Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hebrews - Sermon to a Struggling Church

Well, I need to get moving on the final book in my New Testament series. I started on James a bit back but wasn't happy with it. So to get over the hump, I'll jump to Hebrews.
The book of Hebrews is a curious book in the New Testament. It doesn't tell us its author or audience. It doesn't tell us where it was written or when. It doesn't even really tell us exactly why it was written.

Of course the reason it doesn't tell us these things is because it wasn't originally sent to us, and the author had no idea we would be reading it two thousand years later. The original author and audience knew who they were. They knew where it was being written from and where it was being written to. They knew when it was being written and what the situation was that it was addressing. We don't know these things because we are listening in on someone else's conversation.

But God of course knew we would read it later. Hebrews is for us even though it was not written to us.
To be sure, we need to be careful to distinguish between what God meant for that time and what he meant for all time. But the last two thousand years of Christian history have given us a big head start. In fact, the Spirit has developed a certain kind of "spiritual common sense" in the Church, one we probably don't even realize we have. We often apply the text directly to today in appropriate ways even when we don't know we are reading it differently than its first audiences did.

I say, "audience," because Hebrews was almost certainly meant to be read aloud to a congregation or community as a sermon rather than to be read like a book the way we read it. The author calls it a "word of exhortation" (13:22), a phrase that Acts 13:15 uses in reference to a sermon Paul preached. While Hebrews 13 looks something like the conclusion to a letter, Hebrews doesn't begin like a letter. The first twelve chapters of Hebrews look more like a sermon that the author has sent to a community in a different location than where he is. [1]

There is no question that Hebrews would be a lot clearer to us if we knew the answers to some of our questions about its situation. For most of church history, it was presumed that Paul was the author. [2] It is certainly possible, maybe even probable that the author moved in Paul's circles. But it is hard to imagine Paul saying something like Hebrews does in 2:3, where the author doesn't seem to consider himself an apostle--he only heard about salvation second hand. [3] In the end, we just don't know who wrote it. [4]

Of all the suggestions, Rome is most often suggested as the destination of this sermon, usually based on the greeting in 13:24. The idea is that there were some believers from Italy who were sending their greetings back to Rome, perhaps even Priscilla and Aquila (cf. 2 Tim. 4:19). We know enough about the church at Rome to be dangerous. While the hints of the situation in Hebrews might have applied to many places in the early church, we know enough to connect them to things we know about Rome.

Was it written to Jews or Gentiles? Was it written before or after the temple was destroyed? To many, the answers to these questions seem obvious. Surely it was written to Jews--would Gentiles understand such an intricate Jewish argument or be interested in the Jewish temple? If the temple were already destroyed, why would the author need to tell them not to rely on it?

But what seems to be common sense to us quickly unravels when we get into the mindset of believers in the first century. The earliest Gentile converts were probably God-fearers who were already worshiping in Jewish synagogues when they believed (e.g., Acts 13:16). They would have adopted the Jerusalem temple as their temple, as the temple of the living God. [5] At this point in history, when such Gentiles believed in Jesus, they would have seen themselves converting to a form of Judaism. The Jewish Scriptures would have become as much their Scriptures as the Bible is Scripture for us Gentile believers today. [6]

Similarly, Hebrews never tells the audience to stop relying on the Jerusalem temple. In fact, it never mentions the temple at all explicitly. It's argument is entirely in terms of the wilderness tabernacle that Moses constructed in the desert. Its goal is primarily a positive rather than a negative one--to place the confidence of its audience in the atonement provided by Christ. It argues for reliance on Christ rather than against worshiping in the temple. It is thus just as possible to make the case that Hebrews was written to reassure an audience in the absence of the temple as to dissuade them from utilizing it.

The problem with all these debates is that if we choose wrongly, then we have skewed our interpretation to some extent. It's probably best then, especially when we are most interested in life lessons we can take from Hebrews, to remain somewhat tentative about the original situation. It is a hard thing to pull off, but we will try...

[1] It is overwhelmingly likely that the author of Hebrews was a man because of the grammar of 11:32. The Greek word translated as "to tell" here is masculine singular and indicates that the author was a man.

[2] In fact, it is possible that the Church stopped debating whether Hebrews was good enough to be considered Scripture when most Christians came to accept Paul as its author.

[3] Contrast Paul in passages like 1 Corinthians 9:1 or Galatians 1:12.

[4] Many names have been suggested, both in the early church and in more recent times. Was it Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, Apollos, even Priscilla?

[5] It is also clear from Acts 21:24-26 that even almost thirty years after the resurrection the believers in Jerusalem were still offering sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple.

[6] It is quite funny that a lot of Christians today forget that they are Gentiles. There is a strong tendency to identify so much with Israel in the Old Testament that we can almost think of ourselves as Jews (or even of America as the Israel of prophecy).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)

Today's notes are on Genesis 6-9.
  • Sons of God: Who were the sons of God who went in to the daughters of men and had "Nephilim" as offspring? The book of 1 Enoch, quoted by Jude and possibly alluded to by 1 Peter, seems to think that these were fallen angels who had sex with human women. Another interpretation sees these as the descendants of Shem sleeping with the descendants of Cain.
  • God's regrets: If God knows everything, then he can't literally regret. This is anthropomorphism, picturing God in human terms. "Land" is a better translation than "earth," especially since we picture a globe when we see the word earth. They would have pictured a relatively flat world of much smaller proportions.
  • God/YHWH: The Flood story is often used as an example of the curious alternation in Genesis between Elohim and YHWH for God. For example, 6:19-22 use Elohim and say Noah should take two of every kind. Then immediately following, in 7:1-5, YHWH tells Noah to take 7 of every clean animal and repeats the command to take two of every other kind. 
  • Fountains of Deep: The Flood comes from above and below. Windows in the dome of the sky allow water to fall from the waters above the firmament. But waters also come up from the deep under the ground. When the Flood is over, the springs of the deep and the rain from the sky stop.
  • Never Again: Noah builds an altar to YHWH (because of the 7 of the clean animals, he has extra to sacrifice), and YHWH promises never to destroy every living thing again. Then Elohim promises Noah he will never again destroy the earth by Flood. The rainbow is the sign of God's covenant with Noah.
  • Noahic Covenant: There seems to be some sort of transition from humanity being vegetarians to now eating meat. The only stipulation is that when humanity eats meat, it must not eat it with the blood in it. Similarly, humanity is not to shed blood. The two seem to be associated. The requirements of Acts 15:20 are sometimes thought to be based on this covenant.
  • Image of God: You can't murder because all humanity (men and women both) are in the image of God. The penalty for murder is death.
  • Getting Drunk: Noah gets drunk, gets naked, and his son Ham laughs. The purpose of this story is probably to indicate that the Canaanites were cursed. Canaan was the son of Ham, and the Canaanites were competitors with Israel for the land. The story is not, as some racist interpreters of the 1800s used to argue, an explanation for black skin. In fact, an argument can be made that Adam and Eve were darker skinned and that humanity only became lighter skinned over time.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)

Next planned post--Thursday with Genesis 10-11.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Last Liturgical Service

1. In the summer of 2005, College Wesleyan Church was still in its old building and facing another year of massive overcrowding as soon as the new school year would begin. We were already doing two services, but the space was so crowded I always thought of this episode of Star Trek in between services (notice the crowds in the background).

A genius idea was born--venues. The Green Room would be a cozy, coffee shop environment where you interacted more with each other and you could drink coffee during the service. Steve Deneff's sermon would be piped in by video feed. The chapel would be used for a "Cathedral Service." It would also watch the sermon with a feed from the main sanctuary but would feature more liturgical elements like weekly communion, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostle's Creed.

Judy Huffman asked Bud Bence at first to do the "cathedral" venue, but he wasn't in a position to commit to a service every week at that time, so she asked me next if I would put together the service, since I had some experience with liturgy from my days in England.

2. The venues took on a life of their own. I have always been proud of the way College Wesleyan has managed to serve so many different worship styles and personalities. There has been a service for the older people who get up earlier and like hymns. There has been a service for people who want a more laid back and social environment. There has been a second main service with more contemporary music.

Then there has been what became the "Liturgical Service." I would say that this service served two basic sorts of people. On the one hand are those who, for whatever reason, worship better with the historical liturgy of the church than in the more common American format. But the venue has also served those who might need a day of quiet prayer or might really need to have communion today.

