Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miracles Are Not Made for Believing

There is a theme concerning miracles throughout the Bible that runs contrary to our desire to see them. We want to see miracles, largely, because we want to experience God directly (as I discussed in an earlier post). We want to see either in order to believe or in order to revitalize our faith (i.e., to keep believing). We often view God in the Bible as the ice cream man who hands out miracles left and right to everyone, and wonder why He is doing that now. "Perhaps," we think, "He never gave miracles because the Bible isn't true." This is one of those instances where our false beliefs can easily take us to rejection of the faith. In fact, I think the number one reason people reject the faith is due to their false beliefs and expectations about God and what He should be doing in their lives. If people don't want extraordinary miracles, like a parting of the Red Sea, they do want smaller miracles, like the healing of their sick children, the increase of their cash flow, etc. They don't get these miracles and end up disbelieving a little more than they did before. Whether that disbelief leads to an ultimate rejection isn't the main problem with most Christians. It is the creation of an impotent faith that is. There's no fuel for the fire anymore, since it was a fire fueled on experience, i.e., a fire fueled on sight, rather than faith to begin with.

In contrast to our false theology, miracles in the Bible are rare. We think that they are all over the place because the Bible gives us the divine perspective that He is always moving through the events that take place. But if we were to ignore all the texts from this perspective, we are left with relatively few times that God pours out miracles upon His people. Of course, I'm not saying that miracles are not given throughout the Bible here and there, but that they are not God's normal modus operandi.

In Scripture, the only times we see a massive pouring out of miracles are those times that God is giving revelation to His people. In other words, the miracles are there to verify that God is speaking through an individual rather than some lunatic that thinks God is speaking to him. There is an outpouring of miracles in the giving of the Law, through Elijah and Elisha, who represent all of the prophets in the Bible, in the revelation given by the Lord Jesus Himself, and through the apostles (i.e., the major prophets of the New Testament).

In other words, miracles are given in the establishing of God's Word. They are there to support the claim that God has spoken, so that those who already believe may know where to look. They are not there to get people to believe. If that were the case, then God should have poured out miracles throughout the entire duration of human existence, but Scripture tells us that while seeing we may still not see because we need faith to see.

This is what I call the Sinai Theology of the Bible. The reason why I call it this is due to what occurred on Sinai. From that holy mountain, God speaks directly to the people (in fact, I think this was the only time in the Old Testament where God actually did this). In doing so, He gives to them the Law. This is the law that reveals some of His character. It reveals His justice and love for His people. If the people desire to know Him and follow Him (i.e., which is what the biblical relationship of faith is), they must know what God has spoken and seek to observe it.

A tabernacle/mobile temple is built in which the law will be placed. Temples are places where idols are usually housed. These idols represent the deity. If one is to worship a god, he or she must have an idol. In other words, there must be mediation, since the ancients believed that the divine could not be known directly, but could be experienced through sight of the idol. Instead of an idol, however, the law is placed in a chest (often described as God's seat) that is placed in that position. but in between the narrative describing the instructions to build the tabernacle and the description of the Israelites building it comes a curious narrative of the Israelites worshiping through a golden calf. That golden calf is not a different god, but is meant to represent YHWH, as Aaron says about the calf, "Tomorrow will be a feast to YHWH!" In other words, the Israelites want to worship God through the same old means that the pagans do, i.e., through a physical image. After all, a physical image is more tangible. They can experience it. They were becoming more afraid without seeing one (hence, their irrational push to make one).

But God wants them to believe through what He has spoken, not through experiencing Him through sight. Hence, He states to them in Deuteronomy:

"[Remember] the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, `Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.' "You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the [very] heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom."Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form--only a voice. "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, [that is], the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. "The Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.  "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. "And [beware] not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. (4:11-19)

Notice that the Hebrew simply says that "you saw no form, only a voice." This is a figure of speech that is meant to call attention to what is said. It should normally say, "you saw no form, you only heard a voice," but instead says, "you saw no form, [you saw] only a voice." How does one see a voice? But the point is that God must be experienced through the mediation of His Word. He must be know through what is revealed. He cannot be known through sight. In other words, we cannot experience Him through what we see. A true relationship with God, then, must be gained through faith in what is said, not faith in what we see. The phrase, "so watch yourselves carefully" does not capture the Hebrew in English well. The Hebrew is emphatic here: "BE EXTREMELY CONSCIENTIOUS OF YOURSELVES!" It tells us that this is no minor point that God is making. It is a vital component to our faith relationship with God.

Ergo, when John, in his Gospel, speaks of people believing through miracles, it is always to show us that they do not really yet believe. True belief is in Christ's words, not in the miracles people have witnessed. In other words, miracles don't give people true faith. We see this even in the exodus and wilderness narratives, as the people who saw the greatest miracles did not believe. But why did they not believe? Because miracles don't give faith to anyone. They only point the way for those who already believe.

Hence, in John 4, Christ meets the woman at the well (yet on another mountain), and tells her things about her that He would not have known otherwise. He shows her something miraculous. He tells her about her life when He has never met her before. She runs back and tells others in the village, and through this miracle, the text says that they were coming out to meet Him. However, in verses 39-42, the superficial belief they had turns into genuine belief:

And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I [have] done." So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.And many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world." 

In other words, their faith needed to shift from the superficial belief in miracles to a real faith in what Christ has spoken. Unfortunately, this shift often goes the other way, as I said before. In John 6, Christ tells the crowd, likely of 5,000 people that He just miraculously fed, that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order for them to live through Him (thus referring to their need to trust in His crucifixion). In verse 60, it says that "Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard [this] said, 'This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?' and in verse 66, it says, "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore." Before they do this, however, Christ tells us why they are going to reject Him. In verse 64, Christ says, "But there are some of you who do not believe." In other words, they're only there for the food. They're there for the miracles. They don't know and trust God because they do not believe through His Word. They wanted the experiential. They wanted the miracles. But they didn't want Christ, because Christ is revealed through what He has spoken, and when He spoke it, they all went away.

In contrast to these, however, we are told that the disciples response is that of those who have true faith. Christ asks them in verse 67, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Peter responds with the response of true faith in verse 68, "Lord, to whom shall we go, for you alone have words of eternal life."

Whether a person has a faith because of miracles that will transfer to true faith in God's Word is not the point. Sometimes he or she will and sometimes he or she won't. The point is that faith is not real until it is in what God has spoken. A faith founded on miracles, on experiencing God through them, no matter how big or small one expects those miracles to be, is too superficial of a faith to be sustained. In fact, it is a false faith altogether, since it cannot bring one to know God. And, as we have been discussing, miracles do not bring faith. Hence, experience through sight does not bring faith. Nor do superficial miracles bring faith. You know, the kind that seeker sensitive churches try to muster up through music and drama. We cannot create the right experience for everyone to believe because belief is a supernatural event, where the Holy Spirit draws one to God the Father through Christ by means of the Word of God. We cannot expect belief to come without the Word of God, since true belief cannot happen without it.

So miracles have pointed to the place we can find God's Word in the Bible, but they do not create faith in us. To expect that they will, and embitter ourselves toward God for Him not producing them for us, is the sure road for a superficial and false faith to take toward total unbelief. I believe we have set our eyes on the wrong religion when we look to miracles as some sort of creating or sustaining power toward true belief. Instead, we need to go back to seeing no form, but only a voice. It is then that we will truly see God, and it is only then that our faith, or lack thereof, will be revealed to us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Exodus and Canaanite Conquest: A Love Story, PART II

We’ve been discussing the Exodus and Canaanite Conquest narratives in the Bible. I wrote last time that the claim that the wiping out of an entire people group or killing children is always wrong without exception is based on certain modern ideas that I believe are self evidently false.

