Friday, February 29, 2008

The Problem of Evil 1

6.1 Defining the Problem
Perhaps no one has put the problem of evil so succinctly as Archibald MacLeish in his play about Job, JB. In the story, the character who represents Satan taunts:

"If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God." <1>

What the character is saying is that if "God is God," if God is all powerful and can do anything, God must not be good. Surely a good God, so the argument goes, would do away with evil if powerful enough to do so.

By the same token, if "God is good," then presumably God would do away with evil if powerful enough to do so. The fact that God has not must then indicate that God is not all powerful, that "he is not God."

This is the problem of evil. Throughout history, any group that believed its gods were powerful and loved them has struggled with the question in the face of defeat or suffering.

It is no coincidence that MacLeish expressed this issue by way of the book of Job. Job is a righteous person who does everything that God requires of him. The book of Job explicitly tells us this fact about Job (e.g., 1:8). Indeed, it is exactly this point that Job's so called friends dispute. They believe that Job must have done something to bring such "judgment" on himself as he is experiencing (e.g., 4:7).

But when God shows up at the end, He rebukes Job's friends for their insistence that Job's sin has brought calamity on him (42:7). God affirms that no sin on Job's part has brought his sufferings. We, the audience of Job, know that Job was being tested by the Satan to see if he would be loyal to God. But Job never learns this fact in the book. One point of Job is that the righteous can suffer even though they have done nothing to deserve it.

We should not be too quick to dismiss the argument Job's comforters. Their logic is also found in parts of the Old Testament. When Israel loses in battle against the city of Ai, the explanation is the sin of someone in their company, a man named Achan (Josh. 7). Once the offender was stoned and purged, Israel would not be defeated again.

This approach to suffering is sometimes called "deuteronomistic theology," since it is expressed so well by the book of Deuteronomy, especially Deuteronomy 28. If Israel will keep God's commandments, it will be blessed. If it does not keep God's commandments, it will suffer. This theology of history permeates the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings, as well as other OT books. These books give us one side of the biblical equation.

Yet other parts of the Old Testament like Job wrestle with this theology, especially on an individual level. Jeremiah 31:29 and Ezekiel 18:2 both record a saying in Israel from the time of Jerusalem's destruction in 586BC:

"Our fathers ate sour grapes, but our teeth are set on edge."
The generation that went into captivity was punished, not for their own sins, but for the sins of their parents (cf. Psalm 44:17)! Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel argue that God will no longer punish in this manner. Rather, the person who actually does the sin is the one who will die (e.g., Ezek. 18:4).
Greek philosophers also wrestled with this issue. The philosopher Epicurus (300's BC) put the question this way:
“Are the gods willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then they are impotent. Are they able, but not willing? Then they are malevolent. Are they both able and willing? Then why is there evil?”

Christians wrestle with this issue more than most other religions because Christianity has such a heightened sense of God's love for the creation. Perhaps the first verse that any Christian learns is John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life."
Christians also have a heightened sense of God's power and that God has already begun the process of taking care of evil by sending Jesus into the world to die for the sins of the world. Why then does evil still linger on so powerfully? Why do Holocausts and genocides continue to take place with no sign of abatement?
This is the "problem of evil," the topic of this chapter.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why we need theologians...

A few weeks ago I slipped in a few explanatory notes on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10. This is a passage that intrigues me and one that has been discussed frequently as a place where Paul's thought might have developed from 1 Corinthians.

I thought I might catalog today several of the interpretations of this passage. All of the following suggestions were made by card carrying PhD's in New Testament who not only know Greek--they likely know/knew it better than anyone you've ever met. Not only that, they probably know/knew ancient Greek literature better than anyone you've ever met.

In short, each of these positions have been held by people who know/knew how to interpret the Bible in context better than you or me, hands down. I say that so that no one says, "I clearly know more about the Bible than the person who said that does/did."

1. Between 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul has changed his mind on whether he will still be alive at the second coming. In 1 Corinthians he thinks he'll still be alive. In 2 Corinthians/Philippians he thinks he'll probably die first. (C. H. Dodd)

2. Between 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul has changed his mind on when resurrection will take place. In 1 Corinthians he thinks it will happen at the second coming. In 2 Corinthians he thinks it will be at death. (F. F. Bruce)

3. Between 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul has changed his mind on what the state of a person is in between death and future resurrection. In 1 Corinthians it is a sleepy, shadowy existence. In 2 Corinthians it is a more blessed state of union with Christ.

4. Between 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul has changed his mind on what the nature of the resurrection will be like. In 1 Corinthians he still has the Jewish idea of an embodied resurrection. In 2 Corinthians he has a more Platonic sense of immortality. (C. F. D. Moule)

5. 1 and 2 Corinthians are about two different things. 1 Corinthians is about individual resurrection, while 2 Corinthians is about the body of Christ as a group reality. (Victor Furnish).

6. There is no difference between 1 and 2 Corinthians. Although 1 Corinthians uses the imagery of sleep for death, Paul has in mind the same thing as what he means by nakedness in 2 Corinthians (a disembodied intermediate state). (N. T. Wright)

Now here's the punchline. It is not likely that many if any people reading this post, including myself, is anywhere near as qualified as any of the scholars I mention above to interpret this passage in context. Yet they have all come to different interpretations.

This is why we need theologians. The more you dig into the possible interpretations of these words--especially if you're honest and don't pretend like anyone who disagrees with you must be evil or stupid--the more ambiguous passages like this one seem.

The thing is, though, Christians throughout the ages have dug into these issues and on many many of them, they have hammered out points of agreement on the meaning we find in these words (whether they are the original meanings or not). For each individual to go back to the drawing board and ignore 2000 years of Christian theology is the heighth of foolishness. Here's what Christian theology has to say:

Christians believe in a future, bodily resurrection. We also believe that we will be conscious in between our deaths (should we die before Christ's return) and our resurrections--we will be "with Christ."

That's what we Christians believe, whether it was what Paul was thinking or not.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Self-Flushing Generation

I have found one way to describe the up and coming generation.

The religion building is currently under complete gutting and renovation, so we're camping out in what used to be the old College Wesleyan Church. We've also discovered why it is the old CWC--it has many quirks to it.

[The dainty should stop reading at this point.]

Anyway, I've been puzzled by the fact that I am consistently finding unflushed toilets in the men's bathroom. Admittedly, the toilet in question doesn't flush very well (thus the old CWC). You have to have a sense of duty and persistence with it, but it is possible if you're willing to give up an extra 10 seconds of living.

Someone remarked yesterday at the sink something about people being so used to self-flushing toilets that they didn't stick around to realize you actually have to manually flush these things. Doing philosophy as a hobby, this was an interesting thought. Coming generations will, as a part of their toilet paradigms, not even think that you might in some cases have to flush a toilet manually.

Frankly, I think the guilty party probably just doesn't stick with it. But it seems like a fair description of what professors are observing. The new college students are used to being waited on hand and foot. They email professors to look things up in syllabi for them and to email them the answers to study guides. One colleague of mine suggested they look at professors as "personal trainers," not even as group coaches but as one on one trainers.

Of course my parents' generation probably said similar things about my generation. Maybe they would have called us the "calculator" generation.

Today in Hebrews: Hebrews 8

Vodcast today around 9:30am ET:

People whose names were taken in vain: Harold Attridge, Steve DeNeff, Lincoln Hurst, Luke Timothy Johnson, Greg Sterling.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Final Installment: Arguments for God's Existence 4

5.4 Arguments from Existence
We want finally to consider two final arguments for the existence of God that are sometimes made.

The first is often associated with the cosmological argument and it was Aquinas' third argument for the existence of God. It is sometimes called the argument from necessity or contingency. In Aquinas' version, we notice that everything we can observe within the creation is of a "contingent" sort. That is to say, it does not have to exist.

My parents might never have married, and I might never have been born. Mars does not have to exist, nor does the Earth. As far as we can tell, nothing in all of the creation has to exist, apparently even the creation itself. Admittedly, we are in no position scientifically to say whether something in the universe might have to exist, but it certainly does not seem so.

For Aquinas, we have a problem if everything that exists is only "contingent," unnecessary. For if nothing has a necessary existence, then in theory, nothing might exist. But if it is possible that nothing in the creation might exist, then how could anything thereafter exist? If at some moment contingency called in all its bets and nothing existed, then nothing could come back from nothing.

So, reasoned Aquinas, something must exist necessarily. "And this," said Aquinas, "we call God."

It is hard to evaluate this argument from the standpoint of reason. We really know so little scientifically on this level. It might very well imply that something must exist necessarily. However, what that necessary thing might be we cannot say from this argument alone.

A final argument for the existence of God is the ontological argument, apparently first put forward by Anselm (1000's). We might summarize it as follows:

1. We can imagine what the greatest possible Being would be like--the greatest possible Being exists in our thoughts.

2. One characteristic of such a greatest possible Being--which exists in our thought--is that it actually exist in the world as well as in our thoughts.

