Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Again, Why Inclusivism is False

 In discussing inclusivism a major point against the premise that all religions (or at least most of the major ones) seek God/Christ within their own religious framework (even if ignorantly so) often goes unnoticed; and that is whether all religions are actually seeking God in the first place.

In fact, none of them are with one exception: genuine Christianity. Let me explain. I’ve argued before that there are really only two religions on the planet: the religion of God and the religion of Self. I’ve also argued before that you can see which religion is which by looking at their views of heaven/bliss/paradise/goal in this life.

For the atheist, that his religion is the pursuit of happiness in this life isn’t much in dispute. The goal of agnosticism is to put religious questions on hold in order to experience the bliss of self pursuit in this life much like the atheist as well. But the goal of all other religions, besides Christianity that is, is that same pursuit, either in this life and/or in the life to come. As much as they talk about God, God is not their primary object of worship. Instead, in Islam, for instance, God isn’t even present with his subjects in eternity. The goal of the muslim isn’t to spend eternity in a loving relationship with God, but to have his fill of sex and wine in paradise. Paganism’s goal is to simply manipulate the gods/spirits into giving a better life, both here and in the afterlife, to the Self. For the Mormon, his ultimate heaven is spending eternity away from God, ruling over his own planet and enjoying eternal sex with his divine wife. For the Jehovah’s Witness, eternity is spent on earth, again, apart from God. The goal in the literature is simply to live forever in a perfect place absent of suffering and death. For the Buddhist and Hindu, the goal is relief of suffering for the Self, so that the Self can then rejoin the universal oneness in bliss. It is not to have any relationship with God. The goal is relief for the Self, not love and worship of God. Even in false Christianity, the goal is to live a long time in a place of eternal happiness. God is just the One who grants this great thing, but the goal isn’t God, but being in a particular location and in a particular state forever.

This helps us understand the Bible’s insistence that apart from being brought to Christ by the Father, “there is not one who seeks after God” (Rom 3:11b). All other religions lead to the Self, not to God. They all worship Self, not God. Hence, they cannot be simply different paths to the same God, because God and the Self are diametrically opposed. One cannot have two masters. The Self is not God or even another name for God. It is the Self. God, however, is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer from the Self. He exists outside of us and it is outside of ourselves that we must reach to worship something other than ourselves.

In genuine Christianity, heaven isn't a place. It's God Himself. It's His presence. It's loving and exalting Him. That is heaven for the Christian. Living forever and having an alleviation of suffering is a secondary result of being in God's salvific presence, but eternal life to the Christian is "knowing [i.e., being in a loving relationship with] God and Jesus Christ who He has sent" (John 17:3). Hence, heaven is already/not yet for the Christian, as only his sin nature that exalts the Self limits the Christian's experience of it, not his location or amount of suffering (i.e., it is his present sin to exalt the self in this world that hinders him, not his lack of self exaltation).

It is often said that one chooses hell. Well, in a way that's true. Hell is the place where a man has reached his goal of Self exaltation and thus has been cut off from God. The goal has been attained. No relationship can be had with God when Self has been locked in for all eternity as master. 

So there can be no other path that leads to God in these religions, simply because none of them are trying to go to God. God is the means to the Self. He is but another means used to give worship/pleasure to the Self. He is not the object of worship Himself.

So one might stop and ask for a moment, not only whether there could be another pathway to God, but whether or not there actually is an alternative religion seeking that pathway in the first place. It seems to me that the answer is a categorical, No.

Hence, one must deny the Self to follow Christ, as Christ Himself taught; and because of this, any religion (i.e., all of them except genuine Christianity) that has the exaltation and pleasure of the Self as its goal, rather than a loving relationship with God that seeks His exaltation and worship over the Self, is not another pathway to God, but a false religion that leads eternally away from Him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Modern Day Atrahasis

The ancient Babylonian flood story Atra-hasis actually functioned as overpopulation propaganda. It was meant to encourage people to limit their childbearing because having too many children would lead to catastrophic events. Books like Benatar's (a hopeless nihilist) reminds me that this is the same battle the images of God and the seed of the serpent have always had (i.e., whether the creation and perpetuation of human life and existence takes priority in one's ethical decisions--i.e., whether it is the duty of those who live to co-create and allow other humans to live through their sexual (and other) decisions--or whether those who now exist should hoard the resources of the planet and their current environment for themselves or some imaginary importance of a humanless creation).

This article reviews a couple books concerning this very issue.

The reviewer sums up where the latter leads.

Taken seriously, Benatar’s logic leads to what might be called the Conclusive Conclusion. If we all saw the harm we were doing by having children and put a stop to it, within a century or so the world’s population would drop to zero. For Benatar, this is an outcome devoutly to be wished. “Humans have the unfortunate distinction of being the most destructive and harmful species on earth,” he writes. “The amount of suffering in the world could be radically reduced if there were no more” of us. Cultures more attuned to the tragic dimensions of existence glimpsed this truth long ago. Benatar’s title refers to the passage in Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus” in which the chorus observes:

Never to have been born is best,
But once you’ve entered this world,
Return as quickly as possible to the place you came from.

Of course, most don't want to see humanity wiped out. Many just participate in practices that would wipe out humanity if it were practiced all the time and by everyone. It's like murder being an anticreational act. It doesn't wipe out all of humanity for me to kill someone. It is simply a practice that if multiplied and practiced regularly by everyone at all times would eventually lead to the reversal of God's creation purposes to fill up the earth with humans. Hence, it is not evil because it accomplishes that goal (God is still in control and will not allow such to happen); rather it is evil because of what, through selfishness (i.e., the exaltation of the Self as being "like God"), it moves against (i.e., God's purposes and the love of other humans who might exist according to His purposes).

