Archive for January, 2010
XFiles: the Uninspired Canon

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

We are deep in Apologeticsland, where strange creatures skitter through the dense underbrush and where normal rules of logic no longer apply…

Isaiah 61 predicts that Messiah will perform healing miracles and preach “good news….to release the oppressed” by the “Spirit of the Lord.” In other words the Messiah will do exactly what Jesus did—provide new revelation and back it up with miracles. Of course, since the Messiah is to provide new revelation, someone has to write it down. That’s why Jesus promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all of  his words and guide them into “all truth” (John 14:26, 16:13).

Because everybody knows “to preach the good news to the poor” and “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (as Isaiah originally said) is exactly the same thing as commissioning a bunch of other people to write a new collection of documents which must thereafter be accepted as official canon and used as the ultimate authority over everyone else’s life. Right?

Geisler and Turek are wrestling with a bit of a problem here, which is why their logic seems a bit contorted. Being Protestants, their theological understanding is rooted in the assumption that all revelation must be written. Can you imagine if Jesus came and preached to mortal man, and never wrote any of his preachings down? Well, ok, that’s true: he didn’t. But somebody has to. I mean, obviously. Right?

It’s “obvious” to Geisler and Turek because they’re Protestants, and one of the foundational “solas” of Protestantism is sola Scriptura. You can’t have a faith that’s based solely on written revelation unless the revelations are all written down. So “obviously” when Isaiah said “The spirit of the Lord has sent me to preach the good news,” Geisler and Turek have no choice but to assume Isaiah is predicting that someone must be writing it all down.

Nor is this just an incidental case of Bible scholars reading their own assumptions into a text. It’s the core of their whole argument for a New Testament canon.

The problem here is that even though Protestantism falls apart without a solid, official NT canon, neither Jesus nor any of his apostles ever gave us one. Nobody in the first century ever wrote down the table of contents page for the New Testament, because in New Testament times, there was no revelation of what the canon was.

That’s such an obvious flaw that G&T deal with it up front, before even looking at the traditional Christian arguments for the NT canon.

First, we need to clear up a common misunderstanding about what we call “the canon.” It is this: It’s wrong to say that “the church” or the early church fathers determined what would be in the New Testament. They didn’t determine what would be in the New Testament—they discovered what God intended to be in the New Testament.

This is a line of argument that will smell familiar to anyone who has ever had to muck out a barn full of well-fed male bovines. Jesus did not tell us which books belong in the NT. The apostles did not tell us which books belong in the NT. There is no inspired authority even in their own religion that they can appeal to as verification for the claim that the canon contains the complete, correct, and exclusive list of inspired books. So Geisler and Turek want us to just take their word for it that God did all the canonizing, and that the uninspired and fallible bishops merely “discovered” the canon after God was finished.

In other words, Geisler and Turek are dealing with a significant gap in their evidence by simply assuming that God somehow makes the gap irrelevant. This type of cavalier approach to the facts is what believers mean by the term “world view.” When reality doesn’t line up with your expectations, you just shrug and proceed as though it did. (But remember, they don’t have enough FAITH to be ATHEISTS!)

From here, G&T proceed to list the historical evidence supporting the supposed authenticity of the books currently in the NT canon. I’m not going to be too critical of this approach, since it’s not unreasonable: it’s very likely that the apostles did write a few documents in their time (especially an educated and itinerant apostle like Paul), and it’s very likely that the early church leaders did indeed have a pretty good idea whether or not those documents were authentic. So I don’t have any good reason to doubt that, say, Paul’s epistle to the Galatians was really written by Paul.

What I will point out is the interesting implications of the fact that the canon of the New Testament is an issue in the first place. Though Geisler and Turek make light of the problems, we can see that they’re working very hard to establish some kind of post hoc authority for the New Testament, to the point that they have to bend their own Scriptures in order to achieve the desired results.

For example, let’s look at some of their attempts to build a solid case for New Testament authority.

In other words, the only books that should be part of the New Testament are those that God has inspired. Since Jesus said that his apostles would produce those books, our only questions are historical: 1) Who were the apostles? and 2) What did they write?

Notice, the argument here is that New Testament books must be written by the apostles. That is, Geisler and Turek tell us that “Jesus said his apostles would produce those books.” But did he? They’re basing this claim on the verse that says that Jesus told his disciples that the Spirit of truth “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Not one word about writing any books, let alone collecting books into an official New Testament canon.

Geisler and Turek made a similar argument at the beginning of the section on “Discovering the Canon.” After writing the paragraph at the top of this post, they say:

What does all this mean for the New Testament? It means that, according to Jesus, the only books that should be in the New Testament are those that are authored and/or confirmed by his apostles.

Again, they take a verse that says Isaiah claimed to have been anointed to preach good news to the poor, and say, “This means that Jesus told us the New Testament should contain only those books that were written or confirmed by apostles.” The text they cite as the basis for their claim has almost nothing at all to do with the claim they’re making. What’s more, after straining the text past the breaking point to “prove” that the texts must be written by apostles, they can’t help but go even further in order to allow certain non-apostolic texts to be included also.

Understandable enough, I suppose. Here they are, trying to come up with a post hoc justification for the books they’ve received as Scripture, and the closest they can come to a passage that even remotely resembles the point they want to make is a passage about the disciples having an inspired memory aid, which they magically transform (via the Protestant “world view”) into a stipulation that all books must be written by apostles. Not all NT books were written by apostles, however, so who cares what the first argument was. “Written or confirmed by apostles” seems to be sufficiently broad to cover the books we want to justify, so we’re going to run with that.

Believe it or not, it gets better. How do we know that the apostles “confirmed” the other books, like Luke and Acts? Well, um, because we suppose that the apostles must have known about these other books. Surely they would have objected if they had not wanted them to be written. Right?

There are many ways, I suppose, that you can prove the non-existence of the Christian God, but surely one of the most incontrovertible disproofs is the fact that Geisler and Turek can call their book I Don’t Have Enough FAITH… without their keyboards bursting into spontaneous combustion before they can even send it to their editor.

The reason they have to make such huge leaps of—well, “logic” seems a bit incongruous here, let’s just say “such huge leaps”—is because believers in the New Testament times had no intention or even concept of adding a New Testament to their Bible. Why should they? They had the apostles, who were living, breathing authorities, filled with the Holy Spirit, inspired, infallible, and so on. Jesus himself had promised that the Kingdom would come during their lifetime.