3. Therefore, the greatest possible Being must exist in the world as well.

Immanuel Kant, who of course believed in God, rejected Anselm's argument as incoherent. Basically, Kant argued that Anselm's argument mixed two different kinds of claims--one of which was about the world and the other of which was about ideas. Mixing the two together was like mixing apples and oranges or playing two different games on two different fields. The premises do not connect to one another.

The bottom line is that Anselm--as Descartes later when he advanced a similar argument--tended toward the idealist end of the spectrum, where reality is closely related to ideas. For Descartes, for example, if you could conceive of something clearly and distinctly, then it was in all likelihood true.

In more recent times, Alvin Plantinga has advanced new versions of the ontological argument. One of his chief claims is that belief in God is "properly basic." Belief in God is so fundamental to life that we cannot even imagine a universe without a God. Even those who think they do not believe in God must presuppose God's existence in all their thinking. The existence of God is a part of making our way through life in the same way that believing other people and objects actually exist is or that other people have minds like I do.

Monday Thoughts: Arguments for God's Existence 3

I'll have to seriously abbreviate the other arguments for the existence of God because time flieth.

5.3 Arguments from Design
A second set of arguments for the existence of God has to do with the order of creation. If one finds a watch, William Paley (1700's) suggested, you assume that there must have been a watchmaker. You do not think for one moment that the watch has just happened to come about by chance. So it is with the order of nature. Paley suggested that even the eyeball is complex enough to suggest it must have had a designer.

Much has happened since the 1700's when Paley famously made this argument, an argument that had of course been made before in various ways by various people. Even in the 1700's, David Hume questioned how good an analogy the watchmaker example was. Then of course Charles Darwin argued that complexity was simply a matter of chance evolution. Today we have chaos theory, which suggests that although it is unlikely that any specific order would come together by chance, the likelihood that some kind of order will occur by chance is virtually certain over time. "You couldn't do that again if you tried," but by accident every once and a while, "truth is stranger than fiction."

Advocates of the "teleological argument," the argument from design, have not stood still either. Intelligent design theory has opposed the idea that the order of the world could have arisen strictly by chance. It argues on the contrary that there is "irreducible complexity" in the world that cannot be explained strictly on the basis of chance or evolution.

Similarly, the English philosopher Richard Swinbourne (1900's), while accepting evolution, has argued that even evolution proceeds according to certain laws. He argues that there are "laws of nature" that embody a design to the universe. Why do things consistently fall down instead of up? Why is it that "for every action there is an equal and opposition reaction"? He would say that the fact that the universe operates according to laws leads to the question of a Designer who created those laws and put them in play.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis advanced a moral argument for the existence of God. While different cultures have quite significantly different senses of what is right and wrong (as we will see in a later chapter), almost all cultures have such a sense. The content of morality may differ widely, but the fact of morality is a constant. Lewis suggested that such a moral structure to the universe implied a moral Creator.

Certainly Christianity believes that the complexity of the world is a result of an intelligent Designer and that. Similarly, Christians have traditionally believed that humanity was created in the image of God and thus that part of that imagine is a "moral" element. These beliefs seem very reasonable.

However, it is not at all clear that reason alone demands these beliefs. These are reasonable beliefs, but we ultimately affirm them by faith. It is not clear that science or logic compells us to draw these conclusions. Evolutionary psychologists would argue, for example, that what we are calling a moral nature is simply an evolutionary coping mechanism that has evolved over time. And Pojman would note that the telelogical argument does not necessarily point to a good designer.

But before we leave the subject of God's design, we should probably mention experiences of God and miracles. More than any argument, the most convincing ones individually are our experiences of God and our observation of what seems otherwise inexplicable. To be sure, individuals from other religions have experiences that they explain from within their religious frameworks. One must therefore be careful to base your faith in God purely on the basis of your personal experience.

Nevertheless, Christians regularly have experiences that substantiates for them the existence of the Christian God. Further, the Bible argues not only that "signs and wonders" were a part of Jesus' "ministry." It indicates that they accompanied the mission of the first generation of Christians. Many believers throughout the last 2000 years--and many today, particularly in third world Christianity--have witnessed events they could not explain as normal occurrences.

It would be difficult to argue, even if someone believed a good deal of the gospel record was legendary, that Jesus did not perform miracles. A skeptic might argue that the gospel accounts were embellished or that some of them were not historical. But clearly the ancients categorized Jesus in part as a miracle worker, a category into which they placed other ancient figures like Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the circle drawer, or Hanina ben Dosa. Regardless of how skeptical one is, the burden of proof is squarely on anyone who would deny that Jesus did things that observers categorized as miracles.

It is also beyond reasonable doubt that the apostles of Jesus performed miracles as a part of their mission as well. Paul reminds the Corinthians, who are hostile to him, that he performed miracles when he was there (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:12). The author of Hebrews similarly reminds his audience of the signs and wonders that accompanied those who brought the message of salvation (Heb. 2:4).

But of course the most important "miracle" of all, and the one most specifically related to the Christian God, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. No reputable historian would even suggest that Jesus was not a real person or that he did not really die by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. We would not be able to account for the comments in Tacitus and Josephus, let alone for the writings of the New Testament themselves, if this event did not happen.

It also seems difficult to account for the relevant facts if the followers of Jesus did not at least believe in the strongest of terms that Jesus had risen from the dead. Other individuals claimed to be messiah and died at the hands of the Romans. We have no religions in relation to them. No Jew would have expected the true messiah to die, let alone at the hands of the Romans. It is hard to imagine anything but a vastly demoralized group of Jesus followers after the crucifixion.

The account of the tomb, with its unique historical particulars, seems likely. For example, it is interesting that when Matthew records rumors about "what really happened," the empty tomb is assumed. Those who disbelieve claim that the disciples stole the body. This counter-argument assumes, however, that there was a tomb without a body.

If it seems likely from a purely secular perspective that there was an empty tomb, it also seems almost certain that a wide variety of individuals believed that they had seen Jesus alive after his death. Paul records the traditional list in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: first Peter, then the other disciples, then over 500 people at once, then James, then the other apostles, lastly Paul. Paul knew these people, and his churches apparently knew about them as well.

By his own admission, Paul met with Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after he believed on Christ (Gal. 1:18-19). Paul mentions people like Peter, James, and Barnabas to the Corinthians, many of whom opposed him, as if they know who these people are (1 Cor. 9:5-6). This fact makes it very difficult to suggest that Paul was just making up the resurrection. The only reasonable conclusion is that these individuals did in fact claim, as Paul, to have seen Jesus alive after his death (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1).

We have no reason to doubt the traditions that point to martyrs deaths for most of these individuals. Peter and Paul in Rome, James in Jerusalem, according to tradition all but John died for their beliefs. We do not have to prove all of theses to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the key individuals who professed to have seen Jesus were so convinced that they surrendered their lives for that belief.

This discussion ultimately comes down to faith. If resurrections are possible, then the resurrection of Jesus is certainly an example. The evidence is there if one believes in the possibility. Of course if one does not believe in resurrections and miracles, then you can certainly come up with some other explanation. But to those with faith, it is more than reasonable to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

one more installment tonight, hopefully...

5.4 Arguments from Existence
argument from necessity
ontological argument

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ben Witherington in Kokomo

My wife Angie and I went to hear Ben Witherington speak at Grace United Methodist Church in Kokomo this afternoon. He had preached there in the morning and was speaking this afternoon on the singular rather than pluralistic Jesus. I imagine that there are any number of church settings where his presentation might be controversial, although this crowd was friendly to his message.

It was a good mix of scholarship cum evangelism. Jesus claimed to be divine, so either he was or he was a liar or a lunatic (the classic Lewis argument). But Witherington supported this argument with some scholarly reflections on what Jesus might have meant when he called himself the Son of Man, an allusion to Daniel 7.

W also went through texts most of us know well that claim that Jesus exclusively is the way to God. As W responded to a question from the audience, "there are sheep not of this fold" cannot mean other religions, or else John massively contradicts itself ("I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me").

There were also reflections on the importance that Christ be without sin in order to serve as a sacrifice. Ben dipped into the question of whether those who have not heard can be saved and he gave the classic Wesleyan-Arminian answer from Romans 1 and being judged according to the light we have.

He took questions at the end, including one about the Iraq war. Going where angels fear to tread--especially in semi-rural Indiana--he didn't flinch to say matter of factly that we couldn't have done more to hinder those who want to be our friends in the Middle East and empower our enemies there.

I told him afterwards that he was a brave man. He noted in response that he didn't get stoned.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Arguments for the Existence of God 2

5.2 Cosmological Arguments
One of the oldest and best known arguments for the existence of God is the so called "cosmological argument," particularly the cause-effect version of it. It argues in effect that "something cannot come from nothing." So the world must have come from somewhere. It must have had a Creator, a supreme cause.

Most people have also heard the classic response: then where did God come from? Various people have made cosmological arguments in one form or another over the centuries. Some of them work better than others.

We favor the following version of the cosmological argument:

1. The universe had a beginning--we apparently can trace the chain of causes and effects in the physical world back to a point in time.

