Tuesday, December 30, 2014

All Things New

A short while ago a Christian friend asked for clarification regarding paradise, heaven, Abraham’s bosom, hell, Hades, and the lake of fire. She concluded her request thus: “Yes, you could say I'm confused. . . . Any clarification you can give me will be greatly appreciated.”

Below is my response.

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This can be a rather convoluted discussion. I think the confusion lies primarily in the fact that the terms paradise/heaven/Abraham’s bosom and hades/hell/lake of fire are used, it seems, interchangeably in scripture. Furthermore, the verses which contain these references are somewhat lacking in detail and are therefore interpreted variously by sincere, Bible-believing folks.

So we have to be cautious to distinguish between what the Bible actually says and what Christians and theologians claim it says.  

Having said this, I think it is helpful to differentiate between our STATE and our LOCATION after death. When it comes to life after death, I believe the Bible offers more about our state (the condition of our being) than our location (geography?).

Therein lies the debate—the uncertainty—regarding whether paradise, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are different places or simply different names. I suppose one could mount an argument either way.

But what is clear from the texts?

I believe the New Testament is clear that when we die our soul leaves our body. Paul teaches that to be dead is “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2Cor. 5:8). Upon our death we will be in a disembodied state of existence—a soul without a physical body. This is what we call the “intermediate state.”

Now, call it paradise, or Abraham’s bosom, or heaven—whatever one calls it—our disembodied soul will be present with the resurrected Jesus.

The intermediate state of existence is temporal in that we will be disembodied souls only until the resurrection of the dead. When we are resurrected our soul will be reunited with our raised, corporeal body.

At the resurrection, the intermediate state (disembodied souls) will enter the Eternal State where our souls will be forever reunited with (housed within) our physical bodies (now glorified). This seems to be the clear import of Paul’s teaching in 2Cor. 5:1-4 (see also 1Cor. 15:35-44).

So we may think of things in terms of our present state (before death), our intermediate state (after death), and our eternal state (the resurrection). Notice again, this has to do with our state of being not our location.

In the end, it’s not a matter of us going up to heaven but of heaven coming down to us. And death is swallowed up by life.  

The former things have passed away . . . Behold, I make all things new.
~Revelation 21:4, 5



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joy To The World

During this most wonderful time of the year we hear much of the most beautiful story ever told; the drama of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. All the elements which make for an inspiring story are present: love and loss, tragedy and triumph, vice and virtue. But there is one essential quality which must not be overlooked—the story is true.  

We can ill afford to romanticize away the reality, the historical reality, of the birth of God’s Son. Thus, this and every Christmas we emulate the Bethlehem shepherds.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds (Luke 2:16-18).

Notice the shepherds do two things:

1) They “came” and “found” Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus,

and

2) They joyously and unashamedly told those who cared to listen (and perhaps even those who didn't care to listen) the story of the newborn Child who was the Son of God.

Likewise, Christians have done these same two things for over two thousand years. We revisit The Nativity and we “make widely known” what we know to be true: The Son of God has come to save His people from their sins.  Joy to the world!

The shepherds couldn’t keep quiet. How can we?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Law & Order

With regards to the killing of Michael Brown (and I suppose Eric Garner) Bojidar Marinov writes:

now the conservatives discovered not only the value of obeying the laws – that were passed by Congress – but also the value of unquestionable obedience to any orders from police, whether lawful or not.

I understand what Bojidar is getting at, but I think we need a bit more nuance.

In other words, I'm not sure standing up for one's rights (e.g. to bear arms or to speak freely) or standing against unjust laws (e.g. abortion on demand or Obamacare) is the same thing as standing up to or resisting a police officer's lawful order.

For example, I taught my children to think critically of government, matters of law, rights and responsibilities; AND ALSO to comply with the police.  

Was I being logically inconsistent by teaching them to on the one hand question governmental authority (law making) and on the other hand obey the police (law enforcing)? I don't believe I was.

