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Scripture Saturday: Importance of Bible Study (Prv 28:9)

I’ve heard that some folks benefit from a regimented blogging schedule, so I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it helps me.  And that means I will now introduce two new features.  If I blog nothing else in the course of a week, I will blog the two features.

The first is Contradiction Tuesday, where I will detail a perceived contradiction in the Bible.  I’ll take requests for this series from skeptics and believers alike — e-mail me.  It will begin next Tuesday; I didn’t have time to do one this week.

On a side note, I’m thinking of adding Anti-Testimony Wednesday sometime in the future.  I would critique the latest “Why I’m not a Christian” bit from ex-Christian.net, with a private offer to the poster to defend him or herself here.  Since they don’t like their unbelief challenged on the site, this would be playing by their rules.  After all, the anti-testimony is posted publicly so it’s unrealistic to think that someone won’t pick it up and challenge it somewhere.

The series beginning today is Scripture Saturday.  What better way to kick off Scripture Saturday than with a verse on the importance of studying Scripture?

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.  (Prv 28:9)

Strongly worded.  If a person stops studying God’s Law, then that person’s prayer is an abomination.  An abomination!  That’s the strongest way God can revile something.  And here, God is saying that he will revile a person’s prayers if that person refuses to hear God! Read the rest of this entry

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A Day at the Office

I thought that an occasional short story might illustrate certain points better than a straight article.  It’ll be good practice for that novel I’m hoping to write.

Rob dreads coming to work, but he has goals and ambitions.  First, moving out of his dreary apartment into a house.  Then, marrying Rachel.  At some point, a nicer car would be great.

Wedding expenses and honeymoon expenses, as well as down payments for houses, require money.  Unfortunately, they require more money than this pencil-pushing low-level administrator’s position pays, but that’s what Rob’s night classes are for.

It really wasn’t so much the repetitive job that gets to Rob as Terry.  Every office has someone that is into something weird and puts it out there.  Terry is the guy that does that here.  His weird thing: atheism. Read the rest of this entry

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, the Bible

Another question from that old Reddit thread that has questions designed to stump theists:

If the Bible is the word from God, and the word from God is perfect, why does it need interpretations? Why don’t you stone adulters or avoid wearing clothes made from mixed fibers as stated in the Bible? Why don’t you sacrifice animals to your God? 

This is really two questions. First, Why does the word of God need to be interpreted? And second, Why don’t Christians adhere to the Old Testament Laws? Read the rest of this entry

Arguing by Twitter

It’s quite common for atheists to argue by soundbite. They just assert something in a context where it’s difficult to reply at length. That way, they win, because you (the Christian) can’t adequately defend yourself.

Bible contradictions are usually handled this way. The Skeptics Annotated Bible, for example, just points out so-called contradictions and errors without explaining why those would be errors or contradictions. A more recent example is Twitter user @BibleAlsoSays, who tweeted this:

Let’s play which is correct Judges 1:19 or Joshua 17: 17-18 ? Which is correct Psalm 53:1 or Matthew 5:22 ?

I can’t find the original. I only got it as a retweet from @godispretend. I decided to play.

Judges 1:19: “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”

Joshua 17:17-18: “Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

Joshua was talking to the tribe of Joseph in the verses in Joshua. The events of the battle in Judges described things that the tribe of Judah did. If this was a prophecy (I’m not convinced that’s what was happening here–every general, front line supervisor, head coach, etc., tells his team “You will win! You will prevail!”), it applied to the tribe of Joseph, not to Judah. Joshua was, after all, talking to Joseph and not Judah.

Easy enough. Onward.

Psalm 53:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.”

Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

In other words, the Psalmist said that someone was a fool, but Jesus says this is forbidden. The Psalmist sinned! Scandalous. No one in the Old Testament did that, after all! The whole point of Psalm 53:1 is that no one obeys God; i.e. “there is none who does good.” So, if Jesus was giving a blanket prohibition on calling people fools (he wasn’t; keep reading), then the Psalmist sinned in the very song he was composing to say everyone sins, thus proving his own point quite eloquently!

