6/29/2007

Certainty

Certainty is a noun describing what is “established as true or sure” (The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary). Large segments of our society see this freedom from doubt as the height of arrogance. We are constantly told, especially with respect to religion, that we cannot know the truth, communicate the truth, or expect others to follow the truth we know. It is refreshing to find a book like The Truth War by John MacArthur (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2007).

This book is really a short commentary on the book of Jude. MacArthur is an able polemicist, and his writing is at its best when he forcefully conveys a point. He begins by expounding on the ground of truth, how we can know anything at all:

Of course, God and truth are inseparable. Every thought about the essence of truth – what makes it “true,” and how we can possibly know anything for sure, quickly moves us back to God … it is not particularly surprising when someone who repudiates God rejects truth as well. If a person can’t tolerate the thought of God, there is simply no comfortable place for the concept of truth in that person’s worldview, either. (p. xv)

… God alone is the source of all that exists (Romans 11:36). He alone defines and delimits what is true. He is also the ultimate revealer of all truth. Every truth revealed in nature was authored by Him (Psalm 19:16); and some of it is His own self-revelation (Romans 1:20). He gave us minds and consciences to perceive the truth and comprehend right from wrong …All truth therefore starts with what is true of God: who He is, what His mind knows, what His holiness entails, what His will approves, and so on. In other words, all truth is determined and properly explained by the being of God. (p. xviii-xix)

MacArthur does an admirable job of stating a solid case for truth as God’s “self-expression” on pages 2-7. He points to the failure of systems of thought that do not start with God to provide a universal, absolute frame for truth. He sounds presuppositional in his approach. This is a powerful argument stated in an understandable way.

To expound on MacArthur’s points: Since we can know truth, and since God communicates His truth to us in His Word. We know that we can also use God’s words to communicate to others. Since God’s authority backs His Word, we can expect others to follow what He has revealed. We have a defense not just of the knowledge of truth but of the communication of that truth.

MacArthur points to many examples of leaders within the Emergent Church conversation who have sacrificed their loyalty to truth on the altar of post-modern philosophy. Post-modernism defines truth out of bounds with its insistence that words cannot communicate knowledge of the real world. God’s Word, and its simple communicating to us of profound truth, shows otherwise. It is not that we can know all truth about everything; it is that we can know the truth communicated by the Bible accurately.

Much more can be said about the book. It contains simple, but not simplistic, explanations of some historical heresies within the church and their recent resurgences. It points us to a humble attitude toward our task of defending the truth. He also leads us to a forceful response.

This is a battle we cannot wage effectively if we always try to come across to the world as merely nice, nonchalant, docile, agreeable, and fun-loving people. We must not take our cues form people who are perfectly happy to compromise the truth whenever possible “for harmony’s sake.” (p. 76)

MacArthur, like any good Baptist, is quick to say that physical force is not part of the Christian’s approach. He points us to direct and firm verbal confrontation of the errors we find in the church today. It is an appropriate admonition to a church whose feeble tolerance of error leads us to an effeminate faith, devoid of convictions and the will to champion them. May God make us strong.

6/24/2007

God is Great After All Mr. Hitchens

I have been reading Christopher Hitchens’ new book: God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007). Hitchens skillfully builds a wall of rhetoric around his firmly entrenched atheism. He walls himself off from Christianity with subtile and effective insult. Unlike Richard Dawkin’s recent book, it is more difficult to pin down an actual argument against the Christian faith in God is not Great, but I would like to answer a few points.

... there would be no ... churches in the first place if humanity had not been afraid of the weather, that dark, the plague, the eclipse, and all manner of other things now easily explicable. And also if humanity had not been compelled, on pain of extremely agonizing consequences, to pay the exorbitant tithes and taxes that raised the imposing edifices of religion. (p. 65)


In this short passage, he refers to two ad hominem arguments. Men like Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach developed the first in the past. It has been called by some “wish fulfillment.” The idea is that our fear of things beyond our control makes us posit a god who is in control of those things. We then develop systems of religion to appease this god or gods, really to control him, and in so doing bring the things we fear back under our control.