One of those ideas is that of inclusivism and universalism, where all people deserve to be saved and none should be destroyed. This is essentially an idea that believes God loves everyone in the exact same way. There is no special love that God has for His people that He doesn’t also have for agents of chaos in the world. This is simply not what the Bible tells us. God does, in fact, love everyone in terms of providentially providing and preserving physical life to all during their allotted stay upon the earth (however short that might be); and He gives this love to everyone, the wicked and the righteous, at His discretion. But it is equally clear that God has a special love for His people that causes Him to consider them above the rest. This is the type of love that we see in God’s statement that He loves Jacob, but hates Esau, or the type to which the Lord Jesus refers when He says that we must hate our father and mother in order to love and follow Him. Here, love is ordered according to the particular relationship. God loves Esau in the story as well, since He provides Esau with many, many blessings (so much so that Esau is no longer angry with Jacob and recognizes that God is with him), but Jacob has the priority over Esau. Likewise, we may love our parents to the utmost, but when that relationship is in conflict with our relationship with God (e.g., when parents tell their children to not follow Christ, or we don’t want to offend our parents, so we compromise in some way for them), the love we have for our parents is to be considered as hatred when compared to our love for Christ.This love or hatred manifest itself in actions that display an acceptance of the loved or a rejection of the hated (or lesser loved). In other words, it creates a dilemma, a choice to be made between one group or person over and above another.

Hence, when compared to the love God has for his children, true humanity, His providential love for the wicked is viewed as hatred. For instance, in Psalm 11:5-6, the text says that YHWH  tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves chaos [this is the word smx again, for those of you paying attention from earlier posts, that describes violence toward human preservation] His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. Psalm 5:5a-7 says to God: You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; YHWH abhors the man of murder and deceit. But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.

The Psalms are good examples of this contrast between those who God loves as His children and those who God hates as the destroyers (both through physical murder and spiritual destruction via falsehood) of His children. Hence, God loves everyone, but does not love everyone the same; nor could He, lest He do what is unjust and unloving toward His people, true humanity for the sake of saving those who are not His people, chaotic agents, false humanity.

For instance, in my comments concerning the biblical flood narrative, I gave the example of someone breaking into your house and threatening to kill your children. You can love your children and kill the murderer, or you can love the murderer and passively participate in the destruction of your children—thus hating them. You must choose one or the other. You cannot choose both. The question isn’t whether you might love both in some way, but whether you love one more than the other due to a special relationship you have with them. And that is what love and hate are about in the Bible. They are about relationship. Those who have entered into a relationship with God that exemplifies the role of the imago Dei and those who take the opposite role in the world through some practice that tends toward a humanless world. The one is true humanity and the one is false humanity. Hence, we must ask these scholars, Why would God love false humanity in the same way as true humanity? Why would He love the murderers of His children in the same way as His children? The answer is that He wouldn’t, and nor would any sane person who was face with the choice I presented above. So the idea that there is one, rather than two, humanities, and therefore, God wants to preserve both, is completely unbiblical.

Now, some might object that the conquest is about Israel invading, and hence, there is no threat to Israel. But I have already argued last time that Israel’s existence is threatened by their lack of a homeland. They are not only susceptible to harsh weather conditions and famine, but to attack (as they are sitting ducks at this point). But let’s look at this claim that destroying an entire people group is always wrong first, and then we’ll look at whether doing this as a first strike is always wrong.

Imagine, if you will, that five people, instead of just one, come into your house, and are going to kill all the males and rape all of the females, scarring them for life (i.e., doing things that will destroy them spiritually as people). Is it: a) more loving to let your family be murdered and raped, or b) more loving to kill the murderers and rapists in order to save your family? I opt for option b, as I think even the most liberal of scholars would (unless their concept of love and doing what is right is so far gone by their muddying of criminal and victim in our culture that they opt for a; but very few I think would do this). Now, let’s say for a moment that those five people are three men and two women, the last remaining descendents of the Hokey Pokey tribe. If destroying an entire race or group of people is always wrong, then their new identification should cause you to let them murder and rape your children. If this absolute claim is bogus, you would still love your children by killing them, regardless of their identification. But in loving your children, others will curse you for committing genocide (note that I have not used this term to refer to the biblical conquest, as I do not think it has any similarity toward modern genocides beyond a large group of people being killed).

Now, let’s look at the objection that this was a preemptive strike, rather than one of self defense. First, preemptive strikes can be acts of self defense. It is only Western culture that has changed its understanding of this and just recently at that. We can see the legitimacy of a preemptive strike back in the first Star Wars film, where Greedo is threatening to either kill Han Solo or take him to Jabba the Hutt to be executed. Greedo does not fire on Han first. At this point, he’s only a threat to him. Yet, no one I know had a problem with understanding that Han’s move was a righteous one, since a preemptive strike against a threat to your existence is a just act. It’s a shame that when Lucas re-edited the movies, he made it seem as though Greedo fired first. Say goodbye to common sense when it comes to self defense and the preemptive strike.
But let’s imagine now that those same Hokey Pokeys were once living in another part of your house. They were always a concern, and you had to sleep with one eye open, because they were not upstanding people. Now, let’s say you went on a long journey, and have returned home. They are now occupying your house and you now know that they have become even more wicked than before. They will kill your entire family in order to keep your property. You have nowhere else to go, and it’s freezing outside. If you stay where you are, your family will die from exposure and wild animals. If you go into the house, your family will be killed by the Hokey Pokeys. What does a loving father do? He loves his children and preemptively strikes by going into the house and provoking a war that will cause the death of every last Hokey Pokey tribe member. This is the only option for a loving father. Anything less than this is hatred, injustice, and is itself an act of chaos. And that is an important point, to not save His people, true humanity, is an act of chaos itself, not an act of creation and life. It is not the act of the God who creates, but of the devil who destroys. The moral monster is the father who lets his children be killed by false humanity, chaotic agents, agents of death. The moral monster is the deity who doesn’t destroy the Canaanites.

I would assert that any sane person, who understood the responsibility of love in the special relationship that he or she has with his or her children would do the exact same thing that God would do, precisely, because it is the responsible thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It is the loving thing to do.

OK, you might say, but why kill children. First, we need to understand that this is hyperbolic language used to speak of the complete butt whooping that one culture gives to another. It is possible that such is language that basically communicates that God will not sustain the descendents of the wicked any longer. In other words, it may not be literal. But let’s suppose that it is. We know already that God would kill children, as He kills the son of David and Bathsheba. Interesting enough, the second son born, in contrast to the first, is said to be loved by God (showing that connection of the word to a relationship where God sustains the life of one rather than another). We also know that God would kill a child because God is the one who kills all of us. Of course, “kill” is a harsh term with connotations that don’t quite sound right, but ultimately, God is the one who gives and takes away all human life. If we have a problem with the concept that God kills massive amounts of people every day in general, then of course His killing of children in the Exodus and conquest will be a problem for us as well.

But why might God kill the children in the Exodus event and here in the Canaanite Conquest? We discussed yesterday how children are not seen as distinct persons from their parents. This means that the decision of a parent is the decision of the child. The child is culpable as the adult parent is culpable. This is until they reach maturity and are capable of making their own distinct decisions apart from their parents. At that point, passages like Ezekiel 18 then apply. So the judgment of the adult is the judgment of the parent. The child is also a possession of the parent, and thus, all of the person’s possessions are often to be destroyed in judgment, so that nothing of that person remains. We see this with the destruction of Achan and his family when it was Achan who is said to be the one who sins (whether we think his family also helped him cover it up is speculation). The point here is that God is not punishing one person for the sins of another, but one person for their own sins.

But there is a practical side (and lovingly salvific side toward God’s children) to this as well, and that is that destroying the children destroys endless vendettas and war. The child may be small now, but in ten to twenty years they will rise up and murder God’s children. Thus, war never departs from Israel, nor the spiritual corruption that takes place when the children are allowed to live. The culture, and in this case the wicked culture, survives through the children. Hence, to allow the children to live in this case would be an unloving act toward God’s children, unless of course, God wanted to use it for further opportunity to redeem His people (which He does, since there are tons of Canaanites left over---remember the language is likely hyperbolic).

But if it’s always wrong to kill children, then how does one love His own children against the children who will rise up and destroy them? If He knows absolutely that they will destroy His children, is He required to wait so that His actions are merely reactionary and not preemptive? Or is it, as we have already discussed, that preemptive strikes can in fact be acts of self defense and the best course of action to take in seeking to save those whom one loves? I’m reminded here of the movie, “The Good Son.” In the movie, the mother of the murderous son must choose between saving her murderous son over her loving, adopted son (who I believe was her nephew). She let’s go of her murderous son in order to save her adopted son, because she couldn’t save both (and let’s face it, it was her murderous son’s time to be judged anyway). Is it always wrong to kill a child? I don’t think Elijah Wood’s character thought so, and neither should the readers of the Bible. What if a child had a deadly, contagious disease that would kill all other children in the tribe? Should the tribe let that child stay and destroy the rest of the children, or should it love the rest of the children and kill that child via exposure or quickly through some other means?

