Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eric Liddell

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jan/04/50-stunning-olympic-moments-eric-liddell/print

Samson's Trojan Horse


23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god. For they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, that he may entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars. 26 And Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained.28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. 31 (Judges 16:23-31).

This is a complex miracle. It's tempting to focus on the obvious miracle: Samson's superhuman strength. But myopic attention to that aspect of the account can blind us to the larger miraculous framework. For the obvious miracle is embedded in a coincidence miracle. A divinely staged convergence of opportune circumstances. The Trojan Horse quality of the incident. The Philistines imagine that they scored a coup by capturing Samson, but that will backfire. Their failure to notice that his hair had time to grow back during his captivity. The presence of the entire Philistine leadership in one place. The significance of the location: the temple of their national god. The fact that the temple was supported by two close-spaced pillars. 

Dying in Christ


Recently I visited the mausoleum where my grandmother is interred. It's been some years since I've been there. 

She died 3 months after I graduated from high school. She's been gone for two thirds of my life. She remains dear to me, but no longer near to me. 

I suspect that not many grandkids visit the graves of their grandparents. There's a sense in which you're lucky if your kids visit your grave on a regular basis. It's even less likely to continue to the third generation.

We're quickly forgotten. That's because we die, then those who remembered us follow suit. 

It won't be long before no one ever visits my grandmother's grave. No one will remember who she was.  

And in time I bet the mausoleum will be torn down. For one thing, as cremation becomes more popular than burial, it will be harder for a mausoleum to take in enough revenue to pay the overhead. The maintenance costs are formidable.

For another thing, those opposed to tearing down the mausoleum would be relatives of the decedents. But with the passage of time, there are ever fewer relatives to advocate for the dead. 

In addition, as the dominate culture becomes more secularized, there is less reverence for the dead. Death is regarded as a natural biological process, to which most organisms are prone. 

Finally, the mausoleum is sitting on some prime real estate. I expect developers are itching to get their hands on the property. 

Visiting a cemetery is a symbolic gesture. It's for the benefit of the living, not the dead. Likewise, I don't think Christians have a duty to bury their dead rather than cremate the remains. That's just a traditional Christian custom. 

My primary point is that unless we belong to God, our lives have no enduring significance. We mattered to our loved ones, but they, too, will die. 

The world is indifferent to our demise. It's as if we never existed in the first place. Time replaces our past. 

Self-sacrifice


It's often said that Scripture presents suicide in a uniformly negative light. I think that's largely the case. However, it skates over some morally complex examples. It also turns on how broadly or narrowly we define suicide. 

1. Let's stipulate that in the following cases, Scripture presents suicide in a negative light: Abimelech, Ahtiophel, Zimri, Judas.

2. Saul's armor-bearer

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him (1 Sam 31:1-5).
The text doesn't say why the armor-bearer killed himself, so we can only speculate. It was a snap decision. Yet I expect many soldiers have contemplated what they'd do if cornered by the enemy.

Perhaps he's acting in solidarity with his king. Maybe he thinks it would be disloyal and dishonorable for his king to die while he survived. As the king's bodyguard, it was his duty to defend his king to the death. Once Saul took his own life, perhaps he felt that he had outlived his usefulness. A dead king needs no bodyguard. Or perhaps he felt it would be shameful to fall into enemy hands, especially heathen hands.

If so, those motivations reflect a military honor code. I don't think those are morally sufficient reasons to kill yourself.

However, it's quite possible that his motivation was more pragmatic. Maybe he figured that death was inevitable, and he preferred a quick death at his own hands to a long, excruciating death by torture at the hands of the enemy. If that was his motive, then I'm not prepared to say his action was wrong.

One might object that this is an extreme case, and it would be fallacious to extrapolate from this case to normal situations. I agree. Mind you, the logic cuts both ways. By the same token, it is fallacious to extrapolate from normal situations to extreme cases. The battlefield often places men in extreme, exceptional situations. Some actions which are normally impermissible may be permissible (or even obligatory) under those circumstances. That doesn't mean anything goes. Just that we must sometimes make allowance for the demands of the situation. 