I’ve never understood how an explanation of my religious beliefs could be expected to prove or disprove them. This is usually not what the explanation is intended to do. It’s really aimed at making religious beliefs seem childish, and Hitchens uses ad hominem often (see pages 74, 77, and others).

The notion of “wish-fulfillment” is easily turned around. To put it in a slightly expanded West Tennessee colloquialism, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” As R. C. Sproul points out, “... those like Freud who reject God do so in order to escape the helplessness that one feels in the face of the holy and “superior power” of the God who really exists” (Defending Your Faith: an Introduction to Apologetics, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003, p. 159). The Apostle Paul addressed this psychology behind atheism in Romans 1:18-32. Sproul also addresses this psychology in an earlier book.

The second argument is the implication that religion could not be successful without the threat of violence from the state to enforce its demands. I’d like to point to a book recently written by James Patrick Holding called The Impossible Faith. The book comes from an article here. Holding, despite a bent to sarcasm that sometimes detracts from his work, does an admirable job of driving home an obvious point: Christianity had no political power or influence during its inception. Christianity arose from under intense persecution it is early years, and the best explanation is the actual historic resurrection of the Divine Son of God. Christians have nothing to fear from an evaluation of history that is free from the biases and assumptions Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 1. That some later perverted the faith Christ delivered should not detract from these facts.

We go back to the old and tired “... the postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator” (p. 71). I have labored the point elsewhere that we must have a creator who has always existed to avoid a practically impossible infinite regress of finite causes. That is, if we think back from ourselves to the things that caused us, then back to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the infinitely long line of causes would not have been traversed to get to us. If you find a line of dominoes, and find an infinite number of them before the last one in the line, you could never go back to the first one in the line to start the process of knocking them all over.

His most interesting argument is against the designer behind the world. He attacks the design itself. On page 85, he tells theists like me that we must “... take credit for his clumsiness, failure, and incompetence.” First, we should ask that if evolution has been going on for “450 million years” (p. 87), and “...All the intermediate stages of this process have been located in other creatures...” (p. 82), why do we still find imperfect creatures in the evolutionary model either? It seems that “natural selection” would have done her proper duty by now.

For further help, I turn to the greatest philosopher the church has created: the Apostle Paul.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22, ESV)

All of the ‘defects’ mentioned by Hitchens can be explained by the fact that all of creation has been disturbed by man’s sin. This explanation is not addressed by Hitchens, but does provide a strong hint at the devastation wrought by Adam’s sin. The Christian faith can explain the defects in nature and the purposes embedded there. The atheist can only point to the defects.

I find an almost startling quote from Hitchens on page 80: “... we are prepared for discoveries in the future that will stagger our faculties even more than the vast advance in knowledge that have come to us since Darwin and Einstein.” It seems that the atheist lives by faith, not by sight. I’ll not address his issues with the Bible and its historicity since others have done a much better job.

I was also encouraged by his frank comment on page 100 that God’s law “... demands the impossible...” Yes, indeed it does. The law is an expression of the glory of a holy God. It is a schoolmaster that drives us to Christ, where God’s mercy and grace are to be enjoyed by all who trust in Him.

We should always remember to pray for Hitchens, and atheists like him, that they would be brought to knowledge of the truth. Only God can change the hard hearts of His creatures, and we were no different before we came to Christ. We should not criticize blind people who bump into trees.

6/22/2007

Praise Report

My Father-in-law was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia a few weeks ago. He had been a pastor for an English-speaking church on an airbase in Japan. The doctors did not give him good odds of leaving the hospital in Japan.

After several blood transfusions and a round of chemotherapy, he has left the hospital and traveled back home to America. He will transfer medical treatment to his new doctors today. It is good to have him back.

Please continue your prayers.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Ro 11:33a, ESV).