There has been something consummately Wesleyan about this set up. At one point in the past, we used to have a motto: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."  I love this quote. The different venues at CWC have said that there is no one right way to worship. The young people shouldn't look down on the older people for their hymns, and the older people shouldn't look down on the young people for their choruses. Everybody counts the same.

The Liturgical Service said that liturgy was also an option for a Wesleyan. The point was not that it was the only or preferred way. Often, Christians are condescending over liturgy on one side or another. They either think that those who worship in this way are spiritually dead or that those who don't worship in this way are spiritually shallow.

In any case, it made me happy to know that, somewhere in The Wesleyan Church, the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer were being said every Sunday. Somewhere in The Wesleyan Church communion was being offered every Sunday. It didn't have to be everywhere. That would defeat the point.

The point was that it was a valid option. It didn't have to be "vain repetition." Communion every week did not have to be meaningless. The Liturgical Service has proved it.

3. But a church shouldn't continue something just to continue something. That's a recipe for death. CWC has been in a new building now for about seven years. The overcrowding issue is forever gone. The problem now is more a distribution problem. The second service is out the wazoo, while there is plenty of space in the earlier service.

The overall plan is to go back to two services in the main sanctuary and shift the times a little later, hoping to catch some of the 10:30 crowd in a new 9:30 service. Meanwhile, the late rising college students will happily catch the 11am.

It might work. The worship wars are long over. The number of people who would be dissatisfied enough to go somewhere else over not having either hymns or liturgy is very small. This also allows the worship team to focus on just two services with a common set, one with some variety in style.

Perhaps it will kindle renewed unity and a common vision. Have the venues led to a kind of fragmentation of CWC as a community? I don't know, but it's possible. Will everyone meeting together in the sanctuary recharge the batteries and focus for mission? We'll see!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Philosophy Final Exam...

In a fit of insanity, I decided to give a take-home final for philosophy. I don't know if I'll ever teach philosophy again but I doubt I'll use the same final. I thought you might find it amusing:
Ken woke up in a cold sweat. Where was he? Was he in his dorm room? Somehow it seemed like he didn’t belong there. His roommate, René, was sound asleep. Finally, he lay back down, but something still didn’t seem right.

“Alright then,” his roommate finally said, opening his eyes and sitting up. So you’re having doubts about what’s real then, eh?


“Well, let’s start off with you. Do you exist?”

“I think so,” Ken answered.

“Well then you must. You’re thinking, so you must exist.”

1. Who is Ken’s roommate (what is his last name)? What quote of his should you think about here, and what did he mean by it?

“My senses tell me I’m here,” Ken finally responded. “So I must be here, right?”

2. How would René answer him?

3. How would John Locke answer him?

4. How would Immanuel Kant answer him (keep to basic epistemology)?

5. What kind of thing might Søren Kierkegaard respond, given what you know of him?

René finally added, “I suppose we can trust a good bit of our senses, since God doesn’t lie.”

“I agree,” said Kant, who was suddenly sitting next to René on the bed. Ken didn’t seem to notice that he had just appeared out of nowhere.

“But how do I know for sure that God exists?”

“Because the Bible says so,” Ken’s pastor said, who also was suddenly sitting next to René on the bed.

“But how do I know I should trust the Bible?” Ken answered.

“I suppose this is a philosophy test instead of a Bible test,” he said. “There are some philosophical arguments for the existence of God.”

“Yes,” Ken said, sitting across from himself on the bed in the place of his pastor. “They don’t necessarily prove the existence of God, but they show it is at least reasonable to believe in God.”

6. Give at least two of the main arguments for the existence of God and whether you find them convincing. Why or why not?

Just as quickly as they came, it was just René again, sitting on the bed across from Ken.

“You realize,” René said, “I’m kind of a big deal. They call me the father of something.”

7. Of what was René the father and what do we mean when we say that?

Ken was ready to go back to sleep, but René was just getting started.

“You see,” René continued. “I lived in a time of great uncertainty. Many people no longer looked at the Roman Catholic Church as the place to find answers. Many were now looking to the Bible, but there were a lot of different interpretations of what it meant. That’s why I started my quest for certainty.

8. René, like Martin Luther who had lived 100 years before him was a theist. What is a theist?

9. What do we call the movement in which Christians like Martin Luther and John Calvin withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church?

10. At about the same time, Francis Bacon developed the scientific method. What is the scientific method? Lay out the steps as found in the textbooks.

11. What was the paradigm shift that took place with Copernicus at about this time? What is a paradigm? Did Thomas Kuhn think that this shift was inevitable as science got better and better? Why or why not?

12. With the rise of science in the 1600s, some stopped believing that God was involved with the world, even though they continued to believe in God as the initial creator. What do we call someone who believes God created the world but is no longer involved?

13. Did most of the type of person in #12 emphasize free will or determinism? What is free will? What is determinism? Why would the type of person in #12 favor that point of view?

“People in my day,” René continued, “began to see the world as a kind of machine. One that God created to run by certain rules. We began to distinguish between the “natural” world that ran by natural laws and the “super-natural” world of God, angels, and such.

14. How did René’s view of the soul mirror his view of the world above?

15. What would it mean for someone to think of a human person only as a biological machine?

16. What would it mean for someone to think of a human person as someone created in the image of God?

Ken thought for a little while about the idea that the world was a machine. He thought of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and how both of them lived at about the same time. He couldn’t remember. Did they believe that human beings were pretty much free to do anything or did they believe we more or less couldn’t help but do what we do.

17. Did John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes believe more in free will or in determinism? Try to say more in explanation than a one or two word answer.

When he looked up from thinking he was startled to see a completely different figure in front of him, a body that looked like this:
“I know that guy,” Ken thought to himself. “Lived in the 1700s, I think. Had his body stuffed for some reason.”

18. Why did Schenck suggest he had his body stuffed?

19. What was Jeremy Bentham’s “Greatest Happiness Principle”?

20. What approach to ethics is Bentham best known for? What did it basically believe?

21. Adam Smith lived at the same time as Bentham. What was he the “father of”?

22. How does capitalism basically work? How does it differ from socialism and communism?

23. Karl Marx would later critique capitalism. What were his basic critiques?

24. At about the same time that Bentham and Smith were working out their economic philosophies, the United States became a nation. The Preamble to the Constitution is a kind of social contract. What is a social contract?

25. Who was another person who believed in social contracts and what was his perspective on them?

“You almost forgot I was here, didn’t you?” René said to Ken. “Been thinking a lot about social and political philosophy, haven’t you?”

“I guess so,” Ken said.

“Well, let me ask you just a couple more questions about it, then.”

26. What is a theocracy?

27. What form of government did Aristotle think would be the best?

“That’s probably enough of that topic,” René said. “How about ethics? You’ve already hit on the major theories with Bentham. Let me ask you about a couple more.”

28. What is egoism?

29. How about duty based ethics, what is that?

30. Is absolutism a version of duty based ethics? What is moral absolutism?

31. Who’s an example of someone who was/is a moral absolutist?

32. What is ethical relativism? Do relativists believe in any rights and wrongs?

33. What is virtue based ethics, and how does it differ from act based ethics?

“So where were we? At the end of the 1700s?” René finally asked.

“Yes,” Ken answered. “I was thinking about Bentham and Smith.”

“So Kant is around 1800. You’ve already asked them about his epistemology.”

34. What does the word “epistemology” mean again?

“Yes,” Ken said.

“So who were some of the most important philosophers of the 1800s?” René asked.

“Well, they’ve already said something about Marx,” Ken said. “He was around 1850.”

“Didn’t Marx draw on the thinking of a philosopher named Hegel?”

“Yes,” Ken answered, “thesis-antithesis-synthesis.”

35. What is the basic idea of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis process?

“So what else happens in the 1800s?” René continued.

“For one thing,” Ken said, “Deism gave way to naturalism.”

36. How does deism flow naturally into naturalism?

37. What is the difference between naturalism and nihilism?

38. Who said, “God is dead?” What was he basically saying?

39. What did Darwin mean by natural selection?

40. What were some of Freud’s basic ideas?

“That’s probably good enough for the 1800s, wouldn’t you say,” René asked.

“I’m sure they think so,” Ken said. “So what should we have them answer about the twentieth century before we call this course quits?”

“There is existentialism,” René answered.

41. What is existentialism?

“Wait, wait,” Ken said. “We probably need to stop a minute and go back to the 1800s if we want to really understand existentialism.

