Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can We Be Good Without God?

In this article I'll be offering a simple, spoof critique of Michael Ruse's recent article titled "God is dead. Long live morality." I will be very direct and will pull no punches when it comes to exposing Ruse's ruse for the lie that it is. Don't expect fancy philosophical jiu-jitsu from me in this article because God's word is sufficient to refute Ruse, whether one believes it or not. Given his view of reality, Ruse gives a consistent answer to a great question:
The question: What can Darwin teach us about morality?

God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good. There is no celestial headmaster who is going to give you six (or six billion, billion, billion) of the best if you are bad. Morality is flimflam. [bold and italics mine for emphasis]

Assuming his presuppositions for the sake of argument, I agree completely. No God means that there are no objective, transcendent, moral standards and morality is "flimflam". Moral realism is a pipe dream. I couldn't have said it better myself. What's even more helpful is the fact that Ruse openly admits that there is no grounding for moral standards. So why am I so stoked about this since I'm a Christian and Ruse is an atheist? It's because he's making my point for me. So, thank you Dr. Ruse for owning up to the consequences of your own worldview. However, Ruse refutes himself when he opposes anarchy,

Does this mean that you can just go out and rape and pillage, behave like an ancient Roman grabbing Sabine women? Not at all. I said that there are no grounds for being good. It doesn't follow that you should be bad.
Why not? Why can't I go out and rape, pillage, and plunder like a champion serial killer? You may object, "Dude, you'll get thrown in jail and possibly be executed." But I'm really clever and I don't plan to get caught. So explain to me again why I shouldn't do it if I can get away with it and there's no grounding for morality? Worse yet, Ruse begs the question because he assumes that raping and pillaging are "bad." Who says it's "bad" and why should I listen to their opinion? Given his assumptions about reality, why should I give a rip what anybody else thinks? After all, I'm a clever atheist and I'm going to use my smarts to avoid not only being arrested, tried, and convicted, but better yet, I don't have to worry about Judgment Day since there will never be one!
Indeed, there are those – and I am one – who argue that only by recognising the death of God can we possibly do that which we should, and behave properly to our fellow humans and perhaps save the planet that we all share. We can give up all of that nonsense about women and gay people being inferior, about fertilised ova being human beings, and about the earth being ours to exploit and destroy.

First, which set of moral standards inform "do[ing] that which we should" and "behav[ing] properly" if different societies having contradictory "shoulds", "oughts", and "proper behaviors"? How do you "save the planet" if different societies have contradictory moral values about how that is to be done? An objection may be, "Scientific experimentation has demonstrated that we are destroying the planet, thus endangering future generations of humans." But again, given Ruse's fundamental axiom about morality, why should I care? Maybe I think the human race needs to go extinct in the future. After all, we've had our shot and we blew it, so it's time to give another organism a shot at the Darwinian crap shoot. Given Ruse's views, my contributing to the destruction of the planet won't immediately affect me and I'm not obligated to uphold Ruse's or anyone else's standards of what constitutes "shoulds" and "oughts". I can make up my own rules because I'm my own little god and I get to call the shots regardless of what other little gods feel, think, and experience. Third, if we're just organized molecules banging around how do I get an ought from an is? In other words, how does the description of what happens in the world tell me about how I ought to act in the world? Finally, Ruse begs the question again by assuming it is "nonsense" to object to homosexuality, to assume that the fertilized egg is a human being, and to think it's okay to not recycle. If I get to make up my own standards, maybe my standard calls for discrimination against homosexuals because I think they are disgusting, maybe I think abortionists need to die because they dress in ugly blue scrubs, and maybe I don't care whether the earth is destroyed or not because littering and dumping my trash in the woods feeds my rebellious streak. If Ruse can arbitrarily assume that certain things are bad without justification then I can do the same. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

So, according to Ruse, we make up our own moral standards and agree to follow the standards we have made up in order to promote survival value in our society. Those within that society who demur from the majority will either do what the majority says even though they don't agree with it or face the consequences for violating that particular society's made up standard. However, I'll face the consequences only if I get caught, and remember, I'm clever and there's no Judgment Day. I also own a lot of C-4, have over 5,000 rounds of 7.62 mm FMJ cartridges in my basement, own 13 well-polished Kalishnakov rifles, and I have different ideas than most about how to win friends and influence people. But I digress with my spoof. Ruse goes on,

Start with the fact that humans are naturally moral beings. We want to get along with our fellows. We care about our families. And we feel that we should put our hands in our pockets for the widows and orphans. This is not a matter of chance or even of culture primarily. Humans as animals have gone the route of sociality. We succeed, each of us individually, because we are part of a greater whole and that whole is a lot better at surviving and reproducing that most other animals.

The fact that humans are naturally moral beings doesn't tell us what our morality should be. The Bible says that we have a sense of right and wrong hardwired into us as well (Romans 2:14-15), but Ruse isn't going to accept God's account of why we are moral. You might care about families and orphans, but why should I care about your feelings towards them? If I like to torture four year old girls for fun because I feel I should do that since it gives me the jollies, whose to say it's objectively wrong since moral realism is a pipe dream? And even if it is generally true that group cohesiveness promotes survival value of the individuals in the group, why should I seek cohesiveness and how do these facts tell me what I ought be doing within the group given Ruse's axiom? Should I do this for my own survival? Maybe I don't want to live. Maybe I'm on a mission to die. But if suicide is wrong too then why is it wrong? Given Ruse's godless view of the world, why should I struggle to live in this miserable world when I could kill myself and take a few others with me just for fun? After all, there's no god and no ultimate consequences, so it's either eat, drink, and be merry for as long as you can like a consistent hedonist, or forget even trying to do that and end it all now because reality is nihilistic. But Ruse and others like him don't like the consequences of nihilism; it's just too uncomfortable to stay there too long. Thus, folks like this have to piece together "shoulds" and "oughts" from the very God that provides the grounding for those things, even though they hate him. The Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til nailed it when he said that the unbeliever has to metaphorically sit on the lap of his Heavenly Father in order to slap Him in the face.

On the one hand, we have suppressed all sorts of common mammalian features that disrupt harmonious living. Imagine trying to run a philosophy class if two or three of the members were in heat. On the other hand, we have all sorts of sentiments about helping others and about the need to be fair. The love commandment is part of our biology.

Why suppress the so-called "mammalian features"? I'm sure there's loads of people that would love to run around naked in the woods acting like dogs without any consequences. If the "love commandment is part of our biology", why not also appeal to the "seek and destroy" commandments in the Pentateuch which are also supposedly part of our biology? The truth is, any moral "oughts" can only make sense if you first begin with the fact that humans are created in God's image and then ground those "oughts" in that established fact. That's not the answer the professed atheist wants to hear, but it's the answer that God gives them. You say, "But I don't believe in your Holy Book". I know, that's the problem. You cannot believe and embrace it, that is, unless God Himself grants you saving faith (John 6:65).

It is true that we are aggressive at times, and it is even more true that thanks to our technology we can and sometimes do wreak the most terrible consequences on our fellow humans. But even so, compared to many other species, we are softies. The murder rate among lions, for instance, makes downtown Detroit look like a haven.

Contrary to secular philosophy, God says He hardwired into us knowledge about His existence, a basic sense of right and wrong, and a sense of justice (Romans 1:19-21; 2:14-15). This explains why we are softies, why we should care and do care about others, and that's why downtown Detroit isn't as bad as it could be; well, at least not yet.

Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.
A boldfaced lie. "They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the created thing rather than the Creator . . ." (Romans 1:25). Morality was given to Israel by God through Moses and God did it again through Christ, the greater Lawgiver.
It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. . . .
Ruse begs the question again by assuming morality has a common cause rooted in evolutionary processes. Again, morality is hardwired into us by God, contrary to what Ruse suggests (Romans 2:14-15). You might object, "But aren't you assuming that too?" Yes I am. Everybody reasons in a circle since everybody begins with certain beliefs about the world that they can't empirically prove. Everybody has some type of faith commitment. The difference is that the Christian's circle is gracious and non-arbitrary since it is based upon God's own infallible word, whereas Ruse's is vicious because it is arbitrary by virtue of being based upon the contradictory opinions of men.
It [i.e., morality] works and it has no meaning over and above this.
If morality reduces to pragmatism then what are my goals? To love people as myself or hate some of them and treat them like cockroaches that need to be exterminated? Nazi Germany took the latter route in 1938 when the German Supreme Court ruled that Jews were not persons and upon that basis the Nazis eliminated 6 million of them. They had laws against murdering people, they just redefined what a "person" was. This is the kind of thing that can happen when morality reduces to pragmatism. When what "works" is merely defined by what your goals are versus what God says in His word then you can rest assured it will end in disaster because the nature of man is quick to leave God's precepts and adopt their own.
Why fall on a grenade to save your fellows when it hardly pays off for you?

It doesn't if Ruse is right. Why use the word "hardly" when being blown to smithereens to save the life of your friends amounts to a mere scattering of your molecules on a battle field? How does that bring some kind of benefit? However, since God's word is true, we can make sense out of something like this since Jesus gave us the greatest example of self-sacrificial love in His atoning death on the cross.

Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. Before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: "Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all b******t, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me." The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer.

But why should I care about suffering? Why should I care about how people feel given Ruse's assumption about morality and reality? Unless you begin with the God of the Bible, you're never going to have anything to grab onto when it comes to developing moral standards for society other than how certain actions make people feel per the majority. But again, this commits the is/ought fallacy.

So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. "Why should I be good? Why should you be good? Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid on us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2 + 2 = 4." I am not saying that we always are moral, but that we always know that we should be moral.

This is the same ole' same ole' (i.e., "we always know that we should be moral" = question begging and is/ought fallacy). There is also a clear reference to self-deception in the statement, "It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. " Amazing. A convenient, pragmatic, self-deception. We deceive ourselves about the nature of morality because it affords survival value through group cohesion. Nice motive. The problem is, historically speaking, over the last 100 years the powerful, clever, and wicked have taken advantage ethics like these to suit their own evil agendas, and given enough time it can lead to the utter ruin of a society since the foundation thereof is built upon the sinking sands of man's word rather than God's. Just look at the history of the 20th century per Nazi Germany, communist Russia, China, and Cambodia.

Am I now giving the game away?
Yes you are. Thank you for doing the heavy lifting for us. We Christians truly appreciate it.
Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense.
Amen again!
But you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral.
That's good. I look forward to the day when marrying an aardvark is acceptable in my state since I and many others think that marrying non-humans should be morally permissible.
It has been said that the truth will set you free. Don't believe it.
Another lie. Your Creator told you otherwise. You would do well to heed His words, "31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free '?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:31-36)

Oh and by the way, if the truth can't set us free, I guess that means then that we can't believe your "truth" about morality.

David Hume knew the score. It doesn't matter how much philosophical reflection can show that your beliefs and behaviour have no rational foundation, your psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.

Thank you for admitting to us that if one adopts your view of reality and ethics, they will be irrational for the purposes of promoting survival value through group cohesion to an arbitrary, made up standard. And it took a Ph.D. to tell people how they can be irrational and happy about it. This is great, we not only have the opportunity to reject the Creator but also to be irrational. Speaking of truth, David Hume knows all about the truth now. The problem is it didn't set him free. I hope God has mercy on you and sets you free before it's too late.

God is dead.
Nietzsche is dead. God is doing just fine.
. . . God is dead. Morality has no foundation. Long live morality. Thank goodness!
No, you ought to thank God that you're still breathing. God may have mercy on you before then. We'll have to wait and see. The type of "Morality" that "lives long" without a transcendent foundation is not the type of morality that most thinking people will be interested in, especially if they're not the ones with political power calling the shots. Just ask the 6 million Jews that died in the concentration camps, the Russian citizens that were murdered by their own dictator, or the huge numbers of people that died under Pol Pot's regime.

No, Dr. Ruse, we can't be good without God. We can't even get close. This is because apart from Christ, all your works are filthy rags in His sight and your definition of goodness runs contrary to His. What you call good (i.e., homosexuality, abortion) He calls evil (Isaiah 5:20-21). For God said through the prophet Isaiah,

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)
Thinking that one can set up their own standards of morality without dependence upon God is the height of arrogance (Isaiah 10:1). And as admitted by Ruse and demonstrated by me, without God one can neither ground nor define "good" in a non-arbitrary way. Spiritually, all of this ends up in a wicked mess that will merit eternal death. That's why we need Jesus. It's high time for Dr. Ruse to repent of his sins and put his sole trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Unless he builds his hope on Jesus blood and righteousness, his continued truth suppression will not only cost him his intellect, but his eternal soul and the souls of those who are duped by his "ruse".

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Democrats for despotism


“It is important to realize that our country's was founded on something of a moral contradiction. On the one hand we have the Declaration of Independence, (all men are created equal), and the Bill of Rights, which suggests that we all are supposed to have rights, and yet large portions of the country practiced Negro slavery (including the author of the Declaration), and women were denied the right to vote until the 20th century.”

Yes, there was a pragmatic and moral compromise at the outset of our Republic which haunted our Republic for generations.

“Because the South dropped out of the body politic through secession, we were able to amend the Constitution in order to end Negro slavery. Thus, through amendment, we were able to make our laws more morally consistent. But the Supreme Court didn't help reach this, it produced the dreadful Dred Scott decision. Women got the right to vote through constitutional amendment. But separate but equal held sway until Brown vs. Board of Education.”

Two glaring problems with that argument:

i) What the court giveth, the court can taketh away. Liberals love judicial activism as long as they have 5 votes on SCOTUS. But, of course, when the balance of power shifts, then all their gains are reversible.

Liberals can find rulings they alternately love and hate. Conservatives can find rulings they alternately love and hate. Indeed, you yourself have inadvertently made that very point by citing Dred Scott and Brown v. Board side-by-side.

So your outcome-based jurisprudence is a wash.

ii) Brown v. Board didn’t solve the larger problem. That’s why MLK had to organized economic sanctions (e.g. bus boycotts). That’s why Congress had to pass the Voting Rights Act.

“At that time there were certainly enough Southern states who would have prevented a school desegregation amendment had one been proposed, since you need 3/4 of the states to amend the Constitution. Under those circumstances, the originalist slogan ‘if you don't like the Constitution as it is written, amend it,’ would never have worked. Now maybe a originalist argument could have been made for school desegregation, but the actual jurisprudence in Brown seems not to have been that.”

i) Seems to me the 14th Amendment is applicable to that situation. Jim Crow laws were designed to subvert the 14th Amendment.

ii) However, you’re also setting up a false dichotomy. Not all rights are enshrined in the Constitution. We also have a legislative branch.

“The originalist has to be prepared to tolerate what they perceive as a deep injustice, hoping for a future amendment, if they can't pull the required change out of the text of the constitution. And to my mind, that is a price to pay. ”

i) The appeal to injustice cuts both ways. Abortion on demand is a “deep injustice.”

ii) You’re claiming that because the status quo is unjust, we should pretend that the Constitution confers a right which has no real basis in the Constitution. Do you think civil rights should be grounded in make-believe?

“On the other hand, an out of control judiciary can maybe make the wrong decision, and a lot of people think that that is what happened in Roe. But when I was a kid people talked about an out of control judiciary, but when they did they usually complained about decisions like Miranda, which protected the rights of the accused? Was ‘You have the right to remain silent,’now a staple of every cop show going as far back as Hawaii Five-O, a misguided decision?”

Yes, Miranda was a misguided decision. Next question.

“Unfortunately, I think I want the court system protecting the rights of the accused.”

I’m all for protecting the Constitutional due process rights of the accused. What I oppose is judicial appointees fabricating un-Constitutional due process rights in the name of the Constitution.

“I can't trust the body politic, who is generally motivated by ‘law and order,’ and can be swayed by such things as the Willie Horton ad, to provide sufficient political will.”

So you think we should give weekend furloughs to convicted murderers. Well, I happen to think that’s a case in which the body politic was right, and bleeding-heart libs like you were wrong.