My point is simply this: that the absolute statements, such as “killing off a people group is always wrong without exception” and “killing children is always wrong without exception” are false claims. In fact, the ideas that all humanity is the same, that it all deserves the same love from God, that it’s wrong to kill off an entire people group, that preemptive strikes are not acts of self defense, that it’s always wrong to kill children, are simply erroneous assumptions made by theologians, Bible scholars, and laymen alike, who in fact would make the same decisions that God has made if put in the same types of situations with their own children.

And this is the point of this whole series. The emphasis is not on judgment of the Canaanites or Egyptians or Amalekites, but on the love of God toward His children. These acts of judgment toward one group are acts of love and redemption toward another. They are acts of love, a love that moves God to save them through the destruction of their would be destroyers. The difference between those who commit atrocities for personal benefit and a thirst for blood versus God who punishes the wicked for the sake of loving His people is as different as night is to day. I would hope any and every parent (as well as any sane, responsible, and loving person) would now agree with that assessment.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Exodus and Canaanite Conquest: A Love Story, PART I

I spoke about the story of the biblical flood last week as a love story, where God purposes primarily to save genuine humanity (i.e., those fulfilling their role as the imago Dei in their life-giving activity) from false humanity, or chaotic agents (i.e., those whose activity tends toward a humanless earth/death). Hence, we should see the flood primarily as an act of love on the part of God for His people (i.e., true humanity) and secondarily as an act of judgment toward the wicked. Both elements are there, but one is the main point in the story.

Today, I want to look at the Exodus and Conquest in that same light, as these have been heavily criticized in our culture due to our disdain for preemptive strikes and the wiping out of people groups, supposedly, regardless of the situation. In other words, there are some theologians and Bible scholars who argue that it is always wrong, without exception, to kill children and to wipe out an entire race of people. Hence, God is not the hero, but the villain of the Exodus and Conquest stories, since what He does there are immoral acts. We'll revisit this later.

For now, I want to establish that these acts are acts of redemption toward God's people, and therefore, acts of love toward them. As I commented before, love has to make choices when one person is threatening another person's life. It has to decide who rightfully should be saved and who should be destroyed in that situation. So let's look first at the Exodus, specifically the killing of the Egyptian firstborn sons.

First, we need to look at why God is plaguing Egypt to begin with. Egypt is oppressing Israel, not just by making them work hard, but notice that what brings on God to generate a deliverer in the story (i.e., Moses) is that the Pharaoh decides to enact measures to prevent the Israelites from having children. He first makes them tired from heavy labor. Then, if they do have sons, he instructs the midwives to kill them when born. When that fails, he instructs that all Hebrew sons that are born are to be thrown into the river. Suffice to say, Pharaoh takes upon the role of the chaotic agent par excellence in the Book of Exodus. He is the serpent's seed playing out his destructive role. He is a murderer of God's children.

Hence, the fact that God kills his firstborn son is no coincidence. It is a judgment upon him and upon his dynasty. God kills the sons of the chaotic (knowing that they will become chaotic agents themselves) as judgments upon the wicked. He also kills them because children are identified with their parents in ancient Near Eastern culture and the Bible. They are not separate individuals until they reach sexual maturity. This has massive implications as to why God kills the children of the Egyptians who are oppressing the Israelites and reject the message of YHWH to them. It also shows us that Pharaoh's acts were not just acts that murdered the Israelite children, but the Israelites themselves.

So what's a loving father to do when he sees his children being oppressed and murdered? He oppresses and kills the murderers. He destroys the destroyers. Now, God is not just going to let this opportunity go. He's not just going to try and save His children physically, only to lose them spiritually. He's going to reveal Himself to them through this event. He's going to make Himself known through the judgment of Pharaoh and the judgment of Pharaoh's children (both nationally and biologically). In other words, He's going to make Himself known in order to redeem Israel, ultimately through a few people now and more so through the countless people who have come to know God through the Exodus event down through the ages since. Hence, God wants to judge Pharaoh. He wants Pharaoh to harden his heart, because in so doing, it provides Him the opportunity to use a chaotic agent as a vehicle of salvation through revelation of His character, a revelation that allows His children to come to know Him and have life in that relationship.

So the loving Father kills children of the serpent in order to give life to His children. He destroys the destroyers in order to save His children who are being destroyed by them. He is a God of love. To not do all of this, lessens the claim, rather than making it more plausible, that He is a God of love, as a God of love does not allow His children to be wiped off the face of the earth, and that is precisely where Israel is heading at the hands of the Egyptians.

The Pharaoh will not let His children go. The final act that will cause him to do so will cost him his firstborn, and the firstborn son of every Egyptian who considers the command of YHWH to stop the murder as nothing. This leads us to our second consideration: the destruction of the Amalekites on the way to Canaan.

The Israelites cannot go the way of the Philistines. The Philistines are too massive a people, and although God could destroy them, it isn't their time to be judged. God has plans for their use as vehicles of salvation through their judgment in the future (see Judges and Samuel). So the Israelites would be destroyed if they went that way. Their only option? Go the way of the Amalekites. So they ask Amalek if they can pass by. They don't seek war with him, only to pass by in their fleeing from the Egyptians. Amalek says, No. What's a loving father going to do here? Let his people be destroyed in the desert? Let his people go back to Egypt and be destroyed? No, He commands His children to go to war with them, and through them, wipes out the Amalekites. Are we really supposed to believe the narrative of modern theologians and Bible scholars who would paint God has the villain here when, in fact, He is saving His people through the judgment of the wicked? That is the point of the biblical narrative. Sure, you can present any story differently, but if one is going to criticize the biblical story, he or she needs to include the point of the biblical presentation of that story along with it. I doubt people would have as much of a problem with it if certain scholars had been more responsible in doing that (as though they even understood it themselves, which FYI they don't seem to).

Hence, Israel has to live somewhere. They can't live peacefully in Egypt, as they were before the new Pharaoh came to power. They may be able to live in the desert with God's supernatural help, but they shouldn't have to. This is their land that they need to get to. God gave it to them, and it's where He wants them. So they need to go there. Amalek is in the way and seeks to do them harm if they seek to go there, their place of refuge. Answer: destroy the Amalekites who threaten their existence.

Now, fast forward to the Canaanite conquests. As I just said, Israel needs to live somewhere, and God has given this land to them. But it's already occupied. The reason why destroying the current occupants is not immoral is because God has revealed that it is their time to be judged. The Canaanites have filled up their quota for sin. God gave them four hundred years to fill it up (that's why Israel was in Egypt in the first place according to the Bible). Even when God says this to Abraham, long before Israel enters Egypt, the Canaanites are described as incredibly wicked people, chaotic agents whose practices are human-destroying rather than human-preserving. Remember that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but afterward, Lot couldn't even stay in the surrounding cities because it was so bad. Before that, he was captured by raiders. Jacob's daughter was raped there, causing the making of a possible destruction of Jacob's clan. And Abraham himself is scared to go into certain towns because the people will kill him and take his wife. That was all during the time that God said they hadn't sinned enough yet for Him to judge them. Now it's four hundred years later, and their sin is filled up. So the Canaanites are going to be judged. They are in the land that God is giving to Israel, and that is where Israel must live.

They can go there and stay with the Canaanites, but even if they were not destroyed by the Canaanites, as they would be seen as a massive army invading anyway, they would be easily corrupted by them (since this does happen due to the fact that all Canaanites are not destroyed in the conquest). Either way, God's people will be destroyed by them, and since it is their time to be judged, there is only one thing a loving father can do: teach His children how to be agents of life in the world by wiping out chaotic agents who threaten their existence as God's people. This is a redeeming act toward His children. This is an act of salvation. He destroys the destroyers in front of them for their sakes. He has them participate for this reason, but make no mistake about it, the text is clear that God kills more Canaanites than the Israelites do because this is ultimately an act of love on God's part toward His children.