42. What did Kierkegaard mean by taking a leap of faith?

43. What did Camus believe the most significant philosophical question was?

“Do you think it’s enough if we just ask them a few questions about postmodernism and call it a wrap?” René finally said.

“Pretty much.”

44. What is premodernism, as Schenck defines it?

45. What, then, is modernism?

46. So what then is postmodernism?

“So what have we missed?” René finally said.

“Well,” Ken answered, “we’ve missed a little philosophy of history and the philosophy of art.”

“Won’t they take a quiz over the philosophy of art?”

“Sure, so we don’t have to feel too guilty about not asking them about that. Philosophy of history was the night of the mid-term.”

“Yeah,” René interjected. “Their brains were fried that night.”

“OK, I can slip in one more question on the philosophy of history.”

47. What does it mean to say that history is told by the winners?

48. Last question: What is your biggest take away from this philosophy class?

With that, Ken woke up. “Oh shoot,” he said. “I’ve got to make the philosophy final!”

Grudem 16c: Human action is important.

Here is more summary/evaluation from Grudem's 16th chapter on God's Providence. Thus far I have reviewed:
Now the second to last installment:
C. Government
After discussing God's maintenance of everything and the relationship between human will and God's will, Grudem proceeds to God's government. Grudem defines God's government as the fact that "God has a purpose in all that he does in the world and he providentially governs or directs all things in order that they accomplish his purposes" (331). Grudem does distinguish between God's "moral" will, his moral expectations of the universe and God's "providential" or "secret" will, his will for what happens in history.

We have argued in our evaluation of the previous section that God's "concurrence" or "cooperation" with the creation for Grudem is not substantially different from God's direct governance. Grudem makes a distinction without a difference. Our evaluations elsewhere on this chapter will sufficiently cover the problems with Grudem's approach.

We might mention here a distinction in God's will that Grudem does not accept, namely, the difference between God's "directive" will and God's "permissive" will. For Grudem, all God's will reduces to his directive will, things that he specifically commands. By contrast, others such as myself would say that God sometimes allows things to happen that he did not specifically command. Interestingly, this Arminian perspective still fits within Grudem's definition of God's government, since one of God's purposes for the universe is to give it a measure of freedom.

D. The Decrees of God
"The decrees of God are the eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, he determined to bring about everything that happens" (332). This is the plan itself, whereas providence is the implementation of the plan in history. "God does not make up plans suddenly as he goes along" (333).

An Arminian will generally not have a problem with the idea that God had a plan for the universe, although it would not be typical to speak of the decrees of God outside of Calvinist circles. Arminians have typically believed that God's plan is from eternity past, only that he formulated that plan in dialog with his foreknowledge of choices we would make. It is this last statement that Grudem and other Calvinists would reject.

E. The Importance of Human Actions
One objection to Calvinist determinism is that it implies that our actions are not important or that we should not be morally responsible for our actions, if God is determining them. This section argues that human action remains significant even though it is determined.

1. We are still responsible for our actions.
It is in this section that Grudem basically says that God has defined "being responsible" as doing the act. The primary agent (God) is not responsible, but the secondary agent that does the act (us), at least when it comes to God. If we do it, we are the guilty ones, even if God made us do it.

2. Our actions have real results and do change the course of events.
This is true to Grudem because "God has ordained that events will come about by our causing them" (334). In other words, our actions do things that God has planned, which makes them significant. God has predestined that certain things happen by way of our actions. He has determined our actions and he has determined the results of our actions.

3. Prayer is one specific kind of action that has definite results and that does change the course of events.
In other words, God has both predestined us to pray for certain things and he has predestined that he will perform certain miracles as a result of those prayers he has predetermined that we would pray. He has also predetermined that sometimes we would pray and he would not answer.

4. In conclusion, we must act!
"A hearty belief in God's providence is not a discouragement but a spur to action" (336). God has predestined that the actions he has predestined us to do will be the means by which certain things come about. The Calvinist doctrine of providence, Grudem argues, should not encourage anyone to sit back in idleness to wait for God to act. Laziness is a distortion of the doctrine of providence, Grudem says.

Grudem does not mention Calvinism and missions, but we can use the question of missionary work to clarify what he is saying here. When modern missions was first on the rise around the year 1800, some Calvinists objected to the idea of going to India to preach the Christian message. The idea was that if God had predestined those in India to be saved, they would have been born somewhere where the Christian message already was.

Grudem and Carey would respond that it is God's will that such individuals hear the gospel by the human agency of missionaries going. In that sense, the fact that the eternal destiny of each individual person from India is decided by God is no excuse not to go and share the good news with them.

5. What if we cannot understand this doctrine fully?
Grudem, like Calvin, recognizes that the Calvinist doctrine of providence is difficult. Calvin's advice is to accept it because (he thinks) it is taught in Scripture and to embrace it "with humble teachableness."

I have already discussed some of this material in the earlier evaluations of this chapter. Arminians--and all rational thinkers--maintain that the person planning an act is far more responsible for an act than the puppet or instrument that actually does the act. This is the fundamental basis of all moral understanding and is in fact an aspect of Western law that demonstrates the influence of Judeo-Christian values. The Calvinist trajectory on this issue thus fundamentally undermines the basis of moral thinking in general.

Jesus teaches that it is the heart that defines evil (Mark 7:20-23), not the action. Paul (e.g., Romans 14:5, 14, 23) and the New Testament (e.g., James 4:3, 17) operates with an ethic that focuses on intention rather than action. The Calvinist orientation toward the act itself, rather than the intention behind the act, threatens to undo the very essence of Christian ethics. The Calvinist definition of sin is thus wholly inadequate, defined as any act short of God's absolute moral standard.

The Wesleyan-Arminian definition of sin, at least the sin about which God is most concerned, is more biblical, especially in terms of the New Testament. Sin is any intentional action contrary to what you know to be the right action. This is not the only kind of wrongdoing, but it is the one about which God is most concerned.

As far as prayer is concerned, we would suggest that God actually makes decisions on whether to intervene in the flow of history sometimes, based on whether we choose to pray or not. In one scenario, he might let x happen because we do not pray. But if we pray, he might intervene to where y will happen. Of course he knew whether we would pray or not before the foundation of the world and thus he knew how he would respond from eternity past.

E. Further Practical Application
The headings for this section more or less speak for themselves. Trust in God. "We need not worry about the future but trust in God's omnipotent care" (337). Be thankful for all good things that happen. Finally, "there is no such thing as 'luck' or 'chance.'" Nothing "just happens." "We should see God's hand in events throughout the day, causing all things to work together for good for those who love him."

We do not need to worry about the future. We should be thankful for the good things that happen to us.

Whether there is "luck" or "chance" is a good question for an Arminian. Does God grant a degree of freedom to the creation? Certainly nothing happens without God's permission, but it is here that the Arminian may resort to mystery and say we don't know whether God has ordained that some events happen by chance.

However, an Arminian probably will not see God micromanaging everything that happens every day. In some cases, God may let nature take its course. In other cases, God allows human beings to make choices. In that sense, Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life is much more of a Calvinist perspective than an Arminian one. It may be more comfortable to think that God causes everything to happen for a reason, but that does not make it true. And, when it comes to evil, it is deeply problematic to think that God directs the evil that happens down to the smallest detail.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Science Friday: Planck's Quantum

Since I was in high school, I've wanted to understand quantum physics. In my first year at college, I felt called to ministry and so never continued that path. But in mid-life I've tried to get back into some of those old aspirations on the side.

One book I've had for years is George Gamow's, Thirty Years that Shook Physics (it has a Joseph Beth's bookmark in it from Asbury days). This past week I reread the section on Max Planck. Planck's reluctant proposal in 1900 launched modern physics. He didn't want to. He called his proposal "an act of desperation." He was not at all an "outside the box" type.

According to the story, Planck was working on what had come to be known as the "ultraviolet catastrophe" (I don't actually think that's quite right, but this is the best way to tell the story, it seems). If you have a bunch of gas molecules in a chamber, you expect over time that the energy of the molecules will eventually even out as the molecules bump into each other and share energy (the equipartition theorem). It's the same idea as what happens when you open the door between a hot room and a cold room. Eventually the temperature will even out.

(In reality, there is still somewhat of a variation, but most molecules statistically will have a certain average amount of energy at a particular temperature and those with more or less energy will be in decreasing numbers.)