The reviewer rightly notes, however, that one is always choosing what the future will look like, not only for himself, but for others as well. In any case, one is always making a decision in terms of what purpose he ties to the sexual act as either something that seeks to sacrifice/share resources and those things that the Self likes to hoard so that others may live, or something that seeks to secure one's own gift of life for the Self by ensuring that a minimal amount of other human lives will not detract from those resources/pleasures. Whether one is in agreement with Genesis (which argues for the former) or he is in agreement with Atra-hasis (which argues for the latter), will largely determine the way he argues about the use of contraception.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Preach the Gospel, and Since It's Necessary, Use Words"

TED Talks (or, The Empire) Strikes Again

TED Talks is the club of great ideas for people who don't actually know with any certainty what "great" is. Of course, that's made clear by what ideas they think are great; but they'll be crammed down our throats regardless if you want to attend school, watch tv or a movie, listen to music,etc. The Empire looks shiniest when there aren't those nasty rebels out there trying to blow up the Deathstar by questioning the greatness of their ideas. Hence, it just won't include anyone who can actually challenge those ideas (I appreciate that a Christian like Rick Warren was asked to speak, but really, he's not a Christian professor).

Surprisingly, there is some that I agree with Dennet on here (like teaching your kids the facts about other religions and that atheists can be "good" people without believing in God--that was never the argument--the argument has to do with having an actual, non-subjective/relativistic basis for it), but there is so much rubbish as well (like we should just disobey Jesus and think less of Him because Dennet likes diversity in religious belief--btw, notice that Dennet wants naturalism to pervade the globe which would syncretize all religions and essentially wipe them all out at their core). There is a lot more I could say about how hypocritical and contradictory this entire speech is, but I'll just quote Billy Crystal in "Monsters, Inc.": "I don't know about you, but I spotted several mistakes."

An Amazing Admission

Wow, didn't think he would ever acknowledge something like this, but the real question now is, "Why is that?" "Why are the fruits of Calvinism the consistent exaltation of God in the whole of life, and Arminians often have to become Calvinists when dealing with tragedy?" Is tragedy actually the time when one stops creating delusions of human free will to control his own life and admit that God is the only one in ultimate control of all things? Is it not a time when we stop playing and get serious about the fact that we're not the gods of our own destiny, but rather the participants in one laid out for us? In any case, I find this to be an amazing admission on his part.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Love Does Not Bypass, but It Does Surpass Knowledge

We watched this sermon today at church that I thought was just a great and convicting message for all of us who set our lives toward growing in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The goal of the Christian is to love, but knowledge/truth directs that love. Hence, love needs knowledge, but that knowledge should always be used to love and build up, not to negate love and to destroy a person's walk with Christ. Love destroys strongholds of delusion that hinder one from following Christ. It should never be used to destroy that following. There is much wisdom here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is the Book of Genesis not Foundational to the Rest of the Bible?

Charles Halton recently wrote a blogpost that follows in the footsteps of some scholars, like Walter Brueggemann, that argues that Genesis is not a foundational book for the rest of the Old Testament. Both Halton ( and Brueggemann (Genesis, 41) make the same argument that can be summarized as follows:

The rest of the Old Testament doesn't mention the characters and events in the book of Genesis in any length or detail. Hence, the book was not seen as foundational to the authors of the rest of the Hebrew Bible.

Now, I'm going to assume that we all three agree that Genesis was not written until after the prophets, the Deuteronomistic History (including the legal material in D and in the BC---I'm not sure if they would agree with the latter). The only books written after Genesis that I can think of are books indisputably identified by scholars to be postexilic, like Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Chronicles, Job, etc.

Wisdom books like Ecclesiastes often don't allude to historical events and people, as they tend to focus on what to make of life in the now. Daniel is apocalyptic and uses the prophet Daniel in the time of the exile, rather than a patriarch to present its eschatology. Ironically, Chronicles does allude to Adam in its chronology, but it's purposes are not to do anything in terms of retelling the story (one might say that the historical framework can be cast in those terms, but it is not explicit). Job, ironically, in one way or another, is linked to the argument in some way (although it is not known whether Genesis is clarifying Job or Job is clarifying Genesis (I think it's likely the latter).

But the problem with this line of inquiry is that it misses the point of Genesis altogether. When we ask whether Genesis is foundational for the rest of the Bible, we need to understand that Genesis is largely written afterward, so instead the question should be, "Does the teaching of Genesis function as foundational to the rest of the canon?"

In other words, since Genesis is written afterward, one must ask whether it in some way functions as foundational for believers to understand the rest of the Bible. Here's why I think it does.

Genesis puts forth the creation principle upon which the rest of the Bible rests its assertions. In that regard it summarizes what is said in the law and prophets in terms of that principle. The law may speak of doing good, and the prophets may speak of being faithful to YHWH as creator within the threat of chaos, but Genesis gives the foundational principle for what is said therein.

Genesis also fills out the prehistory of Israel that likely existed only within certain written and oral traditions and crafts them into a single book that helps convey a theology that lays the foundation for understanding the rest of Scripture in terms of who God is, His purposes in creation, the dual perspectives that exist in the world (divine and human) when assessing the power of chaos to destroy and God's goodness to limit and focus its power toward good/salvation, and the role of God's covenant people in the world. Hence, it provides not only a historical foundation for the rest of the Bible, but a foundational/worldview in which the rest of the Bible can be contextualized.

In this sense, the rest of the Bible really has no coherence without Genesis, and that is why it has functioned as the foundational book for the rest of Israelite literature (including that found within the Pseudepigrapha and DSS) since its creation. Genesis brings together the rest of biblical literature, not because it precedes it, and is therefore quoted by that literature (how could it be when it doesn't exist yet?), but because it draws it all together under its history and worldview.