3. Saul

Saul's case is, of course, similar to that of his armor-bearer's, but there are differences. 

i) His armor-bearer was in that situation through no fault of his own, whereas Saul put himself in that bind through a series of impious actions. 

ii) Capturing a king is not only a case of personal disgrace, but national disgrace. A captured king is a trophy. 

iii) Perhaps what Saul most feared wasn't death by torture, but humiliation and mutilation (e.g. 2 Kings 25:7). The ignominious fate of Samson may have been in the back of his mind. Samson was blinded, and made a clown. 

I'm less sympathetic to Saul because of (i). 

4. Samson

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god. For they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, that he may entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars. 26 And Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained.28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. 31 (Judges 16:23-31).
i) Samson is motivated in large part by personal revenge. 

ii) However, there's a providential irony to his death. God delivered Samson into the hands of his enemies in order to deliver his enemies into the hands of Samson. At one stroke, Samson takes out the ruling class of Philistia. 

iii) Moreover, there's a religious element. In the providential ordering of events, this is less about Samson v. the Philistines than Yahweh v. Dagon. That's the symbolism. 

iv) Samson's action isn't purely or primarily suicidal. Rather, he's seizing the opportunity to strike a blow which will cripple the Philistine war machine. 

I'm inclined to say his action is subjectively dubious (because his motives are morally compromised), but objectively justifiable. 

5. Choosing death over life

Desperate women sometimes prostitute themselves to feed themselves and their children. From a Christian standpoint, it would be morally preferable to starve. So there are situations in which a Christian might effectively opt for suicide over survival by refusing to save himself (or herself) through sinful means. 

Martyrdom is another example. You could save your skin by recanting the faith, but you choose death in lieu of public apostasy (cf. Mk 8:34-36). Of course, there's a sense in which that's a forced option. 

6. Jesus

There's a sense in which the atonement of Christ was a calculated, long-range suicide mission. He intentionally came to die. He engineered his death by going out of his way to get himself arrested, convicted, and executed. 

Of course, this isn't suicide in the usual sense. Rather, this is laying down your life for the sake of others (Jn 15:12; 1 Jn 3:16).

The case of Christ is uniquely redemptive, but there are lesser examples. Eric Liddell forfeited his shot at freedom by giving another inmate that chance:

On one occasion Liddell was given a chance to leave the camp through an exchange arrangement made by Winston Churchill, but he instead arranged for a pregnant woman to take his place.http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jan/04/50-stunning-olympic-moments-eric-liddell
Along the same lines is the sacrificial act of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. In those situations, Christian altruism trumps self-preservation. 

To take a rather more mundane example, if a home comes under attack, it's the duty of the father and older sons to hazard their own lives to defend the mother and younger children.

7. Paul

There's a sense in which Paul courted death as an opportunity to evangelize the ruling class. Instead of seeking a quick acquittal, he pursued an appellate process that put his life at grave risk, but also gave him access to the political elite. 

The Increased Need For Apologetics In Our Day

Here's one reason, among others that could be cited, why apologetics is even more important today than in the past:

"Unlike the world of 250 years ago, the infrastructure of our society would collapse in a catastrophic way without hundreds of thousands of people who have been trained to think through extremely complex processes in creating, funding, manufacturing, managing, marketing, transporting, preserving, and disposing of tens of thousands of things we depend on every day. How does electricity get created and delivered to our homes? And how did all those electricity-dependent things (furnace, lighting, refrigerators) come to be? In a world where rigorous thinking is woven into the fabric of life, the thought of not thinking seriously about God and his Word is folly." (John Piper, Think [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010], 173)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Godawa on The Wolverine

"The Wolverine: Eternity is a Curse if You Have No Meaning" by Brian Godawa.

Out there harassing people

Or pleading with people? You be the judge (unless this baby daddy preacher's son was right about Matthew 7:1 and the rest of Matthew 7 is a scribal interpolation).

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament:

http://www.denverseminary.edu/article/revisiting-the-corruption-of-the-new-testament-manuscript-patristic-and-apocryphal-evidence/

Uppity laymen


Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Heb 13:17).

This verse is much loved by high churchman to keep uppity laymen in their place. I've discussed it before:


Now I'd like to make one additional point. The author of Hebrews doesn't decouple authority from truth. To the contrary Heb 13:17 comes at the tail-end of a very lengthy argument to prove the author's position and disprove the opposing position. Throughout his letter, the author appeals to the authority of Scripture, reasoning from Scripture, to establish his position. He never suggested that his readers should submit to their elders even if their elders are wrong. His whole letter is about correcting doctrinal error. 