Two scientists from the late 1800s (Rayleigh and Jeans) supposed that the distribution of energy in a "blackbody" (which absorbs all wavelengths of light)--or in a cavity made to mirror the effects of a blackbody--would also spread out similarly into waves of all the frequencies and wavelengths. Following the idea of equipartition, the total energy would begin to distribute itself into to each wavelength of light until every possible wavelength had roughly the same amount of the total energy.

Gamow has a helpful illustration. It would be like playing a note on the piano without a damper between the strings. In such a situation, the energy from playing one note would seep into all the other strings until each string in the piano corresponding to each key had 1/88th of the initial energy.

This isn't what happens, and it's a good thing too. What would happen if the energy of a fireplace soon spread into other wavelengths so that before long, the fireplace was spewing out ultraviolet and x-rays. Gamma rays would follow and you would soon die.

Planck's suggestion was that energy couldn't seep into higher frequencies of radiation as easily as into the lower frequencies. The higher the frequency, the higher the threshold of energy it took to distribute into that part of the spectrum. Light was not behaving like a continuous wave that spread out evenly to all frequencies but more like discrete packages of energy of differing sizes. The size of these packages was different at different frequencies.

I've tried to think of a good illustration, even to help myself understand exactly what Planck is suggesting. Consider this one a work in progress. Let's say there is an auditorium where the seats are arranged somewhat strangely. The front row has lots of cheap seats. The farther back in the auditorium you go, the seats are fewer in each row and they cost more.

So let's say you start off with a certain amount of energy in a blackbody, based on the temperature. It is like having a certain amount of money to spend on seats in the auditorium. The energy is distributed. Most of it goes to the lower frequencies because those seats are cheap. Yes, some of it goes toward the more expensive seats, but not nearly as much.

How much does a seat cost? Planck found he could make the graph in theory look like the real graph by introducing a number that would eventually be called Planck's constant (6.626 x 10-34 Joule-seconds, given the symbol h). A packet of energy at a particular frequency, E, was h times the frequency:

E = hf

That's how much a seat cost. A seat at a low frequency didn't cost that much. But the higher the frequency, the more expensive the seat.

Einstein would seal the deal on Planck's desperate theory five years later. Light was not a continuous wave. When you break things way down, you get to something like atoms of energy smaller than which you cannot go--photons.

Next Friday: Einstein and the photoelectric effect

Genesis 4-5

Today's notes are on Genesis 4-5.
  • We start with Cain and Abel. It's not entirely clear to me why Abel's sacrifice is accepted and Cain's is rejected. After all, there are grain offerings in Leviticus. But perhaps in Genesis, animal sacrifices are what God wants.
  • Whatever the reason Cain's sacrifice is accepted, this is a timeless verse: "If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it."
  • The blood of Abel would echo throughout later Jewish literature, including the New Testament. Hebrews 12:24 compares the effective "speaking" of Christ's blood to that of Abel.
  • Genesis has a number of genealogies, key to ancient identity. Cain's is given here. The fact that Cain can find a wife makes us wonder if the Adam and Eve story really assumes that there are no other people around. Nothing is said about Cain's wife being a sister from his parents. 
  • 5:1 gives us the second instance in Genesis where a section begins with something like, "This is the book of the generations of..." In this chapter, God is called just Elohim again, rather than the YHWH of the previous three chapters.
  • The ages in the genealogies of Genesis 5 are much longer than usual. 
  • Enoch is one of two people in the OT who does not die. God "takes" him.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24

Next planned post--Tuesday with Genesis 6-9.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grudem 16b: God's Providence 2 (Concurrence)

Continuing my summary/evaluation of Grudem's chapter on providence. Again, this is the chapter where Calvinists differ most from Wesleyan-Arminians.
B. Concurrence
Grudem defines divine "concurrence" as follows: "God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do" (317).

The understanding here of God's "cooperation" with human action is subtle and needs to be understood very carefully. In Grudem's view, humans feel like they are acting freely even though God is really behind the scenes making them do what they do. We experience our actions as free actions even though God is really directing them. This is a position that William James called "soft determinism" in the ate 1800s. [1]

To capture the logic, we might skip ahead to the section on human responsibility: "God has created us with the characteristic of being responsible for our actions" (333). For Grudem, this is the starting point. By definition, he is saying that if a human shoots the gun, then the human did it and is responsible. It does not matter if I have hypnotized you, manipulated you, or somehow brainwashed you to make you pull the trigger. It does not matter if I am the one who has entirely made you want to shoot your wife and created the circumstances under which I know you will shoot her. By definition, if you want to shoot her and shoot her, you have willfully shot her by definition and are responsible, even if I made it such that you could not possibly have done anything else.

Accordingly, by definition, God does not do evil. "The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature, whether man or demon, who does it, and the creature who does evil is always worthy of punishment" (329). This is true for Grudem even though ultimately, "God ordained that evil would come about through the willing choices of his creatures" (328). Again, according to Grudem and others like him, God makes us want to do evil. God creates circumstances in which it is not possible that we would do anything but evil. But because we are the ones who do it, we are responsible and God is not.

This is just the way it is, by definition. Grudem will later respond to the Arminian critique of this scheme. The Arminian responds, "If a man uses a lever to move a rock... 'the lever is not a true second cause but is only an instrument of the real cause of the movement... In such a system man contributes only what has been predetermined'" (340). [2]

Grudem does not deny that it works in this way, that we are the instruments of God's will like a lever. He simply denies that the person or "lever" is not free or responsible by definition. For Grudem, Scripture defines being a lever, as it were, as being responsible. It is an assumption "about the nature of human freedom" (343 n. 54). For Grudem, the way it works for God is simply different than the way it works with us. If we object and say this is not really what it means to be responsible for an action, Grudem responds that "Scripture is not willing to apply such reasoning to God" (343).

It is important to keep Grudem's overall logic in mind as we then go back and read his section on concurrence. What Grudem means when he speaks of God "cooperating" with created things in every action is really that God is what we might call the secondary cause behind every primary cause in every case (319). The created thing looks like it is freely acting, feels like it is freely acting in many cases. But God is actually behind the scenes causing it to act and even feel in this way. When Grudem says, "No event in creation falls outside of his providence" (317), he means that God is behind the scene directing everything that happens.

So God directs inanimate creation (318). God directs animals (318). God directs events that seem random or chance, coincidental (318-19). But for Grudem, there is no such thing as chance or coincidence (337). God directs the affairs of nations (319-20) and every aspect of our lives (320-22). Grudem produces numerous Scriptures throughout this section that certainly sound deterministic, that sound like God determines and directs all these things down to the minute details.

In many cases, we could give a fully "natural" explanation as well (319). The creation looks like it is acting freely. We feel like we are acting freely. But "the doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs, and works through, the distinctive properties of each created thing, so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see" (319).

Why is it important for Grudem to make such distinctions? There are at least two very important reasons for Grudem to interpret the Scriptures in this way. First, it is important so that humanity is responsible for its actions (321). The second is so that we can say that God does not do evil, even though Grudem believes God commands it to be done by us.

This leads us to what is by far the most important part of this chapter: Grudem's consideration of how God's providence relates to evil. It is very important for Grudem to be able to say that God "never does evil and is not to be blamed for it" (328). As quoted above, "The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature" (329).

But at the same time, "God ordained that evil would come about through the willing choices of his creatures" (328). This is a very subtle tightrope. According to Grudem, God is causing us to do evil. But because we are the ones with the gun in our hands, because we want to pull the trigger, we are the ones doing it. We feel like we are the ones choosing evil even though God is really causing us to do it. But since God is not the one with his hand on the gun, he is not responsible for it in Grudem's mind.

Grudem quotes Calvin here with approval: "Thieves and murderers and other evildoers are the instruments of divine providence, and the Lord himself uses these to carry out his judgments that he has determined with himself" (328). [3] Then of course God also gets glory when he punishes those who have done the evil (he has caused them to do) (327).

Grudem understandably warns us that we humans never have a right to do evil (329, even if God wills us to do it). We should never want evil to be done (even when God is willing us to want evil to be done). We can understand why Grudem concludes with his mentor Louis Berkhof that "the problem of God's relation to sin remains a mystery" (330). [4]

He concludes the section on concurrence with Calvin's preference not to say that humans have free will at all. Certainly we do not have absolute freedom, Grudem says (331). "Scripture nowhere says that we are 'free' in the sense of being outside of God's control." Yet Grudem allows that we can say we are free in the sense that "we make willing choices, choices that have real effects. We are aware of no restraints on our will." In other words, we feel free (even though we really aren't).