Now, Charles does consider that this is important for a canonical argument, and I would say, "Well, that is how believers view the Bible, so to criticize one for saying such is to admit that the criticism within that context is unfounded." But I think the larger argument is that the individual books don't need Genesis to function as foundational for them, and I would also disagree with this. The principles and worldview that Genesis teaches is assumed by all of these books, so that when Genesis comes along and makes these assumptions explicit, it gives an explicit voice to what is already implicitly there.

Hence, asking whether the rest of the Bible mentions Adam, or counting how many times the name Abraham is used, or how many times the fall is referred to, is barking up the wrong tree. The theology of Genesis can be seen throughout the canon (as a whole but also individually within the books therein), and it draws from each of those books and provides the proper framework in which to see them all both separately and in unity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

If I Were to Set Up a Seminary . . .

If I were to set up a seminary, this is how I would do it. I would take the reading lists that are required to master in order to pass the comp exams for a Masters or PhD and make each area of study (and the books) into required classes. Only, I would make these classes online, as helps to the required reading for the comps. Then I would give the comp at the end that needed to be passed in order to graduate. Individual topics would be covered once in an elective class that would then be posted online for future reference. These classes would just fill in the gaps or increase one's knowledge of the main course of study. The only thing I would require to be in classroom is language study, as that will not usually get done on one's own.

Usually, in seminary, you take some required courses that are general enough to just introduce you to the subject, and then you take electives to bolster your knowledge in those or other areas. But this creates a major gap in learning so that when you reach your comps, you pretty much have to start over and read a ton of books with new insights, people, and facts that you've barely heard of before. This is not a good system.

Of course, I would not get rid of writing a thesis or dissertation, but I would focus the requirements of the degree, in terms of courses offered, specifically on the comps, since that is the information one tends to most need to get a grasp of his or her area of study. All other academic pursuits can be done later to build on that foundation one acquires in seminary after one graduates, as he can continue to read or learn from the online lectures offered.

I think seminary will one day be completely online, with the exception of the comp exams and thesis/dissertation, and maybe that is the way to deal with costs in such a bad economy (although, again, I don't think doing language and exegesis courses online is a good idea when first learning them--the online language courses might still be worth posting, as they can function as reminder courses). A seminary that requires so much money from its students in trying to help them become ministers/teachers of the people of God ends up being more of a burden than an asset to those students. If courses were all put online, and what was required was knowledge of the subject for comp exams (oral and written), then even one who is poor and without resources would be able to go to seminary and work hard as a steward of God's Word.

Of course, professors can still be made available for questions via email or phone, so they would still be needed not only for this but also for the initial recording of courses as well as any added courses offered.

I'm just trying to figure out a way that one can get the education he needs without incurring the cost of both the education itself and the cost of moving to a different location while he is doing it.

And, if truth be told, I would like any individual's seminary education to be placed under the oversight of his elders in the church. That way, both intellectual and spiritual growth can be fostered one on one, and that individual can then grow to serve his local church or the ministries the local church sees as a best fit for him. Right now, there is little overseeing done by the local church because seminary is done elsewhere. This way, it can be done within the local church rather than being separate from it. This also helps the church in that it provides the needed education to build up leaders, but also does not put a major financial burden upon the church to build classrooms and hire professors, nor does it take the elders away from their preaching and teaching God's Word so that they can teach some critical methodologies course or the history of textual criticism, etc.

Just a thought.

Westminster Posts Free Classes on ITunes

What?! I could have gotten my education for free? LOL. Enjoy.

Why God Doesn't Prove Himself beyond a Reasonable Doubt

It's been said many times before. A Christian will ask an atheist what he will say on judgment day to God if, in fact, the atheist was wrong. The atheist replies, "I will say that He did not give me enough evidence to believe in Him." In other words, the atheist did not empirically verify enough evidence for God that it made him believe in Him. There was no experience, where the atheist could see with his own eyes that God existed as a Personal Being in whom one should place his faith.

There are other atheists who demand God strike them down in front of crowds as proof of His existence, and others who just say that if He really existed, and wanted everyone to believe (something many of us as Christians don't believe in terms of His decree, even if it is in accord with His moral/revealed will), then He would just come down from heaven and appear to everyone so that every man could plainly see Him and believe.

The problem with this, of course, is that God requires faith rather than sight in order to have a relationship with Him. The atheist believes that this is the case because God doesn't exist, so saying He requires faith is a way to cover up the fact that He can't appear to everyone as a nonexistent being. Theists are just making excuses for their made up deity.

The Christian, however, believes that God requires faith because there is something necessary about it. Hence, to appear to everyone, or make Himself known by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, is to negate what is a necessary condition of having a relationship with God in the first place. To do so would mean that God would appear to everyone and come into a relationship with not a single one of them.

But what is the reason that faith is so necessary? The answer is our sin, our tendency to commit idolatry and worship the Self instead of God. This is the very reason why we can't use graven images to commune with God. We can just pay tribute to a visible god in front of us, but carry on unchanged by the encounter. We remain corrupt because the wayward worship of the Self as God and Savior remains intact, as the Self was never internally submitted to another Lord, since it demanded to see God and its commands were obeyed as though it is god. Visible confirmations of deity allow us to hold onto the Self and all of our own pursuits. They don't demand any relinquishing of the Self. Hence, their worship is only external and nontransformative. There is no submission from the inside out to God. In fact, demanding that we see for ourselves is an act of rebellion, not faith, that demands that God meet our criteria in order to believe in Him, which of course is no belief at all. Faith, however, is an act of submission. It is an act where we allow God to demand of us without the god of Self having to be master over the situation, master over the relationship, governing its stipulations.

This is why demanding some personal experience with God before one will believe that He is and that He has spoken in His Word is at such a conflict with true faith. It builds rather than destroys self-reliance and idolatry, and works against a relationship with God where we rely upon Him as God, our only true source of life and eternal salvation.