And they believed it. Paul, for instance, automatically included himself in the list of people who would still be alive at the Second Coming, in I Thess. 4. Granted, at a certain point it became clear that he was going to be martyred, there’s still no sign he expected his death to be a lengthy absence. Only John, last of the apostles, writing near the end of his life, seems to have realized that Jesus might not be coming back as soon as they had originally hoped.

Meanwhile, for the bulk of the New Testament period, believers had a real, live authority that was better than some historic, fixed, and ambiguous list of books written (or confirmed by) apostles. If you’ve got enough living apostolic authority to last until the end of the world, why would you need to worry about defining what it would take for a book to replace the apostles?

That’s why Geisler and Turek are having to stretch things way past any reasonable proportion in order to obtain a pseudo-justification for a supposedly “inspired” NT canon that was supposedly “discovered” by fallible and uninspired bishops in the third and fourth centuries. Jesus missed his cue. He wasn’t supposed to be gone long enough for us to develop a need for some book to replace the apostles. They thought he was coming back. No, they knew he was coming back. Soon. Within a generation at most.

And they were wrong.

Assurance Dialog

For those who may be interested, here is a conversation I had with a Lutheran on the assurance of salvation. His comments are in black, mine are in blue (there is another fellow by the name of Mark also in the discussion. I have largely left him out except where we overlap. His comments are in red.It is not very tight, but I was short on time. I was not trying to set forth a foundation for assurance so much as point out that his accusations are sloppy since it cuts against the Lutheran position as well. Enjoy.


“So the question of whether or not Sam is elect translates immediately into the question of whether or not Sam has saving faith in Christ. Answer the latter and you’ve immediately answered the former.

But how can Sam answer that question? Well, by applying various tests suggested in Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5). When Sam reflects on his own beliefs, do they include the beliefs that he is a sinner in need of a redeemer and that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has indeed redeemed him by his atoning death and resurrection? Has he been baptized? Is he a member of a Christ-honoring local church? Does he regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper? Does his life show the fruits of repentance, good works, and love for his brothers and sisters in the faith? Does he no longer love the world? Is he growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Of course, these tests aren’t infallible. A professing Christian can deceive others and even himself. But the important point to see here is that the Calvinist is in no worse a position than the Arminian in this respect. ”

One cannot infallibly know one is elect, and one has to test to see if one is elect. The point in my question is not whether or not one may have an abstract system of doctrine that there are indeed elect, but how one knows for one’s self one is elect. ISTM that one cannot know one is elect “infallibly”. This is because “election”, in the document you cited, is “proved” by “tests”. By way of contrast, Lutherans look to historical acts and ask questions like “Did Christ die for me?” “Am I baptized?” “Do I receive communion” etc. The tests are nore in the empirical vein than in the theoretical.

Philip Cary broke down the syllogisms in this way:

The Standard Protestant Syllogism

Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.

Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.

Conclusion: I am saved.

Luther’s Syllogism

Major premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Minor premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.

Conclusion: I am baptized (i.e., I have new life in Christ).

The article can be found here:

http://tinyurl.com/ye67k3e

So, ISTM that from a Lutheran perspective (and we would say a biblical perspective) the question regarding election is phrased incorrectly, that question is what has God done for me not how do I know I am really saved because God elects everyone who is saved. Calvinists cannot say with confidence “God saved me” without going through the tests outlined in the link you supplied, but since Christ never lies, we can infallibly know we are e.g. baptized.

* Did Christ die for me? –> Did Christ die to save repentant sinners?

* Am I baptized? –> Did I repent and trust in Christ?

* Do I receive communion etc. –> Do I bear fruit?

What’s the diff?

The difference is relying on historical acts vs. a subjective determination. You wrote “Did Christ die for me? –> Did Christ die to save repentant sinners?”

The question from a Calvinist POV is whether or not one is a repentant sinner. And as Dr. Cary and the article to which Steve pointed me state, this is subject to a lot of tests who’s outcome is in doubt. Also, as I am sure you know, the answer to the question “Did Christ die for me?” is always yes for Lutherans, but not for Calvinists. If you are not elect Christ did not die for you, which is precisely why one needs to show one has real, saving faith by the various tests.

You wrote “Am I baptized? –> Did I repent and trust in Christ?”

Again, it is the difference between an act in history by God and a subjective determination of one’s status based on tests. Whether or not I am baptized is more an empirical question, at least for Lutherans, than a theoretical one, which it can be for e.g Baptists who are baptized based on faith. But how do we know our faith is real in the first place? This is the issue Cary deals with.

You wrote: “Do I receive communion etc. –> Do I bear fruit?”

Again a subjective determination is required as opposed to objective criteria. If you have the time I suggest you read Cary’s article.

The “Protestant” syllogism causes one to always examine himself to see if he is elect, while the “Lutheran” syllogism points him to verifiable acts in history bu God. While the difference may be subtle, I think it is also clear. I also this difference is why “double Predestination” is such a difficult issue. Calvinists frame the question in such a way that one is always looking into one’s self to see if one’s faith is real. Lutherans frame the question in such a way we are pointed to the sacraments instituted by Christ himself.

1) That Christ died to save repentant sinners is an objective historical fact, not some subjective notion.

2) My personal connection with that historical fact comes in an actual historical point where I exercise faith in Christ. Asking how I know I actually believe is like asking you how you know you were baptized. I was there, I remember it. What if the mode of your baptism was not right? What if you only dipped your foot in? Does that count? I am genuinely curious on this point, do you believe that every Lutheran who was ever baptized will be saved? Zero exceptions?

3) How often do you have to take communion? Just once? 50% of Sundays? How regular before you will have “assurance?” What else did you have in mind with “etc”? How are these actual historical deeds different from the actual historical deeds that spring from my salvation?

You wrote

“1) That Christ died to save repentant sinners is an objective historical fact, not some subjective notion.”

That Christ died for repentent sinners is something with which I agree. But I also believe he died for all, which is why the existential question for a Calvinist is do I really have faith? For a ?utheran it is “Did Christ die for me?”

“2) My personal connection with that historical fact comes in an actual historical point where I exercise faith in Christ. Asking how I know I actually believe is like asking you how you know you were baptized. I was there, I remember it. What if the mode of your baptism was not right? What if you only dipped your foot in? Does that count? I am genuinely curious on this point, do you believe that every Lutheran who was ever baptized will be saved? Zero exceptions? ”

It is not the same kind of question because by what measure can you say your experience is real? By what measure can you say your faith is real? If it is by fruits, the natural progression of the question is how much fruit is enough?

