Category Archives: Theology

Meme Crush, part 1

One day soon, I will get back to answering the 40 Questions for Christians.  For now, let’s just do a quick meme that one of my atheist friends shared.  I’ll tackle part of it today, and part of it tomorrow.

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So what we have here is supposedly God’s to do list.  Each has an actionable item and two of them supply a reason for the action.  Three actions are correct, while one is question-begging.  Neither reason is correct.

First, Appeal to Motive is a logical fallacy.  However, it is relevant here because it is the bottom line reason this author gets so much wrong.  The author has a man-centric viewpoint.  God’s actions are meant to glorify himself, not win our approval.  While that makes God sound like a selfish prick, remember that his actions are also rooted in a deep, abiding love for humanity in general, and his elect in particular.  The writer of this meme pictures God as begging for our approval, while the correct picture is us begging for his forgiveness of our sins.

With that out of the way (1) is correct and needs no expounding.

The action item of (2) is absolutely correct.  But no reason?  To the text:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:5-7)

The text goes on to say, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  (Gen 6:11-12)  Man is corrupt.  All that he thinks about is evil.  The earth is corrupt, violent.  All flesh (men) is corrupted.  So horrible is this corruption that God is grieved that he ever made humans, and decides that the one course of action is to simply destroy them.  All except one man:  Noah.

Think about this for a minute.  The human race is compared to a single human several times throughout the Bible.  So let’s go with that.  If you have a gangrenous limb, and the only solution is amputation, wouldn’t you do that instead of succumbing to death?  This is similar, but in reverse.  God found it necessary to rid the earth of people so that the one righteous one could continue.

Whether you agree with the reason or not is immaterial.  It’s just plain wrong to claim that there is no reason.

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Shermer’s Summary of Christian Belief

I’m dumbstruck by the number of former believers, people who say that they were passionate Christians — read the Bible, prayed often, and even engaged in door-to-door evangelism — that can’t seem to articulate their former belief system correctly.

They are atheists because they believe that the God they once served never existed.  And that’s a real possibility.  Based on Michael Shermer’s summary of his former faith, I can confidently say that that god doesn’t exist.

This is Shermer’s summary from the forward to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists:

  1. Christians claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenovolent — all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all good, creator of the universe and everything in it including us.

  2. Christians believe that we were originally created sinless, but because God gave us free will and Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, we are all born with original sin as a part of our nature even though we did not commit the original sinful act ourselves.

  3. God could just forgive the sin we never committed, but instead he sacrificed his son Jesus, who is actually just himself in the flesh because Christians believe in only one god — that’s what monotheism means — of which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just different manifestations.  Three in One and One in Three.

  4. The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son — who is actually himself — as our savior.  So …

God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.  Barking mad! [p. 11-12; ellipses and emphasis in original]

Let’s take it one at a time.

There seems to be little to with which to take issue in (1).

(2) is basically right; however, original sin represents the propensity to sin rather than an actual sin itself.  Sin taints the whole earth and everything in it, including mankind.

So we are born with a sinful nature, and that is abhorrent to God.  If we remain on that course, we will sin and we will move further and further away from God.  The solution can’t, therefore, come from ourselves and must come from God.

(3) has two problems with it.  First, I hesitate to say that God can’t simply forgive sin.  What God cannot do is behave inconsistently with his own nature, because God is perfect.  So I’d prefer to think of it as God won’t simply forgive sin; but a price or a penalty must be exacted first.  In the Old Testament, we see a sacrificial system in place to make propitiation for our sins.

Why?  Because there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  God killed a bear to cover Adam and Eve’s shame — the example we draw from!  The High Priest would make propitiation once per year by making an offering and entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of it.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The second problem is the description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “manifestations” of God.  There is only one essence of divinity in Christianity, and this essence is simultaneously shared by God the Father (the Creator, described in the OT), God the Son (the Savior), and God the Spirit (the Helper).

Characterizing these Persons as “different manifestations” of God is heresy.  The Athanasian Creed, one of the three foundational creeds of Christendom, defines what the Trinity is and is not, and it doesn’t leave room for modalism:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Each Person of the Trinity shares the power, glory, majesty, and titles with all other members.  However, each has different roles not shared with the others:

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

As for (4), it suffers from the fundamental error identified in (2): sin is both action and nature, and the fact that we have a sin nature is itself abhorrent to God.  But, left on that path with no aid, we will sin.  So we’re born sinful, we follow that nature — no surprise there — and God punishes us.  Not for sins we didn’t commit, but for ones we absolutely did.

The way out is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  This recreates our flesh anew and removes the sin nature; it removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  We are regenerated.  We are no longer enslaved to sin, and so we are able to choose life instead of inevitably following the path that leads to death.

The conclusion suffers from all of the problems I identified — misunderstanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding of sin, misunderstanding of what the Savior does for us when we accept him as such.

So good for Shermer in not believing in this god.  He clearly doesn’t exist.  The God described by the Bible, however, does exist!  Let’s hope there’s an argument against him somewhere in the rest of the book.