We need our lives in God. Outside of Him we become corrupt and corrupt others in falsehoods and evil. Outside of Him, there is no true life at all. Therefore, we need to enter into a relationship with Him. We were made to worship, but we have distorted its object, and have thus died in doing so. He is our only hope back to life, and therefore, faith is our only hope, because it denounces the Self and its demands that God capitulate to it, and trusts in God instead.

You see, faith must be transferred from the Self to God in order for us to be restored to life; but if God just shows up or proves Himself beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot have faith then. God has killed us by doing this rather than having saved anyone. And He seeks to save, not destroy what was lost.

Hence, faith cannot be had by sight; and because faith is necessary for us to be saved (it is the beginning and end of the process of our salvation, as it is an essential component to deny the demands of Self and both enter and remain within a relationship with God as our God), it cannot be set aside if we are to enter into a genuine submissive relationship with God.

What the atheist, or anyone else who demands that God prove Himself or what He has said in Scripture beyond a reasonable doubt, is really asking of God is that God damn them to themselves, not save them from themselves. But God doesn't need to appear or prove Himself in order to do this, as they will not believe, they are damned to themselves already. Mission accomplished.

The atheist, or anyone else who will not believe unless he sees for himself, is left with the Self as Lord, and hence, is left with the Self as Savior (I've said before, Christ can be our Savior only because He is our Lord, and since He is saved, all that He owns as Lord is saved with Him). The Self cannot save anyone, so whoever exalts it will surely be damned in the end.

God, therefore, makes enough provisions in the world and in the Scripture for anyone to believe and enough for him to disbelieve. He provides both, as one can only exist with the possibility at some point of the other. If faith is to exist, doubt must also be a possibility. Hence, God cannot appear or make Himself known beyond all reasonable doubt without destroying all of mankind by leaving it to itself as its own deity.

We can apply this to biblical interpretation as well. Do you need to experience what God has said is true and good before you believe it in His Word? Then you are seeking a life of Self and the damnation thereof in the rejection of faith. Faith must seek understanding, not vice versa. The false god of Self demands that everything submit to it as Lord, including God, but that is not of faith, and therefore, it is not the road to life and salvation.

So God isn't going to strike you down in a crowd to prove Himself. He isn't going to show up in Times Square on New Years Eve. He's not going to show up in your bedroom so that you can start believing the Bible He gave to you. And He is not going to verify in your experience everything He has spoken in His Word so that you'll finally believe it's true. Christianity isn't confirmed by sight because it isn't a religion of the Self, so God isn't going to feed the fire of Self by showing up and proving everything to His people. He loves His people too much for that. He actually wants to save them. As the Scripture says, "Faith is brought about by hearing, and hearing [is brought about] by the Word of God." If you want to know that God is and that He gives life to those who seek Him, you must believe; for that is the only course possible for one to take in order to be saved from the greatest, most corrupt, and deadliest tyrant of all, the Self.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Be a Person of Worth: What the Book of Proverbs Teaches Us

I'm going through the Book of Proverbs right now with my kids in the morning. So far we've only gone half way through the first chapter. But I wanted to make note of something that I think many people miss when they go through this book.

First, the book is cast as the instruction of Solomon to his son. It is life training for the prince. This is important, because what Solomon teaches his son here, using a vast array of different proverbs from around the world (and those, no doubt, he said himself), is what true royalty really is. In other words, the book is trying to teach the prince what nobility, what being a man of greater worth, really is.

Hence, he starts by saying that everything must be founded upon recognizing God's authority to judge between what is good and evil, just and unjust, true knowledge and false knowledge. The entire book will set up the wise man, who is interchangeable with the righteous man, in comparison to the fool, who is one and the same as the wicked. To be a fool is to not recognize God's authority and the instruction He has given (as well as the teachers God has set in place over him), and thus, is to live a life of folly and wickedness. To be a wise man, a noble man, is to live in recognition of God's authority and instruction.

So he follows up by exhorting his son to listen to the instruction of his parents, parents who themselves fear God (the context is not generic but specific in that it implies that the parents also live according to the wisdom of Proverbs, not in disregard of it). Only then, when God's authority through His instituted authorities to hand down His wisdom has been rightly acknowledged in thought and practice, will the young prince be truly of noble blood, a royal individual who has worth. Hence, we are told that the observance of the instruction of God given by parents is the true crown upon his head and jewels around his neck (1:8-9).

What follows in the book is a host of proverbs that instruct the young prince to both think and act according to wisdom. The book ends by telling him to look for this in his mate as well, to not be enamored with what looks respectable and noble (e.g., external beauty, a charming personality, etc.), but instead a woman who is truly noble from the inside out, who displays her good character in word and deed. Notice, this woman would be a queen, so she does not need to do all this work for the household; but this work displays her love for her family and the wisdom with which she is devoted to God.

So Proverbs is really about what is truly noble, what it really means to be of a royal blood. All of that which is in between is the instruction of what that should look like in various situations in life. The man to whom respect is due is the wise man, not the king with all the bling. It's the truly noble man who fears God, honors the teaching of his primary instructors, who themselves are but delivering the wisdom of God to him, and thinks and acts accordingly in life.

In application to ourselves, we are not Solomon's sons, but we are princes of an even nobler King than he. How much more should we take heed to this wisdom than if we were a mere prince of a less nobler king? We are the sons of God. We are the princes of the cosmos. We are the children of True Nobility Himself. As princes and princesses of the Eternal King, we need to look at what is true and good and exalt God with them, in both thought and deed--no longer looking at the external and temporal as the source of our respect, but at what is internal and eternal (the message of Second Corinthians in the NT also conveys this throughout). We can no longer look to our upbringing, our looks, our success and wealth, nor even our comforting labels with which we identify ourselves as noble princes and princesses, but instead to whether we have feared God in thought and deed by paying attention to what He has taught us. Without Him, we cannot make the claim to be noble, as we are only noble as His sons, nor are we even capable of knowing the truth or right path to take, as Proverbs repeats to us in its instruction twice that "there is a path that seems right to a man, but where it leads are to the pathways of death" (14:12; 16:25).