These are two different circumstances. One has to do with a larger picture of principle and the other is more pragmatic. (That is, when it comes to cops and their policing…I didn't want my kids to get into further legal difficulty—perhaps even physical danger—for disobeying a cop's lawful order.)

Speaking of lawful order: Bojidar is grossly overstating things when he says, "the conservatives discovered . . . the value of unquestionable obedience to any orders from police . . ."

Is this actually the case? I don't think it is.

I am not speaking of "unquestionable obedience" to "any orders" from police. Rather, I am speaking of obeying what officers may lawfully tell one to do.

Suppose I am driving along and a cop "lights me up." Even though I’m sure I've broken no laws, what should I do? Keep driving because he has no right to pull an innocent motorist over? Or, should I pull over?

I think I should pull over. And though I don't believe I am guilty of breaking any laws I will provide my license and registration if she asks me to (a command in the form of a request). I will not be disrespectful in any way.

But let's suppose she says this can all "go away" (whatever "this" is) if I give her a little something "off the books" to make Christmas a little sweeter this year.

Should I comply? I don't think so. This isn't a "lawful order." So it's not a matter of "any orders" but of lawful orders.

After we submit to the lawful orders of the police—in effort to avoid legal and physical escalation—then perhaps in a more proper setting (maybe before a judge) we can then make our case. 

I’m just not convinced that the best way to fight unjust law is to combat the police.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ignorance of Biblical Proportion, pt. 2

After last week’s article, the following conversation ensued. For clarity the atheist’s words appear bold and italicized.

********************

I recall many studies showing how atheists, in general, are more knowledgeable about the Bible than many Christians.

I've not seen the "many studies" but the many atheists I've spoken with evidence the contrary. [There haven’t been “many studies” but one study grossly misrepresented.]

The atheists with whom I've interacted or watched in formal debates have very little knowledge of the Bible or church history. In fact, it seems that what they "know" is simply recycled among them. That is, they all "know" the exact same things and nothing more.

I think many of the "celebrity" atheists just use the same arguments again and again. Although, so do the religious apologists.

I agree.

And in my limited experience, every-day-atheists tend to merely parrot the "celebrity" atheists—thus the in-house recycling.

The "celebrity" atheists (and their disciples?) tend to say the same things of the Bible and Church history over and over and over...no contemplation...no nuance. (Hence the scare quotes around "know.")

The scope of their "knowledge" of the Bible and Church history pertains to these themes: genocide, slavery, misogyny, crusades, and inquisitions. And that's about it! That's both the scope and the depth of their “knowledge.”

In other words, what they "know" of the Bible and Church history is extremely narrow and incredibly shallow. It is caricatured "knowledge" at best. What they "know" of the Bible and Church history could be contained on a bumper sticker. It's little or nothing more than sloganeering. 

Furthermore, it seems that most atheists' "knowledge" simply serves as a rather blunt object with which to bludgeon believers in debate and not as a means of understanding or an impetus for furthering inquiry. This is reflected in nearly every dialogue between atheists and Christians I've ever seen, heard, or participated in.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ignorance of Biblical Proportion

Recently an atheist challenged me: “How can you accept the modern re-interpretation of bible verses previously taken literally . . .”

She asked this in regards to my contention that there is no “war” between science and scripture. It’s difficult to answer a question so laden with erroneous assumptions. Know what I mean? The query contains more errors than words!

I’ll limit myself to three corrections.

First, it is wrong-headed to conflate “literal” with “literalistic” or “literalism.”  (This is a fairly common mistake.) To interpret the Bible “literally” is not at all the same thing as to understand it “literalistically” or to subscribe to “literalism.”

Second, it is embarrassingly uninformed to allege that Christians “previously” interpreted the Bible all alike and literalistically. Christians throughout history—like today—have enjoyed a wide range of interpretations and understandings of scripture. Hermeneutics today and yesterday are far from monolithic.

Third—and this should be painfully obvious by now—there’s nothing whatsoever “modern” about the “re-interpretation” of biblical passages. Even a cursory knowledge of church history reveals this. For example, multiple approaches to Genesis 1 predate Darwin by literally (yes, I mean literally) centuries upon centuries. 

