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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.

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Beatitues, part 8: Blessed are Those Persecuted for Righteousness

Ultimately, what do the Beatitudes celebrate as virtues?

Poor in spirit.  MourningMeeknessHunger and thirst for righteousness.  Showing mercyPureness of heart.  Making peace.  Things not seen by our secular world as virtuous.

But the final Beatitude is the kicker.

I don’t know how the prosperity gospel ever came to be.  Nor do I know how asinine arguments like this one from God is Imaginary could ever capture the imaginations of serious Bible readers.

Why?

Because Jesus said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mt 5:10-12)

This one of many times the theme of persecution is introduced into the Bible.  In fact, one Bible teacher insists that there is at least one reference in all sixty-six books of the Bible to suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Wow.

Sorry, Marshall Brain.  That means that we aren’t going to end suffering and death with prayer.  Your argument fails.

Sorry, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes and Ed Young and Kenneth Copeland and others who have bought your lie.  God’s plan includes suffering.

In fact, to suffer is the ultimate virtue.  Suffering imitates all of the great Old Testament prophets.  When we are ridiculed for preaching God’s word, the word of God through Christ is confirmed to us.  Christ said we’d suffer on his account.

We do.  Look at the issues that set conservative Christians apart from the secular world. Read the rest of this entry

Contradiction Tuesday: Jesus in the Pecking Order

Better late than never, right?

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

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

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

set against

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

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

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

Contradiction Tuesday: Who is the Father of Joseph?

Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, has a curious genealogical quirk.

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Mt 1:16)

versus

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli. (Lk 3:32)

Unassailable contradiction?  Nope:

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

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

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

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

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 5)

As we continue with Brownlow North’s six steps for new Christians (and old Christians can benefit from these, too), we come to a tough one:

Never take your Christianity from Christians, or argue that because such and such people do so and so, therefore, you may (2 Cor 10:12).  You are to ask yourself, “How would Christ act in my place?” and strive to follow him (Jn 10:27).

The church is, in fact, “the pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).  So it’s impossible not to take (at least some) Christianity from Christians.  To not take your Christianity from Christians denies the whole concept of discipleship, which is the spirit in which I posted these rules in the first place.

The place of the church is education and discipline.  It should be the responsibility of the church’s elders to identify sin in the congregation and do something about that.

So it’s fair to say that I disagree with the first clause.

The second clause is excellent.  Because other people do it, that doesn’t make it okay.  As a manager for over a decade and a half in the fast food industry, every single time I dealt with someone’s tardiness the first thing I always got to listen to was an angry litany of names of people who are also “always late.”

That’s what North is talking about.  Using someone else’s behavior to justify your own is not acceptable.  Take responsibility for yourself.

Amanda Brown, co-founder of We Are Atheism, posted a video that indicted Christianity using the other side of this coin.  She said that the church she grew up in preached abstinence, but her peers had sex in the pews during the service.  Therefore, abstinence-only education is total crap and doesn’t work

Well, let’s think about this:

  1. Everyone has sex before marriage.
  2. It’s really hard to abstain from sex until marriage.
  3. Currently, the church thinks it’s morally wrong to have sex before marriage.

Given these facts, society has decided that the best solution to the problem is to lower its expectations, accept sex before marriage, and make fun of the church for continuing to preach “antiquated” morals.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective.

What if I were the new manager of your local fast food restaurant?  Let’s say that the people in the store think that it’s okay to serve french fries that have been baking under heat lamps for two hours.  It’s really hard cook new ones and make customers wait, and it also costs a lot of money in wasted food.  Everyone in the store thinks this is cool.

If I were to follow Amanda’s logic, then my best course of action as the new GM is to lower my expectations until I, too, believe that serving two-hour old french fries is acceptable.

Ridiculous, right?

Lowering expectations is never the best solution.  Indeed, it shouldn’t even be an option.  Yet, with sexual morals, this is exactly what society is doing.  It’s too hard to resist having sex until marriage, so let’s just have sex now and risk unwanted pregnancies, incurable diseases, serious heartache, etc.  Just wrap it up with a condom and you’re good to go.  The solution to loose sexual morals is to encourage them, as long as the people involved are being “responsible.”

That’s about like using a Band-Aid to treat an ear-to-ear throat slash.

Bringing this back neatly to the point, we cannot expect to justify behavior by comparing our behavior to the behavior of others.  The yardstick for comparison is what North says next: Ask what the Lord would do were he in our place.  In other words, “What Would Jesus Do?”

We might not have an immediate answer, but if we follow the first rule and the second rule, we’re on our way to having a good sense of the answer.

Another Reason I Won’t Debate the Historicity of Jesus Christ

Hard as this may be to believe, there are actually people who don’t believe that there was ever a real, historical Jesus Christ.  Their arguments are on par with people who deny Shakespeare wrote his plays, Holocaust deniers, AIDS deniers, and Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory series.