2. We lack any scientific explanation for that beginning. We have no explanation for what "caused" and began creation.

3. It is reasonable to suggest that something "beyond" this universe caused that beginning.

Now as Christian philosophers like Louis Pojman have suggested, the cosmological argument scarcely leaves us with the Christian God. At best it suggests an all-powerful Creator, and the form of the argument we have made above does not even imply that much. But assuming the argument makes sense, it implies that belief in a Creator is perfectly reasonable. Meanwhile, the atheist at present has no alternative explanation for why the universe suddenly decided to begin.<8> He or she must instead have faith that science will one day discover such an explanation or that such an explanation exists even though we have no access to it.

The universe had a beginning.
We most associate the cosmological argument with Thomas Aquinas, who in his Summa Theologica advanced five proofs for God's existence. The first three are versions of the cosmological argument. We will consider the first two now and the third in the next section.


Here we see 1) an argument from motion and 2) an argument from cause. Aquinas' argument from motion is basically a Christianized version of an argument made some 1500 years earlier by Aristotle. In the world we observe one thing moving another. Aristotle could not imagine that this process of one thing moving another could go back forever, so he suggested a "First Mover" that was not moved by the world but gave the world its first "push" to get started.

[historical spread on Aristotle, including the fact that he learned of Aristotle through Muslim philosophers like Averroes and Avicenna]

This form of the argument has not generally convinced many people in recent times. For example, Galileo Galilei (1500's) set out the "law of inertia" several hundred years after Aquinas. According to this rule, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest. <9> No doubt to Aristotle and Aquinas, it appeared that something had to keep pushing in order for something else to move.

But in theory, the motion of the world could go back infinitely. <10> If an astronaut throws a ball into space, it will continue at the same speed forever unless it runs into some other force. David Hume (1700's) made a similar objection to Aquinas' arguments. <11> How do we know that the motion does not go back infinitely?

On the other hand, the argument we advanced above is a form of the argument from cause. When expressed as a proof, as Aquinas expressed it, it argues that for every effect there must be a cause. William Lane Craig has especially advocated this argument by drawing from the kalam argument of certain Muslim philosophers. <12> If something has a beginning, it must have a cause.

In our view, it is foolish to make this statement with such certainty, since we scarcely know how causation works with universes as a whole. <13> However, if the universe had a beginning, it certainly is rational to suggest from what we do observe of the world that it had a cause. This suggestion is more reasonable to us now than the suggestion that it did not have a cause.

We must also dismiss the simplistic response, "Then where did God come from?" The form of the cosmological argument we are making applies to things we observe within this universe. In this universe, effects consistently have causes. When we make this statement, we imply nothing about whether Creators must have causes. By the rules we have laid down, any Creator stands "beyond" or "outside" the creation in essence. To observe rules within the creation thus says nothing about the rules of the Creator.

While it is foolish to base one's belief in God on the current state of scientific thinking, it does no harm to mention that science currently favors a beginning for the universe. We mention just two reasons. The first has to do with the "mass" of the universe, the amount of stuff in it. Every bit of matter as we know it has a certain gravitational pull. <14> In theory, if the universe had a certain amount of matter in it, then the universe might one day stop expanding and collapse on itself. If that were the case, someone might suppose that the history of the universe is simply an endless cycle of expansion and collapse leading to another expansion (the so called oscillating Big Bang theory).

However, astrophysicists do not currently think that the universe has enough mass for this to happen. As such, they believe the evidence currently points to a single beginning to the universe. Christians do not have to agree with all the particulars of current astrophysics to enjoy the secular conclusion that the universe had a beginning. Science has refuted David Hume for us, at least for the moment.

A second argument has to do with the fact that the universe is constantly in the process of cooling down. Newton's second law of thermodynamics observes that the workings of the world inevitably turn various forms of energy into heat. The long and short of it is that things tend to disorder from order over time. There is no such thing as a machine that can go on forever without putting more energy into it. The work you do now eventually dissipates as friction and heat, never to be recovered.

Eventually, at least if things continue as they are, the universe will cool down to absolute zero. The energy in the universe will convert to heat and all the heat will spread out evenly throughout the universe until everything is cold, cold, cold. By the same token, the universe could not be infinitely old or else the heat would have already dissipated. This fact points to a beginning and, thus, David Hume is foiled once again.

Of course we should never base our faith on the "God of the gaps," the God who we bring into some gap in our understanding. History since the scientific revolution has witnessed Christian after Christian staking their faith on some unexplained aspect of science. And history has witnessed those gaps get filled in time and time again.

The cosmological argument does not prove the existence of God. What it does is suggest that, at least with regard to the matter of causation, it makes more sense to believe in a Creator than it does not to.

<8> Beware of God of the gaps arguments... Kenneth Miller.

<9> Later known as Newton's first law of motion.

<10> However, we will argue in a moment that Newton's second law of thermodynamics implies a beginning to the universe for different reasons.

<11> ref.

<12> ref.

<13> compare Paul Edwards...

<14> Newton's "law of universal gravitation."

Arguments for the Existence of God 1

I will certainly not be able to succeed fully at cranking out a chapter on the Existence of God and another on the Problem of Evil by Monday night. I will try to create some "stubs" for later. This is their story...
5.1 Do we need to argue?
From almost any perspective, people have reasons for believing in the existence of God. Sigmund Freud (late 1800's) thought it was because people wanted a father figure to keep them safe from the world. <1> Ludwig Feuerbach (1800's) thought God was a projection of all the best virtues of humanity taken as a whole. <2> Friedrich Nietzsche (late 1800's) thought God was an idea the weak used to gain power over those stronger than them. <3> Augustine (400's), on the other hand, suggested that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. <4>

However, as we learned in chapter 3, even if the skeptics turned out to be right about the reasons people believe in God, that would not disprove the existence of God. The genetic fallacy confuses the reasons why someone believes something and the question of whether that something is true or not. The bulk of this chapter is about the question of God's existence, not the question of why people believe in God's existence.

Some people unthinkingly assume that there needs to be some benefit for them to believe in God's existence--"What's in it for me?" Some people stop believing in God in a huff as if to announce, "I'm just not going to believe in God, so there." It is almost as if they are saying, "I'll show You; I don't believe in You any more."

But of course, the strongest reason to believe in God would be, well, because He actually exists. If God exists as something other than an idea in our heads, as an actual Being that thinks and acts regardless of us, then it makes little sense to look for the advantage of believing. If God exists, God exists, whether it is convenient for me or not. And if God exists, then the person who "shows God" by disbelieving is a fool.

However, many people disbelieve (atheists) or doubt (agnostics) sincerely. It is simply not true that atheists and agnostics are more wicked than those who believe in God. Indeed, we would no doubt find that some of them live far more "moral" lives than many people who profess to believe in God.

[textbox: atheist, agnostic]

In the rest of the chapter, we will be looking at some of the classic arguments for the existence of God. But should we really argue rationally for God's existence? Is it really a matter of blind faith rather than argument? Can we actually prove God's existence by reason or will we find that rational argument comes up short? Does rehearsing the classical arguments contribute more to doubt than to faith.

Certainly some voices would say so. For example, we have already encountered James K. A. Smith's suggestion that Christians should be un-apologetic about their beliefs. <5> In good postmodern fashion, he does not think a person could give adequate reasons for believing in God rationally. For him, either God gives you the belief or God does not.

On the other end of the spectrum, Catholic and American fundamentalist traditions often put a high premium on the likelihood of reason leading you to believe in God. C. S. Lewis (1900's) was an Anglican, a tradition that stands just one step removed from Roman Catholicism and that in recent years has come very close to complete reconciliation. <6> It is no surprise that he was one of the principal apologists of the twentieth century.

Other traditions, like revivalists and charismatics, have put a greater premium on religious experience as a basis for belief in God. As one hymn concludes, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart." Apologists generally see this kind of basis for belief on very thin ground, for people from other religious traditions might very well say the same thing.<7>

You will have to decide for yourself which of these traditions best represents your position. As for this book, we proceed through the classic arguments for the existence of God on the following basis. First, we suspect that most people do not come to believe in God because of rational argument. Certainly some do--C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell are two good examples, both of whom reluctantly came to belief in God because of argument. But they are the exception rather than the rule. Most people simply believe in God for other reasons.

On the other hand, we want to steer a "middle way" between those who think you can prove God's existence beyond reasonable doubt and those who think belief in God is an act of irrational, blind faith. Certainly we think at least some of the classic arguments for the existence of God at least make sense from a rational standpoint. We do not believe you have to be able to prove God's existence to believe that God exists. But at the same time we believe it is not irrational to believe.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Present Participles--Mounce Exercises

Today is the funeral for David Smith's mother, chair of the religion division at IWU. I have no doubt but that he covets your prayers for his family in this loss.