6/20/2007

Help Needed

I am studying systematic theology for a blog post. I am particularly concerned with theology proper (attributes of God). I am reviewing the following:

A Summary of Christian Doctrine – Louis Berkhof
Abstract of Systematic Theology – James P. Boice

Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
Systematic Theology – Charles Hodge
One Holy Passion – R. C. Sproul
Christian Dogmatics – John Mueller

Thanks to LP Cruz for the recommendation on the last one.

Does anyone have any more suggestions? Any comments would be appreciated.

6/18/2007

The Most Reasonable Faith

I heard some testimonies the other day that really stressed me out. Several people shared that Christianity implies the need for a “leap of faith,” or that “God’s existence cannot be proved because then faith would not be faith.” These ideas will not strengthen faith when Christians are confronted by worldly philosophy.

God's existence is as plain as the nose on our faces (Romans 1:18-19). Many, from The Apostle Paul to St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas to John Gerstner to Greg Bahnsen, have proven the faith beyond doubt. The problem is not the lack of evidence, but the suppression of it. The unbeliever does not want to submit to God, so he or she refuses to acknowledge the truth that is plain (Romans 1:21-23).

There is no need to fall back on a position that says God's existence is to be taken on faith, as if faith is something that goes beyond reason. The Christian faith is the wisdom of God that makes foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The Christian faith is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1, ESV, emphasis mine).

My faith is something I am sure of, convinced of beyond any doubt.

6/15/2007

Piper on N. T. Wright

John Piper is finishing a book: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. Expected publish date is in November.

The last chapter of the book is posted here.

I look forward with interest.

Eleven Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion

It may be a few days before my next big post. I’m working on a series of posts that will outline why I am a Christian. This is my response to discussions on several other blogs that have accused me of not communicating a full-on worldview for discussion. The basic outline is given below.

1. God is who He is.
2. God has done what He has done.
3. It explains logic and rational thought.
4. It makes science possible.
5. Jesus is the best example.
6. It explains the presence of evil.
7. It answers the problem of evil.
8. It gives a certain promise of heaven.
9. It changes the world for the better.
10. It leads to joy.
11. It has changed my life.

I reserve the right to make minor changes to the outline, combine certain points, and expand others.

I welcome your comments on the outline and your suggestions for improvement throughout.

6/13/2007

Penal Substitution – More Thinking, Less Rhetoric

I still follow with trepidation the discussions of penal substitutionary atonement coming from the emergent church conversation. This is my attempt to establish a working theory after my last bit of polemics.

For a theory to be valid, it must take into account all of the particular facts the Bible gives us. It gives us facts, arranged in prepositional sentences. It uses words to communicate. Everyone who has ever told me that words were inadequate because of my own particular biases and culture has used words to tell me that. Their argument seems difficult for a small town boy from West Tennessee to follow.

Now that we have established logic in a back-handed fashion, let’s move on to the traditional understandings of a penal substitutionary atonement. Most of the theologians I have ever read talk of the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience, detailed in the gospels, involved following all of the particular requirements of the law. It enables Christ to expiate our real guilt for our sins, to take our guilt away from us. It secures a righteousness He can see that we are credited with.

His passive obedience involved suffering the wrath of God as the bearer of our sins. It pays the penalty for sin and propitiates God’s wrath. That is, it satisfies God’s wrath so that He is not mad at us anymore. It does something to God.Of course Christ is a special Person. He is the Eternal God-man, a person of the Trinity. This is a key element of the gospel message. Only the eternal God-Man was capable of suffering infinitely in His soul for our sins.

Of course, Christ is active in the lives of those who trust what He said about how to live their lives enough to follow His teaching (repentance) and trust what He did for them to pay the penalty for their sins and give them a righteousness from God (faith).

He is the risen Christ who lives to intercede on behalf of His people, securing a status for those who have faith that ensures confidence to overcome sin. He is the risen Christ who sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to lives that glorify God.I do not know of any proponent of penal, substitutionary atonement who would not affirm the facts related above (although I am sure some would quibble about my simplistic wording). But I beg those in the emergent conversation, do not come with any of this nonsense about one important aspect of a thing not being integral to the thing as a whole.