This is a problem I run into time and again: Atheists know next to nothing about the Bible and even less about church history. And yet they can’t stop blathering about the Faith.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Believe In Miracles


Last night an atheist asked me: “How can a rational person . . . accept . . . miracles . . .”

This question, like most questions, has built-in assumptions. The clear inference is this: It is irrational to believe in miracles.

It is? Why? Why is it irrational to believe in miracles?

You see, the limits or boundaries of rationality are determined by one’s worldview which is predicated upon or framed within presuppositions (beliefs we hold to be axiomatic). Therefore, it is one’s first principles which must be examined.

In other words, if one believes in the existence of God then it is entirely rational for one to believe in miracles. On the other hand, if one disbelieves in God then one will find the belief in miracles to be irrational.

We could simply say it like this: IF God exists then miracles are possible. If God does not exist—if the universe is a closed system of natural processes—then miracles are impossible.

Miracles hinge upon God.

Therefore, one cannot attack the rationality of believing in miracles without smuggling into the assault an atheistic pre-commitment. Such ventures are tantamount to asserting: It is irrational to believe in miracles because there is no God.

But this assertion is merely begging the question. That is, it assumes what has not been proven or demonstrated, i.e. there is no God. Naturally, I categorically reject the a priori assumption of God’s non-existence. And since I affirm the existence of God it is only rational that I believe in miracles.

So the question as to whether miracles are possible, and the issue of rationally believing or disbelieving in them, cannot be properly separated from the underlying matter of the existence of God. 

Thus questioning the rationality of believing in miracles is a bit like putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Abolition of C.S. Lewis


His friends called him Jack. The rest of us know him as C.S. Lewis. His genius for conveying truth on multiple levels in multiple genres is, to my mind, without parallel. And, he got me kicked out of a Facebook group last week.

“An atheist group?” you ask. No, a Christian one.

You see, my previous blog spot is a defense of prayer against an atheist antagonist. In the article I reference C. S. Lewis. I posted the article in the group and was promptly informed by an administrator that C.S. Lewis was a “heretic” of the worst sort.

She inquired if I was familiar with Lewis and if I knew he was an “impostor.” I assured her that I am indeed very familiar with him and that I am positive he was not an “impostor” but rather an Anglican.  

She was not amused.

I further explained that quoting is not the same thing as endorsing—that to agree with some statements is not to agree with all statements.

She totally disagreed.

I then asked her if she believes that the Apostle Paul endorses and agrees with all that the pagan poets have to say when he quotes them in Acts 17. (Similarly, we could mention Jude’s quoting of “The Book of Enoch.”)

I also told her that I was not an apologist for C.S. Lewis and wouldn’t comment on him any further, but I would be most happy to discuss prayer—which is what the article in question is about.

That’s when I found myself on the outside looking in: BANNED.

I didn’t even get a mock trial. This was a papal-like bull (or perhaps some sort of Protestant bull) delivered with the full force and speed of a Facebook anathema. Too late did I realize that I had just run afoul of a gal who had a keyboard with a hair-trigger and she wasn’t afraid to use it.

I can’t help but believe that our stunted, shall we say, discourse, reveals much more about her than C.S. Lewis or me.

What should we think of such an encounter?

Well, my knee-jerk response was: This is why the Apostle Paul disallowed women in leadership. (Yeah, I know…that’s another whole debate that I’m not interested in having.) But for the record, I quickly recovered myself! (When it comes to the war against women I’m a pacifist, you see.)
  
My second and more serious thought is this: I was more respectfully treated by the professing atheist to whom I was speaking in the article, than the professing Christian who read it. How sad.

My third premise is: It’s this kind of illogical thinking and behaving which give Christianity’s detractors sticks to beat us with. Certainly, the majority of Christians aren’t as unreasonable as this woman and her C.S. Lewis hating cohorts, but the enemies of our faith are proficient in broad-brush painting. Suffice it to say, slow to think, quick to quarrel Christians make the apologetic task more difficult.