Excusing atheism


Arminian apologist Randal Rauser has written a hostile review of James Spiegel's The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief.
Atheism, says Spiegel, is not really an “intellectual movement”. Rather, “It is little more than moral rebellion cloaked in academic regalia. The new atheists are blinded by their own sin.” Atheism shirks an “objective assessment of evidence” because of “stubborn disobedience” and “willful rebellion”. It is ”the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality. In short, it is sin that is the mother of unbelief.”And that’s just in the first few pages of the first chapter!While Spiegel believes that, biblically speaking, atheist are fools, he stresses that this is not foolishness as mere ignorance. Atheists are not “simply obtuse or feeble-minded”. Rather, they are in deep moral rebellion. He explains:
“When smart people go in irrational directions, it is time to look elsewhere than reasoning ability for an explanation. And Scripture gives us clear direction as to where we should look. Consider the psalmist’s declaration that ‘the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The Hebrew term rendered ‘fool’ here denotes a person who is ‘morally deficient.’ And elsewhere in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature we learn of various symptoms of this moral deficiency. The book of Proverbs says ‘a fool finds no pleasure in understanding’ (Proverbs 18:2), that ‘fools despise wisdom and discipline’ (Proverbs 1:7), that ‘a fool finds pleasure in evil conduct’ (Proverbs 10:23) and is ‘hotheaded and reckless’ (Proverbs 14:16).” “It is not intelligence they lack so much as self-control and the right values.”
Spiegel provides other scriptures to support his provocative thesis. For instance, he observes of Ephesians 4:17-19: “The root of the problem, apparently, is not a lack of intelligence but rather a hardness of heart that is itself caused by immoral behavior.” He cites John 3:19-21, “men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”, and then observes:
“Note also Jesus’ point that evildoers do not simply ignore or reject the light but actually ‘hate’ it. If this is so, then we should expect some atheists to display a certain amount of bitterness and even rage toward the idea of God. And, of course, this is just what we find among many atheists, especially the leaders of the new atheism.”
But the most important passage for Spiegel’s provocative thesis is Romans 1:18-21:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
After quoting Romans 1 Spiegel concludes:
“In this passage Paul makes clear that the problem with those who don’t believe in God is not lack of evidence. On the contrary, God has made His existence and attributes so ‘plain’ and ‘clearly seen’ from creation that belief is inexcusable. He also explains how, in spite of this, some reject the truth, specifically through immoral behavior.”
This brings me to Spiegel’s use of scripture which is little more than proof-texting. Many of the texts Spiegel cites talk about foolishness and rebellion generally and are not particularly germane to atheism. 
That's a very superficial objection. Although passages like Jn 3:19-21, Eph 4:17-18, and Tit 3:3-5 don't specify atheists, they concern unbelievers generally, of whom atheists would be a subset. Unbelievers are darkened, hardened, and ignorant. They are cut off from the life of God. Hostile to the truth. And there's a link between unbelief and immorality. 
In fact, modern atheists would be in a condition of aggravated guilt. Unlike ancient pagans, many of whom knew nothing about Judeo-Christian revelation, modern-day atheists consciously reject God's revelation in Scripture.  
This analysis is deeply flawed. For one thing, the problem of evil cannot be separated so neatly from arguments for a world-designer as Spiegel seems to suppose. From kluges to carnivores, the structure of the world suggests to many people that if there is a designer then he is either inept or malevolent. Whether they are correct or not, these are most certainly not hermetically sealed categories. The boundary between the problem of evil and arguments for design is porous indeed.
Of course, Bible writers were well acquainted with the natural order. With predation, disease, and natural disaster. They lived on the edge in a way that contemporary urbanites, shielded by modern technology, do not. 
Note as well that even Mother Teresa comes out as rebellious on Spiegel’s analysis. You see, in her posthumously published journals we discovered that Mother Teresa frequently struggled with doubting the very existence of God. If such doubt is a sign of rebellion (as per Romans 1) then Mother Teresa was in rebellion against God. Essentially Spiegel has offered us a prosperity gospel when it comes to belief in God. Just as the conventional prosperity gospel chalks up sickness and poverty to a lack of faith, so Spiegel chalks up doubt and disbelief to the presence of rebellion. Perhaps this seems like a good idea when you’re targeting the new atheists. But Mother Teresa?So let’s concede, pace Spiegel, that Mother Teresa did have some non-sinful doubts. What about other people? Might others have non-sinful doubts? Might others fail to believe God exists due to something other than sinful rebellion? The minute we concede this possibility the neat categories of Spiegel’s analysis begin to erode.
Notice how Rauser uses Mother Teresa, rather than Biblical revelation, as his standard of comparison.