We Have a Major Theological Crisis!!!

by Andrew Corbett

We have a major theological crisis. It’s really bad. In the public square we hear it, read it, and are shaped by it. Most of the proponents of this bad theology make the most amazing statements about their ‘god’ and then make the outrageous assertion that they are describing our God. For those introduced to God, it is easy to detect this bad theology. Truthful theology presents God as the Sovereign, All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Good God who demands, expects and deserves our utter devotion and submission. Deceptive theology presents its god as the one responsible for our happiness and existing to grant our requests. Even the youngest Christian with an elementary understanding of the Bible can spot the difference. And you can easily tell the difference for yourself between those who hold to Truthful Theology and those who hold to Deceptive theology: their response to tragedy.

I frequently see an argument framed thus:  How can there be an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God if there’s all kinds of tragedy in the world?  There’s some variation of it on every atheist gathering place the Internet has to offer.

I think Andrew Corbett nails the answer:  Bad Theology!  People create a false idea of who God is, and then they mad at their false god, and they decide he doesn’t exist.  Of course he doesn’t exist!  But don’t mistake him for the real God!

Continue Reading >>>

Dr. Moreau & Why Christianity is Different

I’ve been asked, “What makes Christianity different than any other religion?”

Answer: it addresses a fundamental problem of human nature in a way superior to all other religions.

The problem in question is ontological — can we overcome our natural inclinations through sheer willpower alone?  Can we train away our very selves?  Or, put another way, can nurture overcome our nature? Read the rest of this entry

Rachel Held Evans vs. John Piper: Both Miss the Point

As a liberal, it isn’t too surprising that Rachel Held Evans repudiates the Reformed understanding of tragedies like the Moore tornadoes.  Essentially, we join Augustine in proclaiming that God feels it better to bring good from evil, than to eliminate all evil.

What started this is a tweet by John Piper (now removed) that quotes Job 1:19.  Here, a great wind topples Job’s house and kills his children.  Piper is, quite obviously, applying it to the recent tornado that ripped apart Moore, Oklahoma.

Is that insensitive, as Evans says? Read the rest of this entry

Reflections on the New Pope

This week, the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the office of Pope, replacing the outgoing Benedict XVI.  This, of course, greatly disappointed the liberal Protestants as well as the atheist community.  It seems our liberal and atheist friends would like to see a progressive Pope; one who will do away with the restrictive Catholic doctrines that make the religion a dinosaur.

They would like a Pope that supports abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, will eliminate priestly celibacy, allow women in positions of power, and reverse Catholic doctrine on birth control.  Someone who will sell the Vatican and feed the world.

But that isn’t going to happen, and the liberals and atheists need to make peace with that quickly.

This is the second papal election that I have seen in my lifetime.  Unless Pope Francis becomes another John Paul II, it likely isn’t going to be the last one.  The previous election that saw Cardinal Ratzinger promoted to Pope had the exact same groans issuing from the liberals and the atheists.  I expect to hear the same groans next time as well.

Ed Stetzer had a lot of the same thoughts that I did, but as a research specialist for LifeWay he focused on demographics.  What I’d like to focus on here is the theological implications of a papal conclave, and why (if the Catholics are right about what it entails) it will never produce a Pope that aligns with the world on those hot button issues. Read the rest of this entry

Must Catholics/Christians Hate Gay People?

I put a link to this article on my Facebook page.  I wondered why people who hold beliefs antithetical to Christian doctrine would want to be Christians.  One of my friends responded:

so you have to hate gays to be catholic or christian? if you in don’t agree with everything the church tells you then you can’t be christian or catholic? not trying to debate the issue just making sure I’m clear that’s what you mean by NOT for you a little intrigued by your post for some clarification of your point of view that you mean if you think like this you can’t involved in church? courious

I hear this again and again: Christians hate gay people, and we’re not allowed to disagree within ourselves because if we disagree then what we have isn’t from God.

No and no.  Let’s lay this out:

  1. Homosexuality is a sin.
  2. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

These are both eternal truths defined by God clearly in Scripture. These truths are to be upheld by the Church, and therefore the membership of the Church.

To be Catholic, you cannot be in favor of same-sex marriage. That is not the institution of marriage that is spelled out in Scripture by the Lord himself. The long and the short of it is that we humans don’t get to define marriage or church sacraments — God, who is eternally and perfectly good, is the one who defines those things.

Our nature is fallen from grace, and therefore we don’t really understand what “good” is or what it looks like. God is who we need to look to for that, not ourselves. If we look at homosexuality as something innate to us and think that is somehow “good,” then we are missing the mark by a lot. Remember — we are not good by nature; we are sinners by nature. What we do or what we are cannot be the standard for “right.”

When we use ourselves as the standard for “right” or “good” or “fair,” we will never get to the essence of those terms because no one consistently treats others “right” or “fair.” No one is consistently “good.” Better to ask instead, “What standard are we using for good?”