But was Jesus actually giving a blanket prohibition on calling people fools? Look at the context of Jesus’ commands, he specifically says “whoever is angry with his brother,” and repeats “his brother” in the next pronouncement. Jesus is talking about relationships among believers. Many MSS read “whoever is angry with his brother without cause,” which draws some additional lines around the context of this verse. That’s a minority reading, but it appears enough to be worth a mention.

In practice, Jesus himself called many people “fools” and “foolish,” always referring to unbelievers or opponents of his ideology. Brethren, however, in Jesus’ thoughts, deserved more respect than that. Especially in personal, one-on-one exchanges. Public forums are different, which occasionally has to be explained when one Christian calls another out for bad theology (such as the recent James White vs. Ergun Caner situation).

There’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, especially if it grabs the attention of your listener and forces him to see his error. J.P. Holding discusses when parody, sarcasm, or satire is appropriate to use when debating opponents right here. Verses like Matthew 5:22 are not commanding the Christian to become someone’s personal doormat.

Dave Armstrong vs. the Atheists

Dave Armstrong is a braver man than I: he attended a “secular Bible study” in his native Detroit in order to answer questions about the Christian (in Dave’s case, Roman Catholic) position on Scripture. In all, 16 atheists attended to ask Dave questions.

Dave was fortunate to get a good group. They were open to dialog. Not like the group of militant anti-Christian atheists that populate the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees discussion board. (That was a waste of my time; why did I even sign up and post at all?) The majority of Internet atheists are the militant variety who refuse to listen to any Christian response to their nonsense.

Dave had a few great insights into the atheist mindset that are worth a short discussion. First:

DagoodS asked the group (17 including myself) how many believed that miracles occur. I was the only one to raise my hand. Then he asked how many believed that miracles might possibly occur. Jon raised his hand, and possibly one other. Only one or two even allowed the bare possibility. This exactly illustrated the point I was to make.

DagoodS was saying that it is more difficult to believe an extraordinary miracle or event than to believe in one that is more commonplace. True enough as far as it goes. But I said (paraphrasing), “you don’t believe that any miracles are possible, not even this book raising itself an inch off the table, so it is pointless for you to say that it is hard to believe in a great miracle, when in fact you don’t believe in any miracles whatsoever.” No response. . . .

This being the case, for an atheist (ostensibly with an “open mind”) to examine evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is almost a farcical enterprise from the start (at least from a Christian perspective) because they commence the analysis with the extremely hostile presuppositions of: (1) No miracles can occur in the nature of things; (2) #1 logically follows because, of course, under fundamental atheist presuppositions, there is no God to perform any miracle; (3) The New Testament documents are fundamentally untrustworthy and historically suspect, having been written by gullible, partisan Christians; particularly because, for most facts presented therein, there is not (leaving aside archaeological evidences) written secular corroborating evidence. Read the rest of this entry

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part I

The folks over at the Resurgence have a great article on how to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. They’ve itemized twelve errors, some of which I’ve fallen into. Let’s take a look at the first six.

Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.

It’s nice that they’ve started off with something that I, too, have railed against. It’s fairly common among skeptics (and far too many Christians!) to get really bent out shape when we mention God’s Law. Most of the resistance comes when we talk about punishment (hell is discussed later in this list). But the revulsion is inevitably there.

We can’t let that deter us.

It’s really important that our hearers understand both law and grace. The Law exists, and we ignore it at our peril. Both Paul and Peter charge us to act like we’re called by God to do great things! Simultaneously, we have to understand that the great things we’re called to do do not add anything to our salvation. We do them because they are the moral thing to do, and acting in accordance with our new, heavenly nature brings glory to God.

Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them.

I’ve probably fallen into this trap. I tend to mention “God” without actually defining that concept in a particularly trinitarian fashion. God isn’t a nebulous concept, but a personal being with whom we can have a real, dynamic, give-and-take relationship with. I should mention the relationship of the divine Persons more often so that readers get a better grasp on who’s who in the Trinity.

“The Little Engine That Could” should be the foundation of your theology.

