Thursday, June 23, 2011

Christian Myths 3

1. If it was done in the book of Acts, then we must do it today.

The Myth: Almost invariably, whenever criticism of the American church takes place, whether it be in written or spoken form, it is said that “this is not how they did church in the book of Acts!” It is simply presumed that whatever was done, or however it was done, was the right thing to do. In that case, then, the church of today ought to mimic as much as possible first-century Christianity.

Here’s the problem: this principle leads to bizarre rules and regulations that don’t make any sense. For instance, ought we to wear the clothes they did? Do we really have to greet each other with a holy kiss? Do we have to have six deacons starting out if this is the first time we appoint them? Are we obligated to have a plurality of pastors? Must we meet daily, instead of a few times a week?

In the case that some feel obligated to bite the bullet, consider that these were just men. They were not infallible. They often struggled with things we would find preposterous (like whether or not Gentiles could commune normally with their Jewish counterparts, or whether or not someone had to be circumcised to be a part of the church). “Now wait a minute,” one may say. “What they did worked!” Yes, it did. But it would be a two-fold mistake to infer that we must then continue these practices. Why? First, simply because one method works does not mean this is the only method available to work, much less the best. To insist that it is the only one is simply to beg the question! Second, it is the Holy Spirit that brings the fruit of the Gospel, not efforts of man. This does not mean the efforts of man do not have a place and a function, but the Holy Spirit used those methods in the hearts of the people. Can he do that today? Absolutely. Is he restricted to those methods? Absolutely not.

Why it matters: Because if we insist on making the Gospel to be uni-cultural (that is, the context of first-century Christianity), we are adding on an extra requirement or hoop to jump through. Not only could this be dangerous (in that it may turn people away from the Gospel), there is no biblical injunction against culture in general. We should look to the book of Acts to see what was important and what they did, and see if it aligns with what is necessary or what is helpful or what was simply cultural. Anything in the first category is essential, the second, recommended for consideration, and the third should be adapted to the current culture in which one is ministering.

2. William Shakespeare translated Psalm 46.

The Myth: I was not really familiar with this one until very recently. I did not know it was taken seriously in some quarters. However, this is on the level of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.[1] The claim is that certain similarities can be fit into an independent pattern, and so lead to the conclusion that Shakespeare either translated Psalm 46 or influenced its translation, whether directly or indirectly, for the King James Version. First, it’s worth noting that pattern-recognition can be very helpful when it can be independently verified. However, when an outcome is created and a pattern developed to fit that outcome, we call it confirmation bias. It is a problem that afflicts every discipline from UFO and conspiracy theorists to physicists. Here are the bits of “evidence” and some explanation.

If one counts 46 words from the beginning of the chapter, one comes to the word ‘shake.’ Discounting the word Selah (the Hebrew equivalent to Amen), we find the same thing at the end of the chapter. The word ‘spear’ is 46 words from the end of the chapter.

This is completely true. It is also completely meaningless. First, it will not do any good to find “shake” and “spear” and deduce that therefore Shakespeare is intended, all literary beauty aside. The fact is there’s just no evidence that he was in any way involved with the translation committee, knew Hebrew or Greek, or did anything of that nature. Besides, they had to completely break the pattern to make it. Why discount “Selah,” especially considering it appears in verses 3 and 7 also? This is an example of “making it fit,” or confirmation bias. But wait, you say, there’s more . . .

Remarkably, Shakespeare was 46 in 1610 when the text was being prepared for printing!

Ah, so here’s where 46 comes in. The problem? The translation committee was put together long before 1610—in 1604 in fact. That they would have foreseen its completion at that point and planned six years in advance is so bizarre as to seem barely worthy of recognition. Besides, Shakespeare was 45 for the first several months of 1610, and the translation’s “banner” year was 1611, not 1610.

You can only find it in the KJV. All subsequent translations have either changed one of the words, or rearranged some words so they do not fall where they need to be. Why was the KJV arranged the way it was, while all other translations were different?

This would sound good, except it’s patently false. First of all, subsequent translations wouldn’t have any explanatory power for prior translations; that’s reasoning backwards. If perhaps he meant the words were not justifiably translated as they were, that simply betrays the author’s lack of Hebrew knowledge. What one ought to do is to seek if this is how prior translations to the KJV handled the text.

Next, it is simply false. Plenty of subsequent, major translations have both “shake” and “spear” (such as the CEV, RV, MKJV, NKJV), and some retain this and the same “pattern” (RV, NKJV). Third, even if for some reason the pattern was not retained, why should it be? It is not as though the translations differ so wildly that one cannot see the resemblance. Typically, I found a cursory survey of other translations done after the King James to come very close to fitting the pattern; in fact, based on this, it would be a stronger argument to infer that the modern translators had a conspiracy against Shakespeare! Finally, looking to prior versions, the Bishop’s Bible (1568) retains both “shake” and “speare” with “shake” being exactly 46 translated words in. Since there is precedent before the KJV  both for the words utilized and the positioning of “shake,” it remains highly suspect, at best, that this was intentional.

Why it matters: Christians (and skeptics) being concerned about secret codes and hidden knowledge may make for great entertainment, but it’s ultimately destructive when built into a movement (see Harold Camping). No, I do not expect there to be a Shakespeare movement any time soon (or ever), but one must be careful when it comes to the Word of God. We must learn to think correctly and truthfully, as a reflection of God, who is truth!

Next up: ?? You get to pick!


                [1] Yes, I know this is technically poisoning the well. But you’ll see it’s justified (and yes, that is a bit of an end-justifies-the-means fallacy, isn’t it?).