As for me, I know the mode of my baptism is right because there were witnesses to my baptism. As to whether or not every Lutheran baptized is saved, I answer no. But that is beside the point, because even if I misuse my baptism it is still a baptism. From the Large Catechism:

“For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God, even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament, even though they do not believe.”

Implicit in your statements are that experience validates the truth of your faith, which is in fact at we are diuscussing.

“3) How often do you have to take communion? Just once? 50% of Sundays? How regular before you will have “assurance?” What else did you have in mind with “etc”? How are these actual historical deeds different from the actual historical deeds that spring from my salvation?”

This question is stated in “Law” terms. How often I receive communion is not commanded by Christ, except for it to be “often”. And to ask the question is to show again the difference berween the Lutheran approach and the Calvinist approach. For embedded in your question is that if I don’t know exactly how often I receive communion I cannot be assured I receive enough. This is precisely what I have been talking about. An offer of grace from God in communion becomes a question as to whether or not I am sufficiently faithful in accepting it. FDo I do it enough? How often am I required to do it? etc. From our perspective, communion is a sort of “get” from God–when I receive communion I receive the forgiveness of sins, renewal etc. In the same way, when someone (even I) asks if I am one of the elect the anserr is “I am baptized…”

“I also believe he died for all, which is why the existential question for a Calvinist is do I really have faith? For a ?utheran it is ‘Did Christ die for me?’”

But since the death of Christ does not, by itself, select for whether you are saved, then you must face the same question. Faith is necessary in your system for salvation. If it is legitimate to ask “How we know we believed?” then it is also legitimate to ask that of Lutherans too.

“If it is by fruits, the natural progression of the question is how much fruit is enough?”

And if by communion, how much is enough?

“Implicit in your statements are that experience validates the truth of your faith, which is in fact at we are diuscussing.”

And how is your experience of baptism and communion different?

“This question is stated in “Law” terms. How often I receive communion is not commanded by Christ, except for it to be “often”.”

And how much fruit is not commanded either except that we be “fruitful.”

“And to ask the question is to show again the difference berween the Lutheran approach and the Calvinist approach. For embedded in your question is that if I don’t know exactly how often I receive communion I cannot be assured I receive enough.”

Not really, I was just pointing out what seems to be an inconsistency. Why do you insist I need a certain number of fruits but are content yourself with communion being frequent?

“From our perspective, communion is a sort of “get” from God–when I receive communion I receive the forgiveness of sins, renewal etc.”

Eating the Lord’s Supper is something you do. But you hold that although this is something you do, it is not your action of eating so much as God’s grace through the elements that is the basis. Although I do good works, my assurance is not in me but in the grace of the Holy Spirit who produces these deeds in me.

“But since the death of Christ does not, by itself, select for whether you are saved, then you must face the same question. Faith is necessary in your system for salvation. If it is legitimate to ask “How we know we believed?” then it is also legitimate to ask that of Lutherans too. ”

Not really, because the justifying faith in Jesus Christ is e.g. believing that I am baptized, that I am his child etc. It is a sort of thing I can come back to over and over. I know I believe because I do, just like I believe I live in the USA, what my father’s name is etc. in other words, it i snot s reflection on the quality of faith, but whether or not I have faith, and faith here is believing that God has done for me what he says he has done for me.

A Calvinist on the other hand, cannot say Christ died for him unless he knows he is one of the elect, which brings about the same kinds of questions we have been discussing.

“Why do you insist I need a certain number of fruits but are content yourself with communion being frequent? ”

Because of th e”Protestant Syllogism”. Here it is again for convenience:

Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.

Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.

Conclusion: I am saved.

How does one know he believes in Christ? By fruits, as you have said. Now, how many fruits are necessary for one to know one believes in Christ?

Now, to modify the syllogism for the question at hand, the Lutheran syllogism regarding communion looks like this:

Major Premise: Christ offers communion for forgiveness of sins

Minor premise: I received communion.

Conclusion: My sins are forgiven

Now, if I understand Calvinism aright, the minor premise depends on whether or not one is elect or not. thus the syllogism looks like this:

Major Premise: Christ offers communion to the elect

Minor premise: I am one of the elect

Conclusion: I have received communion and my sins are forgiven

The whole system depends upon whether or not one is elect–or not, not on an objective event in history.

“Eating the Lord’s Supper is something you do. But you hold that although this is something you do, it is not your action of eating so much as God’s grace through the elements that is the basis. Although I do good works, my assurance is not in me but in the grace of the Holy Spirit who produces these deeds in me.”

And on what is your assurance based upon? (I don’t actually question your faith, BTW…) It has to be your own evaluation of the information you have. In lutheranism, the assurance is because salvation, faith, grace etc. are Extra Nos–it doesn’t matter how I feel about my walk or about baptism, it matters what Christ does n history.

Mark,

“How do you know you have done so in faith? Have faith?”

I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead and I am baptized. I believe Jesus Christ forgives my sins in communion. I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, in the Holy Spirit etc. I believe these things, but I do not have a psychoanalytical explanation as to “why”. It is like, as I said, believing I live in the USA.

Edward,

I believe you’ve just answered your own objection against Calvinism.

MArk,

No, I haven’t, because a Calvinist may think he believes, he may even believe in the historical facts, but if he is not one of the elect he doesn’t really have faith, Jesus did not die for him, he was not baptized etc. A Lutheran, however, if he was baptized, is baptized even if he does not believe a word of it. If he receives communion he has received the body and blood of Christ even if he does not believe a word of it. I don’t think I have answered my own objection because the issue is still, for a Calvinist, whether he has real faith, not whether he believes he has real faith, whether Christ actually died for him, not whether or not he believes Christ actually died for him.

Edward,

If you have no faith, what benefit is baptism and communion?

Can a Lutheran ever have a false faith?

Perhaps we are not talking the same thing at all. Justifying faith in Jesus Christ is believing you were baptized? My faith is in the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Christ. It sounds like your faith is not in Christ but in baptism. Please offer some correction here because this sounds weird.

Why can you return to your baptism but I cannot return to my conversion? I remember it quite distinctly. I remember everything about just as historically verifiable as your baptism (perhaps I have even more clarity of remembrance if you were baptized as a baby). You may remember being a a particular church in a certain city. I too remember the location of my conversion. You may remember which year, the time of year, day etc. So do I. You may remember being wet. I happen to remember being dry. Why do you insist that my conversion had no historical setting that I can remember while yours did?

You’re only confusing the question by continuing to go election. The question is assurance of salvation. We both hold that faith in Christ is necessary. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you can ask how I know I believe, so can I. The only way to avoid this is to posit a radically different content of our faith (which I’m concerned you do).

