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.

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?”

 

Eliminating Paradox from Christian Theology: From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Recently, I have come to understand that the presuppositional method of some apologists who claim to follow Gordon Clark’s method of apologetics, reject the view that Christian theology involves paradox. The purpose of this post is to examine the claim that Christian theology involves paradox and to understand the implications that paradox, if indeed it is a valid part of Christian theology, might have on how we defend Christian belief. This is a continuation of my last post that was focused on the state of Christian Apologetics in modern Western culture.

First of all, I want to define terms. Paradox is something very specific in philosophy. “The word ‘paradox’ derives from the Greek (para and doxa), which may be translated as ‘contrary to belief’ or ‘beyond belief.’ [The Philosophers Toolkit] There is more than one type of paradox. When we reason from apparently true premises, a conclusion is generated that contradicts or flies in the face of what other common reasoning or experience tells us, we call this a paradox. To borrow the example from Zeno of Elea, Achilles races a tortoise but gives the tortoise a head start. By the time Achilles gets to A, the place where the tortoise originally began, the tortoise will be at point B. And the by the time Achilles gets to point B, the tortoise will have moved to another point, call it C and so on. It seems that Achilles would never overtake the tortoise. The reasoning is solid, or so it seems. But there seems to be something wrong with the conclusion that Achilles will not overtake the tortoise. We call this a paradox.

Another kind of paradox appears when reason itself leads to a contradiction. Take the claim, ‘This statement is false.’ Is the statement true or false? If it is true, then it is false. And if it is false, then it is true. Or take that famous Liar’s Paradox: ‘everything I say is a lie.’ Given that a sentence cannot be both true and false, we find ourselves faced with a paradox. A paradox then is only an apparent contradiction. It is not an actual contradiction. [The Philosopher’s Toolkit] As James Anderson points out, “A ‘paradox’ thus amounts to a set of claims which taken in conjunction appear to be logically inconsistent.” [Paradox in Christian Theology]

This raises the question, what is it about Christian belief that leads to paradox? Can one hold to the truthfulness of Christian belief consistently without also hold to paradox as part of that belief? In other words, what is it about Christian belief that leads us to conclude that such belief involves paradox? Christians have wanted to affirm two things about God in terms of knowing God. First, God is apprehensible and second, that God is incomprehensible. On the one hand we can know some things about God in part. On the other hand, we cannot know God comprehensively. It is the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God that ultimately leads to the view that paradox in Christian belief is inevitable. “It is therefore likely that at certain points in our reasoning about God the concepts we employ, though precise enough when applied in our logical analysis of created things, will be insufficiently refined to support those distinctions require to render our theological theorizing free from all appearance of logical conflict.” [Paradox in Christian Theology]

As an example of paradox in Scripture, I point you to Romans 9:14-20. Paul is defending God’s fidelity by providing a more accurate exegesis of the covenant promises to Israel. In so doing, he emphasizes God’s sovereign election of Jacob over Esau. This election took place prior to the twins’ birth and was based on God’s purpose alone, not anything that either man had done, or any quality either one of these men possessed. The natural reaction to this, from a logical standpoint, would be: how is this fair? How can God hate someone apart from any actions on that person’s part? Wouldn’t this make God unjust? And that is the question in v. 14 that Paul imagines any questioner might raise. Paul answers by asserting God’s sovereign right to have mercy on whom He pleases and to harden whom He pleases. Well, that isn’t quite solving the problem. If God is going to reject someone, and do so justly, should He not base His action on that person’s behavior since that person is going to suffer divine judgment? Instead, Paul answers that God’s election is not based on the actions or volition of men, but rather on God alone. Once again, Paul has simply affirmed God’s right to do as He pleases and he shows no interest in a logical solution to the obvious tension. How can God bring someone into the world, elect them to damnation before they do anything wicked, and still be just? You see, we are not dealing with just the sovereignty of God here. We are also dealing with God’s righteousness. Of course God can be sovereign and do these things. The question is, can He be just and do these things? If you miss that, then you are missing the argument. If you think this is purely about sovereignty, you are missing the immediate problem. V. 19 bring us to the immediate problem: how can God find fault with Pharaoh if He sovereignly brought Pharaoh into this world for the ultimate purpose of hardening him and not have mercy on him? Could Pharaoh have done other than what God had predetermined he would do? No, he could not. Then how can God find fault with someone who could do nothing other than what God had decreed he would do and still be just in doing it? To say just because, which is essentially what the Clarkian seems to say, is not an answer. That does not resolve the problem. It begs the question. The question is how can God be just and punish Pharaoh both at the same time. To say that whatever God does is just just because God does it is not an answer. One has to say how can God do what would be unjust for anyone else to do and not be unjust like the rest that do it. This is like saying, it is a sin for me to lie, but God can lie without it being a sin simply because it is God doing it. That is not an answer. Jesus was tempted to sin. We say he could not sin because He was God. But to say that sin was impossible for Him because every act He could ever do, even if he had sex with Mary Magdalene would not be a sin because God acting is ipso facto not a sin. This would make a mockery of the temptations of Christ. Logically speaking, God can sin. The only reason God cannot sin is because of His righteous nature, not because of the laws of logic. Sin is contrary to God’s nature. Because God is perfectly holy, He cannot sin. But sin as a category remains something that exists even for God. What I am getting at here is that the temptations of Christ were real and that had Christ theoretically worshipped Satan, such worship would have been sin. To say that it would not have been sin because it was God committing the act is to deny that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are. Therefore, to deny that God could have sin in the person of Christ is to not take Scripture seriously when it talks about the temptations of Christ. Of course, one could argue that Christ was two persons instead of one and create a whole new Christology that departs from the historical position.