Please keep in mind the Bible passages which equate penal substitution with the gospel (e. g. Romans 3:21-31; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper details technical language issues that are beyond the abilities of this country-boy engineering major.

6/12/2007

A Polemic Outburst on Substitutionary Atonement

I have trouble following the conversation in the blogosphere of late regarding “penal substitution.” N. T. Wright especially confuses me. It may well be that some of what I am about to write is due to this inability to understand. I do not attempt to explain my terms here. If you want my attempt to communicate the gospel simply, please see my other posts here and here.

Penal substitutionary atonement is the fact that Christ took the credit for our sins, suffered God’s wrath for them, and earned righteousness that can be credited to us. The atonement cannot be described without explaining the idea that Christ died for our sins, and that very idea conveys most of the content of penal substitution.

How could anyone possibly think that those of us who hold penal substitution as the proper understanding of the facts of the atonement ignore the gospels, the Old Testament, or any other part of Scripture? Christ told us that He was the theme of the Bible in Luke 24:27 (cf. 24:13-35). Did He not say, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Even a country-boy industrial engineer like me who went to public school and state university can understand “suffer these things.” What did Christ suffer? Why did He have to suffer? It does say, “Must.”

What of the other theories? Whom was the ransom in the Ransom Theory paid to? Satan? If the ransom was paid to God, how was it paid? Was it paid by suffering the underserved penalty for sin or by some other means? Money perhaps? If it was paid by suffering, are we not back to penal substitution?

What exactly is “satisfied” in the Satisfaction Theory? What is satisfied? Just God’s need to uphold His dignity? What is done for the sinner? What changes for God?

Is the atonement just to show God’s love? If so, how is God’s great love shown without any help being given to the sinner? The old illustration holds up well: it’s like a man who, seeing his friend drowning, and being perfectly capable of saving him, jumps into the water next to him and drowns to death to show his love. How does this help?

Do we just see an example of righteous living in the atonement? Is it just to show us how to live? I can’t help but think of that sacrilegious Monthy Python movie: “The Life of Brian.” It’s like Jesus hanging on the cross at movie’s end singing, “Always look on the bright side of life,” and whistling a tune. Is that all we are left with.

How is it that the Christus Victor theme can be understood outside of Christ’s triumph over the law because He satisfied God’s wrath and freed us from the law’s curse? How did He gain victory?

Whom were we reconciled to? Did we reenter fellowship with a God who only showed us love and had no place for wrath in His attributes? Would we even need to be reconciled to such a God anyway?

How is the book of Romans to be understood? What of Galatians? How can we understand Luke 18:9-14? How can we understand Isaiah 52:13-53:12? How can we understand 1 Corinthians 15?


Take parts of Colossians Chapter 1 and 2 as an extend example:

Since “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation …” He is to be held as preeminent because He is “the firstborn from the dead.” His cross and resurrection define His importance. God reconciled “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” by “making peace by the blood of his cross.” The old hymn “Nothing but the Blood” comes to mind.

We “who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” Christ reconciled “in his body of flesh by his death.” His death and suffering are enabling the reconciliation. He presented us “holy and blameless and above reproach,” without sin because the debt had been paid by Him.

Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” because He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” He did this by “nailing it to the cross.”

The gospel cannot even be understood without the facts presented by penal substitution in a prominent role. The other theories can only be well understood by smuggling in penal substitution.

If you take the facts described by penal substitution out of the Bible’s themes, you are left with little else to discuss. If you take penal substitution out of your framework for understanding the atonement, you are left with un-understandable gibberish.

Lastly, the atonement is not a theory in any sense of the word. It is not an idea about a thing that requires further proof before we believe it. It is not a set of facts that must be completed by other facts. It is not a thing that occurs in the abstract world of ideas. It is real. It occurred in history. That makes it important.

The atonement is important to us because it is the only hope we have to stand before a Holy God. May the Lord help us to understand more of His great act. Let's not confuse that issue as we try to understand.

6/11/2007

The Moral Argument for God’s Existence – 2

There is something profoundly wrong with death. I am not talking in abstract terms here; I am talking about the death of my Mother last year.