I’m not sure why your not following the parallels I am drawing. Let me try again:

“How does one know he believes in Christ?” Since both systems require faith in Christ, both the Reformed and the Lutheran need to answer this question. Hence:

“By fruits, as you have said.” And by communion you have said.

“Now, how many fruits are necessary for one to know one believes in Christ?” And how much communion is necessary for one to know one believes in Christ? If you only partake once a month is that enough? Once a year? Its still something you can remember.

You insist that asking how much is to frame it incorrectly. I concur. You insist that communion is an empirical means of grace and I insist that works are an empirical result of grace.

My assurance also is based in what Christ actually did in history, and how I partook in that work in actual history, which salvation is then worked out in actual concrete history. Its not based on my feelings.

“A Lutheran, however, if he was baptized, is baptized even if he does not believe a word of it. If he receives communion he has received the body and blood of Christ even if he does not believe a word of it.”

Are you suggesting that if a person is baptized and takes communion that he is saved regardless of what he believes? If a Muslim were baptized and ate communion but changed not his convictions, is he saved?

Brett and Mark,

Perhaps we are talking bast one another. Brett had a longer post with more examples, so I will quote from his post and hopefully Mark’s question will be answered too.

“Justifying faith in Jesus Christ is believing you were baptized?”

Justifying faith is believing Jesus’ words in baptism are true–that I am baptized. Justifying faith in Jesus Christ is trusting in Jesus’ words that he who eats his body and drinks his blood has forgiveness of sins. Justifying faith is believing that Jesus rose from the dead. In short, justifying faith is believing God tells the truth. It is like, as I keep saying :-) , believing I am in the USA. Once I have established that fact I don’t have to ask any questions about the quality of my belief, whether or not it is true, as it is established empirically. This is what I was trying to show with my baptism example.

Which clarifies the issue a little:

“Why can you return to your baptism but I cannot return to my conversion?”

Because one’s conversion in a Calvinist system depends on whether or not one has saving, or persevering, faith. If one doesn’t have saving faith it was just a subjective feeling and no conversion at all.

So, you can return to your conversion, but if the quality of your faith at the time of that conversion is not persevering faith there is objectively no “it” to return to.

Now, if God is not a liar, then I am baptized and I receive his gifts because he said I am baptized and I receive his gifts. There is no “conditional” as it is an empirical fact whether or not I was baptized.

“I concur. You insist that communion is an empirical means of grace and I insist that works are an empirical result of grace.”

The ungodly can do good works just like a Christian. The ungodly can receive communion just like a Christian, too. The difference is in the objectiveness of what we see–in the first case observing someone doing good works does not mean that person has persevering faith. In the second case it is a matter of looking at what is going on in the liturgy. This is why the quality of one’s faith is so important in a Calvinist system; unless and until one has assurance one can never be sure one has persevering faith except by weighing factors which are difficult to measure in the best of circumstances.

So…

Are you suggesting that if a person is baptized and takes communion that he is saved regardless of what he believes? If a Muslim were baptized and ate communion but changed not his convictions, is he saved?

“If a Muslim were baptized and ate communion but changed not his convictions, is he saved?”

To put it like Luther did, the baptism and communion are correct, but the Muslim did not receive it correctly:

“For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.

Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.”

(Large Catechism Baptism)

The Muslim was indeed baptized, but he calls God a liar because he does not believe this is according to God’s ordinance; if he did he would no longer be Muslim. Faith does not make baptism because baptism is done by God. However, faith–understood according to the “Lutheran Syllogism” I cited before–receives the benefits of baptism.

Now, a Calvinist may be baptized, but if he does not have the gift of perseverance then his belief is unbelief and he is no better than the Muslim. He did not receive the baptism rightly. But another way, unless one is sure one’s faith is saving faith, one cannot be sure one was baptized–just like a Calvinist cannot be sure Christ died for him. This is because the validity of e.g. baptism depends not on God’s truthfulness but the subjective state of the subject of the baptism.

Earlier you said that “A Lutheran, however, if he was baptized, is baptized even if he does not believe a word of it. If he receives communion he has received the body and blood of Christ even if he does not believe a word of it.” You seem to have done a complete reversal. Now it does no good because he “did not believe” since this is something that “faith apprehends.” Per your new position:

If baptism doesn’t save you (which I am glad to hear you confess), then you cannot look to it for assurance of salvation in any sense different than how a Calvinist would look to Spirit wrought works. The baptism only acts as a means of grace based on your belief. The basis then has now shifted to a subjective element and is no longer tied to the more empirical nature of water itself. Your assurance is now based upon the subjective state of the individual. Your goal posts have shifted. For the Calvinist the question is how do you know you believe? That, as I have been saying, is also the question you have to answer as well.

Bible vs Pro-life

Continuing on with yesterday’s theme, I’d like to look a little more closely at the contrast between the values and principles of the pro-life movement versus those of historic Christianity. The big question here, of course, is whether God Himself would be a pro-lifer. That is, if we imagine a scene outside an abortion clinic, with security guards escorting women into the clinic, and pro-life protesters trying to stop them, which side would God join if He were to show up in person? Would He pick up a protest sign and stand with the pro-lifers?

Based on the Old and New Testaments, the answer is an unmistakable “NO!” God may be a lot of things, but “pro-life” isn’t one of them, by a long shot.

Before we start our survey of the actual texts, there’s one thing we need to be clear about. Which kind of life are pro-lifers supposed to be “pro” about? In Christian theology, a person actually has two lives: their physical, mortal life which ends when the body dies, and the everlasting life of their immortal soul (which by definition never ends). What pro-lifers will tell you is that abortion is wrong because it ends a life, so we’re clearly concerned with life in the materialistic sense here (thus betraying once again the materialistic roots and biases of the pro-life political movement).

How much value, then, does the God of the Bible place on physical, materialistic life? In a conflict between life and free will, to which does He give priority? The first chapter of Genesis does not address the topic, but the second begins to, and the third gives us quite the clearest demonstration possible of God’s preference for free will over pro-life principles.

Here’s Genesis 2:15-17:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

God already knew good and evil, being omniscient. He clearly did not want His children to know, since He explicitly forbade them to eat the fruit. Why, then, did He think there was any need to create a tree of  knowledge of good and evil? This tree does not appear again anywhere else in Christian lore or scripture; it has no other use. Its sole purpose is to create the opportunity for God’s children to make fatal choices.