I grow increasingly weary of bickering believers. I really do.

Even so, what should our attitude be towards our unthinking—and sometimes hostile—weaker brothers and sisters? In this particular instance I’ll paraphrase the prayer of our Lord: Father forgive them for they don’t know Jack.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why Pray?

In response to “An Atheist’s PrayerRequest” a gentleman offered,

Prayer is certain proof of god's incompetence, lack of honor and lack of compassion. A truly just god would never need to be reminded of obligations to heal the sick and injured, to keep the innocent from harm or to protect the faithful. A god who needs reminding (prayers) is a pathetic excuse for a deity.

Below is my response.

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I'm not sure why you think of prayer as a matter of God's "need[ing] to be reminded." Why would anyone pray to a forgetful god?

Thus we are agreed: A god who would need to be reminded would be a pathetic excuse for a deity—a false god, if you will.

But prayer has nothing to do with God's needs. It has everything to do with our needs. And while prayer does not provide God with new information, it does provide us with an avenue for self-disclosure (a vital aspect of genuine relating).

How awful would it be if our children never spoke to us because they understood that we—as wise parents—already know their needs and will meet them? My children need the things I afford them but they need me (their father) more than the things I give them.

Even so, our greatest need is to be in communion with God Himself. That is, we need God more than the things we may ask Him for. Prayer meets this greater need.

What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need—the need of Himself? . . . Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. (C.S. Lewis, “George MacDonald An Anthology,” p.41).

You may presently be unaware of or vehemently deny your need for God, but perhaps someday you will think otherwise. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Atheist's Prayer Request, pt. 2

An atheist writes:

If you don't mind, please ask God to reveal himself to me. Maybe group prayer will help. . . . I have sought God for many years, but I have received no confirmation of his existence. Please pray. Also, if you could share your experience of receiving confirmation, I would enjoy hearing it. How did you come to know that God exists?

Below is part 2 of my response. Part 1 is here.

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You ask for “confirmation” of God’s existence based upon “experience.” This seems very odd.

CS Lewis (a Christian professor and author) once observed: “What we learn from experience depends upon the philosophy we bring to experience.” This is undoubtedly true. (For example, you and I experience the same universe yet what we learn from our shared experience—at least in regards to the Christian faith—is most dissimilar.)

Experience settles what?

Theists claim to “experience” God and non-theists claim to not “experience” Him. However, I’ve “experienced” or “felt” things which are untrue and then I’ve not “felt” or “experienced” things which are quite true.

Hence it seems to me that “experience” (or the lack thereof) is a very poor determiner or arbiter of truth. Frankly, “experience” (or the lack thereof) to one may be “psychosis” to another.

Correlatively, you inquire: “How did you come to know that God exists?

This, of course, is not a question of ontology but of epistemology—the justification of knowledge. In other words, how does one “know” things?

Well, we “know” different things in different ways. I “know” my wife loves me differently than I “know” 2-2=0; and I “know” George Washington was the first President of the United States differently than I “know” I drank coffee at breakfast this morning. And so on.

That being said, Alvin Plantinga insists (convincingly to my mind) that belief in God is “properly basic.” That is, our knowledge of God is not predicated upon arguments or evidences (though these things do exist). Rather, such knowledge—the knowledge of God—is innate.

I know this to be true in my experience, and I’d wager that it’s true in the experience of ninety-eight percent of all people past, present, and future. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An Atheist's Prayer Request

If you don't mind, please ask God to reveal himself to me. Maybe group prayer will help. . . . I have sought God for many years, but I have received no confirmation of his existence. Please pray. Also, if you could share your experience of receiving confirmation, I would enjoy hearing it. How did you come to know that God exists?

I don’t know if this atheist’s request is genuine or not. (I suspect it isn’t.) But below is part 1 of my two part response to her.

