Friday, December 31, 2010

The Priority of Seeking God In Scripture

Here's a thought: Often scholarly efforts center on getting the text right propositionally. For example, when God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars of the sky and the sand of the seashore, the image is easily reduced to this: "God promised Abraham that he would have many descendants." But this is not all that is being revealed. The image given is that the descendants of Abraham will be like the stars of the sky. This is a very multifaceted image with connotations of innumerability, overwhelmingness, vastness, brightness, order (i.e. constellations), etc. I admit that the metaphor of the sand of the seashore delimits the meaning of this metaphor so that its dominant connotation is that of innumerability. However, this should not diminish the significance of the other connotations of the star image. The children of Abraham are to shine out their light, reflecting the radiance of God in an orderly, and inspiring manner. The very experience of the stars is somewhat ineffable. Does this mean nothing for the interpretation of the text?

There is not some proposition, some 'timeless truth' behind the text that must be drawn out using certain methods (whether they be historical critical or otherwise). Instead, the methods serve another purpose, that of opening up the text as it is, allowing us to come to it on its own terms. The object of our knowledge must determine the way we know it and the questions we bring to it. In the case of the promise to Abraham, we are confronted with the record of God's direct speech to Abraham regarding his descendents. What might we say about how to approach this text if we have this basic knowledge? It records the words and promises of an infinite, loving, reconciling, incomprehensible being, and it is a condescension of that being to a human. What is happening is itself revelatory!

I guess what I'm trying to do is to combine an existential element (is that a good way to say it?) here in the way we approach Scripture. Not in any kind of reader response way as if we participate in creating the meaning. No way, the meaning exists apart from ourselves, but it is a meaning we particpate in because the meaning deals with the God in whom all thing move and find their being. Neither do I want to push the text under my own experience like a Bultmann, etc. It's inverted. Hmm. See what you think.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Memory and Personhood, some thoughts

The problem of painful memories in the afterlife was posed to my brain a couple months ago. I can't say I've been preoccupied with the question, but I had a few thoughts this morning that I thought were interesting.

First, let me state the problem more clearly.
There are to be no tears or pain or evil in the new creation. Memories of past sin might constitute something that would either cause pain or would be itself an evil. Therefore, it would seem we would need a spiritual amnesia placed on us by God in order for there to be no such thing as pain or evil in the eschaton.

But really, this whole issue seems like a false problem to me. I do not think pain in memory has to be an evil, or memory of evil has to be an evil either. Why? Because of the Crucifixion. God Himself must remember the pain and evil borne upon the cross, due to his omniscience. But it must also not be evil to remember his pain, because of his holiness. But lest I be accused of making a false analogy between God and Man, let me point out that I am talking about the God-Man, Jesus who bore this pain. So, it is a human person remembering his own pain and evil done to him. Thus, why should we think that bearing our memories of pain taint us to the point of needing our memories wiped before entering the eschaton?

This solution, however, does not address one key difference between Jesus and the rest of us: our sinfulness. We willfully sin. Could we have memory of our own past sin? I admit I do not yet know how to handle this question, but I think it has something to do with the effects of the atonement at the point of our resurrection.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Humanist Manifesto II

So, I have just finished reading the 1973 draft of the Humanist Manifesto. The purpose of the document is to give a more balanced and less overly optimistic account of Humanism than the previous draft. The realities of Nazism and the horrific use of technology render the idealism of the earlier times untenable.

However, upon reading this text, it is still far too optimistic about the state of the human condition. In fact, I found myself getting quite upset at the apparent arrogance with which the authors deemed humanity to be able to save itself. Humanity has been trying to save itself since history began (think the tower of Babel) and has repeatedly failed, why should we think it could ever do so in the future?

This is where our great hope as Christians comes in. What we were powerless to do, Christ has done. Humanism will not save humanity any more than previous optimistic ideologies could. But God can and will judge all things, restoring the world to a place of peace that will be free from evil.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Response to "100% proof Jesus is not God! The temptation of Jesus."