In this section, Grudem presents a Calvinist understanding of concurrence, and he quotes John Calvin more than once to demonstrate that his teaching is fully in keeping with the Calvinist tradition. To argue for "cooperation" between divine and human action, Grudem plays hocus pocus with his definitions. In so many words, Even though what I'm saying is really not cooperation, I'm going to define 'cooperation' as God manipulating me to feel and act this way. You can't argue with me, he says nicely, because this is just how God wants me to define the word, even though it's not any picture of cooperation that would fly in any other context.

In the end, however, Grudem's section on concurrence basically reduces to God's governance. God's cooperation with human will for Grudem is nothing more than God giving us a drug that forces us to do evil but then does not consider God responsible for the evil we then inevitably do. Concurrence for Grudem simply means that the puppet doesn't feel like a puppet, even though it is.

To be sure, Grudem produces a significant amount of Scripture that sounds deterministic. God hardens pharaoh's heart (Exod. 9:12). God sends an evil spirit on Saul to torment him (1 Sam. 16:14). God incites David to do an evil for which God then punishes Israel (2 Sam. 24:1). God can deceive a prophet and then punish the prophet for deceiving Israel (Ezek. 14:9).

On the other side, Grudem would not deny that there are countless passages where it sounds like human beings have real choices in front of them. Just before Ananias dies for trying to lie about what he did with some money, Peter says, "Wasn't the money at your disposal?" (Acts 5:4). In other words, Ananias was free to do whatever he wanted with the money. When 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all people to be saved--and yet not everyone is saved--then we must conclude that God has ultimately left the decision up to us.

This last verse is potentially very significant. If God wants all people to be saved, then must not Grudem become a universalist, someone who believes all people will be saved? In Grudem's system, if God wants everyone to be saved and God is the one who causes those who will be saved, then everyone must be saved. For the Arminian, God would prefer for everyone to be saved but leaves the choice to us, with the result that not everyone will be saved. Grudem has to find a way to reinterpret the verse for his system to remain logical, which he certainly does. Logic is as important to his system as it is to the Arminian's.

Grudem wants to say both that we have freedom to decide and yet could not possibly decide anything but what we decide. When the Arminian objects that this is a logical contradiction, Grudem suggests we are like a plant arguing over whether God can make animals who can walk (346). But this is not a question of what God is capable of doing, as if we don't have enough faith. This is a flat out logical contradiction. It says, "x is y... and x is not y." Grudem's position is incoherent in a way fundamental to the universe God has created. God has defined this sort of thinking as irrational for this universe. It's not God's problem; it's Grudem's.

Clearly there are a number of Scriptures that sound Calvinist and a number of verses that sound Arminian. Both Grudem's side and the Arminian side have to do something with one or the other set of language to be logically coherent--and both sides typically do. They just choose to address a different set of language. When Grudem argues for soft determinism, he is arguably twisting the Scriptures where people sound free to choose. Similarly, Arminians have often dodged verses that sound deterministic.

For Grudem and the Calvinist tradition, the best way to fill in the blanks is to suppose that even though we feel like we are free, God is actually making us feel that way. By contrast, Arminians have often argued that God predestines us on the basis of his foreknowledge. God knows what we will freely choose and determines things accordingly.

However, the best way to approach such things is to read all such comments in their full context, recognizing that even the ideological language of the Bible comes to us incarnated in the thought categories of the original audiences. The ancient world was strongly fatalistic yet accepted that humans make choices as an expression of their will. We therefore should not be surprised to find both deterministic language in Scripture and language that sounds like we make free choices.

Take the Oedipus story. It is fated that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus then makes great efforts of will to escape his fate. Yet in the process of trying to escape his fate, Oedipus ends up killing his father and marrying his mother. In the Greek fatalistic worldview, Oedipus makes choices that seem to be free yet in the end his fate is accomplished nonetheless.

It is no surprise that much biblical language would have this same deterministic feel. At times biblical language sounds like people are freely making choices and at other times biblical language sounds like people are determined. St. Augustine took this imprecise language typical of the times when Scripture was revealed and made it into a coherent, logical philosophical system. Calvin followed suit and now Grudem, John Piper, and others after Calvin.

But this language was generally informal in Scripture. It was always at least partially cultural language. It was normally imprecise rather than philosophical. We are left to make it into a system. Fundamentalists like Grudem inevitably mistake elements of ancient worldview for God's all time philosophical thinking.

For the Arminian tradition, the best way to fill in the blanks is to suggest that, yes, God is fully in control. God signs off on everything that happens. God allows everything that happens (permissive will). But God does not always command every specific thing that happens (directive will). Sometimes God does determine. But sometimes God genuinely empowers the creation for freedom.

Grudem's case in relation to evil is where it really gets sticky. He is saying, in effect, that even though the rapist feels like he is raping a little girl freely, God is ultimately behind the scenes forcing him to do it. God has left him no other alternative but to rape. According to Grudem, God has caused every child molester and sadist to do what they do. Yet Grudem wants to say that because the assailant feels like he is freely murdering, raping, ripping, stabbing, cutting, he is the only one morally culpable. The puppet master, the master planner of the rape, the one who designed it in all its minute details, is off the hook. It is ultimately a distinction without a difference.

No rational person could handle such logic. It is terrifying to think of how a person with this sort of thinking might behave in this world. Many will lose their faith if they are led to believe that this is the way a Christian must think, and many people's hearts will be defiled if they apply this twisted logic to their parenting or everyday life.

The solution is to recognize that the biblical language is uneven and enculturated, even that biblical understanding develops in the flow of revelation from Old to New Testament. The test case of 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 is instructive. 1 Chronicles says that Satan incites David to do something that 2 Samuel says God incited David to do. Grudem's explanation of this conundrum is to see Satan as the instrument God commands to push David to do something.

By contrast, the Arminian suggests that God allows Satan to test David and that David fails the test (unlike Job, who passes). 2 Samuel reflects an earlier stage in Israelite thinking. The earliest layer of biblical texts in the Old Testament have no awareness of the Satan, not even Genesis, which never mentions Satan. Even in Job's thinking (Job the person rather than the thinking of the author of Job), the Lord is the one who has taken away (Job 1:21). In the story, Job doesn't know about Satan.

But by the time of 1 Chronicles, God is no longer the one who directly tempts people (cf. Jas. 1:13). After the Babylonian exile, Israel has broadened in its understanding of divine agency, now having a category for the Satan. If Genesis and 1 Samuel were being written now, they would no doubt have ascribed to Satan various actions that were earlier ascribed to God.

This discussion reveals the inadequacy of Grudem's use of Scripture. His position is ultimately based on a certain understanding of biblical language, yet he doesn't know how to read the Bible in context, which undermines his entire position.

A final word should be said about Romans 9:20-21, where Paul indicts the clay that would complain to the potter for making it the way the potter did. This is a difficult verse--or at least should be for anyone with the heart of Christ. It is difficult not because of some defiant heart but because of the rest of Scripture. The way Grudem takes it fundamentally contradicts the way the New Testament reveals God's character as one that desires everyone to be saved.

Is God the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son or is he the eternal tyrant Grudem sees in Romans 9. Grudem, Piper, Calvin, and Augustine pick the wrong set of verses as their fundamental starting point. Rather than consider Romans 9 unclear, and rest on the clear voice of Christ in the Gospels, they take their stand on a difficult passage and force the majority passages into its logical mold.

So what is Romans 9 really about? It is about the puzzling situation in Paul's day that Gentiles were receiving the gospel while most Jews were not. Paul's opponents saw his position as something like a married man who was divorcing his wife for a younger woman. Why was God allowing the Gentiles in without becoming Jews? After God had been "married" to the Jews within the covenant of the Jewish Law all these years, they might say, why was God seeming to change the rules, turning to a new Gentile "mistress," now making salvation available to all through Christ? These are the underlying questions of Paul's opponents that were driving Romans 9.

Paul's answer is that God can do whatever he wants, because he is God. Absolutely true! We have no basis to complain about God's will. Absolutely true! But we can clearly see by Romans 11 that Paul's argument in Romans 9 is not the end of the story. Even disobedient Israel can be saved (11:11-12). Indeed they will be saved (11:26). Language in Romans 9 that sounds very hard is thus not nearly as hardened as it sounded at first. There was an element of rhetoric involved from the start.