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

The Numbering of John's Miracles

            The Gospel of John is a wonderful text to study and to learn from. It is not grouped in with the Synoptic Gospels mostly because the material is widely considered to be so different. Some signs, wonders, and miracles are recorded in this Gospel that uniquely highlight the ministry and person of Jesus Christ.
            One of these is found in John 4:46-52, where a dying child was healed by Jesus from a distance, and the deadly fever had left him completely. In verse 54, it is said, “This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee. (KJV)” However, this raises an issue. First, the numbering of the second miracle (that began in John in this work) seems to be amiss. In Jesus is said to do multiple miracles in Jerusalem; this raises the question of how this was the second miracle. Secondly, in order to avoid a contradiction, should the order of the material be changed or reversed?
            It is the contention of this paper that the miracles of and are two of a set of those miracles performed in Cana and are not chronologically out of order. This paper will cover an overview of three scholarly commentaries. Further, they will be compared and contrasted with one another. Finally, their arguments will all be analyzed and critiqued.
Carson’s Commentary
                        D.A. Carson addresses the issue in his commentary. First, he tackles the issue of John 2:11 and the turning the water into wine in Cana. He makes the point that the Greek word αρχην may only carry the meaning of “primary.”[1] In this case, Carson says the sign would only be the major turning point of his ministry, and not necessarily carry any numerical significance in and of itself. In fact, he maintains, “What is clear is that this first sign is linked with the summary statement of the purpose of the book . . . In both places, the disciples saw and believed.”[2]
            This first sign in priority then would not, at least for Carson, necessitate that is speaking of a second sign (for this particular sign does not necessarily fit into the sequence). Carson marks a distinction here with these miracles from those that came before in Cana and after in John 4. The distinction is that there were those who believed on Jesus in the latter, and in this chapter (the former) the faith was “spurious.”[3] This would mark the category distinction of why the miracle in Jerusalem did not count as the second miracle or sign even though it came chronologically earlier than the sign in John 4.
            Carson’s contention is that this miracle, hearkening back to Cana (v. 46) is pointed out purposefully. Carson elaborates, saying, “John provides several allusions to ch. 2, as if he is self-consciously completing an inclusion.”[4] He mentions the “explicit numbering of the miracles to draw attention to the closing circle.”[5] Carson makes this explicit by pointing out in verse 54 it is the second sign done in Galilee. A type of source criticism whereby this portion of the Gospel should be reordered is unwarranted on the basis of the numerical structure being discontinued after this numbering.[6]
Carson’s Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Carson’s argument is well-done in its logical implications. First, one can examine his stating of the Jerusalem miracle () relating differently to the Galilee miracles. This holds some weight since no number is assigned to this. Surely, if these were random collections or fragmented pericopes the reader would nonetheless encounter a number. This would more readily identify its place within the narrative. This shows chronology is not a concern with respect to the miracles or signs as an entire group.
            Next, his explanation for the curing of the deathly-ill boy in as being second is equally well-done. Carson explains the second miracle as being second in the series of the ones performed in Galilee.[7] This explains the numbering of these two. As Carson says, “The fact that the remaining signs . . . are not enumerated stands against” the idea that the miracles are out of order.[8]
            This compares to Morris’ commentary on the subject by utilizing the same logic: “This cannot mean the second of all Jesus’ signs, for in John has spoken of other signs . . . John has described two signs and both took place after a visit to Judea.”[9] It also accords with Morris in that the sign was used to “elicit faith.”[10] It does not seem to differ from Morris’ solution (even if Morris emphasizes other features. It accords with Moloney’s theory in that this miracle hearkens back to the wedding at Cana, but differs in that Moloney seems to emphasize the literary structure over the actual events and their results.[11]
Morris’ Commentary
            Leon Morris has much of the same basic opinion that D. A. Carson holds. Morris holds that the two stories of and are emphasized or chosen for their discussion of the true faith of those involved.[12] For Morris, the idea is that John is bringing these stories together to contrast directly with the illegitimate faith shown to Christ in and the miracles at Jerusalem. The true faith of the man is demonstrated by John’s mentioning of the lack of faith in chapter 2 (cf. -25).
            He is also careful to point out the literary significance of the positioning of the miracles in John’s narrative. He claims, “[In ] There was a transformation in things (water into wine); here life is given to a boy as good as dead.”[13] The progression of miracles from lesser to greater seems almost intuitively to lead ultimately to the cross. In a footnote, Morris points out that the grammatical construction of the Greek is different than one would expect. The words are τουτο παλιν δευτερον σημειον εποιησεν, meaning “This he did as a second sign.”[14] This may indicate the signs done for Cana, as in “this he did as a second sign for Cana of Galilee (cf. ).”
Morris’ Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Morris’ argument has already been critiqued in its essentials by examining Carson’s argument. However, a few details should be discussed. First, unlike Carson, but like Moloney, Morris here seems to stress a literary perspective. While there is nothing wrong with doing so (in fact this can lend an incredibly clear perspective sometimes), it may not be necessary to understanding the structure of the text; or just as importantly, it may be unnecessary to understanding why John referred to 4:54 as the second of the signs.
            Next, in differing from Carson, it seemed as though Morris missed a golden opportunity to link this particular sign to the ending of the book (cf. 20:30-31). Since this sign is the second in a series of signs began at Cana in , and is clearly linked by the results of believers to -31, it stands to reason is also a demonstration of the fulfilled purpose of the stated goal of the Gospel of John. However, it is worth noting that the proposed resolution by Morris (that the second sign of is not incorrect, nor out of order, but rather to be linked with only) is correct.
Moloney’s Commentary
            Moloney links the turning of water into wine in to the preceding discourse of John in chapter 1.[15] The idea is that the Logos has been revealed (see “manifested his glory” in verse 11). In this case, the believing motif can be seen since it is said here that his disciples believed on him because of this sign. Moloney agrees with both Carson and Morris when he claims that the belief generated in was not a genuine faith, thus standing in stark contrast to the miracles of Cana in and .[16]
            Moloney makes a literary structure argument for what essentially amounts to the same conclusion as the other two sources this paper consulted. He argues that the entirety of chapters 2-4 comprise a section spanning from Cana to Cana. In fact, he mentions, “This literary pattern is important . . . [and a reader] at the end recognizes an author’s use of the technique of repetition.”[17] He even goes so far as to argue that this linking together of signs was orchestrated purposefully by John in mentioning Cana at all in ![18]
            The literary idea is further expounded upon by Moloney when he discusses parallels between the wedding at Cana and the healing of the Gentile official’s son.[19] The stories follow a remarkably similar pattern as they unfold: the stating of a problem, the request of Jesus, the rebuke by Jesus, the reaction of the one rebuked, and the consequence of the faith of the person. In both cases, Moloney would say the intent is upon the signs taken together, not separately, so that it becomes almost obvious that the terminology of the “second sign” of 4:54 should not be taken as chronological to 2:23, but to 2:11.
Moloney’s Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Moloney’s argument may more closely resemble Morris’ than Carson’s, if only because Carson may have more theological reflection (rather than literary). However, all three sources agree on the primary message. Moloney makes this more explicit than perhaps the others when he claims, “Whatever the prehistory of the miracle stories in the Fourth Gospel, these suggestions [that there are literary reconstructions reordering the events] miss the literary function . . . in the present Gospel.”[20] Moloney also maintains, in the tradition of Morris, that the word structure of indicates this is an emphasizing or comparison to the first sign in Cana.[21]
            The idea of the miracles in Cana forming a set is quite plausible and alluring. However, the question arises: is it the most plausible explanation? A reconstructionist of the text may answer in the negative. However, Moloney utilizes the literary tools and contextual clues to answer in the affirmative.
            By pointing out the literary similarities, which are striking in and of themselves, Moloney allows the reader to view the context. The context clues offered include verse 46, which explicitly mentions the next sign occurring in Cana. The next clue is the referencing of the former miracle itself within the same verse (“Cana . . . where he made the water wine.”). Finally, verse 54 holds a bit of a clue as to the significance of the miracle. It was done in Galilee, and not Judea. This was hugely important, as it seems the author was setting the stage for understanding the context in which the miracle took place. Because of these things, Moloney’s argument may be the most comprehensive of the three.
            The miracles done in (turning the water into wine at Cana), (the miracles and signs to the Jews in Jerusalem), and (to the Gentile official’s dying son) form an interesting sequence of events. The problem seemed to be that the water into wine miracle was correctly labeled first, while the miracle was “incorrectly” labeled the second. It has been suggested that perhaps the order of the pericopes should be changed to reflect the “correct” order. However, all three of these commentaries suggested and offered reasons to believe that the best solution to this problem is to understand properly the and miracles as part of a set of Cana signs.
            When the student understand this is true from a literary, logical, and contextual standpoint, it becomes clear the signs are not out of order. One may retain the chronological order as presented in John without worrying about a contradiction. The order is correct but the context is vitally important to understanding the message of the Gospel of John. These three commentaries have captured just that.