So we are commanded to come out from the ignoble world, the foolish pattern of thinking and futility of grasping onto what is temporal, and separate ourselves in our thinking and living within the wisdom of God. It is only then that we can truly be called the sons and daughters of God, and it is only then that we begin to understand what it truly means to be of noble birth, a person of true worth who gains his or her worth from living in the truth and wisdom of the only wise and worthy King.

Hear, [O] sons, the instruction of a father,  And give attention that you may gain understanding, For I give you sound teaching;  Do not abandon my instruction.When I was a son to my father,  Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me,  "Let your heart hold fast my words;  Keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!  Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. "Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;  Love her, and she will watch over you. (Prov 4:1-6)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Parody of Rob Bell

This video was brought to my attention by one of my old friends, Greg Langley. He's Canadian, so this video fits his sense of humor well. ;-)

LOL. Yep, that's why I don't care for the Emerging Movement. It's pseudo-intellectualism that postures itself as deeper than evangelicalism when all it does is feed off of the ignorant aspects and assumptions of evangelicalism.

What Does It Mean That God "Rested" on the Seventh Day?

I preached last Sunday on the text of Hebrews 4:1-11 (I debated over doing 1-13, but think there is likely a separate sermon in 12-13). This is one of the many warning passages in Hebrews that indicates those who consider themselves Christians should take heed lest they fall into apostasy. In this particular chapter, the author uses the imagery of God's rest and alludes to the text of Genesis 2:2-3 (which should be in Genesis 1, but was broken incorrectly by the traditional versification). Auctor tells us that there is still a day we will enter that rest, as we have not entered God's rest yet.

I thought I would just elaborate, as I did Sunday, on what God resting on the seventh day actually means in the ancient Near Eastern world.

First, it doesn't mean that God got tired and needed a break from all that work He did in creation. It also doesn't mean that God stopped creating. The picture isn't literal. It's attempting to convey something important (something connected to the rest of the narrative and the book as a whole) with the imagery of God ceasing to labor and resting. And that something is sovereignty. It conveys that God is in complete and absolute control with no threat of chaos/evil to challenge His throne. Chaos cannot overcome Him. It is not even a concern. Hence, He rests upon His throne (i.e., within His cosmic temple).

We see this concept in the surrounding literature as well. After Baal defeats Yam, his temple made and purified, he finishes his conquest and rests in his temple. This motif is common in the ancient Near East, and it mimics the actions of a human king, who after defeating his foes, may rest in his palace, having no more enemies to conquer. 

One must remember that a temple of a god is equivalent to the palace of a king. The king rests in his palace when war is no longer a threat, when he has gained victory over destructive forces and has no more concern of them. Likewise, a god rests in a temple when he has overcome chaos, and like the king, has nothing else to worry about in terms of threat of chaos.

In Enuma elish, Marduk battles Tiamat, the primordial waters (deep waters often function in ancient Near Eastern literature as a symbol of chaos--in fact, one might say it is the primary symbol of chaos in the ANE world). After he kills Tiamat and forms the cosmos with her body, he constructs his temple as the "dwelling place of his leisure" and a "stopping place" for the gods, where they declare that within this temple, "we will find rest" (6.51-52).

What the rest and ceasing from labor teaches in Genesis 2 is that God is sovereign over chaos/evil. It is not a threat to Him, nor to His purposes. He has no concern of it in terms of it "winning." The account itself does not present chaos as personified, as do the other accounts both within the poetic literature of the Bible and in many texts outside of the Bible, but it is instead a condition of the earth that threatens the existence of mankind. God creates/orders the world so that those conditions no longer exist. Mankind can thrive. There is no threat of him being diminished. As this creation account is the view from heaven, from God's perspective, it is not negated by what we know will be coming in the chapters that follow. Instead, it puts them into perspective.

Walton summarizes the idea of šābat "rest" nicely:

The verb šābat describes a transition into the activity or inactivity of nûha. We know that when God rests (ceases, šābat) on the seventh day in Genesis 2, he also transitions into the condition of stability (nûha) because that is the terminology used in Exodus 20:11 . . . His rest is also located in his “resting place” (mĕnûhâ) in Psalm 132, which also identifies it as the temple from which he rules. After creation, God takes up his rest and rules from his residence . . . When the deity rests in the temple it means that he is taking command, that he is mounting to his throne to assume his rightful place and his proper role.[1]  

This same thing is conveyed in the only text in the Gospels that tells us that Jesus slept. And what is the context of that sleeping? The disciples are in the middle of the sea in a storm. The picture of the chaotic waters that threaten God's purposes is brought to life. And what happens? Jesus is sleeping. There is no concern that the power of chaos has any real ability to thwart God. Instead, Jesus, as God, simply gets up, commands the waters and the storm to be silent, and it immediately is. Thus, the Lord conveys the idea to them, and to us, that He is sovereign and nothing is so powerful that it is any real threat either to Him or to His work.

Hence, the rest conveys sovereignty, which ironically is the exact opposite of being tuckered out and weak because of labor. God is so strong that there is nothing for Him to fret about. And Auctor wants us to know that we are moving toward that rest, but we have not yet entered it. We still need to fear being found outside of Him, since He is the only one who has nothing to fear from chaos/evil/death. We have everything to fear if we are found outside of Him. So we need to keep a sharp eye on whether we are pursuing God through faith in Christ and the doing of good and the refraining from evil that evidences His lordship over our lives. 