Evolution vs God and PZ Myers whining

I went ahead and bought and watched Evolution vs God last night. I'm happy to support Living Waters in that way.
Kudos to Ray Comfort, who does a great job narrating the work and running the interviews. Yes, of course they were edited. The video is 35 minutes long. But as someone trying to get better at street evangelism and to get over fears of talking to people I've never met before about serious and profound topics, having just walked up to them on the street, I admire Ray's cheek and manner. He's not intimidated at all, or if he is, he doesn't show it.

I assumed PZ Myers, who makes an extended appearance in the film, would whine that he was taken out of context after the editing of the film was done. Of course he would, because he looked like a self-deceived snake oil salesman in the film (and hey, appearances don't always deceive).

Excerpt
Comfort: "Could you give me one piece of observable evidence for Darwinian evolution?"
Myers: "OK, I would point to, as one great example is, look at the genetics of the stickleback."
Comfort: "What's that?"
Myers: "Uh, so stickleback fish are a very interesting collection of species that were recently isolated after the end of the Ice Age."
Comfort: "What do they become?"
Myers: "They're various species of stickleback."
Comfort: "They stayed as fish."
Myers: "Well, of course...they're distinctly different fish."
...
Myers: "Human beings are still fish."
Comfort: "Humans are fish?"
Myers: "Yes, of course they are."
...
Myers: "For instance I would say look at Lenski's experiments with bacteria, then."
Comfort: "So what do the bacteria become?"
Myers: "The bacteria are still bacteria, of course."
...
Comfort: "To summarise, the observable evidence that you give me for Darwinian evolution is bacteria becoming bacteria."
Myers: "No, it is bacteria acquiring new metabolic capabilities."


If Ray really took PZ Myers out of context in such a way as to misrepresent what Myers had to say (ie, that the evidence he'd adduce to indicate TENSTE(p)NSBMGDaGF occurred is that fish evolved into fish), why is it that I've asked the same question of many other neo-Darwinians over the years and been given the following answers?
-finches evolved into finches
-mosquitoes evolved into mosquitoes
-bacteria evolved into bacteria (which Myers also offered in the film, as seen above)
-salamanders evolved into salamanders
-fruitflies evolved into really jacked-up fruitflies
-moths evolved into moths

"Fish evolved into fish" or "bacteria evolved into bacteria" is entirely consistent with those other answers I've been given.

Anyway, the movie is an enjoyable watch, picking up where Genius and 180 left off. My favorite part was the montage of long dumbfounded response-free pauses when Ray asks a variety of interlocutors the question, "Can you think of any observable evidence of Darwinian evolution where there's a change of kind?" It evokes Richard Dawkins. Go support Living Waters by purchasing the mp4 download, if you can.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

So-called "Gospel" ministries


In that: so-called "Gospel" ministries in which the workers and especially the leaders are outside of the protection of the church, and are not accountable to the church for their actions, are problematic.  It's not enough to say that they are members in good standing at their local church: if they are doing the work which is prescribed for the local church but they are not under the authority of the local church, they are either robbing the local church or scoffing at it, or both. 

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2013/07/running-around-without-church.html 

My last objection to AHA is that it is NOT a ministry that flows from the local church. T. Russell Hunter has stated openly and unapologetically that AHA comes under the sole authority of Jesus Christ. When asked if AHA is under a local elder board or a local church, he ignores the question. I have tried to find a local church associated with AHA on their website and their Facebook page. I have also tried to convince Russell to share with me privately the Church that he is affiliated with and he has consistently stiff-armed me at every turn. 

http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-abolish-human-abortion-coalition.html

Scroll down to find Dingess on the faculty page:


Next: try to find a local church associated with Telos Biblical Institute. Is the parachurch ministry Dingess teaches at controlled by the elder board of a local church? I don't find that on their website. Remember, "It's not enough to say that they are members in good standing at their local church."