Every time we judge something moral or immoral, right or wrong, good or bad, we use some kind of standard. The standard cannot be society, for society changes far too often. Opinions and social mores are up for grabs, and differ every generation. Worse, this prevents us from judging any society as “wrong” or “immoral.” Implications?  The Nazis were on solid ground when they did the Holocaust!

For reasons I’ve already discussed (fallen nature), the standard can’t be what is in our own nature.

Therefore, the standard is God.  God is outside of ourselves, and therefore not subject to a fallen nature.  God also is not a part of society, and therefore not caught in the sweeping changes of morality we see as a society.

Read God’s Word — homosexuality is condemned throughout. Read Catholic doctrine — again, homosexuality is condemned throughout. Early Church Fathers were divided on many, many issues — but this was not one of them.  (See some selected writings here.)

Homosexuality is a sin, but not everyone in our pluralistic society shares the view that sin is a problem.  Does that mean we seek to deny them equal marriage rights using our religion?  We deny them nothing.  They have the right to marry a member of the opposite sex, just as I do. Men can only marry women; men joining to men or women joining to women is not marriage. Homosexual “marriage,” therefore, is the homosexual community asking to change the entire sacrament of marriage, thereby perverting its original intent.

Fine, homosexuality is a sin.  Homosexual marriage isn’t marriage, so it’s not a denial of a right.  Does that mean I hate gay people?  On the contrary, I have gay friends (one of whom owns a lesbian bar and is the founding member of Toledo Pride), I’m a huge Elton John fan, and I’ve been to a lesbian wedding (such as it is; gay marriage is still illegal in Ohio).  Where’s the disconnect?  Well, most people are tired of this expression, but I’ll say it anyway: Love the sinner, hate the sin.

“But I was born gay! If homosexuality is a sin, and if you hate the sin, then you hate me!” Absolutely right! I’m not even going to deny that.  But I’ve already covered this: Sin is innate to all of us, and we’re all sinners.  However, each of us are susceptible to different sins. The challenge as a Christian is to learn to hate that part of ourselves, to crucify it with Christ, and live in a manner worthy of our calling. Is it hard? Yes! I’ve heard it said that Christianity isn’t tried and found wanting; rather, found difficult and left untried.

Could someone in favor of homosexual marriage become involved in church? Could gay people become involved in church? Absolutely to both!! Hopefully through church they will learn that homosexuality is a sin and that it is something that they need to put to bed (no pun intended), not a part of themselves they should explore. No different from any other sin. We wouldn’t exclude adulterers or murderers from our congregations, but Catholic priests would certainly deny sacraments to ones that remained unrepentant.

Christ came to heal the sick, which is why he is sometimes called the Great Physician. The unrepentant sinners among us are the ones who need Christ’s love the most, and therefore they need church involvement that much more.  We should never deny church attendance or involvement to a sinner, because then no one would qualify for membership.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. There’s a lot for me to work on. A lot. I don’t practice what I preach here, so trust me this applies equally to me as it does to any gay person.

The point is that we all have our challenges with living as Christ did, and this life is about that journey to becoming more Christ-like. God promises to get us there, and he works differently on each of us. Homosexuals have their challenges, as I have mine. Church is about giving each other that accountability. It’s about helping each of us on the journey. That’s the point of fellowship.

But, before we can offer the needed accountability, we have to be clear on what constitutes a sin, which is (in my view) the real reason the young man in the article was denied confirmation. If you give approval to those who practice a sin, then you aren’t modeling Christ for unbelievers. Worse, you’re inviting the same judgment on yourself.

I hoped that would clear things up for my friend.  She’s a dear friend and I’d hate to lose her over what I would actually consider a non-issue.  Fortunately, she enjoyed that treatment and said she learned some things.  So kudos for remaining open-minded to other perspectives!

Quick Post: Ignorant Meme

Most memes that float around are plain ignorant, and thus are fairly easy to decimate.  And this one is no different:

The first thing that we have to understand about God is that he is all three branches of our American government combined — he’s the original theocracy.  He is, in fact, referred to by titles that reflect that:

  • Lawgiver — Isaiah 33:22, James 4:12 [Congress]
  • King of kings — 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 [President]
  • Judge — Genesis 18:25, Psalm 7:11, 2 Timothy 4:8 [Courts]

When God enacts a law as Lawgiver, he has the right to be both Judge and Executioner when enforcing said law.  God, like the State, can impose the death penalty for people who transgress the law.

The commandment referenced refers to cold-blooded murder.  Acts like self-defense or capital punishment imposed by the State are not in view and are not forbidden.  So God is not transgressing his own law by imposing the death penalty on a guilty party.  God isn’t murdering anyone, he is acting as Judge and Executioner.

So we are done here.  Next meme I crush is that lovely FB floater that asks if you still oppose gay marriage, and through a series of poorly-reasoned, badly-exegeted biblical examples shows you’re some kind of bigot.  It actually shows anything but that, as we shall soon see.

The Indictment Among the Rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does WWGHA Even Understand Christianity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circumcision is not a Christian phenomenon.

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

Sort of.  We’ll talk tomorrow.