Friday, January 15, 2010

Letter to Richard Dawkins

Hi Richard,
I just wanted to encourage you to debate Dr. William Lane Craig. I believe I read somewhere that you were asked to debate Craig but you declined because you had never heard of him, and debating just anyone could be a waste of time. I understand this, but I would like to point out that Dr. Craig is extremely well-known among the Christian community, probably being one of the leading advocates of Christianity today. I think a debate between the two of you would be very interesting and informative, and I and many others would enjoy seeing it. Please do consider.
-Cameron Versluis

Monday, December 28, 2009

Which God is More Sovereign?

OK, so I've been doing a bit of thinking about sovereignty in open theism, Calvinism, and Arminianism. Basically, I have realized these things, which are worth posting.

Calvinists and open theists both agree that God cannot foreknow that which He does not predestine. Calvinists choose to say that God predestines everything and thus foreknows everything, but open theists say that the future is open, so God does not foreknow everything that is going to happen with certainty (because it's not settled; it's not there to foreknow).

Basically, this means that the Calvinist and open theist view of God does not differ in ability. Both the Calvinist view of God described and the open theist view of God view God's abilities the same way, though they view what God actually does differently.

So, I think it is a lost cause for Calvinists to claim that their view of God ascribes to Him more ability. Maybe He is more sovereign, in the sense of being ultra-manipulative, but I don't see this as necessarily a thing that makes Him more impressive or anything.

Only Arminians disagree about God's abilities. They think that God can contingently foreknow things without actually causing them. However, to affirm this they generally have to affirm that God is completely outside of time and without sequence, or else get caught in a hopeless paradox (i.e. if God foreknows something, can He change it? If so, wouldn't that falsify His foreknowledge?). So; they essentially end up with a sequence-less God, which is quite strange - He is something like frozen in an eternal "now" and cannot have real relationships.

How about God's knowledge? Both Arminianism and Calvinism hold that God knows everything that has ever happened, is happening now, and will ever happen. Open theism holds to the same view, except it says that what will happen is not set in stone. As Greg Boyd says, we can hardly say we're slandering God's knowledge if we say He does not know that there is a monkey next to me, when in fact, there is no monkey next to me. Open theists essentially hold that there is no future out there except for what is certain and what God has preordained - much of it is contingencies, possibilities. God knows everything perfectly, just like He knows me perfectly. He does not, however, know perfectly that there is a monkey next to me. This is not ignorance; it's just that there is no monkey next to me. Similarly, God may not know what will happen in the future, because it's not out there yet.

In the end, I don't think any of these views end up presenting a more sovereign God with greater abilities or more knowledge. Essentially, these are views that differ in what God does, and how the universe works. It's not a fight over accepting a more or less sovereign, more knowledgeable God. It's about the workings of the universe, what is true and what is false.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Misconceptions

OK, so I would just like to list a few fun Christmas misconceptions. Basically everyone believes that these are true of the birth of Christ, but they're not.

  • The wise men did not arrive the same day as the shepherds. In fact, they arrived around a year later, when Jesus was most likely living in a house, not a stable. Most nativity scenes feature the wise men and the shepherds both at the stable, but that's not how it happened. It took the wise men a long time to travel from where they were located. The way nativity scenes do it is nice, but the gospel's account is much more historically probable and sober. As a result, when I set up nativity scenes, I place the wise men a long way away from the stable. One year I put a pile of toys in between them and the stable so I could justify them taking a year to make the journey.
  • The stable, by the way, could also have been a cave cut out of rock, not an actual building.
  • The angels did not sing to the shepherds! I'm entirely serious - go check it out for yourself. There is zero evidence to back up the idea that the angels sang. On the other hand, Jesus did sing, with all of His disciples (Matthew 26:30)!
  • No one actually knows the date of Jesus' birth. Some scholars think that April would be far more likely than December!
  • Jesus, Mary, and Joseph's skin would not be nearly as pale as most nativity scenes have it (near white in many cases). They were of Middle Eastern origin, which would mean they would have darker, olive-colored skin. Joseph, by the way, was a carpenter, which means that none of them would be wearing the gaudy ornamental robes that are usually depicted in nativity scenes. Oh, and being a carpenter, Joseph would have some serious muscles - as would Jesus after helping His father for years.
Anyway, biblically accurate nativity scenes don't sell! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Nutty Gospel Alternative

OK, so doing some research I came across this interesting article.