*********************

I will pray for you, but probably not that God will "reveal Himself" to you. This seems a bit individualistic and presumptuous. You see, as a Christian—by definition—I believe that God sufficiently reveals Himself to the world. Thus, such a prayer, it seems to me, would actually go against Christian belief.

The issue is this: Do you accept or believe God's revelation of Himself. Obviously, at this point you do not. But does your non-belief in God reflect poorly upon God's self-revelation? I don't see why it should.

Relatedly, does your lack of faith obligate God to go "above and beyond" for you—in in a manner He doesn't do for the rest of us? Again, I don’t see why it should.

Does your lack of faith in God demonstrate that there is no God? No, of course not. Your lack of faith demonstrates your lack of faith; nothing more. Thus it seems that your lack of faith is about you, not God.

I suppose my question at this point is: Why do you disbelieve in God.

You write: “I have sought God for many years . . .

Why would you do this? It seems irrational for one to honestly “seek” for that which one believes to be non-existent. (Most folks wouldn’t do such a thing for many minutes, much less many years!)

So…this “search for many years” makes me wonder how strong your disbelief really is. (Notice, I’m questioning your disbelief and not your sanity.)

***************
Next week: Part 2


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Politics & Religion

Last week’s article, “Good Laws vs. Good News” was met with this response: “We are not to be part of this world, but apart from it and therefore not a part of this world’s politics.”

This certainly sounds pious but what does it mean—biblically—to "not be part of this world"? Does the Bible say followers of Jesus cannot or should not participate in politics? I don't believe it does.

For those who claim otherwise, two problems immediately come to mind.

First, where and how does one draw a line between that which is political and that which isn’t?  

Because Christians are “not of this world” we cannot vote? We cannot run for public office? Christians cannot be lawyers? Judges? Police officers? Fire fighters? Christians can't be in the military or work for public schools? Can a believer hold a State job of any kind? What about belonging to a labor union?

Furthermore, aren’t we participating in "this world's system" every time we pay taxes? Should we not pay taxes? (I’m thinking not paying taxes may indeed separate us from the world but in a whole different way.)

Second, this kind of monastic-like thinking (in my opinion) totally misunderstands what the Bible means by being separate from the world. We are separated from the world—not by withdrawing from it—but by God's word and Spirit. We are not of the world because we are in Christ.

Consider the prayer of our Lord:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. ~John 17:15-16

 The Christian's sanctification is not in jeopardy simply because he is interested in politics or is employed by the State—his sanity maybe…but not his sanctity.      

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Good Laws vs. Good News

In response to my 2 part series dealing with the church, divorce, and gay marriage, a gentleman offers the following:
 
According to 1Corinthians 5 we are not to keep company with a brother who does not repent of sexual sins. However Paul is clear in saying we do not judge those on the outside. . . . If we are not to judge those outside the church, why do we want laws based on Christian morality forced upon non-believers? Are we trying to tell them God will hate them less if they only commit our sins?
 
Below is my response.
 
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All laws are moral (even speed limit laws). The question is: Whose morality should serve as a foundation for law—God’s or the godless’?
 
That being said, the above objection conflates laws (passed and enforced by the State) with Paul's instruction to the church to practice church discipline. Church discipline has nothing to do with State legislation.
 
That is, the church neither passes nor enforces civil law. There is a separation of church and State. The church and the State operate in two distinct spheres (think of biblical phrases such as “the keys" and “the sword"). Consequently, to desire good and moral laws is not all the same thing as to demand theocracy.
 
But also, and more troubling, the above complaint seems to confuse Law with Gospel. The content of the Gospel of grace, the message of what God has done for us in the Person and work of His Son, has nothing to do with the laws of the State. Americans may love their so-called “civil religion” but there’s really no such thing as the Gospel of the State. There’s only the Gospel of God.
 
Only by greatly confusing the above things would one even think to ask: "Are we trying to tell them God will hate them less..."
 
How sad.
 
God will love you more if only you sin less is no Gospel.
 
