Is Atheism a Worldview?

In my interactions with atheists, one of the most common tactics I have observed is the claim that atheism is not a worldview. Atheism is not belief, but the absence of belief. It is not a claim, but the absence of a claim. Therefore, or so it goes, atheism does not need a defense. Another interesting tactic employed by atheists is the move to redefine it. Atheism does not claim that God does not exist, but merely claims that there isn’t enough evidence to support the belief that He does. What is a Christian to do? How should Christians think about these tactics? The goal of this post is offer some suggestions for how you might think about these tactics, and from that thinking, how you might respond or challenge an atheist who happens to be employing them.

First of all, what is a worldview? A worldview is any paradigm that rests upon basic presuppositions that serve to inform how you interpret, understand, or view the world, or this reality in which we find ourselves. Worldviews typically seek to answer basic questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and morality. So, the question would be simply this: does atheism seek to answer questions about the nature of reality, the nature of how human beings know things about that reality, and the nature of right and wrong? It seems uncontroversial to me that atheism denies that this reality is the product a supernatural act performed by God, that human knowledge is the natural operation of the human brain, and that right and wrong can be known without reference to a transcendent being. By simple definition, atheism is a worldview and ought to be treated as such. That there are various theories regarding metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics within atheism does not ipso facto rule it out as falling within the definition of a worldview.

The second claim is that atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief. Atheism is not making any claims. The Christian ought to ask if such a situation is possible. Atheism, like other systems not only includes beliefs about reality, about human knowledge, and about ethics, but also beliefs about how beliefs ought to be formed.

Atheist: Atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief.

Christian: In what exactly is atheism a lack of belief?

Atheist: Atheism is a lack of belief in God.

Christian: Why does atheism lack belief in God?

Atheist: Atheism lacks belief in God because there isn’t evidence that God exists.

Christian: So Atheism believes that all beliefs should have evidence to support them.

Atheist: yes.

Christian: Isn’t that a belief?

Atheist: Not really.

Christian: Of course it is. What evidence can you provide that demonstrates that all beliefs must have evidence to support them? Does “this belief” that all beliefs should have evidence to support them, have evidence to support it?

Atheist: It is self-evident.

Christian: How is it self-evident? A self-evident belief is one who’s denial entails a self-contradiction. My denial that all beliefs require evidence to support them is in no way self-contradictory.

 

The claim that atheism is merely a lack of belief is demonstrably false. The claim that atheism makes no claims is a claim as well. I said that the claim that all beliefs should be supported by evidence is not self-evident. Now, let’s look at the opposite view. Here is an argument that you should think about:

Assertion –> Belief

Assertion

/Belief

This is the Modus Ponens form of the argument. Now, notice something very interesting. If you want to get to the conclusion of no beliefs, you have to deny assertions. What happens when you deny assertions? Think about it. Can you deny assertions without engaging in self-contradiction? Indeed, you cannot. This argument, taken transcendentally, is making the case that belief is the necessary condition of assertion. In order to deny assertion, one must deny belief. But we cannot deny belief without presupposing it. The claim is self-defeating because it entails contradiction. This means that we know that beliefs are the necessary condition of assertions because of the impossibility of the contrary. And the contrary is impossible because it involves contradiction. In other words it is impossible to assert non-belief about God without expressing some belief about God.

Assertion –> Belief

~Belief

/~Assertion

This is the Modus Tollens form of the argument. It says that belief is the necessary condition of assertion, but that there is no belief and therefore, no assertion. However, the argument cannot be made unless there is assertion and on the face of it, it is false because it entails self-contradiction. In other words, the conclusion of this argument is made impossible by the very existence of the argument. think about it this way, my assertion that there is no belief is impossible to assert since belief if the necessary condition of assertion. The argument is valid as far as form goes. But since the second premise false, the argument is unsound.

Is atheism a worldview? Indeed, it is. Is it true that atheism is merely a lack of belief about God’s existence? It is not since such a claim is self-contradictory. Is it the case that atheism makes no claims? It is not the case since the very proposition of “making no claims” is itself a claim. What Christians have to do is move slower in these encounters, think about what is being asserted, and ask what has to be true in order for the claim to be true. Atheists are atheists because they are unwilling to acknowledge the God’s existence and the evidence all around us and within us that demonstrates God is there. God has made Himself known.

I have employed a transcendental argument to refute the atheistic claims that atheism is not a worldview, does not assert belief and makes no claims. If a transcendental argument is sound its conclusion cannot be denied without self-contradiction.[1]

[1] See Ronney Mourad, Transcendetal Arguments and Justified Christian Belief (University Press of America).

Review of Jamin Huber’s Preface to the Third Edition: The Portable Presuppositionalist

From the beginning of Hubner’s preface, we almost hear the faint quote from the Astronauts of Apollo 13, “Hubner, we have a problem.” Well, we hear something like it. At the very beginning of the section The Bible in Presuppositional Apologetics, in his “Preface to the Third Edition,” of his book, The Portable Presuppositonalist, Hubner says that Reformed Christians and a large portion of self-professing “conservative evangelicals” have a view of what the Bible is, and therefore what it means and what it can do, that is fundamentally unrealistic, unhelpful, and inaccurate. I must confess, as a reformed Christian, and a presuppositional apologist, Hubner’s opening paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. How could a book that claims to be of this genre contain such a basic contradiction to the genre itself? Am I misunderstanding what Hubner is doing? was my first thought. After all, I see endorsements by men that I am certain would not agree with Hubner’s characterization of how Reformed Christians view the Bible.

The first thing that strikes me about Hubner’s Preface is that is seems to be an attempt to strike at the heart of the rest of the book. You might call the book the presuppositional Trojan Horse. We see articles and quotes by men like Van Til, Oliphint, Frame, and Bahnsen. We think, this should be a good addition to the tool box. But if you read the Preface, you realize that Hubner is obviously hoping for a different outcome. Perhaps the book is best described as a liberal in conservative clothing. Maybe Hubner is targeting the presuppositional audience in hopes that they will resonate with his Preface and go out and perform some of this genuine research that he calls it, see the light, and abandon their Reformed view of Scripture. Could this be his real goal? It’s impossible to say but it certainly isn’t unreasonable to draw such conclusions given the Preface of the book in view of the overall context of the rest of the book.

