Monthly Archives: September 2010

Great Quote

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“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.”

– Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer J. Adler, “A Philosopher’s Religious Faith,” in Kelly James-Clark (ed.), Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Eleven Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), p. 207.

H/T to Apologetics 315.

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The Pragmatic Gospel

On a recent Dividing Line podcast, James White reviewed a Christian’s reply to an atheist from the Unbelievable radio program. The Christian told the atheist to earnestly pray to Jesus something to the effect of, “Jesus, I don’t believe in you, but I know that you’ll do something to change my mind.” He then told the atheist that Jesus would provide all the evidence needed to believe.

That may be the crappiest presentation of the gospel ever heard.

James White was, of course, outraged. But should he really be surprised that someone would speak this way of the gospel?

Commitment to Christ in the New Testament is repeatedly likened to marriage. Marriage isn’t viewed the same way now as it once was. The colloquialism “starter marriage,” a marriage that ends within five years before the couple has children, is now common parlance thanks to a book of the same name.

Given that marriage is a lifelong commitment, it should be entered with that in mind. It should entail a total change–or at least the willingness to change–in personality, behavior, and attitudes. It should be a willingness for both parties to leave themselves behind for the betterment of both. In other words, the two should become one flesh. But that isn’t how people enter marriage. They get married for a variety of weak reasons. They get married because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do. They get married because they want an extra income to move out of mom and dad’s house. They get married because they’ve been dating so long that it’s easier than breaking up.

Many atheists argue that marriage should only be viewed as a contract, demeaning its origin as a divine covenant. And why shouldn’t they feel that way? Look at all the celebrity divorces and cheating scandals. Adultery used to be viewed a serious issue, maybe even a crime in some jurisdictions; now it’s regarded a mere trivia. It’s socially acceptable to be divorced, and adultery isn’t a crime anymore.

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The book I referenced earlier, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, concluded that the divorce of a starter marriage is actually a good thing. Which leads back to the question I just asked: Why shouldn’t a secularist argue that marriage has only the level and enforcability of a man-made contract?

Now let’s connect this discussion to the issue raised at the beginning of this post. Since marriage is marginalized, and marriage is the metaphor for embracing Jesus, why is that pragmatic approach to the gospel a surprise to James White? White, after all, has been blogging about attacks on traditional marriage for as long as I’ve been reading his blog. Culture has adopted a pragmatic approach to marriage, so why wouldn’t the gospel be next?

The issue is, as White correctly states on The Dividing Line, is that becoming a Christian requires a complete and utter surrender of self to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). If we can’t submit ourselves to a person that we can see and touch, there is no hope for us to submit to someone that we can’t see or touch.

Naked Archeologist Finds the Giants (Gen 6:4)

Our old friend Simcha Jacobovici is back. I’ve seen the listing for the show The Naked Archeologist several times, but I never bothered to watch. I had no idea that Jacobovici was the Naked Archeologist until I watched a show the other day on tracking down the giants mentioned in the Bible.

An obscure and usually ignored reference to giants comes in Genesis. Goliath is reputed as one; so is King Og. Here is the reference:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 KJV, emphasis added)

No skeletal remains from the ANE dating to Old Testament times or before has exceeded 6’5″. That’s not giant by anyone’s standard. So, why does the Bible contain a reference to a race of giants?

I could never understand the veneration of the King James version. Sure, it’s the most lyrical and poetic of the English translations. I won’t argue that. But, it has numerous documented mistranslations. This is one of them. Here’s the same passage, in my personal favorite Bible translation:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 ESV, emphasis added)

The ESV uses the literal Hebrew word that had been translated “giant” since the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate editions of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word nephilim doesn’t mean “giant.” It means “fallen ones.”

Jacobovici talks to a Jewish scholar who says that, according to Jewish tradition, the “sons of God” were earthly beings that resembled humans but didn’t possess a soul. Jacobovici believes that this may refer to Neanderthals, who walked the earth with humans some 60,000 years ago.

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Cover of The Exodus Decoded (History Channel)

He said that humans and Neanderthals lived in peace for a time, and suggests that they may have intermarried, thus producing the Nephilim. The Nephilim were powerful beings: the Bible describes them as people of great renown. His hypothesis makes some sense–Neanderthals would have been closer to animals and therefore very cunning and strong. Add a human intellect to that mix and you have the recipe for a man of great strength, and thus great renown.