As I said Sunday, Christ is the only One who is saved. He's the only One who has accomplished salvation by His works. Hence, we have to take hold of His salvation, His safety from chaos, by letting Him take hold of us as our Lord. Whatever He owns is saved with Him, so as long as we are in Him, we are saved too. If we are found outside of Him, there is no hope of salvation, as only He is saved. Hence, since we are still in the wilderness (neither bound to the slavery of Egypt nor free from the chaos of temptation and unbelief in the promised land), we have only to concern ourselves ("fear" as Auctor puts it) with whether we have fallen short of having a genuine loving and submissive relationship with Christ. He has entered that rest. He has nothing to fear, but we have not entered it yet, so we must be on guard against everything that seeks to move us from the sphere of Christ's Lordship to the sphere of chaos, where we can be destroyed.

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh [day]: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this [passage], "They shall not enter My rest." Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through [following] the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.  (Heb 4:1-13)

[1] Walton, The Lost World, 73–75. See Sarna’s comments (Genesis, 15) that “God, through His creativity, has already established His sovereignty over space; the idea here is that He is sovereign over time as well.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Failed Attempts to Explain Love in a Darwinian World

A Response to Michael Patton

Michael Patton wrote a post the other day concerning the idea that one ought not to respond in the same way that the Lord and Paul responded to people in terms of their being harsh with others. Of course, I guess we can respond as they did when they weren’t harsh, but emulation only works one way apparently. In any case, I wanted to make some points as to why Michael’s post isn’t really accurate, as Michael and I have discussed this issue before and I feel he’s basing his thoughts on some bad exegesis. I do want to say that I like Michael. I agree with Michael on so many things. But this is our John Mark. I vehemently disagree with him on this, and think it's important for the sake of those to whom we speak to get this right.

  1. The passages Michael uses are being misinterpreted via ethnocentric eisegesis. We tend to live in a society that overemphasizes tone as the standard for right behavior. Aggression is bad. Because truth is no longer something that can be known, what is really important is the way you talk to people. No one can come to the truth, so arguing over it vehemently or coming at someone with a harsh rebuke, as though you know the truth and he doesn’t, is not acceptable. Instead, one needs to simply deal with others by respecting their opinions and their attitudes toward those opinions. So what is really important is not the truth or a display that the truth is important by being rigid and harsh about it to those who treat it lightly, but rather how we treat people in our interactions with them. That can be our universal good, rather than vying for what is true, since the only true virtue that we can know is the virtue of respecting others and other people’s opinions by not acting as though they are evil (even though we may nicely try to say that they are evil in a roundabout, irenic fashion). But saying that they are bad and acting like they are evil are two different things. Our behavior toward those ideas should not follow what we think of those ideas. Hence, relativism (and a compartmentalizing of feelings and thoughts) feeds into this interpretation.

But there is something else going on as well. Because we are always looking at our culture as the foil for biblical standards, we end up thinking that the term “gentleness” means “irenic,” since whatever the culture is practicing in that regard must be less gentle than what the Bible is calling for.

In fact, however, the term in biblical literature is closer to something like “non-violence,” with an emphasis on physical violence. You have to remember, a lot of cultures beat people into submission (many still do this). In many cultures, teachers hit their kids (including teenagers) in school when they act up. Parents often beat their children with full permission of society. The biblical command is in contrast to this culture, not ours, and the command to be gentle is one where we are not to grab, hit, violently scream at someone in order to instruct them in godliness. Instead, we are to rebuke, reprove, correct, and exhort with all patience. Sometimes that rebuke is harsh and sometimes that rebuke is soft. I would suggest we actually do emulate Christ and Paul here, as opposed to Michael’s advice, and respond to each person according to what they need, i.e., according to their spirit of humility toward God’s Word or rebellion against it. That looks to be a lot more biblical than Michael’s culturally-bound suggestion that we just be irenic with everyone without exception, or we are being sinful (which is very much the implication of these sorts of arguments).
But what is worse with Michael’s exegesis is that he fails to understand that the command to be gentle (i.e., non-violent) and give respect in the Petrine passage he uses here (and there is a long line of people misusing this passage) is that it is in the context of a subordinate to a superior (i.e., it’s not talking about how we address each other or a superior is to address a subordinate—he deals with that separately in his command for husbands to treat their wives well). Peter is talking about slaves with masters, wives with husbands, citizens with government. He’s not talking about everyone with everyone. This is made clear by both the context and the word he uses for “respect” (i.e., “fear”). “Fear,” as I’ve argued before, is a term given to convey that one ought to recognize another’s authority over him or her. It doesn’t mean respect in the sense that our culture sees respect in terms of every individual. We think respect means being irenic. Peter is talking about recognizing authority and not acting in violence against it. Hence, the recipients of the command and the sphere in which this command applies is made plain by the context and the words used. This is addressing a subordinate-superior context only. If we want to see if this is true for all contexts, we have to look at the entire Bible, and when we do that, the argument against being harsh doesn't hold. See how different that is when you pay attention to context and the words actually used, rather than assume that your English Bible and modern context are sufficient to interpret the Word of God?

Michael’s interpretation here is everything he poured into the text, and virtually nothing of what he pulled out of it. But he has a strong zeitgeist on his side, and this is a big problem for modern evangelicals, as they tend to confuse the inward and outward pull of the zeitgeist with the Holy Spirit who is usually in opposition to it. I’ve said this all before to Michael, but his traditions are greater at this point, so he just keeps on keeping on, since everybody else around him seems to interpret these passages the same way, so how could he be wrong?

  1. The justification of Jesus and Paul (not to mention pretty much everyone else in the Bible) that it was OK for them to be belligerent because they had the authority to do so, assumes that authority somehow allows for a greater leniency rather than a greater restriction of one’s actions.
First, we are actually told to imitate both Christ and Paul, and so I’m not sure who our models of behavior should be if not them.
Second, we are told that their harsh reactions are due to being filled with the Holy Spirit, not a demonic one, unless Michael wants to commit the unpardonable sin here.
Third, and this is really important, we, as authorities in the Church, have the same authority as Christ and Paul. We’re given the task to take over their ministries and keep them going in the world. We’re given their authority. If we don’t have it, I’m not sure why anyone thinks he has the right to teach or discipline others within the Church. I’m pretty sure Michael believes in apostolic succession as everyone else does, so in one form or the other, someone today (whether each individual Christian or Church elders in line with orthodox teaching) has the same authority to proclaim truth on the earth as the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul did. Their authority is not something different than ours.