The truth is man may sin less but he is nonetheless a sinner. And the State—no matter how moral its laws—cannot reconcile us to God. Yet thankfully, God in His mercy has reconciled us to Himself in Jesus Christ. Now this is good news!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Harping Hypocrites? pt. 2

 

Recall from last week that the above image appeared on a Facebook friend’s page and it fostered a discussion which was both spirited and misguided.  Once again, the two basic recurring premises were these:
 
1) The church should stop harping on the sin of homosexuality, treating it as worse than all others. 
 
2) Because of rampant divorce in the church, the church has lost its moral authority to speak to the issue of gay marriage, and to continue to do so is the height of hypocrisy. 
 
Having already addressed the first premise, let’s proceed to the second. In my estimation the second notion is even more wrong-headed than the first. 
 
The church shouldn’t speak against gay marriage because divorced folks have the audacity to attend worship services? How does one answer such illogic? 
 
Is the subject of greed taboo with all the registered Republicans and overzealous ushers afoot? Perhaps we shouldn’t address drunkenness or sexual lusts because our churches sometimes contain closet-Episcopalians and public school-teenagers.   
 
In other words, the idea that we cannot speak of certain sins due to sinning saints is ill-begotten. The opposite is true. Because the church is filled with sinners we must never cease to talk of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. Sinners—especially Christian ones—need to be reminded of God’s law and Gospel. 
 
Aside from all this, I’ve often wondered: What do our detractors want us to do with people who’ve experienced the heartbreak of divorce? Dis-fellowship them? Maybe quarantine them from the more “righteous” parishioners—a Sunday separation akin to “children’s church”?   
 
What about divorce and moral authority? Are we to believe the church’s moral authority rises as its divorce rate falls? Imagine someone saying: “Well my church can talk about the sin of gay marriage all day long because we kick divorcees to the curb like it’s nobody’s business. We’re holy like that.” This is no standard of righteousness. 
 
Furthermore, and more fundamental, do we speak of the sin of homosexuality (or any other sin for that matter) based upon the moral authority of the church, in and of itself? I think not. 
 
The church is not its own moral authority. The moral authority of the church is derivative and it does not rise or fall. The church’s moral authority comes from sacred scripture. We appeal to the undiminished authority of God’s word in matters of faith and conduct—not to the lives of individual Christians. 
 
Nevertheless, should we be concerned with how the unbelieving world perceives the church? Indeed we should. Should we eschew even the appearance of hypocrisy? Of course! But should we abandon teaching biblical morality—as it pertains to marriage and other things—because Christians often falter and fail? No, absolutely not.
 
 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Harping Hypocrites?


The above image appeared on a Facebook friend’s page. The conversation that ensued (which I did not participate in) was predictably as spirited as it was misguided. 

The two basic recurring premises were these: 

1) The church should stop harping on the sin of homosexuality, treating it as worse than all others. 

2) Because of rampant divorce in the church, the church has lost its moral authority to speak to the issue of gay marriage, and to continue to do so is the height of hypocrisy. 

Let’s consider the assumptions in both positions. 

First, is the church “harping” on the sin of homosexuality? Maybe some churches are. I’m not aware of them, but it’s possible. Yet it seems that those churches or denominations which do from time-to-time focus on homosexuality (though not necessarily on Sunday mornings) aren't exactly  monolithic.  

That is, when the subject comes up in such churches or synods—say at a national convention or something—those who speak the most are often preaching for the acceptance of homosexuality not the sin of it. Thus, if the church is indeed “harping” on the issue, it’s harping out of both sides of its mouth. 

Even so, is the church driving and framing our national conversation about homosexuality? I don’t believe it is. The church is far from the only cultural shaping institution. And it’s nowhere near the most influential.  

At best the church is attempting to be responsive. But make no mistake, the driving and framing forces of our societal obsession with homosexuality are the institutions of media (news/entertainment), government (politics and the use of force [law]), and education 

The church isn’t controlling the conversation. It’s awash in it. It’s not “harping.” It’s swimming. Many would prefer the church’s drowning to its swimming. Others, not so angry, would rather see a “dead man’s float” than an actual dead man. But when it comes to a national conversation, this may be a distinction without a difference. 