Not a perfectly clear-cut case of God giving priority to free will over respect for life, I’ll grant you, but it definitely has pronounced inclinations in that direction. Can you imagine a sincere pro-lifer going up to a troubled, unwed pregnant teen, handing her the business card to the local abortion clinic, and saying, “Now you must not go to this clinic between the hours of 8 and 4 on weekdays and 8 to noon on Saturdays, parking in the rear, phone 727-555-1212 for an appointment, bring a photo ID and your insurance card if any, all interactions guaranteed strictly confidential.”? It’s just not pro-life to create the opportunity for fatal choices and then put it right in front of the chooser’s face. But that’s what God did in Genesis 2.

Genesis 3 is even clearer.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What’s missing from this picture? How about God? Where’s God in all this? Here is Eve, mother of all women, about to exercise her freedom of choice in a way that will be fatal for her offspring. Allow Eve to exercise her freedom of choice, and it’s certain death, not just for one baby, but for all her offspring, and all their offspring, generation to generation. And it’s not just physical death either: according to Jesus, most of Eve’s offspring will lose their salvation as well. Eve is about to make the ultimate anti-pro-life choice.

The pro-life thing to do at this point, assuming you know what Eve is contemplating, would be for you to intervene, deprive Eve of her freedom to choose, and thus prevent the consequent loss of life—and soul! That’s especially true in this particular case, since there aren’t any issues here about Eve being forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy—this is strictly eat or don’t eat.

And God, being divine, most definitely does know what Eve is thinking, and what the serpent is saying. He’s even known about it in advance, just as He knows everything in advance. He’s had more than enough time to slap some gory pictures on a piece of cardboard and a stick, and to situate Himself at the location where Eve and the snake are going to meet to arrange the termination of her immortal innocence.

If God were pro-life, He would have to be there. Anything less is a betrayal of everything “pro-life” stands for. Eve and the snake are about to commit the Ultimate Abortion, not just of one baby’s life, but of the lives of each and every member of the human species (at least eventually). Preventable deaths, every one. If only there were one pro-lifer around to talk Eve out of it! But there wasn’t, because God is pro-choice. He values the woman’s freedom of choice above the lives of her offspring, above even their immortal souls, and therefore He stayed out of it until after the decision was made.

Let’s look at a few more examples, like Genesis 6-10. Here’s an excerpt:

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

This time God isn’t just pro-choice, He’s the abortionist: taking the life of virtually everyone and everything, on account of the choices of man. (Yes, I know Noah and the Ark, but that’s a vanishingly small percentage of those God killed by the Flood, according to the story.) The pro-life thing to do would be to simply prevent man from having the freedom to choose to do all those evil things. Taking away the freedom to choose is what the pro-life movement is all about. But God values freedom of choice too highly to deprive man of it, even though the cost of that freedom is the sudden, violent death of every man, woman, child, baby, beast, and insect on the face of the earth! God is not pro-life.

So God, in the Bible, has a pronounced bias in favor of freedom of choice over respect for life. But does that apply to His followers too? Could this be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do,” a case of God having different moral values than He expects us to? Does God want us to have more respect for life (i.e. fleshly, materialistic life) than He does?

Well, no, not really. There are many cases in the Bible where God calls on His people to impose death penalties for a variety of offenses, from verbal things like cursing the name of God (Lev. 24:16), to things like disobeying your parents (Deut. 21), to picking up sticks on a Saturday (Num. 15). In some cases, God commanded His people to impose the death penalty for things the accused had no control over, like being born (or even just conceived!) as a descendant of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15).

Nor is this absence of respect for life limited to the Old Testament. In Acts 5, for instance, it’s not clear whether God or the Apostle Peter is to be credited (if that’s the word) with immediately slaying an elderly couple who sold some land and donated the proceeds to the church, claiming to have donated the entire sale price when in fact they had kept some for themselves. Granted, Ananias and Saphira were deceptively trying to win some credit they hadn’t earned, but is that sort of thing really a capital offense?  “Respect life” indeed!

Some will say at this point that these examples don’t count. God is wise above all the imaginations of men, and if He did demonstrate a callous disregard for the value of a human life, it’s because it was ultimately destined to bring about the greater good (for values of “good” that are not incompatible with suffering, disease, death, sin, and the eternal damnation of most of God’s children).

But that’s not the point. The point is, what is the real value of fleshly life? Pro-lifers place a much higher value on physical life than God does, if the Bible is correct. Is God wrong about how much a human life should be worth, or are the pro-lifers? Is the pro-life obsession with fleshly life merely a reflection of the materialism at the foundation of their movement?

I’m going to side (roughly) with the pro-lifers on this one. The life of a person should have a much higher value than God gives it in the Bible. That’s not to say that (as materialistic extremists would argue) the person exists from the moment of conception onwards. Far from it: the process of gestation is a process that slowly assembles a person from a large number of component parts, of which the fertilized egg is merely the first and simplest. But once all the pieces are in place, we should value human life too highly to casually toss around death penalties.

The New Materialists

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America, so inevitably the pro-lifers were out in force. Having been a pro-lifer once myself, I thought I’d take a moment to share my perspective. Back in the early 90′s I attended a pro-life protest rally with a busload of pro-lifers, and even though I was an ardent Christian at the time, there were some aspects of the protest that bothered me, even then.

The thing that bothered me the most was the emphasis on Christianity. Not that I objected to the faith, of course. I joined in the prayers and the hymns as enthusiastically as anyone else. But I couldn’t help but notice the atmosphere of possessiveness and exclusivity with which the pro-life position was being linked to the religion. It was as if there were a sub-text hiding in the signs and banners people were carrying: “Pro-life is for CHRISTIANS ONLY.”

It bothered me at the time, because the pro-life movement was unlikely to win without the support of a large number of other groups, and yet there was a tangible attitude of not wanting those other groups to join in. There was a certain amount of tolerance for Christian-like religions (Rabbis For Life could be openly accepted for instance), but I didn’t see too many Mormons for Life or (God forbid!) Gays for Life. I even had one pro-lifer tell me frankly and honestly that the only terms on which he would be willing to see America outlaw abortion again would be if the nation first turned to Jesus, so that Jesus could take the credit. Dead babies were something to shout about, but they came in a firm and distant second to the goal of using the pro-life movement to establish the political clout of believers.

Nowadays I see that as a rather more positive aspect of the pro-life movement: their self-righteous exclusivism makes them naturally self-limiting and self-defeating. Considering that they are crusading to dehumanize women, that’s a good thing. And not just women, because if you look at the philosophical basis of the pro-life movement, they’re really dehumanizing us all.