I will not be in Greek class today, so I have videoed the exercises we were to go over today. If you are having trouble sleeping, here's the cure. These are exercises for chapter 27 of William Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek. The topic is present participles. So if you want a blast from your seminary past or healing for the damage participles once did to you, if you are a current Greek student who'd like some review, or if you're trying to decide whether to jump into Greek, here's some fodder:

Present Participle Parsing Practice

Warm-Up Practice

Sentence Translations

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Over Half Way Through Hebrews

Since the Hebrews class is getting ready for mid-term exams, I have updated all the video lectures I've done on Hebrews thus far, through Hebrews 7. They're not high quality, but they're free :-) The sound is much better from Hebrews 4:14 on (no connection to the clarity of the theology).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Apologies to Innocent Bystanders

I am amazed that some of you come back to read here from time to time, especially after I go off on my rants. Some of you are innocent by-standers who get caught in my poorly aimed crossfire. You usually let me know you're bleeding :-)

So let me apologize to people I don't want to hit:

1. I am not out to tear down any Calvinist or anyone else who is irenic, who is willing to put their hand in mine, who is willing to agree to disagree.
I don't hate Calvinists, and I don't dislike Calvinists because they're Calvinists. I think I might like John Piper if I knew him. I of course detest his form of Calvinist belief.

I have lots of Calvinists in my classes, and I try to help them strategize when we get to Scriptures that seem really problematic for them from my perspective. And I take it on the chin when we come to passages that are "naughty" for my theology.

What I can't stand is someone who looks down the nose at Arminianism as intellectually inferior to Calvinism as a theological system, who treats Arminians as Calvinism's ugly step-child. Think Arminian theology is impoverished? Go ahead, make my day.

2. I am not out to tear down people whose beliefs or practices or ideologies are ultra-conservative.
I am not out to tear down my old fashioned relatives. I am not out to tear down people who love the KJV. I am not out to get people who don't dance or go to movies. I'm not out to get people who could never ever vote for John McCain because he's a "liberal."

The word "fundamentalist" is not the same as ultra-conservative or even just conservative to me. I get along great with people who are more conservative than I am. My family background is in the most conservative segment of the Wesleyan Church.

To me, a fundamentalist is by definition a person who is militant about their conservatism. This is someone who does not want to get along. This person wants to send anyone who doesn't agree with them to hell in a handbasket and as soon as possible.

So I apologize to all my friends whom I have inadvertantly hit while trying to shoot at movements I want to keep at bay from my people. "If your heart is as my heart, then lend me your hand."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Today in Hebrews: Hebrews 7

Today's vodcast was on Hebrews 7--Christ's Melchizedekian Priesthood

Here is the link:

By the way, I guess Cedarville University had some debacle over a guy named Shane Claiborne. I'm taking that he must be emergent. I don't know anything about the guy, but Scot McKnight gives first details at

Also see Mike Cline's thoughts here:

I guess the guy was scheduled to speak but then had to be cancelled because of outcry from bloggers in the area. Some of these emergents no doubt need some steering and correction.

But ask me who more has the heart of Christ? Is it people like the guy in the video who in the name of the King James insists on standing up when he urinates? Or is it a group that believes that mercy triumphs over justice (James 2:13), that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and that, oh yeah, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (need I give the reference).

Hands down, it's the latter.

By the way, here is a clip of the guy. Ironically, it was posted on a blog to show how evil he is. I have to wonder what's going on in the heart of someone who has such a violent reaction to this guy. You may not agree with everything he says, but how can you doubt that his heart is more right than wrong?

It is easy to run over people like this Shane--he might even offer you his left cheek after you have struck the first blow on his right.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Thoughts: Philosophy of History

Just a quick post today. What is a Christian philosophy of history?

We read the OT linearly today, as a well defined movement toward Christ. Adam sins and creates the human problem. This sets a trajectory in history toward the solution in Christ. God creates the world with a plan. Then after the Babylonian captivity we have a missing king and a trajectory toward Christ as well.

However, it does not seem likely that Israel experienced these texts in this way. Adam plays no appreciable role in the OT. And we remember in Samuel that the establishment of a king was no certain thing--in fact the appointment of Saul is seen as a kind of moral failure on Israel's part.

Like all the other nations of the world, the Jewish understanding of history in what we now call the OT was cyclical. The OT did not originally look to the end of the world or the consummation of the ages. It looked rather to localized restoration in times of slavery and defeat. "There is nothing new under the sun," but history rather repeats itself over and over again.

As far as we can tell, these expectations began to change among some Jews in the early second century BC. We begin to find increasing interest in the afterlife and in the restoration of Israel with quite significant cosmic language attached. Language in the OT that may originally have been understood metaphorically (e.g. Ezek. 35) began to be taken literally. What had been a cyclical view of history was transforming into a linear view.

This changing situation in the late intertestamental period sets the stage for the New Testament. More than anything else, the decisive event is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Christ's resurrection implies that the restoration of all things has begun. Even in his earthly ministry, Jesus cast out demons to show that the rule of God, the kingdom of God, was arriving on the earth.

All of history now becomes a singular story. Before there was the story of Israel. But with the apostle Paul we now have the story of all humanity. God created Adam to rule over the creation with glory and honor. But Adam sinned and all have sinned after him, and are lacking the glory God intended us to have. More than anything else, we die.

But Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. The powers of death and hell are defeated. It is only a matter of time, now, until he returns and all the wrongs of time are set straight.

The general contours of this approach to history now seem deeply engrained in a Christian worldview. Of course many Christians operate with a more cyclical view, despite the fact that they say in the creed that they believe in "the resurrection of the body." Perhaps even most Christians unthinkingly translate "resurrection" into "you die and go to heaven or hell." On the street, most Christians expect to live out a full life, die, and then be assigned an eternal destiny (heaven) and that's that.

But of course the resurrection of the body originally referred to an event at the end of time. It is not the same as the immortality of the soul, which is a more Greek than biblical idea. It coheres with biblical perspectives, but is not the focal biblical perspective. The NT rather looked to a time when Christ would return and then the dead in Christ would rise. We can find biblical teaching on an intermediate state between death and resurrection--but we have to look carefully to find it (thief on a cross, rich man and Lazarus, Philippians, Revelation).

Those who have a Christian philosophy of history today (and not simply a cyclical view) tend to have a premillennial view of history, a view that in recent times revived in the 1800's. The idea of a millennium comes from the book of Revelation, a thousand year reign of Christ on earth after his return. It is not clearly mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. As such, it is possible that we should take some of this imagery symbolically rather than literally (the so called amillennial position).

Nevertheless, a premillennial position has a pessimistic approach to history. The time of restoration, the earthly rule of Christ after his return, will only come after times get worse and worse. The imagery of Mark 13 and Matthew 24 is often applied to the end of time: "There will be wars and rumors of war." Famines and other calamities will accompany the nearness of the end. This is also the most literal reading of Revelation.

However, Mark 13 and Matthew 24 originally referred primarily to events preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in AD70. It is also possible that Revelation has much to do with events of the late first century in addition to its material about the end of time. Certainly they may double for end time events, as biblical prophecy often seems to have multiple resonances in history.

It seems foolish, however, to let such views determine our attitudes toward world events. For example, there are those who object to peace talks in the Middle East because of a fatalistic view of history. "There will be no peace," they say.

But there has been. There have been centuries of peace here and there from time to time. Should we not rather follow the biblical formula that says, "If you know the good you ought to do and do not do it, that is sin" (James). If we can stop death or help curb poverty or bring the good news to anyone, it is surely sin not to try to do so (cf. Matt. 25). God does not bid us to calculate our chances of success before we try. He bids us do our bit, and He will take it from there.

A final Christian perspective on history is the so called postmillennial view. It is the view that has been held by most Christians throughout history. We might attribute its primary origins to Augustine, who was really the first person to formulate a systematic philosophy of history in the 400's.

The context of Augustine's thought on this subject was the sacking of Rome in AD410. Only 9-11 has come close to helping us appreciate the significance of this event. Rome for so many centuries had been the world power. To read the history of the centuries immediately preceding Christ's arrival is to get the inevitable "manifest destiny" of Rome to take over the whole world. Each century is the fall of a new set of nations before its power.

Similarly, the United States perceived itself to be nearly invincible in the days leading up to 9-11. The Cold War had been over for more than a decade. We had not been attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Even Pearl Harbor was off in Hawaii, which Americans no doubt perceived to be a distant outpost.

Now we find ourselves assaulted in New York City, within our borders. Historians will quite possibly describe the story of the last 8 years as a time of reactionary conservatism in the wake of the fear created by that event. As a small sample, the then mayor of the city of Marion had the courthouse baracaded immediately following the event. We look back and laugh, thinking, yeah, the Muslim world would want to attack Marion, Indiana.

But that was the feeling of paranoia we had at the time, and the powers that be enacted policies and did things that no one would ever have allowed them to do at another time. Even today, we find a host of literature based on the fallacy of composition, taking a subgroup of the Islamic world and falsely attributing the motives of a few to the entire Muslim population. Ironically, these attitudes on our part can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, for they polarize the Muslim community itself against us in a way it did not have to be.