So what do we make of this modern tendency to turn God into the villain of the story? It all comes down to certain ideas of inclusivism and universalism, where all people deserve to be saved and none should be destroyed, and therefore, superficial ideals concerning love that have no basis in making decisions between one group that threatens true humanity versus another group that seeks to preserve it. The mistake is made in thinking that God's goal is to save all human life, whether it exemplifies true or false humanity in both procreative and chaotic roles. Hence, to these scholars (and some who are not so scholarly), the killing of children and the wiping out of an entire people group is always evil. We'll pursue what I think displays the falsehood of these ideas in the next post.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Love in a Box

The word "love" is thrown around a lot in our culture. It has always had a variety of meanings, but all of them had once been informed by its strongest definition, that is, the sacrifice of self for the good of the other. When any word is overused, of course, it often becomes deflated in its meaning. But love, in its strongest form, as we see in Christ and the prophets, I think is too noble to be lost on the Christian. So let's talk about the nature of love and what the destiny for those who love might be in this culture.

The two strongest desires in the world are to love or be loved. The song “Nature Boy” summed up the greatest thing one could learn “is to love and be loved in return.” But this is a naïve view of love. Such reciprocity is a futile hope for both the one who genuinely loves others and the one who loves himself; for one who loves others must sacrifice the love he might have gained from others in order to love them; and one who loves himself must sacrifice his love for others, since it would cost him their affections. Love causes a man to be bold in his attempt to save his friend from drug abuse, but it will be seen by the friend as an imposition, and he will likely have nothing more to do with the one who loved him. Love causes a man to speak out against a relationship, activity, or idea that is harmful to his friend. Like a friend smacking a razor out of the hand of another friend who intends to commit suicide, so love moves one to make right what is wrong in his friend’s life. But it will be seen as arrogant, an imposition, and unloving by that friend. Only those who stand transcendent to the act, watching it from afar, will see love for what it is. Love grabs hold of the collar and seeks to yank one back from the cliff of many a sin, but it often accomplishes nothing but the loss of a friend. Love is doomed. It must act. It is compelled to act, but it will not be perceived as itself, but rather it’s opposite. In a world where “love” and “good” are confused with “nice” and “pleasant,” true love has no chance of surviving its friendships.

Caught between two polar opposites, an individual must choose the desire to be loved, or the desire to love, which are often in contention with one other. Most people choose the desire to be loved. They feel good when people love them. They feel right when people love them. In fact, it makes us feel like we’re doing something right, like we’re good people. It feels good to be loved. The group Frou Frou (yes, I said, “Frou Frou”) has a song entitled, “The Dumbing Down of Love.” I think that would have been a fitting title for what we’re discussing, as I definitely think that our definition of love has become shamefully “dumbed down.”

We live in what I call the “cult of the nice.” To give an example, on most Christian blogs today, as a regular commentator, you can be practicing all sorts of known evil as a professed Christian, espouse all kinds of heresy that may damn thousands of people, and still remain in good standing with the blog administrator; but if you say something that is considered too direct and mean, you’ll be banned from the site. Make sense? To our cult, it does. To the biblical practices of discipline that are based in a more genuine love, it confounds the mind.

But what do we say about the guy whose always got a smile on his face, never criticizes, never tells people they’re wrong, is a listener rather than a speaker, the guy who never causes conflict, but is polite, never bringing up uncomfortable topics, but keeps to himself and offers up affectionate hugs and lots of flattering words to all in the room? We say, “He’s such a loving person.”

And the one who really loves by correcting erroneous ideas that will lead people away from life, rebuking evil inclinations that seek to take over the conversations in the room, and exhorting others toward what is good and pleasing to God? He loses every companion. They all run away. After all, why would anyone hang around someone they don’t love? But the one who loves others sacrifices himself. He sacrifices feeling good about himself. He sacrifices his dignity among the community. He hangs on a cross, where all of his enemies hiss at him and all of his friends scatter.

So why does he do this? Why continue to love and not be loved? Because he has grown up. He no longer thinks of love in the same way a child does, who reasons that the person who gives the most complements, affirmations, and gifts loves the most. He has come to understand love beyond the superficial idea that love does not speak out of turn. Love is no longer the “dumbed down” version of flattery-filled conversations and pep talks. It does not tickle but screech in the itching ear of destructive tendencies. The mature man now knows that true love speaks against what is harmful to others at every opportunity. Love is obnoxious, and it will cost the one who realizes such his dignity. It will cost him himself. For those who truly love are often hated in return, but they love anyway, because love does not seek itself (1 Cor 13:5), but the good of the other.

I remember when we were children that we, as spoiled brats, would yell at my mom when we didn’t get an answer from her that we wanted. We would get mad and say to her, “I hate you.” My mother, knowing what love really is, didn’t go off and yell at us and say that she hated us, as I have heard some very immature mothers do; but instead would always reply to us, “Well, I love you very much.” This is the nature of true love. It only wants the best for the other person, whether it is recognized and celebrated has no consideration in its decision to act. And if no good deed goes unpunished, no act of love, which seeks to do good, goes unpunished.

It’s not all that dreary, of course. Love will be loved in the kingdom to come, where it will be recognized once all illusions have passed away. And, certainly, God loves those who love both now and forever. And it is recognized by others who practice it in the here and now, so genuine love does have some fans. But, by and large, love cannot be reciprocated in this climate, where everyone wants to “love” in order to be loved in return. It will have to wait for its vindication when the Lord of love is revealed and all veils are lifted.

This is why it is so sickening to see that it seems like the goal of so many ministers isn't to speak the truth in love, but to be loved. They want to be funny. They want to be seen as cool. They want to be seen as nice guys. But ministers are called to exemplify genuine love more than any other. If there is a social grenade in the room that will blow up the dignity of the one who falls on it, who needs to fall on it before anyone else? The minister. The guy who has pledged to make himself the representative of the God who is love to the rest of the congregation. If he has to offend and be an obnoxious dork to do so, so be it. His goal is not for himself to be exalted, but for God through His truth to be exalted, because only God's truth sets the congregation free. Until it is spoken, the people are enslaved. And leaving people in slavery when you have the possibility of freeing them, isn't love at all.

But, for now, those who practice it are the troublemakers, the judgmental ones, the intolerant, the arrogant, the mean, the unpleasant, the people who are just uncomfortable to be around. After all, love intimidates us, precisely, because it calls us out of our comfort zones to become better people than we are.

Like nomads with buckets of water in a dry land, those who love carry such a great burden to bring that love to others, precisely, because the world is emptied of it and in need of replenishing. So they may be cursed, sawed in half, slandered behind their backs, thrown out, avoided, locked up, burned alive, fired, or crucified; but whatever may come, they cannot go back to being children in their view of love. For they have come to understand what all sages and prophets have always known, and what every child must yet come to know: that the greatest thing they’ll ever learn is to love without being loved in return.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fiction or Nonfiction, Which Do You Prefer?

I don't read fiction largely because I don't like its deceptive nature, but I do fall prey to it through different media (e.g., watching movies and television shows). I have a lot of friends who only read fiction. It's their love in life. Let me tell you why I think it's dangerous to read only fiction without a healthy dose of non-fiction.

I think it's dangerous due to one single factor, and that is because it seeks, not only to entertain, but to communicate ideas in a non-critical manner. In other words, it wants to convince you of something without allowing you to think through it. It simply wants you to have an emotional tie with the idea, so you are more likely to have sympathy toward it, and in reality, adopt the idea without knowing critically why you adopted it. When combined with our culture's experience-oriented approach to beliefs, the vehicle through which fiction seeks to persuade, i.e., through vicarious experience, almost guarantees a large following of whatever ideas its peddling.

For this reason, fiction has been the primary means through which all sorts of false ideas have influenced our culture, and have caused it to lack in critical thinking skills. When asked why someone believes an idea, most people cannot tell you why. They just believe it. That idea wasn't necessarily put there by the fiction writer. It likely had a philosophical base to it. But it was made the most palatable through fiction. Where one might have rejected it as a bad idea if he or she was given the chance to think about it critically, it will be adopted wholesale now because of the emotional inroads it has made into the person's experience. So, for instance, forget that Dan Brown's history is completely fabricated and a joke, you'll have thousands, if not millions, of people believing it because they never bothered to pick up an actual, non-fiction, history book.