Hubner begins his assault of basic conservative beliefs about the Bible. First, that it is God’s word and should not be questioned. But then Hubner muddies the waters on this subject. Christianity does not contend that we should not ask questions about the meaning of Word of God, or even about historical transmission of the Word of God. What we claim is that Word of God is always true and that its claims cannot be subjected to external tests in order to establish their veracity. If Scripture teaches that there was a physical resurrection of Christ, then the truthfulness claim must not be questioned. Either God is our final reference point for truth claims or Man is our final reference point for such claims. Hubner never bothers to interact with this fact. He ignores it throughout his rant (preface). Hubner says we should not be afraid to call into question certain presuppositions. For instance, he points to the common notion that God loves everyone the same without distinction and links that to the belief that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. If the former is not true, why not be open to question the latter? Can you see Hubner’s tactic? Most, if not all Reformed Christians reject the idea that God loves all men the same without distinction. In fact, Hubner sandwiches the idea that God does not love all men the same, something we Reformed folks agree with between the supposedly naïve view that Moses wrote the Torah, and the Bible is the Word of God. Sneaky I think. But that’s just me. The language that Hubner uses about Moses’ authorship also deserves comment. He writes, “If all goes well, eventually they learn that the Pentateuch was largely compiled and edited long ago after Moses’ life by an unknown scholar.” Well, that is not exactly the consensus of all scholars. In fact, the question is still hotly debated with scholars landing on both sides of the debate. Longman III and Dillard write, “In the final analysis, it is possible to affirm the substantial Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in line with the occasional internal evidence and the strong external testimony, while allowing for earlier sources as well as later glosses and elaboration.” [Longman III & Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 51] Hubner indeed says a lot in his preface but he also, interestingly enough, leaves a lot more unsaid.

Hubner seems to think that the claim that the Bible is without error or perfect on all matters it touches places a lot of unnecessary pressure on the Bible. One is left wondering if Hubner thinks that the Reformed position on the nature of Scripture was created in the back rooms of some philosophical lab. The Reformed position is that Scripture brings us to these conclusions about itself. It is not a necessary premise in a logical syllogism designed to save face with non-Christian opponents. The Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, contrary to what Hubner seems to imply, is not a rescuing device.

Indeed, Hubner provides what he thinks is the Reformed syllogism for Scripture: 1) The Bible is God’s Word; 2) God never lies; 3) The Bible is inerrant. I would rephrase (2) with God is never wrong, or God never errors. At any rate, Hubner goes on to quote a paragraph in his last preface where it rejected W.L. Craig’s perspective that he does not have to defend the doctrine of inerrancy in order to defend Christianity. Hubner then says directly that he retracts these words completely. In other words, Hubner once thought Craig incorrect but not he believes Craig is correct. Where is Hubner going with this rant?

It seems to me that Hubner’s own thinking about Scripture has let him down. It appears that Jamin was unable, in his own mind, to formulate an adequate concept of the nature of Scripture, how Christians come to know that nature and to embrace it, and how that knowledge may be expressed or articulated in philosophical terms in a way that is persuasive to opponents. Hubner says that the claim that the Bible is the Word of God must presuppose its extent and meaning. In other words, Hubner has moved the bar. Reformed Christianity never claims that a Christian must be able to fully understanding accurately every text of every book of Scripture in order to affirm the overall nature of Scripture. If that were true, Hubner would be right and theism of all stripes would be destroyed. If Hubner’s high bar is accurate, and it is the case that comprehensive understanding is required in order for knowledge to obtain, then we cannot possible know God. Contrary to Hubner’s reasoning, we do not have to attain an accurate understanding of every part of Scripture in order to affirm Scripture as our final reference point for all truth claims any more than I have to be a PhD in mathematics in order to affirm that my calculator is right in all its solutions. I know that my computer or calculator’s mathematical ability far exceeds my own understanding. I also know that it does not follow that if I am unable to work out a problem using a manual formula, that that itself is not a good reason for me to reject the laws of mathematics or the reliability and authority of my calculator. I enter large problems into my computer or calculator and I trust their solutions. I do not feel the need to test them at every corner.

Hubner laments the fact that in presuppositional apologetics, the authority text of the religion must be presupposed in order to engage in apologetics for that religion. He thinks it cuts off meaningful dialogue. This is not a new problem for apologists. The Qur’an claims to be God’s final revelation which blatantly contradicts Scripture’s claim. How do we settle the matter? Hubner concludes that “It’s just an uncritical assertion – and it wouldn’t be part of apologetics were it not for an overly-ambitious, artificially-protectionistic doctrine of Scripture.” Well, that isn’t an answer either. It isn’t a solution. Hubner has raised an issue that he seems uninterested in tackling. If Hubner is right about the Reformed view of Scripture, then how is an apologist to handle competing claims from other religions that it is their religious text that is the final reference point for all truth claims? We have a stalemate. Hubner’s focus on textual criticism and the canon, even if we accept his solution (whatever that might be, it seems unclear to me), does nothing to advance Christian apologetics on this issue even an inch. The presuppositionalist turns the religious text’s claims on themselves for an internal critique to determine if they can pass their criteria and standards. To a text, at least for the major religions, they cannot. There is no religious text that has been examined to date, other than the Christian Scriptures, that do not clearly engage in outright contradictory claims, incoherent nonsense, and meaningless drivel. The presuppositionalist says to bring them on if you have a competitor and let us examine them.

On the other hand, opponents of Christian Scripture have been unable to effectively demonstrate the same flaws in the Christian text. Difficulties exist, sure. But there are no inescapable contradictions or outright false claims in the biblical text. Notice that Hubner offers not a shred of support for his view that Reformed Christians ought to abandon their claims about the Bible. I have searched his books on Amazon and have not found one that follows up Hubner’s preface here with a more detailed argument for his position.

Hubner then claims that it is one thing to say that when God speaks we cannot challenge it, but to say that God speaking is to be extended to say, the Masoretic Text of Jeremiah or the Comma Johanneum is absurd. But reformed Christians do not believe that they have a perfect word for word replica of the autographs. What we believe is that we have, in the manuscripts themselves, the original word of God as was given to the Church from the beginning. What we have in our versions of the Bible are excellent and reliable copies of copies of copies…of the manuscripts which are copies of the original. Moreover, that what we have, without any doubt whatsoever, is the accurate record of divine revelation as it was given down through redemptive history beginning with Moses and ending with John. If Hubner wishes to be more specific in his dispute of that claim, then the burden is on him. To rant for a few pages in the preface to a book that doesn’t even share his views seems somewhat bizarre to me.

Hubner says that Christians should abandon the “modern” idea that Scripture is self-attesting. It is untenable in his view and therefore should be discarded for something more true. But what is that thing that Hubner says is more true? The fact is, we don’t know. Hubner doesn’t say. Why should Christians abandon this view? Hubner says, “The end result is a kind of apologetic suicide, and Christianity is losing credibility as a result.” Hubner goes on to tell us how it is possible for theological views to live so long in truth-oriented religious communities – including the view of the Bible that is held by evangelicals and reformed Christians. He complains that writers like Kevin DeYoung only include research from scholars that share the conservative view of Scripture. Somehow, that is supposed that approach is the product of bias. What is interesting is that Hubner had already admitted that presuppositionalism is correct in its claim that neutrality is a myth. So why complain about bias. In addition to this, when one reviews Hubner’s list of books for further study at the end of his Preface, it is virtually a who’s who of left-leaning scholars. By the way, I think it is interesting that Hubner describes the reformed culture as a “truth-orientied” culture, as if the last thing he is advocating isn’t truth.