Augustine seized on his own situation in the 400's and wrote his work The City of God. We should not be alarmed, he wrote, about the sacking of Rome. For the sacking of Rome merely indicates that the city of humanity is coming to an end. At the same time, the city of God is in the ascendency.

Augustine supposed that over time the city of humanity would continue to decline until all that was left was the city of God, the kingdom of God. The reign of God, the millennium, would thus rise on earth as the world changed into the kingdom of God. It was easy in the Middle Ages to see the dominancy of the medieval church as the presence of the kingdom of God, a position that we find more problematic today, particulary in the increasing secularization of the last 500 years.

Nevertheless, some would style themselves "postmillennials" today, based on the idea that the rule of God through the church is the millennium on earth and is already here in some sense. Whether one ascribes to a particular view of the millennium as now past or present, the postmillennial attitude is that of a "world changer" who believes that God wants us to work for Him in the world to see the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Interview with Chris Bounds 2: Total Depravity

Ken Schenck: I understand that there are different interpretations of Wesley on his view of total depravity? How does Randy Maddox's understanding differ from Ken Collins'?

Chris Bounds: “There are as many interpretations as there are readers.” While this is not completely true of Wesley, there certainly are many different interpretative lenses (sometimes irreconcilable) through which Wesley is understood and explained. As such, there are definable “schools of understanding” of Wesley.

1. For example, Wesley is seen principally through a Reformed or Calvinist lens by George Croft Cell, through Lutheran Pietism by Franz Hildebrandt, through Puritanism by Gordon Rupp, and through the Eastern Church Fathers by Randy Maddox. Also, Wesley has been (re) interpreted through more contemporary lenses, such as the liberationist perspectives of Theodore Jennings and the process theology of John Cobb.

Specifically, in regard to Randy Maddox and Ken Collins, their differences in working with Wesley are rooted in two areas. First, Ken Collins locates Wesley’s theology in the Western theological tradition of Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Pietism – the Roman Catholic/Protestant tradition. Maddox seeks to understand Wesley more in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, particularly in the Eastern Church Fathers.

2. Second, Collins is a historical theologian and Randy Maddox is a systematic theologian. As a result, Collins is more committed to Wesley and Wesley’s particular theological thought than Maddox. Collins is more committed to Wesley’s theological understanding and views. He is reluctant to deviate from his understanding of Wesley.

Maddox is more committed to Wesley’s general theological methodology and goals. He is more willing to “think outside of the box.” He is more willing to allow for Wesley to be wrong or to speculate what Wesley might have discarded from/or incorporated into his theology had he had other theological/doctrinal resources to draw upon. Foremost for Wesley, according to Maddox, is building a theology that makes humanity truly responsible for actions and decisions and cooperating with God in the work of salvation.

3. These general differences can be seen in their respective treatments of Wesley’s doctrine of “total depravity.” Both Collins and Maddox agree on what Wesley’s teaching is on the creation of humanity, the Fall of humanity and the “natural state” of humanity as “totally depraved.” They agree on what Wesley’s doctrinal teaching is on these three interrelated doctrines of humanity. Also, they agree that Wesley’s teaching is rooted in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition of the Anglican Church.

However, Maddox is far more speculative and open to the possibilities of what Wesley might have developed theologically if he had other sources (particularly Eastern Orthodox teachings) available to him. For example, Maddox in Responsible Grace speculates that Wesley might have embraced open theism to resolve the tension of foreknowledge and determinism and Maddox appears to approve of this direction.

More specifically, Maddox recognizes that Wesley follows the Western tradition in painting Adam and Eve as fully mature in the Garden before their Fall. The image and likeness of God in them was perfect. They had perfected reasoning, understanding and judgment. This is the reason why their disobedience is seen as so offensive and why the consequences of the Fall are seen as so “total” and devastating for all of humanity. Adam and Eve were fully aware of what they were doing in their act of disobedience.

However, in the Eastern tradition Adam and Eve are not seen as fully mature. The image and likeness of God was not fully formed in them. They were made to grow fully into the image and likeness of God through the exercise of their free will. They were immature. While their disobedience has devastating consequences for all, the disobedience is seen as being done by “children” and not fully informed, fully mature human beings, thus not as serious or devastating as the Western tradition. Maddox explicitly speculates that if Wesley would have had the Eastern teaching on Adam and Eve, he would, most probably, have moved in this Eastern direction.

While Maddox speculates here, he does not do this explicitly in regard to “total depravity.” However, Maddox’s speculative work on what Wesley might have done with the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall, leads me to believe that he is open to the possibility that Wesley might have been open to recasting “total depravity,” if more Eastern theology had been available to him.

Ken Collins, on the other hand would not. Collins from his solidly Reformed perspective of Wesley, strongly maintains the Western Reformed teaching on these issues. I would assume that he would not be open to recasting or re-visioning these doctrines as Wesleyans.

As such, there are no major differences between Maddox’s and Collins’ interpretations of Wesley’s teaching on “total depravity.” However, one appears more apt to believe that Wesley would have been open to re-vision the issues of the Fall, original sin, and “total depravity” from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

Ken Schenck: Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to let us know a little of what is going on in the study and use of Wesley in theology.

Randy Maddox will actually be on campus here at IWU this Spring. It's too bad we couldn't have twisted Ken Collins' arm as well to get him here for a knock down, drag out... :-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hebrews Vodcast Today: 5:11-6:20

Here is the link to today's vodcast on Hebrews 5:11-6:20. Scholars' names taken in vain include Gary Cockerill, David deSilva, William Lane, Scot McKnight, Grant Osborne, among others.


As a post-note, Ben Witherington has posted some material on this passage on his website today, Wednesday, Feb. 14th (Happy Valentines Day):

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monday Thoughts 3: Faces Continued

Very similar to the ideas of Michel Foucault are those of Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) that we encounted back in chapter 8. Kuhn, you will remember, suggested that what we perceive to be the progress of science is really a somewhat random cycle of theory replacing theory. All scientific paradigms leave some data unaccounted for. "Normal science" does its best to accommodate such data within the prevailing paradigm.

But eventually someone suggests a new paradigm. Normal science resists, often successfully for some time because it holds the power over what is allowed to be considered truth. But if the new paradigm can gain traction, can gain power, eventually those with the older paradigm may die off. Suddenly a new "truth" emerges that becomes the new normal science, and the cycle continues.

The parallels with Foucault are straightforward. In both cases, knowledge takes place within a certain paradigm, a way of structuring knowledge. But in both cases as well, that structure is not fixed or absolute. It is rather a function of power, where those who have power are able to set the terms for what is allowed to be considered as plausible or true.

Both cases also seem somewhat extreme, although they both get at certain truths that needed to be heard. We will try to appropriate their ideas within a Christian framework at the end of the chapter.

Perhaps the best known face of postmodernism of all is that of Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). If Foucault doubted the way we structure knowledge and Kuhn doubted the objectivity of science, Derrida doubted the meaning of words. He is the father of deconstruction, the idea that words do not have stable meanings. Derrida believed that any attempt to "construct" understanding of words--or the world--inevitably self-destructs in the process.

If Nietzsche believed that "there are no facts, only interpretations," Derrida hardly believed that there were even interpretations. The meaning of a word is simply other words, whose meaning simply defers to yet other words. One never arrives at any definite content, only "traces" of meaning to be found in the difference between the signs, the squigglies we call words. As part of his flamboyant personality, Derrida combined these two words--"defer" and "differ" to make his own French word: différance.

Like Nietzsche, Derrida did not restrict this problem to written texts. To him, the entire world was a text, and its meaning was just as uncertain as the meaning of written texts were to him. He thus is known for saying that "There is nothing outside the text."

It is of course ironic that Derrida wrote texts and might argue with others over their meaning. Derrida does a good job of reminding us that almost any text can be misunderstood. And we saw already in chapter 4 that the meaning of words can be very stable indeed.

Nevertheless, people at least think they understand each other far more than Derrida would have us believe. He is an important footnote to meaning, and his thoughts deserve to be taken seriously. But we can only take them seriously if we disagree somewhat with them. Only if we believe that texts can be understood to some degree can we ever take the thoughts of others seriously.

The preceding discussion leads us finally to the face of Richard Rorty (1931-2007), whom we should identify with pragmatic realism. Rorty has all the doubt of all the other postmodern philosophers we have mentioned. Yet he recognized that despite our doubts about the world outside our heads, it "works" to live as if that world is real.

For an extreme postmodern, the only real test for truth is the pragmatic test we mentioned back in chapter 3. It "works" to say that some things are true about the world and other things are not. Following Rorty's lead, we might use Derrida's words--recognizing the contradiction since we are using words--and yet chalk it up to the fact that such dialog "works." We would not thereby be saying anything about their actual "truth" or meaning, only that our acts work for us.

However, surely as Christians we hope for something more certain than this scenario, especially since we are people of faith. For individuals like James K. A. Smith (1970-) and Nicholas Wolterstorff (1932-), the situation is perfect for a radical orthodoxy. Christians believe in what they believe without a rational basis to do so. For them postmodernism makes room for Christianity at a table from which they were barred under modernism.