Frankly, it is absolutely nuts. First, they consistently use the phrases “modern scholars”, “most scholars”, etc. to give the impression that most people who have studied the issue take this position. But in reality they are quoting fringe scholars who are completely outnumbered—yet somehow get most of the media hits.

The article also tells us that Jesus set up His (apparent) death to be in accordance with Old Testament prophesies. Here's the question though—why on earth? Why go get crucified for the sake of a prophesy? It makes zero sense. Subjecting yourself to that kind of torment willingly is absolutely nuts. Sure, there are crazy people out there, but that's just too much. How could Jesus assure that He wouldn't actually die, and be yet another (there are several others) failed dead wannabe Messiah?

Additionally, why on earth would poser-Messiah-Jesus choose a cross to die on? It was the absolute worst death conceivable. Victims were crucified naked (not with loincloths like in the pictures) and due to the nails in their hands and feet, completely lost control of all of their bodily functions, throwing up and going to the bathroom on reflex. In fact, crucifixion was considered so extremely sick that it was considered inappropriate to even mention it in polite company—comparable to giving “the finger” at a modern-day dinner party. Trypho and many others mocked Christians to no end because they worshiped a man who had died on the cross! And, to be perfectly frank, Christians could rarely defend themselves. Tertullian replied to Trypho by simply changing the subject, basically saying, “oh yeah, well, you pagan guys worship pieces of wood!”

The writers of the article also have no clue that some fulfillment of Old Testament scripture can be illustrative; i.e. that instead of fulfilling a predictive prophesy, a scriptural principle is said to be “fulfilled” in the sense that it was underscored or illustrated. Psalm 69:21 is one example, as are most of the other scriptures they listed. If they cared to clue themselves in on what an illustrative prophesy was, their entire article would fall apart. Genuine predictive prophesies from the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 7:14ff) would be ridiculously difficult to fulfill.

The article also talks about “hidden Essene physicians” strategically placed in the tomb who would help Jesus to recover. Frankly, this is such a bizarre theory it is ridiculous. It is extremely difficult to hide someone in a newly cut tomb—there are not multiple chambers, just one. If the article writers want to suggest this idea, I suppose they had also better maintain that Joseph of Arimathea was completely alone when he went to bury Jesus, or else he brought only people he trusted. Never mind the guard apologetic of Matthew 27, which I am sure our article writers would reject, even though it only makes sense within the context of a presupposed polemic. Not to mention it is quite questionable how the Essene physicians would survive in a sealed, newly cut rock tomb without external air for three days. And how might they get out? Check out a first-century tomb. There's really nowhere to get a push-off in the right angle to push the stone. The stone, by the way, would probably be 1.5 to 2 tons, and in the first century, square (notwithstanding the “rolled away” English translations of various verses).

Jesus, by the way, would not be getting married after being crucified. After getting nails put through His feet and hands, it is most probable that He would end up a cripple instead.

I would like to offer a lengthy reply to one piece in particular.

"Furthermore, in the Greek version of the Gospels, when Joseph of Arimetha asks for Jesus' body, he used the word soma -- a word applied only to a living body. Pilate, assenting to the request, employs the word ptoma -- which means "corpse". (Perhaps the Greeks knew something we didn't.) Interestingly, there is also the possibility that Pilate was bribed. This would account for the crucifiction taking place at the Garden of Gethsemane (private land), and for the body being taken down so quickly. In short the evidence is overwhelming that the Cruci- fixion was instead a Cruci- fiction.

First off, Joseph of Arimathea does not actually give a direct address or anything resembling a quote (they didn't have quotations in Greek) to Pilate, thus, Joseph of Arimathea never used the word soma in the gospels. In fact, he never talks at all. Now, let's kick in some sarcasm.

Oh really? The Greek soma means “living body?” I was unaware of that.

Luke 17:37 καὶ ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· ποῦ, κύριε; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὅπου τὸ σῶμα, ἐκεῖ καὶ οἱ ἀετοὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται.
They, answering, asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body [soma] is, there will the vultures also be gathered together.”