Hubner goes on the complain that evangelicals should calling their claims facts and based on hard evidence because they are not. But since Hubner supplies no content with to interact there is little than can be said other than he is making empty criticism. Hubner then contends that evangelicals should stop the practice of referring to teachings that go against the historic evangelical position as “non-orthodox Christianity.” I cannot help but wonder if Hubner believes that gay Christianity fits within orthodox Christianity. Or perhaps, maybe the denial of a physical resurrection of Christ should enjoy a place within orthodox Christianity. Perhaps it is not the idea of non-orthodox Christianity with which Hubner has a problem. Perhaps it is the location of the line that Hubner doesn’t like. That there is a line is hard to miss in the NT documents. Paul calls false teachers wolves in sheep’s clothing. Peter compares them to vomit-eating dogs. Jesus called them vipers. That they were identified and excommunicated is impossible for anyone how reads the text honestly to miss.

The problem Hubner is raising is epistemological in nature. How do Christians know the Word of God when they read it? Do Christians examine the Scriptures empirically or by rational processes and decide that this text is divinely inspired and that text is not? Hubner neglects to mention the role of the Holy Spirit in bring the Scripture to the Church. The entire process is completely ignored.

Is Hubner asking us to accept the idea that some of the Bible is inerrant, but not all of it? And is he asking us to believe that some of the canon is inerrant but not all of it. Perhaps he is asking us to accept the idea that there are inspired books that are not actually in the canon. Absent a self-authenticating canon, Christianity reduces into a religion that is the product of the decisions of white males over a 1600-year period. This view is theologically untenable, not to mention, to borrow one of Hubner’s own expressions, apologetic suicide. If the Scripture is not self-authenticating as a whole, then it is not self-authenticating in part either. By what standard can I say that this text is self-authenticating here in Romans 8:30, but that text over there in Mark 10:1 is not. By what standard can I say that John is self-authenticating, but Esther is not? Let’s suppose I come up with a set of criteria by which to determine those parts of Scripture that are self-authenticating and those that are not. How do I go about demonstrating my claim? To say that something is self-authenticating is to say that it is its own criteria. Okay, so then, if Hubner is correct, and Scripture is not fully self-authenticating, and if my understanding of self-authentication is correct, then Scripture is in fact not at all in any place self-authenticating. To say that a document is self-authenticating is to say that one does not need external proof to determine its truthfulness. Hubner’s claim then places him in the position of having to come up with external proof for the truth claims of Scripture. It gets worse. Let’s say we determine that this book is self-authenticating (misnomer I know) and that that book is not. If it is the case that some books can be said to be self-authenticating and others not, then why not sections of books as well? Logically speaking, that is precisely where we must go. What makes a book reliable? That is comports with secular history? What if components of a book violate everything we know about how the world operates? Like, for instance, people who have been dead for three days do NOT get up and walk around. Why should that section of Scripture stand as reliable? The only witnesses we have are Christians, followers of Christ. Isn’t that a little biased? There are no external witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. There are only external witnesses to the beliefs of Christ’s followers. That is a big difference. n

All this means that Hubner will need a set of criteria by which he can justify or warrant belief in miracles apart from Scripture. If he is unable to do so, not only is he in a position of not being able to affirm Scripture, he cannot affirm Christianity. If we have to reject one miracle of Scripture because it goes against what we know to be true about how the world works, then we will have to get rid of all of them. And if we get rid of all of them, we surely will lose the resurrection of Christ. And if we lose the resurrection of Christ, we lose Christianity altogether. What men like Hubner fail to realize is that in their desire to slice Christianity up into natural, rationalistic, respectable categories, rather than salvaging Christianity and retaining some sense of cognitive respectability, what they end up doing is destroying Christianity at its foundation.

What Hubner is going to have to do is provide an alternative view of Scripture that comports with the rest of the teachings of Christianity. A view that sees Scripture not entirely as the Word of God but still authoritative enough that it places all men everywhere under absolute and complete obligation to believe it and to submit to its teachings. I will close with two arguments.

  1. Something is self-attesting if its proof is internal to itself.
  2. Either Scripture is fully self-attesting or it is not self-attesting at all.
  3. If Scripture is fully self-attesting, then it is inerrant in all it teaches.
  4. If Scripture is not inerrant in all it teaches, then it is not self-attesting.
  5. If Scripture is not self-attesting everywhere, it is not self-attesting anywhere.
  6. If Scripture is not self-attesting, then it cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims.
  7. If Scripture cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims, then it is not self-authoritative.
  8. If Scripture is not self-authoritative, then it is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice.
  9. If Scripture is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice, then one cannot appeal to Scripture in order prove that Christianity is true.
  10. If one cannot appeal to Scripture in order to prove that Christianity is true, then Christianity cannot be proven true.
  11. Christianity claims that it can be proven true.
  12. Therefore, Christianity is false.

And again, one more argument that is also located on my website at Reformed Reasons:

  1. There must be an ultimate reference point (URP) for all truth claims if skepticism is to be avoided.
  2. Either God or Man is the URP for all truth claims.
  3. If Man is the URP for all truth claims, which man?
  4. If we cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism cannot be avoided.
  5. We cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims and avoid an infinite regress.
  6. Therefore, if man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism is true. [in other words, if man is the URP for all truth claims, there is no URP for all truth claims. See #1]
  7. Skepticism cannot be true since skepticism is self-refuting.
  8. Since Skepticism is self refuting, man cannot be the URP for all truth claims.
  9. Therefore, there must be an URP for all truth claims that is not man.
  10. See 2 above.
  11. Therefore, God is the URP for all truth claims.

 

 

 

 

The Significance of Theological Creeds and How They Function in the Christian Community

“Responding to Tom Krattenmaker”

Christian bodies that claim to follow “no creed but the Bible” put themselves at an enormous disadvantage for many purposes, not least for promoting Christian learning, because they cut themselves off from the vitally important work that has been accomplished by the numberless assemblies making up the community of Saints. [Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind]

Tom Kuttenmaker recently published an article entitled, “Why a Stout Theological Creed is Not Saving Evangelical Churches.” You may read this article HERE. There is a lot of truth in Tom’s article. However, overall, the article is misguided at its most fundamental level.

Tom spends his time rebuffing the likes of men like Al Mohler for pointing out that Liberal Protestantism is chiefly in decline is because of its lack of conviction around basic Christian doctrine. Mohler often points out that Liberal Protestants reject the one thing that could restore their communities to health: a return to biblical authority. It is here, and nowhere else, that all professing Christian communities are defined. A rejection of biblical authority leaves a vacuum that no version of a social gospel can fill. Moreover, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is life, a vibrant community filled with a love for God, for God’s truth and a love for each other.