The problem is that Jacobivici is more concerned with ratings than with truth (reference the Jesus Family Tomb incident). I happened to watch Exodus Decoded a while back. The Wikipedia entry suggested the same sorts of misrepresentations and half-truths that drove the Jesus Family Tomb documentary. While his theory has some potential validity, it’s difficult to trust his reporting.

New Blog

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

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It has been a great honor for me: J.W. Wartick has invited me to be a contributor to his new blog, Christian Diversity–Mere Christians. On the blog, we will discuss the so-called non-critical issues of Christianity in a friendly manner.

The central issue of Christianity is following Christ. Salvation is attained by grace through faith, and nothing else can add to or take away from that. That’s a humbling thought, isn’t it? You really can’t do anything salvific apart from the drawing of the Father and the Atonement secured by the Son. Believe in that, and you’re a Christian. A Christian who is true of heart will also accomplish good works in the name of the Lord, but that’s only a natural follow-up to the actual salvation secured by God and not a necessary component of it. The good that we do is purely an act of love toward God and to our fellow humans, not an attempt to win (as one atheist put it) “magic Jesus points” for a better spot in heaven. Our spot was secured long ago.

Outside of the three ecumenical creeds (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), the contributors to this site vary wildly in background, belief, and theological acumen. It promises to be an interesting discussion. The first one is on original sin. Head over and join the discussion!

The Catch that Wasn’t

Normally, I only do apologetics posts here. But I’m really incensed by NFL’s week 1 fiascoe in Chicago that I’m posting on it.

No matter how many times I look at this, I only see an amazing catch–the game winning touchdown. Somehow, the NFL refs manage to see an incomplete pass. How is that?

ESPN.com picked Calvin Johnson as one of the 5...

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You can clearly see that Johnson has both feet on the ground, in bounds. The ball has broken the plain, which should count for a touchdown. In every football league in the United States of America, it actually does count as a touchdown!

But not in the NFL.

As a side note, if he had caught that outside the end zone, and stumbled into the end zone, it would have been a touchdown. But because he caught it in the end zone, the horrible rule that it isn’t a rule (it’s a judicial interpretation of a rule, but not written anywhere in the rulebook) takes effect. Calvin Johnson must maintain control of the ball for the entire “process” of catching the ball. This “entire process” is whatever the ref says it is. That means that a beautiful touchdown play like this can be erased at the whim of the referee should he decide to erase it.
It’s frustrating as a Lions fan, because there hasn’t been much for us Lions fans to get excited about over the past few years. The Lions have been a terrible team any way you slice it. They have completely bombed out their defense with (I think I heard) seven new starters this season. Which is good, because they have been seriously lacking on defense.

But they’re seriously lacking on offense, too! They haven’t been able to field a decent quarterback. The coaches have all been disappointing, to say the least. Firing Matt Millen was probably the brightest spot of the last decade, given that most of this disappointment is his fault. Finally, I see this moment in a game I was sure was lost, and I got excited. Then, the ref called it incomplete. I yelled so loud my son cried for the next half hour inconsolably.

So the Lions enter week 2 as 0-1 when they should rightfully be 1-0. I guess I should expect no less from a team that consistently failed to deliver when they had Barry Sanders on their offense. However, it would be nice, if, every once in a while, the Lions would produce a WIN.

Humongous Project Underway!

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to tackle a project of epic proportions. Of course, I still have the update to my God is Imaginary answers to work on, as well as the e-book refutation of John Loftus’s series on what must be the case if Christianity is true. I want to get to The Christian Delusion, as well.

That said, I want to tackle Shawn’s (YouTube user azsuperman01) video series, Tough Questions for Christians. He has 36 videos in the series, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me. But I think I should be able to knock 1-2 out per week. I may not be able to produce the videos at quite that rate, but we shall see.

So, my thoughts on how I’m going to have to do this is by crafting a rigorous writing schedule. I may have to devote only a specified time on blog reading and social networking each day (say, an hour), and devote the rest of the time to writing these responses.

This will test the mettle of my time management skill!

YouTube Video Finally Up

I have decided to add YouTube videos to my repertoire of apologetics. This was not a light decision. I really didn’t want to produce them, since I am not a good “off the cuff” speaker. I can’t sit down with an idea for a speech and make it. I have to have a careful outline. If I don’t, I will end up sounding really stupid.