Another more rational approach is that of critical realism. Critical realists recognize that our perspective on reality is clouded by our rational limitations. But by faith they believe that reality exists and that God in some way guarantees that our knowledge of that reality "works" in a way that is far more fixed than Rorty might acknowledge. Like Kant, we believe that the world exists and that we can only know it as it appears to us. But unlike Kant, we are far more aware of the limitations of how it appears to us.

Monday Thoughts 2: The Faces of Postmodernism

17.3 The Faces of Postmodernism
In this section, we have chosen several figures from postmodernism to give you some sense of this recent trend in philosophy.

We start with Michel Foucault (pronounced foo-KOH). You will remember that Francis Bacon in the 1500's had the famous slogan that "Knowledge is power." The more truth you know, the more you are able to do in the world. Foucault turned this expression on its head, "Power is knowledge." For Foucault, the truth is whatever you have the power to convince others is true.

Foucault's writings apply this principle to subjects like the punishment of crime, insanity, and sexuality. In his historical studies, Foucault shows how society's paradigms have changed in the last few centuries.

For example, the punishment of crime was very public up until recent times. People were beheaded or hanged in public for all to see. Particularly heinous crimes were met with such grusome punishments as being drawn and quartered. The goal was to deter others from doing the same.

Foucault argues that changes in contemporary culture do not indicate that we are more civilized than previous generations. Rather, he argues, we have made punishment into a matter of revenge. The goal is no longer to show others what not to do. Now the goal is to make the criminal suffer for what they have done. In both cases, lines of power have created what is true.

With regard to sexuality, Foucault argues that the very category of sexuality as an aspect of a person is a recent invention. In previous days, people did not divide human sexuality into the categories of hetero- and homosexual with distinct "orientations." Homosexual activity was exactly that--sexual activity that some people engaged in.

However, such individuals would likely have been married and have children as well. To use our language, earlier generations would have assumed that everyone was a heterosexual but that some people engaged in homosexual behavior as well. But they did not have a category "heterosexual" in their mind.

A good deal of what Foucault had to say about such things seems to work when we apply them to history. For example, we saw in chapter 12 that the Bible only seems to address homosexual activity, not a homosexual orientation. All our knowing of the world involves the use of paradigms, ways we categorize the data of the world. Unlike God, we cannot hold in our minds all the data in its relationship to all the other data of the world. We have to "group" the data, to simplify it. Then once we have reduced the data of the world into smaller groups, we propose relationships between those bigger categories.

But these "structures" our minds and cultures give to reality almost always involve skew.<1> We almost always have to oversimplify reality in order for us to process it. Have you ever heard the saying, "The Devil is in the details"? This saying basically reflects the truth that our nice categories often break down when we get down to the nitty gritty of applying them.

Foucault himself recognized that he himself was imposing his own power on the data of history. Indeed, we should be on guard as we read him, for he would have been inconsistent if he actually claimed to be relating something true about history. Nevertheless, we can learn a good deal from his studies. We can believe that there are better and worse interpretations of history and yet recognize that power plays an enormous role in what people believe is true.

We often do not realize how differently groups outside our own understand history differently than we do. When we think of the recent war in Iraq, for example, we find competing versions of history in play. In the days following the events of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush had the power to impose a particular paradigm on a good part of the Western world. Using the power of words, he used language of traditional warfare like "attack," "war on terror," and so forth in order to urge the launch of conventional troops against a nation he included within that war.

President Bush had the power to maintain that paradigm through the 2004 election. But we can see several points of potential skew in the paradigm. For example, to simplify the data, Bush included a number of different "terrorist" groups together as a singular opponent. Foucault would note that even the imposition of the label "terrorist" immediately results in a skew of the actual data. How similar were these individual groups? How accurate was it to include the regime of Saddam Hussein within the same group as Al Qaeda? It may very well be that the historical paradigms of the future in relation to these events will be much different from that used by the Bush administration in its time of crisis.


<1> Foucault is sometimes called a "post-structuralist."

Monday Thoughts 1: Redefining Postmodernism

17.1 Redefining Postmodernism
It is somewhat ironic that the idea of "postmodernism" has become part of the very Western "myth of progress" that it proposes to unravel. In an age of ever increasing technological advancement, Western culture ignorantly dubbed postmodernism as the next stage in human cultural evolution. To be postmodern is thus to be forward looking, to be on the cutting edge of the future.

But of course anyone who thinks of postmodernism in this way does not understand what postmodernism is. Nor is postmodernism new in terms of what it represents, although it has never manifested itself in such a pervasive and thoroughly pessimistic way.

Postmodernism is, more than anything else, doubt that we can speak of truth in any definite or absolute sense. François Lyotard called it "incredulity toward metanarratives," by which he meant disbelief in any overarching system of truth. So you can see that anyone who speaks of postmodernism as if it were the newest and best system of truth to date has not really understood what postmodernism is.

The word postmodernism itself of course evokes the idea of modernism, which evokes the idea of pre-modernism. In a moment we will suggest that these labels are less than helpful philosophically. Their main value comes as an introduction to one segment of the history of recent thought. Even here, though, any deep penetration into the thinkers of recent times deconstructs this superficial model and begs for a more sophisticated way to categorize various individuals.

Modernism is said to originate with René Descartes, whose agenda of doubt aimed for certainty in knowledge. What Descartes famously concluded was that he could doubt everything but his own existence--"I think; therefore, I am." For the next four hundred years, so the story goes, philosophers sought objectivity in knowledge, to divest themselves of all bias.

It is no coincidence that the age of science ran parallel to this quest. The scientific method of Francis Bacon required a person to collect evidence impartially and form objective hypotheses that one might then test against the evidence.

The term pre-modern thus was a slam against the age before, the pre-critical age, the age of religion, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages between the ancient Greco-Roman world and the Renaissance. Such terminology, whatever truth it may relate, is itself riddled with bias of its own sort.

The truth of the term "pre-modern" is the sense that most human cultures have tended to be unreflective toward the reasons underlying what they believe to be true. The human animal tends to assume that the way its herd views the world is in fact the only way to view the world.

For example, when those in the Western world draw lines around the world, they draw cats and dogs on the domesticated side of the line, the human side. It is thus unthinkable to most Westerners that a person would eat cat or dog. And how uncivilized of those from other parts of the world to do so. This ethic is unreflective, unexamined for those in the West.

The impulse of "modernism" was thus to become aware of all biases and become objective about the truth. Like Spock from Star Trek, the perfect modernist divests him or herself of emotional reasoning and forms conclusions only on the evidence. The perfect modernist would thus be completely reflective and objective.

Postmodernism--after modernism--correctly recognizes that the perfect modernist does not exist in the human plane. God is the only modernist who knows all the evidence and can process it with complete objectivity in relation to all the other evidence. Postmodernism tells the modernist that he or she is only partially reflective at any time. And what is worse, by very definition we cannot know the points at which we are unreflective.

The next section presents some of the key changes in thinking that took place after Immanuel Kant. Then we will meet some of the key postmodern thinkers of recent times and attempt to process their ideas from a Christian perspective. The chapter ends with some suggestions for how Christians might think about thinking as we look toward the rest of the twenty-first century.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Hebrews: Expository Notes on 2:5-9

I thought I would do the Preaching Notes on all chapter 2 next week and continue through the exposition of 2:5-18.
5 For it is not to angels that [God] has subjected the coming world of which we speak...

The author now shifts back to teaching, after telling the audience the importance of heeding the voice of Christ. The angels are powerful and important, but Christ is even more significant. If punishment under the angelic Law was severe, just imagine what lies in store for those who neglect the word through Christ.

Hebrews leaves it to us to determine who is in mind, to whom the coming world is subjected. The context thus far leads us to think it is to Christ that the coming world will be subjected. This is certainly true, although the author may have even more than this in mind.

The coming world here is the unshakeable kingdom to come, which confirms that the author had in mind the heavenly world or the world of the eschaton when he speaks of God leading His firstborn Son into the "inhabited world."

6-8 For someone, somewhere has witnessed saying,

What is a mortal that You remember him,
or the son of a mortal that You look on him?

You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor;
you subjected all things under his feet.

The author's introduction of Psalm 8 does not reflect a lapse of memory--"someone, somewhere." Like the Jewish author Philo, this style of reference says that Scripture is not simply the words of a human author. Rather, Scripture is a medium of the voice of God. God's word is bigger than Scripture, but Scripture is God's word as He speaks through it.

So the author will later locate Psalm 95 "in David" (4:7), but what he doesn't say is that David says something (cf. Rom. 4:6). In other places in Hebrews, it is God (1:5), the Holy Spirit (3:7), or Christ (10:5) who speaks through the words of the Bible. Since Psalm 8 is a human inquiring of God, the author distances the human author from the text by speaking of David anonymously.

Were 2:5 expected the author to go on to speak of Christ, Psalm 8 of course makes us think of humanity in general. The psalm can refer to Christ of course, as Paul's writings show. However, we get a sense that the author is saying something deeper here that implies a solidarity between humanity and Christ, between humanity's problem and Christ's solution.