Protestant Liberalism gets the cart before the horse. She has lived for decades now, attempting to place love of men prior to love for God. Or worse, she redefines love according to criteria over which she is the sole authority. What Tom Krattenmaker and others like him do not understand is that where there is no love for divine truth, no love for biblical authority, there can be no love for God. And where there is no love for God, there can be no love, no true love for humanity. But I digress. Evangelicalism is in decline. And her supposedly firm grip on staunch theological creed is powerless to curtail her slide. The point is that if it is true that a stanch theological creed would save liberal Protestantism from her decline, then why isn’t this staunch theological creed saving evangelicalism? That is indeed a very fair point. But Krattenmaker is only seeing and telling half the story. What he is not telling you is that the evangelical trends that Mohler and others see and have seen for years now is a trajectory much like that of the liberal Protestants of years gone by.

The point is precisely this: liberal Protestantism abandoned the historic creeds and a staunch theological conviction years ago and as a result, over time, people have exited her in droves. What has held much of evangelical churches together for years, however, has been her strong convictions around biblical authority and other basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. However, evangelicals have shifted from a staunch theological creed to a weakened one and now to outright abandonment of such a concept.

Some leaders are afraid to call themselves reformed, and they fail to recognize that a subscription to reformed theology matters, and it matters a lot. They worry that if they say Calvin or Calvinism that someone’s senses may be offended. We essentially make decisions on what to say and how we say it, based on the ignorance of those who haven’t cared enough to educate themselves. That’s right. What we preach, teach, and call ourselves in many instances is determined by the ignorant rather than by the informed. What? Say it with me: What!?

Tom is right when he says that church membership is not the place to look if we are seeking evidence for the beauty and power of truth. He is right when he says it never was the place to look. But still many, including the SBC, look exactly right there. And that is more than a little disturbing and has been since the practice began. The beauty and power of the gospel is witnessed not in the masses of people joining a church or an organization. It is witnessed in the miraculous change of the sinner’s heart. The transformation is indeed miraculous.

The church in modern America has been far too involved in the political system, the outward governmental structure and even economic policy. American Christians can hardly distinguish between their faith and their patriotism. Christ told us to make disciples and to preach the gospel and somehow, that has turned into outlawing abortion, stopping homosexual marriage, ending sex trafficking, fighting over things like “Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays,” and putting a stop to world hunger and a host of other good and noble causes but sadly, not the primary, or even the secondary purpose of the church. And now, we are starting the pay the price. It is all really very pathetic when you think about the mission of Christians in the world. We are fighting over prayer in secular school and whether or not we can bake a cake for a gay wedding. The distractions of political and social activism have drowned the gospel. Pagans in America think the gospel is “thou shalt not have an abortion,” or “thou shalt pray in school,” or “fill in the blank.” It isn’t because we should not be preaching against these vile sins. We should. But they are no longer issues of sin when you frame them up in political conversations. The gospel runs the risk of looking just like any other political posturing when we make it about issues like gay marriage or abortion or whatever.

Carl Truman, in his excellent book, The Creedal Imperative, hits the target; all Christians engage in confessional synthesis; the difference is simply whether one adheres to a public confession, subject to public scrutiny, or to a private one that is, by its very nature, immune to such examination.

In the end, liberal Protestants have their own staunch theological creed. Even though they like to claim they are more tolerant, the truth is, they are not. Just as true Christianity rejects those who claim to be Christian and yet reject basic Christian tenets, like the authority or Scripture, liberal Protestants reject those tenets outright. And just as true Christians reject the sexual ethic of the modern liberal Protestant, the modern liberal Protestant rejects the sexual ethic of biblical Christianity, characterizing it as hateful and bigoted. You see, both biblical Christianity and liberal Protestantism engage in confessional synthesis. We confess that Scripture alone is our final authority for faith and practice while liberal Protestantism confesses that human reason will decide which portions of Scripture are acceptable for faith and practice. That is the basic difference.

   Do Black Lives Matter?

Now, if that isn’t a politically loaded question in modern American culture, there isn’t one!

A number of years ago, when I lived in Binghamton, NY, I had my first encounter with black ice. Having grown up in the mountains of WV, I was used to driving in inclement weather. But I had never had the unfortunate experience of hitting black ice. For those who do not know what black ice is, let me explain it. Black ice is ice that forms on the black top of the road that is virtually invisible and in many cases, completely undetectable until it’s too late. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for it. The safest way to deal with black ice is to avoid it. Well, I realized I was driving on black ice when my truck lost traction and began to fishtail. I counter steered and fishtailed in the other direction, and then again. Usually, if you do this enough you can regain control of the vehicle. However, there is a point of no return in the fishtail. When the rear of the vehicle reaches a certain point, you know you have lost control. And I did, in fact, reach that point. My truck ended up sliding backwards at the speed of 60mph into the median which had about 1-2 feet of snow in it. White stuff went everywhere but both me and my truck were okay. Praise God. My next problem was getting out of the median or getting help without freezing to death. You see, this incident took place on interstate 88 north bound between Binghamton and Albany NY. My final destination for the day was my new assignment, Burlington, Vt. It was January and it was cold, hoovering right around 0 degrees. But that is a different story for another post.

America is experiencing a crisis. Actually, the truth is that America is in a number of crises. Indeed, something very peculiar is taking shape in this once great country. The situation is very much like a building that is about to tumble to the ground. America is teetering on the brink of destruction. She is in a virtual tailspin even as this post is created. And I fear that she has reached the point of no return. It seems that the outcome is inevitable at this point: America will crash. What the aftermath will look like, only God knows. But there is little doubt that an aftermath will obtain and that, not in the too distant future. And that state of affairs is very likely to look radically different from what my generation grew up with.

You see, if you view America as a country, then I want to suggest that you are looking at America wrongly. People have not migrated from all over the world for the sake of being in a particular geographical location. Men and women have not given their last breath for a piece of dirt. Soldiers do not die for a flag. And when a flag is burned, it is only a piece of material and no one is really upset that a piece of cloth with a peculiar pattern has been destroyed. You see, America is an idea. People have migrated to an idea. They have left all for the power of the idea. Men and women have died in American wars because they believed in and were loyal to an idea. The American flag represents an idea. And I am sad to say that the idea that was America, has been admitted to hospice. The contemporary people that call themselves Americans are only American by geography. They are not American in philosophy, in their idea.

There has been no small stir lately in terms of racial tension in America. In fact, with the electing of its first black president, I have experienced more racial tension and relational deterioration in the last 8 years than I have witnessed since my birth in 1965, which took place at just about 9 months after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps my parents were celebrating! Police officers are being murdered just because they are police officer. And somehow, hundreds of thousands of people in both the black and white communities (for lack of a better term) seem to approve or think that such behavior is justified. Even if there was a corrupt police officer on the other side of the country that wrongly took someone’s life, that is not justification for anyone on the other side of the country to kill a police officer simply because they are a police officer. This think is not just outrageous it is dangerous and represents a threat to the very fabric of this nation.

Enter the organization and the idea, “Black Lives Matter.” More than the organization is the idea that black lives matter. The implication is that black lives do not matter in America and they don’t matter to law enforcement in particular. Now, this is a Christian post with a focus on apologetics, not politics. So, to that end, let’s turn this post in that direction. Christians are witnessing these movements and new ideas along with the death of an old idea, or lots of old ideas. How are we to engage unbelievers in the middle of this crisis? I would argue that we should engage them the same way we do during any other period. So, let’s take black lives matter and use that as a platform from which to preach the gospel and defend the truth of Christian beliefs.