The You Tube clip can be found here: 100% proof Jesus is not God! The temptation of Jesus. 

The basic argument this man makes is based on the text of James 1:13, which states that “God cannot be tempted by evil.” (NASB). He argues that if God cannot be tempted and Jesus was tempted (Matt. 4), that therefore Jesus cannot be God.

I would find it somewhat surprising if many informed Christians found this man’s presentation convincing. Besides making some exegetical mistakes, he does not realize that he is attacking a heresy called Apollonarianism and not the orthodox teaching concerning Jesus’ nature. Apollonarianism teaches that Jesus had a human body that was animated by the divine spirit, God. In this view, God replaces the human psychology and volition. Of course, if Jesus was really like this, then there would be no possibility of his being tempted in any way. No desire would arise in him that would be at all divergent from the divine will, having no other will but that one. On the contrary, however, the orthodox doctrine joins (without blurring) the two natures, rendering it possible that divergence from the divine will might arise in the desires of Jesus. So, Jesus did have the propensity to have desires[1] contrary to the divine will because of the presence of the human will in addition to that divine will.

It is easily seen how the passage in James becomes properly understood in light of this clarification. This passage is dealing with the truth that the divine nature is indeed unable to be tempted by sin, but it is not dealing with the special case of the union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. So, at the very least, we should be careful about the way we apply this passage to Jesus, though his nature includes the divine nature. (It remains to be demonstrated to me that because of the union of the two natures we would be obligated to say it was the divine nature being tempted along with the human nature. However, to avoid any accusations of Nestorianism, I have argued in a way that does not necessitate this.)

Besides this, James and Matthew seem to have differing working definitions of ‘temptation.’ In James, temptation begins with lust, the desires of the sinful nature at opposition to the divine will (1:14-15). In Matthew 4, temptation seems to have a more general meaning as an appeal to the desirability of a certain outcome (which also involves the deceiving role of Satan). This would make sense considering the likeness to pre-Fall Adam and Eve that Christ bears in his sinlessness. Adam and Eve were appealed to by Satan using deceit, not on the basis of an immoral desire they did not yet possess. In the same way, Jesus was tempted by Satan appealing to desirable outcomes, not immoral desires already present. So, on one level, James and Matthew are not even talking about the same thing. Jesus’ temptations did not stem from a sinful nature, but from the deceitfully desirable nature of certain outcomes.[2]

[1] Having a desire in it of itself does not constitute sin; it is misguided desires acted upon that are sin, as the progression in James 1:14 makes clear.
[2] The bread would’ve satisfied Jesus’ hunger, the jump and catch would’ve satisfied Jesus’ need for security, the bowing down would’ve removed Jesus’ fear of death, through which he has gained the kingdoms of the world. Note that all of these temptations are an appeal to Jesus’ human needs, as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Responses to Responses

Below are some responses to some responses I got on my post on classical apologetics. I decided to post them because I did not have room in my comment box!

Response to your first response: I do not think that our rational capabilities are completely destroyed. What I was looking for in my objection was a discussion of something I had not heard addressed before. I have heard how the presuppositionalist understands the noetic effects of sin, but not how the 'evidential' or 'rational' thinker does. I certainly agree with Torrance about the inherent rationality of all things, too. The question I have is this: even if this rational quality is recognized, what is it about the fallen human mind that prevents those who have not been enlightened from seeing the truth that it is God that makes it rational? Let me propose what I think based on the text of Romans 1. It seems that it is because of an act of the will (i.e. suppression) that the minds of unbelievers cannot understand Christ. Strictly speaking, it does not seem that Paul is really even discussing the ability to be rational in all cases, but the ability to respond to Christ from the heart or spirit. See here: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God...” (Rom1:21). Paul goes on to state three times how God gave them over to their depravity and hardness of heart. So, it seems that the minds of unbelievers are darkened not because of anything wrong with their brains/minds per se, but it is in the direction/telos of their minds that they will not and in fact choose not to recognize the truth through either (quasi)‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ means. This leaves me in doubt as to the usefulness of a classical or evidential approach to apologetics by itself.