8b For when [God] subjected all things to him [mortals], He left nothing unsubjected. But now not yet do we see all things subjected.

We are getting a sense that God created humanity with the intent that humans would have glory and honor over the creation, that all things would be under humanity's feet. The problem is that we do not see this intent fulfilled. All things are not yet under humanity's feet.

This statement evokes images of Romans 3:23--"All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God." God intended humanity to have glory and honor in the creation, but because of Adam's sin, this situation is not the case.

9 But we do see one who was made a little lower than the angels--Jesus--who was crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every [mortal].

The author unfolds the solution to the human problem artfully, suspensefully. Humanity was unable to attain God's intended glory. But one who became lower than the angels did for us. By the grace of God, we no longer need be defeated by death.

more to come...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Train of Thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

Prior Context
In the verses just prior to this passage, Paul has expressed his solidarity with Jesus in his sufferings. In my interpretation, Paul exercises the same faith in God during trial that Jesus exercised in trial. Christ said "I have exercised faith" (4:13) so also Paul and those who are suffering for Christ also assert--"we are exercising faith" (5:13). Paul has faith that the same God who saved Jesus out of death will also raise them.

Therefore, we are not losing heart. But even if our outward person is being corrupted, our inward person is nevertheless being renewed day by day.

This statement ties in with the theme of suffering Paul has just mentioned. His outward, visible body is physically suffering, but a part of him is a different story.

For the immediate, light matter of tribulation is exceedingly abundantly working for us an eternal weight of glory. For we are not looking at the things that are seen but at the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen are temporary but the things that are not seen are eternal.

From these verses we see a temporal and a visible contrast. The visible contrast is between the physical realm that we can see and the spiritual realm we cannot. These correspond to the present world and the world that is coming.

For we know that if our earthly tent-dwelling (οικια του σκηνους) should be destroyed, we have a domicile (οικοδομη) from God, an eternal dwelling (οικια) not made with hands in the heavens.

It is agreed that the "dwelling of a tent" that Paul has in mind is our earthly body. For it to be destroyed is thus for us to die. The "building" the "domicile" from God would thus appear to be our spiritual body.

To be sure, there have been those who have seen a shift in Paul's thinking here, from a resurrection body to a kind of reclothing immediately at death with a heavenly dwelling, a movement from a return to the earth after death to a heaven oriented eternity.

This verse does not require any shift from Paul's earlier thought. Paul does not say here that we get this dwelling at death. It is quite possible that he is still thinking of a resurrection body.

But is our body already prepared for us in heaven, like a suit waiting in some heavenly closet? 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that the resurrection body is a "spiritual body" (σωμα πνευματικον). What exactly this body might be in Paul's mind is difficult to say. It is not just a spirit--it is some kind of body. It is clearly of a different sort than our earthly, "soulish" body (σωμα ψυχικον).

Resurrection is to bear "the image of the heavenly man," Christ (1 Cor. 15:49). "The first man was dust from the earth. The second man was from heaven" (15:47). I don't think this last comment is about the incarnation. The issue is the nature of the resurrection body. Adam was dust whose source was the earth. The source of the second man's "stuff" is heaven.

Paul uses the imagery of clothing in 1 Corinthians 15 as he will use in 2 Corinthians. The corruptible will "put on" (ενδυω) incorruptibility. The immortal will put on immortality (ενδυω) (15:53). The timing is the point of resurrection.

For even at this time we groan, longing to put (επενδυω) on our dwelling (οικητηριον) from heaven...

The language is very similar to 1 Corinthians 15. There doesn't seem to be enough evidence to see more in this verse than a reference to the resurrection. It seems like we would need strong reason to see the heavenly body as pre-prepared in heaven waiting for us. The point is that as we suffer in our earthly bodies, we long for our (future) resurrection body, a heavenly body.

... if indeed also after we undress (εκδυω) we will not be found naked.

Nakedness here surely refers to the destiny of those who do not have a resurrection body in store for them. It is difficult to know what exactly Paul understands such nakedness to be. If we follow the model of 1 Corinthians 15, it is to "be lost" (15:18). Paul does not speak of punishment for these individuals. Their fate seems almost one of non-existence.

What is nakedness? A spirit without a body? A shade in the underworld? Hard to tell.

For even we who are in [this] tent groan and are burdened, in that we do not want to undress (εκδυω) but to dress (επενδυω) so that the mortal might be swallowed by life.

Although some have suggested it, this statement doesn't seem to refer to what happens at death but to the point of resurrection. We do not look forward to death, but we do look forward to getting our resurrection body. One important feature of this passage is the recognition that Paul does not likely anticipate a long time between death and resurrection. Indeed, it could be that the audience will still be alive when the resurrection takes place.

It is not clear what this verse has to say about the meantime for those who die before resurrection. Does Paul think that we will be "naked" in this period?

And the One who has made us for this very thing is God who has given to us the earnest of the Spirit.

Since the Spirit is a downpayment, a foretaste of glory divine, we once again get the sense that our spiritual body will be made of heavenly stuff, spirit stuff.

Therefore, since we are always bold and know that when we are at home (ενδημεω) in the body we are away from home (εκδημεω) from the Lord.

The image of a home fits well with the idea of a body. When we are in this body, we are not in the body that is with the Lord. So perhaps Paul is thinking of the body we will get at the second coming, at the resurrection.

At the same time, it is tempting to think of this statement in terms of death. We die and are at home with the Lord. Philippians 1:23 speaks of being with the Lord at death, even while this world continues on. But if that is what Paul is saying here, then he has changed his mind on when we get our resurrection body. If Paul is thinking we receive a resurrection body at death, then he has fundamentally shifted his understanding of resurrection.

Another possibility is that "at home" is not a reference to having our resurrection body but to being with the Lord in some way in between death and resurrection. In Paul's imagery here, it would be a reference to being "naked" in heaven with the Lord. It is an option to ponder.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.
This apparently future reference--things to come--points more toward resurrection as what Paul continues to have in mind rather than some intermediate state.

And we are bold and we would rather be away from the home (εκδημεω) of our body and to be at home (ενδημεω) with the Lord.

It is a different expression here for "with the Lord" (προς τον κυριον) than it is in Philippians 1:23 (συν Χριστω). Whether that means there is a different sense to the expression remains to be seen. We are still left uncertain whether Paul has in mind the resurrection/second coming, which the context seems to point toward, or some intermediate state on death.

Therefore we also strive to be pleasing to him, whether at home (ενδημεω) or away from home (εκδημεω) [in terms of our bodies]...

How can we strive to please Christ when we are away from the body? The next verse seems to imply it is when we stand before Christ in judgment.

For it is necessary for us all to appear before the judgment seat of the Christ, so that each may get their due for the things that they did with the body, whether good or bad.

It would appear that whenever Paul has in mind that we might be "away from the home" of our body, it is at that point that we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Traditionally, this would be the resurrection. But we understand how some have suggested that Paul has altered his view somewhat from 1 Corinthians. They would suggest that Paul now equates resurrection with the point of death. This seems unlikely to me, as it has to the majority of scholars.

Friday, February 08, 2008

An Interview with Chris Bounds 1: Total Depravity

I thought I would ask Dr. Chris Bounds of IWU some questions on the doctrine of total depravity. Next week we will conclude the interview with his comparison of Randy Maddox and Ken Collins in their interpretations of John Wesley.
1. How would Calvin define "total depravity" and how close is Calvin’s understanding to Augustine’s?
I thought it would be helpful to quote Calvin himself in regard to his understanding of total depravity. Here is a key discussion and description of “total depravity” from Book II.2 of Institutes of the Christian Religion. As you will see he appropriates Augustine and principally follows Augustine’s teaching in articulating his own understanding.

I feel pleased with the well-known saying which has been borrowed from the writings of Augustine, that man's natural gifts were corrupted by sin, and his supernatural gifts withdrawn; meaning by supernatural gifts the light of faith and righteousness, which would have been sufficient for the attainment of heavenly life and everlasting felicity. Man, when he withdrew his allegiance to God, was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation.

Hence it follows, that he is now an exile from the kingdom of God, so that all things which pertain to the blessed life of the soul are extinguished in him until he recover them by the grace of regeneration. Among these are faith, love to God, charity towards our neighbour, the study of righteousness and holiness. All these, when restored to us by Christ, are to be regarded as adventitious and above nature.

If so, we infer that they were previously abolished. On the other hand, soundness of mind and integrity of heart were, at the same time, withdrawn, and it is this which constitutes the corruption of natural gifts. For although there is still some residue of intelligence and judgement as well as will, we cannot call a mind sound and entire which is both weak and immersed in darkness. As to the will, its depravity is but too well known.

Therefore, since reason, by which man discerns between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be entirely destroyed; but being partly weakened and partly corrupted, a shapeless ruin is all that remains. In this sense it is said, (John 1: 5,) that "the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not;" these words clearly expressing both points, viz., that in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect.

Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, Calvin, as well as Augustine, taught that holiness, righteousness, love of God and neighbor, and faith in God (Calvin uses the term from the Augustinian tradition “supranatural gifts” to describe these) were completely destroyed in humanity. Consequently, all human beings apart from divine grace are spiritually dead to God, thoroughly sinful, under divine condemnation, helpless to change themselves, ignorant of their present state, and are incapable of grasping their plight. This is total depravity.

Therefore if human beings are going to be redeemed, God is the One who must take the initiative. If human beings are to be awakened, convicted of their sin, repent, and exercise faith to be converted, then God must do the work, because humanity has no internal resources with which to move toward God and progress in the way of salvation.

However, it is important to point out that Calvin believed that some vestiges of the “image and likeness of God” remained in humanity after the Fall (Calvin uses the term from the Augustinian tradition “natural gifts” to describe these), allowing for some degree of rationality and understanding to continue to exist in human beings. Yet, none of these “vestiges” offer any resources in the work of salvation.

2. What is Wesley’s understanding of “total Depravity?”
According to John Wesley “total depravity” is the natural state of humanity. Humanity has no internal resources to offer or contribute to the work of salvation. Humanity in the natural state is without any awareness that there is a God, any awareness that humanity stands under divine condemnation, and any awareness that humanity even needs to be saved. Humanity is incapable of doing any good. Humanity is dead to God and dead in sin. As such, John Wesley is completely in the Reformed tradition, in agreement with John Calvin and Augustine. If human beings are going to be redeemed, then God is the one who must take the initiative.

However, at this point, Wesley begins to separate his theology from the Reformed Augustinian-Calvinist tradition, which, with its view of God as sovereign King and Judge, argues that God takes the initiative to redeem human beings by divine and irresistible election. God in His Wisdom chooses certain people to save. Because God is sovereign King, these people elected for redemption cannot help, but be saved; the rest are justly consigned to eternal punishment. On the other hand, Wesley, with his understanding of God as loving Father develops his doctrine of prevenient grace as the divine initial in the work of redemption.

3. How does the Eastern Orthodox view differ from the view of the Western church?
Basically, the Eastern view is not as pessimistic as the Western view in their understanding of the Fall and original sin. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Fall and original sin differs in two primary ways from the Protestant approach of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley.

First, Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the idea of inherited guilt and penalty for original sin. The Western Protestant tradition has argued that all human beings stand condemned by God and subject to damnation by the reality of original sin. Even though we did not ask to be born in the state of original sin, even though this state of sin has been transmitted to us, we are responsible for it and are subject to God’s judgment of it.

The mere fact of having the “sin nature” places a person (even babies and children) under the penalty of eternal death/Hell. In contrast, the Eastern Church has taught that while the consequences of original sin are passed down to all of humanity (physical death, propensity or bent toward sinning, alienation from God, other human beings, and the created order, etc.), guilt or responsibility for original sin remains entirely with the first parents.

Thus, the offspring of Adam and Eve do not have to worry about being condemned by God for merely have the sin nature or being born in the state of sin. It is only when our will cooperates with the sin nature that we come under the judgment of God and incur guilt.

Second, the Eastern Church does not see the Fall as “totally” as the Western Protestant tradition. The major Protestant tradition understands the Fall and original sin as destroying the ability of humanity to choose the good, to turn toward God, to exercise true love, and to have faith. Human beings have no inherent powers to contribute to the work of salvation in their natural fallen state. They have no inherent power to say “yes” to God or cooperate with God. The human will is totally corrupted.

In contrast the Eastern tradition contends that the Fall and original sin weakened free will, but it did not destroy it. Therefore, human beings still posses the internal resources to cooperate with grace, the power to say “yes” or “no” to grace when grace is made available. Human beings have something to contribute to the work of salvation.
Thanks to Dr. Bounds for giving us time you don't have

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sin in Romans 1

Last summer I never finished looking at sin in Romans--the semester started and so it went. However, Hebrews class this week has raised questions about what sin is again, this time in relation to Jesus. What exactly does the author of Hebrews have in mind when he says that Christ was tested in every way similarly without sin?

I don't propose an answer to that today, but I do want to finish running through Romans eventually, so a revisiting of Romans 1 today.

1. (1:18) The wrath of God is revealed against ασεβεια (ungodliness) and αδικια (unrighteousness).

Certainly sin is in view. What is it? It primarily seems to look toward the practice of idolatry (1:23). Paul invokes culpability on the basis of knowledge--they should have known better (1:19-21). There seems to be a sense that, at least corporately, those nations that have rejected God are involved in a known transgression--they knew the good they ought to do but did not do it.

Romans 1 treats the "sins" in the rest of the chapter as derivative. Because of their idolatry, God "gave them up" to sexual sins and many other types of sin as well. 1:32 reiterates culpability again--"although they knew the right--that those who practice such things are worthy of death--they not only did them but approved of those who did them."

Again, Paul is making a corporate rather than individual argument. What is interesting to me is the apparent importance of knowledge in culpability here. There does seem to be enslavement in the chapter as well--"God gave them up in their passions" (1:24, 26, 28). So we can perhaps speak of two views of sin in this chapter by Paul 1) ultimate culpability on the basis of intention and 2) intermediate slavery to sin as a result of prior intention.

Questions emerge of course. Is prior individual intention or prior corporate intention the main source of enslavement to sin in Paul's mind? To what extent is this a "parable" of sin in humanity and to what extent is it a blueprint? Idolatry as Paul has in view does not exist in most of our worlds, yet the other behaviors of the chapter do. Does homosexuality generally follow on idolatry and did Paul really mean to suggest something of this sort.

Questions, questions...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Analyzing Fundamentalism

This week some thoughts have coalesced in my mind about the nature of American fundamentalism. As far as self-description, a fundamentalist might say, "We simply take the Bible literally and apply it to our lives." How could anyone object to that?

Here are the hidden parts, which are why I don't believe fundamentalism is the best representative of God's mind or for that matter of the Bible:

The Underlying Dynamic
The key feature of American fundamentalism is its failure to distinguish between the context of the Bible and the context of its own origins as an American group. Because it applies the words of the Bible directly to today, it blurs ancient words with early the twentieth century when it originated. As a result it 1) blurs its present with the Bible's past, 2) blurs the Bible's past with its present, and 3) does so largely without realizing the sociology of its own origins.

1. Fundamentalism brings the present into the past.
Fundamentalism does not recognize what it means to say that the Bible was written to ancient Israelites, Romans, Corinthians, etc... The implication is that the Bible was originally intelligible to these ancients, who did not think in our categories. In particular, they did not think within the frameworks of science and history that the fundamentalists of the early twentieth century did.

But the fundamentalist does not see the ancient categories. Because of when fundamentalism was born, things like the fact that the earth goes around the sun were already considered fact. The fundamentalist thus assumes that the Bible also thinks in these categories. Categories of modern science are inappropriately read into the biblical text.

Modern sensibilities of what constitutes truth telling in history or genre are also imposed on the biblical text. No real thought is given to what the standards for such things were at the time the books of the Bible were actually inspired.

2. Fundamentalism brings the past into the present.
At the same time, fundamentalism does not recognize elements of ancient culture in the Bible that do not have the same significance in our world as they did in the biblical worlds. Some groups do not allow their women to cut their hair, for example, not even considering whether this action might have different significance now than it did then.

We think of the household codes of Colossians and 1 Peter where the husband is the head or master of his wife. This structure was exactly that of ancient culture at large and not uniquely Christian in its context. Yet fundamentalist groups do not consider the biblical material on women in relation to its day in order to look for what is uniquely Christian. They look only on the surface statements of the text which are then blindly applied to a different context.

3. Fundamentalism is locked into the time of its origins.
Ultimately, fundamentalism is inconsistent in its direct application of Scripture. When it originated in the early 1900's, it fused the biblical world with the time of its origins. So the issue of the earth going around the sun was not at issue at that time. Accordingly, fundamentalists do not take such biblical language literally. On the other hand, evolution was an issue, so Genesis 1 is taken literally.

In general, issues of literality that were non-issues remain non-issues, while any potential changes in taking biblical material literally are strongly resisted.

Fundamentalism also wed the Bible to a particular sociology of its origins--a sociology that fundamentalists assume is biblical although it is simply a function of the group dynamics of its creation. So fundamentalism assumes a particular militant stance politically. It does not consider other legitimate possibilities for the relationship between Christ and culture.

Fundamentalists assume certain priorities in relation to moral issues, unexamined priorities. The result is that the moral issues of one political party--the Republican party--are unthinkingly assumed to be of more importance than the moral issues of the other political party--the Democratic one.

Indeed, issues that do not map to biblical teaching at all take on a religious authority simply because of the group dynamic. How, for example, is opposition to gun control a Christian issue. It can become one because of the way fundamentalism blurs the Bible with its own sociology. It is no surprise that conservative Christians in other countries like Britain find many of fundamentalism's "religious" values peculiar variations on American culture.