[1] In "The Dilemma of Determinism," a paper presented at Harvard Divinity School on March 3, 1884.

[2] Here Grudem is quoting Jack Cottrell, "The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty," The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, Clark Pinnock, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 104-5.

[3] Quoting Calvin's Institutes 1.16.5.

[4] Louis Berkhof, Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982 [1932]), 175.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Genesis 2:4-3:24

I'm on a path to read a chapter of Genesis a day. Here is the third day, covering Genesis 2:4-3:24. I'm trying out the CEB for a fresh look.

Genesis 2:4-3:24
  • Adam and Eve: This is the Adam and Eve story, although the CEB uses "human" for Adam to highlight the fact that 'adam in Hebrew can simply mean a human (אָדָם). 
  • Section start: I'm going with those translations that start the next section of Genesis at 2:4 with the phrase, "These are the generations of the skies and the land in their creating, on the day of the LORD God making land and skies" (my translation).
  • LORD God: Note the shift to "LORD God" here (יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים) from just "God" in Genesis 1 (אֱלֹהִים). This general way of referring to God will continue through chapter 4.
  • Second creation story: Genesis 2-3 are often thought of as a second creation story. If Genesis 1 has six days of creation, Genesis 2 happens on the "day" of creating. 
  • Order: In this poetic version of the creation, the man is made first, then plants and trees, then animals, then finally the woman. We should assume that the presentation in Genesis 1 is similarly poetic in nature.
  • Soul in Hebrew: Notice the way a human being is conceptualized in an Israelite worldview in 2:7. God takes dust (body). God breathes into the dust (spirit, breath, רוּחַ), and the human becomes a living soul (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּֽה). "Soul" in Hebrew is not a detachable part of a person like in Greek but a whole living being, both body and breath. Thus in Genesis 1, the living beings in the waters are "living souls" too (e.g., 1:20).
  • Tree of Life: Adam and Eve are not created immortal. It is only by eating from the Tree of Life that they might live forever. In that sense, Genesis presents them as created to die naturally.
  • Tree of Knowledge: Ironically, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil does not itself bring knowledge of good and evil. Rather, by choosing to eat from it, you come to know evil because you have thereby made an evil decision in your heart.
  • Helper: Eve is to be Adam's helper in 2:18. This doesn't put woman below man, since God is our helper
  • Marriage: 2:24 is the classical text on marriage that Jesus himself quotes. Men and women pair up and start new families. Note that no shame attaches to nakedness at this point. Soon it will not be that way.
  • Snake: Genesis never uses the name "Satan," nor does it call the snake Satan. The first known Jewish writing to equate the two is the Life of Adam and Eve, from the first century BC. It is a significant growth point to realize 1) that we and the NT authors often see more in the OT than the original audiences did and 2) that this is ok. 
  • Death: Adam and Eve don't die on the 24 hour day they eat the fruit, but the "day" of humanity's death begins. They are thrust out of the Garden. They cannot eat from the Tree of Life, so now they do not have the extra power of the Tree to live forever. They will now eventually die.
  • Original meaning: The Adam and Eve story originally expressed several features of human life. It gave the pattern of husband and wife pairing up. It expressed why snakes do not have legs and are a natural enemy of people. It expressed why women have painful childbirths and are subject to their husbands. It expressed why men have to work so hard to get the soil to yield fruit.
  • Christian meaning: For Paul in the NT, the Adam and Eve story explains the origins of sin (word not used in Genesis) and death. Because of Adam's sin, the power of Sin reigns on the earth. Because of Adam's sin, the creation is subject to decay.
  • Augustine's meaning: We get the idea of "the Fall" (word not used in the Bible) from Augustine in the 400s. To him, humanity became "totally depraved" after Adam's sin, with no good in us whatsoever (Paul does not say this). For him, the original sin was sexual desire and lust. The idea of a sin nature in us from the Fall comes from Augustine. For Paul, we sin because of the cosmic power of Sin over our weak flesh. Augustine thought that we sinned "in Adam" but Paul only thinks that we sin like Adam.
  • Other NT readings: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a difficult passage, because it seems to perpetuate the subjugation of Eve even though Christ has atoned for the sin of Adam. It should be put in the "unclear" verse category. Romans 16:20 also alludes to Genesis 3:15. Later Christians would take this as a prophecy of Christ crushing Satan, although the Bible itself never interprets the verse in this way.
Previous notes:
Genesis 1:1-2:3

Next planned post--Friday with Genesis 4-5.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Read Genesis with me? (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

It was fun, if it took some time, to walk through the New Testament these last 8 weeks. Why stop? I thought I'd slow the pace down to a chapter a day, and start taking notes on the Old Testament. I thought I'd commit one book at a time.

So anyone interested in reading through Genesis over the next 50 days or so, a chapter a day? I thought I'd start with Genesis 1 today. I won't post every day but mostly when I hit the end of recognizable units.
Genesis 1:1-2:3
  • Genesis 1:1-2:3 might have been written as an introduction to the entire Pentateuch (meaning "five scrolls"). The five scrolls are of course Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • Genesis is anonymous. It nowhere mentions its author. Later Jewish tradition would assume that Moses wrote it.
  • It is debated whether Genesis 1:1-3 in Hebrew speaks of the creation of the waters or whether the chaotic waters were pictured as already there when God began to create. Here is an alternative translation.
  • Probably the first thing an ancient would have noticed about Genesis 1 is the complete absence of other gods. In the Babylonian creation story, in the Greek creation story, creation is full of conflict between the gods. In Genesis 1, God speaks and it is done. That is all.
  • The creation is very orderly. Creatures are created according to certain kinds. The structure of the creation mirrors the Israelite week with six days and a Sabbath. People debate whether this is a more or less literal presentation, whether the days represent ages, whether it is more or less a poetic presentation of a Levitical worldview, etc...
  • The final picture of Genesis 1 seems to look something like below, which shouldn't surprise us, since God revealed himself in Scripture in the categories of those to which he was first speaking:
  • The climax of creation is the creation of humanity. Christians have long seen in the "Let us make humanity" a mirror of the Trinity. Obviously no Israelite would have taken it in that way--it took centuries even for Christians to agree on the Trinity. In its historical context, the Israelites would have more likely thought of God among the "gods" of Deuteronomy 32:8 or Psalm 82. But I personally have no problem at all with us reading Genesis 1 theologically in reference to the Trinity--God may have tucked away this possible reading for New Testament times, even though it seems quite certain that no one before the Christian era read it in that way.
  • The image of God in Genesis 1:27-28 in context seems to refer to the fact that man and woman are placed as rulers of the creation (governmental image), much as the state of humanity for which Psalm 8 thanks God. Later Christians would of course see in these words many other ways in which we mirror God. For example, we are like God in our ability to tell the difference between good and evil (moral image) and our ability to think (rational image). There's no evidence in Genesis 1 that it had such things in mind, but they are certainly true--good theological readings of the text.
  • God's creation is entirely good. There was nothing evil to what God had made.
The target for the next post is Wednesday on Genesis 2-3.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

G8. Dios ama a todo lo que ha creado.

Mis disculpas, la traducción inicial para este capítulo provienen de Google Translate. El original en Inglés está aquí. Estos capítulos son reflexiones sobre la teología cristiana de la Wesleyan-arminiana.
Dios ama a todo lo que ha creado.

Esto no quiere decir que Dios ama a todo lo que hacemos, o incluso que la creación es el "mejor de los mundos posibles". [1] Una de las maneras en que Dios mostró su amor por la creación fue dándole un grado de libertad y creatividad. Él creó un mundo en el que es mejor amar a alguien libremente que amar por obligación, y por lo tanto creó un mundo en el que podamos elegir a amarlo u optar por ignorarlo.

Como parte de esta libertad, la creación y la humanidad ha pasado a menudo por el camino equivocado. Pero Dios todavía ama a su creación, incluso cuando los pecados o yerra. "Dios es amor", Juan el anciano dijo a su congregación (1 Juan 4:8). Como un padre que ama a un niño que se ha extraviado, Dios ama al mundo. En efecto, "Dios muestra su amor para con nosotros, en que siendo aún pecadores, Cristo murió por nosotros" (Romanos 5:8). "Porque tanto amó Dios al mundo que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo aquel que en él cree no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna" (Juan 3:16).