This is why a heavy dose of fiction without an equally heavy does (or greater dose) of non-fiction is bad, even if the ideas within fiction are good. People need to know why they believe what they believe. They need to think critically. Our culture has been heavily influenced by a legion of erroneous, and therefore harmful, ideas upon which it now lives out its daily life. Yet, no one knows why they believe them. They just do. In that respect, fiction has become a powerful ally for chaos, since even if the ideas are good, good ideas are easily assailed by bad ones when not supported critically. All a bad idea has to do is come to an uncritical person and convince them cognitively of it, and that person who once believed what was good will be quickly swept away.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think fiction is all bad. Notice, my distinction is between a heavy dose of fiction in one's life absent of an equally, or larger, dose of non-fiction that would give one critical thinking skills toward a particular subject that fiction might present. I'm just tired of people being deceived and not knowing why they are. I'm tired of the "well, that's just what I believe" nonsense. You should know why you believe what you believe. Where did you get that idea? Why is it more valid than the alternatives? What source of authority are you trusting for this information? What are the beliefs one must hold first in order to come to this or that particular idea or practice? If you can do that already, then have your fill of fiction; but if you can't, I suggest dropping the Twilight book in your hand, turning off "Glee," skipping "Angels and Demons," and go take a stroll through the non-fiction section of the bookstore for awhile. Find books that will restore to you the thinking skills God gave you, and start answering that question, Why do you believe X? with a series of well thought out arguments. You might just then find that the fiction you read becomes even more stimulating than it was before.

Friday, August 26, 2011

To What Christians Are Entitled

We live in a culture of entitlement. Everyone feels he or she deserves the world. This is even more true of those whose parents have positions of power. The children of these powerful people often view themselves as more privileged, and hence, freer to do whatever they please. If you're, say, a daughter of a Hilton, you might think that drunk-driving would only get you a few hours in jail after you violate your probation. After all, punishment is for people who aren't the daughters of billionaires. In essence, it seems we believe that a greater privilege gives us greater access to depravity. In other words, the higher our status, the lower we can go. Our names our with the angels, so we are allowed to become like dogs.

I find that this same attitude pervades the thoughts of Christians as well, not because they are all children of billionaires, but because they are children of God. For some reason, Christians have come to believe that since they are the children of God, they are more privileged than others, and therefore, have a license to sin. It's that feeling that I won't be held to the same standards by God since I'm in with Him. He and I are good. We have an understanding. Christians are right about one thing, of course, they're not held to the same standard. They're held to higher standards.

Think of Moses for a moment. Here is God's man in the Exodus. God even tells him that He will make him appear as God to Pharaoh (although this is likely be a sarcastic statement, it comes true). He is the one who mediates for Israel to God and for God to Israel. If anyone has ever been in with God, it is Moses. In fact, the Bible indicates that no other prophet arose like Moses in the entire Old Testament. The coming of a prophet like him isn't fulfilled until the advent of Christ. Hence, if anyone has privilege and entitlement to "get away with" his sin, it's Moses.

Yet, what does the Bible tell us about him? It tells us that although Israel has to complain numerous times, commit idolatry in the face of God's law having just been given, marry foreign wives that would bring Israel to corruption and more idolatry, etc. in order to be prohibited from entering the Promised Land, Moses just has to sin once and he's done. And what is his sin? He hits a rock instead of speaking to it because he's sick and tired of the Israelites complaining. Now, it is an important event. God had Moses strike the rock before because He was still in the "signs and wonders" phase of delivering Israel. But now He was in the "revelation through word" phase, where the Israelites needed to know Him and be transformed through what He has spoken to them (i.e., transformation through divine word rather than through divine strength). Hence, Moses needed to provide that imagery by now speaking to the rock instead of striking it with force. But is it really that bad when compared to what the Israelites have done over and over again? Why is it that Moses receives a harsher punishment, one that seems unwavering and without mercy when others received such leniency? Let's discuss another example.

David is probably one of the most beloved people in the Bible. In fact, his name means "beloved." He is clearly loved by God (not necessarily by others) throughout his life. However, as king, David thinks he has the right to take another man's wife. After all, he's not only king, but he's in with God. They have an understanding. He's God's man. Yet, all of his lifelong devotion did not allow him this one sin. He brought chaos to a family and destroyed it. His punishment? His family would be in chaos and destroyed. This begins with the death of his child and continues in the breaking apart of his family for the rest of his life. His son rapes his daughter. Some of his sons hate him and try to overthrow him (i.e., kill him and take his place as king). His punishment is a broken heart for the rest of his life. He will never get a loving and stable family. All because he thought God would look the other way due to His friendship with David.

We do this same thing as Christians. We think God is going to look the other way, as though God is some sort of buddy in high places that fixes your parking tickets for you. But the Scripture tells us that God is harsher with his children rather than more lenient. He expects obedience, not an attitude of license. We are told the following in Hebrews 12:7-13:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom [his] father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He [disciplines us] for [our] good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that [the limb] which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

God is harsher because He loves us, and we should know better. Our license to sin is nothing more than an attitude of hatred toward God. We are using the gift of His friendship to do harm to Him and to others, all because we feel we have a right to do so as privileged children. God didn't go along with Moses, He didn't go along with David, and He's not going to go along with you either.

But what of those who continue to sin without severe chastisement? The Scripture is clear that their unrepentant attitude evidences no relationship with God at all. Hence, it's a perpetual cycle, as people think that since God has not severely disciplined them, He must be good with what they're doing. Yet, the Scripture says these people should fear all the more, as they do not belong to Him at all. Hence, I would be worried if you have lived a life of license, and life is going good for you. That's a great sign in false religion. That's a bad sign according to the Bible.

To whom much is given, much is required. I used to think that meant you needed to use your gifting according to how much has been given to you. But I don't think that's it. I think the point is that the more you are in with God, the more that is expected of you. What we are entitled to is a more severe discipline as Christians, or punishment as falsely professed Christians, not to do whatever we wish. We can see this attitude toward the laziness in our theology (as though I don't need to learn the truth because I'm already in with God) and in our practice (I don't need to practice holiness because I'm already in with God). The truth should give us a sick feeling in our stomachs and cause us to understand our relationship with God as a privilege that allows us to seek Him more than the rest of the world in truth and righteousness. Our names are among the angels because we are meant to believe and act like them, and that is a far, far greater privilege than having a license to act like a dog.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Knowledge, Subjectivism, and the Ability of God

We can only know what is true by two avenues: experience of the truth directly and believing someone else who claims to have experienced the truth (or who claims to be reporting the claims of someone else who has experienced the truth).

In our culture, we have a radical mistrust of anyone external to ourselves. Hence, we tend not to employ the latter method of knowing. In fact, we often view this way of knowing as suspect and prefer to just trust our own experiences. If we need to make sense of them, we do so for ourselves. In this way, trust is completely in the self. I must have faith in something, since all things cannot be experienced, and knowledge gained from experience must have faith in that experience and the presuppositions that guide that way of knowing. This internal only, personal experience only, oriented approach to knowledge is what I was referring to yesterday by the term liberal. Liberals are free from external authorities (hence, the term) and look to themselves as their guide. Now, this means that liberals presuppose an ability to know reality apart from any external report that is claimed to be from God. Hence, most liberals end up being pantheists, where God is imminently within, deists, where God has implanted truth in creation and within human beings, or atheists, where knowledge is in the physical universe alone (including people who are a part of that physical universe) and humans can experience that universe.

However, there are many people who would consider themselves Christian theists who are skeptical toward external authority. I have met quite a few charismatics in my life who look for direct experiences with God and ignore or demote the Bible to a lesser status in their daily life, simply because they trust their own experiences (and believe that God can be experienced directly, as I discussed before) and view them as more authoritative. There are also Christians in the mainline churches who are confused, and hold a hybrid theology, i.e., a theology gained from Scripture and experience, but trusting only their experience as authoritative (the elements of theology gained from Scripture were simply things they adopted along the way, not realizing that they did not experience those things themselves).

Within all of these views, the unified faith, the one faith, they all share is faith in the self. "Trust your heart and you'll know what to do." "Trust your instincts." "Follow your heart." These are all sayings gained from our lack of trust of the external.

But there is a major conflict between those who trust themselves and those who believe that knowledge must be gained both from personal experience and by believing a report of someone who is outside of the self. This takes real faith. Not the stuff that makes the planet crawl with seven billion philosophies of life gained from the seven billion people who, apart from others, try to make sense of themselves using their own personal experiences as the base, but real faith, the stuff of courage. Real faith denies the fearful self. It causes us to trust in another.