                [1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991), 175.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] Ibid., 184.

                [4] Ibid., 237.

                [5] Ibid.

                [6] Ibid., 239.

                [7] Ibid.

                [8] Ibid.

                [9] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 259.

                [10] Ibid., 254.

                [11] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 151.

                [12] Morris, 258.

                [13] Ibid., 259.

                [14] Ibid., n. 121.

                [15] Moloney, 69.

                [16] Ibid., 84-85.

                [17] Ibid., 151.

                [18] Ibid., 153.

                [19] Ibid., 158.

                [20] Ibid., 162-163.

                [21] Ibid.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Christian Myths 2

This series is on Christian myths. I will come back to it from time to time to examine some. These next two are very interesting. Please leave feedback or comments if you have any suggestions for further study!

1. Russians dug a hole into Hell.

The Myth: This has been circulating in e-mail form for I don’t know how long. The idea is that back in the days of the Soviet Union, a team of scientists wanted to do some experiments involving the depths of the earth and so dug themselves a hole miles deep into the earth. For some unknown reason, they deposited a super-sensitive microphone down there, and were horrified to discover it recording the screams of those suffering eternal torment. Hence, we are told, Hell is a real place, evidently directly beneath Russia.

There are a few problems with this. 1. Hell is never actually described as a place located physically in the earth. In fact, it seems to be a spiritual realm more than anything else. Hence, it seems unlikely physical perceptions can take place (such as us seeing or hearing people who are actually in Hell). 2. It seems unlikely that a microphone could withstand such heat. But even assuming it could, we have 3. The source of this information was a tabloid. No evidence can be found of its veracity, and tabloids are not exactly known for their journalistic truth.

Why it matters: Because every claim to the secular world’s verifying biblical truth that turns out to be false damages the credibility of Christianity in general. It’s not exactly logical or fair, but it is true. These types of claims also give a false sense of security for things we cannot see or experience physically. If these types of claims can be validated, then it seems we can rest assured in these after all. However, while faith is not blind, it is not necessary to have 100% certainty of 100% of the doctrines of the Bible in order to believe either. We ought to rejoice in truth, and repudiate error. And maybe just do some more digging.

2. God wants me to be happy just as much as he wants me to be holy.

The Myth: Although most people don’t ever say this, one would be very surprised at just how many Christians believe it. Consider Christian divorce. Despite zero biblical evidence supporting their position, people will say, “But God knows my heart! I could never live a fulfilled and happy life in that marriage. He was dragging me down. I had to leave or I would never be happy!” Such an attitude is shameful.