“And then you've got to ask if judicial activism started with Marbury vs. Madison. After all, judicial review isn't even specified in the Constitution.”

And we’ve been building on that faulty precedent ever since.

“I think I want my judiciary to be able to strike down injustice even if that means stepping beyond the borders of original intent, even if that leaves the door open for the judiciary to make some wrong decisions.”

So you reject a constitutional form of gov’t in favor of a totalitarian state. It doesn’t occur to you that the Constitution was largely intended to protect the public from tyrannical gov’t.

So who needs the Constitution at all? Let’s just have judges dictate to the rest of us how we are allowed to conduct our lives.

“There's a lot to think about when you select a judicial philosophy. There's a lot more to it than getting the right decision on abortion.”

My objections to judicial activism were never limited to Roe v. Wade.

“I wonder who was making the originalist arguments at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians were arguing that you couldn't find homoousion in the text of Scripture, so you couldn't define orthodox Trinitarianism as Christian doctrine.”

Does this mean you attend the local Kingdom Hall? Is it your position that the deity of Christ cannot be educed from the NT?

Friday, March 19, 2010

GTCC Outreach Report 3-19-2010

By God's grace, today we had the opportunity to engage in open-air preaching and one-on-one evangelism for over two hours on this campus in beautiful, 70 degree weather. GTCC is one of the largest community colleges in the state of North Carolina. It is a beautiful campus with state of the art facilities. We met with the school administration several weeks before today to kindly request permission to be on the campus every Friday from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. to engage in evangelism.

I arrived 20 minutes early to get a parking spot and as I walked to my preaching spot I passed out several tracts and told 30 or more students that I was going to be preaching in the "quad" and that they were welcome to come and listen and/or ask questions while I was preaching. I arrived at the quad and it was a perfect place to preach due to heavy foot traffic, excellent acoustics, plenty of places to sit, and some shade from nearby trees. I couldn't believe that this was the area that the administration assigned for me to preach at, but there it was, a perfect place that God providentially placed me in. I took my text from Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." I began to explain the gospel in clear, unambiguous terms, and it didn't take long till a small crowd formed with people listening intently and even some were videotaping the preaching with their iPhones and other devices. I expected to get at least a few hecklers, but I got none all day. Instead, I was getting "Amens" from people in the crowd! In my own personal experience, that's a first for me while doing open-air ministry work on a college campus. Several more people sat down on the picnic tables to listen while they smoked cigarettes, ate their lunch, or just sat down to relax. Others stood at a distance smirking, laughing, and pointing, but they were few and far between. However, those who drew near were listening intently, with no mockery whatsoever taking place. I expected otherwise, due to the profanity I was hearing from several young men as I was getting set up. Perhaps giving all of them a tract and letting them know that I was getting ready to preach caused them to respect me more in some strange way. I don't know. Either way, this is rare among campus preaching.

After I preached for an hour straight, a policeman walked up and I immediately stepped down, and courteously introduced myself with a respectful handshake and stated my purpose for being there. I then showed him my authorization papers to be on campus, and he said, "Man, I'm so glad you're out here, the phone has been ringing off the hook with complaints in our office, but I am really glad that the students are hearing about Jesus. You can't go wrong with Jesus!" He then told me that I was okay to keep going, I shook his hand and told him I appreciated what he was doing, and he warmly said goodbye. I kind of feel sorry for the guy because it was as if he wanted to hang around and fellowship, but had to go answer another call. You got to love that.

Since I preached an hour straight before the officer arrived, I decided to take a 10 minute break. At this point I had several students that wanted to talk to me, so I attempted to patiently interact with all of them. To summarize these encounters, the first young man was skeptical about religion in general and Christianity in particular. He believed that it was wrong to kill animals to eat them (unless your life was in danger) and I immediately asked him if he was a vegan. He admitted that he was not, and I pointed out to him the inconsistency of his position. He then tried to argue that it really wasn't his position and then I explained to him the powerful role of presuppositions in one's thinking, and he admitted that he was wrong, shook my hand, and humbly admitted that he needed to start going to church again. I explained to him that going to church was useless if he wasn't receiving sound teaching, and I explained to him what a Biblically faithful church looks like. He said he didn't have a Bible, so I gave him one of our compact ESV Bibles and some gospel literature. He then stayed almost one more hour after that and was nodding affirmatively to my preaching and encouraging others to listen in as well. Several other Christians came up and gave glory to God for my being there, and I told them I was merely trying to be obedient to the Lord.

The second hour of preaching apparently disgruntled some of the professors and other faculty. I think this was because the acoustics were great and the windows were open in some of the buildings nearby. At one point, about 8-10 of the faculty from Davis Hall (which is situated right next to the quad where I was preaching) stood outside to listen for about 10-15 minutes. When I saw them, I began an open-air critique of secular humanism, autonomy, and the sin of intellectual pride from the word of God. I was respectful of course, but they received an earful.

Once I finished preaching the second hour, I spoke with several believers that thanked me for being there and wanted to encourage me in the work which I was doing. Other believers wanted to know about how to better prepare for apologetic encounters. The several unbelievers I spoke with ranged from apathetic relativists to edgy pluralists, but the conversations remained amicable nonetheless. All of the unbelievers I spoke with today didn't care that they contradicted themselves and one girl even admitted outright that she didn't care if she was irrational; as long as she was comfortable in her own mind, she felt like she was good to go.

I plan on praying diligently for these folks and I ask that if you are a believer, that you will pray that the Lord will bless our efforts.

I will conclude with a few helpful tips for evangelists who are approaching a school's administration and campus police department to determine what (if anything) needs to be done in order to freely engage in on campus evangelism and open air preaching:

1. If you must meet with the administration, be kind, be truthful, dress professionally, and explain to them who you are, exactly what you want to do, and why you want to do it. I told the administration something like this both in person and in writing, "I am a pastor at a local church and I am concerned about the spiritual welfare of our city and your campus. Therefore, our church would like to kindly submit a request from your administration to engage in one-on-one evangelism, open-air preaching, distribution of Bibles and other religious literature." This was very timely in light of the fact that GTCC had a rape in broad daylight at 8:00 a.m. in a crowded parking lot back in January. The timing of this campus rape worked out for God's glory and our advantage since many in administration will welcome any measures that will quell such acute wickedness on campus and promote public safety.

2. Check with the campus police department and ask them if there are any regulations or ordinances regarding free speech that you need to be aware of. This brings to mind some more general thoughts: Campus police are like most other police I've interacted with; they simply want to do their job, keep the peace, and go home in one piece. Generally, I have found them to be helpful when inquiring about campus rules and regulations as it pertains to evangelistic work. They appreciate it when a person tries to work with them instead of making their job harder. Yes, there is the occasional opposition from an officer that has a personal problem with what you are doing. However, I have found that if and when you are confronted by the police, a warm smile, a hand extended ready to shake his or her hand, and a brief introduction of who you are and why you are there helps the situation tremendously. Always speak to him or her as "Thank you officer Jones" and "Yes sir . . . ma'am". Showing general respect and kindness to the civil authorities is becoming of Jesus Christ and His gospel and because it demonstrates that you are person of integrity and sound character versus the riff-raff that they regularly have to deal with.

While it is true that we have First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press, in as much as lies within us, we should always strive to work with the God-ordained civil authorities unless they command us to do something that God forbids or forbid us to do something that God commands. Remember that God said, "Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Romans 12:18-19) May God bless you as you consider how to engage your community with the truth claims of Jesus Christ.

GPTS conference on creation

Back in 1999, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosted a conference on creationism. Jeff Downs has uploaded the lectures (MP3s) from the conference on

The gift of life

In the politics of abortion, Christians frequently resort to common ground arguments. Up to a point, there’s nothing wrong with that. To work within the democratic system, we need to persuade as many voters as we can.

However, use of common ground arguments shouldn’t monopolize the terms of the debate. For one thing, it’s important for Christians to be conscious of our own Christian reasons for opposing abortion. When we keep framing the issue in terms of common ground, it’s easy to lose sight of that.