If Christianity is true then God exists, and there is such a thing as ethical norms, a transcendent moral code if you will. Moreover, if Christianity is true then black men and women, the same as white men and women are created in the image of God. And if that is true, then black lives have intrinsic value. And if that is true, then of course, black lives matter. This means that if Christianity is true then black lives are as valuable as any other life from any other ethnic group because all mankind finds its identity in Adam. We all share the same parents. Moreover, we all share the same source of life: God. If Christianity is true, then black lives matter.

But if Christianity is true, then it is wrong to kill police officers or anyone else in order to prove that black lives matter. You cannot have the idea that “black lives matter” while also killing police officers to prove that black lives matter. If it is okay to kill police officers because you don’t like their policies or because there was a bad shoot somewhere, then you lose your moral ground to argue that black lives matter. In other words, if it is okay to kill police officers, then black lives don’t matter. Why? Because if it is morally acceptable to kill police officers, then Christianity is not true. And if Christianity is not true, God does not exist. And if God does not exist, then neither does morality. And if morality does not exist, then it is not wrong to kill a black man, a white man, or a police officer. If God does not exist, then humans were not especially created in his image. And if that is true, then no human being possesses intrinsic value. Black lives matter if God exists. And if God exists, then it is his morality to which we must bind ourselves. See how that works? If you want the morality that makes sense of human value and that rationally justifies our belief that black lives matter, then you have to take Christianity with it. If you toss Christianity, then you lose any rational defense for black lives, or any lives as far as that goes, matter.

I say this to say that these issues are all opportunities to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Equip yourself to think better about the issues. Spend some time reading a little theology, a little philosophy, and some logic. Know Scripture and know a little about how to think and use these opportunities to witness to the goodness of God. Avoid the politics. Avoid the idolatrous patriotism. Avoid arguing about rights and freedoms. Go right for the heart of the matter: the heart, because the heart is really what matters. I hope you enjoyed this post, bad puns and all.

Dances with Wolves

 

He looks like a harmless canine, doesn’t he? You just want to hug, and pet, and love on him. How gentle! What soft fur he has! How sweet a dMan Petting Wolveemeanor he seems to have! What
a loving animal. Most people would look at this picture and think to themselves, what a lovely companion this animal must be. But there is more to this animal tan meets the eye. There is something inside him that we cannot see. Indeed, for many, there is something inside him that most people just don’t want to see.

Gee, I wonder what that is dangling from his Wolf_with_Caribou_Hindquartermouth. Just ask the animal it used to belong to. Oh wait, he’s torn to shreds with a good portion of him in the wolf’s stomach by now and more to add to that. When we allow our emotions prime of place in our lives, the results can be tragic. In Acts 20, Paul warned the elders in Ephesus that ravenous wolves would come into the community and tear people to shreds with their false teachings. In fact, Paul said some of them would prove to be ravenous wolves, not sparing the Christian community.

Make no mistake about it, wolves are real, and they have an agenda: to rip Christians and their beliefs to shreds. Satan is described in Scripture as a roaring lion that walks around seeking whom he may devour. The reality of false teachers is everywhere. And the obvious reality of the situation is that it is getting worse by the minute. There are a number of Christian teachers with seemingly positive images in the Church, being endorsed or seemingly endorsed by good men. These men fail to understand, or they seem to fail to understand that it is criminal to send a child out into the woods filled with blood-thirsty wolves. And it is just as criminal, even more so, to send naïve Christians into woods filled with the likes of false teachers that liter the evangelical landscape today.

The common denominator among all these wolves is “self.” The wolf is interested only in feeding himself, on your flesh, without mercy. These ministries all begin with men, place man at the center, and end with man as the final judge.

The above teachers are engaged in a variety of heresies and heterodoxy. These heresies range from the heresy of anti-trinitarian modalism to the corrupt and greed-filled word of faith movement. These teachers can be found ignoring God’s mandate for male leadership, human sexuality, and even the basic exclusivity of the gospel. And yet, for some reason, our pastors fail to warn their churches about them openly, you know, like Paul did. Christians, even in solid churches continue to attend their conferences, buy their books, and subscribe to many of their false teachings. For some reason, modern Christians see no danger in dancing with these wolves. T.D. Jakes teaches a heretical view of the nature of God and many modern Christians downplay this, shrugging their shoulders and saying, something like this: awwwwww.

Is it any wonder that modern American evangelicals don’t take heresy and heterodoxy seriously? They have been taught by men like Rick Warren for years now that doctrine doesn’t matter. That relationships are all that matters. My former pastor, Rob Decker in a disagreement with me over confronting open sin in the church told me he was not the church’s Holy Spirit. Another pastor I know refused to discipline a woman in the case of illicit divorce because he thought it might split the church. These men are builders of their own little empires. They seem to care far more about preserving their kingdoms, and expanding those kingdoms than they do the spiritual health of the community. A weak church can hardly stand up to the secularism we see sweeping our culture at the present moment. But I am far more concerned with the secularism sweeping the church. We are dancing with wolves and no one seems to notice.

Thank God for men like John MacArthur, Scott Oliphint, John Frame, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, and others. These men are like this man:

Liam Neeson and Wolf

When the wolf circles, they respond like the men of God they are! What will you do?

Intellectual Pugilism and Christian Apologetics

Each of us, being sinners by nature, have our sinful proclivities. One person may have a proclivity to be arrogant, another may struggle with sexual lusts, be they adulterous or same-sex attractions. Still, others are stubborn, having a difficult time submitting to anyone, while some seem to be more tempted than others with deceit. We all have our sinful proclivities. The sooner we acknowledge that they are there, admit it, and begin to face them head-on, the better off we will be. I have numerous sinful proclivities with which I have to deal day in and day out. I have the usual make temptation to look a little longer than I should at the attractive young lady. I am tempted to be impatient when I drive in Charlotte traffic. There are others, but there is one in particular I want to talk about today that I think has plagued me for years. That is the sin of looking for a good fight. I have a sinful proclivity to go at it. Now, I am not talking about a physical fight. I am talking about an intellectual temptation. I have wrestled with the sin of intellectual pugilism for most of my adult life. It has been one of those sinful behaviors that I think at times that I am doing pretty well disciplining only to find out that my relapses come far too often. Still, I believe that grace has moved along in the right direction even if I am still very far from where I need to be. My goal is to continue to remind myself and be aware of that wicked desire in me to engage in constant debate, to fight the fight. Far too often I have used the excuse of the condition of the church to fuel and satisfy my sinful desire to just hit the ground swinging. God forgive me and help me always to search my heart so that my behavior reflects a sincere desire to defend God’s truth rather than my own natural desire to engage in the intellectual battle simply for the sake of engaging in a battle.