Be Prepared To Address Paranormal Phenomena

Alex Tsakiris' recent interview of Victor and Wendy Zammit is worth listening to, for more than one reason. They summarize their case for an afterlife based on a wide variety of paranormal phenomena. We've discussed a lot of the evidence in the past. That's not what I'm primarily interested in here. What I want to highlight at this point is their discussion of Christianity. How would you respond? I've outlined my response in previous posts. Are you prepared to address objections like the ones Tsakiris and the Zammits have raised?

Sawing off the branch we're perched on


I've quoted part of this before, but now I'm going to include a larger excerpt:

Critics of the morality of the God of the Hebrew Bible rarely ask themselves what the source of the morality from whose perspective they present their criticism is. A few years ago, I watched with great pleasure the HOB production called "Rome." The final disk of the DVD version of "Rome" includes interviews with some of the people involved in the production of the program. In one interview, someone or other was asked in what ways he thought the Romans were like us and unlike us. He replied that they were remarkably like us in most ways, but that there was one way in which they were very different from us: in their extreme brutality–in both their willingness to commit brutal acts and in their indifference to the pervasive, entrenched brutality of their world. When he was asked whether he could explain why we and the Romans were so different in this respect, he did not quite answer by saying "Christianity is what made the difference"–I don't think he could have brought himself to say that–but he did identify "Judaeo-Christian morality" as the source of the difference. And it was a very good answer. The morality of almost everyone in Western Europe and the anglophone countries today (if that person is not a criminal or a sociopath) is either the morality that the Hebrew Bible was tending toward or some revised, edited version of that morality. Almost every atheist (in Western Europe and the anglophone countries), however committed he or she may be to atheism, accepts some modified version of what Judaeo-Christian morality teaches about how human beings ought to treat other human beings. And even the modifications are generally achieved by using one part of that morality to attack some other part. (For example, by attempting to turn the principle "don't make other people unhappy" against Judaeo-Christian sexual morality.) 

The morality to which critics of the moral character of the God of the Bible appeal is a gift to the world from Israel and the Church and is by no means self-evident. I don't think that many missionaries have heard anything resembling the following from those whom they were attempting to convert: "Hey–it says here, 'But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth…thou shalt utterly destroy them.' That's awful. How can you expect us to worthship such a God?" And the reason they haven't heard that is that most people in most times and at most places would see nothing but good sense in that command. Most people have taken it for granted that when  tribe or nation moves into new territory it will kill those of the previous inhabitants that it does not enslave. That's what people do–the Old Common Morality says–and they'd be crazy to do otherwise. Peter van Inwagen, "Comments on "The God of Abraham," M. Bergmann et al. eds. Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham (Oxford 2013), 81-82. 