But they won’t go away.  Worse, probably 95% of the Internet atheist movement counts themselves among those who deny a man named Jesus of Nazareth, described by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and many others ever walked this planet and performed miracles before being sentenced to die on a Roman cross.

I’ve decided that I won’t debate the question of the existence of Jesus anymore.  It’s really not an open question.  No serious scholar of history or of the New Testament, Christian or not, actually questions this issue.  Even scholars of comparative mythology question whether or not Jesus’ stories had their origin in pagan mythology!  In fact, it may be the other way around.

Well, Christians, historians, and non-Christian comparative religious scholars aren’t the only ones who think that the idea Jesus never existed is preposterous.  Of all people, Bart Ehrman, thinks the idea and the arguments supporting it are terrible.  And he tells the Infidel Guy so during an interview:

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Hell

A question from the Reddit thread of questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can, but if we do, then we’re full of it because we’re not supposed to have all of the answers, but if we don’t have all of the answers theism is false; atheism makes my head spin–I’m way too consistent in my personal judgments to ever embrace atheism!).

This question concerns hell, and it’s a common one:

How can God’s love be unlimited if there is hell?

Hell is a fate to which humans consign themselves.  God is basically the ultimate respecter of persons.  He has laid the cards on the table–no matter how deeply we penetrate the black box of existence, it becomes increasingly complex and ordered.  No matter how far we probe the cosmos, the evident beginning of everything is found.  Ultimately, it all points to a First Cause that is itself an intelligent creator–a person, God the Father.

Jesus, the second person of God–the Son, has revealed the Father to mankind by becoming one of us.  The wrath of God against ungodliness has been appeased in the sacrifice of the Son to those who have faith (active faith, faith that does something; different from mere assent to a certain worldview).

From the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of God’s action in the world.  He calls us, convicts us of our sin, and regenerates us in faith to become sons of God and conform to the image of Christ.

The cards are on the table, and they are many and obvious.  But no one is  coerced to love God.  I don’t believe loving God is choice per se; rather, it is a revelation of something already inside you from the start.  Being a Christian isn’t something that you do once in an altar call, but a lifelong journey of self-discovery.

If you refuse the free gift of grace, living life apart from God, God doesn’t snuff you out of existence (though we could argue that he would be justified in doing so).  Instead, he allows you to remain in tact, living both on earth and into eternity.  The soul was created for eternal fellowship with God, to snuff a person out of existence would be to violate the ontology of the soul.  Make it something that it isn’t.  So, what to do with the soul that rejects God?

Well, heaven with God wouldn’t be nice.  If you rebel against and ultimately reject the fellowship of someone (such as divorcing a spouse), you don’t want to spend a solid second with that person ever again–let alone all of eternity!  It would be worse torture than, well, hell.  Cruel, even.

I’ve heard many an atheist express sentiments like this.  Over the course of keeping this blog and venturing into discussion forums with various atheists (such as Theology Web, the Rational Response Squad discussion board, the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees forums, and the Is God Imaginary forums), I’ve heard several times over things like, “I’d rather spend eternity in hell than be in heaven with your God!”

This is predicted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31).  In it, a rich man dies and goes to (presumably) hell, while a beggar named Lazarus ascends to (presumably) heaven.  When the rich man realizes that he’s lost, does he try to alter his fate?  Nope–all he does is ask for a drink of water, something that would satisfy his immediate need only.  Then, he wants to warn his family so that they won’t suffer the same fate.  Notice: he doesn’t want out of hell!

This is why C.S. Lewis observed, wisely I think, that the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  No one is there that doesn’t want to be there.

Hell is perdition and separation.  It is, ultimately, what the sinner wants–total separation from God.  God is giving him his way.  However, for those who submit to God’s way rather than their own, glorification in heaven awaits, and eternal fellowship with God.

Happy Easter!

It’s Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The disciples had no idea what was coming.  The first reports came in: they didn’t believe it.  But then more reports.  Soon, they saw for themselves.

The importance of Easter cannot be overstated.  Paul said it like this:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:12-19, emphasis added)

Fortunately, that is not the case!

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “Godhas put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:20-28)

Holy Week (Saturday): What’s Going On Here?

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting for our Lord to be raised.  Many times, he predicted this.  Yet, the disciples cowered and hid, not sure of what was going to happen.  Their teacher was disgraced.  Did they believe a lie?

They certainly didn’t believe the predictions, or else they had no idea what the predictions meant at the time Jesus was making them.

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (Jn 2:18-22)

They only realized later what Jesus meant.  Jesus predicted his death and Resurrection at other times:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Mt 12:38-42)

On the final trek to Jerusalem, Jesus predicted his death and Resurrection three times:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mt 16:21-23)

Then:

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men,and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (Mt 17:22-23)

Again:

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt 20:17-19)

The disciples didn’t believe a lie.  They just failed to understand the necessity of a suffering and dying Messiah.  Tomorrow is when we will get a full handle on what is going on this Holy Week.