Before I get into that, though, let me just point out in passing that one of the big problems with trying to worship and serve a non-existent God is that you leave yourself open to the political influence of anyone who can do a convincing imitation of what you think the voice of God would sound like if He could talk. And there are any number of people who want your labor, your money, your vote, your military service, and on and on, who are more than willing to tell you what God is urging you to do.

The pro-life movement is a classic example. Back in the early 70′s, Republican strategists hit on the idea of using abortion as a political wedge to drive conservative Christians into the ranks (and coffers) of the party. It was not a particularly Christian issue, but it was a popular superstition, and Christian leaders like Pat Robertson and James Dobson were only to happy to enlist in the Republican crusade and make it a religious issue. In effect, they sold the American Christian church to the Republican party in exchange for some political influence, not realizing that most of the influence was actually flowing the wrong way. (As usual.)

The result is that we have a major Judeo-Christian political movement that manipulates believers into obeying the directives of Republican strategists, and that incidentally dehumanizes humankind in general and women in particular. It’s an unbiblical position, and flows contrary to a lot of what we might call the “spirit” of Christianity, but because God does not show up in real life and the Republicans are willing to take the lead in “relaying” God’s voice in His absence, Christians willingly embrace it as a part of their faith.

Ok, let’s get into the details. The root of the problem here, as in so many other cases, is that we all know that murder is wrong and surgery is ok, but it’s not clear at what point abortion switches from being the latter to being the former. That kind of ambiguity is not the sort of banner the average Joe can rally around. If you’re going to draw a line in the sand, it needs to be a clear, definite line, not a bunch of people sitting around wondering who, if anyone, might have crossed it. So how do you turn this into a black-and-white issue to use as a political tool?

Well, that’s easy, we’ll just say that “life begins at conception.” Sperm + egg = human life and therefore it’s murder if you take that life. The Bible never says anything about life beginning at conception (and in fact declares in Genesis 2 that Man first became “a living soul” when God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, so there’s reason to believe that breathing marks the point at which God regards us as human souls). But modern Republican leaders of the pro-life movement have declared that conception is what makes us people, and that’s good enough for the rank-and-file pro-lifer.

Notice what we’re saying, though. The nucleic acids of the sperm penetrate the cell wall of the egg, migrate to the nucleus, and recombine in an mundane biochemical reaction just like in every other organism from bacteria on up. There are as yet none of the attributes we normally associate with “soul,” like mind or emotion or will or perception. Nature has just begun construction of the physical, material housing into which these human (and dare I say “spiritual”) characteristics will later take root. But they’re not present yet, at conception.

What we have here, in other words, is an extremely materialistic reduction of what it means to be a person. We’re not beings of soul or spirit, let alone any image of God. We’re fundamentally a mere collection of proteins and amino acids and other materialistic chemicals. Kudos to pro-lifers for acknowledging the materialistic nature of man, and the fact that our true essence and worth is rooted in the physical and material substances of which we are composed. But this takes materialism too far.

The material universe is not just a universe of substances, it is a universe of substances and processes—nouns and verbs. And the verbs are no less important than the nouns. The reason human beings have value and dignity is not just because of the bare physical substances that interact biochemically at conception, as they do in all species. What makes us truly human, in the personal and spiritual sense, are the unique material processes that develop within our bodies once development advances beyond a certain point, the thoughts and emotions and goals and, yes, even the temptations.

These post-conception attributes are what make us human, not the mere substances of the single-celled organism. Philosophically, the pro-life movement is based on a heartless materialism that ignores the verbs and reduces people in general and women in particular to mere nouns. The fertilized egg lacks the processes and capacities that make us uniquely human persons—no mind, no thought, no feeling, no will, no perception, no desire, nothing more than a lowly bacterium would have. And that, pro-lifers tell us, is what it means to be a real, true human being.

This New Materialism flies in the face of the spirituality that pro-lifers allegedly believe in. Ok, not allegedly, they really do believe in it. It’s just that they’re following political leaders who don’t believe, and who could care less about the contradictions you produce in a believer’s testimony when you force him to reduce humanity to a mere chemical formula, and to call that “the whole person.”

But that’s what happen when you try to obey the voice of a God Who isn’t there, and is easily imitated. You become a pawn, a tool, to be deployed and used at will by whoever has the ambition and lack of scruples to pull it off.

XFiles Friday: Tiptoe through the minefield…

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to write interesting blog posts about Geisler and Turek’s book when they keep making the same blissfully oblivious and ironic arguments, week after week, all boiling down to them believing whatever certain men say, just because they say it, no matter how inconsistent it may be with reality and with itself.

Jesus is promising his apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them to author what we now know as the New Testament…

But did the apostles really get the message from the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised? They certainly claim as much.

Yep. How do we know the apostles were really inspired to write Scripture? Because they told us so themselves. Men said it, we believe it, and that settles it. Sigh.

Ok, that can’t be all there is to the argument, is it? I mean, that wouldn’t even be faith at this point. That would be mere gullibility. But aha, Geisler and Turek have some incontrovertible evidence that backs up the apostles’ claim. Or does it?

But the apostles didn’t just claim to be getting messages from God. Anyone can do that. They gave evidence that their words were inspired by performing miraculous signs.

And how do we know that they performed miracles? Because they say they performed miracles. Sigh again.

Interestingly, the book of Deuteronomy warns us that performing signs and wonders does not necessarily confirm that you are a genuine prophet of God.

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

It might be interesting to explore the question of whether or not the Israelites under Moses ever knew of any gods who were three distinct Persons united in one godhood, but that’s a side issue.

The point I want to make here is that Geisler and Turek, in their book I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, are telling us that we should believe that the New Testament record is authoritative and infallible because the men who wrote it claim it was authenticated by miracles. That’s not just gullible, it’s a theological minefield, and Geisler and Turek have to step very carefully when advancing this claim.

Or rather, they should tread very carefully, but in fact, they don’t seem to show much care at all. To be perfectly honest they rather clomp around.

Recall from chapter 8 that this is the way God authenticates his prophets—through miracles. The miracle confirms the message.

Right. So where are our miracles then? It’s all well and good to say the miracle confirms the message, but in this case the message is that the miracles allegedly happened. The New Testament story is a story about miracles happening—a story that’s not consistent with what we see in real life. The miracle would confirm the message, if only it were there. But it isn’t.

In fact, Geisler and Turek themselves tried to rationalize this absence of miracles by claiming, in chapter 8, that God cannot make His presence felt “in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree” without being guilty of trying to “ravish” our free will. There can’t be any miracles, there can only be a book (i.e. a message) that people can read and then choose to either believe or disbelieve. Such is the argument that opens chapter 8, anyway.