I understand this verse better now that I know Jesus really means that vultures will gather where there are living bodies. Maybe I've been wrong about vultures all this time.

Romans 8:10 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, τὸ μὲν σῶμα νεκρὸν διὰ ἁμαρτίαν τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωὴ διὰ δικαιοσύνην.
If Christ is in you, the body [soma] is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

And I see now how Paul is talking about metaphorical living bodies that are dead, thank you very much.

1 Corinthians 15:44 σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν. εἰ ἔστιν σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἔστιν καὶ πνευματικόν.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body [soma]. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.

It makes much more sense now that I know that Paul is talking about living bodies being resurrected.

James 2:26 ὥσπερ [γὰρ] τὸ σῶμα χωρὶς πνεύματος νεκρόν ἐστιν, οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις χωρὶς ἔργων νεκρά ἐστιν.
For as the body [soma] apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.

Wow, I never noticed before that James was talking about living bodies being dead!

John 19:31 Οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι, ἐπεὶ παρασκευὴ ἦν, ἵνα μὴ μείνῃ ἐπὶ τοῦ σταυροῦ τὰ σώματα ἐν τῷ σαββάτῳ, ἦν γὰρ μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνου τοῦ σαββάτου, ἠρώτησαν τὸν Πιλᾶτον ἵνα κατεαγῶσιν αὐτῶν τὰ σκέλη καὶ ἀρθῶσιν.
Therefore the Jews, because it was the Preparation Day, so that the bodies [somata] wouldn't remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special one), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

My my! I can't believe it! All three of the bodies on the crosses were actually living! Jesus wasn't the only one to survive the crucifixion! There are many other examples, but I think this is enough to say that the claim that soma means “living body”, and thus Jesus actually survived the cross according to the Bible, is completely and utterly false.

Now, as a final blow, I will simply quote the article. “His [Jesus'] wife, Mary Magdalen, may well have fled the country, and in fact landed in Southern France. With her, she would have carried the Holy Grail -- or "Blood Royal".”

I think that says enough.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts on Monergism

My Calvinist friends (hi Ryan!) should be relieved to know that I found a new hobby: resurrection apologetics! Not only is it cooler, it is more unifying to the body of Christ.

However, I hope you will forgive me if I offer some thoughts on monergism... (i.e. Calvinism by its technical term) You'll have to, so let's get cracking.

OK, so I was reading Arminian Perspectives, the blog of Ben Henshaw. I came across this quote:

"Calvinists often argue that God’s love has failed if Christ’s atonement was made for all and yet not all are saved. I find it strange that Calvinists, who are so quick to criticize Arminians for holding to a man centered religion, argue that unless man responds to God’s love in saving faith, then His love for them has somehow failed. How is it that they feel comfortable equating the success or failure of God’s love with man’s response to that love? Is the nature or validity of God’s love dependant on man’s response? Doesn’t that seem a little man centered?"

I thought that was a cool quote. It got me thinking: it's true, Calvinists do claim to be more God-centered and almost invariably end up painting Arminians as man-centered worshipers of free will in some way or another. But think about this:

In synergism, you look at a person and say, God has given them grace, grace enough for them to be saved. Then you ask, how have they responded to it? In monergism, you look at a person and ask, have they responded to God? Then, and only then, you conclude that God gave them saving grace.

Synergism: God wants this man and is drawing him toward Himself. What will he do with it?
Monergism: What did the man do with it? All right, then God wanted him and irresistibly drew him.

It is interesting how the theology that claims to be more God-centered actually puts God second in the equation. The only thing is, monergists would stipulate that man's response to God is invariably His grace, therefore the grace and the response are synonymous. But it still seems like a weird way to think of things, because in monergism, everything is essentially an extension of God's sovereign (read: exhaustively manipulative and controlling) will.

Another thought I had on monergism lately is the whole "only grace" thing. Essentially, salvation is broken down into two components: God's grace and man's response. Monergism claims that these two are synonomous, whereas synergism sees them as two different parts which are mutually exclusive, though the latter cannot work without the former and the former will not work without the latter.