My Mom was the one who I could always count on to be there for me, even when I had done wrong. She was the one who dried my tears from my eyes with a dishtowel when I cried. She was the one who brought joy to my life as a child.

I was very ill when I was a kid. I had a severe case of histoplasmosis of the lungs at age one. This was not as treatable a condition then as it is now. My parents were told at one point that I had only a few months to live. I was fourteen before I really grew out of it.

Mom was the one who held me in her arms when I could not get my breath and rocked me back and forth to help me breath. She made my early life special. She took me to see what corn was, how it grew on the stalk, and how it had hair that grew on the end. She showed me many things. She channeled my intelligence into productive things and always seemed to have an encouraging word for me.

She was there for me when the kids at school made fun of me. You see, I was the kid with the perpetual sinus infection. My derogatory nickname was “Buggers.” I was not a part of the “in crowd” until well into high school. I just physically could not defend myself or keep up. She encouraged me when others would not.

My mother’s death was not right. It was profoundly wrong in the moral sense. I know that intuitively. She should not have died, but she did.

She did not die an ordinary, painless death either. She passed away of congestive heart failure after living for about eight years longer than the doctors thought she would. Her breathing became more and more laborious with each passing day. She would get better, only to get worse. I watched her die one breath at a time for years when there was nothing that I could do.

What am I to make of this? Am I to adopt a worldview which would make death just an ordinary part of life? Should I just accept it as a part of the way the universe works?

No way! I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of evil and suffering. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of how people are supposed to be allowed to live. I want death to be wrong. I need an absolute standard for right and wrong which calls death the enemy and triumphs over it (1 Cor. 15:25-28).

Christianity allows for this standard. It allows us to call evil “evil.” I know that this standard of good and evil must be real. Life makes no intuitive sense without it. The denial of it is impossible in view of the pain and suffering we see in our world.

Hate God for all of this? How could I possibly hate the only Being that anyone has ever conceptualized who could give meaning to all of this (Ephesians 1:3-10)? How could I hate the One who has a reason for all of the pain, even if He does not reveal that reason (Romans 8:28)?

How could I not despise the worldview that would result in no evil, no purpose, and no victory? Atheism, and many forms of religion, deny an absolute standard of morality, of what is right and what is wrong. Yet those who follow these systems of thought do not accept the idea of meaningless suffering in their heart of hearts. All you have to do is offend them. All you have to do is interfere with their happiness, and they will complain. They will enforce an absolute standard.

All you have to do is posit a God, and they will begin to try to disprove His existence by appealing to the same absolute standard of evil that they cannot provide a foundation for. They will say, “The presence of evil and suffering in the world proves that there is not God.”

When their parents die, see if they cry, and if they do, remind them that there is a worldview that gives hope even in the face of absolute evil. In addition, victory, won by Christ, is promised to all who repent and trust Him. Remind them of the love of Christ for the world that they are a part of.

God, grant us repentance to live and faith to believe. Give us Your power and Your peace in the midst of our suffering. Help us, even in our grief and pain, to rest all of our hopes on the glorious victory won for us by Jesus Christ. “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

6/08/2007

Some Quotes Deserve a Post of Their Own

The folks over at http://www.rzmi.org/ recently helped me find a quote Ravi Zacharias had mentioned in a recent lecture. It was from a conversation that Pres. Ronald Regan had with M. Gorbachev of what he longed to do.

“He told Gorbachev he’d always yearned to serve his atheist son “a perfect gourmet dinner, have him enjoy the meal, then ask him if he believed there was a cook.””

Another reason why Regan is one of my heros.

6/07/2007

Interesting Reading List

Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox Issue #314, an e-mail publication, contained a link to a reading list recently discussed on his podcast. It includes some great titles. It is a reminder to stay knowledgeable of the world around us so we can be articulate in our conversations.

I was especially pleased to see "Freakonomics" listed. This is a great read. I should say “listen” as I heard the book on tape.

As an industrial engineer, I have a special affinity for the man that the book follows. He uses statistical techniques to study things considered by some to be off-limits.

