi Zacharias once said that evil has taken on forms that astonish the world. This was illustrated very dramatically when Bruce Pardo (left) drove to his former in-laws’ house and opened fire on his former relatives- dressed as Santa Claus. His first action when the door was opened was to shoot an eight-year-old girl in the face. Details are still sketchy, but he shot several others and then torched the house using a homemade flame thrower, which he had hidden in what looked like a large Christmas present.

I think we would all agree that what Pardo did was evil, and few would doubt that a man so deranged could be anything but evil. When we read the accounts of the survivors and police officers, when we consider the tragic events that took place on Christmas Eve, we are right to be horrified. Evil in all forms should disgust us, but this “new” form that Evil has taken on should shock and stun us. This is an appropriate reaction to sin. As the sensation of pain when we fall is an indication that our nerves are intact, reeling from the shock of such horrific accounts tells us that our soul is intact.

What is equally shocking, however, is that some are not shocked, amazed, or stunned by this tradgedy. Some have used the incident to joke about in-law problems. Some have used this event to point out the “problems” with Christmas. Most disturbingly, some have barely even noticed. Evil is spreading so rapidly and is making so many inroads into society, many have become desensitized and indifferent to its effects. It enters into the soul of our culture through movies, music, video games, television, and even art. These forms of entertainment have been known to mock the sacred, glorify violence, exalt immorality, and justify hatred while bankrupting the mind, skewing the will, and ravaging the emotions. What so often goes on in the name of entertainment is in fact the rape of the very soul of humanity. Let us remember the importance of crying for deliverance from evil, abhoring sin, and cleaving to that which is good.

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What Lies Beneath

saltillo-tileThis week I’ve been working with my in-laws on remodeling a bathroom in our home. At first, we were  just going to replace the toilet because it had a very fine crack in the upper tank. However, we quickly realized that the “stick-on” tile had gotten too wet around the toilet, and we’d have to re-tile the bathroom too. Then we decided to also replace the shower, which turned out to be a good thing since we discovered a world of water damage beneath our bathroom. Both layers of plywood had rotted to the point that I fell through a few times while taking the tile out. In the end, we were left with joists and a two-foot section of plywood floor that was somehow still dry. The shower and toilet had been leaking in multiple places, and we had to completely replace the floor, shower, tile, and toilet as a result. It was a mess!

That wasn’t the worst of it, though. In the walls, floor, and beneath our house, massive amounts of mold and mildew were growing. The mildew was growing in “veins” between layers rotting wood. Now we knew why we were both so sick all of the time. We had no idea that such rottenness and filth were just inches away, buried beneath a thin layer of tile. It was there all the time, sickening us, damaging our house, and setting us up for a nasty surprise.

As a relative and I were tearing out all of the filth, it occurred to me that this was a perfect picture of what evil does to the soul. Evil isn’t just a label given to a random assortment of feelings, thoughts, or deeds. It is rather a category of feelings, thoughts, or deeds that violate, corrupt, and rot a person at their very soul. If enough people in a society imbibe evil, it will rot out the society as well.

God is not some cosmic killjoy bent on ruining fun and removing rights. He knows how to keep the human soul safe from rottenness and decay, and He wants us to enjoy our lives rather than ruin them. I’ve written before on how holiness acts as a fence to guard Beauty and prevent it from being spoiled. The Soul is a beautiful thing crafted in the image of its Creator. Holiness prevents it from being spoiled. We must never forget that morality and ethics are not just little buzzwords. Those are simply two aspects of the Law God has written into the universe. Obedience to Him doesn’t stifle free will; it promotes it, for only in obedience are we truly free to enjoy our Father’s world.

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You Can’t Handle the TRUTH

truth1In order for any religious system to be the truth, it has to pass a few tests.

It has to be logical.

Faith has to be understandable and it has to make sense. I’m a Christian because what is being said in the Bible makes sense. I don’t read the Bible and find myself scratching my head. The Bible is fantastic literature. It has great insight into ancient cultures. It has clear propositional teachings. I don’t mean this to say that it is always easy to understand. I simply mean that it is understandable and logical in what it is saying.

It has to agree with what is already known.

By this I mean that a religious book cannot go against plain fact and still claim to contain truth. It cannot insist that up is down, that blue is orange, or that two plus two equals seven. If my religious book insists something that is clearly, historically not true, then there’s a problem. If, however, it is historically and scientifically accurate, then I have reason to suspect that it might be accurate concerning spiritual or eternal areas.

Now, I don’t mean this to be true concerning origins. Atheists love their Darwinism for the same reasons that Theists love the Creationism. When it comes to origins, ones worldview quickly determines the scenario that fits the worldview.

It has to personally affect the individual.

If my faith is real, it must change me. A religion that left the believer unchanged and unmotivated is no good at all. The whole point of a religion is that it offers answers and hope concerning some very important areas in a person’s life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that faith that does not change the believer to some extent isn’t faith at all…

Here’s some ideas about what questions a faith should answer:

  1. Where did I (and this entire reality) come from?
  2. Why do I (and this entire reality) exist?
  3. What is right and what is wrong?
  4. Where am I going when I am physically dead?

Christianity answers these questions. What’s more, Christianity passes all of these tests with flying colors. I am a believer because the Bible is able to accomplish within me and others what no other religion, belief system, or cult can do, and it answers perfectly the questions concerning life that nothing else can answer. Faith in Christ alone satisfies the longing of the mind, soul, spirit, and heart.

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You Don’t Need God to be Good…

good-atheistAh, those crazy guys known as “the New Atheists.” They’re kinder, gentler, and eager to please. They’re also quick to point out that you don’t have to be a Christian in order to be a moral person. They cry: “You see! We don’t need God anymore! We don’t need Him as Creator, we don’t need Him as judge, and we certainly don’t need Him as Savior! We don’t need God to scare us into being good!” I have no doubt that there are many moral atheists out there. Most Westerners (and the vast majority of Easterners, for that matter) are decent people. I am, however, just a bit confused on one major point.

…but you do need God for there to be such a thing as Good.

How can you say that you are a good person, a moral person even, when you don’t believe God exists? If there is no God, where are we getting our basis of “good” from? Not from society, that’s for sure. Our customs and laws always change, many national laws conflict with each other, and there are some twisted societies, such as those set up by Nazism and Communism (both Atheistic societies, by the way) whose laws are the most immoral things around. Morality doesn’t come from nature, as that whole “survival of the fittest” thing doesn’t go too well when you applied to natural or social Darwinism. Only the existence of God explains any sense of morality. We aren’t talking about high ideals here. Good must either exist apart from the actions of mankind, or it does not exist at all. Only an immutable Being is capable of producing an immutable Law.

You don’t have to take a Christian’s word for it. Nietzsche was hardly a Bible-thumper in his day. He’s famous for his “God is dead,” statement. Most Christians are still quite up in arms over that , however, they forget Nietzsche’s point in making that statement. Nietzsche saw that moral absolutes have no foundations apart from God. If society ignores (or denies) His existence, there is a massive void in its structure that must somehow be filled. It’s a problem that has never quite gone away.

The New Atheists may be right when they say they are good atheists, but they will have a hard time proving it without God.

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