Another one that I’ve railed against: you can’t possibly read the Bible and come away with the understanding that you can do it on your own, if you only think positively! The Bible wants us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

This is Word-Faith theology, or Name-It-and-Claim-It. If you believe enough in yourself, anything is possible! Makes a great self-help book, but it isn’t biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.

Orthodoxy (right belief) is very important. Orthopraxy (right practice) is also very important. But a balance must exist. Only Jesus can save you.

If you think that God saves only those who remain faithful to the end of their days under their own power and who do their own good works, you have Pelagianism: salvation by works.

This is related to the next error, which leans on orthodoxy to save you.

Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.

Yeah, I’ve done this. A lot. I resisted Calvinism at first because I thought that Calvinists were intellectual snubs. Then I realized the biblical truth of Calvinism, and became a passionate Calvinist–and an intellectual snub!

The rub of it is that I should consider myself a Christian first, and a Calvinist second (if at all). I was saved from the moment that I professed faith in Jesus for my salvation, and renounced the use of my own faculties to obtain God’s favor. I didn’t become “more saved” the day I read Chosen by God and realized the Sproul was conveying the absolute biblical truth.

A Christian relies only on Jesus for salvation, and seeks a cooperative sanctification by God in order to become like Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

If a person believes that only the Calvinist is saved because he properly understands predestination as an unconditional choosing of God’s people by God for God, then you have gnosticism: salvation by secret knowledge.

All denominations (including we Calvinists) seem to lean to far one way or the other. Orthodoxy is important. So is orthopraxy. But they are designed to compliment each other, not to compete with each other. Striking a balance is important to the life of the Christian.

Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.

Now this is an error that I fall into quite often. I tend to propose most of my own philosophies on this blog, and back them up by using relevant Scripture passages. Never do I exegete a passage from the text.

I’ve been considering for a while doing just that. From time to time, maybe each Sunday, selecting a passage of text from Scripture and actually run through it verse-by-verse and expound on the deep, spiritual meanings of it. Kind of like a written sermon.

I could even “preach through” an entire book, section by section, each Sunday. That would help me understand it better, and it would definitely give my unbelieving readers a more through understanding of Scripture.

So far, it looks like I commit as many errors as I rail against. So I’m coming out nearly 50-50 after six. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the remaining six, and I’m hoping that I do better!

Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?

Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?

That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.

Am I missing something?

Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.

That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).

Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).

Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.

So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.

None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.

And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!

Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.

Missing the Point

When a person hates something so deeply, like religion and everything that it stands for, then said person can see something that paints the object of his hatred in a positive light and completely, totally, utterly miss it. Especially when this “something” seems to paint the object of hatred negatively at first.

This clip from the TV series Firefly seems to be painting religion (specifically, the Bible) in a very negative light:

River, always logical to a fault, is trying to “fix” the broken parts of the Bible. At least what she perceives to be broken. Shepherd Book, on the other hand, tries to explain something that uber-logical River probably isn’t equipped to understand: what it means to actually have faith in something intangible yet bigger than yourself.

I like what Book tells her: “You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

Book points to a deeper truth about faith: that it is meant to fix our broken human condition. We who have faith acknowledge that our condition is flawed and that it requires fixing. We also realize that we aren’t capable of doing that on our own: God is required to heal our souls. That’s where faith–that is, trust–comes in. We have to trust that God is capable of doing that, that God is willing to do that, and that God will do that (see Rom 8:29-30).

In the end, this clip gives an excellent definition of what it means to have faith in something larger than ourselves–faith in the divine. At first blush, this scene seems to be making a negative comment about the Bible itself, and religion in general. In reality, it is driving home what Christianity has always taught: that we are broken and in need of a Savior who accomplishes our salvation through faith. The faith we have fixes our broken human condition.

The real point of this clip is utterly lost on the atheists. If you don’t believe me, read the comments below the clip:

“faith fixes you” my a**. faith breaks you down and then makes you into an unthinking zombie, at least our current faiths act as such.

the only way to “fix” the bible is to burn it and p*** on the ashes. (edited for content, by “theeyeisblind” with four “thumbs up” from other users as of this writing)

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.

Cover of

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.

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

Image via Wikipedia

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)

Image via Wikipedia

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).