I argued yesterday that this faith is the only one that could possibly be true. Faith in an external claim, a report, is needed to know metaphysical reality. The atheist, then, cannot know. The liberal cannot know. But this lack of metaphysical knowledge doesn't simply make them agnostics in terms of the spiritual, but in terms of the physical world as well, since a metaphysical knowledge is needed in order to employ a naturalistic methodology in the effort to gain knowledge.

This is where those who believe in the Bible have an upper hand in being courageous to trust what is external to them. This doesn't mean that they experience the Bible externally. We experience the language of the Bible subjectively, as all language is subjective; but we do not necessarily experience everything the Bible teaches. I was not there when Christ rose from the dead. I do not know the attributes of God or the spiritual standing of mankind toward God without the external claims of the Bible. But apprehension of knowledge and comprehension of knowledge are two completely different animals, and those who provide an apologetic for their fear, so they need not exercise faith in an external report, often conveniently confuse them. The whole world is experienced subjectively, but we do not then say we can no nothing of the whole world because we apprehend knowledge subjectively (for that would be something we knew to be true and we're back to self refuting claims again).

But we need to make the important distinction that although knowledge is related to us subjectively, it can be known sufficiently enough to comprehend, even if knowledge is not exhaustively known. The knowledge the Bible communicates, guided by the Holy Spirit within the person and the community as a whole, reaches our minds through subjective language. As Michael Horton says in his The Christian Faith, "the relativity of our perspective does not entail the relativism of what is known" (p. 204). This confusion between the two is one of the biggest blunders of our society, and it has kept us believing that, since we apprehend knowledge subjectively, we cannot gain any more reliable information from external knowledge than from ourselves. Hence, why trust others? I can only trust myself, follow my own heart.

Notice the exaltation of the human in this scheme. It reminds me of the heretics in Second Peter, who emphasize the viewpoint and abilities of humans over the viewpoint and ability of God. They argue that man is hopelessly finite and sinful, and therefore, cannot overcome sin. The letter counters by saying that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and in fact, we partake of His divine power to overcome sin in our lives. They further argue that Christ's return must be spiritual or a myth, since He has not yet returned. The response is that a thousand years is like a day in the perspective of God. But what is even more important for what we are discussing here is that the heretics also argue that the Scriptures are just the experiences of humans and there is no way to know what God has said and what humans have said. The response, of course, is that no prophecy (Second Peter's word in context for revelation found in the Scripture, as opposed to what some argue) is a product of the human mind, but men moved by the Holy Spirit wrote. Notice that men wrote and were moved by the Spirit, not taken over by Him. That's because the language they used (and all of the things that make up that language) is their own subjective form of communication. Yet, the determining factor Second Peter would have us emphasize is God's ability to communicate accurately through that subjective language. The Spirit who guided the prophets to write Scripture also guides the Church and the individual within the Church to understand and appropriate it. The Bible, therefore, would have us emphasize God's ability to communicate these truths above our lack of ability to understand them.

Hence faith, true biblical faith, comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. We must first place our trust in God's abilities over our own. We are called to the truth of the gospel that is beyond our own experience, and only becomes our own experience once we've entered the story through faith in that report. We are called to submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ and that this means we subject what we would make of our personal experiences to the teachings of Scripture, an external authority. We do so because the Scripture subjectively communicates reality to us. It communicates the reality of our spiritual condition, the reality of God's nature, the reality of our future judgment, the reality of our inability to know reality correctly apart from it.

It is self refuting to trust in personal experience for spiritual truths alone if one has made the what can be known versus what is just speculation, i.e., faith dichotomy. If there is no external report, then we truly cannot know anything. But if God has spoken in Scripture, then we can know sufficiently what we need to know about so many things (as well as many things we don't by way of necessity need to know). Knowledge is possible for us because God is at work communicating to us through the external report. We can believe it or choose not to do so, but it is not the Christian who is limited by his subjective nature, and it is not, therefore, the Christian whose faith is based on fear and uncertainty, but true knowledge and hope.

And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were  near;  for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone].

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mind Your Presuppositions or They Will Mind You

In reading this post ( by James McGrath, who is a liberal New Testament scholar, I am struck once again at how oblivious scholars are to their own presuppositions. Let me say a few words to give background here first.

Most people think that scholars are so well educated that they have thought through their positions from A to Z and back again. Nothing could be further from the truth. A scholar who has done this is actually a rare bird. Most scholars simply regurgitate information and ideas that they have read in other people, especially when those ideas/theories are widely accepted. If you're careful when you read them, many of them make what is called ad populum arguments. An ad populum argument is one where the majority opinion is appealed to in order to establish some authority for that opinion. Of course, this is a logical fallacy if it is given as the sole argument for a position. The majority of scholars once held to numerous positions we now know are false.

Other scholars tend to suggest new things based upon the information they've read in yet other scholars, but this often assumes that those things widely accepted by other scholars are true. Most scholars don't go over that ground again. They accept the conclusions, if only in a very wide sense, of those who preceded them.

Now, addressing McGrath's post, I think he has misunderstood the relationship between liberal scholarship and atheism. He is right that atheists adopt some things from liberals, but the relationship largely goes back to presuppositions shared between the two groups. Liberal scholarship accepted similar conclusions to atheism because they both presuppose the same things in their methodologies of inquiry. They are both empiricists in determining truth for our world. The liberal just adds some spirituality via other avenues; but they both interpret what can be known about reality through empiricism, and that assumes first an absence of revelation embodied within the biblical text (or any text for that matter). It assumes a particular view of human ability to comprehensively know something, since the naturalist believes in a closed universe, and ironically (and in contradiction to his worldview I might add) that humans are capable of knowing reality as it exists. The facts he knows are not, therefore, partial (i.e., with both physical and spiritual properties), but complete, as long as he has exhausted his physical analysis of those facts.

In other words, both liberalism and atheism have a view concerning what can be known in the universe as true because they both have the same methodology to determine what is true. The liberal may chime in and say he believes all sorts of supernatural things as well, but these things cannot be known. Only the physical can be known. He agrees completely with the atheist here because of his adoption of the worldview that reality can be known by humans (ergo, humans are not limited by their finitude or sin to know reality, something atheism borrows from liberal theology, so in that regard McGrath is right here, reality can be analyzed physically in order to determine what can be known about it, revelation has not been given by God, as no metaphysical assumptions can be brought to bear on our knowledge of reality, only our unverified beliefs about it can be brought in after the fact).

What I'm trying to get at here is that early on in the Enlightenment assumptions of knowledge were made by liberals that became a part of our academic thinking in general, and those assumptions are largely naturalistic. Hence, it is not a surprise that liberals beget more liberals and atheists in the academy because the academy assumes a naturalistic presupposition in its methodology. Other scholars followed the scholars that assumed this before them, and other scholars today follow along. Of course, this isn't simply a matter of scholarship, as what scholars believe always trickles down to churches, lower level schools, and general culture. We are an atheistic culture, whether philosophically or practically, for a reason. Our religions are atheistic, with the goal to make ourselves better (in whatever way we personally define that), because our presuppositions of knowledge assume it.

The problem with this presupposition, however, is that it's self refuting. A self refuting argument is one that self implodes. It's a logical fallacy of the highest order. Whereas an ad populum fallacy can be legitimized by other arguments in its favor, a self refuting argument cannot be. If you hold a self refuting position, you hold a false position. There is no doubt about it.

Aside from the fact that humans are finite and programmed to see reality, not for the sake of knowing truth, but for the sake of survival (and hence, their perceptions of reality may be altered/distorted for self or social benefit), the metaphysical assumptions that empiricism must make, if used as the sole means to determine reality apart from faith (that liberals see, not as believing a report, such as one has in the Bible, but as the sense one makes of his own personal spiritual experiences--hence, empirical via a third eye or sixth sense), cannot substantiate itself. Hence, if the only reality one can know must be empirically verified, and the metaphysical assumptions that empiricism makes cannot be empirically verified (which of course they cannot be), then the truth claim that empiricism has the ability to discover truth is something that cannot be known, and hence, cannot be considered apart of known reality. It must, therefore, be placed in the category of belief (in the liberal and atheistic sense of the word).

To put it more plainly, empiricism (the idea that one can know the truth concerning reality through the senses) assumes something about the metaphysical world (i.e., that it either does not exist, does not exist as a determining factor in understanding the truth concerning reality, etc.) that cannot be empirically verified, and yet, is vital in determining the truth claim that empiricism can determine the nature of reality. Naturalistic empiricism itself, therefore, is self refuting, as one must believe certain metaphysical presuppositions first in order to use it as a way to know what is true. It thus implodes.