So, the issue remains, how can God be just and punish Pharaoh for doing what God had decreed He would do before he was even born? In order for God to be perfectly just, Pharaoh had to be responsible for his actions. And in order for God to be perfectly sovereign, God’s plan had to be carried out to the smallest detail. Logically speaking we have a real problem on our hands and Paul is in the middle of addressing it in our text. Let’s take a look at the two arguments:

If A, then B

A

Therefore, B

If God is just, then Pharaoh is responsible. God is just. Therefore, Pharaoh is responsible. Second argument, following the same Modus Ponens rule is as follows: If God is in control, then Pharaoh is not responsible. God is in Control. Therefore, Pharaoh is not responsible. God’s sovereignty and God’s justice are juxtaposed with one another and seem to conflict in this case. Someone may argue that Pharaoh is still responsible even if God is in full control. From a purely logical standpoint, that is patently false. To be responsible for something, where human reason is concerned, you have to have some control in the matter. And that is exactly what Paul is dealing with. If the Roman audience thought that Pharaoh could be responsible even though he had no control, then this entire section is completely unintelligible. The only way Romans 9:14-29 makes sense is if there is an argument such as I have outlined taking place either literally or hypothetically. There is nothing that is controversial in my claim that Paul dealing with the presence of paradox in this pericope. Specifically, Paul is dealing with the paradox between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Rather than call on human logic to try and solve this paradox, Paul seems perfectly content to let it stand. This is an act of complete submission and amazing humility on Paul’s part. If Paul was content to let it stand, perhaps we should be content to do the same thing. If it was good enough for Paul, it should be more than good enough for us since Paul was writing for the Holy Spirit.

There are those who reject paradox in Christian belief. As I mentioned above, certain disciples of Gordon Clark reject it outright. I am not sure if this is a pervasive view among Clarkians. One reason that some reject paradox in Christian belief can be traced to an over-emphasis on human reason. If one is a rationalist, then paradox in their belief system can be fatal. Whether that is the case for the typical Clarkian is something I cannot answer. However, the only answer I received from the Clarkians that I engaged seem to point in the direction that if Christian belief violated human reason, or the laws of logic, then the implication was that it collapses. And this is a highly problematic position for any Christian to hold. The reason it is so problematic is that it places human reason in the position of being the final authority for what is true and should be embraced and what is not. Such thinking is bound to have an impact of what we believe about God, Christ, Sin, and a plethora of other doctrines.

It seems to me that the rejection of paradox in Christian theology opens the door to apologetic method that is not entirely consistent with biblical teaching. It allows the apologist to displace Scripture with human reason as his epistemic authority. The other issue is that if it is human reason that serves as the primary principle for interpreting Christian doctrine, then when one doctrine seemingly conflicts with another doctrine, the desire for clear logical consistency can lead to the mishandling of one doctrine in order to harmonize it with another doctrine. For example, in an attempt to harmonize divine sovereignty with human responsibility, we may move toward a hyper-Calvinism on the one hand or a skewed view of libertarian freedom on the other hand. Or, we may contort the Trinity in an attempt to solve the paradoxical nature of that doctrine. And as some have point out, Clark argued that Jesus was not one person, but rather two persons. There are an endless number of possible doctrine error that can result of an unhealthy reliance on human reason or the laws of logic when interpreting Scripture.

In summary, here are just a handful of Christian beliefs that are an indication that paradox is unavoidable. God is three persons in one being is a paradox. Jesus being both God and man is a paradox. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a paradox. The existence of evil is a paradox. Christian humility and complete submission mandates that the prudent path where paradox is concerned is that we respond: “your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

Rejection of paradox as a legitimate tool in hermeneutics creates serious issues for Christianity:

  •      Can lead to a far too rational approach to Christian apologetics
  •       Can produce serious doctrinal error in Christian theology
  •       Has a tendency to replace Scripture with human reason as our epistemic authority
  •       Is far too confident in the ability of human reason to resolve the irresolvable
  •     If taken to its logical end, results in the outright rejection of Christianity as a tenable worldview

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