Fortunately, I have found an excellent open source scriptwriting package, Celtx, that allows for the preparation of audio-visual scripts. This allows me to plan out YouTube videos. Celtx also includes a storyboarding feature, so I can lay out my videos prior to making them. All I needed was video editing software, and I was good to go.

The short version of the story behind the following YouTube video is that it was really annoying to make. This is an answer to the video “Five Questions for Christians” by Netwriter.

The long version of the story is that after I decided to answer that video and had written and storyboarded the script, I searched for video editing software. Obviously, I can’t pay for it, so I went the open source route. I found some great software, but it was for Linux only. They had a link to AVS4YOU, which is for Windows.

I assumed that the software that was recommended by an open source website would itself be open source. So I downloaded the software unquestioningly, and used it to edit the video I had scripted. Once I was satisfied, three hours later, I selected the “Produce Video” option. A dialogue box appeared informing me that unless I paid the $59 subscription fee, a watermark would be added to my video. I was, needless to say, a bit irritated.

My next step was to search for open source video editing for Windows, but I couldn’t find anything. I did, however, come across a review of the best free video editors. So I clicked on that link, and the first package listed was Microsoft Movie Maker. To my added irritation, I discovered that it is included with Windows XP on up.

So I looked on my Start Menu, and sure enough: there it was all along.

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

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Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:

We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural.  So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!)  I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up.  I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.

I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.

What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

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There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.

The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.

The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:

We will use the first point of Calvinism to  illustrate the point:  “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to.  We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love.  Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.

First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:

  • And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
  • The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
  • Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)

The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).

While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.

Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.

A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.

Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.

The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).

Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).

Really Good Question

Over at the XXXChurch Confessions Blog, an anonymous man writes the following excellent question:

I have been hurt by church and don’t know how i feel about loving the God that has been presented by the christians i have met. I have struggled with lust for a long time and i have recently realized that i am using it as a form of escape. I have a girlfriend whom i am in love with and we are trying to keep our physical relationship under control but when we mess up I know i have hurt her and that kills me inside. I want to love her wholly, not just for her body and I want her to know that. I just keep beating myself up for it, because i know that this kind of behavior is not right. My problem is that I feel loved when I am touched (not in a sexual way) by someone that cares for me. How can I feel loved by God if he can’t touch me? (source)

Without knowing exactly what sort of God has been presented to him, I have to assume that he can’t reconcile a God of wrath with a God of love. The Bible says that God is love (1 Jn 4:8), however the entire Old Testament presents a God of wrath who is appeased by sacrifices.

Most likely, the Christians our guest poster was talking about were unable to articulate this fact. God’s wrath must be understood alongside his love, not in opposition to it.

The item really at issue, however, is that the writer equates love with touch. As sensual as the touch is, that is far from the only way to show love. Personally, I have fallen in love with three women solely by maintaining an Internet chat relationship with them–the last of which I married and couldn’t be happier that I did. I understand that I’m not the world, but I think a case can be made that love is more than just sensual touch.

I think a good case can be made for loving someone that does things for you that no one else can do. The second of these three women I fell in love with over the Internet held highly intelligent conversations with me, something that I definitely wasn’t getting anywhere else at that time. She remains the smartest woman (and perhaps the smartest person) I’ve ever met. So, without touching me, she captivated my heart in a way that no one had up until that point. I know that she felt the same for me, but I can’t speak as to what part of her I touched that created such lasting feelings in her.

That said, it is easy to make a case for loving God without having a love based in the sense of touch. God created the entire universe (Gen 1:1; Eph 3:9; Rev 4:11) and everything in it, seen and unseen (Col 1:16). God holds all these things together (Col 1:17). God is impartial (Acts 10:34-35) and is the source of all good gifts (Jms 1:17). This means that he also gives gifts at his discretion to even the wicked (Job 21:7-16; Jer 12:1-2) whose sin he cannot tolerate (Prv 20:23; Ps 5:4, 11:5, 37:38; Hab 1:13).

God has done all of these things, and his promise is trustworthy (Heb 13:5).

God may not reach out and touch a person, but it is easy to see all of the things that he has done for us simply by considering the blessings we have in this life. The anonymous poster should remember those gifts, and pay homage to the one who gave those gifts instead of delighting in the gifts themselves.

Odd Stone Pattern Draws Visitors

Image via WRAL.com

In Spring Lake, NC, at the United Methodist Church, visitors have been coming to see this odd marking in the stone. Some say it looks like Mary and Mary Magdalen kneeling at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

All I see is Cthulhu.