Or consider a Christian doing a particular action or participating in a particular event on the basis of his fulfilled happiness. While Christians are commanded to have joy in several places in the Bible, Christians are not commanded to be merely happy—and certainly nowhere commanded to be happy at the expense of being holy. In fact, Peter writes (echoing the Old Testament), “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
The word “conversation” is the Greek word αναστροφη. It comes from a verb form of the word meaning to turn back and forth; metaphorically it describes one’s lifestyle or conduct in life itself. Essentially, Peter is saying to be holy in all areas of living! We do not get to choose which commands we follow and which we don’t. Whether it makes us happy ultimately we cannot know (perhaps the action brings a momentary discomfort, but we ultimately find it to bring the greatest joy in this life or the next—Romans , anyone?).

Why it matters: Christians cannot continue to live as though happiness and self-indulgence are the keys to the kingdom. The American church is in a very sad state indeed, where biblical injunctions are typically ignored with this philosophy. It’s not as though they have any type of argument. However, they contribute to a church culture of selfishness and ungodliness. Any church culture that reflects this attitude will have difficulty in converting the world. In fact, as we have seen, it often has a repelling effect.

Next up: The “Is-Ought” fallacy and the book of Acts . . .
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Christian Myths

Christian myths are those things that have been perpetuated (often through the Internet) by the Christian community (primarily) to the Christian community in the churches themselves. They often appear harmless, but even the slightest ones often make us lose credibility in the sight of the world. Now certainly, if they wish to mock us for a biblical doctrine, that is one thing. But we should not add unto ourselves problems that don’t even have a sound basis! The following are some Christian myths that the church has held for far too long. This may become a series.

1. The divorce rate in America is 50%.

The Myth: This has been repeated in pulpits, publications, and psychological books on marriage by Christians for decades now. It is often mentioned in combination with the idea that the church’s divorce rate is identical (or at least not discernibly different) to the world. The problem? It’s just not true. Or, I should say, the supposed basis is faulty.

This statistic is based on a single study in which sociologists, for reasons unknown to me, took the number of divorces in a given year and divided by the number of marriages that same year. Someone interpreted it to be the actual rate of marriages that end in divorce, and it was off to the races. I am not accusing the sociologists of bad practice; indeed, they may have been studying a divorce rate to marriage replacement rate for all I know (I’ve never read the study). But this would be one of the worst and least accurate possible ways to figure out how many marriages end in divorce.

To see why, let us take made up figures in two examples. For the first example, let’s say there were 10,000 marriages and 5,000 divorces in a given year. 5,000 / 10,000 = 0.5, or the number of divorces in a given year represented half of the number of marriages that year. In the second example, let us assume there were 5,000 marriages and 10,000 divorces. 10,000 / 5,000 = 2. So the divorce rate in a given year is twice the marriage rate. But if the first example is what was used to determine the percentage of marriages that end in divorce, the second number represents 200% of the marriages ending in divorce--a mathematical impossibility!

In case someone is not yet convinced, consider this: simply because there were X number of marriages and X number of divorces, it does not at all follow that those people were married and divorced the same year. Nor is there any justification sociologically for saying the marriage and divorce rates remain stagnant from year to year before and after the study.

Why it matters: Because we must be concerned with the truth. Further than that, it creates an alarmist attitude where we tend to think the only people doing good in the world is our little band of Christianity. After all, the divorce rate isn’t 50% in my church, and if it is in the world and in most of Christianity, why, then, we’re pretty good! Finally, it’s important to the younger generation that we can be trusted without being perceived as hyperbolic or anti-intellectual. They need to be able to trust us.

Next up: Russians dug a hole into Hell . . .
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Argument from Intuition

In a prior post an argument for intuition was discussed. In this argument, we will discuss an argument for God’s existence from intuition. First, we should reproduce the argument for intuition.

1. If we can hold justified true beliefs independently of any process or perception, then we have intuitive knowledge.

2. We can hold justified true beliefs independently of any process or perception.

3. Therefore, we have intuitive knowledge.

4. The laws of logic are justified upon their examination (application of empiricism).

5. Inference is an application of the laws of logic.

6. Inference must be used upon application of empiricism.

7. If (4-6), the laws of logic must be justifiably known.

8. If (4-7), the justification is known logically prior to empiricism.

9. If (4-8), then (2) is true.

10. If (2) is true, then (3) is true, and hence we have intuitive knowledge.

We must remember that intuition is a belief held independently of any process. This former argument also establishes that we do indeed have intuitive knowledge. But how did we obtain this intuitive knowledge? I do not mean this question to defy the definition of intuition. Rather, I am merely asking for the explanation of the presence of that knowledge. This argument is a modest attempt to account for it.

1*. If intuitive knowledge exists, then God exists.

2*. Intuitive knowledge exists.

3*. Therefore, God exists.

Now the aforementioned argument for intuition accounts for (2*) being true. But what about (1*)? This premise should only be rejected if one thinks it is true that intuitive knowledge exists and God does not exist. Of course, one may remain agnostic about the premise. In this case it is up to the affirmative to show a relation or else the objector may at least refrain from accepting the conclusion.

I believe we do have at least some justification for thinking (1*) is true. For consider the alternatives. Suppose we say naturalistic evolution has produced in us intuitive knowledge. Yet this seems problematic. First, if we mean evolution in the sense of blind processes, then intuitive knowledge just is acquired by means of a process, and hence is not really intuitive after all. Second, if evolution “deliberately” placed it into homo sapiens, then this deliberate action really resembles that of an intelligence after all, and hence we have the conclusion!