Stealth totalitarianism

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/354031/print

Kingdom come


Have you ever noticed that the Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city? Not everybody likes that thought, since many people hate cities and love their gardens–gardens that give them a tiny microcosm of the natural world.
The combination of garden and city has another resonance, I think. The original garden was planted by God. But the first cities were the creation of human beings (Gen 4:17; 10:8-12). In one sense, the city is the hub of human longing for security in the midst of restless vulnerability of life as a race of sinners.
Yet the city is also in many ways the pinnacle of human collective achievement…So, by putting the garden and the city together in its final imagery, the Bible combines the restoration of all that God originally made and intended his creation to become, with the redemption of all that human beings have achieved in the exercise of their capacity as creatures made in the image of God–however flawed and permeated with sin that achievement has been. 
For so many of us have absorbed a mental picture of "heaven" that essentially includes nothing of what we know here on earth…But then what? What survives? What "carries over" into the new creation, purged of sin? Once again both Isaiah and Revelation help us here. Isaiah foresaw a day when the nations would turn to the God of Israel for salvation and, in doing so, would bring all their wealth and resources as offerings to him and for the benefit of his people (e.g. Isa 23:18; Isa 60:5-11). 
But Revelation will not let us simply spiritualize away the great earthiness of the Old Testament vision [Rev 21:24-27]…What makes kings glorious (to the extent that they are at all) is the accumulated work of their subjects–whether in creating the wealth their kingdom is built on, or (in our sinful world) fighting to protect it or extend it. What brings honor to nations is the accumulation of cultural achievement over many generations. Art, literature, music, architecture, styles of food and dress, the richness of language and culture–and so much else–these are the things that national distinctive are built on, which at their best enrich our humanity and at their most trivial support the tourist industry. And these are things that all human beings participate in and contribute to, however humbly. These, I think, are what is implied by the language of national glory and honor, as represented by "the kings of the earth." These are the things they will be bringing into the city of God, in John's vision.
All that has enriched and honored the life of all nations in all of history will be brought in to enrich the new creation. The new creation will not be a blank page, as if God will simply crumple up the whole of human historical life in this creation and toss it in the cosmic bin, and then hand us a new sheet to start all over again. The new creation will start with the unimaginable reservoir of all that human civilization has accomplished in the old creation–but purged, cleansed, disinfected, sanctified, and blessed.
We lament the "lost civilizations" of past millennia, civilizations we can only partially reconstruct from archeological remains or in epic movies. But if we take Revelation 21 seriously, they are not "lost" forever. 
What a place the new creation will be, then! But what about the people there? Revelation tells us that there will be people from every tribe and nation, language and people–a great salad bowl of humanity in all our profusion of colors, shapes, and textures. Ethnic and cultural diversity will be a mark of the new humanity, but without the strife and confusion that disfigure them in the old humanity.
We need to remember that the biblical concept of rest does not simply mean the cessation of all activity. The original creation Sabbath was the beginning of human history, in which we enjoy creation along with our Creator through exercising our mandate of rule and care within it. When God gave the Israelites" rest" in the land, it meant freedom from their enemies, so that they cold get on with the job of farming the land. "Rest" meant the enjoyment of working in peace and seeing the fulfillment of one's labors.
The point that Isaiah makes is not that we will be freed from all work, but that the work we do will be freed from all frustration. The curse of weariness, loss, defeat, injustice futility, and misfortune will be gone. Our work in the new creation will be productive, enjoyable, satisfying, of lasting value, blessed by God–and environmentally safe (see Isa 65:25)!

Christopher. J. H. Wright, The God I Don't Understand (Zondervan 2008), chap. 11.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An ecclesial conundrum


Ed Dingess recently posted a critique of Russell Moore's position on the Zimmerman verdict:


But this generates a dilemma.  On the one hand, Dingess is a critic of Abolish Human Abortion. Dingess is an ally of Frank Turk in his opposition to AHA. They seem to share the same (or similar (ecclesiology). They love to quote Heb 13:17 (which they don't bother to contextualize). 

On the other hand, Moore is a Baptist elder. An ordained Baptist minister who's pastored several SBC churches. 

Suppose a member of AHA was also a member of Highview Baptist Church (which Moore pastored). Suppose the AHA member had a blog in which he did a post supporting the Zimmerman verdict. Suppose Pastor Moore told him to retract it because the post conflicted with Moore's view of the verdict. What should he do? On the one hand, Dingess thinks laymen ought to be in submission to their elders. On the other hand, Dingess is a public critic of Moore's position on this issue. Likewise, what does Turk think the layman ought to do in that hypothetical situation?

Christian debunkers


I'm going to comment on a recent tweet by Dan Phillips:

When "continuationists" can point to 5 thoroughly documented resurrections by "faith healers" in the last year, let me know

This raises several questions:

i) When he demands documentation, what has he actually read on modern miracles?  

ii) We don't have 5 recorded resurrections per year in the book of Acts. In fact, we don't have 5 recorded resurrections in the entire the book of Acts–roughly 30 years.

iii) Restoring someone to life is attributed to only two apostles: Peter (Acts 9:37-40) and Paul (Acts 20:9-10). And I don't know if they'd count was "resurrections" rather than miraculous. resuscitations. Dorcus was only dead for a few hours, and Eutychus was only dead for a few minutes. That's not like Lazarus, who was dead for four days (Jn 11:39).

iv) Miracles are attributed to Stephen (6:8), yet there's no record of his raising someone from the dead. Yet if he had, we'd expect Luke to record that, inasmuch as Luke recorded the cases involving Peter and Paul. Same thing with the other apostles. So if Dan is suggesting that resurrecting someone is a litmus test for continuationism, hasn't he disqualified most of the apostles?

v) How does Dan think Peter and Paul healed people? Does he think God delegated healing powers to them, so that they could heal anyone at will? Or did God retain sovereign discretion over the outcome? 

vi) How is Dan's taunt different than asking, "Why won't God heal amputees"? 