Response to your second response: I’m basing the following statement on the work of others: the references to the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture tend to point to him working through the content of the Gospel (i.e. the Word of God). I do not mean that he speaks exclusively through the Bible as a book, but that he only does his illumining work through the faithful proclamation of its truth, wherever it is proclaimed (text, pulpit, small group, lecture, etc.). Let me be clear, truths gleaned about God from reasoning from nature may be faithful to the Scriptures and thereby be a place for the work of the Holy Spirit. However, without the Scriptures to interpret those conclusions, point us to Christ, etc., these would not be sufficient for full knowledge of God or salvation. So the assumption undergirding this is that natural theology, when it is done properly and rationally, will lead to truths about God. I am still pessimistic about whether the unbeliever has this capability, though. Which is why (with my current understanding of natural theology), I believe the primary place of natural theology is the building up of the confidence of the Church, and not the convincing of unbelievers (unless the common ground of rationality is observably there in certain situations where the Holy Spirit may have done regenerating work prior to your encounter).

Response to your third response: So, to clarify your meaning: the task of apologetics is to establish the rationality of the Christian faith, not to supplant the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the unbeliever. By this, “The first part may help but is not necessary for the Holy Spirit to do the second part.” do you mean by parts the steps of the classical method? Or, are you saying that it is the Holy Spirit’s role to establish the rationality of the Christian faith? I was a little confused.

I can, however, respond to your last bit of the response. I think you may be a little too optimistic about the unbeliever’s ability to recognize the rationality of the arguments (for reasons I discussed above regarding the direction of the fallen mind). Even if the Christian did a good job and even if the unbeliever believed in the basic laws of logic, the basic tendency of the mind of the unbeliever will lead them away from any notitia of the truth without the illuminating work of the Spirit. 1 Cor 1:20,21 – Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What difference does it make?

I'm waiting to see the consequences of beginning with the question of what is instead of what we know. For a little while, I considered the possibility that beginning in ontology would lead to one end, while beginning in epistemology would lead to another. This has gone without demonstration. Let's say, for example, that I begin by asking "What/Who is God?" instead of "How can I know God?" If the process is guided by Scripture and motivated by the same desire to know God more deeply, I do not see how differing conclusions about the character/nature of God could be caused by anything but differing personal preferences as they are interspersed along the pursuit.

I clearly have limited understanding and am open to learn.

Classical Apologetics

Classical apologetics is a method of the defense of the Christian faith characterized by a two-step
approach. The apologist’s task is to first demonstrate the existence of God and then in step two to demonstrate that this God is the Christian God. This method makes use of evidences and arguments in order to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. It is granted by classical apologists that the Holy Spirit is the one who converts and convicts. There are some underlying assumptions:

1. There is a common ground between believers and unbelievers which include laws of logic, sense perception, and the ability to come to data in an unbiased, rational way.

2. That it is necessary to set up a theistic understanding prior to developing a Christian understanding of that deity.

3. That God can indeed be shown to exist using arguments from general revelation (natural theology).

I have several objections. These will not address specific arguments, but methodological concerns.

The first is this: How does the classical apologist take into account the noetic effects of sin? What are they, how deeply do they run? How have they affected the ability to reason? I have not heard a good discussion of this to date.

The second is this: What place does Scripture have as the living and active revelation of God that by the work of the Holy Spirit convicts the world?

The third is this: Should our arguments fail, what have we done but establish in the mind of the unbeliever the irrationality of the Christian faith? The world’s problem is not primarily one of a lack of understanding, but a willing, sinful, active suppression of that understanding. (Rom 1:18ff)

(The reader will notice that I have addressed natural theology only indirectly. My primary concern here is not to refute natural theology, because I still think it has its place, but to offer objections to using it in the defense of the Christian faith to nonChristians.)

I’m ready for critique – bring it on.
(My source for information on the classical method: Five Views on Apologetics, ed. Cowan)