So what have we assumed in the academy? Nonsense, that's what. And that's what we have assumed in liberal churches, and in our larger liberal culture. Please note that most conservatives are also liberal in this regard. This isn't a matter of just liberals being affected. We assume these things in the larger culture, and hence, even in churches that we would not normally call "liberal." Our religion, where everyman does that which is right in his own eyes, stems from our liberal theology, and our liberal theology stems from our naturalistic worldview. In other words, we stand on a flimsy stack of cards, but there is a bright side to all of it: we're all in good company (there's that ad populum again).

But in contrast to this, orthodox Christians believe that faith is believing a report, not merely making sense of one's community's or one's own experiences. Faith is believing the report in Scripture. We know both through empirical means and through report. In other words, we need faith to know. We either must believe Metaphysical Idea X or Metaphysical Idea Y, but what we believe or do not believe metaphysically will determine what we believe about the physical. It is not something that can be brought in ad hoc. It predetermines our conclusions, and orthodox Christian thinkers, as opposed to Enlightenment-oriented thinkers, have always known this. Hence, since Christians know we must determine reality first by faith and then by sight, and the Bible is their authority by believing its report, the Bible determines the nature of reality and the Christian's view of the physical world as well. What I mean by this is not that the Bible teaches us about the physical world directly, but that it gives us a worldview, i.e., a presuppositional grid, through which we pull all of our other knowledge gained from empirical means. Knowledge is made up of faith driving experience, not the other way around. If it's the other way around, we get liberalism and atheism, and all of the nonsense that comes from a self refuting position.

So the next time you might think scholars have it all figured out, think again. They're as lost as their "revelationaless" religion is lost in a sea of self refuting claims and nonsense. Take their observations with a grain of salt, and don't think that because many of them hold to a particular idea that makes it true in itself. You may just be adopting junk knowledge determined by presuppositions that are completely and utterly nonsensical. In other words, mind your presuppositions or they will mind you (i.e., control your path of knowledge without you knowing it and lead you to know reality less than you did before you read all of those great scholars).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Noah's Ark: A Love Story

I'm often forced to watch every kid's movie ever made for the sake of my children's interests. If you have children, you know what I mean. Only occasionally is there something worth watching, so it's many times a struggle to keep awake during them. One of the movies that I thought was just OK (with some major reservations on how God is portrayed) was "Evan Almighty." The movie is about a regular guy whom God calls upon to build a modern day ark, and all of the chaos in his life that ensues when he does so. It's corny, but interesting. But one of the best things said in the movie is when the God figure (Morgan Freeman of course) explains to Evan's wife that the ark story in the Bible is really a love story. I completely agree with this assessment, and am saddened by the fact that so many see it as otherwise.

Let me explain. The flood is a judgment upon the evil of mankind. In the biblical story, it wipes out almost the entire population of the earth. One would think this to be a great tragedy, and in many ways it is, but that is not the main point of the story. The main point of the story is that God is saving humanity, not only through the ark, but by bringing the flood to begin with.

To illustrate this, I'd like to bring up another kid's program. This one, however, is one of my all-time favorite kid shows, and that is "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (no, not the horrible movie, but the cartoon series). (Spoiler Alert) The earth has been scorched both by a hundred years of war and the Fire Nation's recent and last battle that has brought about the near destruction of the Earth Kingdom's forest. Aang, the avatar, finally meets the firelord in battle and defeats him. The last act of the battle shows Aang looking over upon the valley that is on fire from the war, and he raises the waters up over the earth, puts the fire out, and heals the land. This idea, that water heals, is a continual theme throughout the series, as his friend Katara has healing powers due to her being a water bender (in fact the two friends that bring most healing to the earth and to Aang are Katara and Saka, her brother, both members of the water tribe).

I thought this was a great illustration of the biblical flood as well. We are told that at this time people do nothing but smx "violence toward humanity." The word describes those who, rather than seek the procreation and perpetuation of human life, as God's ambassadors to creation, work against human life. We are told that they think "chaos" (i.e., that which tends toward a humanless world) continually, even from their youth. In other words, chaotic agents, rather than agents of life, have taken over the world. Humanity is doomed. There is nothing God can do but destroy it completely, since it will inevitably destroy itself anyway, and its existence is without purpose in this chaotic role.

However, Noah finds favor with God. Noah and his family are humanity as it is meant to be in the fallen world. He seeks for life and healing of the land (his name itself likely means "rest" since he will bring rest to the land). The ark, as well as the flood, then is brought on because God wants to save Noah and his family. In other words, He wants to save real humanity, agents of life in the world, against false humanity, agents of chaos. Both cannot be saved. False humanity is not what God wanted in the world, as false humanity is evil, and God does not seek evil as His goal in making human life upon the earth. Instead, true humanity is what God seeks to save. These are the humans God loves (as this situation calls for love or hate, or if one prefers, love and love more). These are the humans that cause God to destroy the other humans who would destroy them. God is the good Father who seeks to protect and preserve His children. The only way to do so is to destroy their destroyers. 

True humanity was being destroyed by false humanity. Agents of life were being destroyed by agents of death and chaos. What else was there for the God of love to do, but heartbreakingly destroy those who could have been agents of life, but chose chaos instead, in order to save His children, agents of life, true humanity. 

I find it disturbing that so many people view the flood in such a superficial way as to miss this point. It's as if they would not do the same thing to preserve their children, when in fact, we all know that everyone would. Who would not kill a man who breaks into his home and is about to kill his children? He cannot love the murderer and his children the same. He must love his children, and although it might break his heart to kill another human, he will do it to save their lives. He does so because he loves them. He cannot let them be destroyed. It would, in fact, be an act of hatred and evil for him to let the murderer do so. The only course of action in such a situation is to destroy the destroyer, and that is precisely what God has done in the flood. The ark is a love story, My Friends. Don't let fools tell you otherwise.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

There Can Be Only One

If you are as cool as I am, you've watched the movie, "Highlander" numerous times. For the nerds who haven't, let me summarize the awesome plot while singing the theme song by Queen in my head. There are numerous immortals who are chosen to fight in battle throughout time in an effort to accumulate the power that resides within each of the immortals. The power is one, so it seeks to unify itself in one individual. Hence, at the end of the game, there can be only one immortal left standing. This is said over and over again throughout the movie.

Despite our disposition to lean toward the idea that there are many legitimate beliefs and they can only stand together, spiritual truths are in opposition with one another, they cancel one another out, and as such, there can be only one left standing at the end of the day. I realize that most Americans don't think past a fuzzification of the religious concepts in each religion, but they really are not compatible in those details. But what I want to say here today is that multiple religions really don't exist either. They can be summed up in their purposes more than by their details, and this reduces them to their intentions. In other words, there are only two religions on the planet when we reduce them to their base intentions, and these two religions are: the cult of the self versus Christianity.

All religions, whether it be Buddhism, which looks to release the self from its suffering in order to attain bliss, Hinduism, which seeks to do something similar, Islam, which seeks the eternal pleasure of the self via the obtainment of wine and women, Mormonism, which seeks to exalt the self to godhood, Judaism, which seeks to have a better life for the self now and perhaps in the future, Americanity, which seeks to better oneself in this life by means of religion, as well as obtaining for the self an eternal place of self-fulfillment (away from hell), seek the fulfillment of the self in various ways, yet in a unifying intention to better the self for the self. This was also true of pagan religions. The gods were called upon, not because people loved them and desired their exaltation at the expense of their lives, but because they wanted better crops, more money, victories in war, to marry certain people, to have a good life, to be saved from damnation, etc. All religions, including what are not considered religions, such as atheism, agnosticism, deism, etc. all exist as means to give the person what he or she feels is a better existence, letting them feel better about their self pursuits.