Esto no es un amor simplemente por los que ha decidido regresar a él, como el calvinista podría decir. Se trata de un amor, incluso para la persona que nunca volverá. Cuando Jesús dice a sus seguidores a amar a sus enemigos, él usa a Dios como el modelo, que "hace salir su sol sobre malos y buenos, y que hace llover sobre justos e injustos" (Mateo 5:45). Así también, "Por tanto, así como su Padre celestial es completa en mostrar el amor a todo el mundo, por lo que también tiene que ser completa" (5:48, CEB).

¿Qué es el amor? Jesús lo define muy práctica, "en todo traten ustedes a los demás tal como quieren que ellos los traten a ustedes, porque esto es la ley y los profetas" (Mateo 7:12). Pablo lo dice de esta manera: "El amor no hace mal al prójimo. Luego el amor es el cumplimiento de la ley" (Rom. 13:10). Cuando decimos que Dios es amor, queremos decir que él quiere es bueno para nosotros - quiere bueno para todos. Dios nos quiere ayudar. Si Dios nos permite experimentar el dolor, que es para un bien mayor. Si Dios permite que el mal prospere durante un tiempo, es porque el beneficio general es mayor.

Bueno, no es lo mismo que el placer. El amor de Dios por nosotros nos puede traer el dolor por un tiempo para que podamos experimentar una felicidad más duradera. Y el amor de Dios por las muchas veces pueden estar por sobre el dolor de un individuo. Su amor es sólo imprudente cuando se lleva bien, no cuando se entrega a nuestro egoísmo o trae dolor a los demás con el fin de que tengamos el placer.

La mejor imagen bíblica de la clase de "pródigo" el amor de Dios tiene es en la parábola del hijo pródigo en Lucas 15. El padre permite que su hijo se vaya. El padre permite que su hijo falle. El padre quiere que el hijo vuelva, pero reconoce que el hijo tiene que tomar esta decisión por sí mismo, pues así es como Dios ha hecho el mundo. El padre habría dejado al hijo mueren en el país lejano.

Pero el padre da la bienvenida al hijo sin que nadie tener que pagar. No tiene sentido que la justicia debe ser satisfecha. El padre tiene la autoridad para perdonar al hijo de plano, y lo hace con entusiasmo que sí. Él está buscando para el regreso del hijo. Y así la justicia de Dios se inscribe en el contexto general de su amor, en lugar de su amor ajuste en el contexto de su justicia. "la misericordia triunfa sobre el juicio" (Santiago 2:13).

Por lo tanto, no va a hacer para jugar con el significado de la palabra amor. A algunos les gustaría definir la palabra circularmente, "Puesto que Dios es la definición del amor, cualquier cosa que Dios no es amor." Este es un truco para tratar de hacer una foto sin amor de Dios encaja con la verdad de que Dios es amor.

Pero no va a funcionar. Cuando la Biblia dice que Dios es amor, se usa la palabra amor en su sentido ordinario. Por lo tanto, debe haber una explicación de los pasajes de la Biblia, donde la imagen de Dios no parece encajar con el sentido corriente de la palabra. A veces, nuestra comprensión del amor puede tener anemia. El amor a veces trae el dolor, ya que conduce a un bien mayor. Justicia no contradice el amor, a pesar de que hay una manera amorosa a ser justo, como vamos a discutir en el próximo artículo.

Pasajes o versículos donde Dios parece falto de amor pueden ser poco claros. O pueden implicar cultural o el antropomorfismo en su representación de Dios. A veces, la comprensión de Dios es imprecisa o menos completa que tarde en la Escritura. A veces la retórica puede estar involucrado para hacer un punto muy diferente. En estos casos hay que seguir el ejemplo de Cristo y de Pablo de no dejar que los detalles poco claros oscurecen el punto central de la revelación clara.

Aquí tenemos en cuenta que las primeras partes del Antiguo Testamento no distinguen entre Dios y Satanás como tentador como tentador. Trabajo y 1 Crónicas, podría decirse que ambos escritos después del exilio babilónico de Israel, introducen el papel de Satanás como tentador en situaciones en las partes anteriores del Antiguo Testamento mostrados y hacer el tentador Dios. [2] Dios tiene el control. Dios se despide de lo que hace Satanás. Dios lo permite, pero no causa directamente el mal. [3]

Esta distancia entre los actos específicos del mal y Dios, que permite, pero no ordena directamente que, nos ayuda a entender cómo Dios puede ser amoroso y sin embargo permite que el mal ocurra. No servirá de nada, simplemente decir, como algunas tradiciones, que nos merecemos cualquier mal que nos sucede, como si esto sería suficiente explicar a Dios tomando la vista gorda a la atrocidad. Un ser verdaderamente amoroso no le gusta el sufrimiento y el mal, incluso cuando el objeto de sufrimiento merece.

Por supuesto, el mayor ejemplo de amor divino es la encarnación y la expiación a Dios siempre por hacerse humano y morir en la cruz por el mundo. Vamos a argumentar que Dios pudo habernos perdonado por su propia autoridad. Podría haber milagrosamente sanado nosotros con su poder divino. Sin embargo, se ajuste mejor a la orden del mundo que creó y fue más potente para nosotros que él sufre a sí mismo como sufrimos.

Por lo tanto, Dios ha elegido para sufrir y morir en la cruz. Jesús en su humanidad escogió sufrir y morir en la cruz. Jesús murió por todos, no sólo un cierto número limitado. Jesús murió por los que me volvería a alojar a sus enemigos para siempre, no sólo para aquellos que Dios sabía que acudiría a él. En cierto sentido, Jesús no perdió voluntariamente algo de su sangre en los que Dios sabía que nunca responda.

Dios ama a todo lo que ha creado, incluso aquellos que nunca elegirá a él servirás.

Capítulo siguiente: G9. La justicia de Dios se inscribe en el contexto de su amor.

[1] Como pensó Gottfried Leibniz, un filósofo cristiano de la década de 1600,.

[2] Comparar 1 Crónicas 21:01 con 2 Samuel 24:1. Job puede imaginar una situación patriarcal, pero esto de ninguna manera significa que Job fue escrito durante la época de los patriarcas, un hecho que el hebreo de Job militar en contra. Así, en la que 1 Samuel 18:10-11 habla de un espíritu maligno que viene de Dios y conduce a Saúl para arrojar una lanza a David, deberíamos aprovechar esta lengua como muy impreciso que sólo entiende de manera imprecisa agencia divina en relación con el mal. Dios permitió que un espíritu maligno para conducir Saulo para tirar la lanza.

[3] El caso de Dios "endurecimiento de corazón", como el faraón de debe tomarse en un sentido muy general. Ciertamente Dios usa el mal para siempre. Dios a veces vuelve a dirigir la dirección del mal. Dios puede abandonar a alguien para el mal, donde su mal se amplifica o Satanás acentúa el mal. Pero Dios no hace Faraón mal en el primer lugar.

G8. God loves everything he has created.

Here is the next installment of my theology in bullet points.
G8. God loves everything he has created.

That is not to say that God loves everything we do or even that the creation is the "best possible world." [1] One of the ways that God showed his love for the creation was by giving it a degree of freedom and creativity. He created a world where it is better to love someone freely than to love under compulsion, and thus he created a world where we might choose to love him or choose to ignore him.

As part of this freedom, the creation and humanity has often gone the wrong way. But God still loves his creation, even when it sins or errs. "God is love," John the elder told his congregation (1 John 4:8). Like a parent that loves a child who has strayed, God loves the world. Indeed, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

This is not a love merely for those he has chosen to return to him, as the Calvinist might say. This is a love even for the person who will never return. When Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, he uses God as the model, who "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45). So also, "Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete" (5:48, CEB).

What is love? Jesus defines it very practically, "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). Paul put it in this way, "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). When we say God is love, we mean that he wants good for us--wants good for everyone. God wants to help us. If God allows us to experience pain, it is for some greater good. If God allows the evil to prosper for a time, it is because the overall benefit is greater.

Good is not the same as pleasure. God's love for us may bring us pain for a season so that we can experience a more lasting happiness. And God's love for the many may sometimes trump the pain of an individual. His love is only reckless when it brings good, not when it indulges our selfishness or brings pain to others in order for us to have pleasure.