I have used Six Sigma often professionally. This is an application of many of the same statistical techniques, like regression and chi-squared, to industrial and business problems.

Especially interesting to me is the chapter on “Superman vs. the Klu Klux Klan.” I would have never credited a fictional hero with the demise of a terrible evil, but there is a case presented for just that.

6/06/2007

Logic and God 4

God establishes reason, and without Him, we do not have reasons for reasons.

We reason by the laws of logic combined with facts we observe. For example, the Law of Non-contradiction, that A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. These abstract, conceptual principles must be accounted for if any discussion on any topic is to take place. Only the Christian God can account for these laws. His thinking upholds ours.

If the laws of logic are based on human thinking, then we have to realize that people are different and the laws may differ from person to person. They are no longer absolute. Some particular examples follow.

If the laws of logic are just social conventions, then they are not absolute, and they can be ignored at will. My social network is, after all, different from yours.

How do we avoid the conclusion that all of our thinking is not the result of mere instinctive reactions to our environment? Since our environments are all different, we would all reach different conclusions. We would have no basis for argument because we could not change each other’s minds because we could not change each other’s environments to the degree required.

If our thinking is a preconditioned response determined by our genetics, rational impulses would then be determined by genetics. There would be no decisions made in any traditional sense. We would all be pre-programmed to do what we do, and therefore there would be no sense in arguing. We could not change each other’s genetics, so no one could possibly win. Anyone who argues a point assumes that logic applies and genetics don’t determine our thinking if they are consistent.

I guess that our thinking could be based on the consequences of our actions (e. g. behaviorism in psychology). But then we would have to wrestle with the inconsistency of consequences, especially soon, certain and positive consequences. That would make thinking inconsistent from person to person. Not to mention that now all that could win an argument would be a form of force, since only superior force can fix consequences for others. Survival of the fittest indeed!

The laws of logic cannot come from science because science is based on inductive reasoning from things we see in our environments. For example, we cannot see the law of non-contradiction in the world. We would have to see the properties of a non-existent things (non-A). The laws of logic are abstract constructions that exist only in the mind. We discover the laws of logic by thought, not observation.
The laws of logic are also undeniable. If we say, for example, “I know the laws of logic do change. We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that disobey those laws.”

Nothing that is expressed in words disobeys the laws of logic. Any discovery you make must be logically understood. For example:

If the Law of Non-contradiction (A cannot be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense) is not in effect, then you might as well say to me: “We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that obey the laws of logic.” “Obey” and “disobey” can have the same meaning in your sentence.

If the Law of Identity (something is what it is, something that exists has a specific nature) is not in effect, the discovery in question would not necessarily be a discovery. Your statement of the discovery could be: “We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that disobey those laws, but the discoveries changed into discoveries which followed the laws of logic when we came back the next day.”

If the Law of Excluded Middle (a statement is either true or false) is not in effect, your statement on quantum physics could be false even if it were true.

None of the sentences used by anyone would have any objective meaning if the laws of logic do not apply. If the laws of physics as they are currently understood do not apply, it does not follow that the laws of logic do not apply. This would go for any recent scientific discovery. As soon as a person opens their mouth to refute logic they have assumed it.

If Christians are wrong, we are left with no reason to think that we can have rational discourse. Atheists and agnostics cannot have an argument, because they do not have a position.

Why do I think that only the Christian God among other gods can ground logic and other immutable laws? Short version:

Islam postulates a God whose idea of morality changes from this world to paradise (e. g. monogamous sex now vs. promiscuous sex with the virgins in paradise). His moral laws change and are not absolute.

Judaism postulates a god very much like Christianity’s, but the Jews’ God does not forgive based on an adequate atonement (The infinite Christ does not pay the penalty for their sins by suffering all of God’s wrath). If he forgives, his standards are not unchanging.

The god of the process theologians and / or open theists changes himself as time goes on (e. g. he learns things about the undetermined future). He cannot then be the ground of anything like the laws of logic, which do not change.