We’ll consider the assumptions of premise number 2 next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Maher, Muslims, & Myopia


Only under the rarest of circumstances will you hear me say this: I agree with Bill Maher 

However, an atheist acquaintance of mine disagrees with him (which just goes to show that atheist fundamentalists—like religious fundamentalists—don’t always see eye-to-eye.) 

She actually compares ISIS and Islam to “The Lord’s Resistance Army” and Christianity. And she isn’t trying to be funny. Still, I find the comparison laughable. Like Charlie Rose (see the video above), she is firmly committed to the notion that all religions are the same and that when it comes to violence there is no real difference between Christianity and Islam, or the Bible and the Qur’an.  

She offers: “If I were to highlight the violence in the Bible, I'd need a new highlighter.” While such a statement is red meat to likeminded atheist fundamentalists, it lacks serious thought and is utterly devoid of nuance.  

The Bible does indeed contain a lot of horrific violence. However, there is a universe of difference between that which is descriptive and that which is prescriptive. I am unaware of a single biblical passage which calls individual Christians to practice physical violence.  

Such cannot be said of the Qur’an and Islam. Many if not most Imams, past and present, understand Jihad to be prescriptive in the Qur’an. That is, the Qur’an—from start to finish—calls Muslims to strive for Allah. This striving, this Jihad, includes (though it is by no means limited to) physical violence. 

Even so, my atheist friend clings to her beliefs regarding Islam and the Qur’an despite a world of evidence—past and present—to the contrary. If such blind devotion to belief doesn’t evince fundamentalism, what does?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leftovers

These days I am more and more appreciative of leftovers—the ones in my Bible not my fridge (I’ve always enjoyed those). The idea of “leftovers” comes from Christian Smith. 

Leftover texts are outliers; they are incongruous and glitchy. For whatever reason, they are uncomfortable for the believers of the paradigms for which they are anomalous.  . . . those that are anomalous for one paradigm often turn out to be core texts in a different paradigm. What is leftover to one framework is fundamental to another (Christian Smith, “The Bible Made Impossible,” p. 44).  

In other words, whichever system one adheres to (Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism—or any other “ism”) there are multitudes of verses and/or passages which do not seem to “fit” within the system—leftovers 

Unfortunately, folks who become intellectually and even emotionally committed to a specific theological framework, tend to ignore, downplay, explain away, or “shoehorn” leftovers in the name of systematic consistency (this is affectionately dubbed “sola systema”).  

I’m presently at a place where I don’t feel compelled to “synthesize” or “reconcile” every single text to other texts or to any particular theological paradigm. I’m increasingly comfortable with letting the texts of scripture speak for themselves.  

Said another way, I feel no compulsion to (as my friend, Charlie Harris, says) "flatten" scripture. I'm trying to purposefully let the sacred text speak in its own bumpy terms, with its own unresolved tensions. I'm not concerned to try to tame the text or to wrap everything in a nice, neat little bow. Life isn't like that. Neither is scripture. 

We have to deal with antinomy in the biblical revelation . . . An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together. . . . Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy mind, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.  

 . . . An antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible. . . . It is unavoidable, and it is insoluble. We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. . . . What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. . . . This is how antinomies must be handled, whether in nature or in Scripture. (J. I. Packer, “Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God,” p.p. 18-19, 21). 

Thus, the Bible leaves us with tensions. It puts forward antinomies. It has been said, "A religion without mystery is a religion without God." I think this is true.  

So rather than solving mysteries I’m savoring antinomies—and the leftovers ain’t bad.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Atheist Fundamentalism


The question of the future role of religion in the West is far too important to leave to the fanatics or to atheist fundamentalists. (Alister and Joanna McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?” p.83) 

The dark and aggressive tone of the new atheism critique of religion suggests that fanaticism may not be limited to the ranks of those who defend religion. (Alister McGrath, “Mere Theology,” p. 124) 

It has been observed that a fanatic “is someone who feels more strongly about something than I do.” Thus we may hear or say something akin to, “Well, sure, I like sports but that guy’s a fanatic…I would never wear face-paint at a preseason game!” 