So on the one hand, the miracle confirms the message, but on the other, there can be no miracles, according to Geisler and Turek (and CS Lewis, whom they are quoting). The message, for us, must necessarily remain unconfirmed. Geisler and Turek are accepting the message without the miracles, simply on the say-so of the men who wrote miracles into the text of the message. They’re taking it “on faith” (i.e. gullibly), in the absence of the kind of miracles (e.g. Jesus still living in Jerusalem) that would have confirmed it for real.

They do make a rather half-hearted attempt to justify their uncritical trust in the New Testament writers.

The skeptic may say, “Oh, they were just making up the miracle stories.” Nonsense. We’ve already seen in chapters 10, 11, and 12 that they were incredibly accurate historians and had no motive to make up miracle stories. In fact, they had every motive not to make up such stories because they were tortured, beaten, and killed for affirming them.

G&T call them “incredibly accurate historians” because Luke was correct about such minor and uncontroversial details as the names of some famous government figures, major cities, and established trade routes. But the mere fact that a writer can be correct about trivial background details, incidental to his argument, is hardly sufficient to establish him as an unbiased and accurate source of information about the religion he is actively proselytizing for!

G&T would never apply this same low standard of “accuracy” to any other group. Just look at the history of the early Mormons, for example. The trail they took to Utah actually exists! Hallelujah! The Mormons must be “incredibly accurate historians” regarding their claim that God declared traditional Christianity irretrievably corrupt and that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were divinely appointed to restore the True Gospel. After all, by this standard they’re as reliable as Luke. But will Geisler and Turek see it that way?

Look at Geisler and Turek themselves. They’ve named quite a few people who actually have existed, yet they claim that Christians were tortured, beaten and killed for affirming that miracle stories were true. That’s not an accurate rendition of the historical facts. No Christian was ever put on trial and asked to carefully distinguish between, say, Jesus literally returning from the dead in his original physical body versus Jesus “rising” in some spiritual sense akin to the way he supposedly “lives in” the believer’s heart.

Christians were persecuted on account of their group membership, and their refusal to renounce that membership. Sometimes they were persecuted even after they renounced that membership. They were a minority, and people pick on minorities (as Christians themselves do with gays). Geisler and Turek, like Luke, are accurate when reporting incidental details, but highly biased when reporting the “facts” that support their religious claims.

And as for the motives of the early believers, religious believers in any religion are prone to take persecution or threatened retaliation as evidence that their beliefs are true, so martyrdom is hardly a motive for denying miracle stories. Quite the contrary! Believers may be as anxious as anyone to avoid suffering for their beliefs, but that doesn’t make them believe any less, nor does it stop them from “sharing” those beliefs with any sympathetic ear.

In fact, early Christians had the most powerful motive imaginable for making up miracle stories: such stories would vindicate their faith, and prove that they weren’t just being the gullible dupes of a holy con man. Believers know that their beliefs are inconsistent with the facts. Geisler and Turek know that there’s a contradiction between saying “miracles ravish free will” and “the miracle confirms the message.” But it’s a subconscious knowledge, the constant pricking of cognitive dissonance, a relentless itch too deep to reach or to ignore.

And miracle stories scratch that itch. Geisler and Turek believe that the New Testament was confirmed by miracles, even though they have no miracles to confirm the miraculous NT claims, because they desperately want that message to be confirmed. They’re smart enough, and well-educated enough, to understand how fallacious it is to use the New Testament stories as evidence proving the truth of the New Testament stories, but they’re willing to suspend that understanding on the flimsiest of excuses (“Luke knew the governor’s real name! Woot!”), because they have no other basis for their gullible faith.

So they tiptoe around the problem. They are uncomfortably aware of the fact that miracles are absent from real life. They can’t account for it. They can’t even admit that, without the real-life miracles to confirm the Gospel, their faith is necessarily reduced to being a gullible trust in the words of men. All they can do is suggest that for some inexplicable reason, miracles used to happen, and then mysteriously stopped.

[T]he apostles appear to have lost the ability to perform miracles sometime in the mid-60′s A. D. The writer of Hebrews, writing in the late 60s, referred to these special sign gifts of an apostle in the past tense (Heb. 2:3-4). And later in his ministry, Paul apparently could not heal some of his own trusted helpers (Phil. 2:26; 2 Tim. 4:20). If he still possessed the power to perform miracles, then why was he asking for prayer and recommending that his helpers take medicine (1 Tim. 5:23)?

…Miracles were done for a specific purpose, which was usually to confirm some new messenger or new revelation.

This is probably why there is no record of apostolic miracles in Paul’s letters after about A. D. 62—the latest date Acts could have been composed. By this time, Paul and the other apostles had been proven as true messengers of God, and there was no need for further confirmation.

Or at least, that’s how believers and apologists like Geisler and Turek rationalize the problem in their own minds. They believe the Gospel, and they speak and act as though they believed it to be true, but God does not speak and act as though He believed it to be true. God does not show up in real life to manifest the divine glory that would and should continue to confirm the Gospel. And the only excuse Geisler and Turek can offer is, “Well, He usta, and then He kinda, you know, quit all of a sudden.”

It’s pretty sad when the best argument you have to offer is to claim that nobody after AD62 needs to have the Gospel message confirmed. How do any of the rest of us know it’s not just a bunch of gullible and superstitious believers deceiving themselves into thinking they’ve experienced things that really just happened in their own minds? Why are Geisler and Turek writing books of apologetics if there’s no longer any need to confirm the Gospel?

I think we can know that, in fact, the Gospel was the product of gullible and superstitious believers, using the same self-deceptive techniques and rationalizations we commonly see today among evangelists and apologists like Geisler and Turek. Their persistent need to appeal to circular reasoning and credulous hearsay—all the while pretending to be offering genuine evidence that unbelievers somehow ignore—betrays the internal and external inconsistencies that make their beliefs incompatible with real-world truth. Apologetics, no matter how ill-conceived or poorly argued, sells well because believers are hungry for some way to rationalize the inescapable inconsistencies of Christianity. And that, mirabile dictu, confirms the message that the Gospel is untrue.