A finite god who came into being (this is really what a person is saying if they say God had a cause) would be ruled out as well. If God came into being, that would be changing. He could not be the ground of the laws of logic because logic requires an unchanging ground.

Deism does not allow for a God who interacts with His world. The laws of logic would have to be inherent in the universe he made. The universe we live in changes constantly, therefore the laws of logic would change with the universe.

Pantheism, the idea that god and the world are the same in their being, also falls short. In this god is all and all is god. The universe shows it changes. The unchanging laws of logic force us to assume that an unchanging God exists, so the universe must be different from God.

Gnosticism’s god is irrational and illogical as defined by most expressions of that religion. However, I realize that not all forms of Gnosticism are alike.

If any of the worldviews that oppose Christianity are true, we have no reason to think that we can have rational discourse. We cannot even have an argument, because none of us has a position we can communicate.

In the case of atheism, this also shifts the burden of proof from the Christian to the atheist. Now the atheist must put forth a justification for logic and reason before we must hear him. This is a significant thing because atheists are used to tearing down arguments, not making them.

Please keep in mind that we are to pray for God to bless all of those we engage in this conversation. We should pray for their protection from harm and repentance to life. The only difference between them and us is the unmerited favor of a loving God. We cannot ‘look down our noses’ at them since we once “lived” among them.

(Sources for the above are: John M. Frame, The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, and Tearing Down Strongholds: And Defending the Truth by R. C. Sproul, Jr. Of course, the mistakes are all mine.)

By the way, this is my first attempt to use any form of the transcendental argument from logic. If you have a critique or a suggestion, please let me know.

6/05/2007

A Great Link for Fathers

A parable that has great impact on this relatively new father of a three-year-old daughter.

6/04/2007

The Motive for Right Living

Often in debates with atheists, Christians are accused of doing good (being moral) merely to escape the judgment of God. Twice I have had an atheist tell me that they would fair okay if they were to face God’s judgment because, after all, their good works were done merely because they were good and not out of fear of punishment. Fear of judgment is to some an impure motive for morality.

At the heart of an accusation like this is a misunderstanding of the gospel itself. I want to show that the gospel frees us from having to search our motives, which are often impure, and live our lives for the God who made us. Along the way, I will express the main message of the Bible: the gospel.

Expressed simply, the gospel is the fact that God offers eternal life as a free gift. Eternal life is a right relationship with God, enjoyed now and in eternity. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As a gift, eternal life is not earned or deserved.

The gospel is impossible to understand without first coming to grips with the law, God’s requirements for us. The law requires perfection. Jesus Himself said, “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Anyone who admits moral imperfection admits to have fallen short of this ideal. This leaves us under condemnation.

Get the force of this. All we have to do is commit one immoral act. All we have to do is one “good” work with an impure motive. That is all we need to violate the standard of perfection. The judgment is not a matter of “the good outweighing the bad.” It is a matter of meeting a perfect standard established by the God who created us.

No one obeys the law perfectly or obeys the law with perfect motives: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The saying that “nobody is perfect” is accepted as a cultural axiom.

The old prayer of confession in the Anglican Church reads, “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed; by the things we have done and the things we have left undone.” Sin could be anything we do, anything we think, or anything we say. It could be what we fail to do, what we fail to thing, or what we fail to say.

This leaves all people inadequately prepared for the judgment in and of ourselves. We cannot rely on our own morality or motives because we are not perfect.

The idea is easier to understand when we realize what the Bible says about God. God is holy, or separate from sin. God is also just, that is, He is the perfect judge who must punish the sins of His creatures. The Old Testament reads, “... yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” God also loves: “God is love.” And since He loves us, He does not want to punish us.

In human terms, this leaves God with a “problem.” On the one hand, He loves us and does not want to punish us. One the other hand, He is just and must punish sin. God solved this “problem” in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is, in a manner of speaking, God who came to earth as a man. As a man, the perfect Christ was able to be perfectly moral. He always did what was right from perfectly good motives.