Of course, the stock objection is that Christian arguments are useless in the political arena because they are only persuasive to fellow Christians. But that’s unduly blinkered.

It’s important for unbelievers to know how Christians reason. Indeed, that’s an aspect of evangelism. If we never tell then what we think and why we think it, how can we ever expect to win any converts to the faith?

Instead of framing the debate exclusively in terms of the “personhood” of the “fetus,” let’s consider the issue in more theological terms: the gift of life.

In Scripture, children are a gift from God. And a very precious gift at that.

So if God gives us a gift, how should we treat his gift? Should we destroy it? Is that any way to treat the gift of life? Is that anyway to treat his gift of children?

Suppose a friend gives you a potted plant as a gift. It doesn’t look like much at the time. But if you plant it and water it and fertilize it, it will grow into a wonderful flowering shrub. Fragrant and lovely to behold.

Would you toss the potted plant in the dumpster because, at the time you receive it, the plant was underdeveloped? I hope not.

For one thing, that would be very disrespectful to your friend. And, for another thing, that misses the point. So what if the plant is immature at this stage in its development? Everything has to start somewhere. The point is what it will become. And there’s also a certain joy in watching it grow. The anticipation. The discovery. The unfolding life. Each phase is special. Unrepeatable.

Do we uproot a rose bush in winter because it doesn’t bloom that time of year? That would be pretty stupid. No. We wait for Spring. We long for Spring.

Even if a baby in the womb is underdeveloped, so what? It’s still a gift from God. And it’s meant to be underdeveloped at that stage in its gestation.

Abortion and the burden of proof


“I do think that there are a lot of untoward consequences involved in the prohibition of abortion. These considerations could be set aside if we could prove the right to life with some degree of certainty. Because we aren't clear on what it is like to be a fetus, we may have to put up with we may have to up with legal abortion, even though consideration from what I call the deer hunter argument give us a good moral case against most abortion.”

This claim involves the unquestioned assumption that an unborn baby must meet some threshold to justify its continued existence. But why is that where we should affix the burden of proof?

Why the presumption that an unborn baby is not entitled to life unless it can pass some test? Why not the presumption that an unborn baby is entitled to life unless there is some compelling reason to the contrary?

More generally, why must any human being overcome a presumption that its life can be taken with impunity? Why place the onus on preservation of life rather than the taking of life?

Set me as a seal upon thine heart

I’m going to briefly comment on two things that John Walton said in his latest response to Vern Poythress:

“A solid sky is not a matter of appearance, but of deduction from a series of observations.”

There are basically two problems with this claim:

i) Walton takes for granted that raqia denotes a solid dome. However, a number of standard commentaries and monographs either define the term more broadly or view it as a poetic figure of speech, or phenomenal description. Cf. C. J. Collins, Genesis 1-4 (P&R 2006), 45-46, 264; V. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17 (Eerdmans 1990), 122; B. Waltke, Genesis (Zondervan 2001 62; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word 1987), 19-20.

Now Walton is, of course, at liberty to disagree with their interpretation. But if he’s going to make a case for his own position, then he can’t treat his construction of raqia as a given. He has to interact with opposing views.

ii) More to the point, his interpretation strikes me as hermeneutically naïve. For even if the term does, in fact, denote a solid dome, this doesn’t mean that Gen 1 intended to teach its audience that the sky was a solid dome. It doesn’t even mean that Gen 1 took that for granted, as an unquestioned cultural assumption.

For there is still the question of whether that imagery is literal or figurative. And what his puzzling about Walton’s interpretation is that his own “cosmic temple” paradigm raises that very issue.

For if Gen 1 is depicting the world as a cosmic temple, then we’d expect the use of architectural metaphors to cue the reader.

I’d also add that Gregory Beale, in The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008), chaps 6-7, has made a strong case for viewing this picturesque description as figurative imagery which foreshadows the tabernacle.

“If the revelatory focus is the functions, we do not need to validate the description of the material cosmos (in either of his two material categories) any more than we have to validate thinking with our blood pumps (believed by the Israelites and in the ancient Near East and affirmed in the Bible)…Locating cognitive processes in the heart and other organs is not a matter of appearances.”

Walton will need far more argumentation go make that go through.

i) Even with our modern knowledge of neuroscience, we continue to use these anatomical figures of speech. So why should we assume that this was anything other than a literary convention in Biblical usage?

ii) It doesn’t require any advanced knowledge of neuroscience to know that cognitive function is correlated with the brain rather than the heart, liver, intestines, &c. Surely people in the ANE were aware of the fact that head-injuries could result in cognitive impairment.

iii) But I’d also add that when other organs or vital systems malfunction, that can have a mood-altering effect. Try passing a kidney stone and find out whether or not that interferes with your mental concentration.

iv) There is also the quite ironic risk of anachronism. When we use words like “heart” and “liver,” does that mean the same thing to us as it would have meant to an ancient Israelite? Does our terminology really correspond to their knowledge of internal anatomy? Isn’t there a danger that Walton is unconsciously mapping his modern knowledge of human physiology onto Biblical descriptors, then faulting them because they don’t match? But if there is a mismatch, isn’t that due to his anachronistic comparison? Why assume the referents are the same? Did ancient Israelites have much experience dissecting human cadavers?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Porcine philosophy

A few days ago, Victor Reppert posted one of his morally and intellectually muddleheaded musings on abortion.

“If Roe v. Wade is a mistake, what is the mistake?”

Basically, two mistakes:

i) It was a mistake for the proabortion justices to pretend that our Constitution even speaks to the issue of abortion, one way or the other. The Constitution is silent on abortion.

ii) It was also a mistaken for justices to think they have the prerogative to set social policy for the nation. The Constitution doesn’t accord them that prerogative.

“Conservative jurisprudence says Griswold went wrong in affirming a right to privacy, since it doesn't say p-r-i-v-a-c-y in the constitution.”

Where does Reppert come up with these rampant caricatures, anyway? Does he get his information from reading what the Huffington Post says about conservative jurisprudence? But, of course, Reppert is incapable of honestly representing a position he disagrees with.

i) The issue is not whether a specific word occurs in the Constitution. In theory, the concept of a right to privacy could be present in the Constitution even if the Constitution never used the word “p-r-i-v-a-c-y.”

ii) In theory, a right to privacy could be logically implicit rather than explicit in the Constitution.

iii) In addition, conservative jurisprudence takes legislative intent into consideration when ascertaining original intent, such as floor debates at the Constitutional Convention. Or the Federalist/Anti-Federalist papers.

iv) Moreover, conservative jurisprudence would take into account the cultural assumptions of the day, such as preexisting Colonial statutes.

v) Furthermore, conservative jurisprudence would also consider the intent of the states which ratified the Constitution. Their ratification was contingent on a particular understanding of the document.

vi) Finally, even if the Constitution teaches a right of “privacy,” that hardly entails a right to abortion. For one thing, what was the scope of privacy in view? After all, privacy is a very flexible notion. Does a right to privacy mean that every child is Constitutionally entitled to his own bedroom and bathroom? Can’t put two brothers or sisters in the same bedroom?

“I'm skeptical of the anti-privacy argument, so even if I were thoroughly pro-life, I would have a problem with voting for politicians who would nominate justices who were going to overturn Roe via the anti-privacy arguments, since to my mind that would be to use a bad argument to reach a good end.”

Well, that raises an interesting question, although Reppert typically fails to pursue the ethical implications of the question he raised. Since he can’t be bothered to do the work of a professional philosopher, I guess a layman like me will have to do it for him:

i) To begin with, he conflates the reason a voter might vote for a candidate with the reason a candidate might try to overturn Roe. But that’s simpleminded.

Both a voter and a candidate might share the same goal, but have different reasons for their common objective. Suppose a voter has a good reason, while a candidate has a bad reason. The voter can vote for the candidate based on the voter’s rationale rather than the candidate’s rationale. In that event, the vote is justified by the voter’s rationale instead of the candidate’s rationale. Why is Reppert too intellectually indolent to draw this rudimentary distinction?

ii) In addition, while it’s better to do the right thing for the right reason, it’s still better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than to do the wrong thing.