  1. If it is belligerent to approach someone in harshness, and I’m assuming Michael is saying this is bad (i.e., wrong, not glorifying to God, not becoming of a Christian, and therefore, a sin), then appealing to authority is a red-herring. One’s authority has nothing to do with one’s right to sin. In essence, Michael is saying, “Yes, well, Christ and Paul did something bad, but because of their authority, it was good in their cases.” Hugh? If it’s wrong to treat a human being in a less than irenic fashion, then it’s wrong, period. If it’s sometimes right and sometimes wrong, depending upon the situation, then I’m in full agreement with Michael. But that’s not what he argued.

  1. I have to point out that Michael has been harsh with people many times before, but it’s usually people who commit the unpardonable sin of having the wrong tone. In fact, Michael and I parted company on this point. You can claim to be a Christian and be committing a horrible sin, and you can stay on his blog. You can bring all sorts of theological error to his blog and not be removed. But if you have the wrong tone or are too harsh, then you get rebuked and threatened to be removed. Now, Michael didn’t do this to me, although he made it known that he didn’t like me being harsh many times. Instead, he just told me if I couldn’t agree with his rules concerning tone (I thought they were a capitulation to relativism and still do), then I shouldn’t comment. I chose not to comment anymore, as I felt that all of what we argued for as true would be diminished as less important than how we interact with one another, and that for me undermines, not the technicality of truth itself, but the importance of truth.

So I think that Michael’s post is woefully unbiblical, indicts every prophet, wise man, and teacher of God from the Bible to the many harsh souls who took truth just that seriously throughout Church History.

I, of course, am not saying that we should not, in general, approach people with an irenic spirit. My point, and many points made by those who commented on his blog, is that it takes more discernment and reading people in their comments to know how to respond than just making blanket statements that we should always respond one way to everyone, because that’s what Jesus, who didn’t do that, wants of us.

There is a lot more I could unpack here: the tendency in our culture to no longer see God as wrathful, although not something Michael would believe, does feed into what we consider “godly” and what we do not. If godliness means to be like God in His character, loving what He loves and hating what He hates, why in the world would it not include a wrath toward what is deceptive and evil? Why in the world would it not include a harsh tone in rebuking obstinacy in what has the possibility of dishonoring God and murdering souls?

Does this mean we should always just respond to people in whatever way we feel like doing so? No, we should respond to them according to the issue and the person’s attitude toward godliness and truth in learning about that issue. Many times that’s to respond in a very irenic fashion, but sometimes that means we ought to respond in a very harsh tone.

I’ve seen people rescued in both ways, but I’ve seen more people saved from things like suicide by harsh tones than soft ones. There is just something the person needs that is conveyed in a harsh tone that is not conveyed in a soft one. There is something about truth that is confirmed with a harsh tone that is not conveyed in a soft tone.

Now, I realize that Michael lives in the South and I live in the wishy-washy Northeast, so it may be that when he hears me or anyone else speaking directly and harshly, he thinks of some belligerent fundamentalist preachers spouting off and yelling at people for no good reason. These people are often not thoughtful people who consider what the other person is saying. So be it. But it is equally a fundamentalist move to blanket a one-size-fits-all response that condemns all other responses because you’ve had a bad experience with it, and would rather just remove other responses altogether rather than keep them and use control and discernment. It’s easier to just get rid of the TV; it’s easier just to reject dancing altogether; it’s easier just to not watch a movie, or celebrate a holiday, etc. than it is to have control of oneself and use discernment in their use. In the same way, being harsh can be abused, and it often is, but that is absolutely no reason to condemn the bulk of Christian teachers who were harsh as often as they were soft in their tones throughout biblical and ecclesiastical history because of that abuse.

In the end, Michael has prooftexted his way to establishing a cultural ideal, and this is dangerous, as he also acts upon this to deal out rebuke and discipline, thus dividing the people of God over a cultural ideal rather than seeking the peace in truth. Let us be unified in truth, speak it with love for God and others as our motivation, and never divide Christians between those who we feel have a nice tone versus those who we feel do not. Such is the work of the cult in culture, not the Spirit of Truth in the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Historical Reconstructionism at Work in the Modern World

This is too true. In reality, truth is stranger than fiction, and those who do not seek to harmonize are most likely in error more often than those who do. That's the irony of the stigma placed upon evangelical scholarship. Not all of it is good harmonization, but events are complex, along with the variations of language and viewpoints with which one can describe those events. Hence, looking at reports as contradictory because they come at the event from different trajectories can more often make one wrong in his analysis of the validity of the report than it can make him right about it. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There's Only One Commandment to Obey

We are not under law, but under grace. Hence, we should not be living the Christian life as one big struggle with law. Paul describes in Romans 7 the plight of every man who wants to obey God through law but finds himself hopelessly lost in that effort. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But this is a frustration for us. We are not saved by law nor under law, but if we practice what is lawless, we evidence that we are not saved. Doesn't this mean we're under law? Yet, we are told that we are not, but under grace instead. So which is it? Those who practice lawlessness are cast off from the presence of Christ on judgment day, but those who seek to be saved by obeying the law are hopelessly lost and without salvation.

Many people end up thinking the Bible is just a big contradiction on these points, but the problem is that this theology is all found within the same authors, not different authors with different ideas of salvation. In fact, many of these ideas are found in the same books, so it isn't just a matter of the authors changing their minds over time either.