Basically, monergists argue that their system is the only one that is truly "only by grace", because every part of salvation is performed by God. But here is the problem: in synergist's haste to deny this and clear their doctrines from the charge, they miss the real problem with monergism.

As I write the next paragraph after this one, remember very clearly that there is a distinction between an offered gift and one's acceptance of a gift. A quick deviation: If a rich man offers me a $60,000 car, can we really say that I earned the car just because I said, "wow, sure, thanks!" and accepted it? Can we say that the car I got was not a hundred percent of the rich man's grace? Frankly, I think the reason that monergists are so quick to shortchange man's responsibility in salvation is because they cannot understand how great a price Christ paid and how great a gift we have been offered.

Now, on to my real point. If the reason a person accepts the gospel is 100% because of a special grace he has been given, then, doesn't it logically follow that the reason a person doesn't accept the gospel is 100% because of a lack of that special grace? Essentially, monergism steals human responsibility. And it gets worse when many monergists resort to compatibilism: when you confront them about this, they say, "of course! Man is completely responsible! And God is completely sovereign! It's all a divine mystery!" Daniel Gracely compared it to a rocking horse: Calvinist riders push forward with all their might toward God's sovereignty, but when you point out that they are really left with a strange God, they fall backward on man's responsibility. And so, they maintain an illusion of movement, even though they're really going back and forth. Frankly, I have no problem with mystery, but embracing blatant contradictions is sick.

Here's another thought on monergism... who is more sovereign, a king ruling a nation, or a kid in a sandbox? Everyone is quick to affirm that the king is more sovereign. But monergists, with their lines of argumentation, often end up suggesting the latter (though they have no idea). They suggest that God is more sovereign if He is more controlling. The kid in the sandbox has more control over his toys than the king does over his subjects. So why is the king more powerful, even though he has less control? Some may say it has to do with the size of the kingdom. OK. Just blow up the kid and the sandbox until it and the kingdom are the same size. The king is still more sovereign. Why? He has less control, but he is more sovereign? He is more sovereign because of the fact that he is ruling over creatures with wills - wills that can choose.

In fact, that is the real distinction between a man and a maniquin. The man can choose, the maniquin can't. What other distinctions are there? That the man is alive and the maniquin isn't? All right, then what is the distinction between a live man and a dead man? One has a soul, the other doesn't? But what does having a soul entail? It means being alive, which means being able to think, and reason, and choose option A over option B, to make a genuine choice for yourself. If your choices are all chosen for you (no matter how compatibilistically), why are you called a will, a soul, an individual?

That's where monergism has always gone nutty. Remorse, regret and repentence only make sense under synergism. "I'm so sorry, I feel so bad for doing x." As opposed to? In monergism, it should be, "I'm so sorry, I feel so bad for doing x, even though I could not possibly have done otherwise". Frankly, I don't know what regret is under monergism. (And using Romans 9:16 to defend this doctrine is sort of odd, since it is the only scripture that could possibly refer to people getting blamed for what they were predestined to do, yet that reading is flawed.) What do you regret, that you did what you had to do? That you did what you were predestined to do? Really, it comes down to regretting that God did not give you more grace, regretting what Adam and Eve did, not regretting what you did. Monergism, in my opinion, is a staunch rehashing of the blame game.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Greg Boyd and the Gap Theory

So, I found out today, a bit to my disappointment, that my favorite theologian, Greg Boyd has gone in for the gap theory. In an article written for the book Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science, Boyd undertakes to show how evolution can be thought of as cosmic warfare.

I have not yet finished Boyd's article, but I think the premise is rather good. If the gap theory is true and before the creation of man there were millions of years of evolution, viewing that evolution in terms of cosmic warfare would be the single best way to view it.

But I just have some problems with the gap theory. It doesn't seem to fit a normal reading of the Bible. I agree with gap theorists that the Hebrew yom does not necessarily mean a day of twenty-four hours (take a look at all the word uses). But the phrase "there was evening and there was morning, one day" (as it should literally be translated) seems to suggest an actual period of twenty-four hours.