Suppose a serial killer refrains from murdering a particular woman because she reminds him of his mother. Well, that’s a bad argument. It’s not as though he’d be entitled to murder her as long as she didn’t remind him of his mother.

So, by Reppert’s logic, he should go ahead and murder her.

iii) Or, to take another example, suppose a hostage negotiator uses a bad argument to talk a bank-robber out of executing his hostages. By Reppert’s logic, it would be better to let the bank-robber execute the hostages rather than persuading him to release the hostages on the basis of a bad argument.

At the risk of stating the obvious, one of the things that philosophers are supposed to do is to anticipate counterexamples to their position. Why doesn’t Reppert bother to do that? Does he lack the intellectual aptitude?

“There also seems to me to be a severe moral cost in outlawing abortion and enforcing those laws.”

Does he also think there is a severe moral cost in outlawing murder and enforcing those laws? Should we have laws against euthanizing everyone with brown eyes? Or would that carry a severe moral cost?

“Government has to get really intrusive in order to prevent abortions, and has to intrude into areas which we are inclined to think of as private.”

That’s very funny coming from an outspoken champion of Barak Obama.

“Further, while in my father's day, a working class family could survive on one income, in today's economy this won't work.”

So we should have abortion on demand since children are too expensive? Like culling the litter?

Does Reppert think we should put excess babies in a rock-laden sack and toss them in the nearby canal?

What about aborting prenatal philosophers? After all, philosophers are consumers rather than producers. Can we really afford philosophy profs.?

“There is also the fact that while lawmaking bodies are mostly male, the burden imposed by pregnancy, for obvious reasons, falls on women and not on men.”

A classic example of liberal male chauvinism masquerading as compassion. Women can run for public office. Women can vote for women who run for public office. And, to my knowledge, female voters outnumber male voters. So women are in a position to achieve parity or dominance in the legislative branch if they choose to.

If male lawmakers out number female lawmakers, then that says something about the priorities of most women. Why doesn’t Reppert respect that?

“Feminist concerns that outlawing abortion will push women in the direction of barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen are legitimate and would have to be addressed.”

Yet another example of Reppert’s liberal male chauvinism masquerading as compassion. Does he think women don’t know where babies come from? Is pregnancy an unforeseen consequence of sex (without contraception)?

But, of course, in Reppert’s world, it’s okay to be a male chauvinist pig as long as you’re a liberal pig.

“We can't rely on the law to be our moral compass. Strict constructionists have to be open to the possibility that a moral outrage might exist, but the Constitution doesn't provide a way of addressing it.”

He acts as if this has never crossed the mind of a conservative. Once again, where does he get his information about conservatism? From the Daily Kos?

“In the area of marriage, for example, it's perfectly legal to commit adultery, leave your spouse and marry the person you were committing adultery with. It's also horribly immoral. But the law shouldn't be involved in preventing it.”

There’s a distinction between prevention and deterrence. Even if you don’t think that should be illegal, there’s nothing wrong with legal deterrents or impediments to that behavior. There ought to be civil disincentives to certain types of socially destructive behavior. For the social fabric is only as strong as the family.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

UNCG Outreach Report 3-16-2010

It never ceases to amaze me how many different types of people from various cultures and religions I can share the gospel with in my own hometown without ever having to leave the country. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to witness and preach to Buddhists, atheists, skeptics, Muslims, Roman Catholics, and several people that professed Christ but based upon their own testimony probably didn't possess Him. The first person I spoke with was a young weight lifter with a firm handshake and a Christian background. He said he was a believer and had a good relationship with Jesus Christ. I asked him "Okay then Christian, I have a knife stuck in my back and I have two minutes to live, tell me what I must do to get to heaven." He said, "believe." I said, "I don't understand, what am I supposed to believe?" He said, "Uh, ask for forgiveness." I said, "Why do I need to be forgiven?" and he really didn't provide a sufficient answer. I then went on to ask him, "If I asked your weight lifting buddies if you lived like a Christian what do you think they would say to me?" and he responded, "They would say 'Oh yeah, he's a pretty open-minded guy that doesn't judge people.'" and I responded, "Do you think that being non-judgmental a primary characteristic of what it means to be a believer?" He said, "Uh no, but it is important." At this point I explained the Biblical gospel to him and gave him an overview of what a Christian looks like per the overall message of 1st John. I then exhorted him to read 1st John from his own Bible and ask himself if he measures up to what he reads (1 John 5:13).

The second person I spoke with was a sweet, young black lady that was a relativist. In the midst of the conversation I asked her, "If ethical standards are determined by society, how do we judge between societies when they have mutually exclusive ethical standards?" She replied, "Uh, I guess we go back to our own upbringing" and I said, "But that wasn't the original standard you raised and because of that it wouldn't be relevant." I then asked her the same question again, using Nazi Germany as the classic example and she said, "That's a good point, I see where you're going with this." I then told her that unless you begin with the Bible you cannot have a non-arbitrary, transcendent basis for any standard, much less ethics and that if God's word is ditched in favor of a social contract, then there are no absolute, transcendent ethical standards by which a society can objectively determine right from wrong (Judges 21:25). I then asked her what her religious background was and she said, "Christian"; I asked her to tell me how to get to heaven and it was essentially the same postmodern pottage I received from the young man above. I then gave her the gospel, our contact information, we exchanged a warm handshake, and I was off to talk to someone else.

The third person I spoke with was a young girl that rejected Christianity because she prayed that her mother would be delivered from enslavement to alcohol and it never happened, so she left the faith. She also noted that her father-in-law held to Native American religion and that she liked some of those beliefs better than Christianity. I asked her if she thought that Christianity was merely one of many ways to get to the same God and she agreed that she did. I then asked her how that could be true given the fact that most major world religions have competing and contradictory truth claims? She asked for an example and I noted that Native American religions tend to be animistic and pantheistic and then contrasted that with the Creator-Creation distinction made with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and asked her how those four alternatives could be true at the same time and the same sense when they have completely different truth claims regarding the nature of God, man, the world, and the afterlife. She then saw the point so I then asked her "How do you determine the difference between right and wrong?" and she basically said that she follows her heart and seeks to do what brings the greatest happiness to the most people. I then asked her that if she made moral judgments based upon what her heart tells her and my heart tells me that its okay to molest little girls for fun then how can she object? Worse, if what makes the majority happy determines what is morally acceptable then upon what basis could she condemn the practice of widow burning in ancient India? She then admitted that there was a problem with her views and I then explained to her that this problem is solved through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I explained the gospel to her and she went on her way.

The third person I spoke with was a young man raised as a Roman Catholic but was now cynical of religion, especially "the Church". I asked what he now believed about epistemology (how does one know what he knows?), metaphysics (what is reality like?) and ethics (How do I determine right and wrong?). He was all over the board in answering these questions. I then explained to him the problems with his understanding of church history, "the Church", what the true Church is, what it looks like, and how truly regenerate people behave. He then shifted gears and explained that the existence of God can neither proved nor denied and I quickly responded with what God says in Romans 1:19-21, ". . . that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." I then said, "My friend, the Bible says you know God exists and the evidence is all around you. You're standing on it, breathing it, and living in it." He admitted that this was true and I said, "I don't know what all happened to you in your religious upbringing, but I would like to know this: Do you know what the gospel is?" He admitted he was clueless. I then took the next ten minutes to explain the differences between the Biblical gospel and the false gospel of Roman Catholicism. He avoided eye contact, was always looking around at who was listening in on the conversation, his body language screamed that he was uncomfortable and wanted out of the conversation, so I wrapped things up, asked if he had any questions, and he quickly bolted after a weak handshake.

I then took the opportunity preach open air for about 15 minutes because the foot traffic was sufficient enough to do so, and we had several hundred that milled through and heard at least part of the gospel. Several young folks were standing around listening for a few minutes, but no hecklers came forward and the foot traffic died down after 15 minutes.