So what's the deal? Are we under law or not? The answer is found in understanding that the Bible has always only required of us one commandment as opposed to juggling the many. The one commandment has always been laid out for us from the beginning: Love God as your primary love in life. That's it. All of the other laws simply exist to direct that love into what God desires versus what He does not. Love wishes to do what its beloved desires, so those laws simply tell us where to go with our love for God.

This brings us back to being saved by grace. We are not saved by grace. We are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is toward God through Jesus Christ. Faith in the Bible has to do with allegiance, unification, and love. It's not just something you believe in your head. Hence, we are saved through a relationship with God where our pursuit is of God as our primary love. The reason why many are cast out from His presence on judgment day for being lawless, then, is not because they were supposed to be under law, but because they did not love God so as to seek those things that are pleasing to Him. They evidenced a hatred toward God by shunning what God had revealed as pleasing to Him in the principles of the law. Hence, they are lawless and were never known by Christ (i.e., never had a relationship with Him where He was the primary love of their lives).

On the flip side, there are those who are continually struggling with the law, because they have come to believe that the Christian life is a life filled with many laws. They become overwhelmed. They are drowning in a law that continually screams to them that they are not even close to being perfect. This brings depression and disillusionment, as the Christian life was never about the attempt to fulfill the law as a means to be acceptable to God. It is about loving God through Christ, being restored to God through His death, and being continually reconciled to Him through His resurrection and intercession for us. In other words, it is about a love relationship with God. The individual laws only help us understand what God desires, and so we pursue that because we are saved, not in order to be saved. We direct love upon those pathways because God has revealed what is pleasing to Him, i.e., what is good; and so we pursue Him through those things. We do not pursue those things for ourselves. We do not do them to become better people. We do not do them because they give us a better life now. We do not do them to be acceptable to God in the hope that He will save us in the end. We have no hope of that through laws, but our salvation is in our relationship with Him, and He has provided for us the means to have that relationship through Christ and His work on the cross, in His resurrection, and in His heavenly intercession on our behalf.

Now, of course, no one is perfect in their love for God either. That's not that point. The point is that a relationship with God should be characterized by the refraining from evil, the doing of good, and repentance when we fail to love God as we should; but it should not be characterized by a juggling of laws that sit over us as something to fulfill ourselves so that we might be righteous before God. If you think it is, good luck with that.

Without God as our primary love, and without seeing those laws as merely examples of principles of the good that pleases God, those laws become cold, dark reminders of our distance from God and condemnation. O Wretched Men that we are. Who will save us from this body of death? But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ that we are in Him, and therefore, no longer condemned by those laws. Hence, we can now see them as guides to direct our love for God rather than as instruments of our destruction.

As you can see, this isn't a juggling of the law. We are not under law. We are not saved by law, but instead by the rule of Christ, the rule of faith, the law of love, a relationship with God through Christ that seeks Him first over all.

So there was ever only one commandment we were, are, and are to obey, and that is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, and everything you've got. Those who pursue this have no need to juggle the law in order to be saved. They are given salvation freely by the One with whom they have entered that loving relationship. There is now no condemnation for them, because the law isn't a vehicle of salvation for them. It is merely a code of examples that direct our expressions of love toward God, as we fill up our relationship with Him with more and more love. And this is the love of God, that we obey His commandments. We express our love for Him through refraining from that which the law helps us see as evil, and doing that which the law helps us see as good, and repenting and seeking God over all things whenever we have failed to love Him through those expressions.

So there is no contradiction in saying that we are not under law, but under grace, and those who practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God, because we are saved by a faith that loves God and seeks to express that in submission to what the law reveals as good, and only those who do not love God seek otherwise.

The one commandment, then, is a commandment to come into a relationship with God through Christ where you pursue Him as the most loved One in your life. There is no need to burden yourself with the law as a whip behind you, as there is no judgment for you, only the love and salvation in a relationship with God that the law directs toward the right expression.

So there is only the one commandment. And either you seek to obey it or you don't.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Inerrancy and Worldview

Part one Two Common Religious Difficulties
1 How Can Only One Religion Be Right? 19
2 Are Moral Rules a Straitjacket? 23
Part two Challenges from Science and Materialism
3 Worldviews and Materialism 27
4 Modern Science 34
Part three Challenges from History
5 The Historical-Critical Tradition 45
6 Responding to Historical Criticism 51
7 The Change from History to Structure 56
Part four Challenges about Language
8 Challenges from Linguistics and Philosophy of Language 61
9 Words and Meanings concerning Many “Gods” 71
10 Growth in Understanding 79
11 Contexts for Language 85
12 The Idea of Closed Language 91
13 Breaking Out of Closure in Language 95
14 Analysis of Biblical Narratives 102
Part five Challenges from Sociology
and Anthropology
15 Challenges from Sociology 107
16 The Idea of Closure of Culture 114
17 Breaking Out of Closure in Culture 118
18 Marxism and Feminism 121
Part six Challenges from Psychology
19 Challenges concerning Cognition 129
20 Interaction of Minds 134
21 Thinking about the Inspiration of the Bible 140
Part seven Challenges from Examples
22 Ordinary Life and Science 147
23 Understanding an Alleged “Contradiction” 153
24 Law in Cultural Context 158
25 Proverbs in Cultural Context 168
26 The Glory of Christ 173
Part eight Challenges from Our Attitudes
27 Do We Need Help? 181
28 Corruption in the Mind 187
29 Counterfeiting the Truth 195
30 Truth 199
31 The Bible 205
32 The Danger of Pride 212
Part nine Challenges from Corrupt Spirituality
33 Religious Gullibility 219
34 The Nature of Ultimate Commitments 226
35 Why Are We So Gullible? 231
Part ten Conclusion
36 Scripture and Worldviews 237
Appendix: Human Authors of the Bible 245