As I look around at the modern state of Christian apologetics, so-called anyways, I cannot help but notice the subjects that Christian apologists talk about. For instance, attempting to employ Bayes’ theorem in the defense of the resurrection of Christ is just one example of Christian apologetics run amuck. Exactly who are we trying to impress? Look around at some of these apologetics sites and you see all sorts of arguments being made. There is even one very popular blog on ufology. I have no earthly idea why a Christian blogger would invest time in something as mundane as UFOs. It seems to me that some people think the intellect ought to be free to pursue whatever it fancies. And if you dare challenge them on the problems that come with sheer speculation, you better do so with full body armor in place. Otherwise, all that Christian love and charity that you had expected to be on display is dismissed faster than a good idea in Washington DC.

The intellectual pugilist is always looking for a good fight. Any hint that there may be an opportunity to flaunt his/her intellectual, ninja-like skills, is seized at a moments notice. The opportunity to pummel one’s opponent is simply irresistible. What is odd is that the intellectual pugilist is typically very well-informed. He reads the Scripture. But he very likely reads philosophy and logic texts far more. He is not nearly as interesting in the dull behavior of exhibiting Christian charity and patience as he is in framing the perfect argument so that all who dare to disagree with him receive the intellectual beat-down they deserve regardless of spiritual damage that it produces. For the intellectual pugilist, the content of Scripture is another opportunity to prove that he is right and his opponent is wrong. The intellectual pugilist is not at all interested in your spiritual well-being, your spiritual growth, or your sanctification. He is far more likely to humiliate you than he is to pray for you. I have had Christian apologists put up entire web pages devoted entirely to slandering me. One very popular site that I used to visit regularly did not like my point of view and put up a pic of me, calling me a troll. These tactics are not only hurtful; they are downright ungodly.

Peter’s imperative was not just to defend the Christian faith using any strategy or tactic you please. Peter was just as concerned with how we defend the faith. We are to do so with gentleness and respect. Christian apologetics is no place for anyone with an unbridled, undisciplined lust for intellectual pugilism. I hate to say it but many Christian apologists are simply in this field because it satisfies an evil within, not because they are sincerely interested in helping others. Go disagree with them and see how they react to being told that you think they are wrong. Many of them will not hesitate to engage in insults, slander, and will not for a moment consider your spiritual state as they bring all the rational and philosophical tools to bear on you, their opponent, their enemy.

Have you ever noticed how so many Christian apologists even treat other Christians like they are the enemy? The aim is not to open up the discussion for learning, for sharing, for knowledge transfer, or for deeper discovery. Nope! Not at all. The fear of having to admit one is wrong drives most modern apologists to dig in and do whatever they can, even in the name of Christian love, to defend their position.

Paul commanded Timothy not to pay attention to myths or endless genealogies. They produce useless speculations or investigations. What is the goal of our instruction? Put simply, it is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Paul says that some men, have strayed from these things and as a result, they have turned aside to fruitless discussion. Fruitless discussion is talk that brings with it nothing of any value. If you were to take a poll of most Christian apologists, you would find that for them, the idea that there are subjects and discussions that are completely useless is completely foreign. Nothing is out of bounds and every subject and discussion can be beneficial, no matter what; even ufology.

It is a waste of time for Christian apologists to invest hundreds of hours in the study of philosophy and logic only to walk out into the culture and even with their own community, and begin to beat people over the head with their knowledge and debating skills. Yet, for many, if not most modern Christian apologists, that is precisely the state of affairs that has obtained. Few things are as shockingly ugly than when the intellectually equipped Christian abandons most, if not all civil conduct where Christian ethics is concerned, in an apparent attempt to use their very own brothers and sisters in Christ, to satisfy their own lust for intellectual pugilism. God forbid!

What Did Jesus Do?

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21

Far too often, Christians fail to consider the project of the biblical writer within his context as they set out to study or understand the content of his work. One of the best questions we should be asking ourselves as we study the bible is, what was the author doing? This is always a very good question to ask of the immediate, larger, and overall context of every book we study. And here, in Matthew, just a very short way into the document, we should be asking this question of this text. Why record this incident of Joseph’s dream? What is the point? Matthew wrote his book for a very specific purpose. As he wrote it, he was attempting to do something very specific. Thinking about Matthew (and every other document that makes up Scripture) in this way will only help us better understand, not only the overall thrust of the document, but the smaller portions as well, like this one for example.

What is Matthew doing? First and foremost, one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent theological theme running through Matthew is the view that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Matthew repeated calls on OT prophecy as proof of this fact, again and again. However, we should note that due care should be exercised as we attempt to establish the main themes in Matthew. Carson writes, Matthew’s dominant themes are several, complex, and to some extend disputed. [An Introduction to The New Testament] However, the claim that one of Matthew’s themes is to present Jesus as the promised Messiah is far less controversial than most others. Other themes that seem to surface in Matthew are: the sinful refusal of the Jewish leaders to recognize their Messiah, the promised eschatological kingdom, among others. It is telling that the announcement of the Messiah would center around the Messianic Mission itself; to save His People from their sins. The Messiah is coming to save His people from their sins.

What is in a name? The angel tells Joseph that he will call the child’s name, Jesus. Zerwick informs us that this could be a categorical imperative. In other words, it is not beyond reason to see the angel’s instruction as a command rather than as simply a prophecy. Who among us would here such a statement and ignore it? Jesus is a Greek transliteration for the name יְהוֹשׁוּעַ, or Joshua. Heb. 4:8 uses the Greek Ἰησοῦς, normally rendered Jesus, for Joshua. The name literally means, “Yahweh is salvation.” It is literally the oldest known Hebrew name that contains the tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH. Matthew, from the very start attaches the name of Jesus with YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures. Immediately we are seeing that Matthew has a keen interest in depicting Jesus as divine. This was no ordinary man as far as Matthew was concerned. “More than simply explaining the etymology of Jesus’s name, the angelic announcement indicates that the salvation which Jesus will accomplish is specifically for his people. The remainder of Matthew fleshes out the identity of “his people,” often with surprising results.” [From Heaven He Came and Sought Her – Gibson & Gibson]

The Mission of Jesus, as Matthew portrays it, was to save “his people” from their sins. The Greek phrase, ton laon autou, is a possessive genitive, the people of (belonging to) him. The mission of Jesus, according to Matthew then, was very narrow. Jesus came to save his people from their sin. We see this concept emerge in Matthew in two other places, 20:28 and 26:28. In Matt. 20:28, Jesus said that the Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many. It is best to see this text in light of Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant is said to “justify the many.” He is also said to have borne the sin of many. “The many” points to a specific number whose identity is already known prior to the mission itself. Another factor, pointed out by Matthew Harmon, is the use of the word “ransom.” This indicates that a specific payment has been made and a payment is always made for something specific. Finally, the Greek preposition anti is a very telling little preposition. Louw-Nida says, (with the genitive): a marker of a participant who is benefited by an event, usually with the implication of some type of exchange or substitution involved—‘for, on behalf of. This preposition naturally came to denote three categories:

  • equivalence, where one entity is set over against another as its equivalent
  • exchange, where one object, opposing or distinct from another, is given or taken in return for the other
  • substitution, where one object, that is distinguishable from another, is given or taken instead of the other

[Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis]

Harmon points out, “These texts emphasize Jesus dying for a particular group of people rather than for humanity in general.” The new covenant language of Jeremiah 31 requires such a state of affairs, not to mention the language in Ezekiel regarding the “heart of flesh.” As one surveys Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 36, it seems clear enough that a specific price was going to be paid for a specific item. And that item would be the covenant people of God who were determined by God in eternity past for lack of a better term.