I then spoke to one other girl that became a Buddhist through her involvement in Asian martial arts. I have a long history in practicing various types of martial arts so this was a good stepping stone to discuss the differences between Buddhism and Biblical Christianity. I couldn't discern whether she held to Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism, but it didn't matter because she contradicted her own principles several times in her own description of what she believed. I then explained to her why I rejected Buddhism; because it didn't offer a loving personal God who could forgive my wrongdoings against Him and other men. After asking her if she knew what the gospel was, she said she didn't, and then I spoke the truth to her in love. She said she had a Bible, and I told her to begin reading in the gospel of John to read about who Jesus is. She truly was enjoyable to talk to and I hope to get the opportunity to speak with her again.

In conclusion, here are a few things to help you in your beginning evangelism/apologetical work:

1. Be able to summarize the gospel in a minute or less. This is the most important thing you can do. Be ready to explain the gospel in greater detail as needed. Some passages to read, familiarize yourself with, and do memorization work in are John 3; Romans 3-5, and Ephesians 2.

2. Study a reformed catechism and memorize the answers and Scripture proofs to the sections that pertain to the nature of God, the doctrine of salvation, the nature and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and other pertinent sections.

3. Be able to ask the following questions of people and provide the Biblical answers to people as needed: "If you could ask God one question, what would it be?", "If I have a knife stuck in my back and only have 2 minutes to live, what must I do to go to heaven?", "Do you believe in absolute truth?" "Do you believe in God?" "How do you determine the difference between right and wrong?" "Do you consider yourself to be a good person?" These kinds of questions are diagnostic and are designed to help you gather information about people so as to determine where to take the conversation next.

3. Print these out and familiarize yourself with the Biblical answers to questions and objections: God’s Answers to Man’s Excuses
God’s Answers to Man’s Questions

4. Here's more great evangelistic resources:

Lies Students Hear
Alpha and Omega
Are There No Absolutes?
Are You Bad Enough?
Are You Born Again?
Baptism or Christ?
The Bible
Darwin’s Dilemma
Great Teacher or God Incarnate?
How Would You Feel?
One Way or Many?
Way of Salvation
What Then Shall I Do With Jesus?
The Worth of a Soul
What Every Woman Needs

May this report and these free evangelistic tools help and encourage you as you spread abroad the good news of the Kingdom!

Count your blessings

I’m going to a comment on a question (or series of questions) that a young man asked William Lane Craig:

I am a philosophy student and an ex-Christian. I lost my faith during my undergraduate education upon realizing that I had accepted my faith without reflection. Like many others my age, I abandoned my worldview and embarked upon a search for answers. The search quickly took on an intellectual character that eventually led me to the joys of philosophy (which, I am happy to say, I have chosen as my career path). And having had a taste of good philosophy and good apologetics, my doubts about Christianity have been intellectually satisfied.

i) This is such a predictable, stereotypical experience. Needless to say, it’s possible to read good philosophy and good apologetics before you go to college. Prepare yourself for the journey. Too many college-bound Christians are like hikers who go hiking without making any preparations. They don’t listen to the weather report before they leave. They don’t pack food and water, or extra clothing. They don’t bring a map and compass. Or a knife. Or a first-aid kit.

It’s also the duty of pastors and parents to prepare their young people. When something is so predictable, when it happens so often, we should learn from the experience of others. No reason to be caught off guard.

ii) Mind you, a crisis of faith isn’t necessarily due to lack of intellectual preparation. It may be part of the natural transition from childhood to adulthood. When we’re kids we can vicariously rely on the faith of our elders. But when we grow up we need to know some things for ourselves. It can’t be a second-hand faith.

iii) While it’s possible to underemphasize the intellectual aspect of faith, it’s also possible to overemphasize the intellectual aspect of faith. There are Christian teenagers who have a very meaningful relationship with God. As such, they may not suffer a crisis of faith if they go to college since their professors are a far less meaningful part of their lives than God. If God is already real to them, then the stock objections which they confront in college are less real to them than the reality of God’s overarching importance in their lives. So it’s equally important to feed one’s devotional life.

Yet despite my admission that God exists and that Christ was resurrected, I have absolutely no idea what it means to have a relationship with God; the concept is completely mysterious to me.

i) Well, in one important sense, everyone has a relationship with God whether they know it or not. So, in one respect, it’s a question of becoming mindful of a preexisting relationship.

Take two half-brothers. Say I didn’t know my half-brother even existed until we were both teenagers. Still, we already have something in common.

Or supposed I’m adopted. I never met my natural parents. Yet we’re related. And not just in terms of shared DNA. I also share some of their personality traits. There’s a psychological bond between us. I’m a part of them and they are part of me. Likewise, their story intersects with my story.

Or take an amnesiac. At the moment he doesn’t remember his family or friends. Yet he already has a relationship with them. Indeed, a very deep relationship. He simply needs to remember.

So, in one respect, it’s not a question of cultivating a new relationship, but cultivating an awareness of a preexisting relationship. A relationship we’ve been taking for granted.

Maybe I never knew, until now, that I was adopted. Now I’m conscious of a relationship which I had all along.

ii) Of course, to be related to God as my Creator is not to be related to God as my Redeemer. So there’s the question of how one enters into a saving relationship with God.

What does it mean to trust God?

i) Perhaps we need to take a step back. What does it mean to trust anything or anyone? What does it mean to trust a friend or parent? What does it mean to trust the laws of nature?

Suppose I drive 5 miles to work. I trust the distance to remain constant. If I drive 5 miles to work, and I return home by the same route, the mileage will be the same. I also assume that I’ll return home in the same year if left. If I return in the afternoon, it will be the same day of the same year as when I left that orning. We take for granted the basic stability of time and space.

But what if the world were like a dream? Like Alice in Wonderland? Like a science fiction story in which places appear and disappear at random. In which we keep moving back and forth in time?

ii) To trust God is, in the first instance, to appreciate our utter dependence on God for anything and everything.

iii) At the same time, there’s a circularity to the question. Only a true believer has reason to trust God. For whether or not we trust God turns on whether or not we think God means to do us good or ill. The devil can’t trust God because the devil is God’s sworn enemy. All he can expect from God is punishment.

And for what?

That’s the wrong question to ask. The correct question is not “for what should we trust God?” but “for what should we not trust God?”

Why talk to God?

i) Once again, we need to take a step back. Why talk to anyone? Sometimes we want something from them, but that’s not the only reason. Why do most folks not like to eat alone? Why do most folks not like to see a movie alone? Why is solitary confinement a form of punishment?

A shared pleasure is part of what makes a pleasure pleasant. The joy goes out of life if you have no one to share it with.

ii) In addition, God is the one person we can safely confide in about absolutely anything. In even the most trusting relationships, most of us keep a few secrets. Out of shame. Or fear of rejection. Or fear of betrayal.

So we keep certain things to ourselves. God is the only person with whom we can completely let our guard down.

What would one say?

i) For starters, you can thank God for all the good things that happen to you. You can thank God for all the bad things that didn’t happen to you. You can thank God for all the bad things that serve a greater good.

It’s a cliché to say we should count are blessings, but as a matter of fact, we ought to make a habit of counting our blessings. Counting our daily blessings on a daily basis. Of how God got us to this point.

Not only should we thank God for what he has done, but we should also thank God that when we go to bed at night we have a reason to get up in the morning. And that’s because God is waiting for us on the other side of sleep. We have that to look forward to. God is in our tomorrows as well as our yesterdays. By contrast, the godless lead hopeless lives.

ii) We should also speak to God because answered prayers shape the future. Prayer is a paradox. We pray because we are helpless. We pray because there are many important things which we are personally powerless to affect or effect. In one respect, prayer is a confession of impotence.

Yet because we’re asking God to do something, prayer taps into omnipotence. There is nothing more potentially powerful in the whole universe than the prayer of the powerless. For the might of prayer is the might of the Almighty God.

Not that God always does what we ask. Prayer is not a power trip. Prayer is not a genie in a bottle. But prayer can be an awesome force for good.

What would one hear?

i) You can’t expect to hear anything in return. But that’s not a reason to refrain from prayer.