The best biblical picture of the kind of "prodigal" love God has is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The father allows his son to leave. The father allows his son to fail. The father wants the son to come back but recognizes that the son must make this decision for himself, for that is how God has made the world. The father would have let the son die in the far away country.

But the father welcomes the son without anyone needing to pay. There is no sense that justice must be satisfied. The father has the authority to forgive the son outright, and he eagerly does so. He is looking for the son's return. And so God's justice fits within the overall context of his love, rather than his love fitting within the context of his justice. "Mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas. 2:13).

It thus will not do to play games with the meaning of the word love. Some would like to define the word circularly, "Since God is the definition of love, anything God does is loving." This is a clever trick to try to make an unloving picture of God fit with the truth that God is love.

But it just won't work. When the Bible says God is love, it uses the word love in its ordinary sense. There must therefore be an explanation for any passages in the Bible where the picture of God does not seem to fit with the ordinary meaning of the word. At times, our understanding of love can be anemic. Love sometimes brings pain because it leads to a greater good. Justice does not contradict love, although there is a loving way to be just, as we will argue in the next article.

Passages or verses where God seems unloving may be unclear. Or they may involve cultural or anthropomorphism in their portrayal of God. At times the understanding of God is imprecise or less complete than later in Scripture. At times rhetoric may be involved to make a quite different point. In such cases we must follow the lead of Christ and Paul not to let the unclear details obscure the clear center point of revelation.

Here we remember that the earliest parts of the Old Testament do not distinguish between God as tempter and Satan as tempter. Job and 1 Chronicles, arguably both written after the Babylonian exile of Israel, introduce the role of Satan as tempter in situations where the earlier parts of the Old Testament pictured God doing the tempting. [2] God is in control. God signs off on what Satan does. God allows it but does not directly cause evil. [3]

This distance between specific acts of evil and God, who allows but does not directly command it, helps us understand how God can be loving and yet allow evil to take place. It will not do simply to say, as some traditions, that we deserve any evil that befalls us, as if this would sufficiently explain God taking a blind eye to atrocity. A truly loving being does not enjoy suffering and evil even when the object of suffering deserves it.

Of course the greatest instance of divine love is the incarnation and atonement God provided by becoming human and dying on the cross for the world. We will argue that God could have forgiven us on his own authority. He could have miraculously healed us by his divine power. Yet it better fit the order of the world he created and it was more powerful for us that he suffer himself as we suffer.

God therefore chose to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus in his humanity chose to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus died for everyone, not just a certain limited number. Jesus died for those who would stay his enemies forever, not just for those God knew would turn to him. In a sense, Jesus willingly wasted some of his blood on those whom God knew would never respond.

God loves everything he has created, even those who will never choose to serve him.

Next week: G9. God's justice fits within the context of his love.

[1] As Gottfried Leibniz, a Christian philosopher of the 1600s, thought.

[2] Compare 1 Chronicles 21:1 with 2 Samuel 24:1. Job may picture a patriarchal situation, but this in no way means that Job was written during the time of the patriarchs, a fact that the Hebrew of Job would militate against. Thus where 1 Samuel 18:10-11 speaks of an evil spirit coming from God and driving Saul to throw a spear at David, we should take this as very imprecise language that only imprecisely understands divine agency in relation to evil. God allowed an evil spirit to drive Saul to throw the spear.

[3] The case of God "hardening a heart" such as Pharoah's must be taken in a very general sense. God certainly uses evil for good. God sometimes redirects the direction of evil. God may abandon someone to evil to where their evil is amplified or Satan accentuates evil. But God does not make Pharaoh evil in the first place.

He Arose!

Lo in the grave he lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord.

Up from the grave, he arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose!
He arose!
Hallelujah!  Christ arose!

Vainly, they watch his bed,
Jesus, my Savior.
Vainly, they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord.

Death cannot keep its prey,
Jesus, my Savior.
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord.

Up from the grave, he arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose!
He arose!
Hallelujah!  Christ arose!

Christ has died. Christ has risen! Christ will come again!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grudem 16a: God's Providence 1 - Preservation

Nowhere perhaps is Wesleyan-Arminian theology more distinct from Calvinist than in the subject matter of this chapter.  I hope to review this chapter in three installments: 1) today's on Grudem's treatment of God's preservation of the universe, ) a second one on God's "cooperation" with the creation, including whether God causes evil, and 3) a third where Grudem argues against the Arminian position.

For previous summaries and evaluations of Grudem's theology, see here.

Chapter 16: God's Providence
Wayne Grudem defines God's providence in this way: "God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he 1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; 2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and 3) directs them to fulfill his purposes" (315). He treats each of these areas under a distinct heading: 1) preservation, 2) concurrence, and 3) government.

A. Preservation
God does not continuously create new atoms and molecules, but God preserves what has already been created. "God has made and continues to sustain a universe that acts in predictable ways" (317). Grudem references verses like Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17, which speak of God upholding the universe by his word or holding things together. Nehemiah 9:6 says that God preserves the heaven, the earth, and the hosts within them.

One of the biggest weaknesses of Grudem's use of Scripture is his failure to read verses in their full contexts. He more or less takes verses as straightforward propositions. But God spoke to the audiences of Scriptures largely in their worldviews, including their paradigms of the cosmos. This means that language such as that found in the verses Grudem references cannot be assumed to be straightforwardly literal, much less the basis for a firm perspective on a doctrine. In this case, see how few verses he is even able to produce on this subject--a reflection of the fact that we are trying to address questions that were not the questions of the biblical authors themselves.

In Nehemiah's worldview, for example, the hosts that worship God may include stars. In Nehemiah's day, they sometimes thought of stars as heavenly beings, angelic beings of a sort, while we now think of them as burning suns. Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:7 may draw on Jewish traditions about the Logos, which Philo also says glues the world together (e.g., Heir 188). In such cases we are better to take biblical language as more poetic than literal. The imagery is drawn from ancient worldview.

In short, we have no way of knowing exactly how God sustains the universe. The universe would not exist apart from God and it only continues to exist by God's direct will. But does God actively go around making sure gravity always works according to Newton and Einstein's laws? Is God holding my rear end down right now so that I don't fly up and hit the ceiling? Does God specifically make sure the second law of thermodynamics is in play (or is it the result of sin?)? This is certainly the way Christians before the scientific age would have viewed it.

But there is surely nothing heretical to suggest that we may now be able to speculate more precisely than was relevant for Christians before the 1600s and the biblical writers themselves. What if God created the universe as a machine that more or less runs on its own? What if a miracle is God interrupting the normal working of the machine? The key doctrines are maintained. God is still in ultimate control. God is still active in the world according to his will.

However, contrary to Grudem's approach, it was not the sense that God is predictable in his sustaining of events in the universe that gave rise to modern science. Rather, science exploded because thinkers in the 1500s and 1600s believed God had created the universe to run on its own by certain natural laws that inhere in nature itself. Indeed, the view that everything that happens in the world is the action of God or some other spiritual being was an obstacle to the rise of science. It is no coincidence that the Arminian point of view, which argues for free will and which Grudem argues against, rose at the same time as the rise of modern science.

In the end, we have no way of knowing exactly how it works. Does God go around directly making sure electromagnetic forces follow the laws of physics? No one can disprove that he does, because natural laws would look exactly the same. Did God create the universe largely as a machine that runs according to the laws he created as part of it? The fact that the "scientific" paradigms of the biblical authors were a function of their ancient contexts does not argue against this position, since the Bible was revealed in categories its original audiences could understand.

But science has not advanced on the supposition that God flips every switch and yanks every chain. It advances on the assumption that there are regular laws to the way the universe operates and that we best understand those rules by experimentation and the collection of evidence. Grudem's approach thus more pulls against science and the discoveries whose benefits are undeniable and all around us.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Grief Observed

At 3pm on Friday, April 10, AD30, Jesus died on a Roman cross. His head knew that he had obeyed God's will. He knew that God loved him. His head knew he would rise again.

What he felt was, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Here is a reminder for anyone who wonders where God is when they are in a time of deepest anguish. Jesus has been there too and feels their pain.

Passion Week

In a number of previous years (e.g., 2007 and 2008 especially), I walked through Passion Week with Jesus and the disciples. Here are some of those posts:

Palm Sunday
Monday: Jesus in the Temple
Tuesday Debates
Wednesday Plotting
Thursday: Getting Ready for Passover
Good Friday
Saturday: Low in the Grave

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." (Gal. 3:13)