Jesus did not make salvation possible for all men without exception. Jesus actually came with the intention of saving a very specific number of people. And what Jesus intends to do, He does. The idea that Jesus just unlocked the gate to salvation and now the rest is up to men and women who are willing simply does not reflect the teachings of Scripture. Jesus is not standing around literally begging and pleading with men and women to just give him a chance and let him show them what he can do. This sort of thinking reflects very poor theology top to bottom. It is a reflection of a very poor understanding of God, Christ, Sin, and Man. When Jesus died and rose again, “the many” were pardoned and justified. All that was left was for the Holy Spirit to apply that work in time to those whom God has chosen. Amen! Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Arguments, Apologetics and Rhetoric-Respect, Honor, and Charity in Christian Discourse

I have come to believe that there is a crisis in field of Christian apologetics. The defense of the Christian faith has become a confused battleground of pure chaos. Far too many apologists are woefully lacking in theological acumen, untrained in biblical exegesis, and employ and rely on pagan philosophy in their respective apologetic methods. But it is worse than that. Many of these apologists have come to Christ supposedly, and are convinced that others can come through by way of rational examination. In other words, they have not a faith that is produced by the power of the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. The Holy Spirit has not imparted God’s wonderful gift of saving faith. Many modern apologists have come to Christ in exactly the same way that many people have come to believe in Islam or Roman Catholicism or whatever other man-made religion that may come to mind. But there is another issue in modern, Christ apologetics that few seem to want to address.

In His famous philosophical treatise, The Proslogion, Anselm of Canterbury wrote,

Be it mine to look up to thy light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself. Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except thou renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe,—that unless I believed, I should not understand.

It is not difficult to see that this genus of humility and understanding is dreadfully lacking in modern Christian apologetics. Young modern apologists are overconfident about the rightness of their positions, inflexible about their convictions, do not for a moment entertain the possibility that their position could stand some fine-tuning or perhaps should even be abandoned.

The great apologetics periscope is often quoted at its front-end, while the backside is very often neglected and frequently ignored: but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. Name-calling, oversimplifying, and emotionally manipulating the conversation constitute some of the ways of not taking others seriously and creating a shallow substitute for their real positions and the reasons they might have for them. [The Little Logic Book]

I have experienced just as rude behavior and poor treatment in discussions with Christian apologists as I have with atheists. In fact, I have had to block people from conversations after several attempts and requests were made to get them to change their approach.

It is just as important that we follow Peter’s imperative to be gentle and respectful, engaging in good behavior in our interactions as it is to defend Christian truth. Some apologists seem to stop at the comma in 1 Peter 3:15. And this is unfortunate. Christian apologetics is in a crisis because modern evangelicalism is in a crisis. We have spent a few decades now making false converts, preaching a lawless Christ and a lawless Christianity. We have convinced ourselves that the gospel can be made attractive to the ungodly through programs and strategies and friendships, and in this case, the strength of our arguments and the amount of our impressive evidence. But evangelicals have been on the wrong side of the biblical gospel. As a result, the churches have been filled with unbelievers who have come to Christ in the very same fashion that someone comes to Islam or to Buddhism, or joins a country club. These false converts, in many cases, are now running around in seminaries, or having graduated from seminaries are traveling the country and the world, claiming to defend the true Christ of Scripture when the truth is, they are defending a Christianity that is the product of Western minds enamored with pagan philosophy. There is a real crisis in modern Christian apologetics and the question is, “what will you and I do about it?”

 

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Device in Christian Theology

My last post surveyed the consequences of attempting to eliminate paradox from Christian belief. As a follow-up to that post, I want to revisit Romans 9:14-20 in response to the claim that there is no logical tension in Paul’s comments in this particular periscope. I understand Paul to be dealing with more than God’s sovereignty in this text. I believe Paul is dealing with three very specific issues: God’s sovereignty, God’s justice, and man’s actions. (The main thrust of Paul’s concern is the fidelity of God’s Word.) The simple question is this: how can God be absolutely free and absolutely just in light of the fact that evil behavior exists. Either God is absolutely free or God is absolutely just, but if human beings are subjected to God’s punishment, God cannot possibly be absolutely free and absolutely just, at least not in any meaningful way. If God is absolutely free, man is not free. If man is not free, he should not be punished. Therefore, if God is absolutely free, man should not be punished. For those of you that have studied predicate logic, you recognize the hypothetical syllogism.

G –> M

M –> P

/ G –> P

Anderson tells us that the cogency of the Rational Affirmation of Paradoxical Theology model depends crucially on the distinction between real contradiction and apparent contradiction. There are several objections to the idea that Scripture includes paradox, or is even thoroughly paradoxical in nature. One such objection rests on the ground that such a state of affairs would mean that Scripture is irrational. But that objection is patently false. Only if Scripture contained actual contradictions could it be the case that Scripture is irrational. However, I want to make it clear that we do not begin with the idea that Scripture could be irrational in the first place, and then set out it to see if in fact it is. We begin with the presupposition that Scripture, by its very nature is thoroughly rational. And because Scripture is rational, any apparent contradictions are just that, apparent. Anderson says, “Not only must this distinction be formally coherent, it must also be plausibly instantiated; which is to say, it must be reasonable to suppose that there are, or could be, instances of merely apparent contradiction.” When we begin with the view that Scripture cannot contain any actual contradictions, we are claiming that Scripture is our epistemic authority, our final standard, and that Scripture is, beginning to end and top to bottom, self-attesting. If a person is threatened by the possibility that Scripture contains apparent contradiction, I would be tempted to think it possible that that person does not in fact begin with Scripture, or place Scripture at the beginning of their reasoning process even if such is their outright claim. The psychological clues in such a scenario seem to me to be that the person who find paradox so perplexing may be placing reason above Scripture and judging Scripture by the criteria of autonomous human reason. Now, let’s get back to Moses, Pharaoh, Paul, and God.