Do you only say “thank-you” if you expect to hear a response? No. You should say “thank-you” whenever you have a reason to be thankful. Gratitude is reason enough.

Likewise, do you only ask for something if you expect to get what you ask for? No. In general, we ask people for things, not because we assume that we always get whatever we ask for, but because we won’t get it unless we ask for it.

ii) Suppose your mother or father suffered a stroke which deprives them of speech. Do you stop speaking to them? No. You sit by their bedside and talk to them and read to them. Even if they no longer speak to you, you continue to speak to them.

What about talking to a small child who’s too young to respond? What about talking to your pet dog? What about talking to a friend or family member who’s in a coma?

iii) Suppose a father has an estranged son. His son has ceased to be on speaking terms with his dad. Yet his dad writes the son a letter every week. His son never responds. His dad doesn’t know if his son is even reading the letters. Maybe it’s a waste of time. Maybe his son tosses every letter into the trashcan, unopened.

But the father continues to write a letter every week in the off chance that his son is reading each letter. And, unbeknownst to him, his letters are having an effect.

Perhaps the father dies. All his son has to remember him by is his letters. The letters he saved. But the son continues to read the letters of his late father. That’s his only remaining contact. And he’s a different person because of the letters.

Or suppose you have a falling out with your best friend. After a year has passed, you write him a letter. You don’t know that he will read your letter. You don’t know that you letter will effect a reconciliation. But you miss him, and so you do what you can–in the hope of making things right.

A large part of the Christian life consists in waiting. In learning how to wait. In cultivating patience.

And there are benefits to waiting. Instant gratification can cheapen the value of a thing. If something is worth having, then something is worth waiting for. Waiting intensifies longing, and longing intensifies fulfillment. If it’s worthwhile, then it’s worth the wait. And waiting makes it even more worthwhile.

iv) What what does it mean to "hear" God? To hear a voice?

What about answered prayer? That isn't something you can "hear," yet that's a way in which God "responds" to us. We can "hear" God in what he does as well as what he says.

What is expected of me and what should I expect of God?

The Bible teaches us what God requires of us, and what we can expect from him.

Is there a unique experience to such conversations or should one pray despite the feeling that no one is listening?

You should pray regardless.

However, the questioner can’t hear because he doesn’t know what to listen for. When animal trackers go into the forest, they can “hear” things a city slicker cannot. At one level, both the tracker and city slicker hear the same sounds. But what is meaningless to the city slicker is meaningful to tracker. The tracker knows the code. Knows what the different sounds stand for.

It’s also like reading a novel. As a rule, a novelist stands apart from his novel. Yet, by reading the novel, you get to know a lot about the novelist. In one sense, the novelist is absent from the novel. He’s not one of the characters. He’s not addressing you directly.

Yet, in another sense, the novelist is a more pervasive presence in the novel than any of the characters. The novelist speaks to the reader through the novel itself. He speaks through the voice of other characters. He speaks through the plot. He speaks through the landscape or the cityscape. The entire novel is a personal expression of the novelist.

It would be silly to say you can’t hear the novelist when every word of the novel was written by the novelist. It would be silly to say you can’t see the novelist when you’re seeing the action through the eyes of the novelist.

If we can’t see God in the world, that’s because we’re already seeing the world through God’s eyes. For the world we see is the world God “saw” in his mind’s eye when he planned the world. In that respect, God is allowing us to read his mind, for the world is a revelation of God’s will for the world.

In addition, God reveals to us how he is acting in the world through the leaves of Bible history. Yes, their lives aren’t our lives, yet their lives represent our lives. That’s a sample of God at work. A example of God lifting the veil of his own providence.

What's worse, however, is the feeling that I am motivated not by love but by expectation.

That’s a false dichotomy.

That is, I grew up in the Church and had it impressed upon me that a relationship just comes with the territory of belief.

That’s part of the problem.

I now believe, so I am expected to begin a relationship; I don't otherwise feel led to cultivate a relationship to God.

To some extent, Christian piety is an acquired taste. It’s like a friendship. In general, a friendship isn’t something instantaneous. Rather, the more time you spend with the right person, the more that deepens your affection. While feelings sometimes lead us to foster an experience, fostering an experience can also lead us to feel certain things. It can go either way.

The things the bible says about the matter seem mysterious or rely too heavily on a human relationship analogy (e.g. surely the Father-son analogy only goes so far given God's hiddenness and permission of suffering).

The father/son analogy wasn’t intended to explain God’s “hiddenness” or the problem of evil. That’s why the Bible uses a wide range of metaphors to illustrate God. It’s the combination of metaphors that fill out the picture.

And as for Christ's death, I must admit that I have difficulty feeling grateful for His sacrifice since many parts of the justification story are in tension with my intuitions on justice (e.g. substitutionary atonement).

Well, that’s circular. If you’re grateful for what your rescuer did, then you’re not inclined to be critical of what he did.

Say a lifeguard can only save one of two drowning swimmers. You’re happy to be alive, but you feel survivor’s guilt. Why did he have to die so that you could live? At one level it doesn’t seem fair.

Still, it would scarcely be appropriate to tell the lifeguard, “I find it hard to thank you for saving my life when the other swimmer drowned.”

Regardless of the other swimmer’s fate, you should be grateful to the lifeguard for saving your life. And he may have taken a personal risk in doing so. The rip currents endangered him as well.

Or perhaps the lifeguard was in a position to save both swimmers, yet unbeknownst to you, he had good reason to let the other swimmer drown. Maybe the other swimmer was a pedophile. Good riddance! But the lifeguard doesn’t owe you an explanation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taxonomy According to Gordon Clark

Kingdom Persona = propositions.

Kingdom Animlia = complex sentences

Kingdom Plantae = sentences

Kingdom Fungi = dependent clauses

Kingdom Protista = words

Kingdom Monera = letters

Do We Have the Word of God in light of Textual Variation?

In my post titled "Answering the Objections of Dogs and Hogs: Judge Not!" I said this about the well known passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11):
First, it must be noted that this quote from John 8:7 is the section dealing with the woman caught in adultery, commonly known by scholars as the Pericope de Adultera. Almost every evangelical textual critic over the last 100 years has considered John 7:53-8:11 to be a dubious portion of the text, which means that it was probably not an original part of this gospel. It is found in various places throughout the manuscript tradition of John's gospel (after 7:36, 44, and 21:25) and even one extant manuscript places it after Luke 21:38. Also, the earliest manuscripts and many early versions do not have this section at all. Many manuscripts that do have it contain scribal notations that indicate that it was not an original part of John's gospel. The vocabulary and style in this section are very different from John's own writing style and the traditional placement of 7:53-8:11 interrupts the flow of thought that naturally occurs between verses 7:52 and 8:12, further suggesting that this section is an interpolation. Finally, no Greek church father comments on this passage before the 12th century, further suggesting that this passage was not original to John's gospel. I favor the scholarly opinion that suggests that this narrative is a true historical event that occurred in Jesus' ministry that circulated as oral tradition in the early church but was never included in the original New Testament writings. Instead, this oral tradition was later added as an extended marginal note in some early manuscripts and because it is in harmony with Jesus' ministry it eventually made its way into the text of John's gospel as we have it today.
I received the following questions in response:
"Are you saying that God has allowed His Word to be corrupted by forgeries and that the Bible is not, as it is today, 100% the Word of God?"
We have the word of God. However, God in His providence has allowed the Greek and Hebrew manuscript copies to have errors in them. 99% of these errors and corruptions are untranslatable into English and consist of minor mistakes such as misspellings (i.e., the "movable nu" variant), reversal of word order, etc. The remaining ~ 1 percent of textual corruptions consists primarily (but not exclusively) of the two famous examples of interpolation in the gospels (Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11), the comma Johanneum (i.e., 1 John 5:7-8 in the KJV/TR), and other examples of skipping lines when copying from one manuscript to another, and minor expansions found in the later Byzantine manuscripts from which the KJV's edition of the textus receptus is largely based on (i.e., "the Lord Jesus Christ" in one Greek text vs. only "Jesus Christ" in another). It is important to note that contrary to the claims of Bart Ehrman, none of these textual variants affects the overall meaning or message of the New Testament. I have read most of Ehrman's popular work on the subject of textual changes changes the message of the New Testament (i.e., The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Misquoting Jesus) and he simply overstates the case. For more information, I would encourage you to read "The Gospel according to Bart" by Dan Wallace, PhD. Some of the notes that scribes put into the margins of these manuscript copies eventually made their way into the text over a long period of time for various reasons. Some scholars think this is the case with the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). It is important to state clearly at this point that all evangelical text critical scholars agree that there are thousands of very minor copyist errors and a few interpolations in the manuscript copies of the Bible because this is exactly what the manuscript evidence shows us. To deny this is to stick your head in the sand, intellectually speaking. Not one Greek manuscript among the 5700+ Greek manuscripts reads exactly word for word like another Greek manuscript. This is exactly what you would expect if the manuscripts were copied by hand through the centuries and that is exactly what the scholars have found.