In contrast to this, Christianity does not seek the self. Rather Christians are told by Christ to deny the self and to follow Him (notice this is not a supposed denial of self pleasure, as one has in Eastern religion, in order to obtain fulfillment, but a denial of self worship in order to worship and submit one's life to Christ). In other words, Christians are told that it is not about them, but about God in Christ. They are told to do all things to glorify God, not because it will give them a better life either now and in the future, but because God is worthy to be loved, as He has loved us. Christianity, in short, is about the love of God at the expense of ourselves. This is the intent of Christians, genuine Christians that is. There are far more false Christians who use God as a means to better themselves or to just be saved from hell. And, of course, as a result of our loving God, we do receive the greatest of benefits. We do receive eternal life in fellowship with Him, we do receive a kind of self-fulfillment in our love for Him. But we don't seek ourselves, but Him. It's the difference between showing up to your friends house because he's rich and has a massive spread of food lying out for you each time you come, and coming over to his house, solely to fellowship with him. One is out of love for self, and your friend is just a means for you to do so, and one is out of love for your friend. You may get the benefit of eating all of that great food, since you came over, but the difference is in the intent of coming over. Christianity does have benefits for the self, but that is not why Christians love and serve God. They do so because they love Him. They're not just there for the food.

This has major implications for us, as we discussed before, there are only, then, two religions on earth, and they are not compatible. Either one is seeking the self, or he is seeking God through Christ. If the former, he can use whatever religious variation he desires. After all, they all seek to better himself anyway; but if the latter is true, then he must seek out the means God has provided to exalt and glorify Him, the means that love God the most. He must humble himself and listen to God rather than his own desires and pursuits of self fulfillment. This will radically alter his life, and bring about the sacrifice of the self instead of its fulfillment. Only then can he be a true disciple of Christ, i.e., a Christian.

 Either the self or God, all of mankind is busy to obtain their religious pursuits, but have no doubt about it, the two primary intentions are not compatible, and at the end of the day, there can be only one.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him  deny  himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. (Matt 16:24-25)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Saved by Grace, Judged by Works

I remember reading my Bible when I had become a believer who finally understood the grace of God. The love that God displayed in the gospel for me energized me to seek out everything He had said for us. But one of the things that initially perplexed me was the fact that I kept running into all of these passages that talked about one's works being judged by God for the purposes of sending one to eternal judgment or eternal life. This seemed like a complete and utter contradiction to me, as it does to many in the academy today (btw, note to the wise: if the Bible seems like it contradicts itself, I've found that it's always my misunderstanding of it, not the Scripture itself).
The verses I would read were ones like 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

  Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,  nor thieves, nor [the] covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

or Revelation 21:7-8:

  "He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part [will be] in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

or Romans 2:5-8:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;   but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I was younger, I was told that there were two judgments in the end: one for those who believe and one for those who do not. The one for those who believe would be a judgment based on whether you accepted Jesus into your heart (remember that witnessing question, "If you died today and God asked you, 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what would you say?" Supposedly the answer should be, "I accepted Jesus as my Savior"). That was the picture of judgment I had when I was younger. It was simply based on whether one accepted Christ or not (of course, that is still true, but it's a  little more nuanced now). I think many got that idea from a misreading of Revelation 20:11-15:

And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Supposedly, there is one judgment that is based on the deeds of these people going into the lake of fire, and another judgment based on whether one's name is written in the Lamb's book of life. Of course, that is true, but what most people say is that the second judgment is not a judgment of works, but of faith. That is neither the case in the entire corpus of Scripture, nor even here in the context. Notice what it says in the verses that precede this:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Notice that these people had maintained a witness for Christ by being beheaded for their testimony of Jesus and the Scripture, who had not worshiped the beat or his image (i.e., in Revelation this means that they had not given in to live as the world lives), and had not received the mark (i.e., they had not identified with the wicked world through their beliefs and conduct). In other words, their lives are filled with good doctrine and good works. This is the judgment given to them, and they come to life and reign with Christ indefinitely.

In other words, the very passage meant to support that there is a judgment based solely on whether one has accepted Christ and one based on works says the exact opposite. This is consistent with the rest of the book as well, a book that presents genuine Christians as faithful to God in both word and deed (remember the lampstands at the beginning of the book? Whether they stay or are taken away is based upon the beliefs and deeds of the church).

Further muddying up the waters of my once held view is the Book of Matthew in its entirety. Notice what Christ says concerning the judgment of Christians:

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. (7:13-14)

"Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (speaking of pastors/teachers, vv. 17-19)

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'  "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'  (vv. 21-23)

Notice that Christ here is speaking about professed believers, not professed unbelievers. Why do these people not enter into life? Because they didn't accept Jesus as Savior? Why in the world would they be prophesying and doing all of these ministries in His name if they didn't accepted Him as their Savior? But that isn't the problem. They didn't accept Him as their Lord. They practice anomia "lawlessness," i.e., they rule themselves instead of letting Christ rule them. They, therefore, do whatever they wish (and what they wish to do is wrong in the eyes of the Christ they profess to know). They, therefore, receive the outcome of their works, and are declared to have never really known Christ (oudepote egnōn hymas "I at no time knew you"). But that's just for doing wrong. In Matthew 25, we are told of the virgins who are waiting for Christ to come, but do not have enough oil in their lamps. We are then told what this parable means in the rest of the chapter when Christ discusses the way He will judge those who have a profession of faith. His true people will have provided life sustaining materials to other Christians and will enter eternal life, but the others will not have done so, and will enter eternal punishment instead.

What confused me further was the fact that Paul in Galatians, after so clearly and without fail arguing that we can only be saved by grace through faith, and not by works of the law, then goes on to tell us:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, specifically speaking, to those who are of the household of the faith. (6:7-10)

The reason for my confusion is that I had confused the basis for salvation with the basis for judgment of whether I was saved. In other words, the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, but it also teaches that we are judged by our works as to whether that faith is genuine. This isn't a judgment where God needs to see Himself. God already knows if we have a relationship with Him. God is the one who brought it about in the first place before the foundation of the world. The display of works in judgment are for us. They are the evidence that convicts our lack of that relationship with Christ as our Lord or the evidence that vindicates our claim to know Christ. 
Now, this was probably obvious to anyone reading texts like Ephesians 2:8-10, since it says right there that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our works, but that we have been saved (i.e., created in Christ Jesus) for the purpose of doing good works. This is not even to mention the fact that Paul goes on in Ephesians to say things like, 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and [there must be no] filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them;  for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (Eph 5:1-8).


Let him who steals  steal  no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have [something] to share with him who has need. (4:28, notice the refraining from evil and the doing of good we saw in Matthew).

In Romans 6, Paul asks if our freedom in Christ means we can sin all the more so that grace might abound all the more. His answer? Mē genoito "may it not be," what is Paul's equivalent to saying, "No way, José!" He continues by saying, "How shall we who died to sin continue to live in it?" He then gives an argument for the absurdity of accepting transforming grace in the free gift of salvation offered without going on to be transformed.

In other words, we are saved by grace, but that grace will compel us to a new life of repentance from what is displeasing to God and toward the doing of what is pleasing to Him in terms of the works we do. If we have been saved by grace through faith, we will have these things in our life, and this gives us assurance of our standing before His throne before, as well as after, we get there. As John says,

  And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

Freedom gained for us in Christ is a freedom from the slavery of sin, the freedom from doing whatever our depraved minds desire, and this freedom compels us through love to do what is pleasing to Christ as our new Master. Before we were saved, our desires bound us, hand and foot, to practice lawlessness and to do only what pleased us at the sacrifice of others. Now, the free gift of God that could never be earned compels us to cease to do evil and learn to do good (Isa 1:16-17) as God's people. 
But those who willfully sin (i.e., they sin without hesitation to start or genuine repentance to follow) prove that no salvation has been activated in their lives, and Christ's sacrifice, which can only be gained through genuine faith that produces works, is of no use to them (Hebrews 10:26-27).

So those academics that think Paul contradicts James simply do not understand Paul, as I once did not understand him. Both are in agreement. Faith without works is dead, and that kind of faith cannot save you. But the faith that saves continually puts sin to death in our lives and perpetually gives birth to what is good and glorifying to God. We will all stand before the throne and give an account for what we have done here, and this is the basis for the apostles' words exhorting us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" and "conduct yourselves in fear during your time of stay upon the earth" precisely because we have been saved already by a blood that is more precious than the things that once made up our self-oriented lives (Phil 2:12; 1 Pet 1:17-19). Why? "Because God will bring every act to  judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccl 12:14).

The life of the believer is not one of perfection, as we still struggle with our old bondage, but it is a life of seeking to live in freedom from that bondage and in our new found love and devotion to the Lord of good works.