He also was able to take our sins upon Himself. He took credit for the things we have done wrong. He suffered a death He did not deserve as a substitute for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and he has put him to grief.” As Paul wrote, “For [God] made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

God has made it possible for Christ to take credit for our sins and suffer infinitely in His soul for them. God has made it possible for us to take credit for the perfect life morality requires. We do this by faith.

Faith does not just understand the facts of the law’s moral requirements and the gospel of God’s grace to us. It does not just believe that these facts are true. It is a confident trust that what Christ did He did for us. It is a resting in Him as the foundation of our morality. It trusts what He said about how to live our lives and what He said about having eternal life.

This is what the Bible means when it says, “Believe on [not just in, but “on”] the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It is what Christians mean when they say that they accept the free gift of eternal life from Christ.

Why then do we do good works? If eternal life is a free gift, why should we strive to be moral? One answer for this is that we are grateful for the gift we have received. The Heidelberg Catechism has three main parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. That is the general pattern of a Christian’s life.

There are other pure motives such as doing good because it is good in and of itself, doing good out of love for God, and even doing good out of what is in it for us. The last one does sound counter-intuitive.

God made us to live a moral life, and we should not be surprised that moral living gives us joy. This joy is at a profound level that can even motivate us to give our lives over to suffering and death on Christ’s behalf. The idea is not that our happiness is the greatest good; it is that God’s glory is what we are made for. Living for His glory gives us joy. (See this article)

But do not miss the main point mentioned above: the gospel frees us from having to search our motives, which are often impure, and live for the God who made us. We do not have to agonize over our motives because Christ died for impure motives as well as impure thoughts, words, and deeds.

Christians sometimes do things out of pure motives. They sometimes do not. They even sometimes doubt the faith. But they can rest all of their hope on Christ and what He has done on their behalf.

(The basic outline of this post is from Evangelism Explosion. The discussion on White Horse Inn and the writings of R. C. Sproul have clarified my thinking.)

The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

Most people who discuss the moral argument for God’s existence make a basic mistake: they form the argument based in part on the idea that everyone has a consistent idea of what morality is. That is not necessary.

I don’t think the standard form of the argument, that everyone's morality is the same when they express it, makes sense. That form ignores the reality of original sin or total depravity. Briefly, total depravity is not that all people are as bad as they possibly could be. It’s the idea that all people have a nature that is prone to disobey God, and that nature effects every part of their lives. No one’s conscience is immune from this, so no one’s conscience is perfectly conformed to God’s law.

But the argument doesn’t have to show that everyone’s morality is the same as they express it. The form of the moral argument I use comes from the Apostle Paul:

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.” (Romans 2:1-2, ESV)

It’s not that everyone knows the moral law off the top of their heads. It’s that everyone knows what is wrong when that wrong is done to them.

Two examples to make a point:

Let’s pretend for a minute. It’s 1930s German. You are a Jew. I am a Nazi. I have a gun pointed at your head in an attempt to exterminate you and your race. My culture is telling me that I should kill you. What do you say? Should I just feel sorry for you? Why should I empathize with a person who has no value and not pull the trigger? My culture and my sensibilities tell me to destroy you. What do you say? (Adapted from a lecture given by Walter Martin)

Another short but pithy comment overheard by Ravi Zacharias: “In my culture it is taught that we should love our neighbor. In other cultures it is taught that we should eat our neighbor. Do you have a preference?” (wording is from memory of a lecture and not exact)

This is the best form of the argument. This one carries weight.

6/01/2007

Communicating the Gospel

I have been reading books written by several Christians lately that criticize ways of communicating the gospel that other Christians use. Examples are here, here, here, here, and here. (I commend these efforts in principle, although I do not agree with all the conclusions. I cannot because some of them contradict each other.)

If we do not feel that other people’s way of communicating the gospel is inadequate, then it may be that we do not value the gospel as we should. We see things we value as precious. Precious things must be protected. Precious doctrine must be communicated well.

Not challenging other’s interpretations is often a function of intellectual laziness, not willing to mentally engage the great mysteries of the gospel as they relate to your context.

I pray that Christ’s church will continue to refine the ways we talk of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

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