The only group that denies most of this information are King James Version only advocates. I went to a TR-only seminary (i.e., Textus-Receptus only) which is a type of King James only-ism, so I am very familiar with their arguments since I sat in their classes, read their propaganda, and discussed these issues with my KJV-only professors in private conversations. As an aside, the Textus Receptus only position says that the Greek text underlying the KJV New Testament is superior to that of the critical Greek text that most modern translations come from. However, the New King James translation is a modern translation based upon the same Greek text as the KJV, but when I argued for using it in seminary, I was shot down because it was suggested to me that the NKJV has some bad translations in it that undermine orthodoxy. I then responded, "Well, in 1611 the KJV translators didn't know about the Granville-Sharp construction in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 and thus the KJV obscures the deity of Christ in those verses, so shall I avoid using the KJV too?" I received no meaningful response. I wasn't convinced of their position then and I am not convinced now. Here's why: (1) Any KJV only advocate runs into the same problem when they make the KJV the golden standard because different KJV Bibles read differently depending upon who published it (Oxford or Cambridge) and when it was published (i.e., the 1769 revision done by Benjamin Blaney). Second, if you are going to argue that the Greek text that underlies the KJV (i.e., the TR) is superior and on that basis we should accept it, which TR shall we accept? There were originally five editions of the TR produced in the early 16th century by the Roman Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus and the one that underlies the 1611 KJV is not exactly like any one of those original five editions. Worse yet, the KJV translators themselves in the original preface to the 1611 KJV said that they believed that even the worst translations could still be called the word of God.
"Once you let the door open for one passage, on what basis must we insist that no other books have been corrupted in some similar fashion?"
Some of the books of the OT and NT have been corrupted in a similar fashion but (1) not to the extent that it destroys the meaning and message of the entire book and (2) the variants in question have been well known and well published by evangelical textual scholars for over a hundred years. This is why modern translations have footnotes indicating such things. Even early editions of the KJV had marginal notes to indicate when a particular variant reading was present in the manuscript tradition. For example, all modern translations have a footnote indicating that Mark 16:9-20 is an interpolation in the text of Mark's gospel. While most Greek manuscripts contain this passage, the earliest manuscripts do not. This passage and John 7:53-8:11 are the largest and most well known textual variants in the New Testament. Based upon internal and external evidence, the majority of scholars believe that Mark 16:9-20 was added later in order to smooth out Mark's abrupt ending at 16:8. Much of the vocabulary of verses 9-20 is very different from the rest of Mark's gospel, suggesting that verses 9-20 are not original. Early scribes used special marks in their manuscripts to indicate that they thought verses 9-20 were spurious. The church fathers Eusebius and Jerome indicated that almost all Greek manuscripts in their day lacked it. Also, there are two other endings of Mark that are found in the manuscripts, thus suggesting to us that none of them are original. Most evangelicals believe that verses 9-20 were a very early attempt by a well-meaning scribe to smooth out the end of Mark's gospel after verse 8. In all fairness, it is important to note that verses 9-20 were known by several second century fathers (Tatian, Irenaeus, and possibly Justin Martyr), however, the internal and external textual evidence weighs against their inclusion. Nevertheless, we have the word of God as it comes to us in the gospel of Mark, we just have sufficient textual evidence demonstrating that verses 9-20 were added on later.

There are no perfect copies of the Bible, even though the original writings were infallible and inerrant by virtue of their nature as God-breathed texts. All evangelical scholars today teach that inerrancy only applies to the original writings and not the copies. God has preserved His word. He just hasn't chosen to do so through perfect copying practices. God's means of preserving His word has been done through the multiplication of thousands of manuscripts, translations, and editions over a large geographical area in a very short period of time. This was the providential mechanism He used to prevent any one group of people from making wholesale, fundamental changes to the Scriptures. Since the most rigorous argument against inspiration and inerrancy in light of textual variation comes from Dr. Bart Ehrman, I will conclude with a summary of Dr. James White's argument against Ehrman's claims. Ehrman says in Misquoting Jesus,
In particular . . . I began seeing the New Testament as a very human book. The New Testament as we actually have it, I knew, was the product of human hands, the hands of the scribes who transmitted it. Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regard the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. Moreover I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them. [Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 211.]
Take note of Ehrman’s critical assumption: textual variation precludes inspiration. Ehrman argues that if God really inspired the text of the Bible then there would be no variants since inspiration would also require word-for-word preservation in the succeeding copies. Think about this scenario very carefully. How would God fulfill Ehrman’s requirements for this type of preservation had He wanted to preserve the Bible this way? Would the scribe that started to misspell a word because of eye fatigue immediately burst into flames? Would an angel appear and shout, “STOP NOW, Write that word with TWO nu’s!”? All such scenarios seem absurd because the critical assumption is flawed to begin with. Ehrman’s requirements amount to this conclusion: God could not, by definition get His revelation to man outside of His chiseling the entire Bible on a huge rock, or more to the point, until the invention of the modern photocopier. Textual variation is part and parcel of any ancient manuscript; whether the Bible, the Qu’ran, Tacitus, or Josephus. So, Ehrman’s assumption provides a presuppositional means of arguing that no divine revelation by definition could be transmitted before the premodern era. This means that before the photocopiers, you can’t be sure of any historical document; including your own hand-written signed birth certificate. There is no denying that God could have prevented all textual variation in His word through elaborate technological or supernatural mechanisms, but He didn’t. But this begs the real question: Why should we believe textual variation precludes inspiration when Jesus and the apostles had no such standard given the fact that both Jesus and the apostles freely quoted from the Septuagint and sometimes they quoted a textual variant? (!) They not only rejected Ehrman’s assumption, but they also, (like the KJV translators) believed that even imperfect translations could be called “The Word of God”. What’s worse is that even if we did have a master copy of the Bible somewhere then Ehrman would probably use its singularity as the strongest argument against its antiquity and accuracy. Thus, it seems that Ehrman gets to deny divine revelation in either direction; regardless of the scenario.

The truth is, God has preserved the text of the Bible, just not in the way that Ehrman assumes that it should have been done. This has been carried out providentially through the much less miraculous means of (1) textual multifocality
– a wide, rapid uncontrolled copying of the text, and (2) textual tenacity – the nature of the copying process tenanciously preserved all the readings in the manuscripts; both the corruptions and the original. It is far more amazing to see that God has taken the work of multiple authors, written in multiple locations, in multiple contexts, writing to multiple audiences, during a time of Roman persecution, working through the very mechanisms of history, and in that process create the single most and best attested text of the ancient world where less than one percent of the text requires scholars to engage in serious examination of the sources to determine the original reading. Even Ehrman admits that the text has been preserved in such a way that today’s textual scholars are merely “tinkering” since the task is for all intents and purposes completed. Ehrman said, “. . . at this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.” (Bart D. Ehrman, “Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation,” TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism [1998], revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism Section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Francisco.)] As Dr. James White noted, “Over 5,700 manuscripts, fifteen hundred years of transmissional history, multiple authors, and the combined wrath of Rome and the Gnostics – yet we have the NT we possess today. That is miraculous indeed!" [James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?, (Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House, 2nd Ed. 2009), 307.]