Prior to v. 14, Paul points us to God’s sovereign choice of Isaac over Ismael. Paul pushes the argument up a level as he attempts to point us up to the sovereign election of God. He tells us that Rebekah brought forth two men of the very same substance, equal in every way. Yet, God chose one and rejected the other. And God’s choice took place even prior to their birth. There was nothing in either man’s physical make-up, their intellectual acumen, their race, nothing whatsoever to which we could point that would commend one to God more than the other. Was God’s choice of Jacob arbitrary? Was his choice to hate Esau capricious? We may say that it was God’s plan that served as the basis for these choices. But couldn’t we just as easily say that God’s plan was arbitrary? Well, the answer would be that God’s plan exists for His own glory. So if this plan glorifies God, couldn’t it have been the case that a different plan where both the twins were elected, and where Pharaoh was not predestined to wrath, could have glorified God just the same? If the choices are what they are just because God made them, I don’t see why such an indictment couldn’t be made. But something seems to be terribly wrong with this scenario. I will share why I think this perspective misses the target toward the end of the post.

As Paul shifts from the twins to Pharaoh in his next example, he asks a very important question: Ti oun eroumen? mē adikia para tō theō? mē genoito. What shall we say? Is there injustice with God? May it never be! Why would Paul ask such a question? The only scenario in which this question makes any sense whatsoever is the scenario in which we are attempting to understand how God could be perceived as just when He is engaging in such actions of election previously described by Paul. How is it just for God to choose Jacob over Esau since there are no material differences in the men? And with this question, Paul answers with an emphatic negative. The Greek word genoito is very probably a constative aorist which views the action of the verb as a whole. God forbid that it has been, is, or ever would be the case that there would be injustice with or in God. Add to this that the dative here could still be understood as a locative which carries a sense of in God. So we could read the Paul to be asking, “is there injustice in God?” Once again, if there is no tension here in what Paul is revealing, then there is hardly a good reason for why he should raise the question to begin with.

Paul opens his next point with the Greek gar, which is epexegetical, or an explanatory conjunction. Paul is not going to explain in greater detail what he is getting at. And this takes us beyond v. 20 and all the way through v.29 and actually chapter 11 if you want to get technical. He immediately points the audience to God’s dealing with Moses and Pharaoh to reinforce his revelation. He begins by reminding the audience that God has mercy on whom He pleases. In other words, this is nothing new. God has revealed the truth of his sovereignty previously. Paul provides the reason God is not unjust. There is something in God that gives Him the express right to have mercy on whom He desires and to have compassion on whom He desires. Paul begins with the presupposition that God is perfectly just in all that He does. But the very fact that the question of justice has been raised at all points to the seemingly undeniable tension that God’s sovereignty creates current in the state of affairs. Why would Paul even think to use such language in the text unless the tension is present. Not only is the tension present in what some commentators think is a hypothetical, there are a few commentators that have argued that Paul is dealing with a real objection being posed by a real objector. Either way, the only reason to bring up the question is if there is something to the fact that Paul’s perspective on God’s actions over the course of the history of redemptive pose something of a challenge to God’s justice. Are these sovereign acts of God also just?

Paul makes a preliminary conclusion, “So then.” Paul tells us that “it” does not depend on the will of man or the works of man, but on God who has mercy. What is the “it?” The “it” refers back to vv. 1-5 for this is the entire point of Romans 9-11. The objects of salvation, the called, the elect of God does not depend on man’s behavior nor man’s will. It depends entirely on God. And if this is true, then how can God find fault with those whom He has not elected since we are all the same. If God chooses not based on us, then why do some of us suffer His wrath and others not? How does that square with what we know and experience to be true about justice? The example of Pharaoh is even more emphatic. Paul reminds us that God raised Pharaoh up for this very purpose: to demonstrate His power in Pharaoh and that His name would be proclaimed through the world. From this Paul concludes again that God has mercy on whom he desires and He hardens whom he desires. This is another absolute statement in defense of God’s sovereign control of everything that comes to pass in His creation.

In v. 14, Paul rejects any suggestion that the way God does things in creation could be considered unjust. And here in v. 19, we have the same question being asked in a different way. If God chooses and does not choose based only on His own purpose, if it has nothing to do with the wills or the works of men, ti [oun] eti memphetai? tō? Why does he still find fault? Concerning the variant, oun, while it is omitted in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, it is in P46 and in Vaticanus. The word shows that Paul is drawing a logical inference from what has just been said. The flow of the discourse seems to make the logical inference impossible to miss as well. The Greek word, memphetai, has the sense of blame. It means to bring an accusation against against someone on the basis that the person in question is clearly to blame. It is the same word used in Heb. 8:8 where the writer tells us that God found fault with the old covenant making the way for a new covenant in Christ. The other interesting thing to note is that the voice of this verb is either middle or passive. This means that God did not just fix the blame on men. The blame was found passively or reflexively. This eliminates the possibility that they were to blame because God had simply declared it to be so. The blame was real, and it arose from within God’s nature.

The next question demonstrates that if you feel the tension in Paul’s argument, then you are reading Paul correctly; tō gar boulēmati autou tis anthestēken? Once more, this sentence begins with the post-positive epexegetical gar which is an explanation for what was just said. Literally, the clause reads, “for the will of Him who has resisted?” In other words, the idea is that God should not find fault with men who are simply doing His will since God’s choice for them to do the things He has decreed they do, has nothing to do with their will, their works, or anything else that might in them and everything to do with God’s plan. Now, the reason God should not find fault with men, if Paul’s account of God’s actions in the history of redemption is correct, is because no one has ever been able to resist God’s will. And under these circumstances, it feels as though God could be called unjust.

How does Paul solve the tension? To the disappointment of some, Paul does not solve the tension. He reasserts God’s sovereign right to do as He pleases in creation. And the real lesson here is that he rebukes the man who demands that there should be some solution to the tension. The idea of that God is unjust should never even be raised. Why? Because we begin with the view that God is absolutely and perfectly just and we are not open to the possibility that He could be otherwise. That is how Scripture reveals God and whatever Scripture reveals God to be, then that is how God is. Paul spends vv. 21-29 reinforcing the fact that God is sovereign and that we are the objects of His rich mercy. No man should dare place God in the dock and proceed to judge God’s actions based on some finite human morality or some finite human system of reason or logic. We begin with God and all that God is and from there we shape our system based on the revelation that God has given of Himself in Scripture. Clearly, the human mind has difficulty reconciling how God could be just given that He is absolutely free to carry out His plan which includes inflicting wrath of men for doing what He planned they do. When we encounter such difficulties, we can either allow human reason to judge Scripture, or we can make the decision to trust what Scripture clearly teaches elsewhere about God and accept the difficulty as something to be consistent with what we would expect from a finite mind attempting to understand plans that flow from an infinite one.

There are three very broad possibilities where paradox and Christian doctrine is concerned. One, it is always irrational to affirm paradox; Christian belief is unavoidably paradoxical; therefore, it is irrational to affirm Christian belief. Two, it is always irrational to affirm paradox; no central doctrines of Christian belief contain paradox; therefore, it is not irrational to affirm Christian belief. Three, it is not always irrational to affirm paradox; Christian belief involves paradox; therefore, it is not irrational to affirm Christian belief. One and two places reason over faith as magistrate. One indicts faith while two exonerates it, but judges it nonetheless. Three places faith over reason as magistrate and judges human reason according to the final standard of divine revelation in Scripture.

 

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