Pentecostalism is a target-rich environment. However, it concerns me when Dan seems to adopt the same debunking mentality as knee-jerk skeptics like Paul Kurtz, James Randi, and Martin Gardner. 

Meaning and morality


I'm going to repost some comments I left on James Anderson's post "Can Life Have Meaning Without God?"
  • steve hays
    July 17, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    Another example of atheist concurrence is the antinatalist philosophy of secularists like Schopenhauer and Benatar. Human existence is a misfortune. We'd be better off not existing in the first place. That coincides with George Steiner's definition of absolute tragedy.
  • steve hays
    July 23, 2013 at 4:58 AM

    Curt Day
  • "My main point is rather than asserting that they, as atheists, can find no meaning..."

  • That was an argument, not an assertion.

  • "...which is potentially contentious..."

  • Curt's own statements are contentious. So he's disqualified himself. 

  • "...and will probably be answered with the claim that the meaning we found is arbitrarily based..."

  • Claims aren't the same as arguments.

  • ..."why not confess our failures and inconsistencies first?"

  • Why don't you lead by example? No one is stopping you. Volunteer your failures and inconsistencies first. We're waiting.
    • steve hays
      July 23, 2013 at 5:11 AM

      zilch
    • "James and Johnnie- I hope you don't mind if I butt in here. James: you will have noticed that Dawkins, Provine, and Rosenberg did not say that humans have no meaning or purpose: only that the Universe has no meaning or purpose."

    • Which corresponds to Dr. Anderson's distinction between objective meaning, or lack thereof (i.e. "the universe has no meaning or purpose"), and subjective meaning (i.e. the imaginary meaning which some atheists continue to contrive, despite the admitted absence of objective meaning). Pay attention to the argument.
  • steve hays
    July 24, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Once again, zilch, you're not paying attention. This isn't just a Christian characterization. Remember that Dr. Anderson began by quoting secular philosophers. And that was just a sample. Many atheist philosophers agree with him that in a godless universe, human life has no objective value. And that's not merely their opinion. They argue for that conclusion, showing how it derives from atheism.

  • steve hays
    July 24, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    You're interjecting belated qualifications you didn't include in your initial responses, then backdating your qualifications as if that's what you said all along. Sorry, but you don't get retroactive credit for what you failed to say at the time. 

  • Deriving ethics from culture is circular. To begin with, different cultures have different social mores. In addition, we don't simply judge ethics by culture: we judge culture by ethics. Unless you're a cultural relativist. Are you? 

  • Why should we feed the poor? Why should we be nicer than capitalist robber barons? You're assuming what you need to prove. 

  • "…if we were not animals who must eat to live?"

  • And predators kill other animals to survive and flourish. Sometimes members of their own species. Take the natural tendency we observe in the animal kingdom to kill stepchildren (e.g. lions killing cubs of rival lions). So that's an evolutionary argument for murder. 

  • You're also committing the naturalistic fallacy. Thanks for proving my point.
  • steve hays
    July 23, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    Author: Jon in Oxford

  • "First, why are we adopting the objective/subjective distinction? Especially where objective simply means "outside" and subjective means 'interior.'"

  • Seems to me that distinction is roughly analogous to true and false or fictitious. 

  • "And, for those atheists who live meaningful lives, nothing about their understanding of the world seems like it could provide the symbolic or semiotic resources to create meaningfulness. But what could exactly?"

  • Well, for one thing, if atheism is false, then it presents a false understanding of man's role in the universe. Of course, Dr. Anderson's argument is more radical. Even if (ex hypothesi) atheism is true, it would negate the significance of our lives–and there are notable atheists who agree. So true or false, atheism is in a bind. 

  • "This is where your analysis seems most ludicrous. What exactly about the Christian view (as you articulated it) could provide the resources either?"

  • Well, if the Christian view presents a true narrative of man's place in the universe, then surely that's a more promising way to ground human significance. 

  • "You claim that '[meaning] can only come from a transcendent personal Creator who made you, and the universe around you, for the most spectacular end: his eternal glory and the eternal joy of his people.' Why? I don't doubt that this is the TRUTH of the universe. By why is it the only way people's lives can have meaning?"

  • Jon's position is decidedly odd. On the one hand he denies that a true narrative grounds human significance, while–on the other hand–he affairs that a false or fictitious narrative can ground human significance.