One may complain at this point that we have not established the Christian God, but a generic one. However, let us explicate one relation of intuitive knowledge to truth as a category. This God must be the grounds of knowledge. For who else but the objective grounding of truth could supply a means of knowing in the first place, much less an independent means of knowing such as intuition? I do not expect this to persuade atheists or agnostics, however it seems (1*) is very plausibly true. It further seems absurd to reject intuitive knowledge. But if that is the case, then something very much like God—the source of all truth—exists. If he exists, then I submit it is the Christian God, since the Christian worldview is most consistent with the philosophical and theological truths of the world. What do you think?
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Logic of the Atonement

This is not a post intended to explain all facets of the Resurrection and atonement for sins. However, this is intended to explain at least the basic idea of Jesus Christ’s dying for the sins of mankind. The atonement really is logical. Here is a brief syllogism (and one which is by far not the last word on the subject).

1. If one has committed a sin, it must be paid for to be in a right standing with God.
2. In order for a sin to be paid for, one must be righteous.
3. No sinful man is righteous.
4. Every man who has sinned is sinful.
5. Therefore, one cannot pay for his sins (from [2-4])
6. Therefore, one cannot be in a right standing with God (from [1, 5]).

This is where Christ comes in. Since no person can pay for his sins (by definition), no one is saved. Unless, of course, all of humanity can be redeemed. Consider another set of premises:

7. Jesus was a sinless man.
8. If there is a sinless man, he can atone for the sins of humanity.
9. Therefore, the sins of mankind are the ones that are atoned for upon Christ’s death.

(1) may be controversial for many religious viewpoints. However, consider this: God is morally perfect. God’s moral perfection means that he cannot command or do sin. Imputed righteousness is God’s righteousness. Therefore, imputed righteousness to mankind is dependent upon a lack of sin. Hence, (1) is true. (2) is true in virtue of the fact that a sin can never itself be paid for, since no amount of payment by an individual can be sufficient if one is a sinner. On pain of logical contradiction, what has been done has been done.

(3) is true by definition, since “righteous” here means the same as “moral perfection.” (4) is also definitional, and I should suspect will not be contested. (5-6) are both conclusions, and hence cannot be denied. (7) will be controversial for the non-theist or non-Christian, however I am largely attempting to show the idea of atonement as reasonable, and compatible with justice. Hence, we may assume (7) here. It’s also worth noting that if one has to deny the fact of Jesus’ being morally perfect in order to deny the atonement, then it won’t do any good to use the atonement’s not being logical in order to deny Christianity. In fact, it would be the fact that Christianity is false that renders the syllogism false. In either case, the atonement stands as logical in this argument.

(8) is also plausibly difficult. However, consider this illustration: The idea of the atonement is that it is a category or class, not merely one paying for his sins. Suppose a math class has to have an average of 85. They take the test without one person present and average 83. Each member of the class can only take the test once. However, one person comes back the next day and takes the test, receiving a perfect score. Thus, the average is brought up to above 85 and the villagers rejoice! A member of the class did something no one else could do at that point (bring up the score) so that the failure of the class was mitigated. Jesus, as a member of the class of humans, paid for the debt of humans. He is not paying for someone else's debt only, but for the debt itself. Sure, it is not fair, just as in the case of the man who cannot make his loan payments. Say a rich guy comes by and pays the entire balance off in one shot. It is hardly fair, but it is just. The debt has been paid.

Fair refers to equal treatment. Justice does not always demand fairness. Indeed, because Christians believe God is omnibenevolent, once the justice had been satisfied, God would have had to extend his mercy to whosoever will take it; that is, in order to remain in his revealed character! God’s character is the basis of the logic of the atonement available to whosoever will take it.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Frank Turek Fired for his Religious Beliefs

The following is by Max Andrews, who has asked me to repost it. It can be found along with many other thoughtful articles at his blog, Sententia. Please click on any word in this opening paragraph to get there and visit his blog!

Although this blog does not typically touch on politics, this is an important issue that must not go overlooked. Here is the article in its entirety.