Conviction of Truth

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

HT Justin Taylor (who HT’ed Jeff Brewer)

Avoiding Culture Collapse From Greed

Humanity is no doubt arriving at a crossroads, at which it will have to make critical and key decisions that will affect its extended future. There are many specifics within society and culture that can be looked at and seen as being detrimental to our overall survival as a species on this planet, as well as the evolution of humanity’s collective consciousness. Behind these issues, lie egoistic expressions such as greed. Greed is defined as the excessive desire for things such as wealth and possessions and can morph into a psychological addiction, with increased desire for acquiring  and consuming more and more, and then even some more. There is never an end to amassing and consuming when bypassing reason and experiencing the feeling of greed. This idea of greed being incredibly detrimental to our future and survival has even been expressed within a new report just released by the Worldwatch Institute. It seems that one of the keys to avoiding a dystopian future is the elimination of greed from our minds. The realization of the interconnected nature of everything in reality is definitely one way of achieving this goal.

This new report states that unless the lifestyles of people change in a way that they are not part of the “cult of consumption and greed” any longer, no progress will be made on key environmental issues that affect the lives of not only humans, but all other life on the planet. The idea that consumerism leads to excessive pollution and environmental degradation is not a hypothesis but a verifiable reality. With this being the case, one must look at what the driving motivators or causes are for this consumerism. When one looks deeply enough, he or she will find that at the root of it all, among a few other things, lies the egoistic tool of greed.

The problems created by greed and consumerism are at such epic proportions now that anything short of a major social transformation, and how people perceive the reality of our biosphere, will be an inadequate response to solving the various crises we have, and will continue to have, as a result. The report affirms that the collapse of human civilization itself is a possibility if these issues are not dealt with now. The threat of culture collapse is seen as so serious that the report has stated that government targets and new technology were simply not enough to rescue humanity from ecological and social threats. Although these statements may seem dramatic and over-the-top, they are not outside the realm of reality. Anyone can look around and see the incredibly expedited degradation of the environmental biosphere. These are serious issues that need serious solutions, not simply rhetoric and minuscule modifications. As Erik Assadourian, the institute’s project director had said, it was “no longer enough to change our light bulbs, we must change our very cultures”.

There may be many reasons as to why this consciousness of desire has such a strong position within human society (particularly the industrial and post-industrial parts of society). Whatever the reasons may be, the important thing is to realize that they have led to a detrimental consciousness of consuming that will not come without its negative side effects. The quickest way for the culture to change, is for the culture to have a personal experiential realization. This realization, is that we are all connected and interconnected with nature and all that it encompasses. The planet can survive extinctions, as is evident from geological records. However, self-aware sentient life has come and gone several times in earth’s past. It would not be a good thing if we went the way of the dinosaurs. This is a worst-case scenario of course, but quite a real possibility, as many indicators show. By realizing that everything in reality exists within an elaborate interconnected matrix, where everything affects everything else, one will see that the greed and consumerism that he or she expresses, are negatively affecting not only factors and people external to themselves, but their own selves as well. Interconnectedness is an ancient truth and a now-proven scientific reality (something I go into detail in my upcoming book). This is not an easy fix, but it is unfortunately the key solution to this enormous problem we face today. Hopefully, humanity will come to this realization sooner, rather than later.

Ministries of Mercy – Book Review

Ministries of MercyI like hard books. Keller’s book is hard, not because of how it challenges my mind but by how it challenges my life. The book is broken into two parts, exegesis and practice. Both are necessary and it is helpful to have it in one volume.

Like so many conservative Christians I had political positions that I held to be biblical. When those positions were challenged, it was never done on a robust exegetical basis so I never felt compelled to change. Why help the poor? “Giving them handouts will simply make them dependent. If I give money to this bum he will only buy alcohol. In America the poor are only poor because they are lazy and refuse to work, there are plenty of jobs.” These are just a few of the objections that I harbored regarding the poor.

Keller does a great job of addressing the common objections to helping the poor (among other things).
If I were to pick one word to describe this book it would be “balance.” Keller does a stellar job of balancing the views on these hot topics. Both liberals and conservatives have things to contribute and things to learn. Keller exemplifies the Reformation cry of sola scriptura making scripture, rather than a political affiliation, the final authority.
The first section is largely an exegesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He first covers the call to, the character of, and the motivation for mercy. He then begins the balancing act. Giving versus keeping: this addresses the question of how much? “I cannot give all that I have. I have other responsibilities.” These are both legitimate statements and common excuses. Keller removes them as an excuse (which is scary) but allows a biblically informed expression of them. Church verses world: this chapter addresses the question of who should we help first, and whose job is it to help. The answers to both of these questions really challenged me. Conditional versus unconditional: This chapter affirms both; unconditional mercy at first followed by increasing conditions. His guide is that we should let mercy limit mercy. Word versus deed: This chapter was one of my major hang-ups. The deed ministry is useless if a person does not receive the gospel. “What good does it do to gain the whole world and yet loose your soul?” Yet at the same time Jesus did heal the sick and feed the hungry. It is not an either or situation. Why are we creatures of such extremes that we preach with zero aid or we live a social gospel void of the true gospel?
The second part of the book is practical. Keller takes you through the nuts and bolts of preparing and mobilizing your church and expanding and managing your vision of ministries of mercy. This is a wonderful part of the book since many may be convinced of the principles from the first part of the book but have no idea where to start. As a good pastor, Keller provides concrete application for implementing the biblical principles of mercy ministries. I highly recommend this book.

In Lieu of XFiles…

I am suspending the weekly XFiles feature this week due to more pressing concerns. Please, if you have not already done so, take the time you would ordinarily spend reading this blog, and use it to make an online donation for the relief efforts in Haiti.

Thank you.

Atheism Remix – Book Review

atheism-remixAlbert Mohler is a voracious reader. I believe that he reads almost a book a day. This book evidences a well read review of the New Atheism.

It is broken into two major sections: 1) A Presentation of the New Atheism and its main proponents and 2) a response to that challenge.<br/>Mohler does a fantastic job of presenting the New Atheism. On that mark I’d give him five out of five stars. He spends the larger part of his book simply presenting their view. He does so in a way that is honoring and fair and without any caustic rhetoric. Would that all polemical books spend as much space on fairly representing their opponents. The book is worth the purchase if for no other reason than the nice summation it provides of the New Atheism.

The Second part of the book is a response to the challenge of the New Atheism. I was actually a bit disappointed at this section. Perhaps that is not really fair given the size of the book. It is a short book meant to be only a brief presentation and response. It deals with many weighty issues that could each be a book in their right. Mohler does give some good things for the atheist to chew on and he makes some solid points. However, the atheist is not likely to be swayed nor the Christian well-prepared by the second part. Again, this is probably a bit harsh since the book does not aim to be an exhaustive treatment.

All in all it is a very good book for what it is intended. It is a great introduction to the debate.