But most often, when we hear or read the terms fanatic and fundamentalist, we envision folks who are overly zealous but not overly thoughtful in regards to their beliefs—particularly if those beliefs are religious in nature.  

Even so, it is becoming increasingly clear that atheist fundamentalism is every bit as unthinking, intolerant, aggressive, and fanatical as the religious variety.  

We do not wish to reply in kind to the aggressive and sometimes vitriolic attacks on faith that are found in some of today’s “new atheism” which is often quite fundamentalist (to use a word they love to level at us) in its dogmatic unbelief and which is sometimes remarkably intolerant of those who are, as they would say, so silly and naïve as to “still” believe nowadays. (David J. Randall, “Why I Am Not An Atheist,” p. 9) 

Atheist fundamentalists are irrationally hostile towards the Christian faith. But what would happen if Richard Dawkins and his ilk were to successfully rid the world of Christianity?  

Would an irreligious world enjoy a golden age of atheist utopia? Hardly! Nevertheless, despite the evidence, this is certainly what atheist fundamentalists dream of or…Imagine. Atheist fundamentalists (you may say they are dreamers) habitually ignore the undeniable facts of history.  

In one of his more bizarre creedal statements as an atheist, Dawkins insists that there is “not the smallest evidence” that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. This is an astonishing, naïve and somewhat sad statement. Dawkins is clearly . . . disconnected from the real and brutal world of the twentieth century. . . . He has a fervent, unquestioning faith in the universal goodness of atheism which he refuses to subject to critical examination. (Alister McGrath, “Mere Theology,” p. p. 130, 131) 

Fundamentalisms are often dangerous—atheist fundamentalism is no exception. When religious convictions are gotten rid of, other convictions become transcendent and take their place. And when one thinks about it—whether one loses one’s head to Allah or to liberty—one is just as dead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nothin’ From Nothin’ Leaves…

Not long ago an atheist posted this curious challenge: 

What does Yahweh look like? He isn't a 'he' despite convention. No dimensions? No hands? No body? No brain. Totally incorporeal? 

He sounds essentially like nothingness. So prior to creation, what was 'He' conscious OF? He can't be conscious of himself as consciousness is consciousness OF something...(it's a property of something, not a thing itself) and he's without form I think.  

 Then ...how could a non conscious, non physical, formless.. thing...create ANYTHING? 

Not only is her challenge curious, but for her, it’s also fatal. Notice she contends that "He [God] sounds essentially like nothingness. . . Then ...how could a non conscious, non physical, formless…thing...create ANYTHING?" 

This is an excellent question!  

How does "nothingness" cause or create or account for (whatever term one prefers) "ANYTHING" much less everything? 

This fundamental question has never been, in my estimation, answered by atheists. How can something—in this case the universe and all it contains—come from absolutely nothing? It defies logic (as does the materialist's word salad of how "nothing" really means "a little something"). 

I just don’t have enough faith in nothing to be an atheist. 

Not surprisingly, when I turned her own query against her, she completely ignored it and instead offered three more questions: 

1) Does existence exist independently of consciousness?  

2) does [sic] Yahweh exist? 

3) did [sic] Yahweh speak the universe into existence? 

The answers to these questions are: 1) no, 2) yes, and 3) yes. 

You see, George Berkely famously wrote: "To be is to be perceived." 

Now, we must ask: Perceived by whom? 

My answer to this question is God. God perceives all things. There is nothing that exists apart from or independently of His consciousness. 

There is a universe of things which exists independently of my consciousness (and the consciousness of other humans and animals) but nothing exists independently of the consciousness of God. 

God (the great Perceiver) is the ground of all reality and/or existence. I say again: nothing exists apart from His consciousness.