Today started off as a rather normal day for me at the office until I happened to notice Dr. Frank Turek post an unsettling news update from his Twitter account.  His tweet read,
The Cisco Kid: Fired by Cisco for my political views even though they were never mentioned during work. via @townhallcom
I almost passed over it as I briefly scrolled through my feed.  The link he had shared was an open letter written by Dr. Mike S. Adams to Mr. John Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc.  The account of what happened can be read in the letter but I’ll share a brief synopsis.  Dr. Turek was hired by Cisco back in 2008 to train in leadership techniques and team building for their Remote Operations Services team.  Dr. Turek ”was fired as a vendor for his political and religious views, even though those views were never mentioned or expressed during his work at Cisco.”  What happened was one of the managers in Dr. Turek’s program Googled Turek and noticed that he had authored a book, which advocated a particular position on marriage that this manager, a self-identified homosexual, disagreed with.  A complaint was filed against Dr. Turek for not having values consistent with Cisco.
This has got to be one of the poorest responses Cisco management could have to this type of situation for there are several things that are wrong here.  According to Dr. Adams’ open letter the complaining manager discovered that Dr. Turek had written a book on same-sex marriage.  Now, North Carolina is a “right to work” or “at-will” state.  This means that an employer can terminate an employe without notice, with or without any reason at all.  However, the reasons for Dr. Turek’s termination were given as being inconsistent with Cisco’s values.  There are exceptions to North Carolina’s “at-will” employment laws.  Wrongful termination can be filed for discrimination of age; national origin; disability (physical or mental); HIV/AIDS; gender; race; religion; genetic testing; lawful use of any product during non-work hours; military service; or sickle-cell trait.  According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 discrimination is prohibited based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  SEC. 2000e. [Section 701], the subchapter defines “religion” as follows.
(j) The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.
I have very few credentials in legal research, being that I only took a handful of undergraduate government courses, but it seems that Dr. Turek has a legitimate wrongful termination case to be made in an “at-will” state.  I will yield the legal research and precedents to those who are more credentialed and qualified than I am to explicate the legal issues here.
This whole situation is strikingly similar, perhaps even worse than the wrongful termination of NASA’s JPL information technology specialist David Coppedge.  Here’s a summary of the situation as provided by The Discovery Institute based out of Seattle, WA.
David Coppedge was an information technology specialist and system administrator on JPL’s international Cassini mission to Saturn, the most ambitious interplanetary exploration ever launched. A division of California Institute of Technology, JPL operates under a contract with the federal space agency. Coppedge held the title of “Team Lead” System Administrator on the mission until his supervisors demoted and humiliated him for advancing ideas that superiors labeled “unwelcome” and “disruptive.” Ultimately they fired him.
Coppedge was terminated for allegedly “pushing” intelligent design upon his coworkers.  JPL associated this with Coppedge’s “religious beliefs” and so Coppedge sued on grounds of religious discrimination.  (I suggest reading the articles listed for a full account).  Cisco meets a sub-par standard of internal consistency and had a knee-jerk reaction to, well they didn’t really know what it was they were reacting to.  According to Cisco Systems,
Cisco values and fosters diversity, development, and growth opportunities for staff through employee networks. These networks join employees to help reinforce the value of all aspects of each member’s personality. Valuing the differences in each person increases individual and team performance, productivity, and satisfaction. Cisco believes that its employee networks are critical to an inclusive organizational culture.
Sounds grand, right?  By all appearances this seems to be a harbor of professional, kind, and moral work atmosphere free of discrimination.  The problem is how consistent is Cisco going to be with this if it is at all possible?  Here are a few shortcomings Cisco made amidst this whole debacle.
  1. Cisco failed to comply with its own policy of “diversity” for not allowing, valuing, and fostering a view of heterosexual marriage that does not support same-sex marriage (Dr. Turek’s belief).
  2. Cisco failed to substantiate reasonable evidence of Dr. Frank Turek’s non-compliance.  The employee did not even exhaust the “evidence” (the book) prior to reporting the violation of values, which seems at this point to be hearsay at best, especially if it was not investigated by Human Resources.
  3. Cisco failed to recognize the complaining manager’s lack of fostering “diversity” and, by Cisco’s apparent standards, is just as guilty of failing to uphold these values as Dr. Turek.
  4. Cisco’s value and diversity policy is internally inconsistent, it is self-defeating.  There is absolutely no room for genuine diversity if Dr. Turek is an example of the practice of such diversity enforcement.  Reasons 1 and 3 make each party guilty of the same thing, which doesn’t permit anyone to have any expression [or beliefs unexpressed, as with Dr. Turek].  This follows that even if Cisco were to enforce any consequences for failing to comply with the value and diversity policy it would be a self-incriminating act by Cisco itself for failing to permit diversity.
  5. Essentially, tolerance and diversity is incredibly ambiguous (perhaps illusory) and inconsistently applied in Cisco Systems Inc.
I would like to call for Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute to assist Dr. Frank Turek in legal advice (since they are not only a science think tank but also assist in legal affairs).  What makes this whole situation worse than Coppedge’s case is that none of these personal beliefs were expressed in the work atmosphere.  I stand behind Dr. Turek and Dr. Adams in their pursuit for answers, justice, and genuine equality under law.  I commend Dr. Adams for challenging Cisco CEO Mr. John Chambers to see if he is personally consistent with his company’s own policy (Chamber’s being politically conservative himself).  How far will we allow this inconsistency and self-defeating practice of “diversity” go under the guise of “tolerance”?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dialogue with a Muslim, Part 2

These are follow-up responses to the e-mail I received in reply to my answers. (3) and (10) were eliminated because the answers ended up being covered elsewhere within the e-mail. Enjoy!

1. So you said that God the Father and the Son are not the same being, but they have the same essence. Does that mean that their nature is the same? Is God just His nature? That's probably a stupid question though, right, because He's not physical, so what else would He be? Argh, my head's already starting to hurt...So, okay, technically, God can exist within time? And He can be dependent on food and stuff? And He can exist in two places at once?...Basically, I don't understand how something can be three, and also one. 

        We must be careful here to make a distinction between "beings" and "persons." The Father and Jesus are not the same person, but they are the same being. Don't worry if your head starts hurting; far more intelligent people than we are have struggled with this! It does mean that their nature is the same; it is the divine nature. As to the questions about being in time, the kalam almost seems to necessitate the first cause being in time! But beyond that it should be pointed out when we speak of Jesus' incarnation, we are speaking specifically of his humanness (traditionally, we say "human nature." I however have avoided this with you deliberately because we do not mean "nature" in this sense as the same as "essence" when we used "nature" interchangably with "essence" earlier. Basically, we mean two different things by the two uses of "nature." Here, we mean "that which makes one a human" instead of essence.). This is why we may say it was not God that died in his divinity but his humanity. It is not the human flesh that is in two places at once, but divine omnipotence (which means, traditionally, that God is causally active at every point in space and time). This can become very complex, but we must not confuse complexity for contradiction! Finally, it is vitally important to recognize that saying something is three and one at the same time and in the same sense is logically contradictory, and hence impossible. But the good news is that God is three in number of persons, but one in being or essence! Hence we avoid a contradiction. Does that at least come closer to helping?

2. Sorry, I'm still a bit confused as to how Christians who wrote down Jesus' (pbuh) teachings knew that they fully grasped the meanings of his words...So, in the case of Jesus, why didn't the gospel writers just write it in Aramaic to ensure that they didn't mess up God's words? Maybe not consciously--heck, probably not consciously, seeing as they were dedicated individuals--but maybe they sent the wrong "vibe", or something. I mean, think about it. God's words. Those are pretty huge, in my opinion. Why'd they risk unconsciously leaving out meanings? 