  • "But they still do not necessarily argue that other faiths or ways of living are necessarily deficient in meaning."

  • They are deficient in meaning insofar as they are deficient in truth.

  • "I would claim instead that 'meaning' as it is most commonly used is the word we give our participation in life-narratives laid out by our Traditions (in the technical, MacIntyrean sense). These Traditions lay out an end-goal, dictate the virtues that will be inculcated of us on our quest for that goal, and enable the process of education and character-building that ensues in the following lifetime. Along the way, we find ourselves to also be characters in others' narratives, and we play those parts accordingly. Our Traditions give us examples of the good life (eudaimonia) and provide us with a logic and hermeneutic to make sense of the world on our quest. For most of human history, this is how people made sense of their lives, and they did so more or less without Sartrian hand-wringing about the meaning of their lives." 

  • Yes, traditions can assign a role to members of society. For instance, Aztec religion can dictate that it's the solemn duty of war captives to be sacrificial victims to appease the Aztec pantheon. In these same vein, suicide cults like the Order of the Solar Temple or urological cults like Raëlism can assign a role to members based on their cultic narratives. If, however, the narratives are fictitious or false, then the end-goals and attendant virtues are baseless. 

  • In addition, if–as atheists typically insist–humans pass into oblivion when they die, then how does playing their little part as fleeting characters in the evolutionary drama secure the ultimate significance of their lives? The play remains the same, but the players are expendable. 

  • "Again, in what sense does the Christian experience a meaningfulness to his life that is different from the meaningfulness a sincere Muslim might feel?"

  • If the Christian narrative is true whereas the Islamic narrative is largely false, then that's a differential factor.

  • "Why is it or does it have to be the case that meaning must be the special province of the Christian God, whether directly or as a grace to as-yet-benighted unbelievers?"

  • Because truth and meaning are interrelated ("meaning" in the sense of human significance).

  • steve hays
    July 23, 2013 at 4:52 AM

    Author: Jon in Oxford

  • "Put another way, I don't see any way of holding that atheists (presuming you mean by this 'people who do not believe in God or gods' and not 'post-Darwinian anti-theistic Western rationalists') cannot in principle have meaningful lives consistent with their beliefs without perverting the common usage of 'meaning' (and the one you articulate)."

  • Because, as secular philosophers like Michael Ruse point out, if naturalistic evolution is true, then natural selection has brainwashed and/or hoodwinked humans into believing that our lives–and especially the lives of our kin-group–are worthwhile. But once we realize that mindless process has programmed us to project this sense of value onto an indifferent universe, we realize that we've been hoaxed. Now, we may continue to feel the same way, just as certain phobias (e.g. acrophobia) may be irrepressible, but we realize that our feelings are misguided and groundless. For Toto has pulled back the curtain to reveal the flimflam man twirling the dials.
  • steve hays
    July 23, 2013 at 5:49 AM

    Norm 

  • "The purpose provided by this god is to be a sycophant to an idea. And to do it because god says so…value is simply declared by him arbitrarily."

  • That's just an ignorant caricature of the Christian position. What Christian philosophers and theologians has Norm bothered to read? Or is he merely regurgitating the hortatory rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens?

  • Norm's statement reduces theistic duties to a crude version divine command theory. He overlooks the natural law tradition, where duties are grounded in how God designed us. Likewise, he overlooks the exemplarist tradition, where human virtues instance God's archetypal virtues. In neither case would value be arbitrary.

  • "To praise him forever and ever and ever because he apparently wants to be thanked for being what he is innately. He's created his own cheering section."

  • We should praise what is praiseworthy. Value what is good because it is good. If God is supremely good, then that's why we should praise him.

  • "If other people choose to be lazy, that doesn't bother me. If still others choose to be evil, my fellow social animals and I; who want to live in cooperative and flourishing societies, can fight them."

  • Norm makes the illogical mistake, which many unbelievers make, of acting as if disproving the Christian value-system ipso facto proves a secular value-system. But that's invalid. 

  • Honest atheists admit that atheism is nihilistic. That being so, where do some zealous nihilists get their sense of mission? Why make opposing Christianity your cause in life if your own position is nihilistic? They are dutiful foot-soldiers for an outlook that negates normative duties. Go figure.