This is not nearly my biggest problem with the gap theory. One of my biggest problems is that the gap theory is usually formulated to accommodate evolution into the Bible. I have no problem with evolution in general. I agree that species adapt and change, even from species to species. I do note, however, that there are genetic limitations on how much a certain kind (that is the biblical term) of animal can change. Evolutionists know this, which is why they usually posit mutation as the means by which animals evolve. Mutation, though, does not add genetic information. There's simply no way to add genetic information to the genome, as opposed to changing or destroying it. (Watch Richard Dawkins try to answer this question.)

But that is a tangent. The main problem is that the literal reading of the Genesis account is destroyed by the gap theory. In Genesis 3:20, Adam names his wife Eve, because "she would become the mother of all the living". In the gap theory, she would not indeed become the mother of the entire human race.

Now, here is the kicker. We note in Gen 1:14-19 that the lights in the sky are only created on day four. Some evolutionists scoff at this, but it's up to them to show that the sun's and star's light was needed before day four. Was it needed for the plants on day three? Not really. If you read Genesis 2:4-7 it is quite obvious that while God planted the seeds on the third day, they didn't sprout up until after the sixth day. (Even if full-grown plants had been created on day three, they would not have needed light for at least another day.) Sure, on day one God created light (as in, the concept), but did not create actual lights until day four. Wavelenths still function in the dark. But this poses a problem for gap theorists. Evolution typically supposes that the sun evolved long before plant and animal life.

There is also a problem in that, as I noted, per Gen 2:4-7 it does not appear that plants God created actually sprouted until after the sixth day. If the yom represent long periods of time, such as millions of years - that's one long sprout.

Overall, I just don't think the gap theory fits well with the book of Genesis. I've never been impressed by the "evidence" for evolution, and from my limited reading I am quite happy with a literal six twenty-four hour day reading of Genesis.

I still like Boyd, and while I recommend his books and will not drop him off the list as my favorite theologian, I rather disagree with him on this issue. I don't think it's a salvation issue at all, though, and though he certainly seems to be wrong here, in general I love the work he is doing for the kingdom.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Various Skeptic Articles Refuted, etc.

OK, so in between writing up the transcript for my interview with Barrie Schwortz (which was awesome!) I am working on a paper concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Specifically, I want to use it as a sort of tract for skeptics, and a general handout paper that can be of use.

It's actually evolving into two essays, one concerning the historical evidence for Christ's resurrection, and one concerning medical testimonies to people who have had near-death experiences, or actually been resurrected from the dead.

Yes, I am completely serious.

There are, in fact, many well-documented cases of what many extremely skeptical scientists, including atheists, admit are not just near-death but post-death experiences. Until my article arrives, see Gary Habermas' videos. There are nine parts, all worth watching.

Anyway, in my research I have encountered many naturalistic pieces arguing against the resurrection. While they hit high on search engine lists, they are often of shoddy quality and are easily refuted, usually by the entertaining J.P. Holding. His counter-articles, on the other hand, rarely overtake the skeptical articles he refutes in terms of search engine placement. As such, I would like to post a list of skeptical articles and their refutations (usually by Holding).

Review of Lee Stobel The Case for Christ by Jeff Lowder (skeptical)
Lowder on the Case for Christ, Refuted by J.P. Holding (rebuttal to above)

The Case Against The Case for Christ by Scott Bidstrup
Scott Bidstrup vs. The Case for Christ by J.P. Holding (rebuttal)

Why I Don't Buy The Resurrection Story by Richard Carrier (skeptical)
Richard Carriers' Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story - A Refutation by J.P. Holding

The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, book by Richard Carrier (skeptical)
The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave Refuted by J.P. Holding (rebuttal)

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb Evaluated by Peter Kirby
(skeptical, similar to book chapter refuted below)
Jesus Beyond the Grave Refuted: Peter Kirby's Chapter (rebuttal)

Just a few things... fun stuff, and I'm really starting to like Holding. He also refuted (soundly) Carrier's article, Did No One Trust Women? (Forum discussion here.) Unfortunately, that rebuttal is no longer online, since Holding is hoping to publish such material in book form in his upcoming Defending the Resurrection. However, Holding was kind enough to send me the old page.

Anyway, some cool stuff. Maybe more later.