        There are a couple of answers that can be proffered. Remember that translation does not inherently mean the lack of an idea, and no one need be 100% beyond all shadow of a doubt in order to say he knows he has represented faithfully Jesus' words. A point that goes with this is that Jesus was not dictating teaching to be written down (view this in contradistinction to Allah and Mohammed for comparison and reference, I would think), but rather teaching in general. It's worth noting that no verses of Jesus' words are disputed as to their translation from Greek to English, for instance, even if all nuances are not retained (another important aspect of translation philosophy is that simply because a word contains a particular nuance, it does not follow that nuance applies to the meaning in all situations. This is why context is key!). Sure, it is always possible in a strict logical sense that someone misremembered a particular phrase and then gave a separate meaning, but without any reason to think so, we shouldn't let it bother us. Why? Well, first, because we can be reasonably sure (as I mentioned in the last email) that the words spoken were the words given. Secondly, we can be reasonably sure to trust translations in general (as just discussed). And finally, and perhaps the biggest point, is that the Gospel writers just did in fact write the Word of God! So their writing in Greek is held in Christian doctrine to be the inspired Word of God, so that Christians can believe the words were retained correctly. I must also emphasize that even if some of the words of Jesus were wrong and the Bible were not to be the inspired Word of God, all that follows is that the Bible is not the Word of God; it would not logically follow that Christianity is false! We could still examine the NT documents as historical documents to see the likelihood of the claims of Jesus as being true or not. As to the Gospels recording Jesus' words on the Cross, I assume you are referring to different writers recording different sayings (I think). The Gospel writers did not attempt to make four identical records of what happened--we might wonder what the point was! Rather, each writer chose to emphasize different things. Therefore, we shouldn't view John's writing Jesus' instructions to John to take care of Mary, the mother of Jesus as John's saying that he didn't say "I thirst" and whatnot. Rather, these are complimentary. Remember, there's no reason why Jesus could not have said all of these things! :) The inspiration of Scripture is an interesting topic. The Gospel writers had their own various purposes. John's was ostensibly to evangelize Jews not living in Palestine in the late first century (hence why he takes it for granted that his audience knows about particular Jewish feasts, customs, etc., but not about particulars of the exact time and place, like the Sadducees and their beliefs [since they were local to Palestine and gone by 70 AD]). Luke wrote to a partiuclar person (Theophilus) to convince him of the truth of the message of Jesus Christ by evidences (like I am doing to you! :) ). Mark wrote an early record focused on action (hence many miracles recorded in a short manuscript). Matthew wrote to establish the genealogy of Jesus Christ and the legitimacy of his claim to be the Messiah. All are very useful as they are and I love them!

4. So, basically, all those Jews had been worshiping the wrong version of God?...So, sorry, to rehash: God reveals parts of His nature slowly. So, He might later reveal that He's not actually just, or that He has another son or something? Is that allowed? What if He reveals that He can lie? 

        Don't be sorry; I love answering these! Christians do not say that they had a "wrong" version of God, but rather incomplete. It wouldn't be morally wrong, and while one can argue factual incompleteness is incorrect, they nonetheless did not deny the Trinity (in fact, Isaiah teaches the Messiah would be God, and born of a virgin. A somewhat implicit, if dormant, view of the plurality of persons in the Godhead). I would answer your final two questions directly as "no." Here's why: 1. God cannot do things that are contradictory. Titus 1:2 is one of two places that explicitly (rather than implicitly) teaches that God cannot lie. Hence, since he does not do contradictions, it is impossible for him to later reveal he can lie (unless he was a liar from the beginning, which surely is blasphemy!). 2. Perfect Being Theology, which asserts that God is a maximally excellent being in all things applicable, demands moral goodness, and it is not good to lie as an objective moral value. While it is epistemically possible for God to reveal a fourth member of the Godhood, this is nonetheless highly unlikely due to Christian eschatology teaching the fellowship of Christians and OT saints with God as revealed in three persons, hence, since this is discussing the eternity future, it is unlikely.

5. Haha, at least I got a straight answer. And I guess I'm roasting too, eh? That stinks. Ah well. You win some, you lose some. (I'm not actually that nonchalant about it, evidently, since I'm emailing you, haha.)

           Yes, but is grieves me so much. I can only imagine how your friend feels, since he/she knows you. I am glad to hear you are not so glib about it. Please understand, I would never, ever try to intimidate you or scare you into believing in Jesus (no one can make you anyway). But no matter what one's view of punishment is, you nonetheless will miss out on the forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace that is freely available to you. I am being very sincere when I say that just hurts to think about it. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

6. Sorry, people don't depend on medieval Christians views of things? I was reading St Augustine's work today (man, that guy is wordy), and it sounds to me like his teachings majorly influenced current Christian theology. I'm no expert though, so I guess maybe they didn't? And I see what you're saying. But you know the Pope? I mean, if his ancestors said Hell was one thing, and he said it was another, and there's papal infallibility, er...well, I mean, how does that work? 

        Well, to be fair, Church historians classify Augustine as a church father, as he came a few hundred years before the medievals. He is very influential, though. However, no major doctrine depends upon Augustine (when discussing essentials, anyway). As to the Pope, I have the luxury of not being a Catholic. :)

7. If God's spirit is the Holy Spirit, does that mean Jesus doesn't have a spirit?

        Keep in mind when we say "God" in your question here we do not mean the Father, but the spirit of the essence that is the Godhood. So Jesus, as a man, had a spirit. But theologians differ among themselves as to what Jesus' spirit was in the incarnation. Some say it was the divine essence, or the Logos, itself. I don't see any particular problem with this view, though I am not dogmatic.

8. I see what you're saying, and that actually occurred to me, but doesn't that whole Jesus/atonement thing sound like a huge charade that God could easily have gotten out of by tweaking His own rules a bit? I mean, why didn't He just forgive sins if someone repented?...Shouldn't the path uphill--to sincere repentance, to forgiveness, to betterment--be enough to forgive a person? Seeing as He did make us sinners and all...

        It's very important to remember God did not make us sinners, but man freely chose to sin in the garden of Eden. But my friend, the rest just is the problem! We can never earn our own salvation. It is a gulf that cannot be crossed. Why? Precisely because God cannot tweak his own nature. Philosophically, it is impossible to go beyond one's own nature. What about God? God is "limited" by his own nature since he is the foundation of logic. THat is, logic and truth do not exist apart from God. Because of this, whatever is logical or true is such as a reflection of God's nature. There is no one specific Bible verse that spells all of this out; however, there are several verses that explain God is holy, God is just, God punishes the wicked, God is merciful, God is loving, God is willing that all should not perish. But then why are not all saved? Why do some receive punishment then? If God can tweak his own nature, surely he could simply choose everyone. That is exactly what he wants to do, biblically. But he cannot. Further, there are philosophical considerations. If someone is the objective standard of morality (which the Bible does state in Matthew 19:17 and Mark 10:18), then these morals cannot be violated (else they don't really exist objectively in the first place). In any case, there is nothing that can logically be done to undo a sin; what has been done has been done, on pain of logical contradiction! But if a perfectly holy God exists, then sinners cannot be saved. Unless, that is, there is a morally perfect man who never sins, and who offers himself as a sacrifice. This could not happen from a naturally-born man, because of sin in one's nature. But God could do it. And he did! :)

9. Weren't Adam and Eve chillaxing in Heaven originally? So, whilst they were up there doing their thing, God had already decided that people would go down to Earth? But after they ate the apple, He changed His tactic and said that they'd have to wait for Jesus to atone for them? So He was going to send them down to Earth anyways, even without them sinning? The sinning was just convenient, I guess.

        Oh no, they were created on earth. They did not exist until the sixth day of creation according to the text. As to your question about suffering and salvation...if only you knew! Believers in North America do not really suffer, but around the world they are persecuted, beaten and killed for their beliefs. In fact, Paul of Tarsus (who suffered so much) wrote that his life's purpose was this: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." That's in his letter to the Philippian believers in chapter 3 verse 10. Jesus said the world would hate us, and people would think they were doing God a favor by killing us. Paul elsewhere said "all who will live godly...will suffer persecution." It's not easy once you become a believer. But none of these sufferings save us. No amount of our suffering ever could. But I do want you to know it's not all fun and games. I have never been beaten, but I've been ridiculed. I've never been killed (obviously), but I've hated and told I was irrational. The idea that the life of a Christian is easy can only be true if one isn't making any difference in the world. :) You certainly are not stupid! I'm glad you've brought these things up. I keep emphasizing the fact we can be forgiven of our sins. All one has to do is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he came to the earth to live as a man and die for the forgiveness of sins, and that he was buried and then raised from the dead by God on the third day. If you believe that in your heart, and ask God with your mouth to be saved, you will be (cf. Romans 10:9). Notice what is not required: you do not have to have a perfect understanding of the Trinity, or live a good life before you get saved, or earn a doctorate in theology. Anyone who understands the Gospel can be saved. I beg you to consider it. I am not a fool. I know I am asking you to change your worldview. But that's the beauty of God. He can help us do the seemingly impossible.

11. Sorry, new question, but this just occurred to me. Does God know exactly how He's going to act? Would it be very silly to say that God doesn't have free will?

        Yes, God does know exactly how he is going to act. He even knows how he would have acted in any other circumstances. That's part of his omniscience. God also knows how every possible person would have acted in any other possible scenario. These are called "counterfactuals," and they're a part of God's "middle knowledge," or his knowledge of what free creatures would freely do in various situations. God knows what would have happened if John Wilkes Booth had not chosen to assassinate President Lincoln, God knows what you would say if someone presented you the Gospel five years from now instead of today, etc. God does have a free will, but having a free will doesn't mean choosing from every logically possible option. All that is required for a will to be free is that the agent be the true originator of his choice. So while God is not free to lie, he nonetheless is free to choose what to say (or even refrain from speaking). Does that help at all?

12. Another one, but this shouldn't take too long. :) What denomination are you, if you don't mind my asking? Also, do you believe in original sin? And you know people who have never heard of Christ through no fault of their own? Are they going to go to Hell too?
        I am a Baptist, and I do not mind you asking. :) I do believe in original sin, in that I believe Adam and Eve sinned, and hence passed along a propensity to sin along to their offspring (aka the rest of us). I am planning on writing a blog post soon about your very thoughtful question concerning those who have never heard. Suffice it to say for now that I believe God holds every person responsible for the light he/she does have, and thus there may potentially be some who have never heard of Christ who nonetheless go to Heaven. Hint: Job in the OT. He wasn't a Jew, and so knew of no Messiah, and he wasn't around for Jesus. And of course the Ninevites (did Jonah really stop to tell them about a Messiah? Or did they repent from coming judgment as the narrative says). Then there is Apollos (who was around preaching about God knowing only the ministry of John the Baptist and not Jesus, despite the fact this was probably 5-7 years after Christ's death and resurrection. Was he not saved? Of course he was!). Anyway I rest my case for now, and will write a better post about it later this week.

But wait, sorry, with regards to the kalam argument: If time doesn't exist outside of the Universe, then, well, wouldn't the Universe just have "occurred"? I mean, wouldn't "nothingness" become "somethingness" automatically, because it was meant to? I guess this is going too deep for me, so sorry if I'm messing it up.

        You're right that if no time exists without there being a universe then the universe's first moment would be the first moment. Hence, it's not inaccurate to say it occurred. However, this wouldn't refute either of the kalam's premises. What does that mean then? It means that the universe still requires a cause, and hence even if there is a temporal boundary point to the universe and thus the universe has existed for every moment in time, it still requires a cause.